I have been thinking recently about social order and how fragile that always is. Thank goodness, we have seen umpteen instances of kindness and human spirit in recent days. There are always those, however, who will seek to exploit the situation (perhaps we all will in some way). The National Police Chiefs Council has reported instances of thefts of oxygen tanks and even two Iceland delivery vans were allegedly attacked in Bristol.
Following Boris Johnson’s announcement on Monday night, that gatherings of more than two people would be dispersed and fines would be handed out, police reported a lack of clarity on how to enforce these new rules. Indeed, the rules came in before the legislation! Different forces have responded in different ways, underlining the difficulties in coordinating nationwide practice when you have 43 police forces.
In the end, the police rely on the majority of the public doing what they are told, ideally because they agree. If the public or prisoners or school children rise up, they will always outnumber the police, the guards and the teachers. We operate on the assumption that people buy into the legitimacy of the regime, sufficient to maintain stability. Hence the social order is always fragile.
And if the people don’t comply, the state has force and internment powers at its disposal. In Jordan, those breaking the curfew have been threatened with up to one year imprisonment – in Kuwait, up to three years.
I started re-reading The Plague by Albert Camus last week. A bit macabre perhaps, but it’s a book I enjoyed in my teens and seems to offer some interesting insights now. Early in the book, you see the first cracks in the social order breaking. In this story, the whole town is under quarantine and the virus more serious. It is the perceived lack of hope that presents a particular challenge to order here.
Perhaps because so many people in the UK have good things that they want to protect (family, friends, homes, income, freedoms), this keeps a natural brake on widespread disorder. People are also surprisingly resilient and resourceful too. Indeed, isolation could help us re-discover our connections.
© Natasha Mulvihill and Criminology Tales, 2020.