“I’m going out with my pal Rick for a beer tonight, he’s got himself into a spot of bother with the police again. Fighting.” said Dave.
I think for a minute: “Rick, I don’t think I know him do I?”.
“No” said Dave, “you’ve never met him. I know him from my anger management group.”
Dave is my running partner yet he and I are not alike. He has spent much of his adult life swirling around the British penal system and I, well, haven’t. But an interest in running can forgive a multitude of sins, and he has been gracious enough to forgive many of mine.
Dave’s back story makes for a cautionary tale of how the UK statutory services can infiltrate a life and subvert the identity of the person they purport to help. He has probation officers, social workers, outreach workers and counsellours, all vying for his time and all interfering with his attempt to construct a life, honest or otherwise. But he is fighting back, with the aid of his Penalty Box.
The idea is as follows. Whenever Dave has a meeting with a representative of any of the abovementioned agencies, he takes with him his Penalty Box, into which the relevant factotum must pay a forfeit if she uses any of the following expressions:
acceptable (or unacceptable); appropriate (or inappropriate); empower(ing); person centred (or person oriented); developmental; non-judgemental; rights-based; forward-looking ; in partnership.
If a project or service is ever said to be rolled out then Dave claims a double forfeit. And if any mention of the date is made in such a way as to imply it has a particular moral relevance then that is triple. Hence if a social worker were to say of his opinion that it is “judgemental and not an appropriate comment to make in this, the 21st Century” then he’d hit paydirt.
But Dave has a Budweiser habit to feed and he wishes to go abroad for his Summer vacation so he is in need of funds. I therefore appeal, on his behalf, for any submissions which you the reader believe could plausibly be added to the above list.
Dave’s strategy has a pleasing consequence, one that is more than merely financial. He has discovered that in being denuded of the above expressions the social worker, probation officer and counsellour suffers a pleasing paralysis of expression and of thought.Meetings that used to take several hours are now over in minutes. It has become obvious to him that the Wittgensteinians have a point: that there is no pre-linguistic “given”, that thought and experience are mediated by and logically consequent upon language. Strip these statutory representatives of their language game and they become like putty in his hands. He used to spend his time running from these people, now he knows that, with the help of his Penalty Box, he can philosophise them away.