There are some occasions which might be so darkish, so brimming with nihilism, that they pressure us to take a tough have a look at society itself. To reckon not solely with the horror in query, but additionally with the world by which such a horror might happen. The stabbing to dying of 15-year-old Elianne Andam in Croydon in south London is one such occasion. If this act of savagery, of just about breezy evil, doesn’t convey self-reflection to fashionable Britain, nothing will.
All the pieces concerning the dying of Elianne is bleak past creativeness. It occurred throughout rush hour on Wednesday. Elianne and associates have been on their method to faculty. Certainly one of her associates was accosted by a 17-year-old boy, reportedly her ex-boyfriend. He had a bouquet of roses. Elianne stepped in to attempt to calm issues down. The boy allegedly took out a skinny, foot-long knife and drove it into Elianne’s neck. She died on the street, subsequent to the blood-spattered roses.
It feels incomprehensible. How untethered from morality should a younger man be, how unbound by social norms, to slay a lady on the street for the ‘offence’ of suggesting he again off. Elianne was shiny and clearly a great buddy. She needed to be a lawyer. And but on a Wednesday morning, in entrance of her fellow residents, her life was ended with a ‘zombie knife’ allegedly wielded by a boy who has not but reached the age of majority. Not solely the individuals of Croydon however the nation itself feels shell-shocked by this mindless destruction of younger, promise-filled life.
What individuals really feel, I feel, is that there’s a sort of low-level mob rule on this nation now. That the decay of the outdated types of authority – policing, the justice system, faculty self-discipline, even the rule of fogeys – has emboldened the train of newer types of authority. The authority of the knife, of brute power, of swagger. The desertion of our streets by nervous police forces, and the desertion of the realm of morality by elites who can not even say what Britain’s values are, seems to have paved the best way for a gentle mobocracy that’s armed, cellular, unforgiving and greater than prepared to switch our withered values with its personal cruel ones.
The media dialogue of the horror in Croydon has uncovered the mental vacuity of our instances. Unwilling, unable maybe, to confront the potential of ethical decay, to ponder how we reached a state of affairs the place younger males suppose slitting throats is a becoming response to ‘disrespect’, commentators as a substitute level the finger on the manosphere. It’s Andrew Tate’s fault, they are saying, regardless of no proof in any way that the alleged offender on this grim crime watched Tate’s unhappy, sexist movies.
Even the tying of the calamity in Croydon to misogyny feels too small, too straightforward. It doesn’t detract from the seriousness of home violence, which typically turns murderous, to recommend that what we witnessed this week was completely different. Feminist theories on male fury are certainly inadequate to elucidate why youths as we speak are carrying digital swords within the streets. And are pleased to make use of them in response to one thing as trivial as a presumed slight, as if their status, their emotions, carry higher ethical weight than life itself. Moreover, it’s normally boys, not ladies, who fall to the blades of the low-level city mobocracy. We’re going to want greater than Andrea Dworkin right here.
Again and again, pat explanations are supplied for the scourge of knife crime. It’s ‘fuelled by poverty and social deprivation’, lecturers say, blind to their very own historic illiteracy: there have all the time been poor individuals however they didn’t have a tendency to make use of machetes to slay their supposed foes. The youth charity Barnardo’s says there’s a hyperlink between cuts to youth companies and rising knife crime. The concept the nihilism concerned in a gang of youths chopping to dying a 16-year-old boy in a frenzy of so-called retaliation may be remedied by a youth membership with good snooker tables is ridiculous to the purpose of being offensive.
We’re reminded, as soon as extra, that technocracy is less than the duty of confronting ethical ills. The brand new elites, having eschewed morality in choice for managerialism, who see the populace as a group of damaged people to be soothed and improved reasonably than as residents of a shared universe of values, are intellectually unfit for one thing just like the knife-crime emergency. Their intuition is to scale back each ethical disaster to a well being disaster, so that they may keep away from the huge and exhausting questions that the existence of machete-wielding gangs raises about our society. We should bear in mind, mentioned Sadiq Khan’s workplace in its Knife Crime Technique a number of years in the past, that these offenders are ‘extremely advanced people’ with a ‘vary of difficult issues equivalent to mental-health points linked to emotional trauma’. Therapeutic pity replaces ethical condemnation; remedy usurps punishment. All this, in order that they may dodge passing judgement. All this, in order that they’ll by no means must say something as agency as: ‘These individuals are depraved.’
