KOREA COLUMN 35
Extreme Crimes– What do Socialists Say?
From time to time in every modern country certain individuals commit horrific crimes against other individuals. These crimes tend to be particularly disturbing when they are of a sexual nature, and even more so when they involve children, either as victims or perpetrators.
The capitalist media invariably relishes these tragic events. They report them in lurid and sensationalised detail, according to well established formulae. At least initially, the victims are always exemplary characters, beloved of family and neighbours, while the suspects or accused are painted as ‘evil’ and ‘monstrous’. If it then emerges that the victim’s family is less than perfect, they too have their private lives picked over and ruthlessly pilloried.
Of course a major motive for this is simply to sell more newspapers or increase audience ratings and thus raise profits. But the media, and the ruling class who control it, also have an ideological and political agenda, which we need to understand and combat.
Our rulers have a general interest in us seeing human beings as basically bad and therefore in need of control from above. The idea that socialism is impossible because of the inherent defects of human nature, has long been a cornerstone of capitalist ideology. Politicians feel they have to flatter the electorate- “ I believe in the American/British/ Korean people’’ that sort of thing – so horrible crimes are a good opportunity for the media to ram home the message about basic human wickedness.
Another strand of bourgeois (and pre- bourgeois/feudal ideology) sees sex as essentially bad and as a dangerous force capable of undermining the social order if not strictly controlled. This view is reinforced by being able to link sex to violence and crime as in cases of serial rape, murder and child abuse.
The ruling class also wants us to be afraid of each other: to be afraid of the foreign enemy (the terrorists or the communists), of foreign workers (immigrants), of young people (in gangs and hanging on street corners) and of the man hiding in the bushes or lurking in the alley. The more we are afraid the less confidence we have in ourselves; the more we fear our neighbours and workmates the harder it is to unite with them against our rulers; the more atomised and isolated we are the less power we have to resist. Fear of crime, especially hideous crime, can easily be exploited to feed general fear and strengthen the grip of our rulers.
And the ruling class prefers the general intellectual level of working people to remain low. It doesn’t want us to develop a coherent or sophisticated understanding of the social world or human behaviour. It is therefore quite happy to foster among ‘ordinary’ people moralistic and superstitious ideas about individuals being ‘born evil’, even if it doesn’t hold them itself. Sex crimes provide excellent material for this. Notice how often the mass media encourage grief stricken relatives to give vent to their emotions, their feelings of hatred and desire for revenge.
Finally, the hysterical atmosphere generated around extreme crimes always includes demands for ‘tough measures’ and ‘action’ from the authorities – longer sentences, return of the death penalty and that sort of thing. And sometimes the ruling class accedes to these demands, or takes advantage of them, and uses the situation to push through increased powers.
So, faced with this kind of response from the media and the ruling class, what should socialists say?
First, we need to explain that these extreme crimes (paedophile murders, serial rapes and killings, etc.) are very rare. The incidence of crime as a whole, and its real affects on most people’s lives, is less than media coverage would suggest and this is especially true of the crimes at the most horrific end of the spectrum. In reality they are far less of a threat to the average person’s life and well being than unemployment, inflation, rent rises, cuts in services, illness, accidents on the roads or in the home, war, climate change and a host of other dangers.
Second, these events are invariably terrible personal tragedies for the victims, the victims’ families, and for the perpetrators’ families and, actually, the perpetrators themselves, NONE of whom benefit from the glare of publicity and sensationalist reporting. The perpetrators are NOT ‘monsters’ or ‘born evil’, no matter how awful the crime, for the good reason that no one, not even Hitler, was ‘born evil’ any more than they were born angels – it is a stupid, reactionary concept. They are people who have broken down, fragmented, gone to pieces under the hideous pressure of alienation, oppression and exploitation to which all of us are subjected under capitalism, and which distort all our lives to some degree.
When it comes to explanations of particular crimes there can be no question of simplistic ‘one size fits all’ theories or answers, in ignorance of specific facts, but socialists should be heavily biased in favour of social and psychological explanations over biological or ‘genetic’ ones and completely opposed to mystical or superstitious ones. It is not a matter of arguing, simplistically, that poverty or unemployment or similar material deprivation makes people into rapists, killers or child abusers but of understanding how these social factors combine with unique individual experiences in the family and in childhood to increase the likelihood of personality collapse, just as they increase the likelihood of infant mortality.
And from this it follows that socialists stand firmly against all the media induced hatred and hysteria. We resist the baying for vengeance, which does NOT benefit victims, and only degrades those who exact it. And we reject calls for longer sentences or harsher laws. This is both because they do not work either as a deterrent – clearly extreme crimes are irrational and cannot be prevented by rational calculation – and because they can be used by the ruling class for other purposes.
All such laws and increased powers granted to the police, the courts, and the prisons, although apparently directed against a small minority of ‘evil-doers’, in fact increase the overall power of the state, and the state is not the friend but the enemy of the working classes, not their protector, as it likes to claim, but the guarantor of their exploitation. Measures pushed through in the period of moral panic following particularly awful crimes (it is the same after terrorist outrages) are then available to the state to use on other occasions and against other enemies e.g. industrial militants or political opponents.
In the end the only way to abolish these horrible crimes is to abolish the sick, violent, sexist, racist, exploitative and alienated society that produces them.
26 April 2008