Tuesday, August 09, 2005


Putting Me Through The Millen

Robbie Millen has an extraordinarily stupid article in The Times today. I wish I could link to it, but I can't make head nor tail of their incomprehensible website. You'll just have to take my word for it, then.

The article, imaginatively entitled 'Let Us Spray', is a call for people to be allowed to carry pepper spray and CS gas in order to defend themselves. Here are my problems with it:

The article starts with a long-winded recollection about a fight in a cinema, and the audience turning a blind eye to what was going on. He says of the end of the fight;

'The fight fizzled out when the aggressor’s posse of trackie-clad girlfriends dragged him away, screeching “Michael, be the bigger man. ’E’s not worf it”. Michael then had his final flourish in front of the rabbit-like audience: “I want ’im. Outside you t***!”'

Throughout the article, the now-standard disdain for the apparel of the white working class, or the 'underclass', as he terms them, is brutally evident. Now, I'm not going to make excuses on behalf of a cinema brawler. However, was it really necessary to point out that his 'girlriends' (yeah, right) were 'trackie-clad?' Of what relevance is this?

'And that was it, another nasty little example of the underclass creeping out from the cracks in our society. All that was left hanging in the air was that unsettling atmosphere of violence and guilt. Guilt that in an audience of strapping young men, none had the guts to intervene.'

The phrase 'strapping young men' says to me that this writer had a pretty privileged upbringing, since he appears to have some kind of Greek or Roman ideal in the majesty of the male body. What he fails to mention, of course, is that the stiff upper lip is a British tradition, and that unlike many parts of the world, joining in a fight for the sake of it isn't done, and with good reason.

'Most of us are public-spirited, want to do the right thing and prove we’re made of the right stuff. But most of us flunk it when the call for courage comes. We are rational creatures and calculate the risks. Why wade in, why resist, why make a stand when you don’t know what the aggressor is capable of and whether he has a knife or worse?'

In fact there are better reasons for not launching into somebody else's battle fists flailing, not least that joining in merely lowers you to the level of the thug. Of course, I'm not saying that if you were to come across someone being assaulted in a back alley, you shouldn't try to help, but we aren't talking about a back alley, we're talking about a cinema, which has security and a management and such forth. In other words, people better qualified to get involved than me, you or Robbie Millen.

'A burst of pepper spray in Michael’s face would have stopped his violence and been a small victory for civil society.'

This is the start of his bizarre idea that arming the citizenry with weapons which require no training or even thought before use would be 'a small victory for civil society.'

I am, in fact, in favour of British citizens being able to keep firearms. I believe the advantages significantly outweigh the disadvantages. Pepper spray or CS spray is different, however. With a gun, it is a last option, a final resort of desperation, for we all know guns can, and will, kill. Pepper spray, on the other hand, can't. Consequently, there's no reason to think twice before using it, hardly a great help.

'Pepper spray, for example, causes no permanent damage; surely then it should be “reasonable force” to use it in self-defence? It is an irritant that causes severe pain when it makes contact with the skin. It inflames the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, throat and lungs, and it causes the eyes to swell shut, loss of balance and breathing difficulties. It is nasty, but the effects last just 30 to 45 minutes.'

What Millen doesn't seem to understand is that the very lightness of the effects of sprays is what makes them so dangerous, because there is little good reason to be careful around them. What stops me getting bored of the man sitting next to me at the bar, and just spraying him, in Mr Millen's world? I'll tell you; nothing.

'There is more wisdom on a National Rifle Association bumper sticker, that bogey figure for US liberal-lefties. It reads: “An armed society is a polite society.” A person with malign intentions is less likely to abuse people or treat them roughly because of the simple, brute fact that they may carry a concealed weapon.'

Yet this simply isn't true. If it were, there would never be gang wars, since all members would live in fear of their opponents weaponry. There are many reasons to commit crime, but 'because it's easy' probably isn't too high on the list.

Think again Mr Millen. Spray is a terrible idea.

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