In a Royal Park close to where I live, there is a problem with people not cleaning up after their dogs. In response, signs have appeared that read, “There’s no such thing as the poo fairy”, showing a small winged creature spiriting away a plastic bag. These signs acknowledge that some owners put their dogs’ poo in bags then leave them in the park, normally at the base of nearby trees, like noxious offerings to the woodland gods. I suppose I should be grateful that they don’t leave steaming piles for me to step in, but I can’t quite bring myself to thank them for their thoughtfulness. To my mind, it would be much better if they found a bin.
Admittedly, this is a fairly trivial matter (I don’t expect it to be raised in Parliament anytime soon), but I find the practice of bagging and dumping dog poo quite revealing. There’s a visible thought process at work here that can’t be detected in those who don’t bother tidying up after their dogs at all. Baggers-and-dumpers are willing to put the poo in the bag, but that’s where they draw the line. They evidently think there’s a reasonable limit to what is expected of them, after which everything is the responsibility of some municipal authority. In other words, they don’t really believe they are accountable for the upkeep of the world around them, or even for tidying up mess of their own making.
Big deal, you might say. Didn’t people used to empty slop buckets out of windows? By comparison, isn’t bagging dog poo for someone else to dispose of the height of cleanliness and decency? Maybe, but why pick that particular time and practice as a benchmark? If you go back far enough, you can always find something worse than the present. Isn’t it more instructive to look at a more recent era – the 1950s, say, instead of 1650s – when our parks and streets were cleaner, and wonder why that was so? I’m not suggesting the mid-20th Century was a golden age, but if certain things were better back then, it’s worth wondering why that was, and whether we’ve lost something important along the way. Surely progress is about retaining the practices that are useful and dispensing with those that are not, not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
My local dog poo problems could be an isolated issue, of course, indicative of nothing on a wider scale, but I’m not so sure. If you look at litter levels nationwide, the messy mindset appears rife. And as with dog poo, so with everything else. The kind of person who doesn’t believe that public cleanliness is their business is unlikely to think that the decorum or safety of society is much to do with them either.
How things change. It wasn’t that long ago that someone caught acting anti-socially could expect a response from the people around them. If they dropped litter, or acted in a vulgar or aggressive manner, the chances are someone would intervene, safe in the knowledge that others had their back. The expression ‘have-a go hero’ is probably only a modern invention because it’s such a novelty. Once, it was many people’s default response. I suspect this was because, on some level, they thought of society as an amalgamation of the individuals within it, and that it was down to each of them to maintain the proper standards of behaviour. When the civilised order was threatened, they didn’t automatically turn to the authorities; they looked to themselves and those around them to do the right thing. It was their society and their responsibility.
The question is how we went from one state of affairs to the other – from working class women dutifully scrubbing their doorsteps to council house gardens full of rubbish, and parks full of dog shit. Or, for that matter, from a united front against incivility to thugs and louts ruling the roost. Doubtless, the Left would offer the explanation it ascribes to all our social ills: inequality and prejudice. Our evil capitalist system promotes atomisation and bigotry. If we only stopped encouraging competition and rewarding self-interest, people’s natural goodness would shine through, and we would witness the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.
Suffice to say, I disagree. For starters, it can hardly be said that we live in a pitiless, laissez-faire society. The government now consumes nearly half our GDP, much of it spent on services that offer a collectivised alternative to the free market. It would be more accurate to say that our society is balanced between the state and private sectors, with the former set to overtake the latter. As for prejudice, there is far less of it than there once was. A country in which you can be banged up for expressing un-PC views is unlikely to be one in which bigots hold much sway.
Contrary to popular belief, market economies don’t allow people to screw money out of each other against their will. That’s called theft. Or socialism. The first rule of capitalism is that no transaction can be completed unless both parties benefit. In other words, you can’t have my money unless you give me something I want in return, and unless I agree to the asking price. Far from unconditionally rewarding greed, this makes consideration of others a prerequisite of success.
The ideology of the Left, by contrast, equates inequality to injustice, and promises certain entitlements by way of compensation. The very existence of entitlements tells their recipients they are victims of mistreatment, so their most likely reaction on receipt of a helping-hand is resentment of the society that made it necessary. Moreover, when something is provided as a matter of right, it obviates the needs for gratitude, kindness, generosity or self-restraint. And if the entitlements culture isn’t harmful enough, the Left tosses non-judgmentalism into the mix, which protects people from criticism, and assures them that anything they do is fine and dandy.
It could be argued that people are innately good and that the policies of the Left do not have a corrupting influence on them. But if that’s the case, why should people’s character be immune to the policies of Left but not the Right? If they are susceptible to one, they are susceptible to the other. And if this is so, and people respond to the incentives and disincentives of different political systems, which of them is more likely to have a detrimental effect on their character? One that punishes indolence and recklessness, but rewards hard work and solicitude? Or one that relieves people of responsibility, fosters grievance, nurtures egotism, and promises something for nothing? I’ll let you decide.