Monday, 8 June 2015

Less Violent and More Violent Societies

I don’t know whether there is a simple index you could use to rate societies as more or less violent. I feel that I have lived my life in a place which is low on violence – though, at the same time, I recognise that the state I live under has even in my life time used extreme violence, repeatedly, against poor people in far away countries. It goes with having a large industry devoted to arms manufacture.

I have never seen anyone shot or knifed or seriously beaten up. I have seen parents physically assault their own children, but not in recent years. I have never seen an enraged mob. I have never watched a bomb go off, though in the days of the IRA there were bomb scares. On a very few occasions, I have been threatened with assault by complete strangers, drunks and nutters – but they never carried through their threats - sometimes  because I found a way to talk them down and sometimes because they were mere threats.

It helps that for most of my life I have stayed away from places where violence does often enough occur: football grounds, pubs, clubs. Male or Masculine places.

Reading  newspapers and books, I form the impression of other societies as horrifically violent: Russia, the USA, much of Latin America, much of Africa, much of the Middle East, parts of Asia. Some of that violence is state violence, as for example when US law enforcement officers shoot to kill when manifestly there is no need even to shoot. The USA to me is a trigger-happy society, far too many guns and far too many unpleasant people handling them. Not always unpleasant: children routinely kill other children or their parents because they have found a gun to play with. Unthinkable in England.

England suffers from domestic violence, from genital mutilation (male and female), and from all the other forms of child abuse. I don’t know how we compare with other countries.

I don’t think it is policing which keeps a society from violence. I don’t think it is fear of the power of the state. It’s a sort of habit – it’s about how you do things. In Paris, they still honk their car horns at the slightest provocation or even in the complete absence of any provocation – the result an idiotic cacophony which is enough to make the French appear childish. In London, car honking is virtually absent. It’s not about policy; it’s about habit.

Having written that, I realise it's not good enough. It's not just about habit; it's about feeling secure. If you think your neighbours are about to murder you, burn down your house, wreck your shop, rape your children - well, then of course that creates a situation of unbearable insecurity where it seems to make sense to get your retaliation in first.

I think I am fortunate to have been born into a society which is not, in important respects at least, habitually violent. I feel for those not so fortunate. But do I exaggerate the peacefulness of my own society and the violence of others? That’s why I would like an Index.

Added 19 June 2015: And immediately I get one! The Institute of Economics and Peace has ranked 162 countries for the period 2008 - 2015 on a Global Peace Index, using 23 indices of peacefulness and peaceableness - things like homicide rates, civil unrest but also military expenditure. The UK gets to position 39 in the 162, a bit ahead of France (45) and well ahead of the USA (94 - Saudi Arabia is at 95) with Russia near the bottom at 152. Right at the bottom we have Syria and Iraq.  Right at the top we have Iceland and several European countres in the top ten along with New Zeland, Canada, Japan and Australia. One country in the top ten is from the former Soviet bloc, the Czech Republic.

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