Tag Archives: justice

Eco Justice

Sustainability and economic and social justice all naturally go hand in hand. Any project that doesn’t deal with all of these areas together may be setting itself up to fail.

There are two major sources of pressure on the natural world. One comes from the greed of people who have far more than they need and will destroy environments to take more. That’s what we’re seeing with oil extraction, fracking, palm oil plantations, industrial fishing practices, rather a lot of mining – anything where big industry goes in and clears out what’s valuable.

This happens not only at the expense of the environment, but also to the detriment of ordinary people living in the afflicted landscape. People may be persuaded in the short term with the bribe of jobs and money, but it is they who will deal with the flammable water, the flooding that comes from deforestation, the soil degradation and all the other long term consequences of big industry destroying the landscape. It is important to recognise that people who have been bribed and lied to about the implications are not wholly responsible for where that leads.

The second major pressure on ecosystems can come from the aftermath of the above, or be generated by war, climate change or other such challenges. People in desperation simply trying to survive become locked into unsustainable practices that further deplete the land and the wildlife. Environmental damage caused by hungry people can only be tackled if you also deal with the hunger.

We have a nasty habit of thinking in terms of nature as human-free and protecting landscapes by either ignoring the people in it or taking them out. It tends to be the poorest and most vulnerable people who are treated this way. If we want long term environmental solutions, we need the people in the landscape to be part of it, not something to drive off.

Both sides of this damaging process need dealing with. We have to curb the greed of people with far more than they need. We have to reduce the desires to consume of people who already have a decent standard of living. We have to help those who have little or nothing to live at a decent standard in a way that will work for their local environments. While there is any significant belief that those with great piles of resources are entitled to what they have and those with nothing deserve nothing, we won’t be able to sort out the way human activity impacts on the planet.

We need to find ways of being that allow us collectively to live within the planet’s means. We need to question the idea that it’s acceptable for many people to starve while a few have grotesque excess. Justice for the environment goes hand in hand with justice for people. We have to replace our long out of date feudal thinking that has the rich few at the top of the pyramid and the deprived many at the bottom, and create for ourselves social structures that are much more equitable. To preserve our environment and keep it fit for human habitation, we have to live more cooperatively, and more equitably.


Justice for the dead

If terrorists killed 120,000 British people, the UK would be trying to bomb them out of existence.

If another country killed 120,000 British people, we would be at war.

In both of those scenarios, the right wing press would be screaming for blood and retribution.

It is equally true I think that if a private company, a food, a procedure or anything of that ilk was linked to 120,000 deaths there would be public outcry, investigations, prosecutions. The perpetrators would likely be shut down.

The British Medical Journal has explicitly linked government policy to nearly 120,000 deaths in the UK, with the over sixties and those in care being hit worst. More details here – http://blogs.bmj.com/bmjopen/2017/11/15/health-and-social-care-spending-cuts-linked-to-120000-excess-deaths-in-england/

The BBCs didn’t really run with it as a story, for reasons. I have no idea what the reasons were. To the best of my knowledge, there is no criminal investigation under way. No one in government has resigned over it.

The dead deserve justice. I don’t see any difference between killing people via terrorism and killing them via government policy. Not when those policies are designed to harm and obviously going to hurt and clearly putting the most vulnerable at risk for political reasons. Terrorism is violence with a political agenda. Austerity is a political agenda that kills. Unfortunately we’ve no mechanism for dealing with political violence when it comes from the establishment and kills on this scale.


Working with the system

Most of the systems that countries depend on rely on our engaging with them. The police are a good case in point here. There are generally not enough police in most countries to apply law by force, and if people don’t consent to be policed, they stop being effective. People who consider the police to be fair and reasonable will consent to being policed. When people think their police are corrupt, unjust and unreasonable, they won’t cooperate.

The same can be said of tax systems, border control, customs and excise duties, benefits systems and so forth. Give people a fair system and the vast majority of people will deal fairly with it, will self-report fairly, and so forth. Give people a corrupt or unfair system, and many more people will be inclined, or obliged to try and cheat it.

