This week saw the return to the blogosphere (I hate that term) of Mr. Winston Smith and a much welcome return it is. Winston was one of the shining lights when it came to highlighting the disgusting and fundamental problems for young people in care. His accounts often harrowing and heartbreaking in equal measure were written not from a perspective of hate and loathing of the underclass, rather from, I believe, a genuine desire to highlight the issues in an attempt to make things better. You always got the impression that even when he'd experienced a great deal of abuse from the young people he was caring for, Winston still wanted the best for them, he still wanted to help - to me that is the mark of a genuinely decent and generous person.
His newest post is about how, now that he's had some time away from writing and away from the battlefield as it were, he has been able to reflect on his views and the things he wrote. To do something like this takes tremendous courage and strength to see one's own faults and to admit when you've perhaps made mistakes. There are a number of points where Winston has done this and tried to explain his reasoning and thoughts at the time. Again, I applaud, Winston for this and I admire him for holding his hands up and having the balls to say I made a few mistakes.
I know in the past we haven't always agreed (my comments about what should be done with the London rioters he thought were too extreme). I also know that our social perspectives are very different; I'm a VERY hard line right-winger where he comes at things from a left-wing, socialist perspective. Even though I do not agree with his point of view; I still respect him greatly for having a strong direction and a genuine passion and a desire for things to be better. From that perspective, I believe we have some common ground. We both want our society to be better, we just come at it from opposite ends.
Now, in his post he has talked about why he is still a socialist and how his principals and views are shaped by left-wing ideas. I will admit, as an ex lefty/socialist myself, his arguments are very persuasive and they do have some merit to them. For example he blames the system of extreme liberalism combined with excessive neo-liberal economic policies for the growth in the underclass and increased inequality that has led to the marginalisation of the working and lower working class. I also strongly agree with his point about middle class teachers, social workers and other professionals making excuses for working class anti social behaviour because of the fact that they are working class. As I used to say many times on this blog, that is a perfect example of miss-placed bleeding-heart, progressive dogma, which tries to excuse behaviour by making these people out as victims of the system. As Winston says: ' New Labour actually exacerbated the existence of the underclass because they didn't understand that the values you instil in people are just as important as the money you put in their pockets.' I would actually argue that New Labour knew exactly what they were doing by fostering and promoting this unthinking, no need to take responsibility for your own actions, victim mentality through their use of social policy. They vastly increased the size of the underclass and threw open the doors to untold poorly skilled and educated migrants so that they could shore up their voter bases. I honestly believe that this experiment in social engineering was done deliberately to secure votes for their party. Winston, also, rightly, I believe, points out that the capitalist system will never serve the interests of the working class, nor is it designed to help them out of the mire. Quite so.
However, I part company from his arguments when he says: 'I have come to believe once again that a fair, just and equitable societies can only come about when people embrace a sense of collective purpose and work together for the common good.'
The problem with this belief is that for it to work you have to have people working together 'collectively' for the common good - won't ever happen on a large scale for an extended period of time. Here's why. Human beings are all individuals, we are not and never have been a true collective species. Admittedly, we do form into small tribes and even possibly extended kinship groups; however, that has always been done to help further and improve the chances of our groups, to pool resources to enable us to strive and attain more than the next group. I know that there is the argument that because we are so advanced now we have the capabilities of sharing resources so that nobody need struggle or suffer. Indeed, that may be so, but the reason it doesn't happen is because some people in their very DNA in their genetic makeup will ALWAYS want more, will always want to exploit and control. Again, human beings are not a true collective or altruistic species. We have glimpses of that, when we can unite for the common good, but because of our competitive, individual natures, we can't sustain that for very long. Another way of highlighting this is the old example of hypothetically sharing out all the resources evenly (let's just take money for this example) some people would spend it in a matter of days on silly frivolous things and be left with nothing in a matter of weeks, whilst others would save it or invest it wisely. We have been genetically pre programmed to be that way and that is ultimately why a society based on a large collective macro system is ultimately doomed to failure. These systems, theoretically, be it capitalism or socialism, liberalism et al always work brilliantly, because they see society functioning pretty much (there are a few spaces open for divergent behaviour) as a homogenous mass. However, these systems only work if basically every human is functioning to the best of their ability and working collectively for a common goal. That is unrealistic, again because of our individual natures. Now, I know that people will say yes but we put laws, rules and regs in place to counter that and make people conform. True, those rules and laws do help to curtail the problems and force people to comply to a given system. For example, let's take a popular theme of the last few years the fraud and illegal dealings of bankers that have left us all up shit creek. We do indeed have laws, rules, sanctions and legislation to stop bankers playing fast and loose and these should in theory have prevented the bankers from getting us into such a terrible mess. However, as J.P' O Rourke correctly put it: 'When buying and selling becomes regulated and legislated, the first things to be bought and sold are the regulators and the legislators.' In other words, humans will always find ways to bypass and get round laws and rules if they go against their individual goals and ambitions.
Another important factor why these macro systems can't ever work properly is because they don't actually exist. They are societal/economic/cultural constructs that work through the use of shared goals and aims. This is all well and good and very noble but as I mentioned above when you factor in the intrinsic, individualism of human beings every grand narrative that relies on something as weak as this is always bound to come a cropper. This is why it would ultimately be pointless to try and change one collectively driven system (capitalism/neo-liberalism) for another (socialism). This is the great irony of socialism because it can't or perhaps doesn't want to see that the same factors which prevent capitalism from working effectively would, ultimately, stop it from working properly, also. Again, I know people will argue that all you need to do is put in more sanctions, laws and regs to make it (the chosen system) work better and more effectively, but that is the same as treating the symptoms of an illness, rather than the cause.
I honestly believe that until we have the technology to eradicate intrinsic human faults, such as greed, our need to dominate, our need to control and other negative individual traits on a genetic level, nothing is going to improve. In the same way that we are now increasingly screening embryos for genetic defects and illnesses, we are not that far off being able to eliminate those negative characteristics, prenatal and replacing them with desirable characteristics such as; greater compassion, a sense of collective responsibility, love, kindness and gentleness et al. Until we are able to do that our society will never become a more fair, equal and harmonious place, because no matter the system, our individual drives and our detrimental human faults will always win out over the long term and stop that needed sense of collective and uniting social cohesion. That might sound pessimistic, but when you consider the history of our species at no time have we EVER been able to sustain a fair and just collective society. Furthermore, even today when we could easily do that, it isn't possible because the ones who rise to the top because they have that ruthless drive and ambition, will fight tooth and nail to preserve what they have. Ultimately, at the moment, genetically we are not an altruistic or collective species and that is why these grand systems can't ever work.
Finally, I just want to stress that this is not meant as an attack on Winston in anyway. I admire him and I respect him and his writings greatly. I hope that he will take this post in the friendly and warm spirit in which it is meant - because that is sincerely how I hope it comes across. I urge anyone reading this to pop across to his blog and have a read of his excellent post. There is much in it to applaud and, as I pointed out above, I agree with lots of the points he has made. Thanks, Winston.