a war on culture

listening to radio 4’s interview with justice minister jonathan djanogly this morning i was struck by his use of words. we often hear politicians talking about a “compensation culture”, a “binge drinking culture” or a “benefits culture” and he was sure that he was going to tackle the “culture of suing” and of “compensation” which has apparently led to public authorities and private companies selling on details of car accident victims so that other companies can convince them to take people to court and make money – the issue highlighted by jack straw recently.

what i thought was particularly interesting was the assault that the justice minister was going to lead on a particular culture, which he has said is the cause of the problem. now culture is a tricky thing to not only define, but also to attack or in this case legislate against. culture is what we are and what we do and how we do it and who we do it with, it is abstract and definite and, at the risk of sounding really pretentious – everything and nothing. we create it and we are bound by it and we cannot exist outside of it, except in a state of death or psychosis (love it when i get to use knowledge from my undergraduate degree). so what exactly is the government planning to do about this “compensation culture”?

now i know that mr djanogly was using the word in the way that i am describing above, but the issue remains important. how can a government legislate or change regulations to change behaviour and force a shift in the “culture” (for want of a better word)? i think what is meant when people say we want to change the “drug / drink  / benefits / compensation” (delete as appropriate) culture, what they really mean is – we’d like to please convince everyone that what they are doing is bad / costs money / damages their health / hurts the economy and we’d very much like them to stop doing it … problem is – never heard of anyway of doing that that would be legal or democratic.

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