So a number of concepts and ideas and comments have been floating around my head of late, and none of them have been significant enough, or have I formulated my thoughts enough, to want to pass comment on them on my blog. But it has occurred to me that they have a common thread, and that is that there is a price to pay, and we, as a society, must choose the price we are willing to pay!
The biggest of them is the Conservative Government's (and the coalition Government before them too) ongoing war on benefit "scroungers". This attempt to alienate the poorest in society (who coincidently are unlikely to vote, and less likely to vote conservative) ignores that significant amounts of the welfare bill the government pays goes to middle class families through child support, and that the biggest component of the welfare bill paid to the poorest in society isn't actually going to the poorest in society, but wealthy private landlords in the form of housing benefit (which is not payable to mortgage holders paying a repayment mortgage, or to anyone with significant equity in property). Ignoring these facts, it is still true that in any system that gives something out, people will game that system in their favour, and some will outright break the rules to make gains (fraud in this case). So what should we do about this fraud? Well it is the price you pay for having a robust system of social welfare, and at a fraction of a percent (by the Government's own official figures) I reckon it's working pretty well. Obviously the argument from the government is that this price is unacceptable (and we can't afford benefits anyway, austerity you know). But that thinking ignores that there is another price you must pay. Yes, having a robust social welfare system has price, both a financial one (actually paying for it) and the price of some people defrauding it, but not having a robust social welfare system has a price, and that price is people starving to death! Do we, as a wealthy nation, really want to have people dying in the streets, because we are too self centred to give them a meagre few scraps? I know which price I would prefer to pay, but that is not what the current government wants you to choose, it's not "a very few defrauding the system, or people dying in the streets" that they are asking, it is "pay for all this expensive fraud, or get money back in your pockets (if you are rich enough to benefit from the tax breaks)" that they ask. I would respect them more if they were honest about the fact that they just don't care about poor people starving to death.
The most recent of them is the recent talk of "cyber violence" I have seen online, and the attempts by some to frame criticism and harassment online as violence. The issue I have here is that those arguing against this "cyber violence" wish to have the freedom not to be harassed online, which is fine, but they also want the freedom not to be offended online, and that is where I start to get a little worried. There is also the worrying misuse here of the label "violence", if I punch you in the face that is violence, if I call you "fucking moron" (or worse) that is not. But that isn't actually my issue here (I have an issue with it, but it doesn't fit with the theme of this blog post). My problem is the desire to have the freedom to not be offended, a worrying desire in my opinion, as your freedom costs me mine. Now your freedom not to be punched in the face (or suffer other forms of violence), is greater in value than my freedom to punch you in the face (or commit other forms of violence) and so it is right and proper that society bans violence (except under exceptional circumstances). I disagree that your freedom not to be offended is greater in value than my freedom to offend you though. For example, if in a discussion I say to you "I disagree with you" what I mean is along the lines of "I see, and respect, your point of view, but I do not agree with it" that may be backed by knowledge in a factual discussion (whether that knowledge is right or not is another matter) or it might be based on something else in a none factual discussion. If however I say "fuck off you moron" in a discussion it probably means something along the lines of "your statement is so ludicrous that I refuse to validate it by coming up with a counter point" and the offence is used as emphasis of my disdain for your point. If I am not free to offend you, how can I raise that emphasis without escalating to something else (like violence, that I agree is wrong)? Plus it is possible that the point you raised offended me first? Of course this point about the price of your freedom is the removal of my freedom also ignores an important point about life online. If I shout offensive things at you in the street, there is not much you can do to stop me (and I do think that I should be able to do so, within reason, and by extension you should be free to shout offensive things at me, that is after all the price of the freedom I ask for) but online, you do have the freedom to not be offended by me, you also have the power to enforce that freedom. The internet is an active communications medium, if you don't want me to offend you, don't communicate with me (block my emails, block me on twitter and facebook, don't visit my web page, or read any blog posts or forum posts I might make, take ownership of your freedom on the internet). Yes freedom has a price, but in this case the freedom that is being asked for has a price that is, in my opinion at least, too high, and one that the people asking for it already have anyway, if they just took the time and effort to enforce it. Why should I pay the price you ask when you will not pay the price that gives you what you want anyway?
The oldest of the things floating around my head, and the one that probably first got me thinking along the lines of "the price you pay" is the out cry over high street shops closing, or almost closing. This one dating back to the crisis HMV faced, and people crying out "how can this be allowed to happen?" (not literally). The problem back then is that we wanted cheap DVDs and CDs, and we wanted the ability to browse the unknown, and novel, CDs and DVDs. People would pop to the high street, browse away, and if it took their fancy buy it online cheaper. Well this particular example the price you pay is far easier to see. You want cheap, get it online, but browsing the unknown to see what is interesting is much harder online, you want to browse the unknown, you must pay a little more to keep that high street shop open, and cover their overheads.
There are other thoughts I have along these sorts of lines, but none of them are particularly well formed right now, but what led me to make this post isn't the mass of ideas, or the individual revelations they exposed, it is the overriding realisation that we as a society are really bad at seeing the cost of our choices outside their immediate and obvious effects. The solutions to these, and other problems, requires not only a decision on what price we need to pay, but the time and effort to look at the issue dispassionately and see it for what it is, and find out what the true price of our choices are!