CRIMES of PASSAGE
an ( anthropological ) explanation of Youth-Crime
Paper delivered to an International Conference
"DEMOCRACY and JUSTICE"
Reviewing Crime in Theory and Practice
BRUNEL UNIVERSITY, WEST LONDON
14th June 1995
G. M. BEN-NATHAN
As we shall see, the passage from boy- to manhood is intensely traumatic. In some societies, consciously or unconsciously, this trauma is understood. Consequently, these societies are able to "manage" the situation – and do. Our society, and many others like us, do not understand what is going on. With us the situation is "unmanaged". The result is disastrous.
THE SCALE OF YOUTH CRIME
To begin with, let us look at the Youth-Crime situation here in England and Wales. The Government’s Criminal Statistics for 1991 tells us: ( The Government’s Statistical Service Publication: Criminal Statistics England and Wales 1991, P. 16 )
convicted of a serious offence by the age of 30.
first convicted in their early teens were more likely to continue
offending than those convicted later.
We also learn two other interesting points: firstly, there is a hard-core of some 7 per cent who account for two-thirds of convictions; and secondly, the amount of crime actually committed, say the statistics ( P.22 ) is perhaps three times the number of crimes recorded by the Police.
These are just statistics for England and Wales. The youth-crime situation in other countries is to a greater or a lesser extent just as worrying. To call youth-crime therefore a "social fact" in the sense that it is, as we all know, a "social fact-of-life" is hardly contentious. What is, or maybe, much more contentious is to call youth-crime a "social fact" in inverted commas.
puppets on an invisible string
Youth-crime as a "social fact" in the technical sense takes us right to the heart of sociological theory. And in doing so, it will enable us to decide between conflicting points of view. A sociological view suggests, as we shall see, that young males are the "victims" of forces they cannot control and that they don’t know exist. A psychological view, on the other hand, seems to allocate a high degree of choice and freewill to individual behaviour. Ina Leader ( Feb 15th 1995 ) under the title "Responsible Doctrines", The Times takes the latter point of view. It proclaims: "every crime is the result of a moral decision to commit" it, and concludes: "the true causes of crime are criminals". Can we really believe otherwise? I think we can ! This is as good a time as any to emphasise that we are here dealing exclusively with youth-crime. The case for dividing youth-crime off from all-crime is strong. The reason is that mercifully, bearing in mind the vast scale involved, few of the youngsters go on to remain criminals all their lives. By the time they are thirty or earlier, most youngsters cease to get into trouble with the Law.
"from the heart of reality itself"
"Social fact" is a term conceived by the eminent pioneer founding father of Sociology, Emile Durkheim. In 1895, he published a book called : ‘The Rules of the Sociological Method’. Rule number one, for sociologists at any rate, was to identify and study "social facts". And Durkheim held a "social fact" to be: "any way of acting, whether fixed or not, capable of exerting over the individual an external constraint". ( Rules P 59 ). Social facts are very powerful : "far from their a product of our will, they determine it ( our will ) from without. They are like moulds into which we are forced to cast our actions". (Rules P. 70 ) And again: …."the individual finds himself in the presence of a force which dominates him and to which he must bow. But this force is a natural one….it springs from the heart of reality itself; it is the necessary product of given causes" ( Rules P. 143 ). Durkheim can be regarded as referring to the multitude of behaviour-, language-, dress- and manner-codes which we breach only at our peril and which are in force in most of the varying milieus in which we operate.
Youth-crime:a "bad"-behaviour code
In Sociology and Social Anthropology circles at least, Durkheim’s name lives on. He has had, and has, his detractors; but students still encounter Durkheim’s theories fairly early on in their studies. Lucy Mair in her book, An Introduction to Social Anthropology, summarises Durkheim’s work by concluding ( P 24 ) …"and social behaviour – the behaviour that is thought appropriate to particular people in particular circumstances – is a response to complex pressures and not the expression of a kind of personality". "This is the principle of social analysis that laymen find hardest to grasp, but it is fundamental".
