To limit or not to limit: to be or not to be, that is the question

by Julia Evans on August 11, 2011

‘We risk justifying greed by suggesting that the things we want are potentially unlimited.[i] ‘ Giles Fraser

Limits based in relationships or limits enforced top-down with rules and regulations to protect

 

When limits fail or are deliberately crossed………

I write as many have been shocked by riots which have been beyond control.  Looting is widespread and three young men acting to protect, have been murdered.  Many images are, at the moment, stuck with me:

Trevor Reeve[ii] describing witnessing the family furniture business, built up over 100 years, being deliberately set alight.

Ellie Coward[iii] describes how, in the night, her door was broken down and her handbag taken. She goes on to describe how the locksmith’s brother had been held up at gunpoint and the policeman, who came to take her statement, smelling of smoke from other of the night’s events.

A further consequence of this off-limits, mob rule is the murder of 3 volunteers who were protecting.  From the BBC report (Today, Radio 4, Wednesday 10th August):

Witnesses[iv] said the men were in a group protecting their community after riot police were called into the city. … his father Tariq Jahan, whose son Haroon Jahan was killed, said “I’ve got no words to describe why he was taken and why this has happened and what’s happening to the whole of England.”

What strikes me about these accounts is that events are beyond the speakers’ comprehension.  The knitting[v], which holds the fabric of our society together, has been smashed.  The ways of being in a community have been crossed. The underside is in control.

This incomprehension is very evident in PC Paul Deller’s[vi] account.  The system had failed.  The police had been unable to protect.  They had been stretched beyond their limit.

Two responses to this pushing through or crossing of limits:

1)    Vigilante groups have been formed to protect and take back control from the rioters. And the police comment on whether individuals feel protected.  The discourse of protection comes to the fore.

From: BBC Radio 4 Today Programme Wednesday 10th August: In Enfield, the badly affected north London borough, the BBC reporter[vii] found people taking matters into their own hands. He also reports similar groups operating in Eltham. And Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steven Kavanagh looks at whether ordinary people feel protected.

2)  People use twitter to organise the clearing of debris left by the rioters[viii].

So what is going on?

This is a first attempt at a construction.

Over the last 15 years, I have been exploring the difference between governance based in top-down control, using rules and regulations where there are 3 responses possible collaborator, collaborationist (one complies as to disobey would mean you loose your job or other) or resistance.  And governance based in relationships of love and trust. (see my 2007 article on Lacanianworks[ix])  So the first one is based in control, fear, compliance, rights, absolutes and so on.  The second in relationships, conversations, networking, involvement.  The first one gives certainties, the second uncertainty and failures.

Giles Fraser, attempts to tease apart how limits work in both governances[x].  He argues: Countering the then-prevailing view that society was embarked on a journey of continual improvement, … he (Revd Thomas Maulthus) argued that growth has a natural limit. If the limit is exceeded, disaster occurs. So Malthus is suspicious of the idea of continual growth. Such suspicion would be well worth bringing into discussions about our economy. It has become a matter of common sense that the very purpose of an economy is con­tinually to drive up GDP. When an economy fails to grow, as ours is currently failing to grow, we see this as economic failure.

So there is a limit in our ability to impose our view on the world.  And failure is possible, even probable, at the limit of that view.

The opposing side:  arguing that the economy is potentially unlimited be­cause human creativity is potentially unlimited. “Humans are made in God’s image and to put limits on human creativity is by implication to put limits on God,” as Giles Fraser[xi] puts it.

Giles Fraser argues for an acceptance of limit: Yet I would argue that the in­carna­tion is precisely an acceptance of limit. We risk justifying greed by suggesting that the things we want are potentially unlimited.

The crossing or refusal of limit side: So there is no limit to what human beings can achieve and everyone has a right to happiness and much else.  We only fail to achieve complete satisfaction if what? – we stop believing in ourselves?

