Masterpeace’s interview with me.

1- In your blog`s aim you stated that “I thrive on smashing the status quo”, how do you see the world peace status quo right now?

I think the world is at a cross roads in the history of international politics. People will look back at the first decades of the new millennium and see it as the beginning of the end of our unipolar world order. The Soviet Union aside we’ve been governed by the United States twin policies of the free market and force against those who won’t comply since the end of World War II and I can see that that is coming to an end. A ‘multipolar’ world is emerging. The United States is still by far the most powerful actor by virtue of its unparalleled military potential but its ability to convince and coerce is declining. China and India have usurped its role as the productive power, the European Union is poised to take over the role as peace builder and banker in chief. Russia is our energy power and Brazil, Australia and Canada have our natural resources. I foresee a greater need for collaboration. This is a positive thing, inter-state war is a thing of the past, countries don’t fight their allies!

 

2- What does a peace practitioner concept means?

I have a university degree in Peace Studies and I’ve come to realise that so few people understand what that is. When I tell people “what is peace?” is the question I get. It’s such an important, what does peace mean to you and me? Practicing peace can be starting a community group to bring people together, it can be the UN soldiers in any conflict zone on earth, I practice peace by writing about the world from a solution focussed point of view. Moving away from “there are problems” to “there are problems, what are we going to do about them?”. Practicing peace seeing past the view that the world is a bad place and we can’t do anything about it, it’s about asking questions and it’s about seeing that there are so many more ways to solve a problem that the ones that have already been tried.
3- What motivates you to be a peace practitioner?

I am a very practical person. That makes me want to roll up my sleeves and do things. I see injustice and I see problems and I want to find out what I can do to solve them. I studied politics when I was a teenager and I was dissatisfied by the approach. I didn’t just want to look at war or suffering or inequality, I wanted to do something about it.

4- How could cyber blogging change the on ground reality?

People have been grown accustomed to thinking that the development is happening at maximum capacity. That the world is improving at the fastest rate possible. That people’s lives are getting better and we’re fighting against disease and famine and inequality as hard as we can. This simply isn’t true. We’re barely fighting at all. How can we work towards maximum capacity? We need to lift that veil of ignorance and see the truth, that things aren’t OK and we can do more. The world still isn’t talking about peace enough. I don’t think enough people see it as a viable alternative, they have come to accept the status quo. Writing about peace, talking about it with our friends and teaching it in class rooms shows that we don’t have to live in the world we live in and that it is possible to change things.
5- As working in the UK student movement between 2008-2010, how do you picture student`s involvement in peace movements?
It’s about teaching and learning. Students need to demand to be taught about peace as an alternative to the world order we currently live in. In the University of Durban there is a module in nonviolence for students and nonviolence is built into staff development. Learning about peace is about broadening your horizons and seeing all the options available: once we have a generation of people who don’t see the status quo as acceptable I think we can expect the pace of change to accelerate.

6- How do you see the role super powers like UK can play to bring peace to the world?

Well I’m not sure how much of a super power the UK is any more sadly! I am unashamed in my view that countries can be the ‘good guys’ and they can be the ‘bad guys’. The UK has a huge development programme (relatively speaking, it could be much, much larger), it uses its military to intervene in crises on humanitarian grounds, it has enforceable human rights and has embedded the universality of human rights in its foreign policy. Britain is one of the good guys and it shouldn’t underplay that. Britain shouldn’t be afraid to act alone sometimes. British foreign policy is very focussed on collaboration with the European Union, NATO and the United States. Whilst I see that as positive Britain is strong enough to, for example, conduct a peacekeeping mission by itself. The problem is that public opinion in Britain would not support that. Public opinion needs to change.  Using our power for good is not a burden, it is a huge honour.

7- How could an educated peace practitioner like yourself help a grass-roots wide scale movement like MasterPeace?

My contribution to peace is to write about it. I write about peace because I think it will help people overcome their perception of the world as either a bad place that cannot be changed or a place where problems are just ‘solving themselves’. Masterpeace is part of the solution, showing people that peace and togetherness are an option for the world. I think that our aims are similar so I’m pleased to be writing for Masterpeace to help it achieve its goals!

