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The power of the written word: fact, fiction and reality

“‘LONG LIVE FREEDOM OF SPEECH'” by Newtown grafitti is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The written word is so powerful, crucial to our understanding and yet so easily abused.  So often what gets written is unregulated, even when written in the newspapers.  Whilst the press is supposedly regulated independently, we have to question how much regulation actually occurs. Freedom of the press is extremely important, so is free speech but I do wonder where we draw the line. Is freedom of speech more important than regulating damaging vitriolic hyperbole and rhetoric? Is freedom of speech more important than truth?

We only have to read some of the sensationalist headlines in some newspapers to realise that the truth is less important than the story.  What we read in papers is about what sells not about reality. The stories probably tell us more about the writer and the editor than anything else. We more often than not know nothing about the circumstances or individuals that are being written about. Stories are told from the viewpoint of others that purport to be there, or are an ‘expert’ in a particular field. The stories are just that, stories, they may represent one person’s reality but not another’s. Juicy parts are highlighted, the dull and boring downplayed.  Whilst this can be aimed at newspapers, can the same not be said about other forms of media?

A few weeks ago, I was paging through LinkedIn on my phone catching up with the updates I had missed. Why I have LinkedIn I don’t really know.  I think its because a long time ago when I was about to go job hunting someone told me it was a good idea. Anyway, I digress, what caught my eye was a number of people congratulating Rachel Swann on becoming the next Chief Constable of Derbyshire.  I recognised her from the news, remember the story when the dam was about to burst?

It wasn’t the fact that she’d been promoted that caught my eye, it was the fact that someone had written that she should ignore the trolls on Twitter. I had a quick look to see what they were on about. To say they were vitriolic is an understatement. But all of the comments based her ability to do the job on her looks and her sexuality.  I thought to myself at the time, how do you get away with this? I doubt that any of those people that wrote those comments have any idea about her capabilities. Unkind, rude and I dare say hurtful comments, made that are totally unregulated. The comments say more about the writers than they do about Rachel Swann. You don’t get to the position of Assistant Chief Constable let alone Chief Constable without having displayed extraordinary qualities.

And then I think about Twitter and the nonsense that people are allowed to write on this medium. President Trump is a prime example.  There isn’t a day that goes by without him writing some vitriolic nonsense about someone or some nation.  Barack Obama used to be in his sights and now it’s Joe Biden. I know nothing about any of them, but if I follow the Trump twit feed, they are incompetent fools and disaster looms if Biden is elected as president.  As I said before, sometimes what is written says more about the writer than anyone else.

I’m conscious that I’m writing this for a blog and many that read it don’t know me.  Blogs are no different to other media outlets.  If I am to criticise others for what they have written, then I ought to be careful about what I write and how.  I have strong views and passionately believe in free speech, but I do not believe that the privilege I have been given allows me to be hurtful to others. My views are my views and sometimes I think readers get a little glimpse of the real me, the chances are they have a better idea about me than what I am writing about.  I write with a purpose and often from the heart, but I try not to be unkind nor stretch the truth or tell outright lies. I value my credibility and if I believe that people know more about me than the story, I owe it to myself to try to be true to my values. I just wish sometimes that when people write for the newspapers, post comments on Twitter or write blogs that they thought about what they are writing and indulged in a bit of self-reflection. Maybe they don’t because they wont like what they see.

“I can’t breathe”: Criminology, Science and Society

Sometimes the mind wanders; the associations it produces are random and odd, but somehow, they connect.  In the book of Genesis, there is reference to the first murder.  Cain murdered Abel with a stone making it the original murder weapon.  After some questioning from God, who acted as an investigating officer, and following a kind-of admission, God then assumed the role of the judge and jury, sentencing him to wander the earth.  This biblical tale is recounted by all three main monotheistic religions, a what to do in the case of murder.  The murderer is morally fallen and criminally dealt by with a swift punishment. 

There is no reason to explore the accuracy of the tale because that is not the point.  Religion, in the absence of science, acted as a moral arbitrator, sentencing council and overall the conscience of society.  In a society without science, the lack of reason allows morality to encroach on personal choices, using superstition as an investigative tool.  As scientific discovery grew, the relevance of religion in investigation was reduced.  The complexity of society required complex institutions that cared for people and their issues.   

