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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

“Caught up in …”

From the latest Radio Times:

9.00 Wonderland: My Child the Rioter

Last August’s riots provoked a legal backlash that has seen often lengthy prison sentences handed down to those involved. This documentary enters the homes of the some of the families affected, including that of Eileen and Alan Bretherton whose son Liam recently served in Afghanistan but got caught up in the unrest while home on leave. Now he is an ex-offender with a promising military career in tatters.

“Legal backlash” is, I suppose, one way to describe a severe punishment.

But the phrase that really caught my eye in this was where it says that son Liam got “caught up in” the unrest. You hear this phrase a lot these days, to describe what someone did, in a way that suggests that what he did was really done to him, by a malign outside force. The Unrest, you see, forced him to go out looting. The Unrest called round, knocked on his door, dragged him out into the street and there compelled him to misbehave. Liam didn’t do rioting. The rioting “involved” him. There the Unrest was, catching Liam up in itself. How could Liam himself be held responsible for what Unrest did to him?

Truly, we do live in a Wonderland.

And what of that “legal backlash”? (There goes another phrase which makes a bunch of decisions appear like a mere collective emotional spasm.) Well, next time Unrest decides, for its own inscrutable reasons, to reach out and grab people, more of them will surely decide to resist being caught up in it, now that there has been this legal backlash against the last lot of those picked on by Unrest.

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26 comments to “Caught up in …”

  • Kenneth Purtell

    At 19 years of age and with a propensity to cause violence and mayhem, they still consider someone a blameless child?

    How much damage do the Liams of this world need to inflict before blame can be assigned?

  • George

    Orwellian use of language by the progressives to promote the idea, now deeply ingrained in our institutions, that human beings are not free moral agents and not responsible for their actions.

    The more widely held this belief becomes the more people will behave as if it is true.

  • I suppose if we are to believe that rioters don’t have free will then we have to believe the same for judges and left-wing BBC journalists. They just got caught up in the “legal system” or “state broadcasting”.

  • Gareth


    I view the politics of excuses as a means to an end – to justify pushing their own brand of groupthink in an attempt to displace what they see as malign forms of groupthink.

    It is a confidence trick. They have to convince us we are victims of groupthink in order to become receptive to their brand of groupthink.

  • Current

    The same thing happened with the IRA.

    As my mum used to say “The Irish talk about ‘The Troubles’ as though the trouble has nothing to do with them”.

  • AKM

    @Current. For most of the Irish on both sides of the border that was probably true though, they weren’t actually directly involved.

  • Theodore Dalrymple talks about this sort of language. It’s how these people look at themselves in the mirror, by convincing themselves that they are victims.

  • Stephen Willmer

    Here’s a heartwarming anecdote, which I believe to be true.

    A collague was defending a man I shall call Ahmed Scrote. Scrote had moved out of London, and continued his life of crime in the shires. He was caught and successfully prosecuted. Prior to the sentence, minutes before, he and my colleague were discussing the case and the Probation officer’s pre-sentence report.

    Scrote: “Yeah, well the reason I came out here was to get away from London to get away from all the filth and criminals…”


    “…to get away from all the people like me, I spose”.

    Apparently it was said with a grin of rueful self-knowledge.

    But otherwise, yep: it’s always the wrong crowd, which is other people.

    Occasionally I’ve heard judges make precisely that point.

  • llamas

    Rob Fisher wrote:

    ‘Theodore Dalrymple talks about this sort of language. It’s how these people look at themselves in the mirror, by convincing themselves that they are victims.’

    ‘The knife went in . . . ‘

    ‘Then there was a gun, and it went off . . . ‘

    ‘ I fell pregnant/fell for a boy . . . ‘

    (gravity, my dear, has absolutely nothing to do with it)

    ‘I fell in with the wrong crowd . . . ‘

    ‘I’m easily led . . . ‘ (Sometime Detroit City Council present pro-tem Monica Conyers actually used this as a medical excuse during her Federal bribery trial – she claimed that being easily persuaded to take a cash bribe for her vote is a medical and not a moral condition.)

    “I love her to pieces . . . . ‘ – literally.

    ‘My head needs sorting out . . . ‘

    ‘It was the beer that did it . . . ‘

    and so forth.



  • Midwesterner

    I’m vaguely recalling a conversation I had some time back about how language directs one’s perception of events. In some languages, vases break themselves. In other languages, somebody breaks them. Same event, different language, different perceptions of what has happened.

    Detaching actors from consequences is probably an essential step in denying free will which is an essential step in establishing the collectivist meta-context. Perhaps the best consequence of British/American hegemony is the establishment of the English language and its fundamental actor/consequence construction. If collectivists can’t change everybody to a more convenient language, it stands to reason that they will try to alter the language everybody uses.

  • Schrodinger's Dog

    As George pointed out (10:32am) this is fully consistent with the world view of those on the liberal left. They deny us our free will and humanity and view people as automata who will, like a computer, mindlessly carry out whatever instructions they are given. Hence their desire to regulate or ban just about everything imaginable.

    To cite a couple of examples at random from a leftist viewpoint, people do not take-up smoking or eat junk food as a result of individual decisions freely taken; rather they were instructed to – programmed, if you will – by the tobacco and fast-food companies. Thus these activities need to be severely curtailed or, better yet, banned outright.