Mere "boy" into "young man"
So what exactly is"determining the will" of young males "from without"? What "force" is dominating them which "springs from the heart of reality itself"? The answer is : an urge, a deep-seated urge to change; and specifically, an urge to change status. A desire, a natural urge, an unconscious but all-consuming social imperative to change status – this is what is forging "the mould" into which young men are "forced to cast their actions". And we can be sure we are talking about young males rather than females. Youth-crime is a male phenomenon. My own research confirms how differently the sexes regard growing up: 85% of males, and 92% of females responded positively to the proposition: "Males and females, socially speaking, mature into adults in different ways and by different processes" ( proposition no 10 of my questionnaire / survey ). And the status change we are talking about is the change from child to non-child, from boy to man. It is a veritable metamorphosis; where the ugly caterpillar becomes a beautiful butterfly; where boys ‘die’ and are re-incarnated into warrior heroes.
A behavioural norm
But how can we be so sure that it really is status-change that is behind youth-crime? The answer is this: for a time, albeit a comparatively short time, appallingly bad behaviour accompanied by occasional "criminal" activity, is, as we shall see, a feature even of the societies that know how to manage change. It can be deduced from this that far from being a social aberration, youth-crime is a behavioural norm, a "social fact" in the Durkheimian sense.
Well, the time has come to look at those societies that seem to know a thing or two that we don’t. This is where the fruits of anthropological investigation come in useful.
…..and where to place Japan
For those not familiar with the subject, Social Anthropology is the name given to the study of societies "different from our own". Finding an acceptable word for "different from our own" has not been all that easy; "primitive", "tribal", "small-scale" are among the terms used. Durkheim’s colleague Van Gennep, to whom we shall refer a great deal, used the word "semi-civilised". The proper contrast, I believe, is between "highly"- and "less"-ritualised societies,with ourselves, of course, in the latter category. The advantage of this is that it allows us to put Japanin her proper context as a highly-ritualised society. Technological prowess and pronounced ritual behaviour are by no means incompatible. And it is in my opinion by no means accidental that Japan has the lowest rate – by far – of both crime and youth-crime of any high-tec society. ( An Evening Standard survey ( Feb 23rd. 1993) of ten major world cities on the chance of being a victim of violence put Tokyo at the very bottom of the league with a figure of 1 in 2332. The next nearest to it was Sydney, Australia at 1 in 191. Appearing eighth above Sydney was London: ( 1 in 178 ) and at the top was Rome with a chance of 1 in 64. Interestingly, the journalist doing the story did not try to explain the Tokyo phenomenon. Tokyo just appeared on the list as a sort of inexplicable aberration).
"anthropos" = "all-Man"
If we take this contrast between highly- and less-ritualised societies, Social Anthropology specialises in the investigation of the former and Sociology, the latter. There really is no good reason for the existence of two separate specialisations. Certainly, the Greek "anthropos" covers all-Man without exception. Each specialisation has such a vast body of literature that this perhaps accounts for the division.
Both specialisations subscibe to the same academic methodology. Anthropology lays very great stress on field work – and this is carried out often in very remote corners of the globe. Both fields of study differ from Psychology in that, as referred to earlier,they believe that social behaviour is a response to complex pressures and not the expression of a kind of personality. Durkheim felt very strongly about this. He said ( Rules P. 129 ): "In a word, there is between psychology and sociology the same break in continuity as there is between biology and the physical and chemical sciences. Consequently, every time a social phenomenon is directly explained by a psychological phenomenon, we may rest assured that the explanation is false". I agree with this statement; and I believe that youth-crime is predominantly a social rather than a psychological phenomenon. In other words, examining individual young male criminals from a psychological point of view advances the understanding of youth-crime very little !
ARNOLD Van GENNEP
.society is a question of house design
In 1909, the Belgian anthropologist, Arnold Van Gennep, published "Les Rites de Passage". His book has had lasting influence. The term Rite of Passage is in most European languages. But what does it actually refer to ? The word "passage" is used in the sense of going from one physical place to another physical place; but it also refers just as much to going from one social status to another social status. In fact, in his book he makes the point ( The Rites of Passage: P 192 ) that to do the second, you usually have to do the first.
"A society", he wrote(The Rites of Passage P.26) "is similar to a house divided into rooms and corridors, The more the society resembles ours in its form of civilisation, the thinner are its internal partitions and the wider and more open are its doors of communication. In a semi-civilised society, on the other hand, sections are carefully isolates, and passage from one to another must be made through formalities and ceremonies….". These "formalities" and "ceremonies" are of course ritual. There is, incidentally very little difference in dictionary definitions between the word "ritual" as opposed to "rite.
