Nov 252012
 
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Last year, for some reason I never properly understood, I was invited to a number of briefings by the Law Society on the encroaching cuts in Legal Aid which this government quite unnecessarily proposed.  The Law Society produced its own suggestions which quite reasonably proposed greater savings than the Coalition thought necessary whilst simultaneously protecting citizen access to Legal Aid in many of the highly sensitive areas the government was aiming to take out of scope.  The government, running as it did – and still does – on petrol tanks of prejudice far more than the evidence-based approach which tends to guarantee equanimity, ignored those suggestions and the campaign failed.

More recently, I have heard that an American tendency to number-crunch crime statistics is under consideration here in Britain.  Predictive policing, if I understand correctly, involves analysing data in relation to what crimes and where have already been committed in a community to ensure that a police presence is maximised, refined and optimised in terms of where such crimes might take place in the future.

The crimes that generally get mentioned tend to be similar to burglary – I am unaware whether this is to soften up and ensure blind public acceptance of the technique’s potential implications or whether it lends itself especially to such activities (just as I ask myself why we couldn’t initiate our investigations with these new technologies in the fields of potential banking fraud, for example, before we deal with the petty lowlife) – but it does occur to me that perhaps such a concept could be introduced elsewhere with equally constructive results.  What if those who might commit crime – but unknowingly, through some complexity of the law and a wider general inaccessibility to the same – could access similar predictive systems which might inform them of their transgression before it actually managed to unknowingly consummate itself?

A kind of predictive Legal Aid, in fact, where the law would be democratised and made more understandable using the very same algorithms that the police are currently applying to catch criminals before they actually get to act on a “decision cycle” – but which in this case could be of very significant use to a wider population which wishes to remain law-abiding wherever they can properly understand how to.

A bemused population, in fact, which is already massively confused by the increasing number and penetration of laws into what is essentially an evermore domestic environment.

Now I do understand that in the ideal world we should still aim for, such a system of Legal Aid would never fully replace a face-to-face and sympathetic consultation.  We do not, however, live in an ideal world – and resources, they tell us, are short.  Just imagine, then, if we could harness the concept of predictive policing to help lawful citizens remain so: a preventative justice system, that is, which didn’t just help the police stop the baddies but helped the goodies proactively stop themselves from falling into the abyss of unconscious misdemeanourship.

I wondered the other day whether Twitter mightn’t do this for its own software constitution.  It’s a simple example: an automated system such as that which legal eagles, scraping the web for intellectual property infringement, might already use – but adapted to the needs of certain updateable keywords and phrases.  The tweet in question, before it was sent, would be parsed by the system and flagged up to the user if potentially libellous for a particular jurisdiction.

So just imagine a similar principle applied far more widely and comprehensively to the law: like a competent National Health Service, don’t only put the patients back together again when they fall ill but also provide them with the tools to avoid falling ill in the first place.

Too difficult to achieve?  Right.  OK.  Like putting a man on the moon was too difficult to achieve half a century ago.

The right political will can still move mountains of achievement.

*

To this moment in my essay, all well and good.  The question I now ask, with a modicum of bad faith, runs as follows: do the police and their evermore privatising colleagues – as well as lawyerly folk more generally – really want to reduce the number of crimes and misdemeanours committed or not?

Is it, in fact, in their interests to promote the prevention of crime?

Would they really like to make us all law-abiding?

Or do they actually need us to continue providing them with work – the kind of work which fills their profitable timesheets, their profit-driven prisons and their profiteering contracts for managing the underbelly of our societies?

And if you think I am being harsh, answer me this question: why start with those criminals who would wish to cause crime – and not with those who do not wish to fall foul of its consequences in the first place?

Why not start with prevention when it’s so manifestly better than the cure?

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Nov 252012
 
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Let me explain.

I’ve been away for a couple of days in a hotel room.  The hotel was fine but it wasn’t my home.  I wrote a couple of pieces whilst I was there.  The pieces were more reflective than has been my custom of late.  We need more reflection.

At least, I need more reflection.

I’ve just arrived back home and sitting back in my familiar surroundings, anything but luxurious but – even so – comforting and family-underlining, the rain pitter-pattering on the sitting-room window, the recorded football on the tele, so it is that I am reminded of the great importance of familiarity in general: because for our politicians and rulers, you see, familiarity doesn’t breed contempt but – instead – too much confidence on the part of their subjects.

