Tag Archives: crime

How not to be a victim

So much advice about safety and avoiding crime is about how not to be a victim. We teach girls how to avoid sexual assault while investing little or no time teaching boys that is their responsibility not to assault girls. Victim blaming, and misplacing the responsibility has massive consequences.

Part of what we teach when we teach people to stay safe, is that it is the victim’s behaviour that causes or attracts the crime. If I was assaulted when walking across town alone at night, it would be understood that I had been assaulted because I was walking across town alone at night. We tell each other that it is just common sense to take safety precautions without examining what the safety stories actually do.

If your clothes, or where you happen to be make you a target, then we’re telling each other that the criminals can’t help themselves. They have no defence against a woman in a short skirt, or a person who is alone and looks worth mugging. We apply this more to the victim of sexual assault than we do to the mugging victim. We tell a story that says crime is responsive. It can’t resist your open window, your unlocked car, your low cut top. If you can’t expect people to avoid temptation, you tell a story that we’re all basically awful and that perhaps any of us would do the wrong thing given the chance. That’s affirming to those who are inclined to harm others.

This is an especially pernicious idea when it comes to sexual assault. We are too quick to ask what a person could have done to avoid being a victim. Every time we do this, we send out a message that we don’t really expect people to resist temptation. Every ‘stay safe’ message carries a subtext that the woman who isn’t staying safe is pretty much asking for it. Every time we ask what the victim was wearing, we give credence to the idea that clothes justify assault. We reinforce the idea that we cannot expect men to control themselves if they see a woman in a sexy outfit. We keep perpetuating the idea that anyone faced with an attractive woman in an appealing outfit might feel the urge to do something criminal to her. We normalise it.

Too often, we lose the key facts here. 100% of rapes are caused by rapists. All abuse is caused by abusers. Theft is a consequence of people stealing – not of what security measures you had in place. We don’t talk about the likelihood of your attacker being known to you – that you are more likely to be harmed by someone you trusted than by a stranger on the streets. All those safety measures we are encouraged to take don’t work if you’re dealing with someone you thought you could trust.

It’s hard to live fully if you have to organise your life to avoid becoming a victim. Many women are doing this. We need to be much clearer that the responsibility for crime does not lie with the victim, but the perpetrator. Here in the UK, we really need the police to stop telling people what to do to stay safe (invariably aimed at women) and to start being a lot clearer about the legal responsibilities of perpetrators and the things that you are not allowed to do to another human being, no matter what they were wearing at the time.

The best way to avoid being a victim, is not to have anyone feel entitled to attack you. Until we dismantle the things in our culture that create those feelings of entitlement to attack, no amount of doing things to try and stay safe can actually guarantee your safety.


Druid in conflict

I’ve seen too many occasions of Druids, or people in the wider Pagan community getting into conflict and results being messy, damaging and often aggravated by the wider community. Last year I feel we got it more right than not around Druid Camp issues, so, drawing on a range of experiences, I want to talk about how we handle conflict, because mostly we get this wrong.
Something happens. Usually the two or more people involved know what it was, but they may understand it in very different ways. Thanks to the internet, some aspect of the conflict goes public. One party will likely claim to be a victim of the other. The second party almost always then says that it is the other way round and they are the victim. Now, thus far what we have is pretty normal human behaviour in conflict. I’ve been there. Hurt, angry, in pain, suffering, maybe wanting to lash out, or get some justice, or even the score. It would be nice if even in our darkest and most wounded moments we all could behave like super enlightened people, but realistically, we won’t. Some slack cutting and patience with hurt people helps a lot. We all go there, sooner or later.

However, everyone not directly involved has a lot more scope for calm, clarity and reason. What do we do? We pile in, take sides, make accusations, and most often we demand evidence. We don’t seem to ask what on earth kind of evidence could be presented to us on a social networking website such that we would believe it. Often our own history and baggage comes into play, or our feelings about one or both people. Loyalty to friends is a good thing, but increasing the conflict in a situation is not, so if you are the friend of a person who is hurting, sabre rattling is not going to help them, and picking fights with those who are on ‘the other side’ will only serve to spread the pain, widen the divide, and reduce the hope of resolution.

