Joining the ill-informed hoards

This whole Jon Venables thing depresses me intensely but I am quite pleased with the Guardian for publishing this article today, as one amongst the "BURN HIM" pieces that are flooding out of some of the other 'newspapers' published in this country. It seems – though this is all hearsay, of course, and I partly hate myself for churning it back at you even if it is in service of a wider point – that Jon Venables's mental stability has been crumbling, to the point where he's going around telling people who is really is (does it really take a huge leap of logic to realise that if that's the state he's in, is it surprising we also hear stories of him drinkng heavily, taking drugs and getting into fights?).

It makes me wonder whether rehabilitation can ever be expected to fully work. Not because I subscribe to the "once a bad 'un, allus a bad 'un" school of thought, but because I'm not sure our pitchfork-wielding society will allow it. The prison system can educate and reform as much as it wants (and let's never forget that with the Bulger murder we're talking about children, and children whose short lives had been shitty, not adults with fully-formed moral codes) but what's the point if, in every town, there's a sizeable section of people just waiting to spring into action as a vigilante group. Just look at what's happened to women merely suspected of being Maxine Carr, and all she was convicted of was perverting the course of justice (not that you might have realised that, from the press coverage). I certainly don't think I could handle that kind of pressure.

Do the ranters think the convicted has forgotten their crimes? That somehow, despite living every day with a life and a name that isn't their own, what they've done has slipped their minds? That they're not reminded it of every time someone yells "John!" in a pub and they have to quash the automatic urge to look up, or when a mate starts reminiscing about their schooldays, never mind the countless times every day that the knowledge will simply bubble up. I'm at a loss to think what kind of justice this kind of vigilantism (hell, any kind of vigilantism) is supposed to be dispensing. They have, however, got their wish – if the Guardian is to be believed, Jon Venables will be held as a burden on the state for some time; not in prison but in a series of mental hospitals, broken by his own guilt and our society's desire for unspecific revenge.

I think – with very little evidence other than experience, though I'm rather hoping that my slog through the Social Sciences reading room at the BL will provide some succour to my theory – that many of the things I rail against and cannot fully get my head round (racism being another) stem from a lack of empathy. A very genuine inability to make the leap to seeing the world from someone else's point of view. I am often stunned when I hear a writer has been asked how they write about something that's out of their sphere of experience, with the underlying accusation that if they're writing about, say, a gay character, they must also – *gasp* – HAVE TEH GAYZ. Erm, no, It's a question of imagination and empathy. If three years of a History degree taught me anything (and it did, Arts deniers) it's that people are basically the same at root, no matter the time or place; and that monsters are made, not born. Whatever he did, Jon Venables is still a human being and will react the same as any of us to large amounts of stress. Oh look, he broke. Excuse me, Britain, while I stand back and applaud each and every one of us.

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