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Monday 1 April 2019

Three Pointing Back

Rant time.

It's an interesting thing we do, the apportioning of blame. When something goes a bit pear-shaped, we cast around for somebody to hold responsible. 

At the time of this writing, the UK's premier is holding a summit about the increase in violent crime in the UK. In particular, knife crime is on the rise, with many young people implicated either as victim or perpetrator. 

Of course, the discussion is going to be centred around policing and, indeed, the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, has signed off on extending stop and search powers in seven regions deemed high risk for knife crime.

It seems we've been here before.

I recall when, in the 80s and 90s, the same conversation was being had about gang crime. Then, as now, stop and search powers were extended. Then, those powers were used as the basis for all sorts of things that we'd rightly denounce as abhorrent now; racial profiling, criminalising of the young, etc. Then, as now, public money was thrown at the symptoms, and lots of noise was made about what the government was doing.

Every study on this ever done shows categorically that these measures are entirely ineffective, with only weak correlation between use of these powers and decrease in rates of violent crime.

Another thing that's been cropping up of late is talk about 'material promoting self-harm and suicide' on social media. As somebody deeply entwined in the discussion about mental health and suicide, this is, of course, a hot-button issue for me. Much of the discussion has centred on such material on social media in the mainstream media and, indeed, in Parliament, and...

No, there is no and. That's it. The whole discussion centres around the availability of such material as the driver of suicide and self-harm among young people. 

Here's Jackie Doyle-Price, the Suicide Prevention Minister:
Although suicides among children are relatively rare, I am concerned about increases in suicide and self-harm amongst teenagers. As Suicide Prevention Minister I am personally committed to do whatever we can to prevent suicides in children.

We have challenged social media companies to step up and protect children from harmful suicidal and self-harm content and cyberbullying.
This is quite possibly the most egregious commission of the post hoc fallacy I recall ever coming across.

She does go on to say that funding will be found for mental health services for young people, but that's still only trying to address the symptom, and that's setting aside that how mental health is treated in this country, and in the world at large, is often a driver of increased poor mental health. I'll be returning to the latter point shortly.

As somebody who's been deeply involved in the discussion about mental health and suicide for some considerable time, and having come close to completing on more than one occasion, it's of some interest to me that I've never encountered material that promotes self-harm and suicide. I've spoken to many people who ideate regularly, and who talk about self-harming, yet I haven't seen this.

What this tells us, of course, is that you only find this material if you go looking for it, which in turn tells us that this is a symptom of poor mental health, rather than, as it's painted by the media and government, a driver of it. Nobody commits suicide because they saw material talking about suicide online. They find material talking about suicide online because they're suicidal. 

That the public discussion of such issues focusses around who's responsible for the symptom, rather than who's responsible for the underlying cause, is one of the real problems we face. All else aside, it increases stigmatisation of mental health issues and undermines efforts to normalise it. This is a discussion that we really need to be having, and we need to be having it in the open, or we have no hope of ever addressing the stigma.

We hear today on Victoria Derbyshire the story of the parents of a 27 year-old woman from Birmingham who's effectively been imprisoned for thirteen years after battling depression and an eating disorder, via being sectioned under the mental health act. We're told that, in one of the hospitals she was in, she was locked in a single room for nine weeks, with nothing to occupy her, no bedding, only a tv in a cage on the wall. Her father beautifully encapsulates what an egregious violation of the foundation of all morality this is:
Can you even envisage another situation where a human being is locked up on the presumption of guilt?
That we can so easily cast aside the notion of bodily autonomy is among the most deeply troubling of notions to me. Having been sectioned under this act myself - I was released pretty quickly after tearing a strip off the psychiatrist who came to assess me (he did tell me to calm down, after all; psych 101) - I know that, for me, it made matters much worse, and resulted in me shutting down. I'm not sure yet whether I'll ever be able to openly discuss my mental health or emotional state again.

There is plenty of material promoting self-harm and suicide, and far too little space given to the broader discussion about mental health, and indeed about suicide. What little discussion there is seems to be couched in terms of who's to blame, with fingers pointing every which way and doing a passable impersonation of the eponymous boy in the tale about the dyke.

In all of this discussion, no thought whatsoever is given to the root cause of all of this. In an earlier outing, I talked about how:
An economy is a system of promises. The currency itself is a reification of an abstract expression of the number of promises, and therefore the amount of energy available in the system.The promises are the resources of the system. As with evolution, the system benefits most when there are a lot of resources available. Species thrive in such environments. More importantly, though, because the system is based entirely on promises, there's something that can radically affect the number of promises in the system; confidence. When the system takes a knock, as it inevitably will, there's always an impact on confidence in the system, which manifests itself as a lack of new promises paid into the system (we stop buying). This is when we experience recession, as people hoard their promises, starving the system of input.
And this is the real tale; the real cause: poverty.

The Tories will wax lyrical about how employment is at record high rates, paying no attention to zero-hours contracts, or the fact that people are working two jobs and still have to use food banks because they haven't enough to make ends meet. All of this, of course, while - despite the government's love of their austerity measures that don't work and run counter to everything we know about how economy works - they sit in their shiny suits in their shiny, chauffeur-driven cars a couple of hundred yards on the public purse.

Poverty of hope and aspiration is the most damaging weapon against a society, and the clowns currently failing to lead this country wield it like a flaming sword of righteousness, all while having no idea of what living in the real world is like. They strip away public services, and engender a poverty that goes well beyond mere fiduciary concerns and burrows deep into the psyche of the nation, leaving scars every bit as deep as those inflicted by knives. In my day, it was the threat of nuclear armageddon. Today it's austerity, and a climate crisis concerning which our so-called leaders are being shaded by the awetistic Greta Thunberg, among others. Elsewhere in the world, those trying to secure better futures for their children are vilified as 'illegal' or 'a threat', with the real threat being overlooked as the source of these accusations. 

Kids joined gangs back in the 80s and 90s because being a member of a gang gave some sense that somebody had their backs, something sorely lacking in the leadership of the time. Today's surge in knife crime is no different. Young people find material about self-harm and suicide online because they suffer the same lack from a society that's failing them, and robbing them of their future. Their hopes and aspirations have been so crippled by poverty, not just economic poverty, but poverty of hope; poverty of aspiration; poverty of responsibility in their leadership. In us, the architects of their futures. 

Of course, it's much easier to point a finger, because then you can make it look to your electorate that you're actually doing something useful. It's all window-dressing. Pure political flim-flam, and we lap it up and believe the words flowing out of both sides of their mouths, amply aided by the mainstream media.

The future of our children is our responsibility. All of us. It's said that it takes a society to raise a child. The most important responsibility in all of that is the nurturing of hope; of aspiration; of tomorrow.

Remember that, when you point the finger, there are always three pointing back.

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