Saturday, October 07, 2006

Opening up the debate on the kicking episode

Heartfelt thanks to all of you who responded with sympathy and support re the assault on G. I’m pleased to report that, thanks to lashings of arnica and sympathy, he’s fine now.

I’m opening up a new post because I think this is really important and I don’t want the arguments to dwindle off into the hinterland of the comments section.

As well as the above-mentioned comments, I also received an email from a friend. She’s a retired probation officer with a heart the size of a planet and a keen intellect to match. She emailed rather than commenting because she was afraid of offending me. Far from it and, to prove the point, I’m reproducing the text of her email here with her permission.

But Debi, Debi, ah Debi, please don't use words like 'dregs' (oh please). That's tabloid, Tory, lazy, thinking (Good. Bad. Black. White. Fuck the complexity). You're not a tabloid thinker, I know how generally aware and compassionate you are (more so than me on many issues) and I was distressed to hear you say 'dregs'. There's no such thing as dregs. They're people with all sorts of forces, personal, social, political working on them to make them, finally, behave in this appalling way. Which is a million miles from me wanting to pat them on the head and say 'there, there, you're a victim of a wicked world, here have a sweet and a cuddle' (that's tabloidism again). If I had those lads in front of me now I'd be giving them a very hard time indeed. But, but...

I feel I want to throw Tim's mantra at you "Don't not know. Know. Be conscious. Only if you're conscious..." Don't be perplexed. You're politically sophisticated and intelligent. You can work it out. You can see that those lads, deprived, poorly educated, probably jobless, media soaked, hopeless about their future, look at Greg, big, manly, fit, (I saw him) living the good life (as they perceive it), everything they're not, having everything they don't have and never will (they think). You can feel the envy, the rage, the need to taunt the need to assert themselves. And then, when Greg just ignored them (which was right and brave and I don't know how he did that) and they couldn't keep up with him and they knew that he really was stronger and faster and better than them, the need to lash out, the increase in rage, the need to assert something. It was dreadful behaviour and I hope somebody will teach them to deal with their problems in a different way. But it's not perplexing. And they're not dregs.

She’s absolutely right. My angry and dismissive use of the word ‘dregs’ to describe the men who abused and assaulted G was lazy and – yes – ignorant. In its own way, as ignorant as they were, but with less excuse.

Do I mind having this lapse pointed out to me? Absolutely not! I WANT this space to be used to provoke debate. It’s why I often phrase things as questions rather than steaming in with my own line. If we don’t discuss the issues, how else can we learn and grow?

Understanding why people resort to senseless violence is certainly not the same as condoning it. Taking a step back and seeing where such behaviour comes from instead of resorting to dismissing the perpetrators as ‘dregs’ isn’t liberal and wet. It’s the only way forward if we are to break out of the cycle of violence, fear and overflowing prisons.

So NOW what do you think??? Please feel free to respond. And I hope my friend will have the confidence to comment too and join the debate in this forum, knowing that my mind is open and I won’t be offended, but will be grateful for her (and your) contribution.

The continuous exchange if ideas is crucial if we’re to understand our world and hopefully change it for the better.


Anonymous said...

Glad to read G is on the road to recovery, Debi. Wish him well from me.
Lucky your friend did not read Confucoius's term for them (and Minx's various) in your comments before sending the email ;-)

I dunno, I don't think I'd be too happy with people who did this to me (beat me up) - I find it hard to see that "dregs" is a perjorative term for a group of people who behave badly. I think your friend, at the end of the day (or email) probably is, in fact, making excuses for the bad behaviour of some people -- what excuse is there, actually, for behaving that way? There are plenty of examples of people who live in deprived and depraved circumstances who don't succumb to the lowest common denominator.

Anonymous said...

It's a complex world we live in Debi and for every twerp who keeps their head down, doesn't care and blindly buys into whatever shite the system lays at their feet - there will be other twerps like those lads who want the same shite for themselves - trouble is they can't see the good guys and they don't care either

Sounds like G handled himself perfectly - some bruises hurt more than others - he should be proud of himself

Anonymous said...

I guess dregs means dregs of society - the part remaining after what is useful is removed. They are probably not that. In them there is probably some good and something of use - as there is in everyone. But having said that I have to confess there have been plenty of times in my life when I have used the word 'dregs' or something much worse to describe people that have abused me. It lets off steam and is useful in that way.

As for why they did it - the pack instinct is a powerful one, I've noticed. It just takes one lead animal to turn the civilised tribe into something barbaric. It takes a strong will to resist if that is all you have ever known - but there are some that do. They are the heroic noble ones but unfortunately they are, in my experience, the exception rather than the rule.

The Wandering Author said...

Debi, I think it depends on the intent of the word "dregs" as defined in two essentially different ways by two of the commenters before me.

