An interesting piece (with lots of Foucault quotes) from Deborah Orr in today’s Independent. She concludes:
But maybe the transparent society really is sinister, for reasons that are spiritual rather than practical. Maybe it is unhealthy for a society to behave itself not because it is underpinned by morality and watched by its caring family or neighbour, but because it knows it’ll get caught and punished if it doesn’t toe the line.
It reminded me of a nice piece of research on the DNA database, ‘Barcoded Children’, done by Mairi Levitt and Floris Tomasini. Mairi very kindly came down to speak at our workshop on DNA retention last December.
The research had, amongst other things, explored children’s perceptions of right and wrong. At first glance, it appeared that this was fairly well-developed, but further probing revealed that ‘wrong’ simply meant ‘something for which your parents or teacher punish you’, without any understanding of why that might happen, or of consequences or moral obligations.
Until the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 came along, a child aged under 14 who had committed an offence was presumed to be doli incapax and it was for the prosecution to show that the child knew right from wrong. The Act swept that away, leaving us with one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility (ie 10) in Europe.
There’s a lot of difference, though, between having a mature, deeply-rooted, moral sense of wrongdoing, or on the other hand obeying ‘rules’ because the consequences are unpleasant. The growth in surveillance risks making moral infants of us all and creating a society where the only crime is getting caught.
Now I’m going to go downstairs, and my dog will quickly jump off the sofa – not because she understands why grubby dogs and sofas don’t mix, but because I’m in the category of people who shout at her to get down. She’s sufficiently intelligent to distinguish everyone’s footsteps, though, and so if my son enters the room, she will merely thump her tail and beam at him.