Stereotypes, injustice and the power of the media

You can now find the audio version of this post on my youtube channel or by clicking here:

http://www.youtube.com/user/willvswatson?feature=mhum#p/u/0/43K4neDHSOg 

When you watch a film there are lots of characters that are unusually pretty incongruous. They’re there so that the lead character can explain things to them (for the benefit of the audience) and help smooth the narrative. Sometimes these characters are a sassy black best friend or maybe a noble man in a wheelchair or a flamboyant gay man.

These characters are in films intended to appeal to a broad audience on subject matter that everyone can relate to. They show that whilst the protagonist of the piece, our hero with whom we have a relationship with, is stoic and brooding, he is also modern and sophisticated. Of course, because our lead is willing to drink coffee with his Japanese friend who will use her superb knowledge of comic books or maths to help solve the crime, he must be 21st century and worldly.

This seemingly random selection of prejudicial stereotypes does not broaden the appeal of the film to a wider audience. It does not make it appear cultured or in touch with modern trends. It doesn’t help watchers of the film who are Japanese or disabled identify with characters in it. It just makes it look stupid and bigoted.

How transparent can you get? Even white, straight males know that all black nurses aren’t feisty and religious. They know that sometimes gay men like to drink beer and play football. They aren’t all stupid or narrow-minded so if the makers of films are trying to appeal to them in this way then they’re really missing something.

So my question is this, when will I get to see a film where the hero of our story, our protagonist, is in a wheelchair? But not just that, when he is in a wheel chair and ‘him being in a wheelchair’ is not part of the storyline and won’t even be mentioned? When will they start to portray a man in a wheelchair as an average guy on whom a film might be centred around?

No, he won’t be overcoming adversity to his disability. He won’t be lobbying the government for a change in disability laws or fighting his reluctant doctors to give him stem cell therapy so he can walk again. He will just be in a wheelchair and that’ll be fine by him.

When will I see a film in which a gay woman is our lead and her relationship with her partner isn’t ‘on the rocks’ or where they aren’t pulling together through the condemnation of society and the rejection of their families? When will they be portrayed as ‘just a typical family’?

Essentially what I’m asking is – when will we have reached the threshold of societal tolerance that the media will start to appeal to the majoritarian audience by portraying the minority?

We’ve been waiting a while now, it’s not like the rights women or ethnic minorities are a new fad and this isn’t something that’s gone unnoticed. Stonewall, the LGB lobbying group in the UK, have criticised television broadcasting as portraying gay people as “promiscuous, predatory, or figures of fun”. They go on to link this to a vicious circle that sustains prejudice in society. When people (particularly children) from backgrounds in which they are not exposed to gay people encounter them they refer to their knowledge of them from the TV screen. Which is often less than congratulatory – their report says “just 46 minutes out of 126 hours’ output showed gay people positively and realistically”. http://bbc.in/gYqfzN

The media may claim it only produces what is sought after. That it is simply a factory for programming that the public demand. That is unbelievable. In an age when we are all aware of the awesome power of the media to place an idea in someone’s head (and not the other way around) it is they that should be leading the offensive against injustice. In a broader sense business has a responsibility to counter act negative effects it may produce as a by-product. Chemical companies clean up toxic waste spills. It’s about time that film and television started clearing up the toxic waste that is their products and start recognising their duty to do something about the prejudice and intolerance that they sustain through their negligence.

North Korea – what’s going on?!

It’s hard to work out exactly what’s happening in North Korea sometimes. It seems  it takes an advanced degree in psychology to figure out what wild schemes the leadership will think up next. From randomly sinking ships to shelling an island, for no apparent reason, the North Korean Central Military Commission, headed by Kim Jong-Il have only one predictable trait: complete unpredictability.

Right, hands up who thinks they know what’s going on? Anyone? No. I didn’t think so. The actions of the North Korean state lack a central theme, something we’re so used to when looking at the behaviour of a country. Their actions lack rationales, their words seem to be unrelated to anything they’re doing. It’s very confusing. We just put our heads in our hands and moan ‘oh what next?’. We can’t rely on them not to do it again or even raise the stakes and go nuclear. There is nothing stopping them, they’ve everything to gain and seem blissfully unaware of everything they have to lose – that one day they might cross a line and the USA and S.Korea will have had enough, and this time China won’t be there to save them.

