Jacko and a sad day for British values…

I’m totally baffled by Amanda Platell’s column today, I can’t work out whether she’s for the rule of law or against it:

“What possessed Jack Straw to grant Jack Tweed (already convicted of a vicious attack on a 16-year-old) another extension on his curfew, just days after being convicted of a second offence of assaulting a taxi driver?

Spending a night at the bedside of his new wife, Jade Goody, Tweed says: ‘I just wish I could be there all the time.’ The irony is, he could have been – if he wasn’t such an unmitigated thug.”

It’s not the most compassionate of positions, but there’s an argument that the Law should be dispassionate and that punishments should be meaningful, so it seems fair enough. If the Law says Tweed’s punishment is a curfew, Amanda’s question of why this isn’t being applied is a reasonable one. However:

“The scenes of hysteria as Michael Jackson announced his farewell tour in London were as bizarre as they were troubling. Why on earth is a man who admits to having slept with young boys in his bed being welcomed to Britain at all?”

There are a few reasons why a non-EU national would be refused entry to the UK, a list of which can be found here. The mere sharing of beds with boys is not on the list. Odd and questionable though this behaviour most certainly is, it’s not actually a crime – it might be a reason for us to be wary of letting our youngest sleep over at Michael’s, but it’s not enough to keep Michael out of the country¹. However, Amanda can do better:

“Jackson may have been cleared on charges of child molestation, but the details that emerged at his trial four years ago paint a picture of a deeply perverted man. One whole section of evidence was devoted to the pornography he kept at Neverland, inluding two books featuring pictures of naked young boys and DVDs called Barely Legal.”

This isn’t much better, as she lets slip that Jackson was cleared of molestation charges, but it’s a decent attempt, as it implies that this exoneration was unsound. There are a couple of things to note about this. The first is that her basis for this opinion is his possession of legal pornography (the title should have given her a clue) and two legal books², which doesn’t make for a particularly compelling case. More worrying though is her implication that she, as a reader of the foreign press coverage of a court case, is in a better position to judge the innocence or guilt of a defendant, overturning as it does the idea of the fair trial. Taken to its logical conclusion, this would dispense with trials completely, allowing instead the Press to fit the more lurid bits of evidence into whatever narrative they felt was most compelling with media pundits working out guilt and innocence along the way. This is a hellish vision of utopia. If being cleared in open court isn’t enough for you to be considered innocent, what chance does civil society have? How acrid would our relations become if suspicion were considered guilt?³

Now I know that my desire for consistency across mini-articles on the same page of the same newspaper by the same author is almost as unfair as it is anal, but I’ll ask this anyway: how can Amanda complain with one breath that the Law is being stretched in one place, while attempting to sideline it completely with another? I imagine she thinks she’s being consistent as the two subjects of her disapprobation are, in her mind, guilty and all she’s seeking is to see that they’re punished. What she’s missing is that while Tweed is not being punished as the Law says he should be, Jackson is. Until her opinion is accepted as Law, this distinction will continue to make a fool of her.

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¹ Actual paedophilia would be as it’s a crime carrying a sentence of more than 12 months so a reason for excluding entry, although it’s worth noting here that the crime exclusion appears in the section looking at discretionary refusals (see here for a handy explanation), so Jackson could still be let in even then.

² My source for this is the BBC’s article on the evidence bit of the trial. The books listed there are ‘Boys Will Be Boys!’, which is available on Amazon, and ‘The Boy: A Photographic Essay’, which is also available on Amazon, and images from which are available here. I admit I haven’t read either of these, so Amanda may well be in a better position to judge this than me, but on the basis of this evidence, casting these as paedophilia pornography is not unlike casting Titian’s ‘Cupid With The Wheel Of Fortune‘ as the same. [Edit – the Titian link doesn’t work, try this]

³ Probably about this acrid: “Don’t forget, the only reason he needs the money in the first place is to pay back the massive loans he incurred thanks to years of monstrous extravagance. Bailing out greedy and incompetent bankers was bad enough. Bailing out Jacko is just asburd.” Here Amanda is against someone trying to earn themselves out of debt by selling their services freely on the open market, merely because she would not, hereself, buy their services. Jackson’s behaviour sounds like someone taking responsiblity for their actions, which, in other areas of people’s lives Amanda is dead keen on: “It’s bad enough we have to pay for their gastric bands, diet-induced diabetes and stomach stapling; now we learn that thousands of obese people are on benefits because they’re too fat to work. If they want to be fat, that’s their choice. But why should the rest of us pay for their Krispy Kreme cravings?” The clash between these two is striking. But I digress.

