"All things are wearisome, more than one can say." - Ecclesiastes 1:8

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Potentially illiberal

Blair's at it again - announcing yet another crackdown (we need a crackdown on the number of crackdowns, in my view). This time he's promising to tackle 'menace' children. If the beeb account of this latest wheeze is at all accurate, he has with this one plumbed new depths of illiberalism:
"Tomorrow's potential troublemakers can be identified even before they are born, Tony Blair has suggested.

Mr Blair said it was possible to spot the families whose circumstances made it likely their children would grow up to be a "menace to society".

He said teenage mums and problem families could be forced to take help to head off difficulties".
Not only should it be taken as given that the state should intervene - it should do so in anticipation of what people might do in the future. I suppose this is already an easily identifiable characteristic of the Blair regime but this suggestion has extended the principle to previously unfelt levels of creepiness.

Criminalising thought is one thing. Suggesting the state should intervene in people's lives before they've even got to the stage of thinking about doing anything wrong really is beyond the pale.

I've never liked the way 'potential' is used in social policy discourse. We get it in the educational sector a fair bit; lots of vacuous talk about helping 'each child to reach their potential'. Whether this is a good thing or not rather depends on what the child in question has the potential to do, doesn't it? In educational managerial land, though, to ask such a blindingly obvious question means you are branded as an incurable cynic and quite possibly even a 'roadblock to reform'.

And on the negative connotation I recall some 80s feminists going on about how all men were potential rapists. I also recall some men being so craven they would be actually willing to concur with this meaningless tosh.

All human beings have potential but while we can only identify this with any degree of certainty in retrospect, it would be reasonable to assume that it is the experience of the overwhelming majority to never become the social incarnation of all they are capable of. In some cases this must surely be a loss to humanity - but in others? Thank goodness for thwarted potential.

Given this vast resevoir of possibility out there, it is surely outrageous that the supposed existence of potential should serve as a basis for government intervention? Retrospective legislation has long been recognised as essentially illiberal - how much more this insidious notion of prospective social policy?

Blair's 'we'll make sure you eat your greens before you're even born' initiative was announced against the background of constant speculation over when he plans to step down. His 'aides' were reported as saying, "people are more interested in problems like anti-social behaviour than in talk about when the prime minister will quit."

I can't claim to speak for 'people' but personally I much more interested in when Blair's going to quit. Because if one is concerned about liberty, it is essential that this Prime Minister should not reach his potential. Because a true liberal can never agree with the aphorism that 'prevention is always better than cure'.

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