16 February 2019

Why don't we target trust and empathy?

Dr Elliott Barker asks How do we prevent crime?:
It seems incredible to me that as a society we don't publicly advocate those values upon which all harmonious social interaction depend - trust, empathy, and affection. Why shouldn't society - all of us collectively - reinforce our own latent awareness that these values are where it's at, and why shouldn't we do this at least as frequently and effectively as we allow ourselves to be reminded to drink Coca-Cola? How do we prevent crime?, Dr Elliott Barker, 'The Natural Child Project', February
Dr Barker calls for scrutiny of policies affecting infants and toddlers and a recognition that capacities for trust, empathy, and affection are more important than superlative exam results or musical virtuosity. Indeed, achieving such goals can conflict with child rearing practices that produce an adult capable of harmonious, co-operative human existence.

What's this got to do with Social Policy Bonds? Quite a lot, I think, and not just in respect of crime. Social and individual well-being are legitimate targets for government - at least as legitimate as educational achievement. It's entirely plausible that Dr Elliott is correct in that trust, empathy, and affection contribute mightily to well-being but my point is that, under our current system, few of us are motivated to find out whether he is or not, and that even if it could be shown that he is, few are motivated to do anything about it. At the individual level, sure, there are parents who have the time and energy to devote to child-rearing and who share Dr Elliott's insight. But they still have to contend with social forces, heavily influenced by government policy and its de facto targeting of economic growth at the expense of our social and physical environment.

Social well-being, trust, empathy, affection: these are difficult qualities to measure. The effects of their absence, though, are measurable, and politicians try to deal with some of them - especially those that could be televised - with an array of short-term measures: more money for the police, more prescription drugs, decriminalising narcotics, and so on. But they have little inclination to think long term. A Social Policy Bond regime, because the bonds are tradeable, could help in achieving such long term goals as social cohesion and the other contributors to well-being described by Dr Elliott. It could, for instance, target for reduction such pathologies as crime, mental illness, and other effects of social alienation and lack of trust. Our current political systems are inescapably short term, though and they focus on more immediately and readily quantifiable indicators - such as GDP and academic achievement - regardless of the longer-term cost to individuals and society of doing so. As Dr Elliott says:
It seems peculiar in a society in which schooling is mandatory from age 6 to 16 that we turn out graduates who have no preparation for the one job they are almost certain to have - raising children. Surely, before conception is a possibility, boys and girls should appreciate the permanent emotional damage that can result if the emotional needs of a young child are not met.
Dr Elliott is pessimistic about whether we will do anything to avoid such emotional damage. I will leave the last word to him: 
Why won't such preventive measures be taken? There are many factors. In part, it is because we are presently attuned to a shorter time frame politically and psychologically than prevention necessitates. In part we are misled by the excitement and drama of intervention after a problem has occurred. The cops and robbers game for example is the stuff of much of our entertainment. In part it is because today's casualties have greater motivation to lobby for their own immediate needs than for prevention of tomorrows' victims. In part it is because an impossible level of proof is demanded whenever we discuss changes that appear to tamper with our present values. But mostly we just know that such proposed solutions to crime prevention are "naively idealistic."

No comments: