20 February 2007

"Curing" the homeless

Herbert Spencer was a prestigious Victorian philosopher, now out of fashion. According to the Oxford Companion to Philosophy, ‘Spencer enjoyed immense popularity in his own time, especially in America. ... Sinking in esteem by the century’s end to hitherto unimagined depths, Spencer is today remembered primarily as the enthusiast for extreme laissez-faire or Social Dawinism...’ (from article about Herbert Spencer by Michael Ruse).

Herbert Spencer was opposed to state interventionism and also to female suffrage, on the grounds that women would be too likely to support paternalistic (or interventionist) policies.

Personally, I regard the basic moral principle as being that one should refrain from imposing one’s own evaluations and interpretations on other people, but leave them as free as possible to make their own best guess in view of the existential uncertainty. The modern, and totally different, principle, appears to be that the individual should be willing to sacrifice his own interests in order to contribute to the greatest good of the greatest number of people. I find this horrifying.

An article by John Bird in the Mail on Sunday of 18 February, under the headline ‘Lock up the homeless’, is headed, in large letters, ‘No one knows more about the homeless than the founder of The Big Issue. In a tough and provocative article, he argues that the present policy is useless and the only "cure" for most is compulsory treatment in mental hospitals’.

In the article, the author declares: ‘The way the Government ... "treats" this problem is just plain wrong. The system isn’t curing anything. ... the illness that caused the crisis in the first place is still there, untouched and untreated. What nobody wants to acknowledge is that 90 per cent of people in and around homelessness have drink and drug problems. ... It is addictive behaviour and the only way to tackle it and stand any chance of "curing" the homeless is to treat it as the mental problem it is. Addiction doesn’t fall under the remit of the 1983 Mental Health Act. [An oppressive and intrinsically immoral Act, by the way.] But it should.’

John Bird refers to the cases of two individuals.

Jim was somebody I knew well. He died last year from alcohol abuse, having been slowly rotted by the system that, nominally at least, kept him out of homelessness for 25 years. He teetered on the edge of society, there to be a pain to the hard-working people he lived among. ... The taxpayers paid for Jim to drink himself to death because nobody would accept that his addiction was a state of mental illness.

Bill is in a similar situation. He is a walking disaster. Mentally unstable, a nuisance to himself and others. He has been housed for five years but still lives the life of a homeless person. He simply no longer sleeps rough. His flat is full of last week’s takeaway wrappings. Sometimes he remembers to charge up his electric key. Most times he is in the dark. He lived in a hostel for a while and had to behave. But he was never 'cured'. And so, when he was rehoused, his existence was always going to be that of a sustained victim. He never eats properly or sleeps through the night, is jobless and unemployable. But, as far as some homeless agencies are concerned, he’s been ‘successfully rehoused’. It just shows how much the system masks the problem — to the tune of an estimated £60,000 a year in Bill’s case.

He who pays the piper calls the tune, but the piper is paid with freedom confiscated from taxpayers, thus reducing their ability to build up enough capital to do what they would find most rewarding, which might include having children and educating them. If it costs £60,000 a year to keep a homeless person physically alive, that is about as much as it costs to send six boys to Eton. So the freedom of the taxpaying population is being reduced by that amount for every homeless person it ‘successfully rehouses’.

If the Government had not wished to keep Jim, and others like him, alive at the taxpayers’ expense, these homeless people would have drunk themselves to death more quickly, and the population of drifting homeless would not have become so offensive to the non-homeless population as to justify incarcerating them in the power of the iniquitous medical Mafia, which will not hesitate to deprive them of their mental, as well as physical, liberty by the enforced administration of mind-altering drugs.

‘Colonialism’, the imposition of your own standards on a subject population, is in other contexts disapproved of. You could say that John Bird’s article is expressing 'lifestyle colonialism'. If your subjects do not bring themselves into conformity with your ideas of an approvable lifestyle — however much at variance with their own culture it may be — you consider yourself justified in bringing them into line, by whatever sanctions you see fit.