Graham McNulty delivers a statement outside of New Scotland Yard relating to knife crime in London. Reuters
Hasnet Lais, The Independent
As knife crime continues to haunt Britain’s streets, the spate of senseless stabbings is a damning indictment of a dysfunctional society that breeds criminality.
The causes of knife crime are complex, ranging from austerity and gangs to the breakdown of the family structure. Various solutions have been proposed, including longer punishments and intrusive policing. Although data published by the Metropolitan Police revealed that the impact of these practices on violent crime is negligible, a multi-agency long term approach involving the cooperation of our law enforcement, schools and community-based organisations is essential.
After working in the education sector for many years, I have witnessed how slashing services and funding for education, housing and policing has affected our youngsters. Politicians are blasé when addressing how austerity has undermined the fight against knife crime, such as reducing central government grants to local authorities resulting in a significant decline in extra-curricular provisions such as youth clubs and related services. Like many, I also have serious reservations with the government’s recent proposals to make teachers accountable for the prevention of knife crime.
However, there is something deeper at play that can’t be addressed unless we move beyond the discussion on enforcing legal crackdowns and interrogate a factor that seldom receives attention in this polarising debate: materialism.
In a pioneering research titled Crime and Modernisation, criminologist Louise Shelley argues that the type and level of criminality in a society is a reflection of its normalised values. She mentions how we have overlooked the fact that so much violence in modern societies is associated with the commission of property crimes to secure desired goods, owing to our obsessive materialism.
The general rise in the crime rate in developed, urban environments is explained by the greater availability of goods and the increased feelings of deprivation given the gap between rich and poor. This commercial culture that stimulates desires is also implicated with behavioural disorders, recidivism and juvenile delinquency, according to Merton’s strain theory, which shares many parallels with contemporary, western, capitalist societies.
Similarly, knife crime in the UK is a symptom of a society plagued by a materialistic ethos bred by a capitalist culture that has failed to deliver on its promises. An entire generation of disenchanted youths from deprived backgrounds are drip-fed messages equating success with wealth. With little means of realising their aspirations and feeling an acute sense of inequality in light of glaring wealth disparities between the rich and the poor, youths are turning to knife crime for a quick fix in what has become a criminal rat race for some of our most marginalised children.
The shocking revelation of UK teenagers being paid £1,000 to stab each other is an inevitable fallout of our cultural obsession with material enrichment at the expense of nurturing a stable family and building meaningful relationships.
This in no way absolves the complicated interplay of factors contributing to this epidemic. Nonetheless, having taught children from a deprived borough and demographic who are disproportionately implicated in knife crimes, there is definitely a “get rich or die trying” culture that has permeated large swathes of inner-city youths that not only glorifies violence but also glamorises the pursuit of status symbols by any means necessary.
Children cannot see beyond society’s narrow vision of success and will seek networks that promise them material rewards. Carrying a knife has become a rite of passage for those misguided into believing gang membership and life as a mule will help them dominate postcodes and keep up with the Joneses in a society where social mobility seems all but impossible for a significant portion of our younger generation.
We live in a society where the relentless pursuit and attainment of wealth is the ultimate benchmark of success and its ripple effects are playing out bloodily on our streets where uncontrollable lusts and egos run rampant. When our youth are bombarded with messages associating happiness with material possessions and are thrust into a social structure that unequally distributes the opportunities to fulfil these aspirations, they will risk anything to be happy.
It is our collective failure as a society to not recognise the dangers of promoting a culture of compulsive consumerism to children, who spend much of their teenage years living for instant gratification and reach early adolescence believing that they are nothing but the sum of their possessions.
Instead of throwing money at the problem and introducing a raft of policy changes, the earliest intervention should be to pose the question: Is this national emergency symptomatic of our social values?
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