No man is an island…

By Francesco Caccetta
“No man is an island…”
John Donne
‘No Man is an Island’ is an excerpt from a work written by John Donne. The author, argues
that every human being is connected to every other human being by comparing humanity
itself to a vast continental mass. No one is ‘an island’ in the sense that no one is separated
from this metaphorical ‘continent’; just by being human, everyone is part of humanity. This
fantastic writer extols the importance of connection and community. The human continent is
made up of individual plots of land that represent individual people. When all those ‘clods’
come together, they form something bigger and stronger than themselves. On its own, a clod
could “be swept away by the sea”. Donne’s metaphor reminds us that people are social
creatures and that no one can be truly self-sufficient; people need each other and survive
better together than apart. Because people are all connected, Donne continues, what happens
to a single individual affects everyone else. The loss of a single ‘clod’ diminishes the
metaphorical continent of humanity. Fundamentally, Donne is implying that no one is
expendable. Anyone who is truly ‘involved’ with humanity is directly affected by the things
that happen to other human beings. Jhon Donne recites: ‘Every man’s death diminishes me’ and
tells us not to ask ‘for whom the bell tolls’ (Donne’s thought was later echoed by Ernest
Hemingway in ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ in 1940). That is, we need not ask for whom death is
coming, because it will come for everyone . With this, he invites us to reflect on the fact that
people should rejoice in being alive and, while they are alive, accept that they are part of the
larger human family. “The metaphor used by the sixteenth-century poet has now entered
common language and is engraved in our minds as an inescapable certainty: No man is an
island, a sociological and anthropological truth, so incontrovertible as to become a scientific
axiom”1 . John Donne’s statement ‘No man is an island’ reminds us of the sense of community
that we have repeatedly forgotten throughout history. Individualism, which now permeates
all Western societies, is causing us to regress to the old, and to most unknown, Hobbesian
state of nature.
Security is one of the issues that has always held Italians together, both those of the people
and political representatives. Electoral campaigns have always shone the spotlight on Security
and the fear of crime, proposing, from all sides of the political spectrum, solutions to the
problem that are more or less fanciful and apparently simple to implement (but not yet
realised). We see the results in the abundant production of statistical data that inform us,
every year, of crime trends and so-called ‘Security’ in our country. The reading of these data,
while on the one hand, instead of reassuring, impresses and worries, on the other hand,
deludes and disorients. We see Italian regions with an exponential increase in predatory
and/or sex crimes, computer fraud and those known as scams on the elderly (which in reality
are also predatory crimes that can be translated into theft with dexterity or robbery) and
other regions where the same crimes are decreasing. What are the causes of these statistical
discrepancies, or rather, what key to interpretation can we give to these data? Without in any
way detracting from the veracity of these figures, which are the result of punctilious analyses
by the various institutes in charge of these matters, on whose seriousness nulla quaestio, let
us try to reason away from mere statistics. Italy, as we imagine it to be before 1860, has in
some ways not changed much, each territory has different characteristics and even the types
of crime, the propensity to report them and the response of the inhabitants in terms of
1 Alice Figini
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participation in prevention, change from place to place. Criminology comes to our aid. What
distinguishes it from other social sciences is the breadth of the field of investigation, as not
only the crime is taken into account, but also everything that revolves around it (offender,
environmental factors, social reaction, victims, deviance phenomena, etc.). It is a theoretical
and practical science at the same time, as it aims to search for causal relationships,
correlations and variables in its observation. Criminology makes use of anthropological and
sociological studies to identify the causes of crime. Anthropological studies concern the
organic, psychological, motivational and psychosocial factors that may have induced the
behaviour of the perpetrator, while also studying the microsocial factors in which the
personality developed. In the field of sociology, on the other hand, macrosocial factors are
assessed, which have always been recognised as the basis of criminal emergence. The
perpetration of crime, varies greatly across our country and the reasons for this are diverse
and impossible to list in this work, and I would suggest reading a good General Criminology
textbook for further study. The sociological theories that we can consider fundamental are the
-The dynamics of social disorganisation
-The socialisation deficit
-The deficit of means to achieve social goals
-Differential associations and crime learning
-differential opportunities
-The Chicago School and the city’s influence on crime
In accordance with these theories, we can however deduce that the main criminological
dimensions of street crime, as criminologist Marco Strano2 reminds us, can be summarised as
-Street predatory crime may include criminal acts of a different nature and severity;
-Tendentially, the harm suffered by victims is much greater than imagined by
traditional institutional structures;
-There is a strong correlation of these criminal forms with situations of social distress,
exclusion and anomie;
-Absence , in most cases, of any prior acquaintance between perpetrator and victim prior
to the criminal act;
-High recidivism of perpetrators;
-Huge variability in the characteristics of perpetrators in terms of both age and criminal
background and class;
-High obscure number: on average only 35.7 per cent of this type of crime (committed and
attempted) is reported to the police. The dark number obviously varies according to the type
of crime, the cultural characteristics of the victim and the extent of the damage, both financial
and physical, caused.
