Saturday, 15 October 2016

The Pathology of Marginalisation

What have the following got in common?

• Abused spouses refusing help from law enforcement agencies and staying with perpetrators of violence who, they insist, love them very much.
• Followers of cults rejecting advice that they should withdraw and continuing to give over their money and devotion despite being exploited.
• Young recruits of criminal gangs pledging their loyalty to their ruthless leaders and accepting that they, in their lowly position, will be treated with contempt.
• People consumed by anger joining extremist groups, parties, or campaigns dedicated to hounding scapegoats, and ignoring the fact that such activities will only lead to their own conditions worsening.
• Alienated loners embarking on destructive actions from property damage to mass killing, and telling themselves that it is for some great cause.

In all these cases, we have people who are opting for what will damage their own wellbeing, and give succour to those unconcerned with the harm they inflict on others. While the severity of the suffering caused varies, there is an underlying psychological pattern. Identity ideologues may want to explain these disturbing social phenomena in terms of gender, religious, age, or racial characteristics, but the relevant factors cut cross these demarcations. We can look at these more closely by distinguishing four inter-related components

First, marginalised individuals who feel unloved and discarded can reach a point where they feel so isolated that they are desperate to have a connection with someone who will pay them serious attention – even if it is attention that would be rejected by most other people.

Secondly, they encounter someone who wants to bring them into something ‘special’ – an unbreakable relationship, a closed group, a feared organisation – that will give them a sense of belonging they have for long craved.

Thirdly, their attachment becomes so precious that they are willing to endure considerable pain, and even humiliation, as the price to pay for remaining a partner/member alongside the one calling the shots.

Finally, they come to associate the pain they suffer as itself a manifestation of the closeness they have attained to the one who holds power over them. They will make whatever sacrifice is asked of them to secure what they view as love and validation.

Commentators and policy advisors often react to such self-destructive behaviour by calling for tougher intervention. They want people who have these behavioural tendencies to be told quite firmly that they should leave the unsavoury characters they defend before it’s too late. They want to put a stop to the brainwashing, initiation, radicalisation, or whatever it is called in each context, so those who are duped would open their eyes and walk away.

But the problem is that unless there is somewhere welcoming for them to go to, they cannot bear to move away from their ‘home’. They close their eyes to the suffering they cause themselves and possibly others, because the reality of their predicament is too painful to contemplate. The only true way out is to help them find an alternative where they will be unconditionally loved and appreciated for the kindness they can bring to others, and not used for the gratification of some manipulative controller.

In parallel with offering such sanctuaries to those who have endured too much marginalisation for too long, we must do more to prevent people from being marginalised at home, at school, in their neighbourhood, at the workplace, or in the twilight zone of extortionate loans and paltry benefits.

The contagion that feeds off marginalisation is not something new and unfathomable. It has been around for centuries, used by sweet-talking abusers, charismatic cult and gang leaders, racist demagogues, and fundamentalist agitators, to trick others into doing their dubious bidding unquestionably. To end the vicious cycle, tough action is needed, and it needs to be directed at these shameless manipulators.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

‘Gains’, ‘Losses’, & Real Value

Political analysts and media commentators have made it their business to assess every party manifesto commitment, policy proposal, and budget initiative by setting out who will gain/lose by how much financially. So we are told on some proposal, young couples with no children will ‘gain’ X £ or $, while those aged 70+ with nothing but a state pension will ‘lose’ Y, etc. On other proposals, there will be different ‘gains’ and ‘losses’ calculated for a variety of demographically defined groups.

But why should we accept this approach at all?

Imagine a woman went into a shop to return a product which did not work to her satisfaction and got a refund of £100, while a man paid £100 for a similar product that did the job he needed it to do. Do we say that the launch of that product has left the woman £100 better off, and the man £100 worse off? Of course not. We cannot ignore what is of real value here. The man has paid £100 for something which meets a need, and if pressed to quantify it in crude monetary terms, he might say that it was worth more than a £100. By contrast, the woman has had to waste her time with a product that didn’t do what she wanted it to do, and she has gained nothing at all.

So much of contemporary assessment of public services makes exactly this mistake of ignoring real value. People pay their respective share into the public pot because it then provides the collective resources to fund services and secure outcomes that cannot otherwise be achieved. Isolated individuals with no taxes to pay would not be able to buy into a comprehensive health service, an impartial judicial system, policing and security at all levels, education for children and inspection of care quality for the elderly, and countless other benefits. Without the guaranteed organisation provided by the government, maximum profit will be squeezed out of those who can afford to pay the charges demanded for some of these provisions, while the rest will be left with no support at all.

Instead of quantifying the impact of public policies in warped monetary terms, commentators should learn to describe them in terms of lives saved, protected, improved, and enhanced. If they were incapable of doing that except where they could calculate some monetary equivalent, they could undertake projections of how much it would otherwise have cost to secure similar outcomes without public bodies delivering them. What profit-making doctors, commercial security firms, or private educational facilities would charge in the absence of public services would then provide a financial yardstick, albeit a crude one, of how much value we derive from our public providers.

Ironically, such value is not counted as part of the wealth of a nation unless the provider is in the private sector. For example, a public service doctor saves a life in a public hospital would be chalked up as a ‘loss’ of thousands of pounds. But a private sector doctor doing the same for a patient who covers part of the bill with commercial health insurance and part with dwindling family savings would be classified as a ‘gain’ for the economy.

If we are to value our public services, we must brush aside crass conceptions of ‘gains’ and ‘losses’, and start focusing on what is of real value in our lives.