From the outside, we cannot know what happened. It may be crossed wires and it may be that it could be fixed, with some intelligent intervention and a bit of good will. It could be honest misunderstanding, or confusion, or misinterpretation or a whole bunch of things of that ilk that do not mean either party is evil. Most often the problem is that two flawed human being accidently banged their shortcomings together. Sometimes it is clearer that there could be a genuine victim and a genuine aggressor, but when all you have is one word against another, that’s difficult to tell, especially which way round it is. There may be times when you think you know what you’re seeing. This is why we have the police and law courts and juries – a flawed system that cannot, it should be noticed, handle many of the conflict-of-story cases. But it’s what we’ve got, and trial by public speculation is not a reasonable alternative.

If there is a criminal issue, then you have to treat it like one and encourage the party claiming to be injured to make an approach to the police. If it’s not a criminal level of problem, then what you have is an issue to deal with. Anger and escalation can take you from a dispute into a criminal situation – threats, libel and so forth. No one benefits when those lines are crossed.

No matter who was right and who was wrong, you have two people with problems. Both will need help and support. It may be that one of them has done something appalling, but that doesn’t mean they need demonising. It means they need support from their community to seek help, learn, change, grow or make amends. Druidry is supposed to be about restorative justice. We need to look after the more deluded and messed up members of our communities, too.

So, when you hit a conflict situation, try and avoid using language that will inflame it. Don’t bother demanding evidence, that’s pointless and just makes people feel worse. They can’t give you evidence on facebook. Live with it. If the accusations have a criminal element, it should be a police matter, and it is appropriate and productive to say this. Then, if people are mouthing off, they may be startled into getting some perspective and if they aren’t, they will feel supported in taking necessary action. Where possible, encourage people to step back, and get calm before they do anything stupid. Angry hurting people make mistakes that they would not make as calm people. Try to establish calm.

If you are in a place to listen respectfully to both sides such that you can figure out what is happening and put it straight, there may be useful work to do. I mentioned issues around Druid Camp before, and that was handled well by the wider community, on the whole. Problems were aired and dealt with, all parties had good support, lessons were learned.

It is not an expression of modern Druidry to want to be judge, jury and executioner. It is not Druidry to enter a space of conflict and make it worse. We have to walk our talk with this stuff, we have to take care of our communities and deal with conflicts in responsible ways.


A funeral for Mary

We’ll have a funeral for Mary
Who was buried in the jail
Procession now and fine tombstone
With mourners come to wail.

Who spoke for you, dear Mary,
When you languished in the cell?
The world bar one accused you
Promised you the fires of hell.

Only Henry, ever trusting
Only Henry, your sweetheart
Did not doubt in your virtue
Stalwart, steady, took your part.

Plain Miss Jones declared against you
Thinking she would claim your man
If they punished you for murder
Jealousy would see you hang.

Old Miss Blunt, forever sleeping
Cannot say who struck the blow
If a thief came through her window
Or her servant from below.

Storm and strife struck you that evening
Plans and dreams all stripped away
As you old mistress was slaughtered
For your blood the neighbours bray.

Only Henry, ever faithful
Would not think the worst of you,
Fought to keep you from the gallows
Never doubted, ever true.

They took you to the scaffold
You sought mercy at each turn
Blamed for a brutal murder
But your truth they did not learn.

Now they’ve found the men who slew her
Eagerly did they confess,
And Miss Jones is chased to exile
Your poor bones do others bless.

Now your Henry, always loyal
Leads your funeral parade
Your wronged corpse resurrected
Only finds another grave.

This is a true story, Mary from Littledean was hanged in Gloucester jail for a crime she was adamant she did not commit. Some years later the real murderers were found, but of course by then it was too late for her. When I read the story in Lyn Cinderey’s ‘Paranormal Gloucester’ I thought it sounded like it should be a folk song. Perhaps one day I’ll put a tune to it. In the meantime, my thanks to Lyn for the inspiration. I’m anti capital punishment, for all the reasons this poem flags up.