I’m going to use this post to do a little analysis of the situation in N.Korea, bust some myths and perhaps set up people’s critical eye for when this inevitably happens again.

Before that, let’s have some background, some people are still surprised when they learn about the conditions the North Koreans live under.

North Korea is the most oppressive state on earth. It’s inhabitants are barely aware the outside world exists. They are dimly cogniscent of South Korea (the enemy) America (definitely the enemy) Japan (also the enemy) China (sometimes a friend) and Russia (unpredictable, just like us!). It is also one of the poorest. The people live in desperate poverty. However the regime has a magic trick up it’s sleeve. Because it is in complete control of all media and communications and has blacked out the outside world, it is able to convince the population that in fact they are gloriously wealthy. It has told the North Koreans that their standard of living is far superior to that of the Americans and that they are lucky to live the way they do. Clever eh?

So, the last few days:

Why have they been shelling each other? What is going on?

There a number of factors at play here. Most important is the succession going on in North Korea. Kim Jong-Il is sick, we think he’s had a stroke, and he’s dying and there isn’t really anyone to take his place. He’s got a few sons but he’s a bit of a lunatic so he isn’t sure he trusts them. He’s decided to select the most pliable of his progeny, Kim Jong-un, to succeed him. This Jong-un chap is quite young, maybe 30 at most (we don’t even know how old he is, that’s the sort of secrecy we’re dealing with) and he’s had no experience of running a horrible socialist autocracy. Jong-Il wants him to take over and command the respect of the army who are huge and powerful and quite likely run the place. So what do they do? They want to it to appear that the recent decision to shell South Korea came from Jong-un, to make it seem like he is in control, knows what he is doing and has some military successes under his belt (bizarre I know, bear with me).

But… it’s not that simple. North Korea is a centrally run state, when I say centrally run I mean that, it’s all run by one person, or a small group of people. So when the person running the state has a stroke, what do you do? Nothing! Panic! But luckily for the North Koreans the army was there to assume more control. The army are even less bright than the leadership, they don’t have the limited international relations savvy that Jong-Il has. They are either unaware or do not care what impact their actions have. It is more than possible that the shelling was simply because they were bored!

A final reason they may have started shelling this island is because North Korea is a spoilt child. It has been given money and food and guns for the best part of half a century. Not just by China, it’s friend, but by America and South Korea, in an effort to change it’s behaviour. Since the negotiations to end it’s nuclear programme broke down a few years ago this stream of luxuries and money has been cut off by and large. The North Korean state is now throwing it’s toys out of the pram and having a tantrum. Why? To get attention. They want to appear scary so that people will want to tame them and bring them to the negotiating table. They think if they cause a fuss they will zip to the top of everyone’s agendas and that might mean they can lie and fib until the aid tap gets turned back on.

So that’s a brief(ish) analysis of the situation. This post was precipitated by the frightening goings on around the Korean border, I think it’s very important to challenge preconceptions about situations. It’s also important to make things a little clearer from our perspective, there are no countries in the world we know less about and the little we do know about North Korea should be talked about, if only because it means we can’t be frightened by them into aiding and abetting the criminal negligence of their people or demented military plans.

Extradition review – my thoughts on UK arrangements

Here’s my contribution to the Home Secretary’s review of the UK’s extradition treaties. I’m really glad I got the chance to do this, you can too at http://tinyurl.com/32kn34u. Now please remember I am not a legal expert and I have only the most basic understanding of the law. I am however reasonably well versed in International Relations and the like! I do make some subjective judgements about the quality of other countries’ judiciaries and for that I am unapologetic. Justice is universal, it isn’t subject to cultural relativism and I do consider our judicial system to be one of the best in the world – *Glows with patriotic pride*.

So, here we go:

Dear Home Office,

I’m pleased you’ve given members of the public an opportunity to contribute to the debate on extradition. I am a student of Peace Studies and International Relations at Leeds Metropolitan University and I’ve also taken a semester of International Human Rights Law at the University of California Berkeley.