If the system appears to be unfair, cheating it can feel like justice. If you can’t trust the system to treat you fairly, there’s no incentive to cooperate with it and every reason to try and fudge things so that you get what you need. Why should I pay my tiny amount of taxes (this is a rhetorical question) when big companies who owe millions, don’t?

However, it’s noticeable at the moment than many systems in the UK are skewed towards trying to catch out what had been a tiny minority of cheats, and do so at the expense of fairness to the majority. By this means, many more people are moved towards not co-operating, and as a consequence the whole thing becomes ever more corrupt. Our benefits system pushes people to the edge and over it all the time. Survival depends on playing the system, taking cash in hand work, and for some people, theft. Given the beliefs and attitudes of our current government, a punishment-orientated, ever less fair system is likely to result from this.

Treat people as though they are good, decent and likely to do the right thing, and the vast majority of us will. Treat people as though they are suspect, make it hard for them to sort out what they need, and you give them little choice but to cheat you in order to get by.


Accidentally Evil

One of the things going on in my gothic webcomic, www.hopelessmaine.com is a meditation on how evil functions. Most of the characters are not evil. All of them would tell you that they do the best they can with what they are up against. They have tough choices to make. There was no other way. It was for the greater good. They all have reasons. We all have reasons.

Most people are not evil, and yet evil thrives in the world, and does so because the majority let it. For a start, like the islanders of Hopeless Maine, many of us are wilfully oblivious. We don’t want to know about the nasty things, so we avoid them, tune them out, ignore in the hopes it will go away.

We believe we’re too good, hard working or lucky to have it happen to us. Like attracts like and I am good so what is in my life is good and I don’t have to wonder about its motives, or side effects.

We are afraid of change, afraid to challenge, afraid to be different, afraid to be the victim. It is safer to be silent, or to go with the flow, and so we go with the flow all the way to the killing fields and the concentration camps, telling each other we have no choice, no power. Wringing our hands as we facilitate death and suffering.

We don’t care. We’re not evil, just selfish and oblivious and easily persuaded that it’s no big deal, or the victims deserved it, or some other idea that allows us to carry on feeling comfortable. Our illusion of comfort is more important to us than truth, justice or other people’s lives. We know when they come for us there will be no one left to speak for us, but its more comfortable to imagine it will never get that bad.

We don’t want to believe the worst of people. They seem ok, they’d never set out to destroy us, or wipe out the disabled or slaughter the Jews, imprison the gypsies or torture the gays. They tell us they aren’t doing that. They tell us no one is really dying in their prisons, at the hands of their police officers, they haven’t tortured anyone. We want to believe them, and so we undertake to believe them. Anyone who tells us otherwise is scaremongering.

We walk to the shower block, telling each other it is a shower block and not a gas chamber. Because we’ve learned from history and we know that couldn’t possibly happen again. Not here. Not to us.

And anyway, it was only a small infringement of rights, and he was a criminal, and the police are on our side, and the corporations wouldn’t be so irresponsible as to poison the water and the politicians only have our best interests at heart, and no doctor would ever murder their patients and she was always polite to me in the street so I never thought about her child stealing from birdfeeders, and if they bring back the death penalty and take away the right to protest they won’t actually kill me for protesting, will they? Will they?

And so in our fear, our apathy, our disbelief, we cower, and do nothing, and trust that those we have given all the power to won’t hurt us even as we know they have hurt others. Thus there is evil unechecked. If we ask the awkward questions, if we bring our doubts and anxieties to the table, if we refuse to sit down and shut up while accepting that someone else knows best, if we take care of each other and consider kindness essential, we can change this.


Triggering and justice

I do not have any kind of formal PTSD diagnosis, although it’s been suggested a few times by people qualified to say, that it might be an issue for me. To get a diagnosis, I’ve have to show up and answer questions, and I have resisted this strenuously. This week really required me to look hard at what’s happening there.

I’ve just had a wholly different situation in which professional scrutiny was an option. It went fairly painlessly, and well on the day, but the level of anxiety, panic attacks and flashbacks beforehand were startling. I haven’t been like that over anything in a while. If you suffer from PTSD, then you will have triggers that give flashbacks and really bad reactions. I do seem to have these symptoms, and it would appear that professional scrutiny is a trigger for me. This makes it nigh on impossible to bear the prospect of asking for proper help.

