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Foucault, the Bishop and Housing the Homeless


Listening to the radio as I emerged from my slumbers yesterday, I heard the Bishop of Birmingham talking about the groups whose plight was being forgotten in the melee of greed, spin and thwarted ambition which constitutes a British election.

David Urquehart was talking about the frail elderly, I think, but I had started to think about ‘the significance of absence’, as the French filosof Michel Foucault put it. In other words, what do we learn about an institution or process by observing the pattern of what it omits or leaves out?

In this election, there are some biggies. How about a Top Ten? Too many? OK, here are five significant omissions.
1. Bribery, cupidity, corruption and sleaze. Payments for votes and expenses scandals surpass the worst excesses of Neil Hamilton.
2. The obscene wealth gap between rich and poor which increases while the business bonus culture remains untouched and taxpayer subsidies are unreturned.
3. The return of homelessness as a growing problem in our villages, towns and cities. It never went away, but there did seem to be hope that it was being reduced. With foreclosures and evictions rising, this marker is rising again.
4. Basic education. Illiteracy levels are increasing and drop-out rates are on the up. Focussing on the 20% who complete university at the expense of the 20% who don’t get GCSEs is a recipe for disaster.
5. Basic public health. Morbid childhood obesity, alcohol abuse and drug damage is rising in a society where we have abandoned large numbers of children to a future of junk food and booze without hope of training or prospect of employment.

We should be talking about this stuff in the election debates. We should be hearing real, practical how-to details of how we are going to draw the weak and needy into society.

So, what can we learn about the concerns of contemporary British society by looking at the list above? That we don’t care about corruption? The homeless or illiterate? What do you think?

That these matters are being left-out shows the shallowness of our debate and how corrupted our society has become.

It is the measure of a civilised society how well it treats its poor and vulnerable. By that mark we have entered a period of smug barbarism.

From → Communities, Policy

One Comment
  1. Someone said that one should judge a society by what it does with its children, its sick, its elderly – basically, with its vulnerable.

    According to that standard, we have ways to go!

    Alexa Fleckenstein M.D., physician, author.

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