The UK riots – further thoughts – 10 August 2011

Following on from yesterday’s post, this is a shorter and punchier set of views. A wash-up from yesterday and the spread into the provinces last night.

 The first court cases:

The BBC reported last night that the first court cases resulting from Saturday night had taken place. Nearly all had pleaded guilty to charges of theft and criminal damage and that magistrates had referred them all to the Crown Court where stiffer penalties can be dished out. Depressingly the defendants weren’t youths (so my parenting point on the previous post suffers here) and they weren’t ill-educated. In fact a good number – the reporter said – were graduates in professional jobs who had travelled into the area for the purpose of looting.

Words nearly fail.

Words properly fail:

Now, it’s very easy to get all het up and reactionary in these times. But don’t ask me about my policy towards law and order directly after watching a video of a man who’s been seriously assaulted and is on thefloor bleeding heavily, being mugged by a group of youths. Because the answer you’ll receive will not be one I’d want to stand behind for very long. It’s the most contemptible thing I’ve seen in a long time.

Contemptible as a theme:

One should always try and listen to the narratives behind actions, because potential solutions are likely to arise. But it’s difficult to bring coherency to the views being expressed, for example in a BBC interview. The interviewees here (two young women/girls) and in other interviews blame: the police (because they’re ‘rude’ and ‘lack respect’), the government (although they can’t name the government or articulate what it is the government has done that is offensive), then it’s ‘the rich people’, which quickly becomes conflated with shopkeepers (the majority of which work seven days a week and hardly turn a profit). The nearest thing to an authentic thought that comes out of it though is when one of them says they’re doing it to show that they can. And that’s the nub of it. They’re enjoying it, and as semi-rational actors they’ve concluded that they can get away with it, which most of them will.

Never justified, but some causal themes:

* the me, me, me society – there’s an awful lot of stuff in the interviews etc about needing to be respected as an automatic right. ‘the police don’t respect us’. I realise I come from a different generation and a different background etc etc. But we were always taught that respect had to be earned. And earned through a reinforcing circle of positive behaviours.

* the ‘I want it now society’ – this is wider than the child who breaks into footlocker looking for new training shoes. All of us who have been weaned on the ever giving love of the credit card know something of this mentality, it’s just the majority of us pay it off or feel the pain of paying it off by working hard. But the twin nasties of an inability to defer gratification and far worse the belief that it is not necessary to defer gratification underlines the mentality of those looting. And if one was looking hard at it one would see the antecedents of it in such things as the availability of credit, consumer goods as a measure of worth and happiness… but it would be too easy to now say that it is these developments in society that has caused this criminality, because the majority of us have responded appropriately and responsibility to these stimuli.

* the ‘big player’ society – the idea that you can be talentless and workshy and still be someone big. It’s the antithesis of the American dream, for example. The endless stream of ‘reality’ tv on our screens in the cheap glossy magazines that pollute my local WH Smith all point to a ‘reality’ that means you don’t have to work hard at school, don’t have to learn a trade (and I consider my job a trade like any other) and you don’t have to get up early and work at your trade and live responsibly. All of the cultural icons for the young of today, are poor-living, workshy, and mostly talentless, but backed up with dropdead good PR units. There used to be a strong value in having a trade, and there should now.

* ‘teaching us a lesson’ – the BBC interviewee said that her and fellow rioters were teaching us a lesson. The thing is I pay more than a third of everything I earn to the exchequer so that she can – presumably – not work, or so she can go to school. I don’t need a lesson from someone I indirectly pay very good money to keep in a lifestyle I currently don’t much approve of. And here’s the thing: under the Labour government a good amount of our money went on very laudable community initiatives, things which it is imperative are maintained now in the aftermath (whenever it comes about…) of this nonsense. Because it is only through these community based initiatives that our friend who wants to give us a lesson might be quiet long enough to learn a few lessons on how to be a functional member of society.

* the broken families society – I still maintain, as per my post yesterday, that the family is at the cornerstone of an individual’s development. And whilst what counts as ‘family’ might be widely interpreted, the presence of caring and influential adults is all important in instilling the right values in our children. Many commentators, including an interesting piece in theIndependent yesterday, have pointed to the displacement of the family in some parts of society, and its replacement by gang culture. There are clearly no quick fixes to this problem, but there is clearly going to have to be a fix, because the gangs that are operating and have become effectively militarized have replaced the traditional family unit, and worse still think of themselves as operating outside of society – they are immune to politics, policing and the words of the mainstream of society.

But as one of the comments on yesterday’s post so rightly said, the immediate priority is control of the streets. And actually the mentality operating is all about who controls the streets. Not something the moderate mainstream majority can afford to lose, I’d venture

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