Thursday, 29 November 2007

Alienation and Crime

NB: As you may have noticed, i'm now going to attempt to update the blog regularly on thursdays, saturdays and tuesdays, so here's the first post for that.

Criminology is in the midst of an aetiological crisis, or Jock Young and others pointed out in the mid 90s. Aetiology, is a theory of what causes criminal actions to occur. For left realism this is usually explained through the concept of relative deprivation, which they take from Robert Merton's concept of anomie. However, in this post i wish to talk about alienation and how this process can also lead to crime.

A note of caution I wish to strike is that in talking about the aetiology (or causes) of crime, I do not wish to lump all crime together as caused by the same things necessarily. Crime (indeed how you actually define crime can be a contentious issue), we must note, consists of various things including drug-related offences, sexual offences, violent offences, property offences, health and safety offences, white collar crime, anti-social behaviour etc. What links them (or at least most of them) is that they are all endemic problems under a capitalist society. That is not to say that they don't exist outside of a capitalist society, but that they will always exist within one. The aetiology between each group will vary with its character (and also with the groups).

Returning to alienation, I wish to deal with how thsi is presented in Hannah Sell's "Socialism in the 21st Century" (pp. 28-30). In particular the quote she takes from Marx's "Wage, Labour and Capital",

'And the worker, who for twelve hours, weaves, spins, drills, turns, builds, shovels, breaks stones, carries loads etc. - does he hold this twelves hours weaving, spinning, drilling, turning, building, shovelling, stone breaking to be a manifestation of his life, as life? On the contrary, life begins for him where this activity ceases, at the table, in the public house, in bed. The twelve hours labour has no meaning for him as weaving, spinning, drilling etc. but as earnings which bring him to the table, to the public house, into bed. If the silk worm were to spin in order to continue its existence as a caterpillar, it would be a complete wage worker'

I have to say I really like that quote. It sums up how I feel about my current job and probably many others about theirs too.
Hannah goes on to say "As capitalism has become more brutal over the last 20 years, alienation has undoubtedly increased. Without exaggerating, there is a small section of young people in Britain for whom the system has offered nothing, and who are, as a result, almost entirely alienated from society". Then slightly later, "One of the worst of all experiences in capitalist Britain is to be a young person who cannot get work - to have been thrown on the scrap heap".

I wish to labour on this point for a minute. In some areas there are simply very few jobs at all for anyone, let alone young people, or even when they are they are so mind-numbingly dull, like working in a call centre etc. So you drink (and other activities) to forget about how depressing work is. This will of course lead (not in all or even many circumstances) to binge-drinking and drunken violence. As for drugs, Hannah comments "There has been an increase in drug addiction, for example, a 400% increase in the number of children who have died from sniffing gas and glue between 1980 and 1990", and drug taking also can lead to burglary and theft (to obtain money to pay for drugs, although this is usually from friends and relatives), as well as the possibility of violent action under the influence of drugs.

Hannah then says, "The increase in alienation is a direct result of neo-liberal policies. This is graphically illustrated by the experience of the ex-mining villages around the country. The defeat of the 1984-5 miners' strike and the closure of the pits have left previously strong communities suffering the ravages of unemployment, poverty and drug addiction."

The point I wish to make is that crime is certainly not a rational choice. There are very decent jobs for young people today, such a dismal prospect of life of course brutalises peoplewhen they see no future for themselves (and probably accounts for quite a few suicides). You certainly cannot be wholly rational about your situation (indeed it's probably difficult at the best of times), and as for choice, I think this is best summed up by the lyrics from the Anti-Flag song No Blood-Thirsty Corporations (N.B.C.) "But a choice between shit is still shit!!!"

Not that the criminal actions that people take are defenicble, indeed they cause even greater harm to working class communities, but the finger of blame needs to be pointed elsewhere. "As long as we live in a capitalist society, then, as Marx described, "brutalisation" and "moral degredation" will remain, " Hannah concludes, before talking about how working class collective action could tackle that.

By the way, in amongst these few pages in various parts there is also mention of relative deprivation too. In fact, Marx also discussed this in Wage, labour and Capital, and as mentioned earlier is the favoured aetiological concept of left realist criminology, so i'll try and get to grips with it and post on this in the future too.


Renegade Eye said...

I think you presented alienation and crime, in a correct context, of one of many causes of crime.

a bit like lenin said...

took me a while to find it, but im glad i did very good post. agree with all your points. i knew there was a reason for my formative teenage years!