Maintaining the "house"analogy, in most highly-ritualised societies, moving from boy-to manhood is like having to "crash through a breeze-block wall". Some youngsters simply do not make it – as we shall see. In less ritualised societies, the situation could not be more different, Here, things are "open-plan". In theory, at least, boys become men by just walking into the role through the non-existent partitions from one section of society to another, And in reality, adulthood is dispensed almost as an administrative convenience at the stroke of midnight on a boy’s eighteenth birthday, Interestingly, we do no dispense educational status like this. Educational status has to be earned. My own research among over 500 schoolchildren and some 150 young offenders strongly suggest that they see adult status in educational terms : for example, well over 75% of males (females 86%) responded "No" to the question : "Do you think that adulthood comes automatically by just waiting till you reach a certain age?" On the same lines, 65%, males and females the same, (young offenders 62%)., underlined the "agree" option to the proposition "Full adult status has to be earned". (No 11 of the Questionnaire".
Status-change is a three-stage process
Back to Van Gennep. In his researches, he noticed a remarkable thing. And this was to do with ritual. While, as one would expect, the content of ritual varied from society to society, the form or pattern was universal. From one end of the earth to the other, societies who could not possibly know each other were doing the same thing. If ever there was an argument for the universality fo the human mind, this was it. The rituals were always three-stage. Never was this more the case than with initiation rituals which is my principle area of concern here. The three stages are: first, a "stripping-away" stage; second, a "marginal" stage; and thirdly, a "re-intergration" stage. The "marginal" stage is the most interesting and is the one I want to concentrate on. It is, as we shall see, frequently characterised by ambiguity culminating in great danger.
stabbed or strangled!
The universal pattern is at work close at home in our society. Initiation into freemasonry quickly illustrates the three-stage patter, First, the initiated is stripped of all metal objects; then he is blindfolded and a noose is placed around his neck, the end of the rope hanging down behind him. His shirt opened, a dagger held to his left breast, his trouser-leg rolled up, a shoe on one foot and a slipper on the other, he is ready to enter the marginal stage. Blindfolded, the candidate freemason is in a state of considerable disorientation as he is led about the Lodge. The blindfold and noose are eventually removed after the candidate has given his oaths of allegiance. He is then told that had he not stood his ground in the "ordeal" and had he tried to bold, he would have gone forward into the dagger pointed by the Inner Guard to his left breast. Had he gone backwards, the rope attached to the noose would have been grasped thus causing strangulation. Thus, the marginal stage of a freemason’s initiation is characterised, however symbolically, by disorientation, by danger and by possible death, Thankfully, tragedies arising from failed freemasonry initiations have not been recorded, This is any thing but the case with other initiation rites in other places. (The third integration stage will be signified by the now initiated candidate joining his new colleagues for a communal meal, having been awarded his lambskin apron and white gloves by the Worshipful Master of the Lodge)
young males ‘outside’ society – temporarily
In highly-ritualised societies, the intermediate "marginal" stage is a "build-up" period, The initiate is being prepared for the ordeal which signifies the end of this second stage. We will discuss the ordeal a little later. Van Gennep noticed another universal factor among initiates in these societies: their behaviour was absolutely awful. "During the novitiate" (16) "the young people can steal and pillage at will or feed and adorn themselves at the expense of the community". Now doesn’t this have a familiar ring about it? Robert Brain writing about the highly-ritualised societies of Australia refers to (17) "the unbridled independence and unruly temper of the uninitiated boy." La Fontaine tells us that one cannot sue a novice for damage done to crops, or other possessions, or even take offence at anything said. (18) Or, Even, it would appear at anything done: "I was also told of an initiand who hit his father’s brother, an unthinkable act in normal circumstances, but the older man ignored it" (20)
And indeed this awful behaviour, this "youth-crime", is ignored. Van Gennep is able to tell us why. "The novices are outside society, and society has no power over them, especially since they are scared and holy, and therefore untouchable and dangerous, just as gods would be….. That is the explanation – the simplest in the world – for a fact ( the awful behaviour) that has been noted among a great many peoples and that has remains incomprehensible to observers." (21) All this bad behaviour/ "youth-crime" is of course going to end. It’s duration is temporary; its course is finite. Stage three reincorporation into society will mark its termination.
