I see that there’s been another tragic story of a young child suffering horrible abuse in Haringey. There is a perfectly understandable despair that this seems to happen repeatedly. There have been painstaking, highly critical enqiries each time, so this thought goes, why haven’t we sorted out what’s wrong?
I rather fear that the painstaking, highly critical enquiries may actually be part of the problem. It seems a default setting in this country to demand enquiries, led by authority figures and typically lawyers. These take a long time and produce dense, thick detailed written reports. It all sounds sensible, but I think the whole grammar and style of these things is seriously disconnected from the way people actually function in the real world. We privilege a particular kind of intelligence by favouring them. And I don’t see the people who write these things demonstrating much sense that they themselves are part of the system they criticise.
It’s part of what I call the tyranny of the explicit. We get seduced by the idea that if we work hard enough, we can produce a sufficiently detailed model of the system and figure out what’s wrong. But we can never make a true model of a living system and we fall in love with an idol. And we end up sliding towards a kind of purist, judgemental finger-pointing that has shades of the cruelty we seek to condemn.
I am all for a spirit of enquiry but the forensic kind is, potentially, a mistake.