Saturday, March 01, 2008

Something must be done about the dead-eyed scum

Lest the visitor be alarmed at the strident, militant and even threatening tone to the title of this post, Melancholicus wishes to assure his readers that dead-eyed scum is a common enough expression in Ireland, denoting a particularly extreme form of soulless and feral youth, of the sort sensible folk cross the street to avoid since on several occasions the same have been known to strike with lethal force in the absence of any provocation whatsoever.

First let us define our terms. The dead-eyes are not the same people colloquially known in Dublin as skangers, or in Britain as chavs. There is of course considerable overlap, but it would be a serious misrepresentation, if not altogether libellous, to claim that all such persons are murderous sociopaths completely devoid of human feeling and conscience.

With the acceleration of the social breakdown fomented by the 1960s, society in Ireland (as elsewhere in the western world) has become increasingly lawless, violent and dangerous. This is indisputable. It is a fact, borne out empirically by every statistic one might use to measure the extent of law and order — or lack thereof — in the social fabric. The numbers of violent assaults causing bodily harm have far outstripped the levels of similar crimes in the mid-twentieth century. Murder and manslaughter were once so uncommon in Ireland as to be an occasion for nationwide shock and a nine-days’ wonder whenever they occurred. Today, murder is so routine as to be unremarkable.

Except every now and then there takes place a crime of such meaningless brutality that it shocks even the jaded denizens of twenty-first century Dublin.

Just such a crime took place last weekend. Two men were set upon by a gang of youths in the Dublin suburb of Drimnagh and stabbed fatally with a screwdriver. The two men were friends, construction workers from Poland who had been in Ireland for less than nine months. The youths who attacked them — I should say who murdered them — were dead-eyed scum.

Melancholicus has no wish to make light of this incident, much less present it as a pretext for amusement. He urges the Catholic-minded among his readers to pray for the repose of the souls of the two unfortunate victims. Nevertheless, some words about dead-eyed scum are here in order, that the reader might have a clear idea of the sort of creatures we are dealing with, as well as their habits and typical behaviour.

The dead-eyes are amoral, wild, feral, and in their behaviour totally ungoverned and ungovernable. I say “amoral” rather than “immoral”, since the dead-eye has no conception of right and wrong. He may have an intellectual knowledge that if he should commit such-and-such an act, the police will be looking for him. But his conscience does not trouble him with wrongdoing, since he has no conscience. The dead-eyes are consequently incapable of remorse. They are also incapable of taking responsibility for their own acts, and this makes them especially dangerous. Dead-eyed scum are found everywhere — even the smallest rural hamlet has its share of them. Only yesterday, while buying bread and milk in a local grocery, Melancholicus encountered two specimens of this genus, who could not have been more than fourteen years old but whose very presence exuded malice and intimidation. There was a queue in the shop; the dead-eyes promptly skipped the queue as soon as they were finished choosing their snacks and sodas, but no-one objected, neither the other customers waiting in line nor the sales girls at the tills. Nobody considered his place the in the queue to be worth dying for. While he waited, Melancholicus studied the all-too-familiar features of these dead-eyed scum — the ubiquitous hoodie, the flat, vacant, expressionless visage, the dead eyes (hence the name), the absence in this face of anything that might indicate the presence in the brain behind it of thought, or morality, or conscience, or knowledge of right and wrong, or of any cognizance at all of (much less regard for) any other creature save itself and the appeasement of its own base appetites. And God forbid that they might catch you looking at them; people have died merely because their glance happened to fall in the wrong direction at the wrong time.

The favourite pastime of the dead-eyes is what is euphemistically called “anti-social behaviour”. This behaviour is engaged in without either fear or respect for the law. The dead-eyes fear nothing and no-one. They respect nothing and no-one. There is in their minds no regard for authority, for law, for established custom, for persons or property. They do not fear the police. On the contrary, the police fear them.

The acts of the dead-eyes are random, destructive, and singularly devoid of purpose and meaning. Pawel Kalite and Marius Szwajkos died for nothing. There was no reason for their deaths, and no meaning to the motiveless snuffing out of those poor men’s lives. They were not killed because they had wronged the dead-eyes who encompassed their slayings; nor were they killed for reasons of robbery. They were killed because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time when the dead-eyes decided to lash out.

They had been approached by these feral youths who had asked them to purchase alcohol for them in a nearby off-licence. The two men declined, whereupon their fate was sealed. The scumbag who inflicted the fatal blows on the pair did not do so at once; he had time to retrieve the screwdriver from his house, and to return to where he had left the two men and catch up with them before they had retreated to safety. Thus his acts were wholly pre-meditated. He never seems to have stopped for a moment to think about what it was he intended to do with that screwdriver. But now, two innocent men are dead.

During his days as a seminarist, Melancholicus spent some time on parish apostolate with a certain priest of a certain diocese in the north of England. One day during his apostolate he visited the local prison, spending some hours in the company of young offenders, many of whom had been convicted of serious and violent crimes. It was a sobering experience, as Melancholicus was startled to notice how wild and feral most of these young men were, and how totally lacking in sympathy, empathy and conscience. Violent crime was a matter for boasting, for raising one’s status in the pecking order of one’s peers in prison. One of the prisoners (a youth of eighteen) had on his person a copy of his criminal record, which he proceeded to show to Melancholicus with all the pride and delight wherewith a schoolboy shows off a prize-winning essay. Melancholicus will not recount the dismal record of the fellow’s egregious trespasses, which were without number, save to say it was not pleasant reading. Some of the imprisoned youths were sad and dejected, but their sorrow stemmed not from guilt, or from remorse for the horrible things they had done to other people, but simply because they were in prison and hence deprived of their liberty. They were all guilty, but not one of them felt guilty. Inasmuch as any of them was sorry, he was sorry only for himself. The victims of his violence never received a second thought.

