The GOS has been reading Yob Nation by Francis Gilbert, the former teacher who also wrote I'm a teacher, get me out of here and Teacher on the run: true tales of classroom chaos.
Starting with two frightening incidents in his own life, Gilbert outlines the increase in violent and bullying behaviour in modern society through interviews with ordinary people and those in authority. He begins with the threat we all know about, violent street gangs who mug and beat their victims for fun. But he doesn't stop there: his subjects describe in graphic detail their experiences in the army, on the football terraces, in the magistrates courts, in the workplace, in school, on the streets, in the home.
Possibly the most alarming section tells how yobbish bullying is so deeply rooted in the corridors of power that there can never be a genuine and effective campaign to stamp it out elsewhere. "You will f*cking report exactly what I tell you to report; you'll stick to my f*cking schedule and nothing else," Alistair Campbell said to Jeremy Vine of the BBC. Was this before or after Campbell got into a fist fight in the Houses of Parliament with the political editor of the Guardian?
Martin Sixsmith, the transport department press officer sacked by Stephen Byers, has some pretty cogent things to say, especially about the appalling treatment of weapons expert David Kelly, who killed himself in the row over non-existent weapons of mass destruction. The real losers in this affair - apart from Kelly himself of course - were the media. Sixsmith says "Hutton changed for ever the way political parties - any political party - will treat the media. Now the media will always be bullied because New Labour showed how the yobbish technique of the football hooligan works". Gilbert also dwells on the infamous 2005 Labour Party Conference when 82-year-old Walter Wolfgang was forcibly ejected by bouncers for shouting "Nonsense!", and one Labour MP, Austin Mitchell, had his camera snatched in case it contained pictures of people queuing up to get in.
And he knows exactly where to place the blame. He quotes Francis Beckett, co-author of a book about Tony Blair: "Blair is at the heart of all the yobbery".
For the rest of us, condemned to live our lives in the streets of British towns and cities far from the airy heights of Westminster, the law is no help, driven and constrained as it is by a politically correct regard for the "rights" of the offender. Gilbert recounts the case of the Manchester woman jailed because she tried to stand up to the yobs who were making her life a misery, and the Romford man who has difficulty getting jobs because of a criminal record gained when he apprehended a youth who was knocking old ladies over in the street. As one police officer told Gilbert, "The whole thing is a bit of a racket because a lot of middle-class professionals do very nicely out of the system. The Crown Prosecution Service, the CPS, have well-paid jobs in their air-conditioned offices flicking through the cases that the police do all the groundwork for … the CPS cherry-pick only the cases they think are winners. So they have pretty easy lives now. The police do all the work for them".
One section The GOS finds more than usually disturbing - and, frankly, hard to believe - details the behaviour of medical students. Doctors in training have always had a reputation for rugby-club-type high spirits, but in the words of a senior medical lecturer "… we are obliged to take students from all ethnic backgrounds so that they can serve the diverse ethnic communities in Britain. The problem is that these boys are often poorly educated and intellectually impoverished. They speak an "argot" or vernacular which can mean that they are incomprehensible to patients, and their manner can be aggressive and antisocial; their clothes are more reminiscent of gang members with their baggy jeans and baseball caps on the wrong way round … a few years ago a lecturer in our department brought in a patient to a lecture in order to show the students the reactions of a patient to various procedures. The patient happened to be an attractive young woman … the lecture had to be stopped because the woman was wolf-whistled and jeered. Now, lectures can be quite rowdy … the students just don't know how to behave. They often arrive late, greet their friends with high fives and loud greetings, and then think nothing of gossiping all through the lecture. They like to text each other and read the Sun. Some even think it is OK to speak on their mobile phones".
Television programmes portray violent bullies like Phil and Grant Mitchell from East Enders in a sympathetic light, as though their truculent behaviour is normal. There is apparently no contradiction in a character being admired as a loving father (son, husband etc.) while he regularly cheats, threatens, verbally abuses or assaults other people. The plot lines of this and other soaps are driven almost entirely by characters not telling the truth, and this is portrayed as normal too. One of the most popular television programmes of recent years has been "Big Brother", where ignorant, shallow people are encouraged to voice forcibly their dislike of each other - dislike often for the most trivial of reasons. It comes as no surprise to realise that for most teenagers there are only two emotions they recognise in their personal relations - "love" and "hate", and nothing in between.
