Is the Crime Rate Falling or Rising

Thursday, 12th April 2007

One well-designed Website, www.anxietyculture.com seemed worthy of a link exchange request as it was publicised in the forum of another site I respect Medialens. It claims to offer an antidote to the mainstream media with a special focus on the left's favourite bête noire The Daily Mail. I particularly liked the article on 'Team spirit Means Mob Mentality', but took issue with the site's general dislike for the work ethic, while agreeing wholeheartedly that probably way over half of jobs in the UK serve no meaningful purpose other than entangling everyone in a huge web of endless corporate promotion, deception and bureaucracy. The site peddles a simplistic line placing huge optimism in the future evolution of humanity given recent cultural developments, with only overwork holding people back from realising their full creative potential. Judging from the polished bespoke Flash design, I'd assume that a good deal of work has gone into the site's presentation. It offers myriad excuses for trendy student types and layabouts to justify their lifestyle and falls into the dangerous trap of extolling the virtues of economic model centred around consumption and entertainment. That's right hundreds of thousands of UK residents work hard in offices, advertising agencies, shopping malls, bars, nightclubs and casinos so much of the remaining population can indulge in materialistic dreams that are both unsustainable and unattainable to all but a lucky few.

Among the myths that the reactionary press allegedly perpetrates is the relentless rise in domestic violence and anti-social behaviour. Quoting the British Crime Survey (BCS) Anxiety Culture claims not only is crime at an all time low and any statistical increases can be attributed to greater reporting and changing definitions, but accuses the BBC and Daily Mail of scaremongering. The same logic is applied to the overhyped obesity epidemic and again there is a good deal of common sense in the site 's observations. Britons ate on average more calories three decades ago and many otherwise healthy people have lived into their 80s and 90s despite being clinically overweight or obese based on the simplified body mass index. However, in both cases just because the corporate and state media simplify and misstate the causes of evident issues that people experience in their everyday lives does not mean these problems do not exist. All power elites have their own agendas. Certainly the spectre of pervasive antisocial behaviour and rampant crime can serve to justify new Draconian legislation expanding surveillance in one of the most heavily monitored countries in the world.

However, the trouble with crime statistics lies in the definition of crime. If crime means petty theft, then the installation of surveillance technology, the transition to electronic transactions for all but the smallest purchases and, dare I say, a relatively buoyant economy, albeit unsustainable with a widening rich-poor gap, have led to a marked reduction. Very few people in this country carry more than £50 in hard cash and if their car is worth more than a few hundred quid it probably has an alarm. Indeed people spend more and more of their time at home, watching TV and surfing the net. Look through the windows of houses and flats in working class areas and you'll see gigantic home cinemas in almost every living room. Increasingly each member of a household has a personalised media delivery system in their bedroom, leading to a further disintegration of family life. At least in the 70s and 80s when families would tend to watch prime-time TV together in the living room each member would benefit from the others' insights and collective viewing would also limit certain indulgences, especially graphic scenes of murder and rape.

The corporate and state elites consider crime any acts that endanger their grip on power and may destabilise the delicate social order that keeps the masses loyal to the system and easily manageable. Drunk youths rampaging down high streets scaring the living daylights out of any passers-by suit the elite agenda just fine. First their behaviour boosts not only the multi-billion pound booze business, but is also excellent for the booming CCTV surveillance industry and justifies incessant calls from mainstream politicians for more police on the beat. More important it lets the system keep tabs on young hooligans, so after their Saturday night brawls they can safely return to grease the wheels of a corrupt corporate machine. If the same youths had spent their weekend reading Joel Bakan's The Corporation or attending an antiwar demo, they might not act as obediently when asked to enforce new diktats (conveniently labelled as best practice guidelines). The real troublemakers the establishment worries about are not yobs of any social class, serving a useful purpose both as scapegoats and as bullies they can later disown, but conscientious independent thinkers, the kind of people who get labelled mavericks, mad professors, extremists and just plain crazies.

An act is only considered criminal in law if powerful forces have not only put it on the statute books but are actually willing to enforce it. If we redefined crime as 'harming, robbing or unduly exploiting others' and 'infringing on the basic human rights of others', then megabuck corporations that dominate the City of London would be in the dock alongside the politicians who let them move trillions of pounds, dollars and Euros across the globe to boost their bottom line with little regard to the immense human consequences. Indeed in the UK the kind of lobbying that led to the trial in absentia of former Italian PM Bettino Craxi and arrest of his successor Silvio Berlusconi is perfectly legal. Whether the state is minimally concerned about the harm caused by toxic effluents produced by industry essential to our high consumption lifestyle depends largely on its analysis of the effects pollution has on social and economic stability. The establishment wish both to command the loyalty of its subjects through its public image of benevolence and needs workers and consumers to be healthy enough to participate in their business model. In recent decades the establishment in much of Western Europe and North America has been able to clean up its act on industrial pollution by outsourcing most of the really dirty jobs to low wage economies.

