Flowers for Algernon

Throughout our lives what we hold to be true alters. Our perspective on that truth is relative to where we find ourselves at any particular point of our lives. Through circumstance and experience our belief evolves. Some beliefs expand, others are eroded. Some disappear altogether or are retained only as outline principles. Our system of ethics is something we receive from our parents, or those acting in that role. We are nurtured to understand a series of rights and wrongs. For better or worse, depending on what beliefs we are gifted with. If any at all. Morality begins at home. Wherever that may be.


Our ability to draw a sense of rightness from our earliest experiences is governed by our own innate needs. Our inherited personalities. Our genetics. Our ability to balance our personalities as we cope with our impulses and what we desire. Our egos. Even those fortunate enough to find that they draw strength from the gift of nurture will discover the path beyond that earliest experience is not simple. Life will knock off the edges. The way we present our beliefs to society is filtered through the pressures applied on us by our peers. We are pack animals. We fear our un-initiation. Our individuality is made to feel awkward in the face of the blank and apparent uniform of The Crowd. We feel to be the odd man out. And so, largely, we conform to a standard mode of behaviour based on the group we find ourselves in at any given time. For better or worse. When I’m in the crowd I can’t see anything, my mind goes a blank in the humid sunshine. When I’m in the crowd I can’t see anything. If that group finds swearing unacceptable, our instinctive sense of what is tolerable will kick in and whilst within that group we will not swear. If we find ourselves in another group, however, where swearing is a badge of membership we will often find ourselves effing and blinding fluently. And so on. Monkey see, monkey do.


Last month the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland was raised from eight to twelve. The move in Scotland brought the country in line with much of Europe. After pondering the matter philosophically, far removed from the nuts and bolts of any actual offences, the government ruled in favour a specious measurement of reason over the blunt reality of actual capacity. Defending rights against challenging responsibilities. The deed itself need not be capable of understanding. The ramifications of that deed in terms of comprehending the way it was processed by society – through the courts etc – was deemed vital. Temporary assistant chief constable Gordon MacKenzie, of Central Scotland Police and chair of the ACPO’s Youth Issues Group, said: ‘We agree that this [the new age of criminal responsibility] strikes the right balance between the age a young person understands that their behaviour is harmful and their ability to understand court proceedings.’


Modern government was nurtured in the cradle of post-War shock. Modern government lives in the twin shadows of Fascism and Communism. As a consequence modern government is predominantly liberal. Modern government seeks to devolve the individual of responsibility for their actions. It seeks to create a complex series of authorities and public services which act as an extended consciousness. A framework of public conscience. A benevolent Big Brother that baby-sits us all. It is a quiet crack at Utopia. Measured in statistics and target figures. Modern government provides the individual with a series of rights which are immutable. Any problems that the individual encounters or creates are immediately ascribed to flaws with the extended consciousness. The NHS. The Social Services. The Police. The Council. A failure to support. A failure to provide. A failure to understand. The goal is commendable. But it does not take into account the venality of human beings. It is a parent that refuses to see any wrong in its children. We are living in a society that makes no moral provision for the individual.


On Tuesday in Doncaster, South Yorkshire two brothers aged 10 and 11 were charged with attempted murder. The charges relate to an incident where two other boys, aged 9 and 11, were subjected to prolonged and vicious torture on wasteland. Gordon Brown’s spokesperson rushed to reassure: ‘In his view the overwhelming majority of children are well-behaved. Therefore I think he would be cautious about making a general sweeping statement on what [is] the basis of a disturbing but nonetheless single event.’ The Times was quick to state: ‘[The] two young brothers were in the care of social services and may already have been reported to the police when they allegedly attacked and tortured two children with knives, bricks and burning cigarettes, leaving one for dead.’


I watched The Jeremy Kyle Show this morning. Some find the programme amusing. I find it disturbing. It saddens me. It is evidence of the social experiment which successive governments have been carrying out for the past thirty years. Britain has been a laboratory for social change. The relaxation of the benefits system in the wake of industrial implosion. Personal responsibility devolved to local authority. The demonization of collective morality. Kyle’s programme supplies data from that experiment. Method, results, conclusion. Kyle’s guests are lab mice. We observe sniffily. We examine them with a smug sense of superiority. Watching them showboat. Going through their act for us. Bumping against the walls of the maze. Performing their behavioural tricks and turns. Exposing their system of beliefs and morals. Asserting their rights. Fundamentally oblivious to their responsibilities. And the conclusion is?


One comment

  1. deleted user · April 9, 2009

    i hate that programme


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