Equality through Teaching Politics in secondary schools.

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The England Riots 2011 and the rhetorical capital it gave to right wing politics.

As we watched the looting, the violence and the arson taking place in various cities across England in 2011 we all asked the same question. Why? Some of us knew the answers, and others saw an opportunity to use the horrific scenes to their advantage. These were the thugs of our society, the spawn of single parents, the immigrants, the ungrateful minorities and the underclass. How could anybody argue with forthcoming policy proposals to get tough on benefit scroungers, on single parent families, and on the youth.

I am ‘unqualified’ to comment in one respect, and yet in another respect I feel more qualified than the so called experts. The twenty-four-seven news channels broadcast discussions where panels of experts analysed how such violence had come about and offered an array of suggestions. It was refreshing to see some panelists who had inside knowledge of gang culture, urban violence and were themselves perhaps classed by some as immigrants, regardless of the fact that they were born here.

As the discussion unfolded on Facebook I was horrified to discover others who shared some history with me, where violence was rife and a blind eye always the only one looking. The blame was placed firmly at the door of the rioters. “What does she mean?” I hear you cry, “Weren’t they the one’s causing such chaos?” And so I will try to explain why, from the privileged angle of having witnessed similar violence first hand,  albeit perhaps on a smaller scale, I cannot blame the rioters and feel that to do so simply serves to dress old lesions rather than treat the causal disease.

It is at this point that we could plunge into a deluge of statistics which would no doubt help or hinder my story depending on the statistics I choose to quote. We could unfold some of the rhetoric used by the privileged  in our societies whose exposure to violence has been cushioned by the screen through which they observe it. We could accept the rhetoric which denotes that we are all responsible for our own actions and leave this discussion at that without further inspection. After all the facts are that rioters committed violence and crime which cost innocent lives to be lost and left a scar on others which may never fade. So am I suggesting that the individuals are not responsible, that they are simply a product of societies ills? Am I suggesting that they are not to blame? Am I suggesting that the rioters had no choice?

The simple answer to these questions is ‘yes’ and ‘no’. It is not, as the media would have you believe, a black and white issue, an either or scenario, where blame can be placed at a single door. The reasons are multiple, the causes diverse, and blame lies in a culture where individual success is measured by possessions alone and opportunity allows us all to start a race that can never be completed. Opportunity, where some are given a head start, and some have more hurdles to jump than others. A culture where money determines so much, and where so much is lost to money.

Having witnessed, and I am truly sorry to say, taken part in violence as a child and adolescent, I feel that I have, like many of my childhood friends, an insight into how violence and crime evolve within a culture that for far too long has spent money on treating symptoms rather than time and trust uncovering the cause. The violence I witnessed was committed by children and adolescents who had once been innocent children. After all, aren’t all children born innocent? I can say for myself that violence was a learnt behavior. The problem with experiencing violence as a child is that it becomes normalized and you become immune from the empathy that those unexposed might feel. Furthermore, in a society where violence is rife it is the scourge of that violence which becomes a necessity for survival and self preservation. Once the child has acted in a violent manner they are deemed by their peers to be competing in a race and therefore constantly having to defend their position or face a humiliating defeat.

Victims of violence get angry and seek revenge, but they have to have been exposed to it and its heartlessness to need such revenge. Violence breeds violence. How true! So how do we break that cycle, how do we stop the catch twenty two where lack of empathy eats away at a child’s ability to empathize.

Well,  for me, empathy is the key. How can we ever empathize if we are never empathized with. We know that this is learnt as a youngster, but we have to continue with it. And if we really do empathize with others, how can we ever judge them?

There were so many rioters in England in August of 2011, how can we possibly give a single cause, a single reason, or place blame at a single door. What we can know is that something somewhere is wrong for so many to have participated at various levels and with varying consequences? How can we paint them all the same colour, or say that the reasoning one rioter gives for participating is any less moral than another’s when the places and circumstances differed so greatly?

