Violence as entertainment: an outsiders view.

26 04 2012

A while back, The Guardian had a series of articles on Glasgow Gangs and the response on twitter was interesting to say the least. From a laypersons observations, as an outsider moving to North Glasgow as a young teen, I thought I’d describe my understanding of it all. In my understanding, it operates quite differently to other gangs in the UK. I personally believe it’s a cultural issue passed from father to son for generations. There are reports that suggest much the same (that I’m too lazy to search for and link to).

A report from 2008 highlighted that Glasgow had the same number of teenage gangs as London who has over 6 times the population. Obviously gang culture has developed in Glasgow like any other gang culture around the world. Mostly location-based gangs formed and it was like a right of passage for the teenage boy to be in the local gang, it was a form of protection but it also met a human tribal needs. Although taking drugs were a large part of recreational gang behaviour, of the people I knew, it was never about being a drug gang or dealing in hard drugs. Someone always knew a guy who knew a guy who sold jellies (a now banned form of Tamazepam). In those days ecstasy and cocaine were expensive, Acid for hippies and heroin only for junkies.

The dealing and organisation of drugs gangs was the domain of the “grown ups”. This is a huge organised crime which revolves around drugs and territoriality and is the reason for almost all shootings in the area. The gangs are more often family based with the names of such being household names in some parts of Glasgow. The battle between the Daniels and the Lyons is the most recent highlighted gang feud but names such as the Thompsons were notorious for generations with my grandparents knowing of the family in their youth.

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I remember being astonished upon starting high school how many friends would organise fights among themselves. As soon as the home bell went, friends became enemies and in the evening the gangs from rival areas would meet in the field next to my house to fight. This wasn’t about drugs or vendettas, it was entertainment pure and simple. They didn’t meet to kill each other or do serious damage just give each other a good “doin”.

There would be about 100 kids, 50 on either side of a valley who would charge down a hill at each other brandishing weapons, boulders, wooden bats, tree branches etc. The so-called “posh kids” and the “scheme kids”. Various schemes would arrange to meet the “posh kids” for a fight, mostly at weekend but a midweek battering wasnt unheard of. The gangs had names, some inventive others just representing the area young team. The ones I remember most were the Auchinairn Bison and Balornock Young Team as they were the most common opponents to whatever the “posh kids” gang was called. Wikipedia has provided a hysterical (yet handy) list of gang names in Glasgow. Reading it I remember quite a few of them and the chants each Young Team would holler wherever they went. The next day at school they were all the best of friends again.

Violence for them was a form of entertainment. I cannot get my head round this concept to this day. Having moved from the leafy suburbs of wealthy Hertfordshire into what felt like a warzone was a massive culture shock for me. It was quite possibly worse for my brother as there was a huge pressure on males to conform and get involved in this violence. Boys had to prove themselves from an early age and even in adulthood this behaviour continues. Violence is normalised, it’s accepted and promoted among societies as a means of status and proving oneself. It’s about honour. This theme of violence and honour has existed for thousands of years and the violence of the Scots has been noted as far back as Roman times when the majority of the country lay beyond the boundary of the Roman Empire. Even today, Scots talk with pride about “stopping the romans”, despite archaeological evidence suggesting the two cultures lived reasonably harmoniously alongside one another.

Now I know this violence as entertainment isn’t a practice restricted to Glasgow, or indeed Scotland, but I have never come across a people so proud of their violent heritage. It is incomprehensible to me why violence is celebrated in such a widespread manner, but it would be remiss of me to ignore this as a reality in favour my pacifist’s utopia. Yup if you’re reading my blog for the first time, I am and always have been a pacifist. I have taken punches and not so much as returned a slap. Violence solves nothing. Knowing this doesn’t stop the rest of the society I live in having a violent code of honour. In their eyes makes me a freak. I am fine with that.

Today MP for Falkirk, Eric Joyce spoke openly about his troubles with violence and crime in his life during a Channel 4 interview. Undoubtedly, he would have experienced the peer pressure to conform and get involved in violent behaviour. He would have likely understood and experienced the entertainment aspect. He even openly said it was fun. For many this may have been their first introduction to the normalisation of violence within Scotland and their shock is understandable. It shouldn’t be this way but it is, and it would take massive cultural shift over many generations to even begin to touch on this mindset. And while I have concentrated mainly on male cultural violence in this post, my biggest personal shock was seeing that it existed with as much prevalence, in teenage years at least, among females too.

