Sunday, March 16, 2008

Little by little

The ability to predict the future has not been given to men. Not by God, as the failure and humiliation of those who claimed to be his prophets, like those who climbed hills dressed in white awaiting apocalyptic redemption, shows. Not by science either. When I was at university, 'social scientists' everywhere were in a melancholy, sceptical, circumscribed frame of mind. It was right that this should have been so: the memory of their spectacular failure to predict the fall of the Berlin wall was only a few years old.

Now to the micro level, today:
"Primary school children should be eligible for the DNA database if they exhibit behaviour indicating they may become criminals in later life, according to Britain's most senior police forensics expert.

Gary Pugh, director of forensic sciences at Scotland Yard and the new DNA spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said a debate was needed on how far Britain should go in identifying potential offenders, given that some experts believe it is possible to identify future offending traits in children as young as five."
Fear the government that gives ear to the 'experts'. The reality of universal and compulsory education is that tomorrow's thieves, rapists and murderers have to go to school somewhere - and I think I've seen a few of them. No, I know I've seen a few of them because the parochial tabloid news tells me so.

Sometimes, though, the future confounds your worst expectations. Someone you thought destined for a life of crime gets himself a girlfriend, and a job, and turns out to be someone who just didn't like school very much. Nor his parents. Nor himself - but he grew out of it.

Dangerous, then, to make judgments based on 'potential' - since these can be nothing other than subjective, prejudiced and by definition speculative. One would have thought, therefore, that whatever resources are available might be better used to catch those whom we know have actually reached their potential to commit crime. But such advice falls on deaf ears in an age where it is seldom understood that in a free society prevention is never better than cure.

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