We have a knife-crime epidemic over here in the UK currently. Of course, media reporting-crazes often appear more significant than the underlying events actually are, and can even escalate the problems they are so keen to highlight. But for whatever reason, there appears to be a significant spate of knife murders currently, by young people involved in street gangs.
The usual causal suspects are trotted out, and have some validity – economic disadvantage (despite the world’s best economists), poor education (despite OFSTED) and lack of job prospects (despite needing immigration for labour) all contribute to what seems the final common path: lack of hope. Such things are not new, as anyone who remembers West Side Story will know. They will also remember that the neo-Romeo protagonist in that musical, Tony, had bucked that directionlessness by turning his back on the gang and getting a job the others despised, and starting to make his own future.
But here I want to concentrate on what is fundamentally different from West Side Story in today’s situation, a difference pointed out in a recent interview with an ex-gang member who now counsels young people. Just a few years ago, he remembered, the problems of inner-city life led to territorial gangs, defending what they saw as their “patch.” So, just as in West Side Story, or in Romeo and Juliet half a millennium earlier, come to that, members of one gang would push the tribal boundaries by encroaching on events in another gang’s territory (like “the dance at the gym”), and violence would ensue. Not good, but essentially the result of the perversion of a rational goal of defending your own people. Like it or not, our armies exist for that very same purpose.
But what has changed now is that status within gangs has become predicated on the very randomness of violent murder. Many of the victims are innocent people, not involved in gangs, attacked in the streets, including girls playing music in the park. “Have you the courage to fight for your gang” has become “Have you the courage to cross all your moral boundaries?” In other words, the focus has become on trangression, not only of the law, but of all natural instincts. So an innocent girl might be a better target than a member of a rival gang.
I suggest that a similar phenomenon has been seen in many of the nihilistic variety of school massacres, mainly so far in the US. Remember that these mass-attacks are an entirely modern phenomenon – students or psychopaths in the bad old 1950s didn’t go and shoot up campuses, ever. If we exclude ideologically driven attacks by Islamists or anti-Islamists or anti-Semites (though it may be worth returning to where, and why, the concept of random terror as a political tool originated), there is a similar sense of transgressing society’s core values simply for the sake of transgressing them.
Some insight into this mindset may be gained from the online activity and rambling manifestos of the perpetrators of such crimes. But you can also get understanding from finding online the testimony of the now-Christian apologist David Wood, diagnosed as a psychopath and imprisoned after motivelessly attacking his father with a hammer. But as he describes it, there was a creepy logic about how it came to that.
He was an atheist (religion having been consigned to the primitive past by intelligent society), and saw the taboos of society as having no rational basis. This naturally separated him, emotionally, from the ordinary folks around him, and he came to see himself as more highly evolved (perhaps he read Nietsche?) because he saw things more clearly. He could both prove, and further, that evolutionary edge by purging himself of what remained of his own irrational taboos, and the most logical way to do that was to kill his own father (against whom, as far as I can gather, he had no particular animus). There was no real purpose in this, except, perhaps, a vague utopian idea that once the old was gone, whatever was new and more highly evolved would emerge, and had to be better than the emptiness of today.
It was, of course, utterly perverted, but it is notable that what changed him, whilst not entirely divorced from logic, was the supra-logical power of the Christian gospel. Whether or not you like his apologetics, or his personal style, it cannot be doubted that he no longer wishes to commit random acts of violence to transgress society’s irrational taboos.
But both the nihilistic groups of school-shooters, and the nihilistic gangs in Britain’s cities, creating a new phenomenon of deliberately transgressive acts, do not exist in a vacuum. They have, not at all coincidentally, arisen within a culture that has progressively made the transgression of traditional, and even natural, norms the very basis of its new “morality.”
In practice now, this is blindingly, glaringly obvious. Society regards various sexual acts as perversions? No! They are all thoroughly normal – what is abnormal, and immoral, is the patriarchal institution of marriage between a man and a woman for life.
The arts have traditional standards of decency and taste? Wrong! Freedom consists of breaking all those boundaries: a film is no good unless it is disturbing, nor a detective series unless it is shocking, nor comedy unless it is cutting edge, nor a pop-star unless she can think of a new way to offend normality.
Society regards human life as sacrosanct? Then start with the invisible, in abortion, and proceed to a “right to assisted suicide” and euthanasia, as reduced public sensibility permits.
You thought Western democracy was, on balance, a good thing, and that you enjoyed the benefits it gave? Complete illusion! It was all about white oppression of the East (forcing them into genocidal Communism) or of the Ottoman Empire (so that strict Sharia law and violent jihad against dissenters became an inevitable reaction for Islamic states). Remember the transatlantic slave trade (but forget, please, that chattel slavery was near-universal across the world until British colonial power virtually eradicated it… and forget, when berating institutional white racism, that at the time of the US civil war, 30% of black people in New Orleans were slave-owners).