How I might have got here is no great mystery. People who experience trauma and who are not helped are more vulnerable to being further traumatised. There is nothing worse for a trauma victim than being made to revisit the memories, but for several years, I was repeatedly forced into contact with professional people who demanded I did just that. Every new professional in the equation wanted a retelling of the worst things that have happened to me, so they could come to their own decision about whether or not I was telling the truth.

What that adds up to is ten different occasions when I had to talk in detail about traumatic experiences. There was also one hideous physical examination. Most of the professional people I had to deal with were not professionals when it came to dealing with my issues – they had other roles, and no training in how to minimise the damage for me. Several of them were disbelieving and hostile, putting me in situations of having to revisit trauma whilst being told off, blamed, humiliated and otherwise made to feel awful and responsible. Several were keen to minimise both the physical and psychological impact of what I’d experienced. Perhaps because they did not understand and were unable to imagine. The one additional round of talking to a professional who was in the mix just to help me – a counsellor – resulted in being taken seriously, but by then I was so damaged and demoralised by how I’d been treated by other professionals, that I found it difficult to make good use of her time.

In any compassionate situation, what happens to a trauma victim post-trauma is that support is given to make sure they do not carry a sense of blame or responsibility for what happened. This is key to recovery. However, we have an adversarial court system, and what I’ve been put through is the exact opposite. I had years of a process of being blamed, held accountable and told it was my fault and my failing, or that I was lying. The idea of professional scrutiny has become unbearable to me, and there is now no way I could now bear to submit to letting anyone try and help me with this.

What troubles me most about this is the certainty that it won’t just be me. All victims of crime are vulnerable to feelings of distress and trauma. Victims of violent and sexual crimes are likely to be traumatised by their experiences, and to need professional support to overcome this. What we have instead is this adversarial justice system that exposes victims to hostile questioning, requires them to repeat, in great detail the worst things that have happened to them, thus increasing the trauma, and where attempts to humiliate and discredit are pretty much a given. This is not justice. Even if you win, having to endure the process is not justice. Given our increasing levels of understanding about human psychology, this whole process needs a radical rethink. I do not have any answers, but I feel strongly that we need to be asking questions.


A real charity case

Below is a press release from the National Bargee Travellers Association. Please share the link, this story needs to be in the public eye so that people understand what a donation to ‘charity’ Canal & River Trust means in practice. This situation is sick, and only widespread public condemnation will bring this outfit into line. It is my personal opinion that there is nothing charitable about the Canal & River Trust and that their behaviour is a affront.

Waterways Charity demand £76,000 from disabled boater denied Legal Aid

Following a Section 8 case, the Canal & River Trust (CRT) is bringing further court proceedings to obtain over £76,000 it claims it spent on legal action against disabled boat dweller George Ward. Mr Ward’s Legal Aid covered advice but he was unable to obtain Legal Aid for representation in court. If he had been represented through Legal Aid, CRT would not be able to make this claim for legal costs.

CRT is aware that Mr Ward’s only income is Incapacity Benefit and Disability Living Allowance of £102 per week. He has been unable to work since an injury that left him disabled. Mr Ward’s only assets are his home, a pair of historic boats needing extensive repair work that he bought for £3,830. If CRT is successful in enforcing its costs order, it can petition for Mr Ward’s bankruptcy which means his boats can be sold to pay the costs, leaving him homeless. Much of the £76,000 CRT claims to have spent was used to pay the QC, Christopher Stoner, who unusually for this type of case, represented CRT in case management hearings as well as at the main trial. According to CRT’s Bill of Costs, Mr Stoner’s fees amount to almost £45,000.

BW/CRT started Section 8 proceedings in 2010 after Mr Ward was unable to get a Boat Safety Certificate in time to re-license his motor boat. On the day that he got the Certificate, BW issued the Section 8. During the court proceedings BW prevented him from re-licensing his butty boat, claiming that its licence depended on the motor boat being licensed, which was not true as both boats had been licensed independently. Mr Ward attempted to licence his boats several times but each time BW sent back his cheque, even when he tendered all the money BW alleged he owed including a disputed Late Payment Fee of £150.