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Paddington Green nick, that’s where our bleating MPs belong

There are a couple of sentences that pretty much save you reading this little piece by Peter Hitchens:

“If you abolish the distinction between right and wrong, don’t be surprised if the police are neutral between criminal and victim.”

and

“Socialism, alas, always leads to tyranny by one route or another.”

We’re in a crisis, there’s no longer a distinction between right and wrong, the police no longer distinguish between criminal and victim and we’re heading towards socialist authoritarianism. But, not to worry, with the danger comes the solution:

“You can deal with Britain’s crime and disorder crisis only by undoing the Left-wing revolution of the Sixties.”

This is presented as common sense – no arguments are adduced. Peter just gives us a series of things he disagrees with, lets the reader nod sagely to the ones he knows about while the rest get through by association and we’re all set for our conclusion. Somehow we’re meant to infer a link between terror legislation, police hair cuts, welfare, the Human Rights Act and the student activities of members of the cabinet, andconclude from it all that law and order has collapsed and we’re heading towards a socialist dictatorship. The fact that there are no links, and that the shopping list of gripes is contradictory and largely imagines is missed in the speed of the attack.

So let’s take a stop back. What would it mean for the distinction between right and wrong to be abolished? Well, we might reasonably expect rape to be legalised, murder to be OK, and to be able to deal drugs, rob houses, commit fraud, lie under oath, assault people or speed, all with impunity. This is not the case. It is, however, harder to hide your wrong-doing with silence¹, it’s harder to get away with crimes on technicalities and the risk of convictions failing because one juror is swayed by non-relevant factors is diminished. Human rights defences protect the innocent from politically motivated attacks, and it is much harder to stich people up without evidence. If anything, the distinction between right and wrong has been more clearly drawn.

The idea that the police are now indifferent to victims is also unsubstantiated, both by argument and in reality. The police cannot hit criminals any more, but beyond that, what is Peter basing this libel on? No police officer I’ve ever met.

Essentially, what we’ve had is a list of real and imagined things which he disagrees with, regardless of their contribution to his argument. The double jeopardy rule was presumably valuable because it was an ancient right, the fact that abolishing it serves the purposes of justice is unimportant. The police are now threatening, delighting in the persecution of the innocent because Peter says they are. The reader picks the bits that chime with his perceptions, based on previous statements in the same publication, until they hit Peter’s conclusion.

That conclusion is persuasive because we all know socialism is bad. It means paying more in taxes, money you have earned, essentially to support charitable cases you’d rather not support. And in that way its tyrannical – it makes you do things you’d rather not. Other things which appear tyrannical include the arresting of members of the opposition and terror laws and so we have a direct line linking the two.

So let’s go back to our earlier list – human rights, double jeopardy, right to silence, majority juries – or the ‘subsidis[ing of] fatherless families‘, ‘deliberately destroy[ing of] discipline in schools‘, ‘transmit[ting of] mental slurry by broadcasters‘. Is any of this tyranny? Tyranny would be sterilising women, beating unruly children and censoring broadcasts. Tyranny would be the police targeting blacks, beating up gays, fitting up Irish people and the ‘obviously guilty’, allowing rape and domestic violence on the quiet. Tyranny would be the rich getting off their drunk-in-charge convictions on technicalities. Tyranny would be homeowners murdering people.

Tyranny is not the rule of law – an independent judiciary backed up by an international court of appeal who will deal with the allegations against Damien Green in due course.

The world which Peter Hitchens writes of is not one that exists. Who are the armed paramilitary social workers? Where is the invisibility between right and wrong? Where is this crisis of law and order? Where is the socialism that’s coming to tyrannise us? There is no basis in reality for these assertions. But in the repeating, the story becomes myth. The things we should welcome we’re told to fear, the people who protect us we’re told to mistrust, the liberalisation of our society becomes oppressive. Peter creates a fear where none exists. On that basis its him we should be afraid of.

