Social Engineering

My argument for the preferential treatment of certain subjects in education met with an objection from some to ‘social engineering’. I find this puzzling. Do these people object to social engineering in principle, or to what has over the years been a primary objective of that process? If it is the former, they have a logical dilemma. One cannot object to the principal of ‘social engineering’ and protest about the government’s failure to control immigration, for example.

If we view society as a complex entity in a state of constant transition we have to accept either that its shape is ‘engineered’ or left to random forces. If the former is thought preferable, we have to ask who or what should do the engineering. Historically, that has been done by governments and is, indeed, the rationale for having government at all. In my view, it is the principal responsibility of government to define a society’s strategic needs, and to determine the policies necessary to meeting them. That is simply what governments should do, and is the reason for our desire to have some democratic control over their activity.

Recognising the need for that process does not imply support for the specific strategic aims a government pursues. For many years British governments of all stripes have pursued pseudo-egalitarian objectives, perhaps most closely observed in education. We witnessed the attack on grammar schools, for instance, by the likes of Anthony Crosland and Shirley Williams conducted in the name of social equality and fairness. Yet, while slamming the door in the face of bright, working class children, these people did not abolish the public schools, which were a much more evident symbol of inequality. It was, of course, a pseudo-egalitarianism that they pursued, but successive governments have continued to pay lip-service to this particular idol.

I am bitterly opposed to such idolatry, but my objection to a specific objective or set of policies does not deny the legitimacy of government’s role in developing and pursuing strategic objectives on our behalf. I do not believe the slogan that less government is better government. Indeed, the reason we are presently in crisis lies in government failure to do its job.

Author: tomkilcourse

A sceptical Mancunian who dislikes pomposity and rudeness.

26 thoughts on “Social Engineering”

  1. If we view society as a complex entity in a state of constant transition we have to accept either that its shape is ‘engineered’ or left to random forces.

    A bit like the free market then? You can bet someone is tinkering with it.

  2. Jazz – That is not a quote from me. It is a quote from Tom’s post above at the start of para 2. Please either delete the attribution to me or delete the whole comment. Done! – Bearsy

    I’m still thinking.

    Ta!

    OZ

  3. I never quite actually understood why govts try to manipulate social classes and all this equality nonsense.
    It patently obviously doesn’t work. You cannot legislate for differing IQs for a start.
    Surely the drive to improve oneself is self engendered? Unless the individual sees the worth of pursuing a specific path no outside influences are going to stick.
    The welfare state has removed the salutory experience of starving homeless in the gutter which used to do wonders for the work ethic!
    The trouble is with govts, they always get it arse backwards, efforts to ‘improve’ any given always appear to result in a cluster f*** of unintended consequences.
    Guy Fawkes had it right!

  4. Hello, christina. I don’t believe the concept of a welfare state to be wrong, but it has drifted over the years into a very unhealthy situation as politicians gave away benefits as bribes for votes. The trouble is, once given, nobody has the guts to snatch it back.

  5. One of the problems Tom is that there is no joined up planning. I am referring specifically to vocational-specific training – medicine, & allied health professionals, where government is the main employer through the NHS. The NHS provides bursaries for students studying in a number of these subjects. You would imagine they do so, as they have identified a skills shortage in those areas within the NHS. However this is not the case. The area I am most aware of is the training of physiotherapists. Our universities, funded by government have been churning them out at a rate TEN times greater than the number of vacancies which exist for them. Government Health Minister (Scotland) claims to me that it is the universities who run these courses, and it has nothing to do with government. It has everything to do with government: if government did not fund universities for particular courses, and the Student Loans Company, the universities would very quickly wake up to offering only vocational courses for which there is a demand in the job market. In the meanwhile the NHS is relying on foreign skilled labour for the more experienced positions, but that leads to a Catch 22 situation, blocking opportunities for more junior staff to move upwards. Fortunately family member involved has the ability to work in the States, as a Dual National, and in any case plans to go on to do equine physiotherapy, which thankfully has nothing whatever to do with the NHS. What do you consider the chances are of such a graduate repaying student loan, having been eight months seeking an NHS position, sending out applications in response to every single NHS vacancy advertised at the appropriate Band level for a fresh graduate, and having had just one NHS interview in the UK? If there was a vacancy offered in the UK the person would take it, but the starting salary in the States is about 50% more than in the UK($55,000 vs £21,000), and there are thousands of vacancies…I think it’s what they call a no-brainer.

  6. Thanks for that, CWJ. That would not happen in France because we do not have a monolithic NHS. The French health service has many more private elements, including physiotherapy, clinics, labs (for blood tests)and radiotherapy units. A young Englishman has just come here and joined a physiotherapy practice. (He has a French wife) Where the state does interfere is in limiting the number of like businesses in a particular area, so someone setting up is assured of a market.