When the Normans landed in England, they brought with them a new way of dealing with disputes and conflict. Their system of arbitration, using the King as a divine representative, was following Roman tradition and theology but it soon became apparent that a roaming court may not be as efficient. The creation of the magistrates and the statutes on legal representation introduced the idea of bringing professionals into justice. The creation of new institutions fostered the age of the scholar, who uses evidence-based practice.

This new approach removed more religious practices, instead favouring the examination of facts, the investigation of testimony and the study of law.  It was a long way away from the system we know now as the witch trials can attest to; a number of whom took place in East Anglia (including Northampton).  In the end the only thing that has been left from the early religious trials is the oath witness take when they submit their testimony.* 

The more we learn the better we become in understanding the world around us. The conviction that science can resolve our problems and alleviate social issues was growing and by the 19th century was firm. The age of discovery, industrialisation and new scientific reasoning introduced a new criminal justice system and new institutions (including the police). Scientific reasoning proposed changes in the penal code and social systems. Newly trained professionals, impervious to corruption and nepotism, were created to utilise a new know-how to investigate people and their crimes.

Training became part of skilling new mandarins in a system that reflected social stratification and professionalism. The training based on secular principles became focused on processes and procedures. The philosophy on the training was to provide a baseline of the skills required for any of the jobs in the system. Their focus on neutrality and impartiality, seemed to reflect the need for wider social participation, making systems more democratic. At least in principle that was the main idea. Over centuries of public conflict and social unrest the criminal justice system was moving onto what people considered as inclusive.

Since then the training was incorporated into education, with the new curriculum including some BTECs, diplomas, foundation studies and academic degrees that take on a variety of professions from investigative fields to law enforcement and beyond. This academic skilling, for some was evidence that the system was becoming fairer and their professionals more educated. Police officers with knowledge of the system, akin to lawyers to the probation service and so on. So far so good…but then how do we explain the killing of George Floyd? Four officers trained, skilled, educated and two of them experienced in the job.

If this was a one, two three, four, -offs then the “bad apple” defence seems to be the most logical extrapolation on what went wrong.  If, however this is not the case, if entire communities are frightened of those who allegedly serve and protect them, then there is “something rotten in the state of Denmark”.  Whilst this case is American, it was interesting to read on social media how much it resonated, in communities across the globe of those who felt that this was nothing more than their own everyday experience with law enforcement.  For them, police is merely a mechanism of repression. 

Since the murder I have read a number of analyses on the matter and maybe it worth going a bit further than them. In one of them the author questioned the validity of education, given than two of the officers in the Floyd case hold a criminal justice and a sociology degree respectively. There is a vein of truth there; educators have some responsibility to forge and promote professional conduct and ethical practice among their alumnus. There are however some other issues that have not been considered and it is time for these to be brought to the surface.

Education or training alone is not adequate to address the complexities of our society. Social awareness, cultural acceptance and the opportunity to reflect on the rules using problem solving and insight are equally important. Foucault has long argued that the justice system is inherently unfair because it preserves privileges and blocks anyone outside from challenging it. Reflecting on that, all major constitutional changes took place after a revolution or a war, indicating the truism in his observation.

If we are to continue to train people on procedures and processes the “bad apples” are likely to strike again. The complexity of social situations requires an education that ought to be more rounded, critical and evaluative. If a doctor takes an oath to do no harm, then so should every other professional who works in their community. If the title of the office is more appealing than the servitude, then the officer is not fulfilling their role. If we do not recognise equality among all people, then no training will allow us to be fair. Suddenly it becomes quite clear; we need more education than less, we need knowledge instead of information and we need more criminology for those who wish to serve the system.

*Even that can now be given as an affirmation

“Things you need to know about criminology”: A student perspective – Mary Adams, recent Graduate and mature student.

Vincent van Gogh – The Prison Courtyard (1890)
We are all living in very strange times, not sure when life will return to normal...but if you're thinking about studying criminology, here is some advice from those best placed to know!

