Bill Muehlenberg

On Social Workers and Arsonists

There was a lead letter in the Melbourne Age (February 11) which caught my attention. It is a letter so very typical of the Age. The newspaper is a hotbed of trendy radicalism, secularism, and feel-good liberalism. Its editorial stances are almost always wrong. Those responsible for the Age are a perfect example of how our Politically Correct elites have lost touch with reality and common sense.

Thus this eye-opening letter was as expected as it was incredible. It was written by a social worker who urged us to be a whole lot more sympathetic with the arsonists responsible for many of the bush fires now raging in Victoria. In true liberal fashion, the writer asks us to try to understand the arsonists, and not be so harsh on them.

Indeed, we are told that they are pretty needy chaps, so we should not rush to judgment: “Firebugs, like all perpetrators of violence and abuse are also prone to being self-absorbed, with low levels of empathy.” In fact, it all began in their childhood we are informed. Yes we have heard all that before. Mummy didn’t really love me, so that is why I became a rapist. I had problems with bed-wetting, so that is why I embarked upon my career as a serial killer.

Or, as the good social worker informs us in this case, “The response needs to be multilayered — the seeds of abusive behaviour are sown in the early years when the brain’s pre-frontal cortex is developing its role in impulse control and a capacity for empathy and reflection. Primary prevention begins in the first three years.”

So there you have it. Arsonists are simply those who had a dodgy pre-frontal cortex when growing up. Whew! What a relief to know that they are not really responsible for their actions after all, and that it all comes down to early childhood development. And there I thought they might actually be morally responsible agents who choose to commit these horrific crimes.

Our letter writer continues, “In our schools, we need to emphasise the need for all men to live respectful and responsible lives, which involves developing relationship and coping skills.” Yes, if we can just teach them a bit more about how to cope and get along with people, then all the arson attacks will wither up and disappear.

Foolish me for thinking that some people may actually get their jollies out of doing such things. Silly me for assuming that actual evil exists in this world, and that there might actually be evil people who deliberately do malicious things on planet earth.

I obviously need to take the same courses in social work that this fellow has. Then I will learn the truth of the matter: I will learn of Rousseau’s Noble Savage, and discover that we are all actually quite nice chaps, but society – or bed-wetting – is what corrupts us.

When American psychiatrist Karl Menninger wrote his 1973 volume, Whatever Became of Sin?, he obviously was part of the old school that has long since been discarded. Sin and evil are not the sorts of terms we like to hear today. Instead we speak of mal-development and faulty cortices.

Indeed, we now know that “The problem is that public humiliation is a blunt instrument for preventing acts of destruction. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention saves a tonne of cure.” So much for the Scarlet Letter and other outdated methods. Say goodbye to guilt and shame. Say hello to “I’m OK and You’re OK”.

Social workers today have moved beyond those silly old notions of good and evil, right and wrong. And they have certainly set us straight on such foolish notions as personal responsibility, and socially acceptable behaviour.

Gee, if I were an arsonist I’d be feeling pretty good right now, knowing that it is not really my fault, and that I too am really a victim. Nice to know that the ol’ cortex is the culprit, not me. That puts the whole concept of crime and punishment in a whole new light.

Come to think of it, crime and punishment has been seen in a new light for quite some time now. We no longer talk about right and wrong. We no longer talk about criminal activity. Instead we talk about sickness and the need for healing. Treatment, not punishment, is the order of the day.

And all this new way of looking at things was meant to result in a healthier, more humane society, with less problems and more cooperation and harmony. So why, after decades of this kind of liberal social thinking, do we still have arsonists? Weren’t they supposed to disappear, along with those involved in other socially unacceptable behaviours?

Perhaps our forbears were right. Maybe a belief in right and wrong and personal responsibility makes much more sense, and is far more effective, than all this liberal social work mumbo jumbo. But of course to hold such views will ensure that I will not make it into the letter pages of the Age.

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