Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Here Come The Judge(Ment)

The look of pure shock in his young eyes showed he had never before been shown the difference between right and wrong.

The boy of what — six? — in designer gear had just jumped out at me and shot at me at point blank range without warning or provocation as I walked down the street.

Admittedly, it was with a water pistol, so it was hardly life-threatening. But it was still a shock.

Call me a middle-aged Eeyore, but as the water soaked through my shirt and suit, I failed to see the funny side.

As he carried on squirting at me, I grabbed his water pistol and barked at him the difference between right and wrong — leaving him in no doubt which category into which I put unprovoked attacks on strangers.

He looked utterly aghast. What right did I have to speak to him like that? He had clearly done it before, and no one had answered back.

And I explained that while firing a water pistol at strangers might seem harmless, he had to learn boundaries. If he didn’t learn this was wrong, what next — throwing stones at strangers? And after that?

It was a trivial incident, but the underlying point is anything but. The little boy didn’t know what was acceptable because no one — neither his parents, teachers nor other adults — had told him.

If people don’t learn the difference between right and wrong, it is not just that they become anti-social. They don’t learn the fundamental lesson that there is only one person responsible for what they do — and that is themselves.

Nothing is wrong, and nothing is anyone’s fault; it is always someone else’s. Don’t blame me for what I do; it’s society’s fault.

This Left-wing moral neutrality comes from the best of intentions — wanting to sympathise with victims and other vulnerable people.

If they do something anti-social, it is because anti-social things have been done to them — they are not at fault.

And if you can’t judge someone for their actions, there can’t really be a right or wrong thing to do.

This is not just dubious intellectually, but seriously damaging for society.

There is one way to encourage the growth of anti- social behaviour, and that is to not to judge it, nor hold the perpetrators responsible for their actions.

You can have all the laws and punishments you like, but teaching people right from wrong and holding them accountable for what they do is far more effective.

And, indeed, the no-blame mentality is deeply patronising, saying in effect that people from deprived backgrounds are like animals who can make no conscious decision about their behaviour.

There is also nothing more disempowering for someone than teaching them they are victims, and by implication there is nothing they can do.

Telling young black boys that their underachievement at school is due to racist teachers is to tell them that it is not up to them to get ahead.

The rise of moral neutrality has coincided with the growth in the role of the state into every nook and cranny of life, further eroding personal responsibility.

The growth of the human rights movement — again, wellintentioned — has accelerated the trend. It has taught us that we all have rights unmatched by responsibilities.

A society where people know the difference between right and wrong, and take personal responsibility for their actions, is not just a healthier society; it is also a more fulfilling one.

Anthony Browne, pontificating about the implications of Conservative leader David Cameron's "risky" speech on "moral neutrality" (relativism) in Britain, for the Daily Mail