And the Government have, certainly since the Twin Towers and Dr Shipman’s murders, promised protection – see Health Professions Order 2001.  Further they promise, Fairness and Equity, (my critique of using these standards, as trumpeted in the NHS White Paper: Equity and excellence: Liberating the NHS[xii] is in the urgent queue, now over 100, of about-to-be-postings) Absolute and with no doubt. They, using top-down control and standards, are going to remove unfairness, inequity, mental illness, parents abusing and killing their children, and so on.  And they, the Government, your elected representatives, are going to liberate you, whether you agree or not.  This is an enforced liberation on the lines of what is going on in Afghanistan and elsewhere. And they have given this promise to those kids and adults now rioting on our street.

De Sade’s critique of the French Revolution and the systematic imposition of Rights (to satisfaction, goods, happiness, etc) is very relevant.  Please do read Jean-Louis Gault’s (here )  and Pierre Naveau’s (here), available on LacanianWorks.net, account of this systematic implementation of my Rights.  It obliterates relationships, the knitting which holds us together, and supports exclusivity and the demonising of difference.

And this is what has come to pass. The joy of pushing through limits. The treatment of people as objects of exchange. Actions based in envy. The tainting of the out-group: the rich, shop-keepers, the police, Asian, the elderly, psychopractitioners who resist central registration, and so on.

And these are the assumptions on which Parliament legislates.  And not only in Mental Health.  Policing has been turned from being a community activity, by consent, to top-down imposition of standards.

If you govern through rules and regulations and giving promises of ‘Fairness’ and ‘Equity’ and you change the nature of policing from involvement with the community to enforcing The Law, a politic of Envy is put in place and people think they have a Right to ………..

If you promise to protect, this is what results.  Individual rights, in a vacuum, are what De Sade, in his plays, vividly illustrate.

The Answers:

From Giles Fraser[xiii]: The lesson in all of this for me is that violence is ultimately defeated not by more violence, but by the the imitation of generous service to other people. Yes, the police may well have to use violence to protect the lives of the innocent. But ultimately, it won’t be this muscle that brings a sustained calm to our streets. Peace is achieved though the widespread imitation of simple kindness and loving service. Violence is defeated when enough people engage in right sort of copying.

And it is not easy.  The idea that politicians can control human nature and cure its ills is seductive.  Working within the knitting of human relationships in a community is difficult and frustrating.  There are no easy evaluation measures that you have got it right.  And the alternative is mayhem based in the imposition of absolute power and control motored by envy.

I will post this even though it is unfinished.  Please add a comment.


[i] Probing the virtues of economic growth by Giles Fraser Church Times5 August 2011

[ii] Today Radio 4 Tuesday August 10th

0733 Reeves furniture store in Croydon, a local London business which has been running for more than 100 years, was burned down during the riots. Its owner Trevor Reeve describes losing his family business and why he is “trying to make the best of it”.

[iii] Today Radio 4 Tuesday August 10th

0733 And Ellie Coward, who lives in Tooting in south London, describes the moment her house was burgled.

[iv] Quotes from BBC web-site and from the Today programme: 10 August 2011: Three killed in crash on night of Birmingham riots

Witnesses to the incident said the three victims – two of them brothers – were part of a group protecting shops from looting.

Kabir Khan Isakhel said: “People came out of prayers [at a local mosque] and they were protecting the area.”

“They were standing on the side of the road and the car just came and ran them over.”

‘Car came flying’

Mohammed Shakiel, 34, a carpenter, said the men “lost their lives for other people”.

“They weren’t standing outside a mosque, a temple, a synagogue or a church – they were standing outside shops where everybody goes.

“They were protecting the community as a whole.”

“Haroon Jahan was trying to protect the area”, his father said.

Tariq Jahan, whose son Haroon Jahan was killed, said he was nearby when it happened.

“My instinct was to help the three people, I did not know who they were but they had been injured.

“I was helping the first man and someone from behind told me my son was behind me.

“So I started CPR on my own son, my face was covered in blood, my hands were covered in blood.

“Why, why?”

