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The English army had just won the war
A crowd of people turned away
But I just had to look
Having read the book
(Lennon and McCartney, 1967),
The news these days, without fail, is terrible. Wherever you look you are confronted by misery, death, destruction and terror. Regular news channels and social media bombard us with increasingly horrific tales of people living and dying under tremendous pressure, both here in the UK and elsewhere in the world. Below are just a couple of examples drawn from the mainstream media over the space of a few days, each one an example of individual or collective misery. None of them are unique and they all made the headlines in the UK.
So how do we make sense of these tumultuous times? Do we turn our backs and pretend it has nothing to do with us? Can we, as Criminologists, ignore such events and say they are for other people to think about, discuss and resolve?
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Stanley Cohen, posed a similar question; ‘How will we react to the atrocities and suffering that lie ahead?’ (2001: 287). Certainly his text States Of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering makes clear that each of us has a part to play, firstly by ‘knowing’ that these things happen; in essence, bearing witness and acknowledging the harm inherent in such atrocities. But is this enough?
Cohen, persuasively argues, that our understanding has fundamentally changed:
The political changes of the last decade have radically altered how these issues are framed. The cold-war is over, ordinary “war” does not mean what it used to mean, nor do the terms “nationalism”, “socialism”, “welfare state”, “public order”, “security”, “victim”, “peace-keeping” and “intervention” (2001: 287).
With this in mind, shouldn’t our responses as a society, also have changed, adapted to these new discourses? I would argue, that there is very little evidence to show that this has happened; whilst problems are seemingly framed in different ways, society’s response continues to be overtly punitive. Certainly, the following responses are well rehearsed;
- “move the homeless on”
- “bomb Syria into submission”
- “increase stop and search”
- “longer/harsher prison sentences”
- “it’s your own fault for not having the correct papers?”
Of course, none of the above are new “solutions”. It is well documented throughout much of history, that moving social problems (or as we should acknowledge, people) along, just ensures that the situation continues, after all everyone needs somewhere just to be. Likewise, we have the recent experiences of invading Iraq and Afghanistan to show us (if we didn’t already know from Britain’s experiences during WWII) that you cannot bomb either people or states into submission. As criminologists, we know, only too well, the horrific impact of stop and search, incarceration and banishment and exile, on individuals, families and communities, but it seems, as a society, we do not learn from these experiences.
Yet if we were to imagine, those particular social problems in our own relationships, friendship groups, neighbourhoods and communities, would our responses be the same? Wouldn’t responses be more conciliatory, more empathetic, more helpful, more hopeful and more focused on solving problems, rather than exacerbating the situation?
Next time you read one of these news stories, ask yourself, if it was me or someone important to me that this was happening to, what would I do, how would I resolve the situation, would I be quite so punitive? Until then….
Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you (Nietzsche, 1886/2003: 146)
Cohen, Stanley, (2001), States Of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering, (Cambridge: Polity Press)
Lennon, John and McCartney, Paul, (1967), A Day in the Life, [LP]. Recorded by The Beatles in Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, EMI Studios: Parlaphone
Nietzsche, Friedrich, (1886/2003), Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future, tr. from the German by R. J. Hollingdale, (London: Penguin Books)
This week some students, independently and across the years, introduced me to the novel idea that education should be “enjoyable” and “fun”. Furthermore, if it wasn’t enjoyable, it wasn’t being done right. Given Criminology’s subject matter is often grim, dark, focusing on the worst aspects of humankind, enjoyable and fun are not descriptions that often appear in relation to the discipline. Certainly, such a perspective is not one that I personally recognise; a day at an art gallery, playing Hungry Hippos with two little people, a nice bottle of wine, lunch with friends, building a Lego Yellow Submarine etc are things that I would say are enjoyable, perhaps even fun. But education……I’m not convinced! What follows are my vague ramblings around a subject which is very close to my heart (you are warned!).
All of the enjoyable activities I have described above are ones that I spend very little of my time doing and that to me, is part of their enjoyability (if such a word exists). They are attractive because they are rare and unusual, in my life at least. But education, learning, knowledge are part and parcel of my everyday existence, and dare I say fundamental to who am I. However, does any of this preclude education from being fun? Maybe, I just take for granted my thirst for knowledge in the same way as my thirst for water, just everyday appetites that need to be fed to maintain equilibrium and optimal performance.
I love considering new ideas and new perspectives, particularly if they challenge my thinking and jolt me out of complacency, so I want to consider this concept of enjoyable education. I’ve always been a curious person, there’s lots of questions that I want to know the answer to and they generally begin with “why”? Like all children, I expect I drove my parents mad with the constant questions; never fully satisfied with the answer. I can trace my first early, tentative steps into criminological thinking to when I was a child and regularly had to pass HMP Holloway on the way to various hospital appointments. I used to wonder who lived in this huge, forbidding building, why they were there, what had they done, when would they get out and where would they go? Some decades on, I have answers to some of those questions but I’m still actively searching for the others. This, of course, is experiential learning and children’s books (at that time) offered little by way of answers to such profound criminological questions.
At school, the type of learning I liked best was when I could explore for myself. An experienced and knowledgeable teacher or lecturer explaining complex ideas could open the door so far, but I wanted to find out for myself as much as possible. For me, the best educationalists are those that gently guide and enable, not those who deliver information on demand. They also engender self-confidence and self-discipline encouraging the scholar to take control of their own intellectual journey. All of this leads me to the conclusion that learning is intrinsically neither enjoyable nor fun, although both may be by-products. Education, knowledge, learning, all of these are painful, challenging, at times they appear almost impossible. But! The level of personal satisfaction, achievement and growth means that ‘some kind of happiness is’, not as the Beatles suggest ‘measured out in miles’, but through intellectual endeavour (Lennon and McCartney, 1969). And to answer the essay question I set in the title, Lego has many charms but independent, self-direction is not one of them. Provided you follow the step-by-step illustrated instructions you will have your very own Yellow Submarine, but there are no surprises, whether positive or negative, which means I have no intellectual investment in the process. Furthermore, take the instructions away and I would not be able to recreate this “masterpiece”. Having said that, it does look rather lovely on my book case 🙂
Lennon, John and McCartney, Paul, (1969), Hey Bulldog, [LP]. Recorded by The Beatles in Yellow Submarine, Northern Songs: Apple
 HMP Holloway closed its doors for the final time in July 2016.