Mr Ward eventually bought a second motor boat for £1,100 and tried to license the two boats not subject to Section 8 proceedings, but BW again returned his cheque. Shortly before the hearing in Bristol County Court in October 2012, he sold the first motor boat, using the proceeds to repair his second motor boat. The court granted the Section 8 but this was nullified by the fact that the boat had a new owner. The Judge declined CRT’s request to apply the Section 8 to any other boats belonging to Mr Ward and did not grant CRT the injunction it wanted to evict him from its 2,000 miles of waterways for ever. An injunction could have meant that Mr Ward risked being sent to prison simply for living on the two boats that had never been subject to Section 8 proceedings.

George Ward said “CRT’s move to take over £76,000 from me that they know I don’t have is vindictive and malicious. They are determined to hound me off the waterways. They failed with the Section 8, they failed to get an injunction, so they are trying another way to make me homeless”. He continued “This is harassment, they are trying to put psychological pressure on me so that I move off the canals. They won’t succeed, except over my dead body”.

CRT knows that if Mr Ward had obtained Legal Aid for representation in court it would not have been able to claim these costs from Mr Ward. There is no realistic prospect of recovering £76,000 from a 54-year-old disabled man on benefits whose only assets are worth less than £4,000. Civil court costs cannot be recovered through deductions from welfare benefits. Neither can costs be recovered from money paid to the same organisation for another purpose. CRT is aware that pursuing Mr Ward for this debt will make him homeless.

CRT could have allowed Mr ward to re-license his boat when he obtained the Boat Safety Certificate, and could have sought to recover the disputed late payment charge as a Small Claim. CRT could also have used its discretion under Section 17(11) of the British Waterways Act 1995 to permit his boat to be on the waterways without a Boat Safety Certificate until the certificate was obtained. Instead it vindictively pursued him with a Section 8 action and rejected all his attempts to pay.

In the absence of a Solicitor to represent him, Mr Ward was assisted in court by Nick Brown, Legal Officer of the National Bargee Travellers Association (NBTA). This was necessary partly because Mr Ward found the court hearings extremely distressing. In a move that was obviously intended to intimidate Mr Brown and silence the NBTA, CRT also sought a costs order against Mr Brown. The Judge rejected this, stating in the Judgement that Mr Brown had been “helpful and polite”.

The Royal Courts of Justice provides guidance regarding “McKenzie Friends” (unqualified assistants for people in court without a legal representative). Nowhere does this guidance include a warning that a McKenzie Friend is at risk of a costs order against them for helping someone who would otherwise face court proceedings alone and unassisted.

Section 8 (2) of the British Waterways Act 1983 entitles CRT to remove an unlicensed boat from the waterway. A Boat Safety Certificate is normally required before a boat can be licensed.

For more information contact: secretariat@bargee-traveller.org.uk


When not to be angry

Every day brings things to get angry about, from human apathy destroying the planet, to global injustices and political stupidity. We need to get angry enough about these things to get up and challenge them. All too often what happens instead is that our energy and rage is focused on much smaller and more personal issues. There have been some great comments here on the blog recently about the importance of assuming people online mean well, and being willing to listen so as to develop our own compassion (Andrew and Sean, and thank you!).

Every kind of opinion and belief is out there waiting on the internet to offend and frustrate you, and any number of trolls lurk in wait for victims. There is simply no point getting angry about this one, it just feeds them. I think we mostly know that, even if we do still get drawn in.

Then there are those situations when the other person goes that bit further, making accusations, getting personal, dishonouring you. Whether those are public situations with strangers, or private situations with people we know, those are hellish, and the desire to wrathfully defend honour is enormous. This is the point at which we may look to our wider community for justice (by which we invariably mean support for ourselves). From observation and personal experience, this is not reliably forthcoming, for all the reasons I was talking about in the Druid in conflict post. Then what? A tattered reputation, recriminations, anger, sometimes bad enough to tear whole communities apart. It’s rare that anyone wins one of these, whether they deserved to, or not.