Before I address each point of your list on the website I wanted to lay out my first two initial thoughts on the matter.

1) any agreement should be based on the concept of reciprocity, the UK should not sign any agreement that is unfairly weighted in its favour or to its detriment.

2) that signing agreements with countries whose judicial systems are underdeveloped or based on principles other than freedom and the rule of law has the potential to undermine our system at home. To elaborate on this I do not necessarily think we should cancel agreements with countries whose laws are based on, for example, religion, just that we should consider our system as a more developed example and should make agreements on British judicial development and support with those countries, alongside any extradition agreement.

 

To address each point in turn:

 

– the Home Secretary’s powers to stop extradition

The Home Secretary is a political actor and a representative of the people. She is not a legal professional (it occasionally may occur that the Home Secretary is indeed a legal professional but this cannot be relied upon) and in making decisions on extradition she is not part of the legal framework which constitutes our judicial system. It strikes me as unusual to give a politician such a power in our judicial system and there is potential for the Home Secretary to act in accordance with public demand. This would be extremely ill-advised. The public should not be able to overrule judicial decisions. Our judiciary is here to protect the minority against the majority so it should be the Supreme Court as the only domestic body that can stop an extradition.

 

– the operation of the European Arrest Warrant, which deals with extradition requests between European countries

The concept of reciprocity comes into play. I agree that Britain should cooperate with other European countries in the area of justice and security however when so many other European countries decide not to cooperate with us this becomes tainted. There should be a threshold, a percentage of compliers to any agreement of this sort, before it becomes active. We should also not agree to cooperate with countries who have not enacted and made use of the EAW.

 

– where a crime is mainly committed in the UK, whether the person should be tried here

This would depend on the nature of the crime and the nature of the punishment. We should also not be afraid to deem our methods of justice superior in this case. When a crime committed here is considered minor then we should strive to protect that person against the disproportionate response they might receive in their country of origin. I understand this is already in place in some circumstances, such as where we refuse to extradite in cases of torture or the death penalty. In furtherance of this I believe, to stay true to our ideological stance, we should refuse to extradite to countries that practice these methods at all.

 

– whether the US-UK Extradition Treaty is unbalanced

This is a cause for extreme concern. Although I state previously that the Home Secretary should not interfere in the extradition process this is an example of an extremely one sided treaty with little or no benefit to the UK other than in diplomacy with the US, I would encourage her to review this as a matter of urgency. I can also reliably state that any recalibration of this law to a more balanced version would meet with strong public support. This treaty defeats many of the objects of British justice. It allows for British people to be tried for acts, performed in Britain and legal in Britain, in the United States, effectively granting the US universal criminal jurisdiction over British subjects. This severely undermines the supremacy of the British and European judiciaries which the British people and Government are accountable to.

 

– whether requesting countries should be required to provide sufficient evidence to prove an allegation

Prima facie should remain as the central object around which any extradition case is based. This is partly the problem with the US-UK treaty as it removes this, with no reciprocity. Although in the case of the EAW there is less cause for concern as the highest authorities for all European citizens are the same institutions.

 

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to contribute, I would be very interested to see what role these contributions make in the process of debate and at what points they are considered. Any guidance on that would be very much appreciated.

I do hope they get back to me on how the submissions are used, wouldn’t it be cool if Teresa May read it and was like, “Right on Will!”


Amnesia – the magic tip-ex of forgiveness

We all have things we’ve done in our lives that we’d rather forget. Honestly, think about it, we’ve all made mistakes, we all have regrets.

I loved the story about the Miss World competition a few years ago. The presumptive winner was this stunning, if a little stupid, Philippino woman. In their jovial way the judges asked her a plethora of silly, cute, questions just perfect for her to give adorable answers to. She was just meant to win but… when hit with the question “what’s your biggest regret?” she answered in “honestly I can say that I’ve never made a mistake in my life!”

… so of course, she didn’t win. She was reviled for it and lost hopelessly to a more humble contestant. The righteous anger amongst the judges and audience was intense, they were indignant, “how dare she say that!” … “she’s not perfect!”. Ironic really for a competition who’s remit it is to seek out perfection. One that rewards and champions idiocy but tries to hide it behind a thin of veil of questions that you can give answers like ‘World Peace!’ to.

