Sunday, February 18, 2007


First there was Jamie Oliver (JO) telling us about what to feed our children -- good on him -- and now Oliver James (OJ) tells us what my husband and I have believed in for a long time: children should be looked after by their own parents.

OJ coined the term "affluenza virus" which causes victims to place "a high value on money, possessions, appearances (physical and social) and fame" (see Times article here).

He puts this down to the legacy of both Thatcherism and "Blatcherism" (never heard that one before, does he really deserve an 'ism'?)

Is there anything new in what OJ is saying? Listen to the writer in Ecclesiastes: there is nothing new under the sun.

Or to borrow another cliche: the writing's on the wall.

It would seem logical -- to me as a social scientist any way -- that excessive consumerism (that was what we used to call it) would lead inevitably to the type of symptoms now so obvious and making OJ's thesis so credible.

Back in Sociology 101 and Social Anthropology 101 we were noting how families were the bedrock of society. They were the building blocks. Families, before institutions such as schools, government, etc, came into being, provided the sole context within which children learned their social and economic skills upon which basis they could attain political leadership.

They learned language, read the signs, learned how to hunt, they learned and practised the same religion that has sustained their society, they learned to conduct themselves concerning sex and marriage, they learned roles, they discharged responsibilities.

Without a state intervening at every turn to make sure you do not fail meant people learn to depend on themselves and on one another.

In the 14 years that I have lived in this country, I've seen how the importance of the family is falling apart in two different ways amongst two different groups of people.

In the first, the family has eroded as the state (ie welfare) has taken away the need for responsibility and the imperative to plan and work for one's own future.

When I first told my employer (a Christian non-profit organization) that they were not paying me enough for me to save for my pension, they could not understand what I meant.

Why does anyone need to save for one's pension. Surely the government should take care of that. No, I explained, I will not be working long enough in this country to qualify for a pension and while I am working here, I do not have have funds going into building my personal pension fund in Singapore.

Meanwhile all we heard on the media back in the early 1990s (apart from how the Child Support Agency would ensure that errant fathers pay their dues) were young girls getting pregnant and expecting to be given council housing. Do-gooders however argue in their defence, "Don't be stupid, who would want to live on the pittance given by this government to single teenage mothers?"

I personally know of very young girls who have children by different fathers and expect to be housed. If they have a partner with them in order to qualify for housing, these partners are kicked out very quickly.

Just this last Friday I learned from a childminder that the government gives up to £7000 a year to teenage mothers to spend on childminding while they get an education to better themselves.

Because they do not pay these fees, they mess the childminder around, dropping off early and picking up late, etc. "School" also does not last very long as there are no sanctions if they did not do well.

In sum, the government is pouring money into this group of mothers and their children, but the effect is not at all positive. (And we have not even discussed the plight of the baby involved.)

Once again money is being spent on trying to alleviate the symptoms of a problem rather than its root. The Chinese have a saying, "Zan chao chu gen": to get rid of the grass/weed, pull them up by its root. And this, I'm afraid, is the mentality I have when it comes to a problem like teenage pregnancies.

What about the issue of having a parent (usually the mother) stay at home to look after the young children.

I think this is a good idea when it is a grown-up, well-educated, emotionally-secure mother who's doing the nurturing. If the mother is a child herself, probably from a broken family who has never understood how love and discipline go together, then this argument does not wash.

The second way the family is slowly dying a death is amongst the middle class.

Enough said for now. I shall continue with this discussion another time.

Back to Organic-Ally.

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