But I do think your friend's "reasons" for this are also too facile. There are plenty of people who are poor, oppressed, and have many reasons for anger, who do not act in this way.

There are rich people who "have everything" who also enjoy causing hurt for no reason. I don't think it is race, class, or culture. I think that, whether you put it down to genetics and unalterable personality or to individual choices and where they lead, there just are some people who enjoy being mean.

One reason I say that: my school experiences. There was little if any reason for anyone to envy me. I had less money, worse looks, and much lower status, than nearly anyone else. Yet some people most of the school envied somehow felt it worth their time to make my life a living hell. Some of their "followers" and "assistants" were poor and not very popular. Yet there were well off and poor students who didn't behave that way.

Your friend's explanation doesn't account for that. I'm sure it is an honestly offered explanation, and I applaud the idea of discussing the issue, freely. I just can't find any way to make that explanation fit the reality I have observed in my life.

The only explanation I have ever found that fits? Some people are jerks. (Polite version...)

And I'm glad to hear G is doing better and didn't suffer lasting physical harm. It still must have been a nasty experience.

Caroline said...

I did have a really long emotional rant, but when went to post it - blogger decided to delte it. Maybe that was a sign.
I have a problem with liberal views that seem to flip and excuse behaviour that steps outside of social norms. I could think of far better words and I think that your lexical restraint should be praised!
The lads are the dregs of our society - they are the people who decide to step outside of the rules. They are bullies. What gives them the RIGHT to do what they did to G? Why would someone choose to protect and excuse them? We all make choices in our lives. It's about right and wrong - awareness of this exists regardless of social influences.
Sorry - the rant returned!

Anonymous said...

Dregs? Asswipes? Wankers?

I'm sorry Debi's friend, but these are all words used when someone you love, and care deeply about, is hurt. Gut reaction, survival terms or plain mis-guided verbal abuse they may be, but understandable. There is no way that I think that Debi should back down from her choice of words that only expressed her worry and concern for the man she loves. In turn, her friends on this blog have also only expressed their horror of an attack on someone who is gentle and kind.
Tabloid we may be, but I can assure you that love and support of a fellow human being is far more important that a mere wrong choice of word!

Anonymous said...

Up until last year I worked with young people with emotional and behavioural problems, possibly from similar backgrounds as those who attacked G. I also worked extensively with the probation service and the Police, so I feel I am qualified to comment on this subject.

Whilst I agree that these young people could possibly have come from deprived, or even horrific backgrounds, I reserve the right to be angry at such malicious behaviour. I will not apologise for my words or reaction, as they did no harm to anyone and were a true expression of how I felt when I read your post Debi.

There are obviously social issues involved, but all too often in this type of situation, it is the perpetrators and not the victim that we are encouraged to feel sympathy for.
Human beings, whatever their circumstance, have to be encouraged, if not forced, to take responsibility for their actions. It is a damning indictment of our society that we readily supply excuses for extreme anti social behaviour. These people knew they were doing wrong and being envious of anothers' position in life is not an excuse or a reason for their actions.

In my experience, people such as these, know exactly what they're doing and how far they can go. All too often I've seen youths come out of a court smiling and bragging, because they've escaped any real consequence for their actions. They know the system and they play it well!

I think we also need to consider what might have happened if G had stopped to remonstrate with these people. He might have been seriously injured. Certainly, if he'd have retaliated, the chances are, that it would have been G who ended up in trouble with the Police!

Let's also not forget that the basic issue here is, in a real civilised society, a person should be able to expect the right to pass unhindered through a public park. How many of you can truthfully say that you feel able to do this?

My opinions are not lazy, tabloid and definitley not tory. They are based on my own experiences working in the same sphere as your friend. I understand the social and societal issues involved and have worked with young people from heartbreaking backgrounds, so I'm not without sympathy.

Nonetheless, that's no excuse for the amount of people in our society who are made to live in fear.
The problems are long and complex and the solutions probably even more so. This I realise, but I say again, I do not feel ashamed at being angry over this incident. Without passion, there will be no will for change, and change is definitely needed.

Sorry to rant for so long Debi..
Glad G is feeling better abd hope this hasn't stopped him from running.

Anonymous said...

I think everyone here has made well thought out comments. Passionate perhaps, but there is certainly no lack of clarity because of that. Perhaps while getting lost in the tangled web of Political Correctness your friend has missed the real issue; the whole point of PC is to get lost in language and not the issues.
And I swear by Arnica, glad G is getting better.

Debi said...

I'm utterly overwhelmed by the amount of time and thought you've all given to this. Thank you so much for giving it the serious attention it deserves and needs.

What comes shining through very brightly is the level of love and care that's out there. Many of you have leapt to my defence - just as I leapt to G's and expressed understandable anger on our behalf. I thank you for that.