To feel safe in your castle as all Englishmen and women are supposed to feel is the greatest challenge to all political rulers who aim to desegregate a tapestry of national expectations.  Whilst you fear losing the very soul of your life, you will be cowed into almost any kind of behaviour.  But if you feel your loved ones are protectable behind the four walls of your home, then almost anything may be contemplated.  I can, in this sense, understand those who argue against gun laws – not, I hastily add, because I believe in anyone bearing arms at all but, rather, essentially because I appreciate now more than ever the importance of feeling permanently in control of one’s own destiny.

Which is what I think most profoundly is behind the assertions of such a constituency.

And that sense of control is what Disability Living Allowance aimed to provide; that sense of control is what the NHS which kept the wolf from the door was looking to add; that sense of control is what many of those top-down policies of empowerment we berated New Labour for engineering simply steamed ahead and implemented, day after day, to a wider benefit of us all.

To want to eliminate all those things is, in a sense, the UK equivalent of a rampant US desire for nationwide gun control.  Our “guns” – what allowed the British to protect themselves from the elements – are inventions such as the NHS, Legal Aid and the Welfare State.

As well as a wider network of social-care instincts.

Thus we come to understand that home is a shield which rightly emboldens us all – and DLA, the NHS, Sure Start and all were astonishing extensions of those shields I allude to which allowed us to believe, precisely, in better: better ways of seeing, thinking and living.

I tweeted rather sadly this morning the following sequence of ideas:

Did civilisation get too expensive for those who rule? Is that what this Coalition is all about? Reducing the costs of Western compassion?

And to me, it doesn’t half feel as if this is the case.

They can’t, of course, say that universal education has created a mass of highly intellectualised people which perhaps in many matters knows better than our governors.  They can’t admit this because they are tied hand and foot to the concept of meritorious pyramidal organisation.  Those at the top must be better than those at the bottom, because otherwise those at the top couldn’t be at the top.  It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy which, if questioned, would lead to all kinds of awful potentialities: maybe, for example, an utter and total reworking of that aforementioned – and for me, quite dreaded – pyramid of often dysfunctional relationships.

And the Lord forbid that such eventualities might take place.

*

Chris has a pertinent observation today, when he says:

[…] there’s a belief that the only knowledge that matters is direct experience; Tim seems to think that only the poor can truly understand poverty.This is doubtful. And what’s even more doubtful – in fact plain wrong – is that direct experience of poverty is necessary to know which policies are best to relieve poverty.

Something which I’d be inclined to agree wholeheartedly with.  Being evidence-based is far more important to the justice and fairness one can bring to bear on a matter than whether one was born rich or poor.  Being a person of kindly outlook – with an awareness of others, an empathetic personality and the ability to actively listen – are all far more useful to one’s ability to reach out than whether or not one has suffered personally the disadvantages of deprivation.

Such disadvantages may drive one unremittingly to help others, of course.  On the other hand, they could just as easily encourage us to trample whenever the opportunity presented itself.

It is in the essence of an individual where we must judge people’s integrity – rather than in terms of the origin of the acts themselves.

And so Chris is equally interesting when he concludes with these final biting lines:

It is not the background of Cameron, Freud and Osborne that stops them making effective anti-poverty policy. It is their ignorance and ideology.

Only I wonder if it is truly ignorance and ideology.  To be honest, I think it might be the biggest and most unpleasant practical joke of latterday political times.  A humongous practical joke, in fact.

For them, we are simply buttons to be pressed.  And if you really want my opinion, whilst I admire all that New Labour achieved, I’m going to be blaming Blairism, iPods and technological gadgets equally for this unending robotisation of how a society must function.

Yes.

Social mobility means you walk the streets with your frozen hands clasping firmly a PAYG phone.

Social mobility means you can never know if your parents will ever see their grandchildren.

Social mobility means you will never live in a face-to-face community again.

Social mobility – of this kind, I mean – leads us to a desperate scrabbling for a smidgen of human warmth.

And without that warmth, we have no hearth.  And without a hearth, we have no home.  And without a home, we have no shield.  And without a shield, above all we are as defenceless as the men and women who once occupied the caves.

Oh yes.  We have running-water and central-heating, but without the wherewithal to properly purchase it, it all becomes a mirage.

Hold on to that home.

Hold on to that shield.

Embolden yourself before it’s just – infamously – too late.

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