It is not hard to see the roots of this in cultural marxism, for all that that is explained away as a conspiracy theory. It is simply a fact that Marx and his followers saw proletarian revolution as the destruction of every foundation of “bourgeois” (for which read Christian, or even “basically decent”) society, allowing a new mythical, and ill-defined, utopia to emerge by the inevitable forces of history.
In practice, this was a thoroughly transgressive process. “Justice” was replaced in Russia with “revolutionary justice” in which perceived class-origin became the sole criterion of guilt, and compliance with the revolution the new righteousness, even if you remained an anti-social criminal. Russia’s deep-seated religion must be rooted out by atheist propaganda and brute force. “Truth” was a bourgeois concept, though usefully made the title of the daily dose of lies, Pravda. (“Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue,” said Francois Duc De La Rochefoucauld – I discovered that for myself at a Russian Exhibition in London in 1968, when even as a teenager the Soviet Constitution’s “Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion” rang as hollow as they do, sadly, in Britain, 2019.)
It is also a fact that Antonio Gramsci, retaining the same romantic utopian dream, but realising that Proletarian revolution would never happen in Western Europe, devised the alternative of infiltrating the institutions of society, once more to destroy them in order to see what utopian wonders would emerge – the process that the organiser of the Paris Student Riots of 1968, Rudi Deutschke, called “the Long March through the Institutions,” now virtually complete.
Transgression was at the very heart of the Paris thinkers both involved in, and arising from, those riots. Herbert Marcuse saw sexual revolution as a major constituent in the destruction of society by the power of eros, so much easier to unleash than revolutionary violence by attacking censorship and marital fidelity, and his disciples became the university humanities teachers in the West. Simone de Beauvoir’s feminism was founded on hatred of marriage and families, and is now mainstream in the strong correlation between third-wave feminism and lesbianism. Foucault’s “Queer Theory” took things to the ultimate conclusion – that all binaries are oppressive, so that gender itself must be abolished (he had already, like all these influential thinkers) abolished the existence of God as the supreme injustice to human autonomy.
The transgressive root of all this is well seen in their dalliance with sado-masochism, homosexuality and paedophilia, the last widely seen as part of the progressive agenda in the seventies and eighties. This is a fact conveniently forgotten when it is asked why the BBC winked at child abuse by stars like Jimmy Savile, who (though probably ignorant of the theoreticians) was only following the recommendations of Foucault, de Beauvoir, Sartre, Adorno, Danny Cohn-Bendit and the National Council for Civil Liberties.
Paedophilia still lurks, if one is attentive, on the agenda of the progressive academics, and may well, imminently, return to the public arena once resistance to the “diversity” agenda has been softened up, and the penalties for “hate speech” hardened. Already in Canada parents are being prosecuted, and their children removed from their care, for daring to question their children’s stated gender preferences.
Once that is established in custom, there are no good grounds for denying a child’s stated preference for sexual activity with an adult of their choice. Kinsey’s perverted research on the early sexuality of children has still not been publicly burned, as it deserves, so if a child is sovereign in its choice of gender, why not in its “freedom to love,” as the paedophile lobby has always maintained.
Now my main point is this: if virtually the whole of modern moral consciousness, so called, is based on transgression against what has always been held to be moral, then it’s scarcely surprising that those on the edge of society take that anti-authoritarian message to heart, unite it with an angry hopelessness, and transgress whatever taboo the progressive élite, who are responsible for their social situation, have left in place.
Almost the only candidate for that residual taboo is “Do what you like – as long as you don’t harm others.” But not only is such a taboo no more firmly grounded than all the others being swept aside in the vain hope of utopia, even denying biological facts; but also it is observed in the breach because, like Soviet revolutionary justice, harming others for speaking against the transgressions, or simply for being in the wrong social group, is part of the progressive agenda. To shout “racist dog” in someone’s face, or to bash a fascist, or to de-platform a homophobe, or to remove someone from their job for researching the wrong truth, are considered virtuous acts.
That they are also totally irrational, fly in the face of science, human norms, and the truth of individual human lives, is surely a valid reason for the disgruntled outsider to work out his own, personal, way to transgress. When a culture’s morality is irrational, it must expect some of the deviations to be more so.
Unfortunately, when you are yourself mad, you can no longer distinguish between the opponent who is madder than you, and the one who is sane. This was the problem Adam unleashed in the garden, since which time trangression has always been associated with the hatred of what is good. But when the transgressors have gained the political power to punish the righteous, the days of that society are numbered.
That was what Marx, Gramsci, and his successors always wanted, of course – but they failed to see the truth that transgression always leads not to Utopia, but to its opposite.