Jonathan Dodd‘s latest column. Guest opinion articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the publication. Ed
A long time ago, when I was a teacher, I had to endure discovering some of the foreign lands that comprise children’s sense of humour. A small girl came up to me in the playground once.
“Do you like jelly?” she asked.
“Yes,” seemed the only possible reply.
“Do you like fish?”
“Then you must be a jellyfish!”
And she ran away laughing.
Having a philosophical discussion about appropriate and inappropriate causal relationships wasn’t going to be very appropriate, but it did start me thinking – an activity that has got me into more trouble than anything else, and something I have never been able to cure myself of.
It’s the Government’s fault
I was reminded of this very story this week after the papers weighed in over the horrible case in Derbyshire when two parents incinerated their own children. The Daily Mail said that the crime was committed as a result of the couple in question fearing the loss of some of their benefits. It then went on to suggest that it was the Government’s fault for giving out those benefits, and thus implying that the Government was responsible for the death of those six children.
I know I bang on about language and how we use it, but this is a prime example of how important it is to think about what is being said.
Good connections, bad connections
There is a good connection between the actions of the parents and the deaths of their children, because they set the fire and the children died. Language and logic work like electricity. If you don’t have good connections the power won’t flow no matter how loud you shout.
There is a small connection between the parents and the Government because one of their motives was the loss of benefits, but the connection here is between the parents and the source of their money. It was the loss of money that motivated them, not anger at the Government. Whatever the source of their money, they would have been just as angry at losing it.
Asserting their fake innocence
The Daily Mail was trying to flog the Government over an entirely different issue – whether too much money is paid out in benefits or not. It was also seeking to associate all benefit recipients with these parents for its own purposes, which were presumably to help Daily Mail readers feel better about themselves.
There doesn’t seem to be a way to make these people take back their words and apologise for the harm and hurt they are causing. So they’re able to keep doing it, while asserting their fake innocence.
Labelling them all as loonies
This is an important issue. This news comes in the same week as the increased sabre-rattling from North Korea and the possibility of war. The North Koreans are constantly bundled into one tight-fitting bag, as if they all support their trolleyless government. I imagine that rather a lot of them would be relieved if their government were toppled. I certainly would if I were a North Korean.
We, as in the so-called advanced nations, wring our hands constantly over this issue. But the fact is that we inadvertently keep the North Korean regime in power, because we send in food aid. Feeding the oppressed people saves lives, but keeping the regime threatens lives. Maybe more, maybe less. Labelling them all as loonies is a lazy cop-out, which doesn’t help anyone to understand or solve the problem at all. It sells more papers, so who cares how much worse it makes things.
In the same week the Manchester Police Force is starting to record hate crimes against Punks and Goths and other small groupings, for the very good reason that we don’t know how many of these individuals are being unfairly treated unless we gather information.
Do I hear howls of PC Gone Mad? Probably. Where from? I think I can guess.
Me, I’m just a jellyfish.
If you have been, thank you for reading this.