“The prevalence of bastards”

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Following the riots in 2011, David Cameron was left in no doubt ‘that many of the rioters out last week have no father at home.‘ He went on to say of the rioters:

Perhaps they come from one of the neighbourhoods where it’s standard for children to have a mum and not a dad…

…where it’s normal for young men to grow up without a male role model, looking to the streets for their father figures, filled up with rage and anger.

So if we want to have any hope of mending our broken society, family and parenting is where we’ve got to start.

In his classic 1971 book Blaming the Victim, William Ryan notes that ‘the logical outcome of analyzing social problems in terms of the deficiencies of the victim is the development of programs aimed at correcting those deficiencies’. He goes on to highlight the ‘formula’ for ‘changing the victim’:

First, identify a social problem. Second, study those affected by the problem and discove in what ways they are different from the rest of us as a consequence of deprivation and injustice. Third, define the differences as the cause of the social problem itself. Finally, of course, assign a government bureaucrat to invent a humanitarian action program to correct the differences.(p8)

However, times have changed since the early 70’s and governments don’t need bureaucrats to develop programs of action anymore. There are ‘independent’ think-tanks who can do that for them. So, we have recently seen the ‘independent’ think tank, the Centre for Social Justice coin phrases such as ‘dadlessness’ and ‘men deserts’ to highlight the plight of ‘family breakdown’, which is one of their five ‘pathways to poverty’, whilst also, amazingly, calling for a more mature political discourse on family policy. Bourdieu has noted how these ‘ready-made phrases’ often serve to ‘mask the malaise or suffering as much as they express it’.

In a fascinating chapter in Blaming the Victim called ‘The Prevalence of Bastards’, Ryan explores the facts behind the idea that the poor are more promiscuous and less concerned about contraception or long term relationships than better off folk, (something I did very quickly here in a blog called ‘Dadlessness or factlessness’). Ryan argues that:

The ‘problem’ of illegitimacy is not due to promiscuity, immorality or culturally based variations in sexual habits; it is due to discrimination and gross inequities between rich and poor…

The real problem is not to get families off the welfare rolls, it is to make welfare – or its successor – dignified enough and sufficiently humanitarian to attract those lone mothers who now prefer to work and raise their children as best they can rather than endure the humiliation of a welfare life … The most obvious and pressing task is to develop a method of income maintenance that would permit fatherless families to subsist at a reasonable level of ‘health and decency’ without forcing the mother into the labor market. That is the welfare problem, plain and simple …

We complain about the sex lives of the poor in much the same way we complain about their having television sets. We no longer require of the poor that they starve to death on the public streets, but we do believe that it’s good for them to be a little hungry. We certainly won’t stand for them enjoying life in any way at all, else what would motivate them to over-come their somewhat shameful state of poverty

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