What happens when we get angry? We assert our case, make accusations, take the dirty laundry out into a public place… The thing is that when you arrange it so that shit hits the fan, pretty much everyone ends up wearing it. Often these things start small, a word out of place, an angry exchange, then digging up some history, and an escalation, often enabled by the wider community, until you reach a point of no return. By the time you’re venting angry words online in defence of your knowledge, skills, status, beliefs… it probably is too late. Part of the trick, I think, is nipping this sort of stuff in the bud before it gets out of hand.

Here’s an example. Last week, in a public forum, someone said something that most definitely implied I was stupid and irresponsible. As it happened said critic had made some wholly wrong assumptions about what I’d just posted. I could have got angry and defensive. What I chose to do was apologise politely for any confusion caused, and then explained. There was no come back, no escalation. I also had the pleasure of making said critic look like an idiot without actually being rude. Win!

I thank people who tell me things I did not know and offer counter-arguments because I am genuinely grateful for those. I learn a lot from the folk who see things differently, and am pro difference, not threatened by it. I don’t get any heated arguments there. I also like offering people free use of the blog to expound on different perspectives. I find that sees off the trolls. It’s very easy to write ‘here’s a total over simplification of the issue’ on someone else’s work, a lot harder to come up with the goods when invited to do so. And of course if they did, that would be win all round, and we’d all learn something.

If someone imputes your honour, and you respond by yelling abuse at them, threatening them or calling them stupid… the odds of coming out of that looking good are slim. If you can draw a deep breath and try to respond with compassion, politeness, and patience so much the better. It’s not easy to avoid being patronising, but worth a shot. If you persistently uphold your politeness, people are much less likely to take against you, less ammo is handed to those who would use it, and sometimes, the whole problem goes away. You have upheld your honour, by acting honourably. I’m amazed how many people seem to miss that one online. Everything we do is part of our Druidry, including what happenes when we’re really pissed off.

Leaving us time to go back to the much more important business of challenging governments and big business and trying to save the world.


You can’t get there from here

Usually, it’s offered as a joke, often with a strange local person uttering the words. Logically, it shouldn’t hold up. However, nothing fills me with fear like the kind of scenario that announces itself in these sorts of terms. The form which you can’t fill in without having the right code, which you can only get by filling in the form. (We had one of those this morning). More often than not, there is a way round it, although significant resources of patience, lateral thinking and perseverance are often called for.

Life has thrown me a few seemingly impossible things to try and field in recent years. The necessity of moving when there was nowhere affordable to rent or buy in viable striking distance was one such. It led to us being on a boat – not a challenge free arrangement, but one that gives us what we need. I’ve seen plenty of systems that seem to have impossibility built into them. Things where winning is just not possible. Others hold all the power, deal the cards, name the game and decide how to interpret the rules. Every run-in with one of these makes me that bit more cynical, and also that bit more determined not to let it grind me down.

There are plenty of systems you can get round by paying them to leave you alone. In essence this is corrupt, but it’s widespread. If you have enough money to hire the best lawyers you can write letters to intimidate others into giving up. If you can pay, you can force a less affluent opponent to quit just by upping the stakes enough. The rules of the poker table seem to apply all kind of places I’m pretty sure they shouldn’t.

Part of the trouble is that we have a longstanding culture in which money buys privilege. In English history, peerages, and parliamentary seats have been discernibly for sale. Politicians today will vie to buy your vote and to court the media. The company with the biggest budget can advertise the smaller competitors out of the market or undercut them to death. Money doesn’t just talk, it carries a big stick.

You can’t get there from here. You can’t easily change country without a lot of money to wave about. If you can show the funds, you can buy your way in. Criminal courts may be free to the victim, but many kinds of justice (restraining orders, child residency orders, small claims for repayment etc) require the civil courts, and you pay for that. Justice has a price tag, all too often. I notice down here on the canal that the bigger and more expensive looking your boat is, the more you can get away with – mooring alongside the no mooring signs is a popular one. Manifestly less affluent boaters would be moved on at once, but even those with legal authority hesitate to challenge the exceedingly rich.