I should say that the part of my friend's email that I didn't reproduce was where she expressed her sympathy, love and support. And her anger on our behalf. It may not seem like it, but she has a lot of anger!!!

This is where I'm at now: there is absolutely no excuse or justification for what those men did. But I want to condemn the behaviour not the person (which is why I still think 'dregs' is a worse word than 'wanker', the latter clearing slotting into the behaviour category!) Otherwise there's no way out. No chances of change for their future OR, crucially, the future of their potential victims!

You're absolutely right to say, as many of you have, that not everyone reacts to their circumstances in the same way. We all know the vast majority of people who abuse children, for example, were themselves abused. Yet not everyone goes on to inflict the damage they suffered onto others. Thank goodness, there will always be people who are able to learn the lessons from their own suffering and break the cycle.

Without doubt, such people have a strength that should be respected and admired. BUT (big point coming here) not everyone has that strength.

And if we do feel these people are genuinely useless in society, WHAT DO WE DO WITH THEM? Bearing in mind the current prison crisis (we already have a far higher percentage of our population in prison that most other countries), what do we do?

Build more prisons? Bring back flogging? The death penalty? Blast them out into space?

Again let me emphasise - understanding where behaviour comes from is very different to excusing, justifying or condoning it.

Anonymous said...

Apparently there's a real shortage of transplant and blood donors................too right wing?

equiano said...

I hope you don't mind me commenting, as although I read your blog regularly, I've never commented before.

This incident sounds very distressing and I also feel that I seem to see more of this kind of thing happening of late - recently I witnessed a young teen attempting to strangle his girlfriend at the train station (I kid you not!)

I am reading NO FUTURE WITHOUT FORGIVENESS by Desmond Tutu at the moment, which has a very pertinent point (he is reflecting here on his role as chair of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission which heard accounts of truly horrific incidents):
"We had to distinguish between the deed and the perpetrator, between the sinner and the sin, to hate and condemn the sin while being filled with compassion for the sinner. The point is that, if perpetrators were to be despaired of as monsters and demons, then we were thereby letting accountability go out the window because we were then declaring that they were not moral agents to be held responsible for the deeds they had committed. Much more importantly, it meant that we abandoned all hope of their being able to change for the better."

Debi said...

Do I mind, Equiano? How could I possibly mind such a thoughtful and uplifting contribution to the debate???

Thank you so much!

I feel yet another link moment coming ...

Anonymous said...

I hope G is back on track, Debi. What a horrible experience though.

I'm afraid I get overwhelmed with despair when I hear stories like this. But I do believe we have to try to understand what may lie behind this sort of behaviour - certainly as a I writer I want to understand all human behaviour - and I do not think that that is the same as to condone an act.

A lot of good points have already been made.

Anonymous said...

Hello everybody. I'm Joan, Debi's wet liberal friend, the one who sent her the email. You don't know me but, though I haven't contributed before, I follow Debi's blogspot and feel that I know you all quite well. I've been fascinated to follow this debate. If I'm truthful I have to say that I was initially a bit disheartened but it developed into into a thoughtful, interesting and wide ranging conversation. I'm deeply sorry that G had to be hurt in order to initiate it but, did somebody say "Out of evil good can come..."?
I was a probation officer (now retired) for 20 odd years so these issues ar every close to my heart. I feel I could write a book, or at least a long chapter in response to some of the points you made but, though not famous for brevity, I'll try, I'll try..
First, Confucious Trevaskis, I liked your well balanced, thoughtful contribution (I'm assuming that the transplants were a wind-up!)I have just one issue. You describe offenders coming out of court "Smiling, bragging.." about how successfully they've manipulated the system. They do. I know. I've seen them and I've been infuriated. But.. but.. I do that too. Don't you? I manipulate authority. I'm good at it. My star performance, the pinnacle of my career was once when I was stopped by the police for driving with a flat tyre. The police were hostile, they were overbearing, they were ready to charge me. I (consciously) made my face crumple and my bottom lip quiver. I played 'pathetic, helpless female' (I can do that). They put their notebooks away and changed the tyre for me. I was gleeful in the aftermath of that. 'Smiling, bragging' doesn't cover it. There are bank managers on the subject of overdrafts. There are policemen throwing dirty looks at a piece of of jay walking or dodgy parking. I handle them, I manipulate, I sometimes smirk afterwards. I feel in my bones that you probably do too. Though it's a completely different story when you (we) happen to be the authority being manipulated, I don't really think those offenders are doing anything much different from that. And, when you come to think about it they live in a hard world. Authority is never far away. They have to survive. I don't think an ability to manage authority is necessarily such an un-useful life skill for them to have.
But me, I'm a wet liberal. I can see how my e mail to Debi with the personal bits, the sympathy for G, the anger etc edited out drew that label down onto my forehead. I don't entirely deny it. I still have my wet moments (it's in the genes guv) but I'm dryer than I used to be. Trust me. When I first joined the probation service I was wetter than the Atlantic. I cringe now when I remember it. But the hard reality of life on the street did knock that out of me. I learned. By the later stages of my career I was more old boots than Atlantic. I could control those 'dregs',those 'scum'with my eyebrows by then and they certainly knew that, if they came into my office after performing such a horrible act as was committed on G, they were not coming in for a pat on the head and a lollipop. But.. but they were angry and their anger was understandable. You, me, most of us, we can control our anger, contain our violent impulses. They couldn't do that, had never been properly taught. My job was to try to teach them. I cared deeply about the victims, the Gs but I couldn't help them. The deed was done. But maybe, just maybe I could do something to protect the next potential victim. And sometimes, just sometimes...
It isn't either/or. Both things are true, both matter. The victim's pain, the offenders anger. You keep them in your head simultaneously. To have only 'offender' in your head is to be wet liberal. To have only 'victim' is Daily Mail reading Tory. It's a pointless, silly war. There are no winners. We have to get off the roundabout.
All of us (including me but you didn't see that bit)expressed sympathy towards G and Debi and shared her anger at what had happened. My anger, my identification with G in his role of victim came from bitter experience. Years ago I was burgled. I clearly remember, in the immediate aftermath, standing on my doorstep, enraged, violated,having a vivid and deeply satisfying fantasy of holding the burglar by the shoulders and smashing his head repeatedly against the wall until he slid, unconscious to the ground. I fully understand Debi's anger and why she wanted to use the word 'dregs'. But.. the anger dissipates. It's how we look at it after that that counts.
Somebody (might it have been Oliver Cromwell?) said "For evil to prevail it requires only that men and women of good will should do nothing." We are those men and women. As individuals we can't realistically do very much. But we can think. We can look at the complexities. We can take the labels off. We can debate it. We can do what we're doing now. We can help a little bit to raise our own and other peoples' consciousnesses so that I might be just a little bit less likely to be burgled and G might be just a little bit moreable to run safely on the streets of Greenwich.
It's been great talking to you all. I hope the debate will continue.