  7. Evening Tom.

    As you would expect, I completely disagree with you.

    Governments are primarily concerned with staying in office and long term strategic planning is not what they do best. Your example of the immigration policy just illustrates the point! It was an example of a short term solution to a problem with a complete disregard to the long term effects.

    They are always behind the curve; there are many examples of this, the one you cited is just one of the spectacular blunders which a future government now has to sort out!

    Now, I don’t know how to solve the problem other than let market forces, and industry call the tune, but government interference, except to a very minimal degree, is in my opinion, not the answer

  8. One cannot object to the principal of ‘social engineering’ and protest about the government’s failure to control immigration, for example

    A syllogistic non sequitur, if ever I saw one.

    Social Engineering smacks of Nazis and the EUSSR. The Blair ‘government’ exercised social engineering when it decided to introduce millions of Muslims to the UK for the purpose of bolstering its voter base, and in the belief that left-wing bubble-heads “know what is best” for the peasants. An over-weening arrogance that champagne socialists have been prone to ever since they occupied the Labour party. It was social engineering that saw the introduction of millions of CCTV cameras, made poofters legal (ignoring the Health connotations), banned smoking and banned all rights to free speech in the UK, replacing it with politically correct prosecutions of anyone saying boo to a goose, except for socialist black lesbian terrorists. One-legged, black lesbian terrorists, that is.

    Controlling immigration implies a return to the status quo, and about time, too.

    who or what should do the engineering. Historically, that has been done by governments and is, indeed, the rationale for having government at all.

    This is blatant nonsense. It is also historically untrue. Governments are there to run the infrastructure, nothing more.

    The fact that the UK “power class” is corrupt to its roots is sickening; that woolly-thinking minions passionately support it is downright pathetic. Yes, the smaller the better when it comes to government.

    Araminta – good comment. 🙂

  9. O Zangado :

    Jazz – That is not a quote from me. It is a quote from Tom’s post above at the start of para 2. Please either delete the attribution to me or delete the whole comment. Done! – Bearsy

    I’m still thinking.

    Ta!

    OZ

    OZ
    Sorry I didn’t mean the quote to look as if it came from you. I copied and pasted the quote script and didn’t edit it fully.

  10. we have to ask who or what should do the engineering. Historically, that has been done by governments and is, indeed, the rationale for having government at all.

    Historically, governments have ‘socially engineered’ society? Bunkum – and neither has it nor is it the ‘rationale for having government’.

    Governments are there to serve the interests of the community – not to impose its ideology on the community by ‘social engineering’.

    Far too many governments have forgotten that they are the servants of the people and not their masters – and far too many of the people have allowed governments to forget that by espousing the belief that those in power should legislate on matters that are none of their business: such as what one may eat – or what one may study.

  11. It seems to me that some of you use the term ‘social engineering’ for government policies of which you disapprove. I am using it to describe any government intervention that influences the shape of society. As for small is best, many of the technological developments we have enjoyed over the years have been kick started and funded by governments. As just one example, NASA exists because of government ambitions in space. It may be ‘bunkum’ in your book, Boa, but it is historical fact. British history is replete with acts of parliament aimed at altering the way we live. What do you think the factories acts were about, the acts on health and education etc?

  12. One cannot object to the principal of ‘social engineering’ and protest about the government’s failure to control immigration, for example

    “A syllogistic non sequitur, if ever I saw one.”

    I take it from your remark, Bearsy, that you have failed to understand the point. So, allow me to rephrase it: Asking the government to do something about immigation is askiing it to shape society, or to engineer it. If you wish to use ‘social engineering’ as a slogan rather than a description, that is up to you, but it may be preventing you from understanding what is being said.

  13. I think, Araminta, that it is probably time for us to continue our discussion on knitting patterns, or alternatively to resurrect our analysis of the ramifications of your ageing retainer’s innovative disposal of your unwanted guests in the ha-ha. I regret that, my intimate association with him notwithstanding, I have forgotten his name; I am confident that you will recall it.

  14. It seems to me that some of you use the term ‘social engineering’ for government policies of which you disapprove.

    It seems to me that you have expanded the term ‘social engineering’ to cover just about everything a government does – regardless of motive. The Factory Laws were enacted to protect the most vulnerable members of society – you may see that as ‘social engineering’ – I do not. I see it as simply part of the long-established ‘contract’ between ‘rulers’ and ‘ruled’ whereby those with power protect those without.

    I consider ‘social engineering’ to be the Government’s attempt to change the very nature of society to conform with their ideological ideas of how people should think and behave. And that is not, and never has been ‘rationale for having government’.

