The delusion of “there has to be an enquiry”

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.

1 thought on “The delusion of “there has to be an enquiry”

  1. Earl Mardle

    A reasonable point Johnnie, but given the prevailing culture of “if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it” and the assumption the everything CAN be managed, its about what we should expect. Its also the source of income and status for those who currently control the system, or at least pretend to drive it.

    The challenge for the rest of us is to propose a workable alternative AND a process for getting to it without putting the current lot up against a wall and asking them if they’d like a final cigarette. Or maybe that IS the only way.

    The issue that I see is that every time a tragedy of this kind happens it is a direct denial of the mantra that “we are in charge, in control and we know what we are doing”. These tragedies MUST be because some rogue element has escaped from the system or because the system is under attack from enemies within or without and they can be prevented by making the system ever more robust and controlling, it can NEVER be that the system itself produces them.

    But by this stage, we are long past the point where the response exists to improve the lives of the citizens within it, we are now in the later phases where the failing system is doing absolutely everything in its power to return to what it perceives as homoeostasis. There is no process for questioning whether the system itself is capable of functioning in the conditions that it has helped to create.

    Those who benefit most from the current system cannot help but see themselves as critical to its success and survival but they can’t question the system because that is personally suicidal, so they will continue to drive the system that most benefits them even if that drive is off the cliff.

    It has always been this way. The yeast, drowning in its own excrement still cannot refrain from eating some more sugar and making more alcohol; though god knows what vile soup we will produce as our legacy.


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