Young males ‘outside’ society – permanently
As far as our young males are concerned, I am arguing:
Some young males behave as if they are unconsciously aware, if this is possible, that a supreme act of "derring-do" will help them sort themselves out. It would not of course if it was socially approved and socially administrated. But this does not happen. The young boys have to , and do, devise things for themselves, This is in many respects such a pity . For when a society itself organises a high-cost (by way of ordeal) programme for the re-admission of those wanting to return to it "from the cold", such a society seems to enhance its stature, commanding and receiving enduring behavioural responsibility from the returnees.
DESTINY and ……… DEATH.
Initiation: a threat to life
In freemasonry initiation, the threat of death is, as we have seen, present but only in the most symbolic way. In some highly-ritualised societies, it must be said, the ordeal that is the usual climax to stage-two is non-physical and therefore not life-threatening. In many others, however, it is. The anthropologist Ruth Benedict, discusses this matter. She makes the point: "we need rather to know what is identified in different cultures with the beginning of adulthood". The answer in very many of them is, she indicates, warfare. I believe that we, too, are a warfare society. Our youth seem to show that they want to be heroes – especially, but not exclusively, the delinquent ones. Even when the young man to be "forged" is not primarily a warrior the initiation ordeal can still be life-threatening. For example, as Benedict tells us as regards Australia "adulthood means participation in and exclusively male cult whose fundamental trait is the exclusion of women." In Australia, the young initiate male is circumcised.
"I am sorry to say that the pot you have given me to fire has broken"
More than one occasionally, youngsters succumb to the ordeal which climaxes the marginal state. La Fontaine notes that two boys died when she was doing her fieldwork among the Gisu people of Uganda in 1954. Of a boy who dies in such a way, La Fontaine tells us: "Whatever private feeling his family may have, publicly it is as if he never existed." A ritual declaration similar to the sub-heading above will be delivered to the parents. A Sunday Telegraph article (April 11th 1993) on initiation death among the Xhosa (a people of South Africa) goes further stating: "….it was accepted that those who did not survive had never been destined by the spirits to achieve manhood."
What has this all this to do with youth-crime, one might ask?
Well, I believe that this is an absolutely curcial insight. This more than anything else helps explain the horrifying and bewildering tendency of so may male youngsters needlessly to put their lives at risk.
I believe that these young boys are imbued with deep-seated "Am-I-destined-to-survive?" feelings. The Samaritans proclaim in their latest suicide statistics: "500 young men under 25 took their lives in 1992. The rate is increasing." (The figure for attempted suicide is unknown and unknowable, but it is presumed much higher). Home office figures for 1993 for males between the ages of 15 and 25 show: over 4,700 convictions for "joyriding" (or as I prefer "destiny testing"), over 11,00 convictions (and in addition another nearly 24,000 cautions) for drug offences; mercifully only a small proportion of which end up in actual loss of life. Quite possibly, though there is no way of measuring loss of young male life in less-ritualised societies is proportionately greater than in highly-ritualised ones.
an apparently life-threatening component….
It is not, within the scope of this paper to outline a "Rite de Passage" for less-ritualised societies, though this might remain an early objective. (A few preliminary thoughts are offered prior to this paper’s conclusion). But one thing is sure: young males would not take seriously a programme which did not have a life-threatening, or an apparently life-threatening component to it. (as is the case in highly-ritualised societies, this component would have to be positioned as a climax to the marginal state). The possibility of having an apparently life-threatening ordeal is a "get-out" which safeguards sensitivities. Young people, it seems, will allow themselves to be fooled. The work of Marsh, Rosser and Harre’ among football fans (like freemasons, another pocket of highly-ritualised activity in a less-ritualised society) of Oxford United strongly indicates this. Their book, The Rules of Disorder, highlighted (among many many other discoveries) that what were in effect ad hoc scuffles were remembered and retailed as major encounters. They concluded from this that there is a world of difference between "aggro" or ritualised aggression and serious violence – of which there is in fact comparatively little.