The most important module to my understanding of criminology is: I would have to say they are all equally important for understanding different aspects of Criminology. In first year I loved The Science of Crime which showed how things have evolved over time, and that what we now see as funny was actually cutting edge in its day. True Crime also makes you look beyond the sensational headlines and separate fact from fiction. In second year Crime & Justice gave a brilliant grounding in the inner workings, and failings, of the criminal justice system. And in third year, the Violence module explores personal and institutional violence, which is especially relevant in current times

The academic criminology book you must read: Becker’s Outsiders and Cohen’s Folk Devils and Moral Panics are a must. I also found Hopkins-Burke’s An Introduction to Criminological Theory and Newburn’s Criminology essential reading for first year as well as Finch & Fafinski’s Criminological Skills. For second year I recommend Davies, Croall & Tyrer’s Criminal Justice. If you choose the Violence module in third year you will be grateful for Curtin & Litke’s Institutional Violence. And don’t forget Foucault’s Discipline & Punish!

The academic journal article you must read:
There are so many excellent journal articles out there, it’s difficult to choose! Some of my favourites have been:
'Alphonse Bertillon & the measure of man' by Farebrother & Champkin;
'Bad Boys, Good Mothers & the ‘’Miracle’’ of Ritalin by Ilina Singh';
'Detainee Abuse & the Ethics of Psychology' by Kathryn French;
'Attachment, Masculinity & Self-control' by Hayslett-McCall & Bernard;
'Grenfell, Austerity & Institutional Violence' by Cooper & Whyte;
'The Phenomenology of Paid Killing' by Laurie Calhoun;
'A Utilitarian Argument Against Torture Interrogation of Terrorists' by J. Arrigo.

The criminology documentary you must watch:
Without a doubt, a must-see is the Panorama documentary London Tower Fire: Britain’s Shame. I would also highly recommend the movie The Stanford Prison Experiment

The most important criminologist you must read:
Of course you must read Lombroso, Beccaria & Bentham. I also enjoyed reading work by feminist criminologists like Pat Carlen, Carol Smart & Sandra Walklate. And of course, Angela Davis is a must!

Something criminological that fascinates me:
What fascinates me is how the powers that be, and a good proportion of the public, cannot seem to realise that social injustice is one of the major factors behind why people commit crime. And the fact that putting more & more people in prison is seen as a ‘good’ thing is mind-boggling!

The most surprising thing I know about criminology is:
The fact that it is such a diverse subject & incorporates so many other disciplines

The most important thing I've learnt from studying criminology is:
Question everything! Don’t take anything at face-value. Try to look beyond the attention grabbing headlines to find out the real story. Read, read, read!

The most pressing criminological problem facing society is:
Unfortunately I think there are many pressing problems facing society today, the main ones being social injustice & inequality, systemic racism, institutional violence, and mass incarceration


When family and friends ask, I tell them criminology is:
Some people joke that I’m learning how to be a criminal! Others think it’s all about locking people up! I tell them it’s all about looking at the mechanisms in-built in our society that disadvantage & discriminate against whole groups of people, and that, unless we are part of the rich & powerful elite, any one of us could find ourselves in the ‘out’ group at any time. I also tell them to stop reading The Daily Mail, vote Labour, and question everything!!


A racist and no solution

Photo by King’s Church International on Unsplash

I am a white, middle class some might say (well my students anyway), ageing, male.  I wasn’t always middle class, I’m from working class stock. I’m a university lecturer now but wasn’t always. I spent 30 years in the police service in a small, ethnically diverse, county in England.  I didn’t consider myself a racist when I was in the police service and I don’t consider myself a racist now.  Nobody has called me a racist to my face, so why the title? It’s how I’m constantly labelled.  Every time someone says the police are racist or the police are institutionally racist, they are stating that about me. Just because I have left the police organisation doesn’t change who I am, my beliefs or my values.  So, if the police are racist, then by default, I must be.