So, if you were her, what would you have said? Now I’m not suggesting she should have broken down on stage and revealed that she’d changed her dying grandmother’s will in her favour but… you know, she could have at least tried!

What’s the one thing you’d go back in change? If you weren’t being asked by judges, and no one would know that it had ever happened. Like you could take the tip-ex to your biography and just, edit stuff out.

Maybe you’ve got more than one. I know I have, tonnes of it.

Would you do it? Grab that magic tip-ex and get erasing!

Ok, for the sake of argument, let’s say this tip-ex wasn’t quite so advanced, it was still going through clinical trials maybe. Maybe it was a little trigger happy (look, lots of mixed metaphors!) and erased more than one or a few events, what if it took years or even decades away?

The old saying goes, perception is everything. So what is this tip-ex just took away your recollection of those events, those moments or decisions you’d rather forget. Would you still use it?

Let’s think of it this way, what if taking away your memory of, and the way you’ve been shaped by those events, was all you needed. Does that change things? Maybe, if you don’t remember it, what does it matter? Are you absolved?

Why not, if you have no idea what your past transgressions were, you can’t realistically be held responsible for them.

Is a sort of selective, partial, amnesia a way to wipe your history slate clean? Both how you recall it and the way other people have been affected by it.

Wouldn’t it be great. A break with the past, the chance to reinvent yourself, forgiveness from yourself above all else, then perhaps from others. Perhaps if you’ve forgiven yourself by forgetting, isn’t that what’s most important? Would this forgiveness be given though? We’ve heard about people who commit crimes in their sleep, they’ve been acquitted too. Or how about diminished responsibility, people who cannot be reasonably held responsible for their actions because they were sick… It’s possible.

Does your being unaware of something, make it irrelevant? We can’t consider things we’ve never heard of it, is this any different?

Peace – Neocolonialism or just doing it right?

Unrelated, but a nice sentiment

As part of my degree I spend a lot of time worrying about developing countries. Lying awake at night wondering if a well-meaning NGO has nearly bankrupted a rural community with bizarre unwanted projects. Or pacing my flat muttering ‘governance fail’ and ‘misplaced aid’.

I’m a practical person, so I naturally start thinking of solutions. I climb back into bed and think, ‘what can I do to help?’

I must admit that in my slightly sleep deprived state I’ve considered some odd remedies. I think my first one was something along the lines of…

“I’ll win the lottery and set up a trust with some sound investments, I’ll offer microloans for community infrastructure projects and develop a scheme to detect, develop and reward good governance at the local level”

Or… “I’ll find a genie and get a wish, and wish for the IMF to forgive it’s loans and the Security Council to give up their veto power” That one was a keeper you know, there’s tonnes of genies in Leeds.

But, I think this is my best one to date. It started out as a pie-in-the-sky idea but, it’s been firming up in my head. I’m serious about this one.

I want to run a developing country. Myself. Now I don’t mean Brazil or India or something, they’re doing fine, I’m talking about Somalia or Sudan or something.

I don’t want to live there, I don’t want to be their President and run for an ‘election’. I just know that the single biggest problem facing the poorest countries of the Global South isn’t war or famine or disease (although these are significant and of course interlinked) it’s bad governance.

In the study of peace building, that is the post conflict physical and otherwise reconstruction of the state and society from the individual level to the international, the greatest danger is a lack of coordination. Efforts fail because there are a multitude of actors all pursuing worthy goals but with no central, coherent vision or strategy. That’s what we’re missing, something or someone to hold it all together. Now I’m a huge fan of democracy and I firmly believe that when a decision can be taken democratically then categorically it must be. However the evidence is against us. Democracies, especially in Africa, are by and large not working. They produce weak governments with no control that resort to, in the worst case brutality or, in the best case, neglect.

