I’m back from Prague having given the opening presentation at a Correlation Network event on Health and Social Inequalities, with a specific focus on outreach and peer work. It was an opportunity for me to try out ideas I have been working on in defence of a Romantic Ethic in youth work, suitably adapted for an audience more focused on meeting the needs of adult drug users. I speculated that we are living in an age of scientificism, with all the prejudices that implies. I suggested that a new era of Romanticism is needed to secure a more balanced outlook on life. Romanticism in this sense draws attention to a range of values beyond and different from those easily measurable – values that come into play when we think outside the box entitled ’there is a technological solution to everything’. What we need is something much more holistic (which was a common narrative not so long ago).
The technological solution to the problem of drug use in Prague has been ushered in a by a new right wing administration. Drugs services merely attract junkies; get rid of those services and the problem will be solved – so the logic goes. The reality though is somewhat different. Harm minimisation saves countless lives (estimated at more than a million across Europe in a generation) and, in the longer term, an incredible amount of money. Quite simply, it’s economic suicide not to invest in it. Do away with it and someone else will have to pick up the tab; and a big tab at that. In this case that someone will be mainstream health services.
Something similar is in the offing at home. The wanton destruction of the Schools Sports Partnerships funding represents just such a false economy. Some credit to Andrew Lansley for making a fuss and pointing this out, but then he realises it is his health department that will bear further costs as obesity related illnesses and the like go up as a result. Don’t these guys talk to each other? No joined-up thinking here.
To me, this kind of dissonance is symbolic of an age-old problem, a failure to see things in the round. This is best evidenced by a more profound and wider malaise, a failure to connect up the scientific and artistic sides of life, without which a truly human project can never be secured. In the past, others (most notably the writer CP Snow) have characterised this as the clash of Two Cultures. But perhaps the best of recent articulations is from another writer, Iain Mcgilchrist in his ‘The Master and his Emissary’. In this he suggests this is really a Left Brain / Right Brain dichotomy. When ‘pure’ and knowledge-based reason trumps knowledge on the ground; when uncertain logics are systematically eradicated from public discourse in favour of the certain; when the evaluation of public services is reduced to mere measurement; when our thinking is colonised by the scientific and when being labelled a Romantic constitutes a slur – when these ways of being dominate all else, how can we possibly claim to be progressive?
It reminds of that famous Churchillian response when asked to cut arts funding in favour of the war effort; he simply replied ‘then what are we fighting for’? In the context of cuts and the Big Society, surely we need to employ all the resources we can muster, and that includes using both sides of our brains.