Anonymous said...

Dear Joan,
Well said and point taken. I can't really disagree with much that you've written, not that I would necessarily want to of course!

I've just re read my comment,and it was a bit of a rant, but please don't think it was aimed at you personally, I was just incensed at an injustice.

We are all touched, or tainted, by our experiences and mine, with regards to being the victim, have not been good. Hence my views on how victims are treated and how easy it often is for the offender to "beat the system".

Of course we all manipulate authority, but I would question whether your example is in the same league as someone who commits a violent offence. Incidently, that one's never worked for me!

However, as you rightly said, this whole thing has opened up a worthwhile debate and perhaps at the end of it, we'll all be a little wiser.
Why don't you contribute a little more often? This is the most involved debate that I've seen so far on a blogg.

And just to put your mind at rest.......the transplant thing was indeed a wind up!

Anonymous said...

Ever thought about starting a blog Joan?

Anonymous said...

I'm a latecomer to this (how did I miss it?) but just want to say quickly that I believe that if these people were old enough to right from wrong then they are the dregs of society and no better than any other kind of terrorist.

Caroline said...

Bold, brave and warm.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that dregs is a perfectly appropriate word to describe people who would do something like this--as long as it's properly defined. "Dregs of society" used loosely to mean the "lower classes" or "the great unwashed" does smack of snobbery and is probably not a very useful term. But this is something different. We're talking about people who have voluntarily surrendered their humanity, or part of it, and consciously inflict gratuitous injury on an innocent stranger. They've chosen their dreghood, and we shouldn't deprice them of it.

We may say they haven't been taught, but they have, if not at home, then in school. Actually, they haven't learned, and that, again, is choice.

I don't know how it is in England, but here in the US this kind of senseless violence isn't confined to the poor, the ignorant, the deprived. It has become an all but pervasive feature of public life, has all but ruined public life, and as often as not is committed by the sons and daughters of privilege, often upon the defenseless poor.

Understanding their behavior? All very well, but the reasons behind it are legion, if not infinite, and, sadly, not often amenable to change. We can only try to understand the individuals--when, miraculously, they're caught--but as a group, or in the abstract, dregs is a perfect word.

Debi said...

jta - thank you so much for contributing to this ongoing debate.

You're absolutely right in saying 'the sons and daughters of privilege' are also guilty of horrific abuses. And actually I find it far harder to find reasons for their behaviour than I do for the likes of G's assailiants.

You say 'We may say they haven't been taught, but they have, if not at home, then in school. Actually, they haven't learned, and that, again, is choice.'

I feel the point is that many of these people enter school already so damaged by neglect and/or abuse that they are unable to access the balancing education you say they choose to ignore. So in effect, unless they have the strength to overcome their damage, in reality they DON'T have choices.