Look at South Korea, in the 1950s it was an impoverished state with no infrastructure and no resources. Until the 1990s it was ruled unquestioned by a succession of benevolent dictators and now it’s one of the most developed, modern, wealthy countries in the world. This is in thanks partly to unimaginable quantities of American aid but also shrewd economic decisions taken by people who didn’t have to be populist in their decision making. Come on! It makes parts of the European Union look 3rd world! Most importantly, it is now a democracy, autocracy was a necessary but undesirable, temporary, state.

These democratic but failing states are barely worth the title ‘state’, they tend to be strange coalitions of tribal elements with no commonalities. A state must do 3 things to be considered functioning and therefore a state in the first place. 1) it must have the monopoly of the use of force in it’s boundaries. 2) it must have clearly defined boundaries and be able to enforce them and 3) it must protect and serve the people who live within it. If they can’t do that, they aren’t states.

Let’s look at Somalia, their government, the custodian of the state, hasn’t got anything close to a monopoly on force, they cower before the fabulously well armed tribal groups who run the country in tiny fragments. It’s boundaries are known to no one, it is roughly bordered by Ethiopia and Eritrea but these are vague and useless for anyone else but map makers. Finally Somalia doesn’t have a proper army or police force to defend it’s people, so the population rely on the tribal warlords, it doesn’t provide even basic healthcare, schooling, roads or railways. It is not a state.

It isn’t just them, there are a few of them by this definition. I really don’t consider some tinpot dictator a head of state when he’s holed up in a compound in the capital with his henchmen while his people in the countryside die in the most abject, miserable and frankly intolerable poverty imaginable. Broadly a final test of statehood is international recognition. Usually via the UN, although this isn’t exclusive, Taiwan is a modern, liberal democracy that our comrades in the People’s Republic of China refuse to recognise and veto their application to join the UN, but isn’t internationally recognised as a country.

So, back to running a country, why do I want to do this? I know the challenges and I know that if I had a chance, I wouldn’t do a half bad job. Mostly I just want to help, flooding them with money and well meaning NGOs has failed. This probably smacks of neocolonialism but there is a precedent. There are a total of 16 non-self governing territories in the world. Not a single one of which actually want to become independent. How foolish and patronising would it be if we forced them to accept self determination against their will? That’s not democracy. This is the same sentiment that some NGOs go into developing countries with. The ‘we’re from the Global North, we know what’s best’. We ought to be careful we don’t appear the same.

I remember a taxi ride I took in Mumbai in India in 2005. I was having a conversation with the driver about the British rule of India. He had some really interesting opinions. He joked that “50% of Indians think the British left India 50 years too late, the other 50% think they left 50 years too early”.

Can you imagine what India might be like if it was run by the UK until this year? From my perspective I think it might be in a better position domestically but Britain would never have allowed to acquire such geopolitical significance.

So, how would I run a country? It’s about numerous factors and people coming together. Lots of them are already there, community groups, religious figures, NGOs, other countries’ interests, businesses but they lack any central direction. It’s about balancing the infrastructure of the state with strong investment action on a local level. Quite simply it’s about not buying guns and building a hydroelectric plant with your IMF loan instead. It’s about not building yourself a palace and having champagne imported and spending the money on training nurses instead. It’s about forfeiting your individual embassies in other countries and sharing them with your neighbours and spending the cash on paying school teachers and having unemployment benefits instead. It seems simple right? It’s about subsidising mobile phones and investing in the infrastructure so your people can talk to each other and you can can talk to them. It’s about letting people own the land they live on and sell it as they wish. It’s about lowering taxes on people who earn less than a dollar a day (the fact they are taxed at all is madness). It’s about letting your people grow the crops they need to survive rather than growing the ones the Global North wants. It’s about having a centrally run government funded HIV/AIDS programme that coordinates NGO and WHO efforts for a single, unified approach.

These seem so simple but that’s the problem, the approach of the Global North for so long has been that we assume that developing countries are doing this already or have tried it, and it hasn’t worked.

Families – Now you can choose for yourself!

I feel bad for people who don’t ‘get on’ with their families. They’re missing out. Mine are great, if a little eccentric. They have their flaws and I have mine and a big part of growing up is to sit back and go ‘huh, so I guess my parents can’t solve every problem I have, they’re just human’. Some of my friends at University used to believe they were figments of my imagination, the stories I told were so ludicrous.

