Friday, May 26, 2006

Knives and Happiness

As a man gets stabbed to death by a 16 year old over a cigarette, and another teenager gets stabbed outside school, attention must turn to the idea of knife amnesties and just how effective such police-biased measures can have. As pointed out previously, the doublethink existing - nay culturally embedded almost - seems to have reached new heights that should remain only within the minds and scripts of satirical commentators. The contrast between the truth of the situation and the proposals put forward is beyond parody. For example, in the first article, Detective Fox comments quite rightly:

"It is terrible to think that Simon was killed over a disagreement over something as seemingly trivial as a cigarette."

Indeed. Doesn't it make you wonder why anyone would turn to violence of any kind over such a disagreement? what's going on in the boy's head, exactly? Ah but wait, our good Detective goes on to proudly conclude:

"I hope today's court result will show people how dangerous knives can be."

Yes! It was the knife all along! Violence is fine - a swift punch to the head, a brick to the knees, so long as you don't have a sharp, shiny, stabby thing to do it with.

Granted, perhaps it's not the police force's place to indulge in commentary over the social and mental wellbeing of today's youth - after all, maybe they're just here to clean up the mess that gets made after everything else is said and done. But it's this very border - the line between the kind of social interaction we lay out for ourselves (even if we do it unintentionally) and how we react to the consequences - that needs to be looked at. Thoroughly.

The police can be said to exist on one side of this line, I think. The line is fuzzy, admittedly, as "innocent" gradually merges with "suspect" (as we have now) and finally into "guilty of something", Dredd style. But should the police's remit extend to cultural enforcement? No.

The problem is that nobody knows quite where they stand any more. The government, bless their little green socks, has backed right away from any interventionism. Or, not backed away, but rather left to the devices of the market. To back away, one must first be next to it. But culture has always been , and always will be, about independence and localisation. Culture is a personal trait. Thus, it would be fair to say that the government has stood back and encouraged the onset of "mass culture" and the consequences that go with it.

The influence of mass production and the associated atomisation of the individual has left its mark. The so-called "law abiding" public have the resources (and, often, the imposed necessity) to exist in solitary suspension, but they're not sure that's really what they want and so end up overcompensating, in various manners. Meanwhile, politicians observe this floudering and proudly pronounce that happiness is back on the agenda with a vengeance.

But as Frank Furedi points out in a good article, an interventionist view, the imposition of happiness by a therapeutic state, only kills the thing you're looking for. Happiness is not an end, but a by-product, and going after it with national policies is a sure recipe for disaster. As Furedi puts it, "Mass-produced happiness is a contradiction in terms".

I've (finally) been reading Baudrillard's Precession of Simulacra today, which handily contrasts the world we've constructed around us (including Disneyland as an epitome, but only as a distraction from other constructions such as "health food") with both the world we deal with "in reality" and the world we've left behind. I recommend reading the link above. (Plug: further (rough) thoughts here.)

In some ways, when people refer to the "law abiding" section of the population, what they really mean is those that have been distracted sufficiently by this new world that's been mass-constructed, a cage of shiny things that prevents us from realising what the consequences are outside of this world.

An abundance of knives and a lack of happiness are merely indicators, then, of this world we've chosen to ignore, or to leave behind. But either way, it exists and it sits in public spaces. For the "law abiding" amongst us, we're supposedly safe so long as we sit inside private areas. It's time that policies were directed at re-uniting these two worlds, instead of just being squarely aimed at a world that we wish and hope exists, the world that we want to live in instead of the world we do live in.

Or alternatively, we can ban knives and enforce happiness and hope that the old world will just go away.

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