Whether you believe the BCS or the (in my humble opinion) more realistic picture painted in Francis Gilbert's Yob Nation, a true measure of social cohesion cannot be based on abstract crime statistics, but on people's selfishness or rather their propensity towards psychopathy. I don't care if my neighbour downloads gigabytes of copyrighted music, fails to pay her taxes or smokes an illicit substance as long as this behaviour does not affect my basic dignity. Some would have us believe as a result of such transgressions musicians would stop recording new albums because peer-to-peer file sharing has put them out of business, the state would fail to provide basic social services because nobody pays taxes or we'd be plagued with rampant cannabis-induced psychosis. In the real world record companies and pop stars make billions out of a select group of high profile acts, tax evasion by ordinary citizens accounts for a minuscule percentage of potential government income and psychosis induced by other perfectly legal drugs such as alcohol is a much greater problem than the latest potent strains of cannabis. What concerns me is whether my neighbour respects my personal dignity and participates as a conscientious member of the local community. If people distrust their neighbours, indeed are encouraged by the scaremongering media to regard any deviant behaviour with suspicion, then they owe allegiance only to themselves, possibly their immediate family, and remote entities such as their employer, musical or cinematographic idols, favourite sports team, nation, special interest sect, religion or even a supranational organisation, but not to their geographic community. Increasingly people feel they have less in common with their neighbours than they do with distant cyberbuddies, so it's no wonder that we care less about the welfare of other members of our community. Despite the oft-repeated rhetoric of mainstream politicians a combination of economic and cultural trends have led to the steady corrosion not just of traditional extended families, but communities. Much of the media attention given to domestic violence, antisocial behaviour and paedophilia serve not only to spread fear and distrust, but more importantly to assert the role of a vast state and corporate control structure, comprising police, social workers, psychiatric nurses and increasingly non-governmental organisations such as abnormal personality (aka mental health) charities. Recent initiatives such as parenting lessons for begetters of antisocial children and the extension of the definition of domestic assault to include verbal abuse fit wonderfully into this pattern. Children growing up in the late 1990s and early 21st century lack the respect that previous generations had for their primary caregivers, learning early on of their parents' fallibility, e.g. Mummy why are you smoking? Don't you know it's bad for you? or Daddy, you can't send me to bed at nine o'clock, that's child abuse!

A fairer measure would be the extent of social and personal injustice. With such a pervasive network of CCTV cameras it comes as little surprise that many forms of visible theft and disorderly behaviour have shown a steady decline since the early 1990s. Criminals have simply become smarter turning to credit card identity theft, loan extortion rackets for the heavily indebted and supplying technically illegal recreational mind drugs such as ecstasy, often tacitly tolerated by the establishment. Fear of reprimand has certainly changed the way husbands and parents behave. Rather than expressing their true feelings they will often act out scenes they have witnessed in movies and TV soap operas, resorting to antidepressants and other drugs to cope with their inability to assert their role at home, or simply distancing themselves from the family. So statistical reductions in the perception of crime as reported by the government-sponsored BCS do not necessarily mean greater social tranquillity and reciprocal trust, but merely reflect the effectiveness of the government's chosen means of controlling the populace. As the establishment only cares about maintaining its tight grip over the plebs, it favours measures that boost profitability and surveillance, while atomising and marginalising the population at large and destroying traditional allegiances to local communities and faith groupings. Moral criminality is inherent in a society like ours that worships consumerism encouraging long-term debt, is hooked on soaps, violence-packed movies and with large proportions of the youth regularly playing first-person shooter games and indulging in binge drinking and gambling.

Recent legal changes have effectively outlawed traditional safety valves for pent-up anxiety such as having a ciggy and shouting at your spouse, while making it easier to get inebriated 24/7 and then blow a fortune on a night at the casino, whose extortionate operations would have been illegal only two years ago. The big criminals have been given free reign, able either to bankroll lobbies or circumvent new surveillance technology, while the little criminals are treated like naughty kids and sent to the head teacher to take their medication.

Author: 
Neil Gardner
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