I’m not suggesting that some police officers are not racist, of course some are. Nor am I denying that there has been and probably still is some form of institutional racism within the police service, perhaps as a whole or perhaps at a more localised or departmental level. But bad apples and poorly thought-out, naïve or even reckless policies, strategies and procedures are not enough to explain what is going on in policing and policing of ethnic minority groups in particular. I’m talking about policing in this country, not across the pond where policing is very different in so many ways that it is hard to even suggest a realistic comparison. That of course is the first problem, what happens in the United States of America is immediately translated into what happens here.

As a lecturer, I constantly hear from students and read students’ work about the racist and brutal police, often interchanging commentary from the United States with commentary here in the United Kingdom, whilst also failing to recognise that there is different policing in Scotland and Northern Ireland.  Institutional racism, as defined by Macpherson, is now part of the lexicon, but it no longer has the meaning Macpherson gave it, it is now just another way of saying the police are and every police officer is racist. Some students on finding out that I was a police officer show an instant dislike and distrust of me and sometimes it can take the whole three years to gain their trust, if at all.  Students have been known to request a different dissertation supervisor, despite the fact that their research subject is in policing.  This is not a complaint, just a statement of facts, painful as it is.

As I try to make sense of it all, I have so many unanswered questions. What is exactly going on? What is causing this conflict between the police and ethnic minority groups? Why is there a conflict, why is there distrust? More importantly, how can it be fixed? Some of the answers may lay in what the police are asked to do, or at least think they are asked to do. Reiner suggests that policing is about regulating social conflict, but which conflict and whose conflict is it? Other authors have suggested that the police are simply a means to allow the rich and privileged to maintain power. There may be some merit in the argument, but most policing seems to take place in areas of deprivation where the disadvantaged are committing crimes against the disadvantaged. The rich and powerful of course commit crimes but they are nowhere near as tangible or easy to deal with. One the problems might be that the rich and powerful are not particularly visible to policing but the disadvantaged are.

Maybe some of the answers lay in notions of stereotyping, sometimes even unconsciously. Experience or narratives of experiences cause a wariness, even a different stance to one people might normally assume. Being thumped on the nose by a drunk, does tend to make a person wary of the next drunk they encounter. So, could stereotyping be a problem on both sides of the divide? My dissertation student that didn’t want me as a supervisor was later to reveal experiences of racist abuse aimed at the police officers she went out on patrol with.  Policing is dominated by white males and despite recruitment drives to address the ethnicity gap, this really hasn’t been that successful.  If it was meant to help solve a problem, it hasn’t.

I get the sense though that the problem is much deeper routed than policing.  Policing and the problems of policing is just a sub plot in a much wider issue of a divided society and one that is in constant conflict with itself.  If the police are guilty of racism, then it is society that has caused this.  Our society’s values, our society’s beliefs. An unequal society where the poorest suffer the most and the rich get richer regardless.  A society where we are all equal but only because someone somewhere said so at some time, it is not reality.  I think of Merton’s ‘American Dream’, I don’t buy into the whole concept, but there is something about not having opportunities, equally when I think of Lea and Young and the concept of relative deprivation, whilst not explaining all crime, it has some merit in that notion that the disenfranchised have no voice. 

As I write this I am conscious that I have commentated on a very emotive subject particularly at this time.  As I watch the events unfold in America, I fear the worst, action followed by reaction. Both becoming increasingly violent and I see the possibility of it happening in this country. I fear that the term ‘police racism’ will become another convenient label.  Convenient in the sense that the problems are seen solely as that of policing. If we examine it through a different lens though, we might just find that policing is simply part of the whole rotten tree, society. Fix society and you fix policing. If the label racist fits, it fits the society we live in.  

Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

Things I Miss (And Don’t) – Bethany

I was inspired by @5teveh’s post about what things we may be struggling to be without, as well as what beauty we are finding in this new way of living.

I think it’s easier to start with what I don’t miss, which like many I am sure, is commuting. Some days I can commute a total of 3 hours round trip, and I am not even doing a lot of miles, but traffic is just bad. That’s 2 I guess, commuting and traffic. While I am at it, I don’t miss the things that go along with a long journey, such as trying to make up for the time I feel I’ve lost or, to be honest, thinking about my journey – that in itself can be a burden.

