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‘PUBLIC SPACE’ AND THE PUBLIC PURSE: aligning the philosophical with the material

How can singing in a choir prevent violence on the street? Sreela Banerjee muses about who are the undetected psychopaths, and how should we measure their ailments? Is it only science that should be allowed in the ‘public space’ of making laws? Should religion be excluded?

C Sreela Banerjee Raymond Lord Plant

David R. Dow speaking in Austin, Texas on: Lessons from Death Row inmates

hildrearing continues to yield some educational content, I am pleased to say. Some of the questions asked by children demand

a simplified answer, and one has to keep to the essence of veracity – that can be extremely illuminating, not to mention quite rewarding… ‘What happens when you accidentally hurt someone? I mean, if you didn’t mean

to, and it kind of just happened? ’ I explained ‘manslaughter’ as opposed to ‘murder’ as best I could. My child (unusually large for his age) had just had his large father’s guidance: all of this family’s boys have to learn to be level headed and gentle, because they are just too big. ‘In our family, we have to learn to take a deep breath, and manage ourselves, (or our friends) out of any bad situation.’

But first things first – for child- rearing read ferrying from place to place. My son went to choir practice on a cold November evening. I sat next to the radiator to thaw out. He stood up and first of all, joined in a set of musical games – making sounds, more and more rapidly, bending, chanting, responding, laughing, but most importantly, keeping up with the


instructions. Choirs need singing to be a ‘whole body’ experience, in order to produce a good collective sound. To make sure that choristers know this ‘in their bodies’, both the young conductors joined in with them, teaching by ‘showing how’. Just as I showed my child how to open his mouth and take solid food when he was a few months old, this girl was teaching him a skill, by taking the time to show him what to do, and doing it with him, to attach to that experience her associated sense of exhilaration. What she was doing, though she might be surprised at this leap of thought, is preventing accidental murders (or at least Grievous Bodily Harm) on the streets of London. How so ? Let me take you on the journey which led me to this rather extreme conclusion. Several strands of thought came together to nudge me towards it. It was an eminent UK expert on law who started me off on this track. Lord Plant, Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Philosophy at Kings College, gave one of his (mostly impenetrable outside academia) lectures at Westminster Abbey about how religion

has been displaced in the ‘public space’. It was the idea of the public space that caught my imagination – here, (imagine a wave of the hand, encompassing a wide circle) is a public space – keep your hopes and prayers out of it. Apparently, in the making of laws, public space is afforded to those matters which are rational – according to scientists – and we keep all things ‘experiential’ out of it. So when Ziauddin Sardar talked publicly about ‘Muhammad – the man behind the Prophet’ in Dartington this July, he was operating in what kind of space? New research on pre-Islamic Mecca has made it easier to envisage Mohammed’s life – a good, honest member of the community and surprisingly in the light of some of his extremist followers, a man of restraint whose interest apparently lay in achieving the common good. All of this research, presumably, should not be in the ‘public space’ because it speaks of an individual’s private spiritual experiences? But confusion is a necessary part of learning, I am told… Another lawyer (a Texan professor this time) compounded my confusion: having defended more than 100 Death Row inmates in 20 years there, he was talking about who these people were– he concludes that “For every 15,000 dollars that we spend intervening in the lives of economically and otherwise disadvantaged kids in those earlier chapters, (infancy, early school life, secondary education etc) we save 80,000 dollars in crime-related costs down the road.” (David R. Dow) Intervene earlier, he says, and your tax bills will be lower. Professor Dow says it much more persuasively, with vibrant anecdotal illustrations, but this is the gist of it.

The choir continued in its progress. The altos were directed to a slightly

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