These characteristics should represent the cognitive basis for activating initiatives to prevent
and repress these phenomena. The recent pandemic has reawakened individualism in our
country and all forms of crime benefit from this. The solutions to the problem are
unfortunately complicated and should be studied by those in charge, therefore, by Parliament
and the police forces. However, the concept of participatory security, which relegates some of
the work to the ordinary citizen in order to make it less easy for crimes to be committed in his
or her area, remains valid. The techniques identified by the neighbourhood control project
can undoubtedly contribute to the final result. In the early 2000s, I personally studied the
phenomenon of predatory crimes in order to decrease their commission, identifying the
citizen/victim as the main element to prevent thieves from acting undisturbed. The first study
led to the implementation of the ‘Theft Prevention Project’, which was nimbly adapted by the
2 ‘Street Crime – Criminology prevention investigation’, edited by Marco Strano, Francesco Caccetta and others, Rome 2017
inhabitants of some areas along the Roman coastline and later in an area in Umbria. The
results were immediately encouraging, with a fall in theft and fraud in the above-mentioned
locations. The next phase consisted in integrating the project with the theories of
Neighbourhood Watch and the adoption of the relevant signposts placed in the streets where
the programme was adopted, with the suggestions and ideas of Gianfrancesco Caccia and
Leonardo Campanale. The participation of ordinary citizens in ‘Security’ practices does not
enthuse the institutions, which fear (sometimes justified) dangerous and out-of-control
escalations. This prediction is not entirely wrong, since the control of people who take up
positions within spontaneous neighbourhood control groups is not easy and often not
feasible. There have been more than a few situations in the last few years of experimentation
with the project that have resulted in improvisations very close to the drift of patrols. The
different approach of some Prefectures, which did not allow the birth and development of the
project in some areas of the nation, testifies to this shared assumption. The lack of
expectations of support from the institutions (prefectures and law enforcement agencies,
including some local police) discourages citizen aggregations and consequently prevents the
reduction of crime in some territories and the consequent social cohesion among inhabitants,
damaging the very concept of participatory security. How can one participate if all enthusiasm
is dampened? Society is constantly changing and, as a result, people’s behaviour also changes,
going from stimulating participatory initiatives to social withdrawal and fear of others.
Neighbourhood control limits these behaviours and regulates fear, aiming at ‘mal comune
mezzo gaudio’ and mutual aid. We believe that at this moment in history we should stop
looking at the numbers of crime statistics and instead return to the concept of resilience and
community. I have always been convinced that the support of the institutions is important for
the complete realisation of the project, but not indispensable. Neighbourhood control, or
rather the ‘neighbourhood community’ (citing Leonardo Campanale) can find the right input
to start thinking again about a cohesive and impenetrable community by adopting the tried
and tested methods of self-protection that have been taught by neighbourhood control
associations. Social cohesion, the elimination of one’s own environmental and behavioural
vulnerabilities, and the proper support of the police with qualified reports, makes citizens a
shield against incursionist delinquents in our territories. All this, with the clear and
inescapable concept that the prosecution of offenders remains the sole responsibility of the
police and no one else. Broadening the ‘competences’ and tasks of the members of the
neighbourhood control project with security and criminal matters would confuse people,
make it difficult for the institutions themselves to approve, and lead to inevitable obstacles
and failures of the programme. The watchword, in this case, is: Falling back in line, which
means deciding in some way to subject oneself again to the rules that hierarchise the ordered
whole of which one is again a part. To stay in one’s place means, also, to occupy a precise, and
certain, position. Let us no longer look at the numbers of statistics, let us not improvise
ourselves as soldiers or ape the forces of law and order. Neighbourhood control should go
back to the beginnings that made it a valid participatory security project, with the humility of
those who want to serve their neighbour and help the bodies legitimately responsible for
safeguarding free institutions, without replacing them and without wanting official
recognition at all costs. As has been the case several times over these long years since the
birth of Neighbourhood Watch, I return to the starting concept of the association, elegantly
expressed by Robert Putnam: ‘I will do this for you without expecting anything in return, in
the confident expectation that someone else, along the way, will do something for me’.
Nothing more.



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