Me time! now, this isn’t a strictly-miss/don’t miss but rather something I have gained more of in the lockdown. Like us all, we have more time to ourselves, which for me has meant more time for reading. I tend to read every day anyway, but with the added time I’ve managed to devour 10 books in my 4 weeks of lockdown.

I am lucky that I am not in lockdown alone, I have my partner and my beautiful dog, who luckily is so small she doesn’t need frequent walks. However, this leads me on to what I miss. I miss walking freely with my partner and the dog, deep in the countryside, saying hello to other dog walkers and letting the dogs play, walking with friends and family and chatting while taking in the fresh air. This is one of my favourite things to do. It clears my mind and I miss it every day.

As mentioned above, but also like everyone, I miss my family, I do not live that close to my family, so when I visit them or they visit me, it’s a real occasion, for which we have planned what we will do, where we will eat and when the next visit will be. Not knowing when this will be is the hardest.

I think I echo others when I say that I miss the freedom and miss having (or at least the feeling of having) some control. I am aware of my privilege, I know the lockdown can bring the worst out of us sometimes, we moan about things that can seem trivial, especially when others are suffering more. I feel guilty, more than I did before I was forced to think about it every day. I miss not feeling guilty that I could be doing productive things like others, like filling every second with yoga (never done yoga before- why now?) or some other new activity.

The lockdown has made me think more simply, think of things day by day, there is joy in that, but I also take joy in picturing the moment where it all feels a bit better, I don’t think that will be the day the lockdown ends, but in months maybe, where I’ll be on a walk amongst the trees, with my favourite people and my favourite dog.

Things I miss (and don’t) – Jes

Considering what I miss/do not miss during this time has led me to the conclusion that I am extremely privileged and fortunate. And in a sense it shames me that the things I miss or do not miss are exceptionally minor in the grand scheme of things. Nevertheless…

At the beginning of lockdown I was, as I am sure many were, struggling to cope with the concept of time. What was time now I spent every day at home? What day of the week was it? After a few days of feeling quite unsettled by this, I soon accepted and believed that I did not miss time, as with time can restrictions, deadlines and an atmosphere of rushing. I enjoyed taking my time with mundane household chores, with reading in the sunshine, pottering around, playing video games, answering emails: all without having to rush. However fast forward to today and I miss time. I miss having to rush to fit things in, or making a decision about what will have to wait till another day because I do not have time today. And I really miss being able to tell (without looking at a calendar) what day it is.

Like many, I also miss my family, friends and colleagues. I have older relatives who I am facetiming often, but normally would only see once maybe twice a year (they live a fair distance away), and I am making a mental note to make more of an effort to see them when we return to whatever will constitute normalcy. But is this an empty thought? Will I actually make more of an effort? I see lots on social media about how this has made us more grateful and aware, but is this just empty reflection? When push comes to shove will we just fall back into the same problematic ways? Maybe some will, maybe some won’t: I am hopeful I won’t, but I am not making this statement with conviction. Whilst I miss seeing my family, I am thankful that we are able to keep in regular contact and in some ways I talk more regularly with my family now than before lockdown.

Rather than what I do not miss, I will share what I am enjoying whilst in lockdown (even though it is not the same as not missing something). I like how empty the roads are: I have started to run around Northampton via walkways and roads as part of my daily exercise rather than the park routes which I used to do. The roads are empty and it is lovely! I am enjoying (in my experience) how smiley people are towards supermarket workers and hope that it is genuine. I am also enjoying not driving: I rarely drive nowadays anyway, but I would drive to the gym on the occasional evening and to visit friends. As time has very little meaning to me currently, and I live close to local amenities, I am walking everywhere which is pleasant.

It is a strange time and whilst I think there are lots of things I miss, I am not sure that there actually are. I am lucky in the sense that I have (at least I feel like I have) adapted well to being in lockdown. So whilst there are a number of little things I think I miss, actually I’m getting by well enough to question if I actually miss them. Although, in all honesty, I miss being able to walk to the shop as frequently as required for chocolate! This once a week shopping is resulting in me buying lots of chocolate, and eating it within the first half of the week and leaving me all stroppy when we run out! I think if I was unable to go out daily for exercise, and ran out of coffee, then I would not feel as relaxed as I currently do.