Increasingly we see violence, or the threat of violence, or simple intransigent bullying, being the solution to problems. We even feel it ourselves - the GOS would like nothing more than to punch Al Gore in the face for his enormous, over-weening arrogance and his persistence in telling the world a pack of lies. The GOS would like to beat to a pulp these antisocial yobs who terrorise the town centre without let or hindrance from the police. The GOS dreams of being a teacher again, a teacher with the power and the balls to take objectionable pupils outside the classroom door and introduce them to his knuckles …
The GOS is one elderly, middle-class retired man who lives in the country. Multiply this by all the men in Britain, then extend your net to other countries, other cultures, other races, and we have a world increasingly driven towards violence. Look in the media, read the news reports, and you can see that this is not just an elderly fantasy: violence is really happening, and violence works.
And in a way, it's not at all surprising for two reasons. One is that the world is becoming increasingly overcrowded. Scientists have shown that laboratory rats living in overcrowded conditions tend to exhibit psychotic behaviour. That's what we're all doing.
The second reason is, paradoxically, that we are all gaining a certain amount of wisdom. We finally have the sense to see that the traditional methods of getting what you want don't work ...
… democracy doesn't work - for the past sixty years this country hasn't had the government most of us wanted, and for the last ten years has had one that seemed determined to systematically victimise its electorate ...
… local democracy doesn't work - district and town councils have realised that they can do exactly as they please and there's not much the public can do about it ...
… the law doesn't work - our courts favour the offended rather than the victim, our police know who the villains are but are powerless to do anything about it, if you try to defend yourself it'll probably be you that ends up in the dock, no ordinary person can afford the cost of private litigation so large organisations and rich individuals can ride rough-shod, and our prisons and detention centres are so overcrowded (and many of them poorly run by private firms for profit) that sentencing of the guilty has become a joke ...
… government doesn't work, except to protect and further its own hold on power. The idea that it exists to protect and nurture the people, to secure their borders, ensure they are enfranchised, listen to their concerns, act on their anxieties - forget it!
… and sweet reason doesn't work. We are ground down with people telling us how wrong we are, how we're killing the planet in a dozen different ways, how we're all racist, how we're all discriminatory, how all men are abusers and rapists, how we're all fat, how we're all mass murderers because we smoke …
And it matters not how much we argue. It makes no difference to say that there hasn't been one single authenticated case of a person dying from passive smoking, that we've never raped anyone in our lives, that worrying about uncontrolled immigration doesn't actually make us racist, that statistics show the polar ice-pack was actually warmer in the 1930s than it is now - you might as well save your breath. Because these people, the know-alls, the bullies, the power-mad little gauleiters who get such a kick from telling others what to do and what to think and how to behave, have also achieved a certain wisdom of their own. They have realised that by ignoring the facts, ignoring the truth, ignoring the opinions of others, and just banging away at whatever drum they have chosen, they can keep their place in the media spotlight, keep their jobs, keep their council or parliamentary seats or their places on government quangos, hang on to their cosy research grants or their professorial chairs at provincial universities.
So when you come down to it, we're right out of options, aren't we? We are made to feel powerless, we are actually powerless, our opinions are worthless, our vote is a farce, our beliefs are bankrupt and old-fashioned (except Muslims, of course), everything we think is wrong. So what's left, except the Stanley knife or the pickaxe handle or a simple haymaker to the side of the jaw?
When you strip a man of everything that makes him a man, his views, his ability to influence the world around him, the feeling that his intellect actually means something, his pride, when you reduce him to a basic lump of meat driven by hormones, what are you left with?
An animal, that's what. And a cornered animal doesn't vote, or reason, or argue, or resort to law.
The GOS says: This is necessarily a very brief account of a long, fascinating and upsetting book. I recommend you to buy it. At the very least it'll help Francis Gilbert to avoid having to go back to teaching …
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