Social Engineering in the UK

Instinctual Human Behaviours

Despite some 30,000 years or more of civilization, we humans are still subject to instinctive behaviour of the kind we can recognize in our fellow great apes, if not in ourselves… We like to think that we are civilized and sophisticated, that we can exercise ‘free will,’ and that our human behaviour is unpredictable. It may not be true.

Given knowledge of a person’s background, make-up, personality and recent situation and experiences, psychologists can predict what a person will do next, and be right. We are the product of our environment, and our behaviour is the product of instinct, inheritance, experience, personality and context. 

The Family and Natural Environment

Homo sapiens evolved, it seems, living in extended family groups. Extended families might number up to fifty, and hamlets or villages might comprise several extended families numbering some 250 - 500 in total; numbers are clearly imprecise. Villages were surrounded by field and forest, flora and fauna, upon which families depended fundamentally for their food resources; they evolved to live in harmony with the natural world, taking only what they needed to live while enjoying their families and their environment.

The Modern ‘Hunter and the Gatherer’

Since those early times, Man has not changed much under the skin. Go into a supermarket and watch women, in particular, shopping. Some appear to enter “the zone,” a trance-like state in which, seemingly unaware of other shoppers, they pick items off the shelves swiftly and expertly, concentrating on items that are at, or just below, the sightline. Psychologists liken this to gathering fruit and berries off hedgerows, represented by the rows of shelves: they deduce that women instinctively collect the best, ripest fruit from just below the eye line, where it has been protected from the elements and other animals by overhanging twigs and branches — and they place products accordingly to move them off the supermarket shelves quickly, or to gain the best profit margin. It works. (Hargrave, 2005)

Men do not shop in this fashion; they are haphazard, less organized and inefficient by comparison. Men are more likely to decide beforehand what they want, go into a shop and buy it regardless of “shopping around” for the best price; they lack the gathering instinct. Consider, instead, the male business chief who stays on at work long after he should sensibly have retired, clinching deals and receiving bonuses far beyond any reasonable needs. Why? Could it be that men are reluctant to forego the hunt, the chase and the kill? Like women as gatherers, men may exhibit an instinctive ‘hunter’ drive; which goes some way to explain their otherwise unaccountable behaviour. (Morris, 1994)

There is, then, an underlying consistency in the nature and instinctive behaviour of the intelligent, sophisticated naked ape, which may discomfort, resist, or even conflict with social engineering that seeks to modify and impose ‘unnatural’ social behaviour, ethics and morality.

Social Engineering in the UK

Social engineering is not a recent phenomenon: rulers and politicians have been social engineers since the beginning of society. The term ‘social engineering’ acquired an unsavoury reputation in the 20th century, due in no small part to the activities of Herr Hitler, so that today’s social engineers may not relish being so-called.

Today’s westernized societies are becoming evermore complex, with increasing urbanization on the one hand and with greatly increased means of communication on the other, enabling the would-be social engineer to communicate with, and influence, increasing numbers of people at a time. Increasing urban complexity sets the stage for increasing pace of life and increasing, juxtaposed variety in beliefs, attitudes, cultures, ethics, morals, principles, sophistication — and dropouts, unable to maintain the accelerating pace of life. Such complexity makes it difficult to anticipate the long-term ramifications of social engineering and how one SE ‘experiment’ may interact with another to produce outcomes that social engineers could neither foresee, nor would have happily entertained.

Politicians of all flavours are active social engineers — that is, essentially, why they are in politics. However, it also appears to be the case that they have no sound bases for predicting and anticipating counterintuitive response from the societies they seek to engineer. Essentially, they develop, or are inculcated with, beliefs that “their way is right, will result in the right outcome, is best for the nation, etc.” In democratic societies, they form parties that share beliefs, the better to dominate other parties with different beliefs… Opposing parties evolve, often to a state where successive governments are formed, essentially, from either of two parties — the two-party system — and each party pursues social engineering in line with its beliefs, only to be replaced by the alternate party, which does the same, but to alternate beliefs. Thus neither belief system (ideology) is tested for long enough for flaws to be exposed, nor are flaws traceable back to origin, being buried instead under successive layers of social legislation so that no one can be held to account, or their beliefs effectively challenged.

