Sunday, January 22, 2023

Heinous crimes happen in a context not in your favourite narrative

The death of Pelin Kaya is a reminder of the risks posed by recklessness and machismo on our roads, something with which i am very familiar as a pedestrian who walks on a daily basis. The behaviour of the driver after hitting his victim (throwing stones at her and people in the vicinity) also comes across as another case of toxic masculinity. But while few focused on these aspects many conveniently tried to fit this case in their favourited narrative. 

For example some have blamed the driver's actions on the legalisation of weed, even if media reports suggested that he was under the influence of cocaine which is a harder and much more dangerous drug. Still it would be non sensical to blame this behaviour on cocaine, a substance which is used by thousands of recreational users who pose no risk to others. In fact the legalisation of both weed and cocaine would facilitate  information campaigns against driving under influence.  Moreover driving under the influence is symptomatic of  recklessness and complete disregard for others by a significant amount of drivers.  But the point made by those blaming weed is  political and reactionary.  It is both an attempt to blame the permissive Labour government for anything going wrong in society and to frame such events in to a discourse of conservative moral panic in the face of demands for bodily autonomy. Clerics making such arguments should be reminded that although domestic violence is often associated with alcohol abuse, wine is still a central motif of Catholic rituals.  What is wrong here is not the substance but the context and the actions of the person abusing it. 

Inevitably although the accused was brought up in Malta and has a Maltese surname, some latched at his French Arab descent. This mostly suggests a sense of frustration felt by the usual suspects who could not blame this crime on foreigners. In fact this case simply shows that heinous crimes are often committed by Maltese against foreigners. 

Even on the left some cannot resist the temptation of blaming such incident on rampant cut throat individualism characteristic of capitalist societies. In this aspect some leftists seem to share the romantic notion of a lost innocence with conservative counterparts. But socialists should be the first to recognise that we live in much more humane societies than ever before. Traditional societies were far more brutal, cruel and intolerant than the society in which we live nowadays. I am happy to live in a western liberal democratic society where there is greater equality, sexual freedom and autonomy than ever before. Socialism for me is all about ensuring that everyone can enjoy and afford these freedoms. 

But while too many people are busy using cases like this to prove preconceived prejudices,  there is always a social context in which random crimes happen. And while sheer coincidence, existential factors and irrationalities play a major part in explaining crime, even irrational thoughts and actions are grounded in wider social norms. For example our society does have a problem with a growing number of troubled and insecure males whose bullish actions pose a threat to others.  But rather than being understood as the embodiment of permissive liberalism their aggression may well be a reaction against it. In this sense toxic masculinity should be seen as being more of an attempt to reassert traditional authority than as a challenge to it.  Pornographers and pimps like Andrew Tate are perfect examples of this phenomenon.   In such a culture cars like guns are often perceived as an extension of the penis.  One may say that I am also falling in to the same trap of fitting this case in to a narrative. But this  is just one observation which probably does not explain the dynamics of the case in question.  Moreover, tradition, modernity and liberalism are also abstractions full of contradictions. So let's talk about context and possible causes but avoid fitting everything in our favourite narrative.

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