George Osborne and the strawman in need of a brain

As a long-time and avid gamer, one thing I’ve become accustomed to over the years is observing repeated sideways attacks by ill-informed politicians and press regarding the morality and safety of games. Whenever a high school shooting occurs or an act of extreme road rage or other isolated boiling point event, the eyes of a few immediately turn towards gaming, once more seeing an opportunity to further their agendas.

The problem, of course, is that no serious study has shown a relevant link between gaming and violence. Studies are on-going and it’s a topic that should be taken seriously, but anytime you see a politician or lobbyist on the news decrying the evil of games, know for certain that they are talking out of their arse.

Focusing on a gaming as a culprit is a way of diverting attention from the more immediate and far trickier issues. Rather than discussing problems with the country’s education and health systems, inevitably complex debates that require research and insight and considered thought, it’s far easier to point at the bogeyman. The end result, alas, is that the real problems are left to fester while attention is kept on a strawman argument.

This tendency towards logical fallacy has reared its head with George Osborne’s recent comments alluding that Britain’s welfare system was a contributing factor in the manslaughter of six children by their father Mick Philpott.

“Philpott is responsible for these absolutely horrendous crimes and these are crimes that have shocked the nation; the courts are responsible for sentencing him. But I think there is a question for government and for society about the welfare state – and the taxpayers who pay for the welfare state – subsidising lifestyles like that, and I think that debate needs to be had.”

While there’s always room for a debate on improving welfare, a system that is far from perfect and which should always be open to iterative improvement, what Osborne is actually doing here is using the deaths of six children to further his and his party’s agendas. Which is a rather unpleasant thing to do.

By using ‘lifestyles’ plural, Osborne is subtly suggesting that this happens a lot. “Welfare state subsidises child killers!” is the message he is peddling here, albeit couched in the guise of measured and reasonable-sounding language.

As with the gaming strawman, the connection between Philpott’s crimes and the benefits system is loose and complex. While there may be some apparent correlation, that does not prove the presence of causation.

It comes down to a pretty simple analysis, in the end. With games, if they truly were capable of turning people into crazed, violent attackers you’d be seeing an awful lot more of it occurring, given that gaming is one of the biggest pop cultural movements on the planet at the moment. By the same token, if there were some direct link between Philpott’s horrendous behaviour and welfare, we’d be seeing lots of similar cases.

Of course, in both cases, we don’t. A high school massacre and Philpott’s idiotic scheme are both as isolated as each other, resulting from a myriad of influences and events that have occurred over many years. Given the general stupidity of Philpott’s plan, it would perhaps be more relevant to look at his history of schooling rather than his skill at claiming benefits.

The bottom line is that the Tories are using a horrid manslaughter case and a logical fallacy to attack the benefits system from the side, teaming up with the Daily Mail in an attempt to sway general public opinion. It’s politics-by-hatred. Politics-by-jealousy.

Cameron almost managed to make it look like the Conservative Party’s ‘nasty party’ reputation was a thing of the past. Looks like it’s back.

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