DESTINY and ….LIFE
In highly-ritualised societies, the vast majority of young males do make it through the "breeze-block wall" into stage three. Those that do not, we have talked about. La Fontaine reports that those individuals who avoid initiation are known and, usually despised, Among the Gisu, she says: "an uninitiated man, even married and a father, would be referred contemptuously as a boy." The rewards for the successfully initiated, in the "managed" environment, are rich: he is respected and lives on the sunny uplands of life. Here are three vignettes: one from a managed environment, two from our own unmanaged environment, Interestingly, all three se themselves as warriors and heroes – only the first however has social approval.
" to become a warrior is the dream of every Maasai youth; the world itself seems to convey magical powers. A warrior must be strong, clever, courageous, confident, wise and gentle, He must hunt lions for his headdress, protect his herds from predators, retrieve stolen or strayed cattle, often from long distances, and safeguard his community……. In addition to the practical services they provide for the group they live among, warriors also add an immeasurable sense of excitement, adventure and romance; without their songs, their poetry, their flirting, their bold masculinity, Maasai life would not be the same".
The graffiti "warrior" is quoted as saying that he ‘felt like a king’ and that:
"spraying those carriages gave me a feeling of danger, A bit like the war, I reckon. The more dangerous it is, the more respect you get from other graffiti writers. BR weren’t going to be happy, but we didn’t care. They can afford it anyway.
"As heroes. In a world where boredom was the norm, we saw ourselves as Visigoths, strutting around the camp-fire at midnight. In a land fit only for creeps and wasters, we were the last of the heroes. Which, of course was rubbish".
RITE, RITUAL, RITUALISED ……
not just boys into men…..
Throughout this paper we have used the words rite, ritual and ritualised without attempting to define them. In our society, the word ritual is regarded with suspicion. We should however be very wary of regarding ritual as incomprehensible mumbo-jumbo only performed by people less "civilised" than ourselves. In this paper, we have seen how ritualistic, even in its modern anodyne form, is the initiation into freemasonry. And who could be more "civilised" than freemasons ? Are they not pillars of the Establishment – with "the great, the good and the just " liberally sprinkled among their ranks? If performance of ritual is becoming for people like this, why should it be less becoming for others ? In fact, the more a human life is touched by the performance and witness of ritual, the more settled it is likely to be. On this analysis, the unsettled behaviour of so many of our young can be accounted for by the ad hoc lives they lead.
suddenly "not the same"
What we should be concentrating on is the transformative power of ritual; its power successfully to move people on from one social status in life to another. Thje beautiful thing about social transition through ritual performance is that, apart from society’s approbation, the individual really does feel transformed – and almost immediately so. In her book ( Initiation P. 185 ), La Fontaine tells the story of two Herero ( a Southern African people ) men who, on hearing from her that she was going to write a book on the theme of initiation asked her to explain how it could that a playmate girlfriend of theirs, of their own age, who joined in all their games, suddenly became "not the same" immediately after she returned from the girls’ initiation rite. She spoke and behaved differently. As La Fontaine says, the ritual experience had changed her; she became a woman and they were still boys.
The transformative power of ritual demands our respect. This is an area where we have much to learn, or to re-learn. Even in its less potent form, when ritual means merely routine leading to stability, we see its beneficial effects. For, as every one knows, children from stable homes are more likely to weather the storms of adolescence.
THE CHALLENGE ……. Is probably too great
Analysis or diagnosis is one thing; cure quite another.
Firstly would we as a society really be willing to "fire our pots" in the "white hot furnace" of a life-threatening, or even an apparently life-threatening ordeal? Even the latter will produce "broken" or "damaged" "pots". Imagine the flood of claims for compensation from aggrieved or bereaved parents. The truth is we have long lost the stomach to cruel to be kind to our young males. As a result, we have become very unkind. There are in Britain at the moment over thirty Young Offender Institutions. At any one time, thousnads of young boys are locked up under prison conditions.
Secondly, there is another even more intractable problem. Even if we did "fire our pots", what role is there for them ? Where are the lions to hunt ? Where are the herds to protect from predators ? What can the "newly fired pots" do to safeguard their community in an age when a few fingers on a few buttons can blast our enemies ( and us with them ) into oblivion ?
