Sunday, May 10, 2009
Crime, media and the militarisation of everyday life
I can't help but wonder how the events of the weekend and the media hype around it will aid the 'militarisation of everyday life', especially when the October 15th arrestees are due in the High Court soon. Michael Laws is already talking about arming police without a second thought on the conditions and structures that cause the majority of crime. I realise the danger of simplicity with the argument that 'capitalism is bad and the cause of all ills in society', but a quick look around clearly illustrates some worth to the statement. From anarchistfaq.org:
For anarchists, "crime" can best be described as anti-social acts, or behaviour which harms someone else or which invades their personal space. Anarchists argue that the root cause for crime is not some perversity of human nature or "original sin," but is due to the type of society by which people are moulded. For example, anarchists point out that by eliminating private property, crime could be reduced by about 90 percent, since about 90 percent of crime is currently motivated by evils stemming from private property such as poverty, homelessness, unemployment, and alienation.
"Crime", therefore, cannot be divorced from the society within which it occurs. Society, in Emma Goldman's words, gets the criminals it deserves. For example, anarchists do not think it unusual nor unexpected that crime exploded under the pro-free market capitalist regimes of Thatcher and Reagan. Crime, the most obvious symptom of social crisis, took 30 years to double in Britain (from 1 million incidents in 1950 to 2.2 million in 1979). However, between 1979 and 1992 the crime rate more than doubled, exceeding the 5 million mark in 1992. These 13 years were marked by a government firmly committed to the "free market" and "individual responsibility." It was entirely predictable that the social disruption, atomisation of individuals, and increased poverty caused by freeing capitalism from social controls would rip society apart and increase criminal activity.
The social atomisation required and created by capitalism destroys the basic bonds of society - namely human solidarity - and hierarchy crushes the individuality required to understand that we share a common humanity with others and so understand why we must be ethical and respect others rights.
As is often stated, prevention is better than cure. This is as true of crime as of disease. In other words, crime is best fought by rooting out its causes as opposed to punishing those who act in response to these causes. For example, it is hardly surprising that a culture that promotes individual profit and consumerism would produce individuals who do not respect other people (or themselves) and see them as purely means to an end (usually increased consumption). And, like everything else in a capitalist system, such as honour and pride, conscience is also available at the right price -- hardly an environment which encourages consideration for others, or even for oneself.
In addition, a society based on hierarchical authority will also tend to produce anti-social activity because the free development and expression it suppresses. Thus, irrational authority (which is often claimed to be the only cure for crime) actually helps produce it. As Emma Goldman argued, crime "is naught but misdirected energy. So long as every institution of today, economic, political, social, moral conspires to misdirect human energy into wrong channels; so long as most people are out of place doing things they hate to do, living a life they loathe to live, crime will be inevitable, and all the laws on the statues can only increase, but never do away with, crime" [Red Emma Speaks, p. 57]
Eric Fromm, decades latter, makes the same point (and fitting for the weekend just past):
"It would seem that the amount of destructiveness to be found in individuals is proportionate to the amount to which expansiveness of life is curtailed. By this we do not refer to individual frustrations of this or that instinctive desire but to the thwarting of the whole of life, the blockage of spontaneity of the growth and expression of man's(sic!) sensuous, emotional, and intellectual capacities. Life has an inner dynamism of its own; it tends to grow, to be expressed, to be lived . . . the drive for life and the drive for destruction are not mutually interdependent factors but are in a reversed interdependence. The more the drive towards life is thwarted, the stronger is the drive towards destruction; the more life is realised, the less is the strength of destructiveness. Destructiveness is the outcome of unlived life. Those individual and social conditions that make for suppression of life produce the passion for destruction that forms, so to speak, the reservoir from which particular hostile tendencies -- either against others or against oneself -- are nourished" [The Fear of Freedom, p. 158]
This comment from Indymedia today was a good one:
"At the moment if an officer is approached by a violent offender they generally retreat and call in backup, this is often enough to resolve the situation. If an armed officer was approached by a violent offender there is a high chance the officer would pull their gun out. If the offender kept approaching they would get shot. Anyone can see that armed police are going to escalate the situation. Offenders knowing that cops are armed would increasingly carry weapons, cops at current ackknoledge that there is an unspoken agreement between police and offenders that weapons are not used in crime or policing. If the cops start carrying weapons then the results are going to be obvious.
The entire operation in Napier was a media blow up and the police were obviously using it as a chance to practice with all the new units and toys they have been given. All that was nessecary was two or three squads of AOS to cordon the area and disable the offender if he came out armed.Yet the police seem to have flown or driven all their exciting new units to the area as if there was a terrorist attack unfolding. It was obvious from the moment I heard about this that the offender was only a danger to himself.
I dont like to see anyone get shot but I dont see anything that could have been done to prevent the inital shooting of the police. Shootings of cops are rare - there are many more dangerous proffessions out there. The state and police will of course use this even to their advantage, the budget for armed units and the scope of their operations will be vastly expanded over the next few years. The police will increasingly talk of the threat of terrorism and by the time the rugby world cup rolls around I would place money of armed cops being a visible presence.
Anyhow to sum up the police response completely outweighed the threat this lone guy posed. And the state and police will use this to push for increased access to weapons."