Left Luggage

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Archive for the ‘Morality’ Category

The radicalism of action, not words

Posted by Left Luggage on July 20, 2009

We’ve argued previously that the Left needs to tackle such thorny issues as anti-social behaviour, crime, and morality if it is to launch itself from the political wilderness to centre stage. Blogger Vengeance and Fashion took up these issues in an excellent post that furthered this debate. Generalising from the case of teacher Peter Harvey, who was charged with the attempted murder of one of his pupils, the writer goes on to discuss problems of behaviour in the classroom and how this relates to wider changes in society.

He relates his analysis to the Independent Working Class Association’s identification of a “lumpen attitude”, highlighted in a previous piece on Left Luggage, that is ultimately counter to working class values and destructive to communities. The writer correctly argues that the Left as a whole needs to recognise such attitudes and behaviour as something that needs to be countered:

It doesn’t do the left any good to pretend that the attitudes of a significant section of the school population stink.  The constant invokation of ‘rights’ and selfish disregard for anyone else (be they other pupils or teachers) is prevalent in many classrooms.  As is the baiting of teachers, who have little real power over pupils.[…]

The lumpen attitude, as identified by the IWCA, of ‘venal and brazen opportunism’ and the decline of working class ideals, is undoubtedly as a result of the atomisation and decline in traditional working class organisations and institutions. This has in turn led to a decline in the working class values identified in the quote above, to which I would add the spirit of self and collective improvement. This does seem to have been a significant factor behind the escalation of problems in the classroom over the last 30 years.

Much of the Left might find fault with this analysis, given the strong tendency to romanticise an idealised “working class” while largely remaining distanced from it. Even if such a heretical notion were permitted, the solutions offered would not doubt be along the lines of: “Unless we abolish capitalism…”, merely reinforcing the Left’s impotence as regards practical politics in the here and now. V&A attempts to bridge this gap by suggesting a “twin-track approach”:
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Posted in Education, Morality, Strategy, Youth | Leave a Comment »

Stressing the social in anti-social behaviour

Posted by Left Luggage on June 27, 2009

Does the Left have any adequate answers to anti-social behaviour? And does it need to? These questions were posed to me by a friend recently who’s life has been made hellish by his neighbours. The story points to some critical issues regarding social liberalism and the Left’s approach to community politics:

My friend lives in back-to-back terrace house in a northern town. A few months ago, a young couple with a child moved in next door. At first there were a few minor problems: rubbish left piled up in the shared back yard, the dogs defecating in his garden and their owners not clearing the mess up. But the young man would take care of these things when asked.

Soon, though, the young man had left the scene, and was replaced by the comings-and-goings of numerous young men calling at the house at all hours. Problems intensified: more and more rubbish, then setting fire to the rubbish, a succession of loud parties until the earlier hours, drunk poeple spilling out of the house in the earlier hours, loud arguments, drug use, and the (now noticeably emaciated) dogs let out to roam the streets.

The response from the authorities has been negligible. The fire brigade wasn’t interested in the cause of the fire, the police didn’t follow-up on the matter as promised after sending a PCSO round, the council say they can’t remove the rubbish, and the RSPCA say they can’t do anything about the dogs unless they’re being “mistreated”.

Meanwhile, my friend has visited some his neighbours who are all equally sick of what has been going on. But all of them are too fearful to take action, either by contacting the authorities or doing anything else. It seems the young woman is notorious in the town and is well known to the police and many local people.

In essence this reads like the kind of “neighbours from hell” story you might find in right-wing tabloids like the Daily Mail or the Express. But that does not mean we should automatically discount it; there are real and serious issues here that those on the Left need to consider. So how would we approach this? I would argue two responses are most common:
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Posted in Crime, Morality, Working class | 3 Comments »

Inequality and the battle of ideas

Posted by Left Luggage on June 25, 2009

Tuesday’s report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on public attitudes to inequality shed some light on the state of the battle of ideas that is underway between Right and Left.

The headline findings might be taken to support the suggestion that there is negligible support for the world view and policy proposals of the Left. This was certainly the conclusion of the Guardian, which chose to concentrate on the fact that 69% of respondents said they believed that there were plenty of opportunities for economic advancement, for those willing to take them. Other findings that many on the Left might find depressing include the widespread assumption that benefit claimants will not go on to make a positive contribution to society (p25) and the fatalistic attitude that inequalities are “inevitable in a market economy” (p47).

All of this underlines the challenges faced by the Left in attempting to convince the public of their position. David Osler made this point in a post on the JRF report:

All of this represents a major problem for any left that is actually interested in expanding it base. Capitalism – and the inequality it creates – continue to enjoy moral legitimacy in the eyes of an overwhelming majority.

While the unfolding recession has generated popular outrage aimed against those at the apex of the banking system, clearly general purpose ‘tax the rich’ fat cat-bashing will most of the time have little purchase.

I’m not suggesting any retreat whatsoever from the underlying principles involved. No socialism worthy of the name can be anything but redistributive in nature. But we need to come up with a more effective way of selling the message to the public, and sooner rather than later at that.

If we look at the report in a little more detail, however, we might find more reasons to be hopeful than either The Guardian or Osler. It is certainly true that the report found high levels of support for the concept of “fair inequality” – that differences in wealth were justified as long as those who had more deserved their wealth. There was only minority support, the report found, for “abstract notions of equality” (p43).

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Posted in Class, Ideology, Morality, Socialism, Strategy | 2 Comments »

Talking about our values

Posted by Left Luggage on May 25, 2009

As the MPs expenses scandal rumbles on, it is interesting to note that the harshest criticisms in moralistic terms have come from the Right, especially the press. This is not too surprising as “moral issues” issues are generally seen as the preserve of the Right, with the Left generally preferring structural socio-structural over agent-focussed explanations.

In the US this trend is much more well developed than here in the UK. Republicans use the language of right and wrong consistently, for example in the “culture wars” around Bush’s election. There are totemic issues such as abortion, gay marriage and gun control, but GOP members also used the language of morality in its campaign to abolish inheritance tax in 2001, a change that would have only affected a tiny number of the wealthiest in society. In his book, Death by A Thousand Cuts, Michael Gratz chronicles how the Democrats responded to this proposal with an appeal to self interest – “most of you don’t pay it and, besides, we need the money” – thus making the party seem like the defenders of a corrupt status quo. They didn’t try to argue the moral position of their own: that inheritance is deeply undemocratic and anti-meritocratic.

There is certainly a resistance to talking explicitly about morality from liberals and the Left. Partly this is justified insofar as we have an understandable distaste for the right-wing tendency to reduce everything to individual moral questions, blame social problems on individual failings, and obscure structural injustices. But our reluctance to address issues of morality leaves the field open for the Right (and the Christian Right in the US) to position itself as the defender of moral values against an out-of-touch liberal elite.

A case study in how the Left should not address issues of morality came recently from Jeremy Seabrook in a Guardian article which argued the MPs expenses scandal told us more about ourselves, as a society that has lost its moral compass:

There are, perhaps, no innocent bystanders, yet many are ready to cast the first stone at the crooked and self-serving. Perhaps, after all, our MPs represent us more than we care to admit. This is why the indignation of the unforgiving media and the vengefulness of the public have reached such a paroxysm.

While reintroducing the question of morality, Seabrook shunts out any structural analysis of society in favour of emphasising individual failures and individual solutions. In a sense, it is similar to the phenomenon of -Keep reading>

Posted in Crime, Environmentalism, Morality, Strategy | 2 Comments »