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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

"By their fruits shall you know them"

As the UK spirals into an anarchy of seemingly organised and systematic youth criminality, you wonder where the on earth these little rapscallions got their values.

Why would they want more phones?

Where did they get the idea that greed is okay when you can get away with it?

(Oh, right...Lehman brothers, the looting of the economy by the banks...every single advertisement for status objects.)

Where did they get the idea that self-righteous revenge on bystanders is justifiable?

(Oh, um , yes...two illegal wars after 9/11, waged on those innocent of the offense.)

Where did they get the idea that violence is wicked-good fun?

(Ah. Yes, well. Every movie, TV show and video game ever marketed to them by adults.)

Where did they get the idea that governmental authority has forsaken them?

(Oh my yes...end of student benefit, introduction of University fees...zero employment prospects...)

Where did they get the idea that high-end STUFF is the ideal?

(Ah. Well,...rampant consumerism...massive rich/poor divide...status culture.)

I think I'm sensing a ---gasp!---context here...


Now before you start writing outraged comments about how these lawless youth need to be held accountable for their actions, let me say I agree with you. Yes they should. Under no circumstances is violence, theft, and lawlessness excusable.

But it is understandable, in the same way violent revolution (such as the Arab spring) is understandable. It is a well-established sociological axiom that countries with greater social equality (meaning not just economic equality, but equality of opportunity, class equality) have fewer incidents of this sort of spectacle. Conversely, countries with a large divide between those at the top and those at the bottom experience more such nightmares.

Simultaneously, young'uns at the bottom are steeped from an early age in a culture of consumer envy, violent entertainments, and role models who support, encourage and revel in violent reprisal, be it in foreign wars or the criminal justice system. It is a combustible combination. At the end of a long, hot, muggy British summer, where you can't even buy a cheap fan 'cause they're all sold out of the shops, when school's been out for weeks, all it took was the shooting of a Tottenham youth by police to spark it off. Sure, what followed was opportunism, not necessarily political protest, but it didn't come out of nothing. Nothing comes from nothing.

You can't start a fire without a spark

It is far easier to urge violent reprisal on the symptoms than look for the systemic causes--cultural, social, political--that condition such sad events as we've seen. But that's the only way to make it go away for good. You can try to swat and kill every single mosquito, OR you can drain the swamp that breeds them. Your choice--but cracking some head sure feels better, doesn't it? It's also easier to direct your rage down the social scale (as witness the recent demonization of "chavs"). The real thieves who robbed you good and proper are still working in the finance industry--but what can you do about that, tough guy?

There's an old story about Diogenes (who famously carried a lamp through Athens day and night, looking, he said, for an honest man). Once, he heard a youth curse openly in public, and he strode up and slapped the youth's father.

If he ever found one, history does not record it.
By their fruits shall you know them. Looking for causes as to why this happened? Look in the mirror, and look hard.

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