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I've just finished reading Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon, one of the script writers for the television series, The Wire. This book is the result of a year's placement he had with Baltimore's homicide police in 1988.
I found this passage, which struck me as apt for its time and for the present day. It comes towards the end of the book (page 635) where Simon is writing about his time on placement in retrospect. He writes of the changes he's seen in the Baltimore police since 1988:
I came to realise that there was something emblematic here: that in postmodern America, whatever institution you serve or are served by - a police department or a newspaper, a political party or aa church, Enron or Worldcom - you will eventually be betrayed.
It seemed very Greek the more I thought about it. The stuff of Aeschylus and Sophocles, except the Gods were not Olympian but corporate and institutional. In every sense, ours seems a world in which individual human beings - be they trained detectives or knowledgeable reporters, hardened corner boys or third-generation longshoremen or smuggled eastern European sex workers - are destined to matter less and less.
Simon wrote these words in 2006 and I think they reflect exactly the situation we find ourselves in today. We have seen it in the financial crisis, MPs' expenses, News International and the various scandals that have rocked the police in London. And we've seen it in the riots and the response of decent people to the riots, who have lost any sense of the gains made by previous generations whereby bullets are not fired at crowds, whatever they are doing (except in N Ireland during the Troubles).
It is partly a cult of the young. It seems inconceivable experience might count for anything. Short term funding schemes mean communities cannot build a resource of people who know the area and its history. They are recruited and after 3 years have to move on. As there is no career structures, the best move onto other things so few garner experience over a lifetime's career. This is reflected in all walks of life; we are told it is foolish to assume you are in a job for life. Who can say this is not true?