Saturday, July 31, 2010

School pictures in the Modern Era

Class Portraits is a series of classic class photographs in which the only face visible is that of the teacher. The idea sprang from a 2009 incident when the two photographers tried to take photographs of children at a Kingston school. "The headteacher told us we could only photograph one child and only show the back of his head," says Harvey.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Raoul Moat: Sympathy for a murderer?

David Cameron has said the he "cannot understand any wave, however small, of public sympathy" for Raoul Moat. Apparently it is "absolutely clear that Raoul Moat was a callous murderer, full stop, end of story."

This depresses me. While I can imagine there are those who jump on the media bandwagon to try to lash out against the Police (perhaps this is empathy, not sympathy?) - those I would disagree with - can we really cut our logic of the individual so short as to say "this person was a murderer"?

Does the PM really mean that individuals are to be judged based on their post-hoc labels? That we must condemn anyone that commits an act of savagery because the act has been committed? What of his family background and obvious emotional issues?

If the PM is so short-sighted, this cannot bode well for generations of "individuals" left to delinquency. Perhaps we should separate out all motives from their connection to others and from the world around us - gang members should be shown no mercy because they are gang members. Drug addicts should be denied rehabilitation because they are drug addicts. Bullies should be jailed because they bully.

Even to the untrained mind, this is clearly crass, ill-focused philosophy. If we are to improve anything in this world, then we must build on support, networks, friendship and respect. It is lack of these things that drives people to become "individualistic", to force a separation or rebellion between themselves and the other forces in the world. Forcing labels onto people at this point merely encourages them to continue to destruction.

That our "leader" fails to understand this role of support is disturbing. Without an honest sense of aid, we risk slipping into the world that the Daily Express seems to want to usher in - one based on division and illogical expectations to rights. One based on lazy conflict, in which the afraid seek the help from the violent.

What we see is never the end, or the beginning of the story. Only a tip of it.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Former Police Chief says terrorism policy increased risk of terrorism

Dr Robert Lambert, former head of the Muslim Contact Unit at Scotland Yard, says that Terrorism policy flaws 'increased risk of attacks' through a neo-con approach intent on, effectively, a blanket ideological clampdown:

The effect of this, said Lambert, was to cast the net too wide: "The [British] analysis was a continuation of the [US] analysis after 9/11, which drove the war on terror, to say al-Qaida is a tip of a dangerous Islamist iceberg ... we went to war not against terrorism, but against ideas, the belief that al-Qaida was a violent end of a subversive movement."

Lambert said this approach alienated British Muslims, as those who expressed views such as opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, also held by non-Muslims, feared that holding such beliefs made them suspects.

(Emphasis added)

Action creates reaction. This is simple physics.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Apparent Panic and Self-Flagellation

In today's the other day's Guardian, former Haringey children's services boss Sharon Shoesmith takes aim at 'naive' politicians for creating a panic around the Baby P case:

"She warns ministers that plans to publish serious case review inquiries into child deaths in full could backfire by sending child protection workers "running for cover" to avoid blame rather than sharing lessons of how to improve services."

(Link hat-tip to Dominic Campbell)

But what is the "Baby P effect"? Why are we left with a bunch of adults trying to direct responsibility and accountability around like an Indian car park?

Hold that thought a moment and now go and read all about self-flagellation. Apparently the late Pope John Paul II used to whip himself, and many individuals still regularly carry out fairly extreme acts of self-harm, even willing crucifiction.

The public spectacle around these events is, at one level, understandable. (How many people gather round glowing screens to see Big Brother contestants booed?) Yet at another level, it is disturbing to our distilled sense of ethics. On another level again, though, it is also entirely necessary. Without spectacle, flagellation loses its power. Only through public demonstrations of misery can the derived aspect of "punishment" over-ride the individual's sense of atonement. As the BBC article notes, self-punishment "is an expression of remorse for sins". The key word here is "expression".

We may, as a nation, be gradually losing our faith-based skin. But on a more fundamentally psychological layer, this self-flagellation is still all too-evident. The apparent wilingness to suffer for someone else's suffering holds power. It is the ultimate act of passive-aggressiveness. It says "By taking on your suffering as my own, I now hold responsibility for your redemption. I have made your salvation my power."

Every time someone screams "something must be done!", this process takes place again. There is Power in Panic. There is Authority in Altruism. Therefore beware: fear + love is often just an abduction of trust. Say hello to Orwell's O'Brien - who is, at least, open as to his convictions.

Or, rather, there is the perception of power and only apparent authority. Responsibility is far removed from action, from honest salvation. In the same way that being classified as a "father" does not make one "be" a father, so labeling oneself as a saviour says nothing of the act of saving. Indeed, one might argue that focusing on the label may well detract from an impetus of action.

This is why we need to continue to ask questions in the face of panic, why scepticism is essential. It is too easy to let others tell us more about ourselves than we think we know - the world is confusing and dangerous. But realistically, it is no more confusing or dangerous than it has ever been. If anything, it is merely our ability to cope that has changed, and our faith in that ability.