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Monday, March 15, 2010


The last few months have seen a growing clamour regarding the sexualizing of children by parents, by the media, by retailers, by the music industry and by children themselves. This 'clamour' has been evoked by journalists, by books like Natasha Walter’s Living Doll, Pamela Paul’s Pornified and most recently by the Home Office's commissioned review into the ‘Sexualisation of Young People’ by Dr Linda Papadopoulos, the very media savvy Canadian psychologist who has appeared on TV programmes such as ‘My Big Breasts and Me’, ‘Celebrity Fit Club’ and ‘Big Brother’.

However, it wasn't until David 'call me Dave' Cameron jumped onto this august bandwagon and announced that he was, hand on heart, gravitas on face, 'very concerned that strap-ons and dungeonized Wendy-Houses were now being offered to five year olds' that things got really serious. Cameron’s carefully thought out response was that the Conservatives were going to rush through legislation that would ban ‘manipulative marketing techniques aimed at young people’, ‘strengthen the regulatory framework and give people the power to make complaints’, oh and ‘make Britain the most family-friendly country in the world’. So no pie-in-the-sky, knee-jerk policies there then.

Meanwhile, back on earth, the Home Office’s breathy new sexpert Dr Papadopoulos was appearing on countless TV shows, breasts heaving, lampooning lads mags and Beyonce videos for being too sexual. In actuality though Papadopoulos’s Home Office’s report covers a wide variety of topics, everything from the Internet, to sexual imagery’s impact on boys and girls, to relationships, to sexual violence and coercion, to pornography, computer games, fashion, music videos and body image. It is also full of sympathetic buzz words and phrases, of isms and concern. It talks of bullying - the new minority grouping, if you haven’t been bullied yet you soon will be - and partner violence.

The report is, in fact, a whole new layer of child protection, censorship, bullying and new words in the making, yet at its core are some very relevant concerns that should be addressed. The question is whether the media and, more importantly, the government, is capable of looking at anything that mentions children, sex, adults and the internet in the same breath, without immediately being consumed by apoplexy or, as David Cameron was, being compelled to adopt ‘concerned’ facial expressions and concoct legislative ideas out of thin air.

The reality is that children and adults now have access to hardcore pornography at the click of a button. Never in history has the human race had such a wealth of information, communication, imagery and graphic sexual material available, whether wished for or not. None of us know the long terms effects that such exposure will have on us or more particularly on young people growing up from birth in the age of the Net.

Already, theorists and psychologists and behaviorists have expressed concern at the inability of some children and teenagers to converse and fraternize with other people in a face-to-face situation. Though I tend to think that this is just using extreme examples to make a point rather than a comment on the young generally. However, without doubt, technology is changing our lives and none more so than the lives of the young and it is their unfettered ability to access ‘anything’ that is so alarming because it has no precedent, ever.

From head-hacking Taliban nasties, to gross-out anal gape videos to standard pornography to car crashes and celebrity sex tapes the whole lexicon of mans vileness and crassness is there for all to see at the click of a button. So as adults we can, if we chose to watch, deal with seeing anal gang bangs and watching Britney Spears chomping on her boyfriends penis, but can and should a ten year old? The answer is no.

As pre-Internet children, our journey to sexual awakening was varied and in many cases difficult. Some of us, no doubt depending on our age, saw adult magazines, TV programmes, films or videos, or whatever but in most cases these exposures would have been limited and for most of us seeing strong sexual content or pornography would have been rare. For many teenagers or children it would just have never happened. Now, given Internet access via mobiles, peer pressure and availability, I suspect that most teenagers and some children have looked at pornography a lot.

It may well be that exposure to strong sexual material will just be part of the rich tapestry of life in the 21st Century and maybe it will be. Certainly censorship isn’t the answer though education and sensible parenting is, though without an hysterical ‘something must be done’ approach from politicians and the media to drive our sensibilities. In fact far more invasive than pornography is the drip, drip of sexed-up imagery aimed at impressionable prepubescents,and child/adult crossovers that appear more and more in the media. Like Katie Price’s pictures of her three year old daughter heavily made up and looking like some bizarre hooker that she posted on Twitter or the sight of five and six years being dressed in sexually styled clothes by their parents who see it as cool. Yet in many ways these are the effects of the bombardment of imagery we all see and perhaps childhood is changing or adapting to the new technology as it must. Dr Linda Papadopoulos”s report and books like Living Doll are just some of the early manifestations of what will be an ongoing debate as people come to terms with the pornographization of the world and that the sexual act is now never more that a click away.