Confessions of compassion fail

Forgive me blogosphere, for I have sinned. It has been 24 hours since my last confession. Give or take. I have failed to hold a compassionate attitude towards my fellow human beings. I have allowed myself to feel anger and resentment towards my government, and to assume that their behaviour represents the prejudices of the rich against the poor. Am I any less prejudiced than they? I cannot begin to imagine the burdens and trials that immense wealth must bring, or how hard it must be deciding to cut benefits rather than going after corporate tax dodgers.

This morning I have succumbed to anger, and considered writing a class-war tirade against those who have so much and begrudge the smallest generosity to those who have almost nothing. But am I any better? I, who would take away from those who enjoy the fortunes they have inherited, the educational advantages of rich parents and a leg up from the Old Boys Network. I would, if given the power, cut them down to size a bit and require them to have standards of living more commensurate with that of some of their less affluent neighbours. I do not wish to see them suffer, I would not wish them the poverty of benefit dependence.

And of course they must have good reasons for removing housing benefit from the under twenty fives. I’m sure they’ll make an exception for the ones who have no living parents to run home to, the ones who have been in social care all their lives, have no family they can safely return to, and whose educations have probably been undermined by being moved about a lot. They don’t mean those people under the age of twenty five, do they? Only the undeserving ones. So who would those be? The ones who didn’t get to go to the top school or get the best results and cannot find jobs? The ones who selfishly went to university and are now burdened with debt, and unemployed, and want to live somewhere they might find work? Inconsiderate swine, scrounging off the people who never had to lift a finger to get their head start in the world. Despicable! Or all those girls who went out and got themselves pregnant (stop a moment consider what that phrase means) and only got pregnant to get a council house and more benefits. Because we all know when you’re poor, undereducated and female, the only way you can get on in the world is through pregnancy and benefits. Living the high life on a few hundred pounds a week. Doing outrageously self indulgent things, like eating, and buying clothes for your child. Everyone knows that poor children don’t really need shoes. It’s character building for them to go without. Wouldn’t you agree, Mr Cameron?

Oh, guide me, wise ones, how do I feel greater compassion for the rich and spoiled men who want to ush in a new Victorian era? I admit, I like steampunk, I have worn a corset, I own some George Eliot novels. But the Victorian era illustrates so well what happens when the only way to make ends meet legitimately, for the poorest, means long, exhausting shifts, or multiple jobs, because the wages won’t pay the rent. Sound familiar?  It means families crammed into too small spaces, and children sent out to work. Chimney sweeps, at all, Mr Cameron? When being poor and decent means a life of drudgery, slavery and misery, people consider their options. The Victorian era was not a crime free period. It was also a time when prostitution rates were terrifyingly high. Forgive me, blogosphere for I have imagined that spoiled, wealthy rich boys might enjoy the idea of there being more prostitutes. Just because historically they were the ones paying the most to use women, boys, children, doesn’t mean that’ll hold true now, does it?

In the Victorian era, Christianity and its values still had a lot of influence. We have generations who have grown up being told that materialism rules, that wealth matters, that they are entitled to health, education and a job. What are they going to do when you pull the rug out from under their feet, Mr Cameron? Perhaps you don’t know that wealth is not created by the rich, it is derived from the labours of the poor. Real wealth, that is, not the kind of imaginary money games your old school chums and buddies are playing in ‘The City’. What happens, Mr Cameron, when people can no longer afford homes, and can no longer afford to feed their children? Perhaps you think this century’s people are sufficiently tamed with ciabatta and television. What progress we have since the days of bread and circuses! Perhaps you think a host of magical pixies will come and make it ok. Maybe you’re hoping for a pandemic to kill off the weakest ones and cut the running costs. I notice you’re closing hospitals. I guess the more people just do the decent thing and die, the easier it will be for you to balance the books. How hard this must all be for you!

But I think you’ll find this isn’t a nation of sheep, and that even sheep will fight back if they think you’re going to kill them, or harm their offspring. The future you are making, Mr Cameron, is not one in which people generally are likely to love or respect you. There’s nothing like desperation to make people do unpleasant and antisocial things. Remember Marie Antoinette? Mussolini hanging from a lamp post. The fate of those who betray their people is not always a happy one. I really hope we don’t end up there. Perhaps I can feel just the teensiest bit sorry for you after all; maybe that fine education of yours didn’t cover the causes of revolution.


