Saturday, March 27, 2021

Little John has a major idea (1993)

From the March 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

The good news is that John Major (a British Prime Minister) has at long last come up with a big idea. The bad news is that it is an extremely stupid idea.

In the course of capitalist history the attempt to explain why some people behave anti-socially has given rise to more than a few barmy theories. For the early Christians, undisturbed by any scientific thoughts, the explanation was simple: God made all men (for which include women) sinners. We were born to be anti-social. Only those who repented by conforming to the Church and the property morality it propounded would be saved. Hundreds of years ago the churches ran the prisons; the Inquisition was not characterised by the New Testament injunction to “turn the other cheek”.

As theology became increasingly discredited in the light of science, the rise of pseudo-biological explanations of anti-social behaviour emerged. To the Social Darwinists it was all clear: human violence was part and parcel of the beast-like struggle for survival to which humans were biologically destined.

At the end of the last century the biological blind alley of Social Darwinism laid the path for an equally diversionary side-road: the new pseudo-science of criminology. Cesare Lombroso, the father of this bogus science, attempted to explain how it was that some people were criminals and others not. It was all very simple: criminality was a consequence of physiological make-up. As Lombroso put it:
  The criminal by nature has a feeble cranial capacity, a heavy and developed jaw. projecting eye ridges, an abnormal and asymmetrical cranium . . . projecting ears, frequently a crooked or flat nose . . . Their moral degeneration corresponds with their physical, . . . The criminal by nature is lazy, debauched, cowardly, not susceptible to remorse, without foresight . . . his hand-writing is peculiar . . . his slang is widely diffused . . . The general persistence of an inferior race type.
In the USA pseudo-scientists are still at it. For example, at the time of the LA riots a number of commentators turned to the nonsensical book, Violence and the Brain, written by two “professors" called Mark and Erwin and arguing that rioters are people with dysfunctional brains. (Funny that Reagan and Quayle never made it to the riot, isn’t it?) Another book, by Wilson and Herrnstein called Crime and Human Nature, argues that criminal tendencies are in people’s genes. In short, certain babies are born to be criminals. This leads one to wonder why the police do not use their resources more efficiently by targeting maternity wards and arresting the genetic criminals at birth, thus achieving a maximum crime clear-up rate before the crimes are even committed!

If you think that these ideas are crazy there is a simple reason for it: they are crazy. They are the ridiculous inventions of desperate ideologists who have to explain why it is that property society, with all its alleged advantages for human growth, gives rise to so much violence, disorder and frustrated spite. The fact that over 90 percent of crimes are property-related is embarrassing to a society which pretends that anyone can live well if they try. The truth is that millions of people try very hard and get nowhere; some of them turn to illegal robbery to make money (as opposed to legalised robbery, to obtain profits) or violent acts to give vent to their misery and frustration.

Stupid idea
On the subject of frustration, it is now time to return to the little matter of John Major’s idea. Since his accidental elevation in 1990 Little John has lived in the shadow of the mad priestess of Big Ideas: Margaret Thatcher. Nobody could accuse her of having any lack of big, big ideas. Like Hitler, Stalin and the authors of the Bible, she was full of them—the barmier the better. Thatcher was always opening her mouth and making news. Not so Little John. To most people he is just a wimp and an idiot. And not liking to be seen for what he is. he decided to make a speech which would say something Big.

On 3 February this year Major addressed the Tory Carlton Club. He was on home turf so could be sure of at least polite applause. He decided to speak about the problem of inner-city crime. (A few of the Club members nearly had heart attacks when they thought they heard that he was going to talk about crime in the City—now. there's a subject for a big speech!).

Now, Little John was not taken in by all this talk about born sinners, feeble cranial capacities or criminal genes. These are outdated stupid ideas. So John Major came up with a brand new stupid idea. And the next day it made it on to the top headline of the Independent:


Now that is what you call a really stupid big idea. Here is the key paragraph from the speech:
  Socialism must face up to its failures. It must recognise the harsh truth that it is where, over many years, the state has intervened most heavily, that local communities have been most effectively destroyed.
To begin with, socialism has never been tried, let alone failed. We challenge John Major or his supporters to tell us where common ownership, democratic control or production solely for use has ever existed.

But we expect half-witted Tories not to know what socialism means. More interesting is Major’s assertion that inner-city crime is caused by there being too much state interference. This comes from the head of a government which has expanded the police, put more people into prisons than any other western European country and is currently planning to interfere with the unemployed by making conscript labourers of them. Own goal. John.

Going from bad to worse, Major then proceeded to deny that there is a causal relationship between poverty and crime. It is mere coincidence, we must assume, that so few street muggings are committed by gangs of millionaires. (They are free to do their mugging legitimately.) Alas, Little John has not read the Home Office research document published in 1991 by the civil servants of his own government. It stated that property-related crimes increased in relation to economic hard times. The number of burglaries in Britain went up during the recession of the early 1980s, down during the 1987-8 boom and up again with the slump of the 1990s.

Furthermore, the Independent reported last 13 October that the government was giving careful consideration to its public expenditure cuts for fear that too many cuts will result in an increase in violent crime. So, it seems that Little John is acting on the basis of an explanation of the cause of crime which he now claims not to believe in.

We look forward to the emergence of the next Major Big Idea. What will it be: “PM SAYS THAT O-LEVELS ARE BAD FOR THE INTELLECT?" or “MAJOR PROPOSES NEW DISNEYWORLD ON BEAUTIFUL SHETLAND COASTLINE?"
Steve Coleman

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