Things I Miss, or Introverts vs Coronavirus

Photo by Masaaki Komori on Unsplash

The thing I hate most about self-isolation is how quickly I eased into this new pace of life. Is that the privilege of having somewhere to self-isolate to or does it come with having an introverted personality? Before quarantine, many would perceive me as a mild-mannered individual. I ask a lot of questions. I guess that’s where my affinity for journalism comes from. Yet, in a global crisis, not much has changed. For someone that suffers from anxiety, one would think I would have more emotional unrest during the worst public health crisis in a generation. But no. I’m content, staying at home.

Whilst this pandemic has been liberating for me, it has shown how much privilege I still have despite being at three disadvantages in society: the colour of my skin, my invisible disability and being an introvert in a world designed for extroverts. Yet, cabin fever does set in once in a blue moon and sometimes it does feel like Groundhog Day. Despite being at comfort in my own space, my concept of time is being challenged. Like, what is a weekend? Not even Bill Murray can save me from this paradox. Not my books, nor Disney+ subscription, films, or The Doctor, Martha and that fogwatch.

Photo by Dominik Scythe on Unsplash

What I hate about being an introvert in the buzz term of today – “unprecedented times” – is how I’m not suffering like my extroverted friends. Perhaps this is what it means to live in society designed to accommodate you. The world outside of a health crisis – is this what it’s like? Imagine if I also happened to be an able-bodied, White, straight man as well? Just imagine. Today, extroverts are suffering. Ambiverts are suffering. When this is over will we see an increase in agoraphobia?

And in a society where extroverts are privileged over introverts, the outgoing outspoken marketing professional is valued more than the introverted, reclusive schoolteacher.

Yet, today, we are seeing the value of nurses, doctors, teachers, lecturers / academics and so forth. Many of whom will be introverts going against the grain of what feels normal to them. The person seen to be outgoing and talking and networking is regarded as a team player, in comparison to the freelance blogger or journalist writing away on their computer at home. Many of my teacher friends that talk for a living also love to recluse in their homes, as drinking your own drinks and eating your own food in your own house is great. Can you hear the silence, the world in mute? Priceless.

In my job, I recall in the training we did the Myers-Briggs test in order to get to know each other better. Safe to say I was 97% introvert, which had increased somewhat since I was a student. Coincidence, I think not. In a job where I also go to meetings for a living, and network and people (if I can make a verb out of people), it can be draining. The meetings, the networking, the small talk, the different hats and masks people wear.

As awful as Coronavirus is, I will go back to my intro in saying that this new pace of life is almost like a dream, with intermittent periods of cabin fever. I can recharge my life batteries when I want. I can be alone when I want. I can read, watch films and television series when I want. I like to engage in activities that require critical thought. Self-isolation has given ample time for that. And good things have come from my introspection. Moreover, many conversations with myself. No, I’m not Bilbo Baggins. However, to talk with oneself is freeing. It’s the first sign of intelligence, don’t ya know?

But self-isolation to me and many of my introvert colleagues, it’s our normal. Social distancing is a farce because we are still being social. “Physical distancing” is a better term. Not in this era of WhatsApp, Instagram and Zoom, we’ve never been more social. Coronavirus has shown us a social solidarity that I thought I would not see in my lifetime. To put it bluntly, Coronavirus has pretty much eliminated the quite British obsession of small talk, and given me opportune moments to think.

Whilst my extrovert colleagues want to have that picnic in the park, I’m quite happy to sit in the garden. There lies another privilege. Simultaneously, I seldom feel the need to go out. Where I miss my cinema trips, I remember Netflix, Amazon Prime, Britbox and Disney+. Sure they’re not IMAX but they’ll do. I miss the pub but there’s the supermarket with all sorts of choices of IPA to choose from. Indeed, I have found solace in having my access stripped right back. The freedom to choose afforded to me because I work and live in a “developed country” (I use this term loosely).