Justice, the follow up

I’ve been pondering Red’s comments on Contemplating Justice, again and felt it needed more response than a note back. I’ve also had input from Tom, whose take on the justice issue I want to share.

 

Red commented about the primacy of relationship in her understanding of things, and a dislike of the authority inherent in the language of justice, and its incompatibility with anarchic principles.

 

My first feeling is that anarchy, like communism and many other beautiful ideas only work when all the people involved are working consciously and ethically in the same way. Wonderful aspirations, but not consistent with how many people are. It only takes one user or abuser to make such an approach fail. My second feeling is that relationship is not always quite such a straightforward option. In the Stone age village in my head, the whole community exists in relationship, but I’ve never lived in that situation. I’ve probably not known the people who stole from me. Often my only ‘relationship’ in threatening circumstances comes from being on the receiving end of something I don’t want. For the kidnapped child, the raped woman, the guy stabbed by a stranger, there has been no relationship with the attacker, no chance to avoid harm, and personally I see no reason for someone who wounds or kills a stranger to get away with that unchallenged. I recognise this means that I want there to be a degree of authority and power able to respond in some way to those who are not able to manage their own behaviour well for the rest of the tribe.

 

All life causes harm, but my thoughts around making justice an inherent part of relationship, had everything to do with my own desire to reduce the harm I cause. Red spoke of beetles accidentally squashed.  I mostly walk and cycle. I stop for beetles. No doubt I squish a few, but it’s not a bad example, the intent and effort to avoid causing harm is, for me at least, a recognition of the injustice that would be inherent in my killing something by not paying attention. No matter how hard we try, we will cause harm, but the more attention we pay, the less accidental, needless, pointless, careless harm-causing there should be. I think it’s got to be worth a shot.

 

But where there is no relationship outside of the harm-causing event, I do think community action, authoritative intervention is called for. Every three days a woman is killed by her abusive partner. Every ten days a child is killed by an abusive parent – and that doesn’t count death by neglect, that’s just murder figures. Relationships they could manage? I doubt the children had much say in it. Numbers for child murders by postnatally depressed women have been radically reduced by support and medication. I feel I have a duty to support a system that in any way tries to prevent that kind of thing from happening in the first place. That kind of justice – preventative justice – is increasingly part of how I understand my druid path. That’s not about individual relationship, but about whole community relationship and how we support each other. With so many people involved, we have no hope of doing that without some degree of structure. I believe we should hold a degree of responsibility for each other’s wellbeing. And yes, this is justice by humans and for humans. That which is human is also natural and we are not the only creatures able to reward or punish each other.

 

Tom pointed out to me that culturally we tend to view things in terms of success and failure, and that this impacts on our understanding of justice too. I am a clever person, I know this because I have lots of money and have never been a victim of crime. Victims are too naïve to protect themselves, bring it upon themselves, or are stupid. Take 2: I am successful because I have earned  lots of money off the backs of other people’s work. I am cleverer than them and therefore entitled. Take 3: I am successful, I have a lot of money because I have miss-sold a lot of products and gambled with other people’s savings, and thank you, yes I will take that bonus this year as well. Take: 4 I am successful because last night I broke into your house and stole all your valuable electrical goods, and I am too smart to be caught by the police.

 

We are so quick to blame the victims for not doing enough to protect themselves from crime. We are willing to see it as predators and prey, as it being natural to predate. The weak are fair game, because they are weak. Success is all about the bank balance, not about being a good human being. And until we’ve tackled that, as a whole culture, it’s going to remain very hard to think about justice at all.


Contemplating justice, again

Overnight someone hacked Tom’s facebook account. It’s not unusual to have your privacy  violated online, and I’ve suffered identity theft in the real world too. It’s one of the most threatening, uncomfortable crimes.

