August 2007: From media reports, there is every semblance of an increase of street violence, especially affecting young people. The increase may be real, or it may be due merely to increased reporting, since it is quite possible for the media filters to create these apparent increases – as happened, for instance, with the great Bristol Baby snatching wave in the 60s or 70s, which turned out to be a media illusion. In fact, even if there is no increase, we ought to address the problem of street violence. What can be done?
Immediately, a babble of slogans come to mind, mainly of a punitive kind: “Blame the parents” Blame the schools” “Bring back the cane”. The Government will undoubtedly bring out another piece of Asbo-type legislation – tough, as usual, on crime, but completely blind to the causes of crime, because looking at the causes of crime would involve Government in radical thinking, and in challenges to business, and Government is averse to both. There is no one, single, magic-bullet solution to the problem; this is a problem with a human social system, and only a systems approach, covering many changes, preferably simultaneously, will help to solve it.
In the Green Party we have enough expertise and pre-existent policy to make a fairly decent set of recommendations. Why not set about to try to put something together on-line here, going for a holistic, multifactorial approach? This could be presented when complete as a blueprint for correcting the violent tendencies in society.
The problem will demand a systems approach, gathering together all the many and diverse factors that create gang culture and delinquency, since human society is a system, which means that each constituent part contributes to the whole, and the whole has an effect on each part.
The aspects that need to be discussed are: Physical, Psychological, familial, community and social, cultural, juridical, economic and ethical.
There is sound evidence for the effects on behaviour of toxins (e.g. lead) and diet on community behaviour. Environmental cleanups, and taxes on food additives, will make fundamental changes to behaviour.
At the other end of the physical spectrum is the matter of availability of guns and knives. Clearly it is time for another amnesty on weapons, which not only reduces the availability, but also sends a signal to society of their unacceptability. There are already laws governing carrying of weapons.
Ammunition can easily be identified by trained dogs. The number of these dogs can be increased, and if they are sited at the point where crows are in file, for instance, at the head of escalators, they can pick out individuals carrying firearms.
All guns should have their ballistic identity established prior to sale. Anyone buying a gun should be put through psychological profiling. The costs of all gun and ammunition control measure should be put on the item itself, through increased VAT.
A gang is an extended ego, and an immature ego defines itself in opposition to other selves or gangs. A perception of not belonging to the greater society will create a gang culture. It may be that the absence of any rite of passage in our society contributes to the gang culture. This is a matter where Government should commission a review of the literature.
Lack of self esteem is commonly thought to lie at the root of anti-social behaviour. In fact, the evidence points the other way, and that most anti-social individuals think too much of their own needs and not enough of the needs of others.
Parent craft can be taught to failing parents, and can also be added to the school syllabus. The problem is to persuade Government to supply the funding for training up parent craft teachers, and for the process of teaching. Experience in the NHS shows that when parent craft was adopted as a strategy, it was expected to be taught by health visitors out of existing budgets.
Community and society
It is known that the sense of community can be built up by means of well-resourced community workers. http://www.greenhealth.org.uk/BillsofHealth.soc.htm
One worker and a dedicated communal space can make a significant difference to the way a community functions. The outlay from government would be trivial, the benefits enormous.
It may be that certain exceptional people will form their own neighbourhood response to the threat of street violence. Some may even take direct action, either in terms of vigilantism, or preventive, by closing outlets of guns and knives, perhaps by super-gluing the locks of local gun and knife shops, or by publicly smashing violent video games and CDs.
The community reaction is the key to successful action since anti-social behaviour is essentially anti-social. Philosophically, society is now a difficult concept. Although Margaret Thatcher’s famous dictum “There is no such thing as society” is now quietly rejected by her own party, the philosophy of individualism still underpins all economic thinking, in the shape of free-market capitalism. Corporations are granted the status of legal individuals, with the rights of a real person, but only limited responsibility, enshrined in the legal framework of limited liability. This pervasive individualism (which expresses itself in common thought as “You’ve got to look after number one”) needs to be challenged philosophically. There is such a thing as society, and society needs to reassert its claims over the delinquent individual and delinquent groups.
The intellectual establishment is in denial over the evidence regarding the effect of culture on behaviour. There is strong resistance to the idea that films, music and electronic games can influence what people do, but the evidence is nevertheless in existence. Since there is no consensus, Government should commission a review of the evidence. The problem here is that Government, due to free-market assumptions, and due to the way that political parties are financed, is not about to challenge the power of the film industry, since it would be accused of censorship. A courageous Government nevertheless would at least impose a levy on cultural products sufficient to pay for the research on their effects on society, and once consensus is achieved, to pay for the effects on society itself. The effects of media on behaviour is reviewed here: http://www.greenhealth.org.uk/BoHmediaImp.htm
In the mean time, it is up to families and communities to take direct action on violent cultural items if they are convinced that they are having a bad effect on the young by banning them and demonstratively destroying them in public.
Government needs no encouragement to bring in new laws to punish or attempt to prevent crime. The principle is that punishment should fit the crime. Jail should only be used for individuals who are a danger to society. Community service (now renamed Unpaid Work) is the way forward. It is cheaper and more effective than prison. Unpaid work in forestry and gardening is particularly therapeutic.
A divided society can expect to find its youth alienated. The UK has a highly divergent economy, with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. There is evidence that this has an adverse effect on health http://www.greenhealth.org.uk/BillsofHealth.pov.htm , and it is highly probable that it has a similar effect on anti-social behaviour. It would be highly challenging, but highly rewarding, to reform the UK economy so that the fortunes of rich and poor become convergent. At present, the benefit system tends to keep people in the unemployment trap. Citizen’s Income, implemented as a Green Wage Subsidy, is a cost-effective way of getting people off the dole and into good work.
Alienation, anomie, boredom, pointlessness; all words that describe the attitude of a lost generation. In tribal societies, fifteen year old males are apprentice hunters, learning the skills of their elders while providing the athleticism and energy to make the kill. In some way, we need to re-position our urban youth. Sport is one way of sublimating energy. Paid community work, in improving the visual amenity, clearing rubbish, and helping old people with their gardens are all effective ways of increasing engagement.
Overall, street violence is one expression of the individualistic stance, where the planet and other people are obliged to serve the individual ego. This attitude has to be reversed.
In conclusion, the only effective response to the increasing culture of violence is a holistic and systematic correction of many problems in our society and our economy. The needed reforms are radical, and will only come about when society has reached a point of desperation. It is our job to show that there is a rational plan of action available to rectify the situation.