Friday, January 23, 2004

Toynbee's Children

Remember Thatcher's Children ? Shorthand for anything you didn't like about Modern Youth, but wrapped up in caring rhetoric ? TCs came in two flavours - coke-snorting red-braced yuppie, with its downmarket variants Essex, White Van, and White-Sock Man (bad, greedy people) or thieves/crackheads/smackheads (Victims Of Society) as chronicled by Nick Danziger, Nik Cohn etc.

The persistence of the UK underclass despite years of relative economic prosperity implies that perhaps it wasn't just unemployment that was the problem. Maybe we need a new name for those who think that the state should provide for them, but that there is no reciprocal obligation. The kind of people described here by Charles Murray.

"Talking to the boys in their late teens and early twenties about jobs, I heard nothing about the importance of work as a source of self-respect and no talk of just wanting enough income to be free of the benefit system. To make a decent living, a youth of 21 explained to me, you need £200 a week after taxes. He would accept less if it was all he could get. But
he conveyed clearly that he would feel exploited. As for the Government's employment training scheme, YTS, that's 'slave labour'. Why, another young man asked me indignantly, should he and his friends be deprived of their right to a full unemployment benefit just because they haven't reached 18 yet? It sounded strange to my ears - a 'right' to unemployment benefit for a school-age minor who's never held a job. But there is no question in any of their minds that that's exactly what the unemployment benefit is: a right, in every sense of the word. The boys did not mention what they considered to be their part of the bargain.

'I was brought up thinking work is something you are morally obliged to do,' as one older man put it. With the younger generation, he said, 'that culture isn't going to be there at all.'"

As Murray says "The key to an underclass is ... a situation in which a very large proportion of an entire community lacks fathers." So step forward 'Suzi' Leathers, chairman of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, with her brilliant suggestion that the clause requiring doctors to take account of the need of a child for a father, when offering in vitro fertilisation to infertile women, should be removed from the law. After all, as the Guardian points out, 'All You Need Is Love'.

The great Dalrymple, chronicler of the British underclass, is not amused.

"If you care to look at the already extensive part of the country in which fatherhood scarcely exists, except in the merest biological sense, you will find not merely an alternative, but a very much worse kind of family life (the word family being used very loosely). It exists in a Hobbesian world of primitive brutality, where the man with the biggest fist or biggest machete or biggest gun rules, and where children are soon inducted into a wholly egotistical code of conduct in which what you do is determined only by what you can get away with.

It is a world from which increasingly there is no escape. It is a world in which women are subjected to far more domestic violence than ever before, and in which children experience a dialectic between gross over-indulgence on the one hand and savage repression on the other, according to the mood of the moment. Merely to call this way of life different is abject cowardice or dishonesty. Indeed, having lived and worked in several parts of the world, and having travelled very extensively, I should say that it is the worst way of life known to me anywhere. To say that we should merely accept it as inevitable, as part of the march of history, as an inescapable part of the zeitgeist, is to accept descent into degradation. It is complacently to accept disaster, both for the individuals caught up in it and for society as a whole. Ms Leather's proposals are one more sentence in our long national suicide note."