 

Justice is a topic I keep coming back to, not least because I see so much going wrong, and justice is seldom forthcoming. And yet I’ve read that justice was supposed to be integral to the world views of many of our ancestors. We enshrine it in law, in the druid’s prayer, we talk it up as a druid concept. But where the hell is it? The gods do not bring justice in this life, and I’m no great believer in hoping it all gets sorted out in the next one. I’ve been shuffling towards this line of thought for some time now. Justice after the event, if you can get it, often isn’t that helpful. Where there’s scope to restore and make amends, then that helps. Stolen and broken things replaced, public apology made, compensation offered, but it doesn’t undo what was done.

 

Real justice is not what happens after the violation. Real justice is not what we do to those who have offended. It’s not even the fine art of saying sorry. Looking in that direction is a distraction, it’s the wrong thought form.

 

True justice, is lived.

 

Like so many other ethical ideas, this has to be done by choice, not imposed. What does it mean in practice? Ideas of what is, and is not just are bound to vary. It brings up issues of entitlement and rights, of how you handle conflicting needs. Is it justice to take what you need, if you are starving and another has abundance? It certainly isn’t justice to live in luxury while others starve. Yet when you consider international standards, most of us in the western world have total luxury compared to the poorest people on earth. How do we balance justice for self against justice for others? Should they mean the same thing? The more I poke around at this, the bigger I realise it gets but the more certain I feel about the jumping off point. Justice after the event is not that much help. True justice comes from not being a victim in the first place.

 

The people who do not choose to live in just ways (by my understanding) no doubt have their reasons. Entitlement, the sense that ‘if I can do it then why not?’ a sense of victimhood that creates justification… and no doubt many others. There are undoubtedly things I have done that others consider unfair, unreasonable… but I do not. I do not believe in any external arbiters of truth. Where does that leave me? With a perpetual negotiation, an idea that has to be carefully tested against each new life experience, something that will take a lot of work and create a lot of challenges.

 

How do I undertake to live in a fair and just way? How do I make inherent in my actions a compassionate sense of justice that helps guide and shape what I do? With no external rules, no thou shalt nots to lead the way, I have only my own judgement, flawed as it inevitably is. We all do. If we pick external rules to adhere to, we are still responsible for choosing, understanding and applying them.

 

I think it’s because so many people do not have much internalised sense of fairness of justice that a significant number of crimes occur. I also think that in a fairer, more just and equitable society, people would stand a better chance of having those values be part of their world view in the first place. When all you see is unfairness, how can you hope to know what justice would look like? It’s a bit of a chicken and egg scenario. You can’t get a just society without the individuals in it working for just that, and it’s tricky getting everyone thinking in just ways when faced with all kinds of injustices. But not impossible.


Crime stories

Not what I’d planned for today, but Tom’s bike was stolen overnight, and this is all on my mind rather. To the police, it’s just a stolen bike. Not inherently worth all that much. The trouble is, as is so often the case, the value and impact are judged from the outside. Steal thousands from someone rich and the odds are the police will be interested in you. Steal twenty pounds from someone who consequently can’t afford to eat that week, and it’s small time stuff and nobody cares. Value is a tricky thing to judge. For us, the value of a bike includes it being our primary mode of transport, and technically difficult to replace. We don’t live in easy walking distance of anywhere that sells bikes, and as we live on a boat, getting one delivered would be challenging. We had plans for today. Bike dependent plans. Worth is about so much more than the price tag.

How about the worth to the person who took it? I wish I could feel it had been taken by someone in extremis, prompted by dire need, an urgent requirement to get somewhere. It probably wasn’t. More likely, as when we’ve had thing taken in the past, it’s been a brief giggle, a quick adrenaline high, or something to sell on, or throw in a ditch. Something that was cherished and valued by us, probably isn’t being valued by whoever made off with it.

We have a habit of naming things. When you believe that everything contains spirit, when you recognise that spirit as part of day to day living, the naming of things comes easily. This bike was called Henson, because according to Tom it looked like the kind of bike Kermit the Frog would ride. When you name something, it ceases to be just another ‘thing’ to use and discard at whim. It becomes a friend, a fellow traveller through life’s journey. You care more. I’ve never been drawn to the acquisition of stuff, but at the same time the things I have are loved, and frequently named. Saying goodbye to a worn out pair of shoes is like saying goodbye to a friend. I appreciate that for the kind of person who steals, this would sound insane. I’d still rather be the sort of person who grieves the loss of a well loved thing than the person who doesn’t care for anything.

