Thursday 4 April 2013

Mick Philpott and the Right Left Switcheroo

Not surprisingly there has been a lot of press coverage of the infamous Rick Philpott and his terrible crime. One of the bizarre things which I find about the coverage is that the way the story has been portrayed by both the left and right wing press seems to parody how social issues are normally covered in these outlets and brings out the shortcomings of how they respectively analyse such issues in the normal course of events.
First case in point is the Daily Mail. This newspaper constantly emphasises individual morality and individual responsibility. Social inequality and failings in the structure of society are rarely allowed to be seen as a contributing factor for social problems by this paper. Criminals are normally held as solely responsible for their actions regardless of the adversity they face in society. And yet this week, the paper concluded that a system was responsible for Someone's criminal behaviour. In this case - the benefits system. Admittedly this is not a system which sociologists normally associate with causing deviant behaviour. However, it is in some ways a watershed moment because if The Mail can believe that the benefits system can cause crime then surely it ought to be possible that other systems and institutions and factors such as structural inequality might also affect people's behaviour and that to everyone can be equally held personally responsible for all of their actions all of the time.
Meanwhile, the Guardian, in trying to deflect the idea that that the benefits system could be a factor in the crime, reached a watershed of its own. They actually admitted for once that individuals have responsibility for their own actions regardless of what systems or societal Influences they may have been subject to. This paper which would normally see Philpott's disgusting sexism towards his partners as a result of a patriarchal society were arguing strongly in a big headlines 'Don't let Philpott off the hook' and describing his behaviour as criminal rather than a response to a broken society. In order to counter the Daily Mail assertions the Guardina had to discover free will and individual responsibility.
Of course there are lots of other factors which might go towards explaining Philpott's terrible behaviour: evolutionary psychologists would look at the reproductive value of his anti-social behaviour ( he has been a prolific father) towards women and point to a genetic component in his behaviour style. Learning theorists would look to the sort of be hour he had winsessed in his childhood environment and I could go on and on.
The true fact is that no single theory or perspective can in itself explain a whole set of events or the psychology of an individual.
It would be nice if the turnabout of the left and right newspapers learnt from this that no single theory or view of human psychology can explain our society or any of the individuals in it. In any case people do have free will and are not just passive victims in a deterministic world.
This is something we also need to remember as educationalists. We must teach the full diversity of biological, behavioural, social and societal factors which influence human behaviour as well as are unique capacity amongst animals for reflection and development and not just a narrow discourse from sociology.
I don't hold out much hope of change from biased newspapers whether they be on the left or right or from people with a strong political ideology. I do have faith in education.

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