Porn is always the driver of new technology. Photography, film, video, DVD and the Internet have all been exploited commercially by the sex industry and now technology has made porn mainstream. Female pubic hair has all but vanished, breast augmentation and labia enhancement have been driven by women’s ability to see other women’s bodies in ways once unimaginable and equally perceive men’s responses to them. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is another argument and one that Dr Papadopoulos touched upon with her comments on body image but the fact is we are changing, our relationships, our sexual expectations, our emotions and how we respond to one another are all in transition and it is inevitable that we should be concerned. After all if Adam and Eve had had access to the internet its a sure bet that they would have posted and Twittered the first sex tape minutes after Eve bit into that Apple...

Monday, March 1, 2010


The National Health service and the Welfare State have come to be used as interchangeable terms, and in the mouths of some people as terms of reproach. Why this is so is not difficult to understand if you view everything from the angle of a strictly individualistic competitive society. A free health service is pure Socialism and as such it is opposed to the hedonism of capitalist society.

"The collective principle asserts that... no society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of a lack of means."
Aneurin Bevin, Labour politician who played a key part in the creation of the NHS and Welfare State.

"Marxism taught him that society must be changed swiftly, intrepidly, fundamentally, if the transformation was not to to be overturned by counter-revolution."
Labour leader Michael Foot on Anuerin Bevan and the creation of the Welfare State

When in 1945, Clement Attlee, the leader of the victorious Labour government stood poised to take over government from the wartime coalition having vanquished its charismatic head, the Tory leader Winston Churchill, at the polls, he must have felt tremendous excitement at the prospects for change that lay ahead of him, but daunted too, no doubt. Daunted by a country left broke and broken by six years of war, by a Europe almost destroyed and with millions of its people dead, daunted as well by a population that was sick of war, hardship and suffering and who wanted societal change in a big, major way.

Fearful too probably of a glowering, threatening Stalinist Russia whose liberation of Poland, Hungry, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, the Ukraine and numerous other smaller states had turned into occupation and whose desire for the h-bomb, nuclear capabilities and promoting communism by force would beget the Cold War within years. Fearful also perhaps of the expectations of his party and most of all of his party's supporters, the electorate, who had been promised the introduction of a Welfare State and a National Health Service as recommended by the Beveridge report three years earlier. Yet Attlee and his fellow supporters could never have envisaged the beast they were to unleash nor the wider changes its creation would have on the social fabric of the UK in the years ahead.

It's probable, though, that the man Attlee choose as his welfare champion, Nye Bevan, did know and in fact would have welcomed the change for he would have known that this was a change that, short of a revolution or seismic social upheaval, was irreversible. What Bevan could not have foreseen though was how weak and loathsome the introduction of the welfare state would make the population. For how could the introduction of a system designed to protect all from the adverse effects of poverty, hunger, sickness, homelessness and unemployment end up ultimately undermining and threatening the very people and the state it was set up to protect?

No one advocates a society that would see the ill die or the sick left to rot at the side of the road while the fit and able strut past seemingly oblivious to their plight rather it is the degree to which the state intervenes and our response to it that matters. Bevan saw the creation of a welfare state not just as an act of benevolence by the state but rather as a Trojan horse that would, with its promise of a ‘cradle to grave’ support system, herald the end of the old order. For Bevan the England of class, and the Tory party that he perceived as representing it were; ‘as far as I am concerned... lower than vermin’.

The creation of the welfare state therefore wasn’t just about alleviating poverty and sickness it was also about destroying an old, ruling order. Of cutting the hamstrings of an elite so that no matter what, the welfare state would stay and in that Bevan and the supporters of the new order were successful. Not even Margaret Thatcher’s monetarist gurus Alan Walters or Milton Friedman were able to persuade the party to pursue a policy of privatising the health service. Whatever else, and whichever party was in power the welfare state has been safe and has grown. Each decade seeing new departments, increased budgets, more employed by it, and even more dependent on it, until now over 50 per cent of the UK work force is dependent on the public sector for their livelihood.

Beyond that is a mass of people hidden and lost in statistics who exist totally because of the state, people who are dependent on it for their food, their clothing, their homes, their health and their life, from the day they are born to the day they die. A growing number of people in fact that whose purpose in existing is created by, and is dependent on, the State and in turn whose existence the Welfare state depends for its own existence.