And then there’s the egret, flying over the canal this morning, oblivious to the development threat to one of his fields. He stands to lose a lot more than we have. It’ll be worse for all the ones who call that hedgerow home, or who are the hedgerow. Theft is a very human concept, and is only used to describe what happens when one human takes a thing another human didn’t want them to have. Up until relatively recently, we were pretty good at not even counting some humans as being able to own, and therefore to be stolen from. But when you think about it, we steal all the time. Homes, food supplies, offspring… and most of the time no crime has been committed at all.

Grant, oh spirits, thy protection. And in protection, strength, and in strength, knowledge, and in knowledge, the knowledge of justice, and in the knowledge of justice, the love of it.

I suppose in theory I could love justice, I just don’t think I’ve ever seen more than fleeting glimpses of it, so it’s hard to tell. I find it increasingly hard to believe that it exists at all, which is one of the main reasons that I find it hard to believe in any kind of gods, or karma, or anything that helps to balance the scales a bit. I see no evidence for it. And as for human justice…. The more I see of that, the more I believe it comes down to money far more than anything else. And that’s as true for the egret, as it is for me.

What I can do is keep trying to do the right things, for the right reasons. Yes, I can put pen to paper and give the egret a voice in the process. Whether that will do any good, I can’t say, but I’m having a go. Justice, like so many other ideas, depends a lot on our ability to believe in it. Or enough bloody mindedness to think that if it doesn’t come naturally, we ought to get out there and damn well make some. But today has been another knock back, another reason to admit defeat and stop caring, stop trying. Another reason to decide that maybe the life lesson to learn is that there is no point and that I might as well not bother. So far every time I’ve been knocked down I’ve managed to get up and try to do something about it, or move on. But there are days like today, when I question the point of what I do, and I wonder why I’m doing it.


Rioting, prisons and justice

In the aftermath of the UK riots, we’re hearing that about three quarters of the arrested rioters and looters have already been in trouble with the police before. At the moment, the solution of preference is to slap longer sentences on people. But, if these are people who have already been through the prison system, there’s little reason to think another stint inside will change their ways.

A lot comes down to how you understand justice, and what you believe prison is for. If prison exists as punishment only, then it has some function as a deterrent. All the evidence makes clear that deterrents, even extreme ones like the death penalty, flogging, cutting off body parts, do not cause crime to cease. We’ve been locking people up for a long time now, and they still go out and re-offend.

I think to understand why punishment isn’t effective as a deterrent you have to consider why people commit crimes in the first place. On one hand we may have crimes of desperation – theft and violence occurring because people feel (rightly or wrongly) that there are no other alternatives. This feeling of no alternatives will not be challenged by additional risk of punishment. Alternatively, there is an idea I first encountered through Brendan Myers talking about attitudes amongst native Canadians. Crime can be perceived as a breakdown of relationship. Thus the criminal may feel that there are entitled to use and abuse – a might is right attitude for example would lead to this. They may consider themselves superior to others so that they imagine the normal rules are not, or should not be applied to them. They may consider their victims to be inferior, inhuman, irrelevant such that the crime against them does not matter or is justified. This would be true of all hate crime. All of these reasons go with a mindset that will not expect to be caught, and if caught, will not expect to be seriously punished, and if punished, will not necessarily give up the beliefs that underpin the criminal behaviour.

If people commit crime through desperation, social isolation, hopelessness, anger or poverty, punishment won’t fix that. If people do it because they have no respect for anything, locking them up will just reinforce their ideas. And on the other side, putting someone in prison gives nothing back to the victims, there is no redressing of wrongs.

I’m a big believer in getting offenders who have committed smaller offences to do community work that will help them re-engage. This is part of my Druidry, in which justice is a very important idea. Not just any old job that occurs to the powers that be either, but something that will affect them. Cleaning up their own mess, repairing the damage they have caused where possible. I’m also hugely in favour, where appropriate, of sitting offenders down with  their victims and making them face those people as people. That can be tremendously healing for the victim as well.