  15. Tom, you are of course correct. Governments have been ‘socially engineering’ society since time immemorial. The term is an emotive one and probably needs defining before entering any debate. I hesitate to do so. But I would still argue that British monarchs and parliaments have always been legislating towards the change of social behaviour of British subjects. One of the most obvious cases is the Reformation (yes, and the Counter Reformation) which enforced specific religious beliefs on English citizens. There are few more social activities than communal worship, however misguided others might believe such a practice to be. Then there was the English Commonwealth. “‘Down with actors, down with plays’. That was the cry in Cromwell’s days”. More recently, the laws concerning sexual and racial equality are classic examples of social engineering. What right does a government have to tell me who I may and who I may not employ in my own private enterprise? Yet I doubt there are many on this site who would repeal such laws; concerning sexual discrimination at least.

    For a cohesive society to exist, government must enforce some ‘social engineering’, otherwise society will split into ever smaller and less sustainable entities. What is socially acceptable to one community may be abhorrent to another. The government has to legislate to ensure what is best for the majority. It does not however mean that government should legislate purely because it can or because such policies are a way of maintaining power. That is what I believe most people object to. Governments should reduce legislation to a minimum, but at the same time they must strive to pass laws that are for the good of the country as a whole. It is for that purpose that they are elected.

    Your argument about the need to force academic institutions to favour those studying degrees that will benefit the rest of British society is, to my mind, perfectly valid. That it may be unpopular to the voters concerned, i.e. millions of art students, should not deter the government from doing what is best for the country as a whole. The same logic would apply if Britain were involved in a war that threatened it’s political independence. Conscription would probably be unpopular, but would likely be justified.

  16. Bearsy :

    I think, Araminta, that it is probably time for us to continue our discussion on knitting patterns, or alternatively to resurrect our analysis of the ramifications of your ageing retainer’s innovative disposal of your unwanted guests in the ha-ha. I regret that, my intimate association with him notwithstanding, I have forgotten his name; I am confident that you will recall it.

    The War of the Knitting Patterns, Bearsy; jolly good fun 🙂

    I believe you are referring to Kyclops; a splendid chap, although sadly retired now. 😉

  17. That’s the chap!
    D’you know, I discovered the other day that he is Gilbert’s great uncle – you remember Gilbert, of course, groundsman and Wisden specialist. Small world, isn’t it? Apparently they both have the same opinion of social engineering, so Gilbert tells me. Where they come from in deepest darkest Sussex, it’s a guy with a greasy rag who wipes children’s noses. Oh, those bucolic sages, they’ll be the death of me.

    Regards to Effel. 😎

  18. “I consider ‘social engineering’ to be the Government’s attempt to change the very nature of society to conform with their ideological ideas of how people should think and behave. And that is not, and never has been ‘rationale for having government’.”

    Boadicea, I don’t expect you to agree, but the paragraph quoted here neatly defines what governments have been doing for generations.

  19. Tom.

    Social engineering by government always ends in disaster.

    Social engineering occurs when government passes laws and regulations that force citizens to behave the way government thinks they should behave. Prohibition is a great example of social engineering. In 1919, government decided that its citizens should not drink “intoxicating liquors.” This “government-knows-best” idea produced more than a decade of lawlessness far worse than citizen intoxication. Prohibition was repealed in 1933.

    “Free people in a free market always produce the best products, most efficiently, at the lowest price. Every time government “engineering” intrudes into the market, products, efficiency, price – and consumers – ultimately suffer.

    Social engineering is always proposed with the best of intentions and sold with grandiose utopian promises. The promises are rarely realized, and the unintended consequences are never anticipated.”

    Now I don’t completely agree with this; it is an American view, but it does provide an example of why we think as we do on this subject.

    http://www.wnd.com/index.php?pageId=82256

  20. tomkilcourse :

    “I consider ‘social engineering’ to be the Government’s attempt to change the very nature of society to conform with their ideological ideas of how people should think and behave. And that is not, and never has been ‘rationale for having government’.”

    Boadicea, I don’t expect you to agree, but the paragraph quoted here neatly defines what governments have been doing for generations.

    Tom.

    They may well have been doing it for generations but with disastrous consequences; see my comment above. Back to my original premise; it is not desirable, it is normally knee-jerk reactions without any long term considerations of consequences, intended or otherwise, and I agree with Boadicea, it is not what governments should be doing.

  21. Bearsy, your comment # 20.

    Of course I remember Gilbert, salt of the earth and not surprising he has a healthy aversion to social engineering. It’s some sort of Commie plot and not at all British!

    Eff says Hello and agrees with all this; well she would, wouldn’t she? 😉

  22. Thanks Araminta. 🙂

    Tom
    I’m not saying that governments have not tried ‘social engineering’ – they have. The religious changes in the 16th Century were a certainly an effort to try to change how people thought about their religion.

    But to claim that every single bit of legislation (like the Factory Acts) is ‘social engineering’ and the reason why we have Governments is to ‘socially engineer’ society is complete and utter nonsense.

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