Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Remembrance Of Crimes Past

One of the favourite arguments of the 'moral panic' school of criminology is that crime was just as high in the past. Easy to refute while the generation who were there can testify, harder when they're gone.

So I'm trying to take note of sources - like 'The Road to Nab End' and 'A Ragged Schooling'. If anyone has links to anything relevant - pro or anti - I'd appreciate them.

Feom a Dalrymple interview with Ray Honeyford.

His own personal history would suggest some direct insight into the problems of the disadvantaged. His father was an unskilled laborer injured in the First World War and able to work only intermittently thereafter. His mother was the daughter of penniless Irish immigrants. His parents had 11 children, six of whom died in childhood. They lived in a small house in Manchester with no indoor lavatory (and not a single book). He was brought up in a place and in times when the next meal was not guaranteed to appear. Yet despite the poverty, theft was unheard of: everyone felt able to leave his front door unlocked.

17 comments:

JohnM said...

If you are going to argue this then you need to be prepared for the inevitable counter: they left the doors unlocked because they had nothing to steal.

Complete bollocks of course but when I was a lefty, that's what I would have said.

Ian2 said...

The inevitable problem is how crime is measured. In today's data rich and endlessly bureaucratic society, there is an unlimited paper trail of "recorded crime", but this would not be evident from years past because (a) most crime went unrecorded, and (b) most crime went uninvestigated, as there was no insurance claim to support.

Comparing what amounts to anecdotal evidence of years past with raw statistics of today is fruitless.

TBH, all you need is to look at the more significant incidents. Take the example of the Kray Twins, whose notoriety for their violence was legendary and unsurpassed in their day, now such a level of violence is virtually mainstream. If that is not clear evidence then we really are being blinded by statistics.

Good Luck Laban.

johnm said...

The problem of comparing crime levels today with the past with regard to statistics is surely dependent upon the crime. For example the crime of murder will be pretty easy to compare. I would grant that relatively minor offenses such as street mugging would be harder to quantify but there comes a level such as assault where the victim receives injuries requiring hospital treatment. At such a point, the evidence surely does exist.

Anonymous said...

It may or may not be true that most crime was never reported. We don't have the data to know. Even if it is true the under-reporting of crime would have to have been astronomical to hide the crime levels we are used to now. Also, it seems to me just as likely and probably more likely that crime is under-reported today. When you know that the crime is almost certain to be unsolved why bother reporting it? If you are going to have to make a statement about your burglary if the offenders are caught and you are too afraid to do that because of the fear of reprisal then why report it at all?

James Hamilton said...

Once again I am recommending Clive Emsley's book "Hard Men: Violence in England since 1750" as the best discussion of this subject I've come across. He acknowledges e.g. the very low crime period the UK experienced between the Wars and seeks explanations - and is also very good, pace Johnm, on the way crime stats and their collection have changed over time along with attitudes/definitions of crime. I particularly like Emsley's reluctance to come to pat conclusions, and the way he tells you that he doesn't know when he doesn't - unusual from an academic text of this quality.

Anonymous said...

Car crime? Reduced today thru security devices. But those devices simply weren't needed before circa 1975 [?] - there was virtually no car crime.

Or Orwell - describing a different country, ie England in the 40s.

"Their extreme gentleness, their deeply moral attitude to life...the gentleness of English civilisation is perhaps its most marked characteristic. You notice it the instant you set foot on English soil. It is a land where bus conductors are good-tempered and the policemen carry no revolvers" (The Lion and the Unicorn, 1941).

Anonymous said...

It all comes back to finding the causes of crime. Poverty isn't a real excuse anymore in the UK, obviously.

Of course, we all want to return to that idealistic dream of 'the past', where neighborhood kids played football together on the green rather than hanging around on street corner, where you could leave your doors open, and where you could trust your neighbors with your life. But we really have to find out why that dream died if we want to revive it and make it once again a reality.

Anonymous said...

They left their doors unlocked because they had nothing worth stealing...except food, of course, which is quite a tempting target if you have 11 children to feed and don't know where the next meal is coming from.

Who is deeper in poverty and more likely to steal: the working man in the 1930s with 11 kids to feed, or the lazy yob in the 2000s with daytime TV to watch? By the arguments of the left, it is 1930s man; but in reality it is overwhelmingly more likely to be our contemporary social vermin.

In an age where real, actual poverty has been eliminated petty theft and violence has reached such endemic proportions that it is hardly commented on anymore. Discuss.

archduke said...

"But we really have to find out why that dream died if we want to revive it and make it once again a reality."

