On ‘Social Engineering’

This post was written by Jon on August 6, 2010
Posted Under: Class,Communities,England,Identity,Immigration,Minorities,Racism/Fascism,Society

Nine years after Oldham burned in horrific race-riots, we’re finally getting round to the only workable solution to racial segregation. The report into the incident concluded that de facto segregation in the community was a root cause of the incident, and a more recent report stated that “Segregation and divisions between Oldham’s communities is still deeply entrenched”. Now, two schools – one 90+% white, one 90+% asian – are to be merged next month in a dramatic effort to ease racial tension in an area in which proximity is no guarantee of community.

This is the subject of a Newsnight series entitled ‘Crossing the Line’, and the report aired last night shows something quite revealing about race relations in some parts of our country. (You can watch it here, if you can sit through ten minutes of thick northern accents).

In the report we meet Jean as she drops her thirteen year old daughter, Hannah, off to drama club (which requries a commute through the predominantly asian part of the town). Jean admits that she feels ‘uncomfortable’ doing this, even for a few minutes when shielded in a large metal box on wheels. ‘In Oldham there isn’t a community anymore’, she says.

Hannah’s views are a bit more strident. “People have been saying that they’re going to build better houses for asians an’ that, immigrants an’ that. It’s like they can just come into the country and get treated like they’re kings and queens…and we get treated like we’re nothing”.

This is a common view, especially, it seems, among the young. Said one boy from the majority-white school, ‘Over there, it’s like totally different; it’s, like, Muslim culture’. The feelings are returned, certainly, and the animosity of the ‘other’ side forms the worldview of the very young. One asian girl, about ten, said simply, ‘They don’t like us asians’. Impressions formed the in the minds of the young can hard to dislodge.

These impressions can only be maintained with extreme seperateness. (Remember, the BNP performs best in areas with little or no immigration).

There have been concerns that the students to be integrated are too old, and that the project will backfire. These concerns I won’t address. What I would like to focus on is the vacuous little objection always raised whenever a humane policy is proposed. The accusation is that the government is just engaging in ‘Social Engineering’

Let’s examine this twaddle.

It might seem to make sense at first. The governemt – cynically, we can presume – is engaging in policies to force certain people in society into different positions etc. (‘Ticking boxes’ one person called it in the above case.) It does this to produce certain politically correct goals, and in callous disregard for┬áthe people involved.

Picture it: There he is, the faceless, ‘rationalising’ bureaucrat, manipulating people against their will to satisfy some politically expedient goal, and to make liberals and vegetarians feel better.

Do people realise what they’re saying when they make these kinds of hollow objections, use these hollow words? Society is not a ‘natural’ thing. It is based on human institutions and human agreements which we can control. If we deem equality to be a good thing, we can implement policies to encourage equality; just as we can pursue policies to produce more millionaires. Each produces dramatic social consequences. The abolition of slavery and the enfranchisement of women could be described in this manner, but would we call them ‘social engineering’? We should never tolerate the idea that social relations are the outcome of human nature; more often than not they are the result of some design.

So the definition I’ve come to is this:

Social Engineering: Humane policies with which I disagree, and to which I have no morally acceptable objection.

This cry of ‘Social Engineering!’ carries with it, I think, a rather depressing worldview in which we cannot attempt to change society for the better without government failure and ill effect. Nonsense – society should be ours to engineer.

Let’s hope for the success of this schools program, and look forward to the communities of Oldham coming together in the light of day to see their common humanity. And from that glorious point on they can address their real problem: the fact that they live in Oldham.

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Reader Comments

My favourite bit was when the headteacher opposing the schools merger said it was unfair to play around with children’s education, then said his solution would be to start desegregation at primary school level instead.

Written By socialistedd on August 7th, 2010 @ 1:32 pm

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