Tuesday, 10 January 2012

The Open Society - Is it OK to be selfish if you are an oppressed minority?

The debate about disability allowances simultaneously raises a vital question relating to different visions for society and masks how this is being distorted by popular attitudes to austerity.

While it is easy to empathise with groups of people who suffer through no fault of their own, the reaction of these same groups to current policy belies how different political approaches can serve to exacerbate or diminish suffering by promoting different social perceptions of what is acceptable and what is not.

Campaigners can be excused for focussing on their particular interests, but excessive reductivism promotes the view that every case is exceptional, ignoring the overall impact of the sum of the parts.

Lucy Brown provides some statistics showing the numbers of hate crimes against disabled people increased by almost 20% between 2009 and 2010 - from 1,294 to 1,569, or about 2-3% of the total number of reported incidents of crime motivated by 'hate'. She attributes this increase to government scaremongering based on ideologically right-wing desire to institute cuts.

Sue Marsh went further to launch a swinging partisan attack against LibDems for debating the issue of welfare payments based on unreliable assessments used to determine eligibility. According to her even debating the issue promotes ignorance by inciting criticism, which she says is proved by the statistics showing a rise in disability hate crimes.

Yet, as Scope proudly advertise, since they published their 2008 report, Getting Away With Murder (pdf), awareness of disability hate crime has ‘increased massively’. As we know from many similar awareness raising campaigns, the purpose to improve reporting of incidents is to tackle the issue by gaining more successful prosecutions and educate on effective techniques for problem avoidance - indeed, as the national coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, Stephen Brookes, comments, "Hate Crime against disabled people is not generally increasing. Confidence in reporting it is!"

So why does increased reporting of incidents tend to lead to inferences of increased incidence? Well, that’s the problem with using search engines as a primary source for information gathering, you find links to organised campaigns and opinion supporting these but no reliable facts upon which to make a properly informed judgement: causal links between prevalence, incidence and reporting are unfairly and automatically assumed.

In fact there are strong similarities to the social shift in attitudes towards reporting of other crimes, particularly violent sexual offences, including rape. As the social issues surrounding reporting sexual crimes began to break down under the pressure of rising awareness of the problems, so it was natural that authorities would see an approaching tidal wave of cases, at least in hindsight. For some at the time, the rising case numbers indicated more crimes were being committed, for others it shone a light on a neglected social ill, but for practitioners it reflected methodological problems in measuing, evaluating and dealing with such crimes.

The feeling of being oppressed does create a seige mentality, however, which views all efforts to engage with wider issues as a harmful dilution of the original group cause, despite the self-perpetuating problems it creates. This applies equally with pressure groups now wishing to oppose welfare cuts in the interest of progressing disability rights, just as it did then with conservative institutions wishing to use all their ability to cling onto their patriachic positions of power.

Both 'broad' and 'narrow' protectionist outlooks are completely at odds with the vision of an Open Society. Protectionism depends on an inverted causal interaction based on a flawed conception of social relations in which the behaviour of individuals is controlled for good or otherwise by a mysterious puppetmaster constantly pulling our strings from somewhere in the shadows of the state, whereas the Open Society opposes the nagging nannying tendency of the Big Brother state.

Of course a period of austerity will never be plain sailing for those in need of assistance, but if disabled people wish to live in a truly equal society then they must stop habitually condescending to partisan opinion and begin taking greater ownership of their situation by suggesting more solutions for the economic plight we are all suffering.

If you wish to complain about the greed of the bankers (and their accomplices) who caused the financial crash, then it does no good to validate their moral position by refusing to accept any discussion of reforms which affect you because they can insulate themselves - it is simply, and massively, counterproductive.

So, no, emphatically NO, a sense of being victimised is absolutely no excuse for bad choices, especially when it leads to the perpetuation of victimhood.

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