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Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Some Thoughts on Context and Content for Budget Day

How a tale of a scientist and the performing flea connects to the backdrop of today's Con-Dem Budget*

By Swheatie of the Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group

On Budget Day, it's crucial to think in terms of 'first principles', what is the problem or what are the problems and therefore what are the solutions, says Swheatie of the KUWG

There is a story of a scientist and a flea, as told in Lyall Watson's book 'Supernature'. The scientist starts with an intact flea and tells it to jump and the flea jumps over the obstacle and the flea succeeds.

Then the scientist amputates one pair of the flea's legs and tells it to jump, and it still clears the obstacle.

Even after the scientist has amputated a second pair of the flea's legs, it still manages to clear the obstacle when told to 'jump', but removing the final pair of the fleas legs leads the flea to immobility and the scientist to conclude that removing all pairs of the flea's legs makes the flea go deaf.

That conclusion is somewhat similar to Tony Blair's investment banker turned 'welfare reform guru' David Freud — now Con-Dem Welfare Reform Minister and life-peer Lord Freud — reckoning that the way to solve the unemployment crisis is to 'incentivise' private companies with huge bonuses for getting disabled people off benefits and into waged employment, and then sanctioning benefit claimants who cannot 'make the grade' when physical, social and economic structures work against them. Also, of course, imbalance of bargaining power between employers and workers, coupled with shareholders' greed and alienation from workers leads to workers' burnout.

Parents' vital role in helping build society from the bottom up

And class and income hide the truths that disabled people have a real full-time job on their hands surviving against a backdrop of disabling structures, while every parent has a vital role in helping to build society from the bottom up. Using Department for Work & Pensions' own figures, single-parent families charity Ginerbread reports:
Where single parents are not working, this is often because there are health issues that make work difficult: 33 per cent of unemployed single parents have a disability or longstanding illness (25) and 34 per cent have a child with a disability

The late American educational psychologist Dr Haim G Ginott who was of Jewish extraction pointed out that the true role of parenting was not to raise children to 'make [attain] the grade [as set by others]'. He asked: "What have we accomplished if we have reared a child who is brilliant — at the top of his class — but who uses his intellect to manipulate others?

"And do we really want children so well-adjusted that they adjust to an unjust situation? The Germans adjusted only too well to the orders of the Nazis to exterminate millions of their fellow men.

"Understand me: I'm not opposed to a child being polite or neat or learned. The crucial question for me is: What methods have been used to accomplish these ends? If the methods used are insults, attacks, and threats, then we can be very sure that we have also taught this child to insult, to attack, to threaten, and to comply when threatened.

"If, on the other hand, we use methods that are humane, then we've taught something much more important than a series of isolated virtues. We've shown the child how to be a person — a mensch, a human being who can conduct his life with strength and dignity."

(Extract taken from Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish's (1973, 1990) 'Liberated Parent, Liberated Child: Your Guide to a Happier Family'.)

Of course, had the scientist not assumed the right to interfere with nature in the way outlined, and not assumed that everything depended upon the flea's ability to obey the scientist's will, the flea would have managed to continue to function as it was designed to do.

* This blog piece stems from a comment Swheatie placed on a Reflective log item by artist Helen Mandley: Context is everything

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