For those of us that live in Britain, Coronavirus has swiftly shown that we live in a first-world country with a third-world healthcare system and levels of poverty – highly-skilled medical professionals in a perilously underfunded NHS systematically cut for the last ten years by the Tories.

Unlike University, I can mute social media for a couple of hours, and do some reading. I hate that I am so comfortable, whilst others are not. I often think about international students shafted by visa issues, and rough sleepers who don’t have the privilege of thinking about self-isolation. What about those having to self-isolate in tower blocks like Grenfell? What if we were to have another tragedy like Grenfell during a public health crisis? I hate how Coronavirus has exposed underlying inequalities, and how after this, these systems of power will likely carry on like it’s business as usual.

I don’t feel defeated or bored but the other inequalities in society do make me worry. Having been a victim of racism ten times over, both by individuals and institutions, I know that racism is its own disease and it won’t simply go on holiday because we’re in a pandemic. I know increasing police powers will disproportionately impact people from Black backgrounds, especially in working-class communities, but as Black people (pre-Coronavirus) at a rate of nine times more likely to be stopped and searched than a White person in Northamptonshire is bad enough, isn’t it?

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

This solitude has pushed me creatively with my poetry and own blogs. Take Eric Arthur Blair, or George Orwell as he was known; when he was sick with TB, he wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four. The book we now lord about today is essentially a first draft. Rushed. A last bout before death. In my isolation, I’m excited for the number of dystopian texts that will come out of Coronavirus, particularly political narratives on how Britain and America reacted. I’m looking forward to artistic expression and if the British public will hold the Government to account. One could argue their thoughtlessness, and support of genocide (herd immunity) is a state crime.

Whilst it is easy to blame the Chinese government, our own government have a lot to answer for and metaphorically speaking, someone (or quite a few people) need to hang.

A good friend and confidant has implored me to write a book as a project. Being naturally inward in my personality, I could do it. Though, I have my reservations. Perhaps I could write a work of genius that goes on to define a generation. Nonetheless, I observe that during lockdowns around the world, there will be both introverts and extroverts applying their minds to art and creativity. Writing books. Painting pictures. Discovering theories, like Isaac Newton did when he was “confined” to his estate during the Plague in 1665.

One day the curve will flatten: we will see each other again at the rising of the sun, folks say we must make use of this time; however, this is unprecedented, so it is also perfectly okay to be at peace with your loved ones, cherish those moments, and do absolutely nothing of consequence at all.

Hypocrites or just human?

At a time of a significant religious festival in the Christian calendar and at a time of global anxiety, sacrifice and distress, it seems apt to reflect on where we stand in it all.

Like most, I watch the television, listen to the radio, tap into social media (albeit only on limited occasions), receive emails and listen to family, friends and colleagues.

I am amazed by the sacrifice that some people make to protect or look after others and yet dismayed by the actions and comments of some.  And yet as I ponder on the current situation I realise that it only brings into focus behaviours, actions and comments that were already there.  Perhaps, the circumstances have allowed some to shine or provided more of a focus on those that already do outstanding things, and this is a good thing but human nature as it is, doesn’t really change. Here are a few examples, I’m sure if you reflect on these you will think of more.

  • We lament at the inequality in the world, but we do little about it.  Instead, we fight to buy up all the toilet rolls that we can, lest we run out.
  • We complain the government haven’t done enough in the current crisis and then flout the guidelines they gave us on social gatherings and movement or cause others to do so (did you really need that Amazon order?)
  • We complain about our work conditions, but we are content for the company or organisation to continue paying us, often saying they don’t pay us enough
  • We are upset by colleagues who do us a disservice and then denigrate others because of their so-called ineptitude
  • We complain about being bullied but go on to display the same bullying behaviours that we complained about
  • We call people misogynistic but then in the same breath suggest that the world would be better without men or that women do a better job
  • We accuse people of being racist but then use derogatory and stereotypical language to describe those that we accuse
  • We condemn those that we see as privileged and suggest they should give up their wealth and status. And yet we fail to consider our own privilege and are not prepared to give up what we have (see the first comment re inequality)
  • We see the criminal justice system as unfair but would be the first to complain if we were a victim of crime and the offender wasn’t brought to justice. What we see as justice is dependent on the impact the wrongful act has on us
  • We commit crimes, albeit perhaps minor ones or committed crimes when we were younger and didn’t know better, yet we castigate others for being criminal.  Welfare cheats are awful, but tax payments are to be avoided