The lack of our ethically immature elites to reckon, critically, with knife crime speaks to how this scourge developed within the first place. It appears clear to me that the cult of the knife is a provocation born out of the demise of ethical readability, grownup authority and social self-discipline in Twenty first-century Britain. It isn’t solely nature that abhors a vacuum – society does, too. And it’s within the wastelands of unpoliced streets, of weakened household life, of fogeys, academics and different grownup figures feeling more and more bereft of the ethical command they as soon as loved over the following era, that the brand new low-level mob rule has taken maintain. A society that advertises itself as post-values, which rejects faculty self-discipline as Dickensian, that thinks fatherlessness is okay, and whose cops spend extra time policing tweets than streets, shouldn’t be shocked if new social menaces emerge.
We should always not whip up a tradition of worry round knife crime. Worry is as ineffective a device for navigating ethical storms as is the post-ethical complacency of our rulers. In London, there has not been a notable spike in murders. To this point this yr, the capital has seen 79 deaths by violence. Fifteen of the victims have been youngsters. Each a kind of killings is a catastrophe, for households and communities. However we should preserve perspective. In 2017/18, there have been 159 homicides in London. In 2019/20, 144. The danger of being murdered in London stays very low.
No, the issue as we speak just isn’t an ‘epidemic’ of knife crime however the nature of knife crime. To my thoughts, it’s the query of why knives and machetes are being carried and used that feels most unsettling. Many knife offences within the capital as we speak usually are not the ‘crimes of ardour’ or drug-linked killings which have all the time been with us, however reasonably look like crimes of narcissism. Crimes of ‘esteem’. Ferociously violent payback for presumed insults, for damage emotions, primarily. This appears to have been the case within the slaying of Elianne. And it comes throughout in different noisy, bloody assaults on unsuspecting youths, too.
The cult of the knife begins to seem like the militant wing of the cult of narcissism. City youths defend their ‘reputations’ from slight much more fiercely than middle-class youths defend their identities. In each circumstances, although, for all that they’re worlds aside, a pained and fragile vainness appears to rule the day. We’re witnessing a violent manifestation of the sanctification of the self. Having deserted the good and taxing job of socialising the younger into the values of the group, and having concurrently inspired the idea that one’s vanity issues over all else, Britain has no proper to be shocked that anti-social behaviour has turn out to be an issue, and that violent self-regard now appears to be on the playing cards.
The hyperlink between social disarray and egotistical violence was introduced dwelling to me by the anti-crime initiative, Don’t Stab Your Future (DSYF). Supported by the good Idris Elba, DSYF, as its identify suggests, encourages youths to place down the knives to make sure that they’ve a pleasant, prison-free future. It appeals to self-interest, not the social curiosity. It says the issue with utilizing knives is that it’s going to damage you, the knife-user. You’ll endure penalties, probably penal penalties. What a grim testomony to the hyper-individuation of our instances that crime is discouraged not on the premise that it hurts its victims and the broader group, however on the premise that it’s going to hamper the life probabilities of the prison himself. Such a treatment – ‘consider your self’ – is worse than ineffective. In actual fact, it dangers inflaming the very post-social, post-moral self-concern that will seem like on the root of the cult of the knife.
Too many technical options are being put ahead for the knife emergency. Sure, a few of them have an essential position to play. Individuals need their streets policed nicely, for instance. They need harder punishments from the courts for individuals who would do one thing so cavalierly anti-community as carry a knife round. Deterrence helps. However we have to do the tougher stuff, too, and actually mirror on what it was that laid the groundwork for the sort of nihilism that claimed a life as stunning as Elianne’s.
Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political author and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Present. Subscribe to the podcast right here. His new ebook – A Heretic’s Manifesto: Essays on the Unsayable – is obtainable to order on Amazon UK and Amazon US now. And discover Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy