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A ramble through the mind of a murderer - Tactical Ninja

Jul. 18th, 2012

09:52 am - A ramble through the mind of a murderer

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Apparently that nice Mr Key wants to know personally what I think. He does! He sent me a printed ticky-box form letter saying "How can we make a brighter future for you?" and the return address is directly to him! So since I now have a personal and direct line to the prime minister, I filled in the form for him. Because aw, he cares!

I may have taken some liberties with the wording of the three issues that were important to me, which are now worded thus:

1. Reducing long-term welfare dependency, with a focus on work job creation.
2. Selling minority Keeping all shares in four all energy SOEs and Air New Zealand.
3. Practical environmental policies supporting sustainable growth and greener technology.

In 'important local issues' I wrote The way that since this government was elected, many of my friends have lost their jobs due to redundancy and there seems nothing is in place to support new job creation.

Because fuckit, he asked. I'm sure he'll address my concerns personally too.


The first Crim lecture was yesterday. The lecturer was the same guy who was my tutor way back when I was doing 100-level Sociology as a prerequisite. I remember being That Student who talked in tutorials and being new enough to feel as if I was being a wanker because of it. I ended up liking this guy a lot. He recommended The Sociological Imagination to me when I was having trouble getting to grips with the abstract nature of social theory, and it helped. And he's passionate, even though he's obviously been at it a really long time. He also reminds me a lot of my Dad, being English, bearded and older.

Anyway, he's into theory and wants us all to be as well, and to give us some idea of how theory could be interesting, he showed us the video of a police interview conducted on a guy who had just shot two men in a pub at point blank range, seemingly unprovoked. He'd walked into the pub, looked around, then gone out to his car, got two guns, gone back in and killed the two men. He then shot up the gambling machines, offered to buy everyone a drink, then went outside, smoked a joint, went back in and shot up some more gambling machines. Then he went to his girlfriends' parents place where the police later picked him up.

At the start of the interview he was obviously still stoned. He talks like a bro. Most people probably don't know what that means, so here's a handy 50 second video by the late great Billy T James to demonstrate:



Billy T was taking the piss but this is an actual dialect in NZ, and while Billy T totally reclaimed it, the reality is that this accent says a fair bit about socio-economic status - the lower end of it. It used to be mainly a Maori dialect (apparently the inflections are the same as you would use when speaking Maori), but it has come to be spoken by some pakeha as well. My husband talked like it when he was with his mates, although he didn't when talking to, say, his parents or tradespeople or clients.

Anyway, this guy was a good looking young Maori man with dreadlocks, talked like a bro, was obviously stoned, and seemed not interested in taking any responsibility for what he'd done. He said that one of the victims (the publican) had banned him from the pub for a fight he didn't start, and that the other guy had 'stabbed him in the back', that the 'rich cunts'* saw him being homeless and did nothing. That people laughed at him, that the government had it in for him, that he was 'whacking his missus' and that he blamed the people who crapped on him for him taking it out on her. He said he wanted to go back to jail because at least he was welcome there. That killing the two men was "I done what I said I'd do."

Throughout, he showed no remorse for his actions and it's clear that he was so removed from the values and norms of average society that he didn't see what he did as being something to be upset about.

The questions we were asked after watching this were along the lines of "What do you do with people like this?" the implication being that how we feel about what we'd just seen probably has a theory attached to it, and that these theories can be analysed in terms of what they say about human nature, the social order, definitions of crime, extent of crime in a society, causes of crime, and policy solutions. So if you think the young guy is wrong in the head, then you might look at a positivist theory for a solution. If you don't care about him and only care about what he did, you'd be looking at a classicist or conservative theory, depending on your view of how he should be dealt with.

All good.

Except for me, because this young man reminded me of my ex husband so much, not only in his speech but his mannerisms, the thing that screamed out to me from the video was that everything he said and did was about power. The hitting his missus, the little plays where he refuses to tell the policeman information about his home and about the colour of his car, the accusations levelled against the two victims who had exerted power over him either by banning him from the pub or by laughing at his homelessness. There's a bit in the video where he taunts the police officer, who had searched his house months earlier looking for stolen weapons and not found them, with the idea that one of the guns used was one of the ones he'd been looking for. He later says he found the guns next to a house. I saw this as another power play - "I got one over you all those months ago and now look." The way he assumes a powerful posture and mimes killing the two men - it looks like he's imagining himself as the Terminator or some other powerful bringer of vengeance as he does it. Pretty much everything the young guy says and does is a power play of some kind.

Which leads me to believe that in this particular case, the murder of the two men was also about power. About someone who spends their life feeling powerless and doing anything they can to feel as if they are in control, reaching a point where having power is more important that living within social norms. I'm not saying what he did was justified. Obviously it wasn't - you don't kill people for banning you from a pub for fighting ffs. But when you look at the situation from a perspective of the power dynamics in the young guy's life, it makes it a lot easier to understand how he might end up with a set of values so far from normal that he can rationalise shooting people.

What this means (apart from that I think I've witnessed too much power-based rationalisation in my life) is that my view of this situation is apparently in the Critical school, which views crime in terms of the influences of power relationships within a society rather than in terms of rational choice or deviance from norms or pre-determined personal traits. Colour me completely unsurprised by that! So yeah, the video had the desired effect - it got me thinking about theory and how it might apply to tricky situations. And for me, it's kind of personal. Normally I'm pretty liberal-viewed in that I think punishing people by imprisoning them and then throwing them out on the street with 'convict' stamped all over their life is not an appropriate way to deal with crime and that support and assistance to achieve the things that help you have a 'normal' life within society is more likely to make a real difference. But I always devil's-advocate myself with my ex-husband. What do you do with people like him? I've never had an answer for that which makes me question the consistency of my worldview. Now I think maybe this theory business will help me find one.