I could go on, but I think by now you get the general idea. I’ll return to religion if I may, not that I’m religious, but I did start off the blog with an acknowledgement of the timing in line with the Christian calendar: “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her”, (John, 8:7).  Maybe we should be a little more honest with ourselves and think about what we say or do before we judge and condemn others.  I do wonder though, are we all hypocrites, or is it part of the pathology of just  being human?

Never fear…. Spring is almost here

David Hockney (2011) The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire, 2011
https://shop.royalacademy.org.uk/david-hockney-arrival-of-spring-poster

There is no doubt, we are living in a time of crisis. Everywhere we look there are signs of disorder, disruption and chaos, impinging on our real and virtual lives. You can see it in the faces of family, friends, colleagues, the old and the young from children to pensioners, and everyone in between. There is nothing else on anyone’s lips beyond what they’ve heard, what they’ve seen, how they’ve prepared, or haven’t for this human disaster. Scientific words like Covid-19, Coronavirus, criminological words such as isolation, criminalisation and newly minted words; social distancing are being pushed into conversations. These appear alongside the more prosaic questions, which shops have bread? toilet rolls? milk? eggs? Is this open, is that open, can I get there, am I allowed to go out?

Over the past week I have seen this fear develop, evolve and spread. It threatens to swallow us all up in our panic. Many people, myself included, are desperately trying to maintain the everyday, the mundane, some routine, some semblance of normality. My institution is trying to be supportive, lots of extra email, how to move your teaching online, what advice to give students, how to look after your mental and physical health and that of others, at a time like this. All of this advice is well-intentioned and aims to alleviate fear, after all scientia potentia est, or so we are told.

The problem with trying to recreate our real lives in a virtual environment is far more profound than simply changing our modes of operation. When people are worried, frightened and saddened, no amount of pretending that it is “business as usual” will distract them from the everyday lived experience. We can pretend, but when you are worried about your own health, that of your family, when you don’t know where you are going to be able to get the basics of life from, and for many, how on earth you will be able to pay for it with limited or no income, everything else pales into insignificance.

So far we have seen so much evidence of privilege: those that aren’t worried because they’re healthy, those that stockpile food and other essential products, because they can afford to and those that isolate themselves in the lap of luxury, because they have access to money, property and contacts. All of which feeds the fear by the second, minute and hour. Competing with this negativity are the stories around kindness, the narratives from the NHS, the police, carers, shop workers, the list goes on showing that the human spirit is still burning strong, that we have a choice about our behaviour, our thoughts and our feelings. That we can make a difference, if only we want to.

This week has felt like a nightmare, so dark, so stressed, the walls are closing in on all of us, forcing us into confinement. We look out of the window and nobody is moving outside. It has all the ingredients of my favourite genre, dystopic fiction, but this time we’re all fully immersed and we have no idea how the novel ends. How many will die, how many will find their finances, relationships, employment, education disrupted and/or destroyed?

That changed for me yesterday, when I stumbled upon a message from the artist David Hockney. The message was incredibly simple ‘Do remember they can’t cancel the spring’. I should declare in advance, I am a little biased, he’s one of my favourite artists, but with Hockney’s simple statement he touched on a profound truth. We are humans, infinitely resourceful, extremely adaptable, incredibly social.

Look after yourselves and each other, if not face to face, then virtually. Check in, touch base and create a life line for each other. But also remember to take some time away from the screens, look out of the window and remember the world is still a beautiful place, filled with many wonders, including humankind.

David Hockney, (2020), Do Remember They Can’t Cancel the Spring
https://www.theartnewspaper.com/comment/a-message-from-david-hockney-do-remember-they-can-t-cancel-the-spring?fbclid=IwAR2iA8FWDHFu3fBQ067A7Hwm187IRfGVHcZf18p3hQzXJI8od_GGKQbUsQU
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