This is the sort of person to which Melancholicus refers by use of the term dead-eyed scum. He will not labour the point, since he is sure that his readers understand by now what he is trying to say. We must not fall into the same error as the socialists, and imagine that this violence can be explained by recourse to economic factors — poverty, inequality, unemployment and the like — as though this somehow excuses such monstrosities, even if it were true. Nor must we make the facile mistake of blaming a “lack of youth facilities” or “boredom”, or even alcohol and drugs for the evil behaviour of certain youths, as some have sought to do. We are Christians, and we recognize through bitter experience the evil of which fallen human nature is capable when not assisted by grace, or when grace has been rejected.

Melancholicus was prompted to a reflection on these matters by reading the following piece by Martina Devlin in today’s Irish Independent:

Polish deaths were result of yob culture

By Martina Devlin
Saturday March 01 2008

In its mindlessness, its recklessness, its vicious and unprovoked excess, it is behaviour which leans disturbingly close to a Clockwork Orange society.

The screwdriver murders of two Polish construction workers who came to Ireland to earn a living was not racist. No, it was wanton violence -- carried out for no other reason than the thrill of inflicting harm.

And while it happened in Dublin in this case, evidence of such yob culture is visible the length and breadth of Ireland. Village or city, it makes no difference.

"Ultraviolence" was dystopian chronicler Anthony Burgess's account of this gratuitous aggression, this ferocious hostility. Ultraviolence just about describes what happened in Drimnagh, when a group of teenagers assaulted and murdered two passing men.

That they were Polish was, I suspect, incidental. Ultraviolence requires the dehumanisation of victims, but targets can be drawn from any nationality or sector.

Thuggery on the scale we have just witnessed is an affront to every one of us -- a signal that civilisation has started forgetting how to be civilised. It acts as a reminder that we should not wring our hands, condemn the incomprehensible and then mentally cross over to the far side of the street.

Above all, we should not fall into the trap of defining that frenzied confrontation in Drimnagh as a racist attack; to do so is is to start constructing reasons for it. If that happens, on some level we lay the groundwork for rationalising and subsequently making excuses for the bloodshed. Once you label it racist -- distasteful though racism is -- you can field experts to discuss changing demographics, community interfaces, pressure-points and economic insecurities.

They will remind us how Irish society has altered radically in a compressed space of time, with one in 10 of our population now drawn from overseas.

It's inevitable the native population should feel threatened and not wholly surprising some may choose to express it through violence, goes the subtext to this interpretation of the double murder.

We must stop right there. Yob culture is not based on racism, nor should it be viewed as an explanation for its existence. Yobbery may contain strands of racism but this particular brand of bigotry is not among its guiding principles; those are brutality, disrespect for the rule of law, a lack of parameters and the complete absence of any fear of consequences.

It is a social disorder, one which can and should be tackled. Ignore it -- and the Clockwork Orange society takes a step closer.

Some of the criminality we are experiencing is drink-fuelled, some drug-enflamed, and some is the upshot of an abdication of parental control.

Ireland has always had a drink culture, and the tradition of the Saturday night brawl after heavy alcohol intake is no new phenomenom.

But it used to be a case of fist fights. Then broken glasses or bottles became part of the equation.

Now it's knives -- or in the circumstances that engulfed Mariusz Szwajkos (27) and Pawel Kalite (26), the stomach-churning image of a screwdriver to the head of one man and the throat of another.

If such behaviour continues to escalate, we will be condemned to a CCTV society where constant monitoring is the only way in which citizens feel safe outside their homes.

Inevitably, emotions are running high about these murders. People feel frustration, anger, fear, shame. We are alarmingly aware of how all of us are at the mercy of this lowest common denominator element. Many of us have witnessed hooliganism in our neighbourhoods, and been loathe to remonstrate with the perpetrators. With just cause.

Tough questions need to be addressed. How do we inculcate respect for authority? How do we restore a certain level of discipline without allowing free rein to the "hang 'em, flog 'em" brigade? How do we persuade certain parents to take responsibility for their children's behaviour?

There are a number of possible solutions. We could reduce some of the effects of excess alcohol consumption by raising the legal drinking limit to 21.

Most adults, let alone teenagers, are incapable of handling drink at the current binge levels. We should also move away, in media and advertising terms, from presenting the pub as the focal point of any community.

Local authorities could consider diverting some of their funds into amenities specifically aimed at young people.

Let's get them off the streets and offer them something to do, even if it's no more than a room where they can play board games and share soft drinks.

Finally, for a demonstration of dignity and compassion in the wreckage of tragedy, we need look no further than the words of a sister to one of the victims.

"My family do not wish to blame the people of Ireland and would prefer to think this attack could have happened anywhere in the world," said Gosia Szwajkos. Let's honour Mariusz Szwajkos and Pawel Kalite by taking to heart some lessons from their deaths.

Requiescant in pace.

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