January 21st, 2005


The Quality of Mercy

Drifting asleep to the midnight news. Two items interfered with a swift despatch unto Morpheus. The first of these was the mild furore surrounding Peter Sutcliffe's visit to the site in the Lake District where his father's aches were scattered. In particular, the words of an MP who was saying that it was preposterous that compassion should be exhibited to someone who had exhibited none to his victims. Well, I agree that I'd be uncomfortable about Sutcliffe going on a protracted series of day-release junkets, but this comment expressed to me a profound misunderstanding about the nature of compassion. You exhibit compassion if someone shows compassion towards you? Am I alone in finding some element of Thatcherite economy in that suggestion that contract to be reciprocal? Compassion, for me, perhaps I'm entirely deluded, is entirely based on the premise that you will get absolutely nothing in return. It's the act of giving without an eye on what you may receive. I was exceptionally generous, I should be be getting something decent in the return post. Nope.

I won't pretend that it's easy to exhibit compassion, especially if you're the child of one of his victims, but this talent of humans is something that makes us more than agents of consumption. I'm suddenly reminded of Ralph Fiennes as Amon Goeth in Schindler's List pronouncing "I pardon you!" from his balcony and making a pious gesture of benediction with his hand. It doesn't last for long.

What are we imprisoning Sutcliffe for? Is the purpose solely to remove him from society or do we still somewhere hold to the idea that a few psychopathic criminals might reclaim themselves somehow before death? Is prison just a holding ground? I can understand Sutlciffe never being released back into the world, but I can't deny the possibility of him recognising his actions at some point. In the current climate, this is considered a dangerous liberalism. The bastard deserves to suffer. It's one way of running things. It's also one further step back from civilisation.

The issue that seemed to be overlooked in the comments I heard was that Sutcliffe was visiting a site of pilgrimage for his father. There's therefore the possibility that in that visit he may have encountered the need to consider both his and our own mortality. Regardless of whether he did or not, such a visit is not exclusively to do with the Yorkshire Ripper. It's to do with his father. To deny the son the chance to address his memory is to deny that same chance reversed. That father speaks to son. How might his father feel to know that his son was denied the chance to visit? I've no idea. I'd probably have liked his father less than Sutcliffe himself. It's not an issue of liking.

Anyway, just bear in mind that compassion has been put out to tender. Even the Buddha these days travels with a full paralegal team before he makes any foolish mistakes. No, Gautama, this man in a murderer. He showed no mercy to his dead. He deserves nothing. What is it that makes us civilised?

Leeds - Paul Smyth

This track is about growing up in Leeds during the time of the Ripper. It's the second musical connection I have with the incident. The first is that I formed a conceptual duo called Ripper Squad whilst at school and we submitted a schedule for a school talent day contest, but never actually entered. The proposed songs were, according to memory: Space Invaders, Dictatorship of the Proletariat and one other I've forgotten. I'm quite proud of this track with Paul. I did it as a guest musician on some recording he was doing and I still like it. I rarely play anything that approaches a solo as such and I'm not often to be heard playing electric guitar. Paul didn't put it on the CD because he said it stood out too much from the rest of them because of the difference in sound. I take that as a compliment. A Smyth-Autocrat collaborative album (Feltham, USA) is slowly making its way to release.

The other item? Just as compassion's meaning is slipping back into the mud, I also waved hello to freedom and liberty in their new fudge-rich obfuscation.