The ASBOs of Desire

In a consumer society there are inevitably two kinds of slaves: the prisoners of addiction and the prisoners of envy.
Ivan Illich

I am uneasy when I hear about Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs). I, too, am angry when I have to suffer noise, litter, graffiti, abuse and the effects of the use of alcohol and other drugs. But it seems to me that it is too easy to scapegoat children, teenagers and bad (if that they be) parents. I wonder if anti-social behaviour is a symptom of some deeper cause. An ASBO, like some other elements of our punishment system, is a painkiller, not a cure for what ails us. How much are we all complicit in creating the society we live in? How much is anti-social behaviour the fault of all us?

The Creation of Desire

We learn what we want through mimesis — through imitating what another desires. A Consumer Society works by the creation and frustration of desire. Advertising, in various media, provides an unremitting overwhelm of images of a better life that play on our lust, gluttony, greed and envy; as do TV soaps, game-shows and make-over programmes. These images and entertainments create the desire for things we did not know we wanted, let alone even existed, before we saw them. This all keeps the economic ball rolling. It is all under-pinned by the fundamentally flawed and elusive goals of economic growth and stability. It leads to addiction and to an addictive society. We have allowed ourselves to be brainwashed into desiring.

The Frustration of Desire

We just cannot have all that we see and desire. There’s never enough time or money to ‘have it all.’ But, there are some people, some groups whose desires are particularly frustrated: through poverty or prejudice; and because some of us get rich at the expense of, and through the exploitation and squashing of others. Some people are going to feel they are failures, frustrated, angry, worthless, without hope, without a sense of a life worth living. Perhaps anti-social behaviour is the distorted expression of a frustrated desire — desire which itself has been distorted by design.

We collude in creating desire, frustrating it’s fulfillment, and scapegoating and punishing those who enact their frustration upon us all.

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