Clean up in Isle Two...
The mass-media love a moral panic, it makes for easy work and sky-high ratings, and the coverage of violent crimes, particularly murder, is no different. The latest incidents of this are the spree-killings in the North of England, where we have seen Raoul Moat and Derrick Bird go on seemingly indiscriminate rampages that cannot be explained. Murder loved ones and neighbours, how can a person do such a thing? This just about sums up the coverage of their crimes, but there is another side to Britain’s levels of violent crime. And it isn’t the moral decline of our society, due to a culture of permission and dependency where everything is allowed and nothing is true, as the reactionary press would have you believe. Though social deprivation is partly at fault, but the causes of this deprivation are more complicated.
A recent study conducted by Wilkinson and Pickett reveals that there is a link between inequality and social deprivation. In more unequal societies there tends to be greater rates of illiteracy, obesity, teenage pregnancy, violent crime, drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness and depression. Of course all of this recent bloodshed cannot be written off as the result of Britain’s inequalities, as there are too many other factors to take into account. But it is no coincidence that these crimes have occurred in regions that have been worst hit by the financialisation of the economy, the shift away from manufacturing to finance, which has decimated many working-class communities in the North. Moat and Bird are members of a population which is superfluous in the economy, they are completely unnecessary.
In Colombia the state has a policy of “social cleansing” in which death squads are sent into the slums to “liquidate” the poor. Similarly in the US the destruction of the welfare state and the criminalisation of the poor, especially African-Americans, functions in the same way. This is the reason that there are almost 10 million people in some phase of the “correctional” system of the US. The control of the “unworthy” and “unneeded” poor in Britain has also taken similar forms. CCTV, ASBOs and curfews are all ways of marginalising people, who are not needed. This system is supposed to “clean up” the effects of social deprivation in our society. CCTV is supposed to help catch criminals, not deter them or even resolve the problems that lead to crime. ASBOs are used to keep the “unruly” poor in line, not to help them better themselves through education and training.
This is the reason that the coverage around the death of “Baby P”, another moral panic, was framed from an angle which emphasised the failures of the social services to seize the child from his dysfunctional home. Most of the coverage has not focused on the social deprivation – the fact that his parents were illiterate and jobless – which nurtured the dysfunctional behaviour that led to the violence in the first place. Instead the mass-media choose to highlight the abuse and failure of the system while ignoring the conditions which require such a system in the first place. At the same time, reactionaries call for the death penalty for the criminals and demand that social workers be fired, not retrained, for their incompetence. This is a symptom of a society which does not deal with its problems – namely inequality – and just “cleans up” afterwards. The government has become a “maximum-hygiene” state.
In the case of Bird and Moat there has also been talk of police incompetence that “failed” to catch Bird as he drove through the countryside and “failed” to stop the domestic violence of Moat’s relationship. The fact that these human beings are regarded as “unnecessary” in our economy is not taken into account. The dysfunctional behaviour, drug and alcohol abuse as an escape route, are also ignored. The media would have us believe that this violence is simply down to the “innate evil” of the perpetrators and we would be better off hanging them. When it’s quite likely that the actions of Bird and Moat are the “alarm bells” that our society is becoming more and more fragmented, dysfunctional and factional. These problems are nurtured by an economic system which abandons and uses the working-class, depriving them of meaningful work and fobbing them off on consumerism for a purpose in life.