No role for "fired pots"
This is the deepest problem. Without a solution to this, almost all other considerations are a waste of time. However much this paper helps people to understand the power of the social forces at work on young males, no progress can be made without the best minds working out a role for "fired pots" between the ages of 15 and 25. Unless and until this is done, the status quo will obtain. The youngsters will continue to be locked up out of sight and as far as possible out of mind. This seems to sum up Society’s attitude at the moment. There has to be a better solution.
TOWARDS OUR OWN "RITE de PASSAGE"
We need a great debate. We need to know in the previously quoted words of the anthropologist Benedict what is identified in our culture with the beginning of adulthood. In other words, what sort of young males do we want to turn out? Should we bow to the thought of young males who by their thought and by their actions seem to want to be "warriors" ? Easier said than done ! For how on earth does one give effect to this ? This is not an issue for one individual to decide; it is an issue for society as an whole, to be discussed and debated over time. This is a social question which inevitably will turn into a political question. The anthropologist, as anthropologist, should keep well out of it. His best role is to give advice.
enshrining the status of "young boy"
For example, it will be necessary to enshrine the status of "boy" or ( male) "child" as a starting-off point for any programme of "rite de passage". For only by doing this will one be able to highlight the role and social status of "non-child" or "young man". But there is a question: should participation by young males in a social status-change programme be compulsory or voluntary ? This is a matter for debate with powerful arguments for either alternative. If for example participation is voluntary, will those that do not participate retain "boy" status until they are 25 or 30 or until they decide they want to get involved ? Why should young males who have not, nor indeed never look likely to get into trouble with the Law be obliged to participate in a programme that one could argue is unnecessary for them ? Let us not forget our opening crime figure: if one third of all males in the particular year had convictions for a serious offence; the corollary is that two thirds did not !
What privileges would one award to graduates of the programme ? What privileges would be denied to "boys" ? These are social questions.
How long should the programme last ? Months or years ?
What about the programme content ? What exactly are the young male initiates going to do ?
A journey "around" society
In less-ritualised societies, it is unusual for individuals to occupy over a life-time more than a few roles. Although, through the media, we are able to enjoy vicariously other roles, a "rite de passage" programme could be used as an opportunity for young males to experience and see for themselves the variety of roles that life has to offer. In this scenario, youngsters are taken on a journey around society. There might even be vocational benefit. They might also be instructed in First Aid which is uniformly usefull and utterly a-political. This could also be a time to break one of less-ritualised society’s most astonishing and purposeless taboos – that of dying and death. Hopefully like his highly-ritualised counterpart, our young male would emerge mature and humbled.
THE Report " In Search of Adventure" – a study of opportunities for adventure and challenge for young people – was published in the mid 1990’s under the editorship of the late Lord Hunt, of Mount Everest fame. The Report lists the organisations and outdoor programmes available at the time. As ( the late ) Lord Shackleton says in the foreword: " I have long been convinced that the challenges presented by nature can be of profound significance for personal development". There is no reason why these organisations should not be used to carry out outdoor programmes on land, sea or in the air of life-threatening ( or apparently life-threatening ) challenge. Successful emergence from such an ordeal would end the stage-two period and precipitate full graduation.
The "rite de passage" programme must conclude in a formal way. What is needed is some sort of Sandhurst-type passing-out ceremony. Only by such a mechanism can the full weight of vital public approbation be experienced by the initiate. Public recognition will be given to the fact that he has passed his ordeal and that he has no further need to continue to strive. La Fontaine notes that most initiation rituals are characterised by the public declamation from memory of an Oath of Allegiance. Such an Oath might include a behavioural-code as well as an expression of loyalty to God, howsoever conceived, and the State ( in of course a non-political sense ).
These are just a few ideas. They represent nothing like a full considered programme. They leave unanswered the problem raised earlier which can best be summed up as : what is there that can be a credible substitute for warfare ?
Making "men" out of "boys" is therefore a question of "managing" a natural urge among boys to change social status. This can be done. When it is done, levels in youth-crime can be expected to drop dramatically. But, unless and until it is done, from an anthropological point of view, at least
where there are no "rites de passage"
there are, and will continue to be, "crimes of passage"