There was considerable comment online about Joyce’s unacceptable behaviour and how his condoning violence made him unfit to represent the people of Falkirk in parliament. Most of the outrage appeared to come from those living in the South East of England and with all due respect, they are unlikely to understand the importance and prevalence of Scottish violent culture to such a large swathe of Scottish, mostly working class, men. To say as such is not to agree with or support such violence but it is an acceptance that it does exist and is, for whatever unfathomable reason, important to many people.





I don’t suffer from autism. You do.

2 04 2012

I don’t suffer from autism, I suffer from people’s unwillingness to accept difference in the human race. I don’t suffer autism, You do.

So today is World Autism Awareness Day and of course the media feel the need to recognise it in its own inimitable way. The Guardian for example have pictures of kids at a SEN school with descriptions of typical autistic traits underneath. Is it in pictures because we cannot read? Does it simplify autism for us or does it simplify the whole thing for you? Only just a bit* (*majorly) patronising, but as someone on twitter said, “it raises awareness for the poor souls”. This is the part of the problem, it is assumed people with autism are poor souls for being different to the neurotypical population. It also often assumed by the media, autistic people are all the same with the same behaviours and the same traits, it ignores the fact there is a spectrum or any individuality within that spectrum, just the same as neurotypical humans. The media perpetuates this ‘poor soul’ myth by talking of our “suffering a condition” that is in fact a neurodevelopmental difference. Medically they call it a disorder because it does not fit into the neurotypical view of normality.  What is normal anyway?

Much of the suffering of people with autism arises by being forced to conform to the alleged norms of a neurotypical society. Because our “disability” isn’t one that can be easily seen, it doesn’t have the same social sympathy factor as someone with no legs in a wheelchair. Indeed often most sympathy I see is directed towards long-suffering parents. And therein lies the reality of “suffering autism”. The parents and carers, the neurotypicals, they have to suffer autism. The parental desperation for the autistic person to be “normal” and to fit into or embrace their way of life causes the suffering. Asking or forcing people who have their own way of doing things to ignore their natural compulsion and live to your unnatural standards is what causes the problems. Shoehorning any human being into a box that not designed for them is problematic, regardless of the label you wish to apply to them. Leave an autistic person to live life as they wish, in the manner they wish and they’re happy as can be. No meltdowns. The parents and carers aren’t quite so happy leaving them be though are they? We send autistic people to behavioural therapy or crave treatment to make them fit in with neurotypical life. There is no recovery. Treatment means behave more like a neurotypical person. It denies the autistic person the right to be just who they are. We are telling people with autism they are wrong the way nature intended them and to conform to the neurotypical ideal.

Of course life doesn’t allow for people to live however they wish. How dare we even contemplate letting someone live a life that is so inherently different to that which is understood by neurotypicals. We all must conform. We must all be the same; same clothes, same hairdo, same thought pattern, same tv, same car, same semi-detached house.

Could it be that the neurotypical community have it wrong? Perhaps the idea of rejecting social conformity needs to be embraced among the neurotypical community. In fact it seems to me this is where the biggest problem lies. Neurotypicals are so desperate everyone must conform to their ideals, that they can’t see the damage they are doing to themselves and society as a whole by shunning their own individuality.

I don’t want to conform. Long before I?d even heard of autism, I didn’t want to be like everyone else. I knew I was different, they knew I was different, there was a happy status quo, they didn’t want me being like them, I had absolutely no desire to be like them. Neurotypicals live in a cluttered complex world. Subtle nuance replaces upfront. Body language may reveal a truth that their words leave behind. Maybe if more neurotypicals tried to live in an autistic world, there would be a lot less bullshit. Imagine it; no spin, only common sense, honesty? you can’t imagine it though can you? You don’t want to try to imagine living in an autistic world and instead it is expected to force an autistic person to live in a neurotypical world. A world that is alien to us. A world that is confusing, if only because you make it needlessly so.

Is this my utopian ideal? Yeah of course it is. My opinion, my utopia, but it is no less utopian than the expectations of the neurotypical community that we can and will, or even want to, just fit in with their way of life. It is assumed  that we all want to but cannot. Have you even considered that some autistic people just don’t want to live and be like you? Could it be so?