Should the foregoing paragraph seem unreasonable, consider the UK state education system which, pre- and post-WWII, was producing excellent scientists, engineers, physicians, but which was — in the eyes of some social engineers — failing the less able and the poor. An objective view of education then and now might perceive that the output from the state education system is significantly poorer than it was previously. In seeking to improve the lot of the poor and educationally challenged, the standards for all may have been lowered, such that we are producing fewer excellent scientists, engineers and physicians… surely not the aim of any state education system; surely not in the national interest. (Loveys, 2010: Young, 2012).

We humans are so successful as a species and are breeding and evolving socially and economically so quickly that the social engineers may overlook — or not care too much about — our humanity, our social and psychological needs, the quality of our lives and the ‘human condition,’ the subjects of Societal Systems Engineering (SSE.) Meanwhile, Western civilization is showing distinct signs of fragmentation and degradation, even collapse in the 21st century…(Strauss, 2012).


Going back only some 50-60 years to the end of WWII is not enough to see when the radical changes we see in today’s western society really started. For that, we may look back to the origins, in the UK, of the Industrial Revolution, and particularly to the mechanization of agriculture. Figure 1 tells the story, from pastoral peace at left to urban congestion at right. And all the while, as the figure shows, Homo sapiens was, instinctively, a hunter-gatherer — which behaviours re-emerged under pressure in towns and cities.

For thousands of years — since humanity moved on from nomadic hunting and gathering — people had effectively been tied to their land, their crops and their animals, their pace of life governed by the seasons. So it was in the Old Kingdom of ancient Egypt. Indeed, the pace of life for hunters and gatherers had been governed by the seasons too, but being tied to the land gave man a sense of continuity, of belonging to the land…

Figure 1. Urbanization – Solution or Problem?

Open-headed arrows indicate support, enablement and causality.
Sold arrowheads indicate opposition, detraction and diminution.

When agriculture became mechanized, the unemployed land workers flocked to the towns and cities seeking work, only to find that there were many others seeking too few jobs. Slums grew up, so those who had previously been comfortable on the land became uncomfortable and disgruntled in the town.

Homo Sapiens and the City

The Industrial Revolution may have been good — eventually — in socioeconomic terms, and it has raised the standard of living of the many, as opposed to the previous few. Less obvious, however, are changes in the human condition. As populations grow, towns and cities become more densely populated. Instead of living cheek by jowl with the natural world around them, people live cheek by jowl with other people, disconnected from the natural world in which they evolved… City dwellers may describe their teeming world as a concrete jungle, but it cannot be a jungle without the natural elements, other animals, forests, savannah, etc. Consider an anthropologist’s view:

“Under normal conditions, in their natural habitats, wild animals do not mutilate themselves, masturbate, attack their offspring, develop stomach ulcers, become fetishists, suffer from obesity, form homosexual pair-bonds, or commit murder. Among human city-dwellers, needless to say, all of these things occur. Does this reveal a basic difference between humans and other animals? At first glance it seems to do so. But this is deceptive. Other animals do behave in these ways under certain circumstances, namely when confined in the unnatural conditions of captivity. The zoo animal in a cage exhibits all these abnormalities that we know so well from our human companions. Clearly, then, the city is not a concrete jungle: it is a human zoo.

  “The comparison we must make is not between the city dweller and the wild animal, but the city-dweller and the captive animal. The modern human being is no longer living under conditions natural to his species. Trapped, not by a zoo collector, but by his own brainy brilliance, he has set himself up in a huge, restless menagerie, where he is in constant danger of cracking under the strain”                                                      Desmond Morris, The Human Zoo, 1994

In seeking to alleviate the human condition, then, the city may not be the solution: instead, the city may be seen as a virtual prison without bars. Concentrating people in cities may ease the logistics of looking after large populations, supplying food, water, power, sanitation, entertainment, etc. But, such concentrations also generate social misfits, depression, discontent, riots, pollution, crime, gangs, drug abuse, etc., all of which ‘products of city living’ give the police more work to do — so policing is more demanding — and perhaps even ‘heavy handed’ on occasion — in cities, while the human condition is progressively further depressed.

