Friday, June 22, 2012

How to Treat the Feeble Minded

From around 1840 to 1970, people who were diagnosed as 'feeble-minded' in Cambridge (UK) were confined in the Fulbourn Mental Hospital. Especially dim young girls who had a baby out of wedlock. And they were buried there, as rejects from the local community. It was something to be ashamed of.

How do we treat, today, the less-capable?

We spam them with deceptive pricing - so that they get a worse deal. We follow up purchases with 'would you like to buy insurance for that' - which, for consumer goods, is a truly rotten deal. We idolize baubles and meaningless celebrity, for them. And litter their lives with reminders of lust, fattening morsels, and addictive substances. To fund such consumption, we offer easy 'consumer-credit' - which only serves to make their life even more expensive. And, again, penalises the lazy, the ill-informed, and the incompetent.

Why is it that most smokers are among the poor in our society? (A habit costing GBP £5 per day here - when benefits are about GBP £100 per week). Is it, perhaps, because we offer them smoking as something that is 'manly', 'sexy', 'tough', or as an (illusory) way of feeling better about their lives?

Given the right attitude to commercial success, and to commercialism in society, is it any wonder that one can make 30% of a society obese (and 70%[?] overweight)[as now in the UK]?

As Michael Sandel points out there is a lot of virtue that cannot be measured by commercial success, and as Robert Sirico says there is a lot of virtue in rewarding that which is frugal and satisfies peoples choices. But there is more.

All of us are unable to keep more than a few of thoughts in mind at any one time, or of safely controlling motor vehicles at speeds much over 60 miles per hour, obsessed with sex and plumage, and weak and slow. Cetaceans are in all probability a lot smarter.

Given the environment of unfettered commercialism that we seem to think is best - with its rewards for 'marketing' and 'selling', as opposed to 'being good', or actually disseminating accurate information - is it any wonder that the poor are among the most resentful in our society?

Their young men come around to our houses and smash up the place trying to steal a few gadgets. Or do thousands of pounds damage to our offices when stealing a couple of computers they might get GBP £20 for from their drug dealing 'associates'. They blame scapegoats - and so often vote for hate and populist measures. (Like blaming bankers for crises of unpayable debts).

In some countries they keep virtually all such people in jail. (Where, I think, they give them cigarettes...).

Surely there should be much more investment in: Better rewards for socially productive interventions. And in innovations that spread good norms and values - often called 'education' and 'faith'.

After all social innovations and values are 'economic public goods', and so are under-provided by free markets.

The Christian church proved to be a pretty good, and durable, way of doing that in the absence of an effective state. And states, too, need moral and ethical foundations.