    More ominously, there are the disgusting laws against “hate speech”. To liberals, anyone reads anything unpleasant about any group will instantly become a violent, hate-filled bigot; that he may be appalled by what he has just read, or simply ignore it, will simply not occur to them.

  • Grant Freedom

    Funny, but obvious really, was that it was all my Guardian-reading friends who were calling for the army during the night of theft and vandalism.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    It is a bit like when you hear people say that “X got caught up in drug addiction” rather than, “used drugs heavily”.

    The abdication of moral responsibility is aided an abetted by those who would be horrified at the consequences if it were to ever affect them personally. I think that is one of the strongest themes of Mark Steyn’s recent “After America”, even though I don’t agree with all of it. As he says, the moral decay of a civilisation is in some ways harder to deal with than its material one.

    Even more depressing is that this “Liam” had served in the armed forces. Which does rather give the lie to the silly knee-jerk idea that what we need to do to prevent young men becoming yobs is to “stick them in the Army”.

  • Alisa

    I think that Mid may have been referring to this article. It is well worth the read, and there’s another one on the same subject, also very interesting.

  • Dyspeptic Curmudgeon

    Unexpectedly, we cannot assume that a home-owner who beats the living shit out of a burglar, could get away with proclaiming that he ‘got caught up in some unrest’ which ’caused him’ to react to the prospect that the poor downtrodden housebreaker might engage in some ‘income equality social justice’ with the home-owners property…..

  • PeterT

    Notwithstanding all of the above we should recognise that it is still possible to be ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time’. Whilst this might not explain all of this person’s predicament it might well explain a great deal of it. We don’t know.

    Furthermore, whilst I agree that we should all act and expect to be treated as if we are completely responsible for our actions, this is not of course always true – even if its not ‘society’ which is to be blaimed.

    Separately, I once stood next to two guys in the queue for the train. One of these was in the army and was telling the other guy all his tricks for getting around drugs tests!

  • Stephen Willmer

    Ah, yes, in the wrong place at the wrong time. The criminal’s catechism.

    Peter T, yes drug-taking is a rather embarrassing problem in the army, and somewhat under-reported. On the other hand, if the squaddies do their jobs, what does it matter. Indeed with some of the more pro-psychotic pharmaceuticals, drug use may even be a performance enhancer.

    Alisa(and Midwesterner), I havent yet read that to which you link, but surely most languages construe verbs as active or passive?

  • Stephen Willmer

    Have now read it… If I understand it correctly, my previous question is irrelevant.

    Reminds me of a story from a Japanese-speaking GCCS code-breaker who, when learning the language on a crash course at SOAS was astonished to find there’s a word in Japanese for “to try out a new sword on a passerby”.

  • Myno

    Alisa’s two linked articles are wonderful, but especially the second (“another”) one. Beautifully written, with clear thinking behind every word. The first “article” is by far the lesser piece.

  • Alisa

    Myno: I read the articles a while ago and don’t remember the details, but I seem to recall that you are correct.

    Stephen: indeed, it is when they use the passive or the active form that is telling.

  • George

    If anyone is in any doubt about how deeply these ideas have entered our institutions:

    “Parents who left their newborn with broken bones all over her body walk free from court after judge blames SOCIAL WORKERS”


  • Trofim

    I had occasion to meet some unpleasant people when I was a psychiatric nurse, particularly when I screened referrals from GP’s. Language designed to minimise the serious nature of crime or anti-social behaviour was the norm. I did something stupid – was a very common phrase – code for “I did something very unpleasant to someone else, like crippling them”. I only gave her a slap/tap (I punched her and broke her jaw). I was depressed (that’s why I regularly beat the wife).
    These weren’t mentally ill people, I hasten to add. I know the difference between a depressed person and that legion of people for whom acquiring the “depressed” label has been a passport to an easy life, which was why they employed me.

  • Alisa

    The important thing to remember in all this is that cultures are changeable – both for better and for worse. Language is an integral part of any culture, with which it has a chicken-and-egg kind of relationship as far as mutual influence is concerned. IOW, culture influences language just as much as language influences culture*. So it makes perfect sense for someone who is set on changing a culture to begin with changing the language. Orwell noticed that.

    *BTW, there’s a similar kind of relationship of influence between culture and religion.

  • Current

    “For most of the Irish on both sides of the border that was probably true though, they weren’t actually directly involved.”

    Yes and No.

    I’m English, but I’ve lived in Ireland for the past six years.

    Many Irish people south of the border supported the IRA, if not in deed then in sentiment. In my experience, even most of those who didn’t still support the idea of a unified Ireland, regardless of what the residents of the north are relevant.

    Of course there’s a lot of criticise in the opinions of the English regarding “The Trouble” but they have been less guilty of playing verbal games.

  • James Metcalfe


    I have lived in Southern Ireland for a few years now, albeit only on attachment to our embassy there. Many of the people I have met that I would be honoured to call friends had nothing but contempt for the PIRA, RealIRA, its affiliates and its various spinoffs.

    So sorry, but I totally fail to see where you get your view from.

    Wish you all the best though.

  • Dead Dog Bouce

    @Current, @James Metcalfe,

    I think you are both correct. Pro-IRA sentiment is certainly not uniformly dstributed across the Republic. One only need look at the variability of the Sinn Fein vote across constituencies at elections.

    It’s also the case that it’s stronger among “working class” people: not the sort that the average embassy worker would encounter in their native habitat, I might venture.

    And to agree with James, there is a also a very widely held revulsion for all things IRA.