Planet Nice

Myself, I’m not usually accused of being all that nice. On general principle, I thought we needed to get that out of the way.

Also, it may explain my sympathy for the views expressed in this article, To Hell with Niceness.  The author’s argument is germane to some of the subjects recently discussed here, testing in the public schools (see below: Song and Dance) especially, but others too.

The magazine, Standpoint, is British, which actually serves to make the discussion a little more universal. However, if you bother to read the whole thing, it’s possible you might be annoyed by the implied, though qualified, endorsement of corporal punishment in the British schools. Caning has a long and storied history, though one that seems to have come to a permanent close. Hence, the author’s use of “punishment” needs to be more broadly understood. As here:

To lose one’s grip on the centrality of punishment in our civilisation is to destroy the crucial balance between punishment and reward. Without the balancing severities of punishment and criticism, praise and reward take on the aspect of bribes, which demeans both those that give and those that receive. But the managers of our world increasingly resort to inducements. Teenagers aged 17-18 from poor families in Britain have been given Educational Maintenance Allowances to induce them to stay on at schools after the age of 16. Schools reported that most of the beneficiaries exploited the system, turning up to the classroom only to qualify for the grant. The idea that people should be paid to perform their duties is a pure case of the corruption that has doomed underdeveloped countries to poverty. The destruction of the punishment/reward balance is importing the same moral collapse here. 

The niceness movement, then, is a central part of the answer to the question: how have we moved from the disciplined and largely successful schools we had before 1960 to the disorderly educational failure common, though obviously not universal, today?

Niceness here is defined as “politicised compassion,” a construction with the power to explain the failure of more than just our school systems.

Moral vices prosper by dressing themselves as virtues. Niceness presents itself as benevolence, but is often merely an evasion of hard decisions that the realities of human nature require. And it has spread throughout our societies because it is often popular with voters. The road to hell, it is said, is paved with good intentions, and so is a good deal of democratic politics. 

Planet Nice? I don’t really live on it.  Neither do you.


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