This is a guest post from Chris Moseley, Owner and Managing Director of Infinite Space PR
There was a time when British bobbies rode bicycles, dressed in full fig policeman’s uniform, complete with Coxcomb helmet and brightly polished buttons on their tunics. This antediluvian fellow – let’s call him PC Pinkleton – would nod to Mrs Peartree, a spinster of this parish out for a walk in her sensible brown brogues, twin set and real pearls, and then wave to the local vicar as he pruned his roses. The worst ‘crime’ that PC Pinkleton might encounter would be a few young lads scrumping for apples in Squire Trelawney’s orchard. A clip around the ear, and a stern lecture on the moral perils of ‘thieving’ and PC Pinkleton’s duty and day were done. Then along came clashes between Mods and Rockers, pitched battles with skinheads, fights with bikers, football hooligans and flying pickets. Throw in a few rioting miners and poll tax protestors and for about a 30 year period life for the English bobby became pretty tough. Just at the point when PC Pinkleton was morphing from Dixon of Dock Green into Robocop, complete with padded riot gear, guns, mace and a US military style helmet, it appears that the uncivil civilian has become tamed.
This is the news, announced this week, that rates of murder and violent crime have fallen more rapidly in the UK in the past decade than many other countries in Western Europe. The UK Peace Index, from the Institute for Economics and Peace, found that UK homicides per 100,000 people had fallen from 1.99 in 2003, to one in 2012. The UK was more peaceful overall, it said, with the reasons for it many and varied. The index found Broadland, Norfolk, to be the most peaceful local council area but Lewisham, London, to be the least. The research by the international non-profit research organisation comes as a separate study by Cardiff University suggests the number of people treated in hospital in England and Wales after violent incidents fell by 14% in 2012. Some 267,291 people required care – 40,706 fewer than in 2011 – according to a sample of 54 hospital units, its report said. BBC home editor Mark Easton called it the “riddle of peacefulness” and said the fall in violence was “perhaps a symptom of a new morality”.
Well, I am just a bit sceptical about all this and more than a little annoyed that the BBC deliberately skirted a really interesting debate and chose instead to pursue an extremely anodyne and rather risible line of discussion. In essence, Mark Easton’s BBC TV and radio pieces concluded with the argument that perhaps as a society we had come to abhor violence. A lovely thought, and while the prospect of peace breaking out all over the place is an attractive one, and I don’t doubt the veracity of the findings of The UK Peace Index, I am more than little dubious about the notion that human nature has altered so markedly in such a short time. Perhaps one of the reasons that the UK in 2013 is more like A Brave New World than the dystopia of A Clockwork Orange is that nearly all of today’s violence is rendered sublimated and vicarious thanks to computer games, combined with the soporific influence of cheap, supermarket-procured booze. Computer games, particularly the violent ones are, after all, a form of Aldous Huxley’s Soma (“All of the benefits of Christianity and alcohol without their defects”), although rather than allowing one to drift into a peaceful state, they act as a cathartic vent. One can enter a virtual world of almost any description, reach for a virtual sword, gun or mace, and proceed to blitz the hell out the “enemy”, which is arguably a form of proxy violence that could instead by directed at one’s boss, a driver in a road rage encounter, the bank manager, even an annoying neighbour. One of the most popular games in the UK today, The Typing of the Dead, confronts the would-be gaming hero with hoards of zombies. Using a keyboard words flash up on the screen which the player needs to type as quickly as possible, thereby killing as many zombies as possible. What a relief to wipe out all those irritating pillocks who inevitably emerge from everyday life without once having to get one’s hands dirty (and what a great lesson in typing too).
Isn’t it possible that we’re just as violent and angry as we used to be? We just express our rage and violence, well, virtually.