There are people who are so sick and antisocial in their behaviour that, for everyone else’s safety, they need taking off the streets. Locking them up for a few months or years and then sending them back out won’t fix anything longer term. Prison has to be about re-education. Many prisoners have already fallen through the cracks and have major literacy and maths issues (I know, I have friends who teach in prisons). Many have mental health issues, drug addictions and other problems that need fixing if they are to escape from crime. There is also the issue of violence as learned behaviour. In Strathclyde, I gather, police are tackling violent crime as though it was a contagious disease, taking the stance that people who are normalised to it are more likely to perpetrate it. This makes a lot of sense to me. It means not only tackling gang violence on the streets, but looking at where our young humans learn that bullying pays, violence is fine and he who shouts the loudest and punches the hardest gets to rule the roost. And where do they learn this? At home, all too often.

Domestic abuse is widespread. Children who grow up exposed to not just violence, but disrespect, verbal abuse, emotional, and psychological abuse learn to abuse, and to accept certain kinds of behaviours as normal in their peers and future partners as well. I’m not saying ‘blame the parents’ here either, because abusers do not exist in a vacuum, they exist in the context of cultures and histories, attitudes to women, belief about might and right, and the pernicious belief that if you can claim provocation, violence is ok.

If we want justice, and if we want to tackle criminal behaviour, then locking up offenders is not going to get us either. It is not a solution, just a reaction. It doesn’t prevent crime. If we want to not have rioting and looting, if we want to not have violent gang cultures, then we need to start by looking at the context in which these things happen. I feel very strongly that we need to start paying serious attention to both the direct, and the knock on effects of domestic abuse. Violence begins in the home, all too frequently. If we want to deal with it, we have to figure out how to tackle it there as well.


Rioting

We’ve seen violence, looting, burning and mayhem not only in London, but also Bristol, Birmingham, Nottingham, Manchester and Liverpool. “Mindless criminality’ is a phrase that has been offered a few times by way of explanation. Which is no explanation at all. Sat in a quiet corner of the UK, I’m not directly affected, but so many people are, or must be fearful this morning that they too will be caught up. Others, no doubt, are looking at the TV footage and feeling an urge to get their piece.

Civilizations are made up of individuals. They only work so long as enough people co-operate with the systems, institutions, laws and habits that the civilization purports to uphold. In my occasional posts about the idea of quiet revolution, I keep saying that if there are enough people who want a thing, change will happen. But what we’re seeing here isn’t coherent protest or revolution, it’s theft, arson and violence. The homes and property of ordinary people are coming under attack, as the ordinary people themselves. Whatever else is going on here, the people out rioting clearly don’t have much empathy for others or much concern for their communities, or even their own futures.

As a country, we are in financial crisis. Services are being cut all over. Mounting a police response on the scale these riots require, is going to cost a fortune. We are all going to have to pay for that. Damage to homes and businesses is damage to jobs, incomes, communities, futures. Some of us will pay for that more than others, but we will all pay. Part of the problem is that our rioters have no sense of their own involvement, their own relationship with community and state and they probably have no thought for the consequences.

There are a lot of issues underpinning what’s happening here. Loss of hope, lack of opportunity, poverty, lack of work, a materialist culture that stokes demand but can’t pay people to buy what they are told they must have. Lack of social engagement. Widespread isolation. If people feel engaged with each other, if they have meaningful relationships that inspire care and a sense of belonging, they don’t go out and burn each other’s cars. Disenfranchisement is a word that springs to mind.

The people on the streets did not spontaneously wake up at the weekend and decide, out of nowhere, to be destructive and irresponsible. Every single one of them has been through a process, a life, a series of experiences that have brought them to this point and made that action seem like a good idea. That’s something we ignore at our peril. And if the media reporting is much to go by, for every rioter, there are hordes of quieter, but no less angry people. The Metropolitan Police are appealing for people to clear the streets so they can sort out the ‘criminal element’. I fear they are missing the point a bit. Why are all those non-violent folk also on the streets, witnessing but not participating? Why are they taking the risk? What is motivating them? Those interviewed talk about racism, social breakdown, loss of opportunities. The quiet people are angry too. They might not be going to join in the looting spree, but there are a lot of troubled, frustrated people out there empathising with the rioters. They too have been through a series of experiences that have brought them to this point.

