“Jobseeker! Can of Strongbow, I’m a mess/ Desperately clutching onto a leaflet on depression/ Supplied to me by the NHS/ It’s anyone’s guess how I got here.” – Sleaford Mods, Jobseeker
In the run up to the 1968 US presidential election- and amidst all the political upheaval, civil rights protests and race riots of the late 1960s- Nixon created a winning campaign focusing on “law and order”, with a promise to be “tough on crime.” (Click here for his iconic ‘The First Civil Right’ advert.)
He argued, against the democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey, that “doubling the conviction rate in this country would do more to cure crime in America than quadrupling the funds for Humphrey’s war on poverty.” And hence the beginnings of the modern american “’Tough on Crime’ movement; .. a set of policies that emphasize[d] punishment as a primary, and often sole, response to crime.”* This continued partly through the efforts of Clinton, who diverted funds from projects investing in deprived communities into increasing policing and prison capacities; the modern legacy of which is the second highest incarceration rate globally, and huge racial and class-based disparities in sentencing (black men are statistically more likely to go to prison than complete high-school**). It’s also made police forces in impoverished, inner-city areas (such as the parts of Baltimore currently rioting over the murder of Freddie Gray) more akin to an “army of occupation”, than anything aimed at protecting citizens from the negative effects of crime.***
I now have it. Mainly so I can get angry at real people on the internet, instead of dead people in books. https://twitter.com/TheBeetleBox
“She was not one for emptying her face of expression. ” ― J.D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey
Before I got contact lenses (i.e., before I could see properly on a regular basis, since I always hated that fishtank-feel glasses have) I thought I had some kind of idea of what my life had been lacking without them.
In some respects, I wasn’t far off. My visual field lost its previous oiliness, where only things close up were concrete and distinct and the backdrop slipped and shimmied at will. I wandered around supermarkets, suddenly thick with texture, muttering Macneice (“I peel and portion/ A Tangerine and spit the pips and feel/ The Drunkenness of things being various.”) And it was a kind of drunkenness, a constant immersion in a strange and almost hallucinatorily bright world, that I couldn’t quite believe was just the normal day-to-day one that other people experienced.
[For Part One click here]
Perhaps more than any of the bad pictures of “pain” Wittgenstein attempts to disentangle people from in the Philosophical Investigations, the above picture assimilates our knowledge of other’s pain to our knowledge of stuff, of features of the external world. Here “pain” is a feature of the world (albeit of that part of the world taken up by someone’s body), one which we can know about with a high degree of certainty, or if we are uncertain about it is simply because we do not yet have enough factual information to hand. (“I’m unsure if she is in pain, I’m still waiting on the results of the scan.”)
Yet it stems from the same kind of unease also leading to those pictures which Wittgenstein does address: the thought that if the question “Are they in pain?” is to have any kind of bite there must be something called “a pain” to exist “somewhere” (whether physically or mentally). The “medical” solution (the one I have discussed above) is a picture which does enable us to know someone elses pain, and yet in doing so robs pain of its phenomenological content (and many of the instances we would refer to as pain.) On the other hand attempts to situate this strange object called a “pain” in the realms of “the mental”, have the unfortunate effect of meaning that we can never know if someone is ever in pain at all. Both pictures, however, “yoke” knowledge (of another’s pain) to “certainty”: knowing something is being able to gather the appropriate evidence for it, to be “sure” about it. Continue reading
It seems like a weird question to ask how you can know if someone is in pain or not.
Not that this has really stopped philosophers from continuously asking it, and many of them answering along sceptical lines; you cannot ever know another’s pain, you can only guess at or surmise it. (PI 246) But this is not what I’m talking about. As my philosophy tutor, Bob Hargrave, used to say, the only possible response to a philosopher who claims they can seriously entertain the possibility that someone screaming and writhing under a torturer’s implements isn’t actually “in pain”, is to back away from them slowly. (This goes along with a certain, and largely justified, fashion of seeing most philosophical problems as being abstract and irrelevant to our lives: of course we constantly treat other people’s pain as something obvious and indisputable, whatever the philosophers decide between them is hardly going to have much bearing on that.)
What I’m talking about, though, are the kinds of situations I now encounter all the time. Where a patient on the ward is doubled up, clutching their stomach and the response of the nurses and doctors is simply to label it as “behavioural”- the polite, medicalized way of saying “they’re just faking it to get attention.” Instead of responding to their pain, instead of comforting them (or offering some other kind of relief), we simply have to work out how to manage their problematic behaviour. They very much look like they’re in excruciating pain, but we know that they’re not, so treating them as if they are is inappropriate. Continue reading
I’m currently reading the brilliant, wry and completely heartbreaking ‘May We Be Forgiven’ by A.M. Homes. (With serious thanks to Hannah G for lending it to me.) As some measure of these things, yesterday on the train the man sitting opposite me asked if I was alright because I was making anguished faces and clutching my collarbone so hard with my fingertips that they left marks. After a time I trawled my eyes upward from the page to realise he’d moved away.
Many things struck me in the book, but the below extract struck me because of the obvious relevance to Wittgenstein:
“I’m thinking of days that never were, the perfect childhood that existed only in my imagination. When I was growing up, the playground wasn’t so much a well-coiffed green as an empty lot. Our families had no desire for us to have a safe, clean place to play- as far as they were concerned, playing was a waste of time. Supplies were limited; one guy might have a mitt, another guy a bat, and the rest of us caught barehanded, sucking up the incredible sting, hands smarting not only with pain but with the thrill of success at having plucked the ball out of the sky, having interrupted the trajectory and likely spared someone the cost of replacing a window. The bottom line was, if you had time to play, you didn’t tell anyone, because if your parents knew, they would find something for you to do.
So we played quietly and out of sight, making toys out of whatever happened to be nearby- my father’s shoes made a most excellent navy, his size-nine wingtips gliding in formatting across the carpet, the smell of leather and foot sweat. And what did I use as the aircraft carrier? A silver platter that I borrowed from the dining room. And when my mother discovered the platter surrounded by shoes, she accused me of having mental problems. Why wasn’t it obvious to her that the carpet was the ocean, the battleground? She called me a nogoodnik, and I remember crying and George thinking it was all so funny.” (p. 102)
Last week Dr Peter Carter (general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing) angered a large proportion of the nurses and support workers he is supposed to represent by urging them not to strike, since doing so would involve “abandoning their patients.”
One of the things he said in his speech to the RCN’s annual congress is less controversial; not giving NHS workers their 1% pay rise in line with the cost of living is obviously “insulting”, and as someone on the lowest rung of their pay scale, I can attest to the fact that what I earn is enough for a young, childless person to just about subsist on but not a lot more. And whilst striking is clearly at its most effective (and ethically defensible) when the individuals setting working conditions and wages are the ones directly harmed by the strike (i.e. corporation owners), public sector strikes do often work, and can do so in a way which either does not harm, or only negligibly harms, the public (and may even help them.)