In Philadelphia the Republican Party nominated presidential candidate George W Bush on a platform of 'compassionate conservatism'. Commentators blinked in amazement at the transformation of the Grand Old Party as black and Native American minorities were paraded as a signal of the Republican's new-found caring image. Speeches resounded with the buzz words education, minorities, compassion and care. Newt Gingrich, whose Conservative Revolution pulled the party to the right in 1994 was silenced. Pat Buchanan's Cultural War to take back America, street by street, of the 1992 convention was long forgotten, as he is exiled to the Reform Party. Instead, pride of place was given to General Colin Powell's chiding of the Republicans for their past indifference to minorities.
Outside the conference hall radical protestors insisted that the Republican Party did not care, and were arrested in droves. Elsewhere, advisor Ivan Massow resigned from the British Conservative Party, accusing the Tories of being 'uncaring'. Announcing that he was to join the Labour Party, Massow - who is gay - cited the Tories' anti-gay attitudes.
The critics have missed the point. The problem with the new compassionate conservatism is not that it does not care, but that it does. 'Care' is a virtue in families, or amongst friends but not in politics. Beware of governments that care. Care is a personal thing, freely given. Providing welfare services ought to be a political decision, established through debate, and above all impersonal.
Nazi philosopher Martin Heidegger made 'care' central to his preferred relationship of people to state. Care was a value that trumped individual rights, allowed the state to assume responsibility for guiding personal behaviour. In the 1970s environmentalists revived the 'care' principal as in care for nature, the vorsorge, or 'precautionary principal'. It stated that nothing should be done that was not proven to be safe. The idea that there is a higher value to which we must submit is a useful way for states to subordinate the rights of individuals.
The idea that George W Bush should care for people ought to strike terror into their hearts. What could Bush's 'care' mean? Asserting a community of interests, 'compassion', when in truth oil-millionaire Bush represents the propertied minority, can only mean the forced suppression of conflicting interests in society.
NAMED AND SHAMED?
The British establishment breathed a sigh of relief when the tabloid News of the World gave in to pressure to stop its campaign of 'naming and shaming' convicted paedophiles. Police, politicians and social workers had all been paralysed in the face of the parents of murdered Sarah Payne, who supported the campaign. In Britain today, the moral authority of the victim is paramount. Not one leading figure in Britain had the courage to say that the Payne's loss did not give them the right to draft the law on sex crimes. As the numbers of attacks on those accused or suspected of paedophilia increased, backroom pressure forced the News of the World to give in.
All that has been achieved, though, is that the authorities have reasserted their monopoly over panic and hysteria. Promises of tougher laws to deal with the problem mean that the lynch-mob atmosphere will continue. It was the Home Office, not the News of the World that stoked the paedophile panic. Without the creation of the Sex Offenders' Register, the News of the World would never have been able to publish the names of those accused.
What about those who have been named? Amongst them are Kenneth Walker, named as the abuser of 'two sisters' - in fact his daughters - after a separation from their mother. A former minister in the Church of Scotland, Walker protests his innocence, and is supported by his former parishioners. Far from being a secretive pervert, Walker has set up a public campaign VOCAL (Victims of Child Abuse, Scotland).
Sexual abuse of children is a cruel act, which should be punished. But contrary to the accepted wisdom, it is rare, not common. Only a tiny percentage of the 12,000 people on the Sex Offenders' Register were convicted of crimes against children. Where it does happen it tends to be within families, predatory abduction being exceptionally rare. Rates of recidivism are lower for child sex offences than for almost any other, with the exception of murder. The idea that there are individuals pre-programmed to commit sex offences against children is unsupported by the statistics. Rather, most sex offences are gross lapses of moral behaviour on the part of parents or close relatives. In the climate of hysteria surrounding child sex offences, though, many people convicted are likely to be innocent.
Action Against False Allegations of Abuse Website: www.aafaa.org.uk
-- James Heartfield
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