It died with the Moors Murders - Ian Brady and Myra Hindley.

no seriously - i really do think that. the psychological affect of those crimes on the British people was enormous , and probably hasnt been studied in depth - but i would bet a tenner thats where you can trace it back to.

AntiCitizenOne said...

I beleive it is increased mobility.

I beleive these areas built up a "tribal" feel where everyone DID know each other and outsiders were more watched. This makes "natural" crime fighting much simpler as
a) Strong genetic instinct not to harm people you know.
b) Increased Outsider identification.
c) Lack of "quick" getaway.

I beleive gated communities which slow down entry, and discourage "right of way" can help bring this feeling back.

alan g said...

My parents (both dead now) were born and raised in the East End of London and lived there until they were relocated by Hitler. Life was incredibly hard for them and they, like many others of their generation, used to talk about the low level of crime and how people could leave their houses unlocked. The stock argument is that they had nothing worth stealing. Up to a point that may be true, but there were other reasons as well.

If one thing kept the level of crime low, it would be that (unlike today) people were more likely to fight back against criminals. A robber had to weigh up the risks very carefully. If he got it wrong, he was likely to be given a good beating in return. Unlike today, little sympathy was given to thieves and a houseowner or mugging victim fighting back was likely to be applauded - not arrested and charged with a crime themselves.

Anonymous said...

Watching a documentary about the Krays last night, I was struck by the various shady interviewees' description of wartime London as a "Thieves' paradise" - due to the huge black market value of ration coupons (let alone actual goods), the blackout , and the distraction provided by the Luftwaffe.

Evidently, there was plenty worth stealing at the time - and it was easy to do it. Make of that what you will...

robert aldridge said...

Two interesting incidents are described in "Cider with Rosie" . In one, a local man who had emigrated to New Zealand, returned to his home village, and, drinking in the local pub, became increasingly boastful about how successful he had been, and how futile was the life of those who still lived in the village. Eventually leaving the pub, he was assaulted and killed by some local youths. The police investigated, but no-one had heard anything or seen anything, or suspected anything.
In the second incident Laurie Lee and his mates plan to rape a mentally retarded local girl; but when it comes to the point, they can't do it. And they never mention the subject again - presumably because of the unconscious shame they all felt at having even thought about doing such a thing. Both incidents reveal something about that bygone world.
Another point worth mentioning in connection with crime is that the fifties were regarded as the golden age of the British police. For myself, I recall the shocked incredulity with which I heard about the violence of the anti-Vietnam war demo at the American Embassy in 1967(?)

Blithering Bunny said...

Even in the early 70's in Australia we used to leave our doors unlocked, and there was *plenty* to steal in those days. Neighbourhood kids would be in and out of each other houses, but nobody ever stole anything (although I have to admit that we were always trying to steal Playboys from the local shop).

There was a definite change in my suburb, though, and it hit around the late 70's. Parents started getting divorced, families broke down, alcoholism sprang up, drugs started becoming common, and the younger kids became emotionally damaged as a result and started stealing stuff from people's houses, and for the first time everyone had to start locking their doors.

It may have been different elsewhere in the world but in my experience it was definitely the mid-late 70's when it all went pear-shaped.

Anonymous said...

Yes Bunny, I'm 43 and I can remember being rather suprised some years ago whien I saw the historical figures for various measures of social problems, divorce, bastardy, etc. as it used to be called. It took off later than you think but it seemed to have been fed to us in the media and films etc. for a decade or two. I only remember one of may mates' parents getting divorced and it was spoken of in hushed tones. Never saw crime or heard of people being burgled let alone robbed in the street. But you assumed it happended in the 'big cities' - and you saw a lot of their lives on telly, and the lyrics of popular music. Only pop stars and americans got divorced or had high crime - and that was safely on telly. Seems to me someone's been ramming the viewpoint of the periphery down the throats of the mainstream society. Then it gets easy to be a misfit and you get more misfits. This probably suits some people. Its all a gramscian conspiracy old boy. I'll stop and lie down now.

Anonymous said...

It's as though our civilisation peaked sometime around the early 1960s or earlier and since then we've been heading back to the worst excesses of Dickens' time. Over the last year I've noticed that almost every day in every part of the country there are reports of "teenager stabbed to death in brawl", "Father kicked to death", "housewife shot in face" etc. etc. Our society is being swamped by mindless violence and we seem powerless to stop the downward spiral. I don't know how much of this lawlessness is linked to uncontrolled mass immigration but the overwhelming majority of new arrivals here seem to be rootless young men in their early 20s. Not a receipe for strong social cohesion I think.

Anonymous said...

In my childhood days there was something called respect coupled with shame.....there was also a belt hanging by the fireplace to be used if repect went out of the window bringing shame knocking on the door!