The more obscure, convoluted and challenging a system is, the more unfair it is. The harder you make things, the faster you exclude anyone who isn’t so well educated. The more nasty your legal language, the sooner you intimidate folk who can’t afford legal advice or can’t buy themselves out. The more aggressive you are, the easier it is it shove out people who already feel vulnerable. There is no excuse for this. All official systems should by default, be as simple, clear and transparent as is technically possible. Ideally we ought to test them on eight year old kids. If the kids can’t navigate it, the system isn’t good enough. I’m thinking here about benefits systems, tax systems, medical systems, all the facets of society we may need to appeal to for help in times of difficulty. Any system which at any point has the capacity to exclude or intimidate, needs work.

Although that wouldn’t serve the interests of anyone who can currently buy their way to advantages, and who doesn’t want to share the privilege. Or anyone who fantasises about making it to the degree they think they too will one day grease the wheels and that therefore it should stay as it is.  While any of us buy into the make believe that we’ll win the lottery, land the movie deal and get to cross over to the place of power, we’re stopping ourselves from fixing all that is sick and stupid.

We can get there from here. It might take some doing, but we can.


Sweet little lies

My son has a tremendous interest in ethical questions. He’s particularly fascinated by the ethics of lying, such that this has been a significant topic of conversation lately. Now, the simple answer here is that lying is unethical. But of course there’s the line ‘If Hitler is at the front door and Anne Frank in the attic’. There are times when the only honourable thing to do is to lie. There are many people who lived and escaped persecution only because someone hid them and lied for them. Everyone who helped a Jewish person flee the Nazis. Any movement that resists oppression and tyranny depends on subterfuge to some degree. The underground railroad. When the state itself becomes evil, following the law is not the most honourable choice.

Most of us will not find ourselves in a Hitler/Anne Frank scenario. I hope. But every day presents us with opportunities to be more or less honest. Lies by omission are common. The things we let slide, don’t mention. The little injustices we allow to pass unchallenged. The little mistakes we cover up. Most of the time, these don’t make a lot of odds in the grand scheme of things, but when they do, situations can suddenly run out of control and either you have to fess up, or their follows a process of having to tell more lies to hide the first one. Not a good place to be, not an honourable solution, and frequently, not something that allows for a fix. The person who can admit to a mistake has the space to learn, repair, improve. The person who denies ballsing things up cannot redeem themselves, and cannot learn. Appearing to be right, at the expense of actually being right, will cost you dearly in the long run, more often than not.

Then there are the lies we tell to spare someone’s feelings. The theory being that a lie to avoid pain is kinder. That is true sometimes, but at others, it sets people up for a fall. The person whose failings are not pointed out to them can have a seriously inflated self opinion, and sooner or later will run into a bit of reality, and find they aren’t the best novelist who ever lived, after all. I gather current TV shows frequently make ‘entertainment’ by laughing at people who think they’re far better than they really are. The kinder thing to do would have been to point it out sooner. Thinking you are something, and finding you are not, can be far more traumatic than dealing with the truth early on. And again, there’s scope to change. If someone points out where you are failing, you can learn, improve, become what you want to be. The person who wrongly believes they know it already is being denied all kinds of opportunities to really achieve.

There are the lies of convenience. Most people, when they ask how you are, want a short, reassuring answer. It can be tempting to give that. I spent years lying to everyone around me, by saying  ‘a bit tired’ ‘just a bit under the weather’ when I visibly wasn’t ok, rather than saying what was going on. I did it to spare the people around me, and I did it to protect the person who was depriving me of sleep, undermining my self-esteem and abusing my body. Crazy. But like a lot of women in my situation, I didn’t want to face up to the implications of what was happening to me. Easier to blame myself, than the father of my child. Had I spoken the truth, someone could have pointed out to me that things were not ok. I couldn’t bear the idea of anyone thinking ill of my ex back then. And I also wondered if people would just agree with him, that it was my fault for being too demanding, too emotional, too… whatever it was that week.

When I started being honest about what had happened, I found warmth and support. I found versions of me that weren’t deemed useless, ridiculous, over reacting and unreasonable. I was told that the things I felt, wanted, needed, were the least a human should have. I wish I had dared to trust sooner.

One of the things I learned from this, is that if you consider yourself to be an honourable person and do not feel safe in being honest, it is time to question the situation you are in. It may not be Hitler at the door, but something external is quite probably awry. If you have a mindset that leans towards taking on responsibility, then it can be easy to internalise blame, to carry things that are not yours, and so forth. When honesty feels dangerous, there is serious work to do, somewhere.

