The cold-blooded and pointless killing of the lawyer Tom ap Rhys Pryce, whose murderers were given life sentences this week, has forced many people far beyond the circle of those working with actual and potential delinquents to reflect on why there is apparently a growing cult of mindless ‘clockwork orange’ type violence in our society. Tom’s father wrote a moving and compassionate article in “The Times”, saying that he still cannot begin to understand the world of the killers. I’m sure this is true of the vast majority of the ‘comfortable classes’, but the effort has to be made if there is to be any hope of remedying the situation.
A recent research report from the Economic and Social Research Council concluded that street robbers and muggers often carry out their vicious attacks “for kicks.” This is scarcely news for those who remember the rash of ‘happy slapping’ episodes, one of which led to the death of a gay man sitting peaceably on an Embankment seat. Violence on television and in pop culture is routinely blamed. Parental neglect and educational failure are other tabloid targets, as is multicultural Political Correctness which deters social workers and the police from interfering in situations where their intervention might be branded as ‘racist’.
What needs emphasising far more in this discussion, IMHO, is the failure of socialisation – the inculcation into very young children of the awareness that they are not just isolated individuals but also members of society, with rights and also obligations to others. I am an individualist to the uttermost – I abhor the Nanny State and the creeping, nowadays more like cantering, interference by officialdom and self-appointed busybodies in other people’s affairs. I agree with Socrates in Plato’s Republic that justice is about people minding their own business. But part of what each individual needs to understand is that a duty of care and concern for others and their welfare is an important part of one’s own business.
Blair blathers on about ‘education, education, education’ – which he absurdly seems to believe will be well served by divisive ‘faith schools’ [who will ultimately decide what is taught in them, I wonder?]. Any education will be useless without the essential groundwork. There are, in my view, only two essential ideas that should be inculcated into every child. The first is what I call the “Shylock principle”, after the famous speech in the Merchant of Venice – that epic of inter-racial and inter-faith hatred – where he says :”Hath not a Jew eyes?.....If you prick us, do we not bleed?.....and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” In other words, whatever race, creed, or country someone else belongs to, they are as REAL as I am.
The second is the negative version of the Golden Rule – never do to anyone else what they would not want to have done to them [heeding Bernard Shaw’s warning that their tastes and yours might differ].
We live in an increasingly angry, frightened and divided society. This grim reality is not going to be magicked away by government spins and media soundbites. David Cameron adjures us to “hug a hoodie”, but I very much doubt whether he is actually going to personally befriend Tom ap Rhys Price’s murderers during and after their imprisonment, as the late Lord Longford did to the Moors murderess Myra Hyndley, and got heartily sneered and jeered at for his pains.
Nor must we take refuge in pious platitudes about ‘original sin’. Every human being is a complex mixture of good and bad impulses. But I am not one of those who believe that some are ‘irredeemably evil’, and can therefore be written off and mis-treated with a good conscience by the rest of us.
Tough love by all means. But it has to be firmly grounded in realism – and suitable action.