David Cameron yesterday hardened the Tory attack on Britain\’s "broken society" by calling for an end to "moral neutrality" whereby society refused to distinguish between good and bad behaviour.

In a personal speech in Glasgow East, one of Britain\’s poorest constituencies, which plays host to a crucial byelection on July 24, the Conservative leader said society should not be afraid to say what was right and what wrong.

It\’s an attractive idea of course. In one example he uses (although not quite in this language) instead of saying that someone "suffers from obesity" it might be more correct to call them fat greedy bastards.

However, there\’s a much greater problem with the idea of society (by which he means government of course) saying what was right and wrong: according to whom? It\’s not all that long ago that homosexuality was agreed by society to be wrong and that thus it was a crime (one slightly odd factoid I\’ve dug up. Between 1800 and 1827, some 40 people were hung for sodomy as against just under 400 for murder, umm, England and Wales figures I think, not GB). Iran apparently still operates on this basis. We can\’t even use the straight Millian definitions of as long as it doesn\’t harm others or their own rights: adultery certainly causes emotional pain, but does that mean we should adopt the Saudi approach to it of whippings and beheadings?

On the face of it telling everyone what is right and what is wrong is extremely attractive: the problem comes as above, in defining what it is that we are going to be telling people. We might indeed be more enlightened to be telling people that racism wrong, shagging not, but looking around at other human societies (both geographically and in time) shows that plenty of other not so enlightened ideas have been considered right and wrong, those latter something that society should righteously punish.

Not a can of worms I think we want to open, eh?

5 thoughts on “What Joy”

  1. Yup thanks Dave a nice conflation of personal responsibility (excellent, yes please) and morality (er, whose?). I think it’s fair to say that we want a situation where it’s OK to say to someone you made this choice we aren’t paying for it or in some cases, now you’re going to pay for it. But we don’t necessarily want to say it’s wrong for you to make that choice. Despite the muddle I’d say it’s a step in the right direction.

  2. The problem for me is that the future PM thinks almost like a socialist student leader in this respect.

    Punishing the obese by making them social outcasts and refusing them NHS treatment isn’t going to produce shiny happy, slim people(I mentioned this elsewhere, but an avg. 15 successes out of 10000 dieters after 5 years is, uh, not a promising result for diets)

    Cameron is asking the impossible (note the equivalence of obese people with drug addicts and alcoholics, who have similar rehab rates) here, and making it a moral pivot.

    He is a very stupid man.

  3. Addendum:

    Don’t tell people what is wrong.

    Tell them what is right and they’ll work the rest out for themselves.

  4. I think Cameron is making a wider point than Tim gives him credit for. I don’t see how Cameron can mean that government will be the arbiter of right and wrong, given his emphasis on personal responsibility.

    Also society has to have positive values of some kind to exist in any coherent form, we have been living (apart) under the yoke of politically correct, non-judgementalism now for what seems like an eternity and the results are, I hope we all agree, not that pretty.

    It may be that some of societies’ judgements are not to the taste of everyone but the current alternative – that the total absence of judgement and discrimination is the only permissable standpoint – is surely far worse in its blanket failure.

    Furthermore, the denial of discrimination negates the idea of the progress and evolution of people’s thinking and sentiments by rendering real debate and analysis impossible and in some cases potentially illegal.

    So by denying society the right to say ‘no, we don’t believe that form of behaviour is acceptable in this country’, and simply forcing measures upon an unwilling and gagged populace, freer thinkers and socialists alike may be preventing the natural and proper evolution of societal views.

    You can’t rely on legislation to demand acceptance of the liberal viewpoint in all matters, in my view, it has to arrive naturally if it is to mean a damn and attitudes on the ground are to really reflect those values. This is not what we have now.

  5. “freer thinkers and socialists alike may be preventing the natural and proper evolution of societal views.”

    That’s a feature not a bug. Leftists don’t want you to think for yourself because then you’ll start to question what they think and what they tell you you should think.

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