The decision to lie should never been taken lightly. If it’s to avoid inconvenience, or for some other short term gain, it’s worth weighing up what the bigger picture looks like and what the ultimate cost might be. Difficult truth can be handled with tact and care. Mistakes need to be owned. And if it’s not safe to be honest, start thinking about an exit strategy.

For myself, I’d rather tell the truth as far as is humanly possible, come what may. But I do not currently have an attic, much less any Jewish girls depending on me for their lives. In that scenario, you can bet I’d be lying my ass off.


To those who will inherit the earth

I had one of those parent jobs this morning, the sort that you know is coming, but dread. There are so many things in this world that it is horrible to have to explain to a child. However, I don’t believe on fobbing them off with half-truths. Once a person is able to ask a question, they need to hear an answer. This morning it became necessary to point out that the world is not an inherently fair or just place, and that the people, bodies, institutions we should be able to rely on to treat us fairly, are not always reliable. It didn’t come as a shock to the lad, I think I was confirming what he’d already suspected, but it’s better to talk about these things.

So we talked about institutionalised racism, which he thinks is crazy because people are people and judging them on skin colour is stupid. Allow me a moment of happy pride over this. We talked about the history of laws, and where they come from. Because go back a few hundred years and in most of Europe, there wasn’t much legal protection for poor people against rich ones. The UK was better than average. We talked about the way in which the crimes of poor people still seem to be taken more seriously than the sneakier financial and environmental crimes of the wealthy. We didn’t get round to huge corporate tax dodgers, but we could have done. We talked about libel laws, and how your likelihood of being taken seriously depends on how rich and famous you are. To be poor and maligned is still to be maligned. It is a life no less damaged.

There are a frightening number of things around us that I can point to, to illustrate institutionalised stupidity and unfairness. Of course he needs to know, this is the world he is poised to inherit, the one he’s going to need to survive in. The odds are increasingly stacked against the poor. The desire of consumerism still gets priority over the needs of the environment.

What I feel is overwhelming shame. This is the world I get to pass on to my son. Ugly with corruption, cruelty, and systems that cannot be trusted to deliver fairness. And ok, most of this I have not created, or planned or supported in any way, but how much time have I spent trying to make it better? Not nearly enough. Every day there is something in the news where the short-sightedness, the inhumanity, the greed and horror of human choices shocks me. And no doubt my child too, because he’s listening. A bus full of people who, between them, didn’t have twenty pence to save a girl from a ten mile walk at three in the morning. She was attacked as a consequence, by a guy high on cocaine. The small evils we commit against each other on a daily basis go to make up such wrongs.

The latest one to be grating on my nerves is this: Plans that mothers who defy court orders over access to their children, be punished by having their passports taken away. On the grounds that it’s not fair to the child to be denied access to a parent. If a guy doesn’t want to have anything to do with his children, he’ll still have to contribute financially, but he can walk away. Never see them. There are no suggested sanctions to make reluctant fathers see their kids. It’s not a gender thing. Reverse who has the kids and it still holds up. We collectively abuse the parent who undertakes to do the parenting, and let the one who is disinterested do as they please. That’s no kind of fairness or justice.

The temptation is to keep my head down and not fight the many wrongs that I run into. The fear that I live with is that by protesting, I will draw adverse attention. What, after all, is to stop any of these systems from crushing me? If I call a government body out over unjust behaviour, what is to save me from unjust treatment at their hands? And yet, to stay silent, to refuse to notice, to keep my head down, is to tacitly support any wrong I turn a blind eye to. We have a conspiracy of silence. All of us. For the sake of a quiet life, an easy life. We don’t complain, we don’t draw attention to ourselves, we don’t invite the unfairness we know perfectly well is out there, to come round and pick on us for a change.

Dear children, this is the world we have contrived to make for you. We are poisoning it, and many of its structures are corrupt. Close your eyes and ears, pretend it’s all shiny and happy. Don’t look at anything that hurts. Play this game instead. Watch another TV program. When you get older, you can use alcohol to blot it all out.

And they all lived happily ever after.