The Media and Social Engineering

Many people no longer live in extended family groups, but as individuals, working perhaps in some city, remote from family, with acquaintances but few real friends. This process of creating ‘disconnected individuals,’ social atomization, enables TV to have a magnified influence on social behaviour: it is now possible to simultaneously influence tens of millions of individuals simultaneously through the persuasive influence of the dynamic picture and the spoken word. Newspapers have a similar, perhaps less simultaneous, potential to spread doom and gloom; populist (“redtop”) newspapers in particular use sensationalist headlines to enhance circulation, regardless of the impact they might have on the vulnerable, elderly and socially isolated…

Figure 2 illustrates the supposed effect of media on social stability. Politicians use the media to propagate their political beliefs and ends. It used to be the case that the nuclear and extended family served as a calming influence, generally neutralizing the effect of social turbulence and protecting individual family members from mass hysteria as threats of new of disasters of ever greater apocalyptic dimensions were spread by populist newspapers; the unifying family belief system similarly provided a calming influence…

It used to be the case, too, that the family included ‘elders’ with wisdom and experience who would advise, guide and restrain the more unruly, unprincipled and testosterone-driven youngsters. That too has largely evaporated with the breaking up/tearing apart of the family through social turbulence, and the advent of “social media” (e.g., Twitter and Facebook) that allow, enable and encourage the “unspeakable to foment the uneducable[1],” with resulting antisocial youth gatherings and riots.

Figure 2. Social Stability and the Media (Hitchins, 2003)

Mind map – read arrows as “contributes to…”

Political Correctness: an Instrument of Social Engineering

By 1970 in the UK, New Left socialists had adopted and propagated ‘political correctness.’ Political Correctness (PC), with its echo of Stalinist orthodoxy (Bernstein, 1990), may be defined as language, ideas, policies, and behaviour designed to minimize offence in work, gender, racial, cultural, sexual orientation, beliefs, ideologies, disability, and age-related contexts. Underwritten by social legislation, PC seeks to engineer speech and social behaviour, i.e. to control and restrict freedom of the majority to avoid potentially offending various minorities — which may be seen as reasonable on the one hand, yet prima facie, undemocratic on the other…  

PC raised, and continues to raise, the most profound opposition:

“What Americans describe with the casual phrase…political correctness is the most intolerant system of thought to dominate the British Isles since the Reformation.” (Peter Hitchens, 1999)

Right wing politicians, preferring to be Politically Incorrect (PI), promoted the ‘cult of the individual,’ some suggesting that there was no such thing as society, only individuals. Socialist PC has persisted, however, permeating all corners of UK society, along with not unrelated Health & Safety legislation, leading to a national Risk-Averse Culture, and associated Compensation Culture, stimulated by the advent of solicitors advertising ‘no win, no fee’ services in the media. These three, together, have had a deleterious effect on the human condition: they restrict freedom of speech and action, obstruct purpose, curiosity and creativity, and so aggravate the human condition:

  • Teachers and youth leaders stopped ‘risking’ outdoor activities.
  • Schools stopped ‘risking’ practical science experiments.
  • Schoolchildren were banned from such dangerous practices as playing conkers and hand standing in playgrounds (sic).
  • Parents were prevented from videoing their children in nativity plays. Photographing children in swimming pools, and learning to swim, were banned.
  • …and so on.

As with Prohibition of alcohol in 1920s USA, people reacted predictably by creating replacement expressions for the ‘politically unacceptable,’ while politically incorrect behaviours have been driven underground, not eradicated. At the same time, as though to challenge PC, the overt use of ‘four-letter words’ has become commonplace on broadcast TV, in apparent contravention of the 1986 Public Order Act and to the disgust of many older viewers, offended by such language in their own homes; somehow this is seen as politically acceptable, while socially unacceptable to many…

PC promotes the use of euphemisms to describe people. A short person is ‘vertically challenged,’ which could also apply to a tall person. A blind person is ‘visually impaired,’ which could also mean shortsighted, long-sighted, astigmatized, colour-blind, with cataracts, etc., so is vague, inaccurate and dubious. A fat person may be ‘gravitationally challenged;’ which some might deem more offensive than ‘fat.’

A so-called euphemism treadmill developed in the US, e.g., Negro, Coloured, Black, Afro-American, and African-American, all to describe a black person. Meanwhile, banned expressions remain in use by the social groups on whose behalf they had been outlawed: African-Americans may still refer to each other jovially as ‘niggers;’ lesbians may continue to call each other, less jovially perhaps, ‘dykes;’ although neither expression has ever been in polite general use.

