19 July 2008

The eighth circle of Hell

Soviet propaganda encouraged collective education of even the youngest children, and family ties were often represented as a bourgeois survival.
Kolakowski, Main Currents of Marxism
I often fail to see the point of the mainstream media, except that sometimes it lets its mask slip enough to provide a useful glimpse of the il-liberal ideology which now dominates Western societies.

Occasionally however, the MSM manages, against type, to be a force for (genuinely) liberal good. While one may quibble with her proposed solution, Camilla Cavendish’s report last week on so-called child protection is essential reading (see parts 1, 2, 3 and 4). Cavendish rightly points out that what is done to children in cases where they are removed against their wishes from their parents itself amounts to abuse.

The whole nightmarish situation is sadly predictable. Take the following ingredients:
• a healthcare system in which access to most medical goods and services, even if privately paid for, depends entirely on obtaining the approval of a doctor;
• a profession which has become hugely powerful, monopolised and immune to competitive forces;
• a ludicrously over-idealised image of medical and social work professionals, according to which they are akin to benevolent priests, rather than ordinary people with normal motives for money and power;
• an ideology which criticises the family, but praises the welfare state;
• a social work system in which clients are answerable to professionals, rather than vice versa.

The result should be no surprise: a situation where, if a group of social workers and/or doctors get it into their heads that a parent is guilty of ‘abuse’ (which now apparently includes categories that have nothing to do with physical harm) it is fairly safe to assume an outcome in which the child never resides with its parents again. Cavendish describes a world
where courts need no criminal conviction to remove your child, only the word of a psychiatrist or doctor, and can deny you the chance to call any expert in your defence. A world that uses the “welfare of the child” to gag you from discussing your case. Where even if you prove yourself innocent on appeal, your children may already have been adopted: in which case you will never be allowed to contact them again.
A world where many children “were treated far worse in care ... some with a new bruise almost every time they came for supervised contact”. A world where “judges rely on reports by experts, social workers and guardians, many of whom are used to working together” and where “any expert, social worker or judge who makes mistakes, goes beyond their brief or is on a crusade against parents is virtually immune from scrutiny.”

The problem is that it has become taboo to suggest that the ‘caring’ professions are driven by motives other than the desire to do good. They are brilliant at trumpeting the claim that they have the true welfare of clients in mind, while arguing that clients themselves may well be acting on dubious motives. Plus we now have the fashionable ideology that individuals are often judged to be irrational by experts. So in a contest between clients and professionals, everyone — particularly, of course, other professionals — will tend to side with the professionals.

I made this point (in 1995) in The Power of Life or Death.
Merely suggesting that a doctor might have been acting malevolently appears to be regarded by the legal profession as dubious ... In the Cleveland Inquiry, the heavy-handed tactics of the two paediatricians at the centre of the controversy were criticised by a police surgeon, Dr Roberts, who argued that a child

“cannot distinguish between an assault carried out in a hospital room by a stranger (a doctor) and a similar experience elsewhere. I am concerned that some children will suffer lasting harm as a result of being subjected to examinations involving the use of force.”

Dr Roberts criticised paediatricians for being “prepared to countenance, or even commit, outrageous sexual assault of children in the hospital which has occurred in some cases in Cleveland.” The fact that she made clear her strong feelings on the subject was, interestingly, used to invalidate her criticisms. Counsel for the Inquiry advised the Chairman Lord Justice Butler-Sloss that the evidence of Dr Roberts was

“extremely and unnecessarily critical and contentious ... far from passing to planes of increasing authority and moderation it became more and more passionate in character and thus perhaps of less value ... We will not be urging you for a moment to adopt or accept her views, because we seek to stress throughout the vital importance of striving for middle ground, and obviously Dr Roberts does not stand on middle ground in regard to this issue.”
The result: Butler-Sloss ruled in favour of the professionals, asserting that they had “acted properly”.

In other words, if you get heated when expressing your outrage that child abuse by professionals is being legally sanctioned, your views will be ignored. (You will note I am trying to keep the tone of this post moderate, though I am sorely tempted to use the word atrocities. If reports from the press are true, what is happening here is as bad as anything that occurs in authoritarian societies.)

At the time, my book was ignored by the broadsheets — though ironically, the British Medical Journal reviewed it sympathetically — probably because it was regarded as too extreme, and out of step with the prevailing ‘bioethical’ consensus. How dare I criticise the respected and beloved medical profession, etc. Is it possible they are finally coming round to a similar perspective, thirteen years later?

Remember: experts are not neutral. They have their own agenda. If they are employed by the state, as most doctors effectively are, they will reflect the interests of the state, and/or those of their own profession. An organisation with power will act to expand that power. Assertions about doing things for people's ‘own good’ should be treated with as much scepticism as the claims of dictators that they are acting ‘for the people’. As O'Brien says in Orwell's 1984, “power is not a means, it is an end”. (More about the motivations of state agents here and here.)

In other news:
• Celia Green is giving a seminar on the 31st.
• Ian Grey has updated the campaign blog against full-time adult coercion (here is why it matters).
• Just spotted on Maggie's Farm: an interesting piece on the concept of ‘progressive’.