Of course if you sincerely don’t like them then so be it, I have absolutely no time for people who say things like ‘oh I have to love them because we’re related’ … why exactly? What is about the few extra genes you share (in comparison with, for example, the post man) that insists that you love them dearly? Forget it, that’s some greetings card from the 1930’s with Mom and Dad and 2.4 kids.

I’ve been thinking about the family a lot recently. Not for any particular reason, just lots of questions on my mind. Before we get to that, I’ve done some research and had a few conversations with people.

I came across an article which looked at the role of the family in helping people recover from eating disorders. Patients were four times less likely to relapse if put in family therapy, experiencing their recovery as a family. Recovery time was also cut up to 43% in the group attending family treatment.

Families at the early stages have such a huge impact on us as a person, for the rest of our lives, they can make or break someone. There’s even been some speculation, put before a Common’s Committee this year, that dysfunctional families, broken families, can actually slow down or interrupt a child’s normal brain growth.

I had a Twitter conversation with some friends and colleagues looking at what the family was, and whether it was a good thing or not. Not unsurprisingly the consensus that good families (unlike the ones included in the evidence submitted to the Committee above) were good things. Surprise!

So, some questions…

  1. First and foremost, what is the family? What constitutes it, is there a criteria?
  2. Are families really that good? They can generate the most well adjusted, supported, happy individuals. Or they can prolong the vicious circle of under education, poverty, disadvantage and criminality through the generations.
  3. If families are a good thing, should we be encouraging them to stay that way? For more families to become a more obvious and successful unit of society?

So, now an attept at some answers…

  1. Desmond Tutu said “You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.”  … Sorry Archbishop you’re wrong. I cannot abide by the idea that this unit that has so much power over you, is out of your control. How dare anyone tell me who I can and can’t include in my closest circle of people. This leads on to something I’ve alluded to before. Why are your genetics so important? I didn’t choose my genes, I didn’t have a say on who I was born to, which siblings I had or who my grandparents were. Why the hell not? I am a human being, I have free will, I refuse to allow tiny particles of nucleic acid control this, one of the most important aspects of my life. I see no reason as to why we can’t add to, or subtract from, this unit, the family. It should be the individual and the people around them who make this decision, ‘we are going to be a family’, your genes can’t stop you and the state shouldn’t try, god help it if it tries to tell me who I can and can’t have in my family. Let’s go further there should be no regulation on the number, composition or nature of the inter-relationships of a family, that is senseless.
  2. I’m going to say yes. Families are there for you, they are part of your support mechanism, they are your ‘home base’ … the place you can feel safe. They are a key part of your identity. Babies learn ‘who they are’ by asking questions about themselves and the world around them, it’s part of our learning process, we begin to build up a picture of our reality and our place in it. We couldn’t do this without our families. This is confined to good families only. Bad families pervert this process, painting over the blank canvas of a child’s psyche with neglect and a doomed future.
  3. We enter some dangerous territory now. If we’re going to avoid regulating our new social unit, the family you choose, then are we going to define what makes them good? Some sort of test? Immediately I’d say no, but it would be a means to an end. If we had some way of telling if a family, either chosen or not, was beneficial why not reward them for this? We could incentivise people to be better family members, or induce more people to try and join them.

This is pretty current stuff, the Tories at their Party Conference have announced plans that they plan to cut child benefits to families with big families who live off the welfare state. They indicate it’s a matter of choice to have lots of children and the tax payer shouldn’t subsidise that. I have mixed feelings about this, my inner libertarian jumps for joy at the promotion of individual responsibility but, all in all, I think it’s a mistake. In fact, if anything, we should be spending more money, on the children and per child, in families living on benefits. We just shouldn’t give the money to the parents. We should fund more social workers or better after school clubs, in fact just better schools, things we know can help to break that vicious circle.

Edna Buchanan gave that much used quote “Friends are the family you choose for yourself”. She’s right, we’re human beings and we should be allowed to make our own decisions. I see no logical reason why we shouldn’t be able to decide who constitutes our family, found a beneficial and loving family, and be rewarded for that.