Violence of this nature is an everyday event for many. Violence and crime are a means of survival. How is that so? For some, crime is the only means of what we all recognize as payment, that is  ‘money’, the means by which we are so often measured and judged. Violence in criminal circles is a means to an end. The end is to be recognized, to be equal, to fit in, to obtain money in order to have possessions which according to our culture of individuality renders us successful or not. A culture where people become invisible, and with money some are never exposed to the darkness created by individuality, by self preservation and equal opportunity. The latter of course largely reliant on your means, or rather the means available to the family into which you are born. Equal opportunity, where those with money have a head start, while the rest play catch up and become accustomed to failure. Their invisibility at the back of the race self evident, and their excuses a self fulfilling prophecy. If the invisible believe that money might make them visible, might put them ahead, they will try by any means to obtain it. After all, those winning the race don’t always acquire their means morally.

And so before we place the blame at the door of the immigrants, the dole scroungers, the single parents, or the scumbags, remember as I do, once upon a time they were all innocent children. Circumstance made them what they are, culture nurtured us and taught us lessons. The lessons we learned depended on where we were in the race. And so as you sprint along the last furlong with moral superiority helping you breath, ask yourself if your position would be the same had you started the race at a different place, or better still, where your place in the race would be had we started at the same time in a culture where community spirit came first and everyone was truly equal?

Listening to the politicians and reading the Murdoch press makes life so much easier. The culprits are to blame and they should be punished, and there the story ends. Only it doesn’t. Their children will begin the race at the back, they will fight for front place, by any means, and someone somewhere will again pay a high price for not having treated the cause and handing out medicine to treat the symptoms. The country isn’t in a mess because of any one group of people, the riots didn’t happen as a result of any one event, the riots are the pneumonia of the untreated cold endemic in our culture. We are all to blame if we don’t wash our hands, if we continue to close our eyes when we sneeze, we are all to blame for believing it is somebody else’s problem in which we play no part. Joining the blame wagon simply serves to feed right-wing politics with pandemic ammunition. Don’t fall for it!

Question Time on Twitter

Question Time on Twitter

Once again on Mainstream British Television we are exposed to the scapegoating of the poorest in our society in a show which supposedly scrutinizes the British political process and yet draws no connection whatsoever between the issues raised.

Question Time has been a long running weekly show which, in line with our supposed democracy gives the general public the opportunity to scrutinize politicians and other elites of one kind or another. Sadly the producers, programmers and broadcasters have little understanding of the democratic process they aim to ‘Question’.

After ‘applying’ to appear in the audience, (bearing in mind that those people within society who feel powerless are unlikely to do so, and therefore remain unrepresented) the audience enter a selection process. Any questions which are ‘unplanned’ are mostly brushed to one side by Mr Dimbleby who cleverly asks another audience member a question which is then put to the panel.

OK, so the leader of a fascist party appeared, but do they really pose a threat? I think not! I would even go as far as to say that the coalition in power are pretty fascist as it is.  The real threats to the current structure of the system and its institutions in the form of real left anti capitalist  movements are largely unrepresented and certainly have been misrepresented. Where are the voices of the alternatives?

And so once again this evening the 29th June 2012 when a member of the audience asked why she should continue working when she would be better off  not working and claiming benefits,  the whole panel had to agree that some people lazy and that in these times of economic crisis we cannot afford to pay for people not to work. There were a few comments regarding the deserving and undeserving poor. A few challenging a doley’s right to enjoy a drink at the pub with friends or even to have sky TV.

I do not deny that long term doley’s are lazy, and that some have no intention of working. I do not deny that a benefit culture exists. What frustrates and angers me is the lack of empathy. Have you ever had to live on benefits? Take it from me, it’s pretty impossible. The consequences are  often a poor diet, malnourished children and adults alike, exclusion from social activities, and a very very low self esteem not at all aided by the consultants you collect your ‘number’ from when you go to claim.