He said his son, who was a mechanic, had been trying to protect the community as incidents were taking place elsewhere in the area. He said a petrol station along the road had been attacked.

“He was a very good lad, a good man starting at the beginning of his life and had his whole life ahead of him,” he said.

“I’ve got no words to describe why he was taken and why this has happened and what’s happening to the whole of England.

[v] Knitting in this sense is derived from ‘In search of excellence’ by Tom Peters & Robert Waterman. One of their 8 principles is ‘Stick to the knitting – stay with the business you know’.  Knitting is equated with the culture which holds the organisation together.  Knitting has many propeties – if you look at it closely it is full of holes: it is a series of knots which can unravel: if you cut the thread a gaping, unintended hole develops: it is possible to felt it into one unyielding block. So the knitting which holds society together is fragile and there is no certainty that it exists.  The police may fail to protect.  Reference: Peters, Tom and Waterman, Robert “In Search Of Excellence, Lessons from America’s Best Run Companies”1988 Warner Books

[vi] Today Radio 4 Tuesday August 10th:  0741 Rioting has spread across London with cars and buildings set alight on a third night of unrest, and with trouble flaring up in other English cities. PC Paul Deller, who was working in a Met Police control room overnight, explains that the police “gave it everything we could”.

[vii] From: BBC Radio 4 Wednesday 10th August0735 In response to the riots and looting, a growing number of vigilante groups have been forming to protect their homes and communities. Today reporter Andrew Hosken reports from the streets in Enfield, the badly affected north London borough, where he found people taking matters into their own hands. And Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steven Kavanagh looks at whether ordinary people feel protected.

[viii] The Revd Canon Giles Fraser, BBC Radio 4, Thought for the Day (10 August 2011) : For as of this morning, the Twitter tag @riotcleanup has notched up over 90,000 followers, with new versions for Manchester and Wolverhampton already springing up.

[ix] On limits « Lacanian Works · On limits. by Julia Evans on July 27, 2011. The Sadean position on limits is that anything goes. You can have anything you want

 

Wellbeing & Happiness as used by the UK Government: May 7, 2007 : Introduction Wellbeing and happiness are two words, constructions, or concepts in use by Government in changing the practice of all health professionals. This paper has three sections: first it considers (…)

[x] Arguments from:  Probing the virtues of economic growth by Giles Fraser Church Times 5 August 2011 : ‘ONE thinker about whom it is definitely non-PC to say anything positive is the Revd Thomas Malthus (1766-1834). Countering the then-prevailing view that society was embarked on a journey of continual improvement, Malthus published his notorious An Essay on the Principle of Population, in which he argued that growth has a natural limit. At some point, he insisted, popu­lation growth comes up against the ability of the world to sustain it. At that point, there will be what we might now call an ecological disaster. Malthus spoke in terms of famine and starvation. The reason why it has be­come so tricky to befriend Malthus intellectually is that he goes on to argue that famine is divinely or­dained to teach human beings virtue. It is, indeed, hard to write about all this while so many people are dying in East Africa. But what Malthus gets right is being suspicious of the idea of continual growth. Such suspicion would be well worth bringing into discussions about our economy. It has become a matter of common sense that the very purpose of an economy is con­tinually to drive up GDP. When an economy fails to grow, as ours is currently failing to grow, we see this as economic failure.’

[xi] Probing the virtues of economic growth by Giles Fraser Church Times 5 August 2011

[xii] Equity and excellence: liberating the NHS (White Paper www.dh.gov.uk › HomePublicationsCached 12 Jul 2010 – The NHS White Paper, Equity and excellence: Liberating the NHS, sets out the Government’s long-term vision for the future of the NHS.

[xiii] The Revd Canon Giles Fraser, BBC Radio 4, Thought for the Day (10 August 2011) On Monday night I sat on the roof of my house and listened to the sound of helicopters buzzing overhead and police cars racing though the streets. Last night London itself was quieter, but the violence has spread elsewhere. How on earth will all this stupid destruction finally come to an end?