One of those hated do-gooders

Whenever the latest media-inspired hysteria over street crime erupts, you can be sure that the ‘do-gooders’ will be facing the blame shortly afterwards.

A “do-gooder” is someone who is slack when it comes to law and order. Someone who will explain away bad behaviour by reference to the culprit’s background. Someone who will want to give the lawbreaker a second chance.

The opposite to the “do-gooder” is the “hang ‘em and flog “em” brigade. Their answer is to penalise the wrong-doer; to jail them or kneecap them or whatever hurts, and that will solve the crime problem.

The two camps tend to hate each other more than they hate the criminals.

I tend to side with the do-gooders. I don’t believe in evil (or good) and I think that humans are equally disposed to both depending on the circumstances. The circumstance that matters most is social stability.

Norms are set by the community. Where the community is weak and under pressure, anti-social behaviour is likely to be greater. John Lonergan, the Governor of Mountjoy Jail, has pointed out that 80% of the inmates there hail from five or six areas of Dublin. This is hardly a coincidence.

The other area of social weakness in our society is the faultline between generations, which tends to cleave off young people into a sort of independent republic where the influence of older people collapses. In this sense a lot of pop culture is downright sectarian, reducing anyone outside the focus of the youth culture, ie older people, as somehow inferior.

The youth culture that is sold through the media is as conservative and rigid in its demands of young people as any culture that has preceded it. Youth norms in fashion, body shape, music taste, language, etc; far from being liberating actually wrap young people up in norms that someone else (usually a media CEO) has made up for them.

That in itself doesn’t explain anti-social behaviour but it adds to the weakness of community when the community is under pressure from other quarters. It removes young people from community influence.

Then add in the fact that the social mixture in our communities is determined by how much you can afford to pay for a house, if at all, and you are left with a potent mixture of alienation down near the bottom of the pile.

This is a situation that policing on its own will not fix. I pity the gardai in this regard – we are handing them problems which they have no chance of solving.

What is required here is the Zero Tolerance solution. This doesn’t mean the deployment of the Army Rangers. It means estate management, the immediate removal of graffiti, clean streets, gardai on foot, no bonfires, no burnt out wrecks, eviction of anti-social families and so on.

It also means money – serious money. Maybe the presence of a football club, swimming pool, resource centre, snooker club, post office, pub, cinema, theatre, school, church, skateboard park, playground and youth clubs (for starters) won’t solve the anti-social behaviour problem. But it would bloody well help.

We need that sort of do-gooding.