Gender-neutral terms were introduced: chairperson in place of chairman; postal operative instead of postman; sanitation operative instead of dustman; actor instead of actress. The last is a peculiar affectation, which seemingly denies actresses as women, suggesting a perceived sense of inferiority vis-à-vis male actors.

There is a strong PC drive for male/female equality, overlooking their evident biological and psychological complementarities. Stimulated by this equality attractor, women seek to box and to fight in the military teeth arms, e.g., the infantry. There are calls for more women in science and the boardroom, although women may prefer to look after their growing families (Moyer, 2012). Curiously, however, there are no calls for united male/female competitions in golf, tennis, weightlifting, skiing, gymnastics, athletics, football, swimming, diving, etc., etc. Males and females are only equal, it seems, when it politically suits the social engineers…

As an instrument of Social Engineering, Political Correctness has had a counterintuitive effect on UK society: in seeking not to offend different social minorities, many of which may not have been offended in the first place, PC has managed to seriously prejudice freedom of speech and action, constrain liberty and afflict the human condition of most, if not all, of the population.

Progressive Degradation

Looking at the various social influences (media expansion, marginalizing of Christianity, political correctness, compensation culture, etc.) individually, it may seem that each is a passing issue, and that society recovers in time. And it appears to be the case that society at large is resilient, i.e., left to its own devices, it will stabilize, or at least calm down. Looking over, say, the last sixty or seventy years, on the other hand, it is possible to detect a continuing trend in which “the human condition” has been progressively prejudiced — see Figure 3.

In some measurable respects, the human condition in the UK has clearly improved, notably in terms of health and, recently, in longevity. That advance is threatened by the wave of obesity that is sweeping over the western world, and by increased and irresponsible bingeing on alcohol, leading to an alarming increase in liver failure in younger people. Obesity appears to stem from an environment where food is abundant but where regular physical exercise is not…(Hill & Peters, 1998). The causes of youthful, alcoholic binge drinking are more difficult to discern, but may be associated with ‘coming of age’ rituals of long standing, where young people are deemed socially and legally responsible for themselves and no longer under parental control, setting the stage for a so-called ‘party culture,’ where alcohol is freely and cheaply available.

As Figure 3 illustrates, State Welfare addresses many more aspects of social life than was anticipated by its original architects. While the social benefits of State Welfare might seem obvious in the abstract, those supposed benefits might not have accrued in practice. Some negative effects are shown in the figure: there are others. For example, today, presumably as always, an intellectually stimulating, nurturing and physically safe family, with both parents, is important to the upbringing and wellbeing of children. A recent comparison between two nations (UK & US), with and without significant State Welfare, shows that Welfare cannot compensate for the absence of one parent, having a stepparent, etc.: for reasons that are unclear, the effect is most marked with boys. Counter intuitively, such studies suggest that provision of State Welfare, far from alleviating the human condition, may be aggravating it…

Figure 3. Diminishing The Human Condition: UK 1945 – 2012

Attribute Enhancement Structure: read arrows as: “contributes to, helps to achieve.”

Part of the human condition must concern security, freedom from fear, and contentment: those feelings were significant during the fifties and early sixties. In the 1950s, children sported scabs on arms and knees as a badge of honour: children wandered freely in woods, fields and parks, enjoying total freedom, often all day. And there were no mobile phones with which parents could check up. Today’s parents are loath to let their children out of their sights for fear of abduction or worse. So, whence the latter day fear?

In earlier times, pre- and post-WWII, innate honesty of one’s neighbours was taken for granted. Except in big cities, people left their doors open, without any feeling of insecurity. If someone found money in the street, they would take it to the nearest bobby — and there would be a bobby, too, at a nearby crossroad, or junction. He would be a friend, and children would be taught to take lost property to him, ask him the time, or for directions. Nowadays police rarely patrol alone, nearly always in pairs for fear of being attacked, and rarely amenable to being addressed. And when a vehicle recently ran into a jeweller’s shop window, local people vied with each other to steal the jewels from the smashed window…what has happened to make the population at large so antisocial, risk-averse, litigious and compensation-conscious in such a short time?

Conclusion? Political Correctness has, in the name of freedom, wrought de-civilization and prejudiced personal freedom on a scale unprecedented in the UK since the 16th Century - and it is still happening!


© D K Hitchins 2016