Friday, February 1, 2008

Lucia Chris Trotter says murder and mayhem in NZ is normal

Did everyone get that? The murder and mayhem in NZ is normal, nothing to be worried about, or to get excited about. We can just go back to locking our doors and windows and keeping our handbags close without worrying. Why? Well, Chris Trotter says so.

Here's the article. My comments follow it.

Frenzy of the killer within
FROM THE LEFT - CHRIS TROTTER

Name me just one crime- free nation. Silly question. There's no such place. Dishonesty and violence have been humanity's constant companions for as long as Homo sapiens has been a social species – in other words, forever.

Why then do we allow ourselves to be whipped into a lather by the tragic – but inevitable – instances of violent and anti- social behaviour that blight the lives of our fellow citizens every week?

Has there ever been a week in which nobody was robbed, or defrauded, or beaten up, or killed? Does the historical record contain evidence of even one month in which no burglaries were reported and no dairies robbed? Thirty days during which not a single, normally law-abiding and likeable person hasn't lashed out in an adrenaline-fuelled frenzy to injure or kill another human- being? Of course not.

The latest available statistics show that for the period 1997-2006, 1060 people were listed as homicides in New Zealand. That's an average of 106 homicides a year, or two a week.

This is the fifth week of 2008, so, statistically-speaking, 10 homicides should have been reported.

Guess what? Ten homicides have been reported. In other words, the situation is normal. The only really distinctive component in the homicide statistics from the first five weeks of 2008 is that in every reported case the person involved had been murdered, as opposed to being the victim of attempted murder, manslaughter, illegal abortion, infanticide or assisted suicide.

The police advise that this is not at all unusual. Murder numbers frequently peak around the holiday season, when the number of people under stress, away from their jobs, and routinely intoxicating themselves is greater than at any other time of the year.

However, even allowing for this summer spike, the figure of 10 murders is not exceptionally high. In the course of any five- week period, between six and seven people can be expected to lose their lives in this way. And yet the news media's reporting of these homicides has sent shivers of fear and despair rippling through the population. The airways throb with the anger and indignation of talk-back callers goaded to fury by the populist prognostications of politicians.

The entirely predictable tragedy of 10 homicide victims in the first five weeks of 2008 has thus been transformed into an intractable social crisis, replete with demands for "tougher measures" against everything from graffiti to teenage gangs.

My question, however, is this: what possible combination of "tougher measures" would have made the slightest difference to the latest homicide statistics?

Reviewing the most recent tragedies, we find a young man driven mad by the loss of the woman he loved; a knife drawn and used in the midst of a botched robbery; a drunken gang interrupted in the commission of a serious offence, a gang attack; a bitter domestic dispute suddenly exploding into violence; a normally mild-mannered citizen provoked to murderous rage by repeated assaults on his property.

In each case the offenders would have been in the grip of emotions and instincts so powerful that they had become incapable of making the rational calculations upon which the theory of criminal deterrence is based.

The number of individuals who, having weighed all the risks, can coolly, calmly and "with malice aforethought" take the life of another human being is (thankfully) very small indeed, and our courts do not hesitate to incarcerate them for very long periods.

Most killings, therefore, are the unpremeditated and unintended by-products of fear and/or rage. Somehow the offenders' "fight-or-flight" survival mechanism gets "stuck", and the fight signal is steadily amplified, to the point where only the utter destruction of the perceived threat will pacify the aggressor.

It is possible that there is a genetic component to this phenomenon. Or, it might simply be the deadliest form of learned behaviour – the product of years of being subjected to violent abuse.

The urge to sensationalise murder might itself be the result of the flight-or-fight mechanism malfunctioning on a society-wide basis. By sensationalising violent crime, projecting its causes outwards, and calling for ever more condign punishments to be inflicted upon its perpetrators, are we not fleeing from the knowledge that the same capacity for deadly violence that made a killer of our neighbour lurks inside us as well?

Is our obsessive concern about the violent deeds of others merely a way of escaping from the violence in ourselves?


No, I think our obsessive concern comes from not being allowed to defend ourselves should one of these people "in grip of emotions and instincts so powerful that they had become incapable of making the rational calculations" coming across our paths, and having a police force far more interested in going to alleged child smacking incidents than ensuring the safety of citizens who are told that the police will defend them if they need defending. Maybe in 20 minutes or half an hour, when the police are free, that is.

I think Chris Trotter's biggest concern is really that the NZ public don't go bonkers and start demanding all the social changes made over the last 30 years or so to be wound back. Because they are not working - or they are working too well, depending on what outcome you want.

Related Link: Frenzy of the killer within ~ Stuff

4 comment(s):

Anonymous said...

It's the moon stupid.

Psycho Milt said...

Well, he is right - murder and mayhem is normal. Doesn't stop us trying to reduce it to the minimum though, does it?

MK said...

Yes people kill each other, but the bad guys kill and rob and rape even more when the law-abiding are known to be defenseless. What's his idea on the right to bear arms? I'm thinking, not in favor.

Rick said...

As PM says, Trotter is quite right.

I blogged about the Lethal Janurary before the MSM ran with it and was careful to make that point- that is only *seems* more sensational than usual.

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