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¹ The right to silence hasn’t been abolished – you can remain silent, but if it transpires at your trial that you didn’t say something that would have been relevant to the investigation into your possible guilt then the jury is allowed to take that silence into consideration.

What sort of society have we become when a good Samaritan is kicked to death and a suicidal man jeered by a mob?

Stephen Glover has a problem with statistics:

“Crime, according to some statistics, has fallen in recent years. Others argue convincingly that violent crime has risen. We can bandy about figures as much as we like”

And who could blame him? By their very nature, statistics depersonalise events reducing them from one off incidents of personal significance

“My own teenage son was beaten up in [Oxford] centre a few years ago.”

to a series of numbers in a table

Number of violent crimes per 1,000 population

2002/03

2003/04 2004/05

2005/06

2006/07

Oxford City

24.57

24.51 26.54 28.04 31.82

[Source: Oxfordshire Data Observatory].

They reduce arguments to a counting of beans, as if the numbers themselves were what mattered and not what they represent.

But here’s a thing: I work in Oxford and am yet to be mugged, which presents a bit of a problem. In their isolation, we have conflicting anecdotes. Devoid of context, we can do nothing with them – they speak of an individual experience of crime, but not of the world in which that experience occurred. Significant personally, if anyone else wanted to draw significance from them, they would need to see how they fitted into a wider picture.

There are two ways to get our wider picture. This is Stephen Glover’s

“We can bandy about figures as much as we like, but Frank McGarahan died a shocking death all the same”

In one sentence we move from the thematic to the episodic. From there, it’s just a short jump into the narrative.

“Norwich does not yet have the reputation of Los Angeles. It is a cathedral city where a street murder of this sort would have been scarcely imaginable 20 or 30 years ago.”

Effortlessly, the anecdote moves from being part of a wider empirical world where we can ask questions like ‘how typical’ into being part of a story where typicality is a condition of inclusion. The import of the anecdote is taken as a given; the world is in decline and this proves it.¹

The problem with taking this approach is that by separating events from their context we can use them to confirm almost anything. ² With our conclusion already in place, we can draw on anything we like, drawing post hoc causal links as we go along

“How oddly symbolic, too, that Mr McGarahan’s murder should have happened outside a lap-dancing club.”

As with our conflicting mugging anecdotes though, we have a problem. On its own, each story is just that, a story. In the Mail

“the police sometimes struggle to maintain law and order, where they can seem ineffectual in turning the tide of mindless violence, and where there are terrifying gangs of amoral youths “

At which point, we might wonder whether we need argue. If Stephen Glover thinks the world is getting worse, for him it probably is. This is, in itself, no small tragedy. The story though, perpetuates. There will always be things that shock us, or social policies which offend us, which reflect our decline and feed our fear. Fearful people seek action to reduce their fear, and fear without context demands action which matches. By the time he’s finished, Stephen is applauding mob justice and ‘zero tolerance policing’, which is an easy position to take when you can be sure it won’t be you being mobbed or policed. He tells the story because it justifies his fear and in telling it he spreads that fear. We lose the faculty to evaluate, and the fear becomes free-standing. The risk of crime decreases while its fear increases.

Stephen Glover can never know whether he is right – all he has is perception and belief, unchecked against the real world. Given that the narrative approach he uses moves backwards from conclusion to evidence, he can only ever be right by coincidence, not design. Even if the statistics were as questionable as he claims, chances are he’d be wrong. Which might be something worth considering.

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¹ We can think of these approaches as ‘bottom up’ and ‘top down’ – in the former we take our facts an look for the conclusions we can base on them, in the latter we have our conclusion and look for bolstering evidence.

² From the same starting point, I could tell tale of the heroic rescue of a Lithuanian man by a stranger – someone who would give their life to save someone they’d never met before. Strangers are wonderful – there has always been crime, but it’s surprising how often strangers intervene like guardian angels. We hear about them all the time, from which we can safely conclude that there are a lot of them out there, protecting us.