There is no mention of the real trap. The youngster having had a poor education and a disruptive home life which hindered his or her studies. The lack of available funds for that child to enjoy the enrichment of extra curricular activity, and not forgetting the way that poorer, scruffier children are treated as lesser beings from a very young age.  Nor is there mention of the impossibility for some to attend higher education because of the necessity to make up a short fall in the loss of child benefit they have inflicted on their parents. That suit that is needed for that interview, that bus fair, train fair or petrol money…….They are not considerations for many of us, but for a family on benefits this is everyday life.

Its tough on benefits, believe me. The self esteem that my child gains from out of school clubs is priceless for me, but then I have that choice. Others with as much and often more talent do not. Gone are the days when children are selected through schools and given opportunity. Equal opportunity? Where?

Along with usual ‘benefit scrounger scapegoating’ was the to often ‘pussyfooted banking regulation’ issue. No comparison was drawn. The conspicuous relationship between elites of all nature was raised by good old Paddy Ashdown, and for a second there was hope. But no, it was mentioned and once again tidied neatly into a quietened corner for a day that it seems will never come. Still no comparison or correlation was drawn.

So here it is. The system we have necessitates poverty. That is why the welfare state was introduced. They were not introduced ‘just in case’ but because politicians and elites of the highest ilk needed to pacify the working class whom they knew would ultimately suffer under a capitalist system. Lets not talk of taking money from the welfare state, lets talk about making wages fairer. It is not the welfare state that is flawed, except that it does not pay the poorest in our society who have been let down by the system enough. No! It is the businesses and politicians who have enabled a system to evolve which is unregulated and self governed, to the point that business and finance holds more power than politics. Politicians are merely the puppets of the powerful. Hence the lack of banking regulation.

If you are born into a working class  family, statistics show, the chances are you will die working class. The same applies if you are born at the top of the ladder. That tells us something. Equality does not exist within our British society. OK we live better lives than  many around the world. But poverty is relative! How so I hear you cry! How do you explain to a child who loves football that they cannot join the dance club they so enjoyed once, because we don’t have enough money? Is this child any more or less devastated than the child who has to walk five miles everyday for water? We can say that the latter is more severe poverty of course, but the child’s feelings are similar. They don’t compare their situation to the child in Africa, they compare it to their next door neighbor as she leaves for that dance club, even though she may be the lesser talented, and it is she who will become the dancer!

You cannot teach self esteem. You cannot give somebody confidence other than through giving them the ‘opportunity’ to help themselves.

How do we watch the Greeks go hungry and give the Spanish banks Billions? How can we justify excluding children in a country where there is plenty to go round? People don’t choose to ‘scrounge’, most are legitimately out of work, some are incapable of work through overwork, and some have given up the fight and now believe themselves to be worth nothing more than scrounging. But take their benefits? What good will that do?

We have to stop allowing the media, the politicians and the elites blinding us with the light of medicating the symptoms of societies problems because we the people will ultimately pay the price. We have to ask “What are the causes?” and we have to keep asking, and keep asking some more, and when we get answers we have to demand action. I fear, if we don’t take action and demand change, we might just destroy any ‘good’ we have left!

The Dogmatic Left?

Those who pin their flag to the Marx, Engels and Trotsky social science of dialectical materialism are often accused of dogmatism. Are such accusations deserved, or are they simply another tool used by capitalists to undermine the alternative?

The writings of Marx and Engels are fascinating and so relevant that you’d be hard pressed to find disagreement. As for Trotsky, I have not read much at all, accept for the odd article on the Socialist Equality Parties (SEP) website.  The reason that I ask this question in particular is rather a personal one.

My friends and I share a common frustration with the capitalist system currently trashing the planet. We share a desire for equal societies and a cleaner world on every level. We share an anger about poverty and the mass destruction of nature. We also share a history. My friends however consider themselves Trotskyists, Marxists and socialists while I am reluctant to pin my flag to any one theory, ideology or social science.