Over the weekend, listening to radio reports about the financial crisis, I heard a lot of people questioning the very concepts on which our current, capitalist system is based. We have built a system that is entirely about winners and losers. We’ve gone for competition, not co-operation.  Buy now, pay later. We have an advertising industry that sells us fear, greed, social anxiety and a sense of never being good enough, so that we spend money we don’t have on products we don’t need. We have a government paying a fortune on war that can’t house and care for its poorest people. This is not working.

We need radical change.

Rioting and violence are not answers to social problems, but they are symptoms of despair and alienation. We are not going to make those underlying problems go away just by arresting a few people, labelling the problem as ‘criminality’ and trying to sweep the causes under the collective carpet. I am absolutely opposed to violence. But we have to recognise that what is happening on the streets of our cities, is happening for reasons. Lots of reasons, none of them good. We are all part of this. How we get out of it, I have no idea, but inspired, and inspiring leadership would be very welcome right now, not the language of dismissal or attempts to diminish the wider social issues underpinning this.


Beyond tolerance

Having contemplated the limits of tolerance, I thought it might be productive to ask what we do when we hit those boundaries. When we find someone else intolerable, it’s easy to give ourselves justifications for anger. We can clench fists and work up a good helping of moral indignation, and then decide that things ought to be done and this should not be allowed to continue. We can decide that based on our own opinions, we have the right to take action and challenge the behaviour of another. There will be times when this is both justified and necessary. There are also plenty of times when it isn’t. There was an incident years ago when an angry mob, wound up by tabloid reporting, decided to do something about a paediatrician in their area, not having grasped this is a wholly different title to paedophile. When we lash out in anger, even if we feel total justified at the time, we can still make horrible, irreversible mistakes. If we respond with aggression, because we feel entitled to do so, what are doing? Do we really feel everyone is entitled to act unpleasantly if they find something else intolerable? The greater the outrage we feel, the more natural it seems to want to respond with something decisive. A little justice perhaps. An eye for an eye. There are plenty of men who think infidelity is a valid justification for murder. There are people who think blasphemy justifies murder. There are people who think being raped is the fault of the woman and that it would then be reasonable to stone her to death for infidelity. We can recognise there are things that should not be tolerated, but as soon as we use our own intolerance to justify violence, cruelty or oppression, we have ceased to act honourably. How then can we tackle unacceptable situations and behaviour? Whatever the precise methods we go for, I think the broadest answer must be ‘with compassion.’ That doesn’t mean letting abuse go unchecked and crime ignored, but it does mean drawing breath, stepping back, considering bigger pictures and root causes as well as the anger of the moment. I have a friend who works in prisons teaching basic literacy and maths to inmates. That says a lot about the circumstances of many people who get on the wrong side of the law. Studies show poor nutrition contributes to crime and antisocial behaviour. Abusers may well have been victims as children. Locking people up and making more restrictive laws does not solve much. People who are happy with their lot in life do not tend to become terrorists. That doesn’t mean placating everyone either. It doesn’t mean everyone has to have their own way in all things for fear of what they might otherwise do. What underpins every society is individual relationships between people. Relationships between different groups of people. Relationships between organisations. Relationships with the state. Failures in these beget problems. Where there is inequality of opportunity and education, where the system is stacked against the poor, where there is abuse of power, corruption, oppression and institutionalised cruelty, there are going to be social problems. And equally a culture that looks the other way, allows certain groups of people to break laws, does not hold people accountable for their actions and so forth will also foster disrespect and crime. If we want to vent anger and point fingers, it’s not enough to think about individual wrongs. We need to look out our whole society, its beliefs, methods, institutions, the things it tells people, the pressures it exerts, the actions it condones. Society is made up of every individual within it, and each of us is affected by what everyone else does. So you can’t think about answers purely on the individual scale, or purely on a political scale either. At the limits of tolerance, we need to find the motives, to demand real justice and make real changes. We are so far from being a fair society, it’s little wonder we have so much to get angry about, and compared to some of the world, we English speaking nations are models of social justice and democracy. And we aren’t even close to what that should mean.