This counter dependency has grown inextricably since the Welfare State’s birth in 1945 and is now at a tipping point as immigration, massive unsustainable state and individual borrowing, diminishing tax revenues and a dwindling private sector work force are combining finally to deny it any more money and to secondly overload a Welfare system that is bloated and put upon to the point of collapse.

Further the dependents and recipients of the State’s largesse are neither grateful nor accepting of their lot, rather a large section of them have become an underclass, criminalized, feckless, and dangerous. Many prey on, abuse and milk the system for all they can, new arrivals in the UK are helped by agents of the State, or advisory bodies funded by the State, or by lawyers grant aided by the State, to get the best possible out of the Welfare system regardless of whether they or their families or their dependents have contributed to its coffers. In fact for many immigrants the UK represents a land of limitless resource for the minimum of input. Not so much a land of the free as of the fee.

Fees, which like the treasury bonds that the Government issues against its borrowing and which are sold on the open markets but which in reality are currently bought by the government with its own money which has been created out of thin air by printing it in a policy euphemistically called ‘quantitive easing’, our welfare state pays itself. Yet it doesn’t stop there as it creates and recruits more and more advisers whose jobs are to find as many new and clever ways as possible of extracting money from their own employer; the welfare state. It is in fact repeating the cycle with more and more demands being made on its own financial resources yet at the same time creating nothing of worth to sell on to third parties. Even the people it nurtures from baby to adulthood in the main become immediate dependents on the state, rather than taxable workers paying contributions to it. And their children in turn will do the same creating an ever-expanding circle that consumes all and creates nothing except more demands on the State.

The dream of a ‘cradle to grave’ welfare state where no one went hungry or was denied help when sick is now in danger of sucking the life-blood out of the population it was set up to help. Now that our national debts have reached levels that are unsustainable our politicians are being forced to address them. Yet even though events are forcing the states hand still no political party has the Will or the courage to tackle Bevan’s beast of burden full on. Instead politicians of all parties fudge the issues or talk in vagaries of a recovery that may or may not happen and which they assume will save the day.

Right now no politician or party will do more than tinker with the Welfare State’s budgets or its vast army of staff or its staggering number of dependents and recipients. Rather the government does nothing, which is fine as long as the resources are there to sustain it. But what happens when the legions of new, non tax contributing arrivals and the constantly demanding underclass and the growing numbers of unemployed suddenly find that the monies running out and there aren’t enough taxes coming in to pay for it? Then what? Borrow more? Tax More? Go to the IMF?

The fact is we have created a monster that has in turn led a large and growing number of people to expect the state to do everything for them regardless of merit or entitlement, Further like its clients, the Welfare State assumes that there will always be enough money there to cover its needs, whatever they are. To the Welfare state its needs are paramount, they usurp other sectors like the military, or the environment, and its budgets are seen as sacred. This bloated state cow is a sacred state cow and as such cannot be touched.

The Welfare State is weakening the country as much as its recipients are weakened by it. People no longer feel compelled to strive or look to provide for themselves instead they look to the state and the state in turn expects to provide. Each is sapping the other's strengths and corrupting the nations Will to do and for people to stand alone and to see the state as a last resource rather than a first resource, The state is consuming money at levels and as a percentage of our GDP that are ludicrous and is spending with a ferocity that borders on hysteria. And like the lottery winners who adopt a policy of ‘spend, spend, spend’ the money is going to run out.

Since 1945 governments have come and gone, chancellors have cut and spent, Bevan’s words and those of his colleagues have faded into history yet his, and Attlee’s, Trojan Horse has morphed from a lean stallion into a bloated beast, its body grossly obese and its strength and spirit sapped from years of abuse and overwork. And despite belated attempts to save it, it continues to consume, grow and decay simultaneously, as if the combined forces of good and evil were, like cancer and non-cancerous cells, constantly waging war inside it.

For more than anything now, the UK is defined by its welfare state and the welfare state in turns defines its people. Some foreigners may still be deluded enough to think that we still wander around in bowler hats and drink tea at the first sign of trouble but most see us for what we are and are becoming, a nation of the ill and the feign, whose priorities are drink and obsessing over vacuous celebrities whose fame, more often than not, is based not on a talent or achievement, but like many of the recipients of state welfare, is merely for existing.

It would be a great irony therefore if the verminous class-ridden society so hated by Nye Bevan was in fact being re-created inversely by the very Welfare State he had set up to destroy it. For soon the government, if they are to maintain their precious public sector untouched and uncut, will have to tax, exploit and cajole and suck dry all that aren’t part of this new Class in order to survive.

Americans in turn should beware of Presidents with Healthcare reform plans....