Neat.

A year later, Stephen Matchitt was dead, stabbed to death in a cell block in Paremoremo prison.

* In New Zealand, 'cunt' is normally used to refer to men, and in this dialect has all the impact of 'bloke' or 'dude' - it's not really an insult used this way.


So anyway, watching that video took me back to my past (again) in some pretty deep (but luckily not too distressing) ways. Consequently, last night I dreamed I was rousieing on a raised board, and the shearer I was working with's wife came in and got all shitty at me because I was rousieing too well and she though her husband might start to fancy me because of my Mad Skilllz.

Yes seriously, it was like that. Sorting fribs to catch yourself a man, oh please can I?

Have I mentioned lately how glad I am that I'm not there any more?

Comments:

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From:tatjna
Date:July 17th, 2012 11:01 pm (UTC)
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Funny you should say that. I think one of the essay questions is about precisely that, what with the "the adequate study of environmental harm must proceed from sustained analysis of the basic institutions and structures of contemporary capitalism" bit and all.

Environmental criminology isn't covered till quite a bit later in the course, but when I get a minute I'll have a look through the recommended readings to see if there's anything worth passing on.

I will never forget the stunned mullet look that the two reps from the Ministry of the Environment gave me when I asked if the government had considered the possibility that it might be better not to continue to subsidise industries that couldn't survive in a carbon-limited world. It said a lot to me about how little the critical approach has been taken when thinking about environmental policy in this country.
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From:tatjna
Date:July 18th, 2012 12:19 am (UTC)
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I dunno, what else could be meant by 'the basic institutions and structures of capitalist society"? Lots of people see the word 'capitalist' in that sentence and think 'Marxism', but when I read it I took 'capitalist' to mean 'our' and 'institutions and structures' as 'who has the power and how do they use it?'

You could argue that this thinking would still lead to a Marxist analysis and if you tried hard enough you could probably couch it all in terms of control of the means of production. I'm sure that's what I'm supposed to do in that essay, but then I read the bit in that sentence that goes 'proceed from' and think, well that's a good place to start then, now what?

And the what, IMO, is the thing I'm talking about up there - the (I'm making this up btw) ecosystem of power relationships that supports the current course of action, and how those relationships affect decisions about policy. I can hear Marx going "HAH! GOT YOU!" but tbh I agree with you, and when I've learned more about the other other critical theories, I'll get back to you on how to make him shut up, mmk?

PS So far the only other branch of critical criminology that I'm familiar enough with to have these discussions is labelling theory, which has roots in symbolic interactionism. I suspect it's got a bit of relevance to environmental discussions, but that it'd require a bit of mental gymnastics and that it'd still only fractionally address what we're fiddling with here. I know there's stuff that's more up the right alley out there, and since I have to write an essay, I might as well make myself familiar with that eh?

Edited at 2012-07-18 12:51 am (UTC)
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From:tatjna
Date:July 18th, 2012 08:33 pm (UTC)
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Pretty much this. There are flaws to the pure power-dynamics analysis in that while it explains and provides potential avenues to address underlying chronic causes of issues, it does little to provide answers to the acute expression of issues in society.

So in terms of Stephen Matchitt, it helps to explain how he came to be so far removed from societal norms and potentially provides policy avenues for addressing those issues, but it doesn't suggest what to do with him 2 hours after he killed 2 people in cold blood, you know?

I haven't put any thought into how this maps onto environmental issues yet, but say the policy environment is discouraging of challenging the current ideology-du-jour, and this is why our two reps were all dense about my question. All good, we could try to create a more critical environment, but in the meantime, cockies are still buying more cows and the government is still subsidising that, and there's not a lot anyone seems able to do to change it. I'm not sure power-dynamic analysis is any immediate help.

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From:tatjna
Date:July 18th, 2012 09:08 pm (UTC)
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Y'know, the weird thing is that the awareness of international power dynamics was very evident in the reply that was given to me. It's obvious that these things have been thoroughly considered and the conscious decision has been made that no, we can't go down that track because that would cripple us financially - but they couldn't, or wouldn't, actually say it.

And of course I start thinking about those international power dynamics and wondering about what relationships bring about a situation where jostling for advantageous trade positions between nations usurps the wellbeing of everyone on the planet as a frame for discussion, and then my head explodes because I go back to the stuff I learned about the prime movers in international trade in the State Crime course and how so few people hold so much of the power, and I end up wanting to go live in a cave.

Instead I eat less meat, car share and recycle in the full knowledge that sometimes taking what personal power you can is the only thing you can do as you get shafted by those on top of the pile.

So how am I different from Stephen Matchitt again?

Sorry, thinking about this stuff fills me with pessimism because it goes from personal to globally political so fast, and up there I have no real chance of having any influence. essentially, I think we're fucked, and power analysis makes me more convinced of it.
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From:tatjna
Date:July 18th, 2012 08:27 pm (UTC)
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The people who came to our course were there to tell us how the carbon trading system is the best thing since sliced bread for New Zealand, and I guess it didn't occur to them that a 200 level class of students would be thinking critically - thus, they weren't prepared.

They did come up with an answer after about 30 seconds of fast thinking, which was along the lines of how no countries have included agriculture in their carbon trading scheme and in the grand scheme of things NZ's farming industry is pretty efficient. Which is all well and good but doesn't actually answer the question.

I suspect that to answer the question in a room full of university students and professors (ie public) in the current political climate of power relationships, would be a career-limiting move, eh?
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