My reluctance may be the result of an undecided belief in human nature. I have yet to encounter any single idea able to paint a perfect picture, concluding that perhaps science is unable to explain the human being and his/her behavior.

During our numerous and ongoing debates we reach a point at which we cannot agree. The scientific facts and therefore truth which dialectical materialism provides.

I am constantly told that no other philosophy has been scientifically proven in the same way as dialectical materialism? Sadly I do not believe that there is a single truth, or that science can explain the human condition. Am I badly mistaken? Are my friends dogmatic to believe that the ideas they espouse to are correct and everyone else is mistaken? Or are we all a little dogmatic in our understandings of politics because our own experience is after all what guides us along with our individual interpretations no matter how objective we aim to be? Are we as humans really capable of objectivity, or is everything subjective, and if the latter is true where does that leave any claims of scientific knowledge?

 

Is it normal to blame the dole scroungers! A very personal opinion.

squinting through the dense smoke I could barely see the needle piercing his mottled forearm. His fist sporadically easing and clenching, and his teeth grasping the long end of the belt around his upper arm. The stench of body Oder, stale urine, hashish, tobacco and rough cider filled my mouth and nostril’s. The sun reflected from the tinfoil on the table, making beams of light in the room, and I knew from past experience where all of this was leading, but I wasn’t afraid. If  I’d learned one thing it was that I was tough and this was normal.

In the eighties it was ‘normal’ to see children outside of the local pub waiting for their parents. It was normal to see a bloody fist fight on a Saturday in town. It was normal to see kids all over Great Britain letting themselves into their homes from infant school age after a long day at school, and it was normal to be sent ‘out to play’ at every given opportunity only to return for food and water. It’s still normal for many, and the truth is they don’t have a choice.

Living just above the poverty line it’s essential to earn as much as possible to keep yourself there. That means freedom for kids. On large estates where a kid can mean someone as young as four or five and as old as seventeen, and often adults too.

Living on benefits is to live below the poverty line. There’s no income for children to join in with social activities, sporting events or even own a bike. Exclusion becomes a way of life, learning from an early age that you are an outsider can become a self fulfilling unless you are one of the lucky ones.

Most who would consider themselves in the above two categories do a great job with little or no help. For some the price is higher. All children ever want to be is ‘normal’ and money ultimately affects their ability to do that. Is it any wonder that parents with no ammunition and often no ‘fight’ left, turn to drink and drugs? Watching your life unfold before you with no power at all to do anything about it, the life that you always knew would unfold, that you fought against and failed.

You are now, after all ‘normal’ having failed. You fit into the set statistics, the so called ‘facts of life’. You are as useless as that teacher would tell you when you turned up at school with the wrong shoes and a snotty nose. As useless as your mother told you that you were having come home late from school unable to babysit your siblings. As useless and worthless as the media and government say you are.

So here is a no holds barred approach. It wasn’t your fault that your mum didn’t change you nappy enough which led to that nappy rash you itched until you broke the skin scratching. Nor was it your mothers fault that she couldn’t afford for you to have clothes to help you blend in. It wasn’t her fault or yours that you couldn’t join the sports club where you would have excelled, nor was it your mothers fault that she doesn’t remember your childhood, the time when you were taken to hospital by a stranger and no one came, or the time when those boys ripped off your underwear and spat in your face, when they penetrated you because you were dressed in cheap clothes. It was  because she drank herself into oblivion day and night because she too had been told she was worthless to the point that it was easier to lay down and die from the inside out than to face another battle she couldn’t possibly win.

The system was flawed, and you are the experiment. Its not normal or acceptable and the statistics tell lies! We always need someone to blame and the easy target is always the most vulnerable. Being normal means fitting into statistics. People don’t work or move in straight lines. We don’t fit into boxes on a graph. We are all unique, and we are ‘ALL’ worthy, but most importantly, none of us are normal!