Tuesday, 9 August 2011

London's Burning... What can We Do?

I am this morning almost lost for words; not a normal state of affairs if my usual lengthy diatribes are anything to go by.

Courtesy of the BBC
It's worrying that I can't look stupefied; I can't remonstrate; but what is still more worrying is that I don't even feel desperately angry... no, that's not true, I am angry... but I'm not feeling any passion about it all right now; just numb, overwhelmingly numb! So bear with me while I try to sort this out in my head.

Perhaps this is because we've seen it all before, in my lifetime during the early eighties, when another Conservative government had to put in place measures that were designed to pull in the purse strings, following a period in the seventies of economic melt down. I know so many people, the vast majority of us in fact, who have not been anywhere near the dystopia of our burning city streets over the last three terrible days, will have felt by turns angry, disgusted and dismayed over the antisocial and violent behaviour seen on our television screens and will continue to do so this morning, particularly since we've been struck by the breakfast news of the worsening images of the infernos making London look like it's been hit by another blitz, now spreading, as it has, to the hot spots of other cities, Birmingham and Bristol. Where next? As I write it is already spreading to more places around the country.

Part of what I wrote in the post I published at the end of June, "Politics, Treachery and... a beautiful Rose" has, this week, been resonating with me even more powerfully than it was when I wrote it. Specifically, this concerned the ability of humanity to maintain civilised behaviour, maintaining discipline, even in the face of adversity; something, for example, which has made our armed forces the envy of the world; and it's about the inability of some humans - sometimes - to be anything other than the basic creatures we fundamentally are - wild animals! Now, I don't mean to offend animal lovers here; quite the opposite, in fact! Animals, both domesticated and wild, all have an essential place in this great big beautiful environmental mishmash we call earth, our world. The domestic ones are animals that, when young, have to be given a basic discipline, rather like children, which they carry with them throughout their lives, so that they, and we, can benefit from the mutually convenient relationship or companionship that thereby develops.

Courtesy of the BBC
However, the similarity between animals and human children ends when the latter reach an age when they become capable of expressing free will and can be educated to realise they have the ability for self determination, but when, most important of all, they become able to learn self control, mental discipline; in other words, given that they are helped and encouraged, when they nurture, develop and strengthen those safety valves that allow us to say no; to draw back from stealing something when we think we are not being watched; that prevents us from hitting the person who seriously offends us, or even assaults us - at least beyond what is reasonable defence of self, family and property; and the self control that stops us from killing another person, however provoked or irrationally enraged we may be in the moment.

But... but, we are all wired differently and each one of us has a different perception of reality, however slight, but different nonetheless. Before those of us, who have been privileged enough to lead reasonably normal lives with a reasonable education and upbringing - however imperfect we may sometimes think that our lives are and how hard done to we may feel - before we utter our complaints and shout "lock 'em up and throw away the key", let us be sure we are certain there is no solution. There are always going to be reasons for individual bad behaviour, which we can attempt to address on an individual basis. The trouble comes when lots of those badly behaved individuals get together, aided and abetted no doubt by some, shall we say, not so underprivileged individuals, the organisers, the result of which we have seen this week. I suspect that each of these individuals would have a story to tell, of woe, of drug-addicted parents, of no parents, of uncaring homes, of an atmosphere of dereliction and degradation of hope. There will also be a lot of youthful hangers on, on the verge of adulthood but who don't know better, following like sheep, trying to impress, to prove they are qualified as cool, budding thugs.

So logically, there will always be human beings, who have not been taught this essential discipline of self-control, of civilised behaviour, or who may be psychologically incapable of that essential skill of self regulation, and who will therefore snap at the slightest provocation, who will sometimes become criminalised as a result and who make up a number of those rampaging, looting and burning in the streets this week.

In the coming weeks and months, as the streets and the mess are cleared up - and let's hope to God this is very soon - there will no doubt be plenty of allegations of police brutality, of injustice and pleas of mitigation for the few who got caught and charged with various offences and affray. There will be so much of the usual time wasting, defensive and political claptrap, thrown between parties and organisations caught in the fray, and much more cost to the taxpayer. But, when all is said and done, those who have taken to the streets will, and indeed must pay the penal price appropriate to the crimes they have committed. But I ask now, who will be able to tackle the causes of this human mess..?

I can tell you, it won't be the government, not any government, inspite of vast quantities of inquiries and reports - e.g. Scarman in 1981 - has ever or will ever be capable of dealing with the causes; they are just too big a deal, too much of a threat to the winning and retention of electoral votes. No, there is only one solution...

Courtesy of the BBC
...and no, it is not to jump ship, run away from the problem or bury our heads in the sand!

It is down to us: parents, families, communities. We are the glue that builds a nation; call it the "Big Society" if you want; I personally don't like that phrase - probably because it came from the mouth of a pompous, patronising politician (love the alliteration :-)). Somehow, we, the people, have to rise above all this, stop complaining, whinging, whining, talking about it all the time and blaming someone else for our lot; we need to gird our loins, start thinking carefully about and debating the issues, actually do something, get involved, in however small a way, start showing more interest in the future of our civilised society, and less in our 'selves'. Otherwise, we will dissolve into an even greater uncivilised quagmire, because, as it stands, these problems are not going away any time soon.

If you think this is a criticism of you, then it probably is. I know it is certainly a criticism of myself, because I know I could do more and by God I will try, somehow!


  1. What you say in the last paragraph resonates w. me. To paraphrase, thinking less of ourselves and more of the community. Until this happens, we will keep repeating what's happening now. Thank you for reminding us of our humanity.

  2. These are teens doing this damage, I'm ashamed that we've raised our children to behave like common theives. The first protest for the shooting of a young armed robber was peaceful. These "children" are opportunistic and don't even know the reasoning behind the shooting let alone the young man that died. I have very strong opinions about this. Our kids need educating, and it's up to "us" to give it to them. What sort of a country are we living in where parents don't know or care where their children are. Don't punish the children, ask where the responsibilities lie, and for me, it's always at the hearth and home.

    We are all human beings, we should respect one another as you synopsis very concisely in your last paragraph. Teach these youngsters respect, most importantly how to respect themselves, therein lies the key to peace, and an end to these absurd nights of unrest.

    Thanks for putting in your time to write this brilliant article John.

  3. Thank you, Lady Fumanchu, for your kind comments.

    And Repressed soul, yes you are right about the responsibility being "at the hearth and home"; parents must 'dare to discipline' their children, although it needs to be said that children without effective guardians are a different problem. I have lived most of my adult life with this conviction simmering away inside me, that is individual responsibility; taking control of the things that affect your own life and those of your children; not blaming someone else for your difficulties, particularly of the financial kind: I hear an ancient voice crying "cut the coat according to your cloth". And, yes, respect... R.E.S.P.E.C.T. how can we get this most basic of human dignities restored to its rightful place right across the human spectrum..?

  4. Poetjanstie,

    Thank you for directing me to your post. I have been to London numerous times, and it was heartbreaking to see some of the destruction. We've had similar riots in Canada of late - in Vancouver over a hockey game earlier this year, and in Toronto when the G20 was in town.

    In both cases, the police were caught…for lack of a better term—“with their pants down,” and the leaders were red in the face with embarrassment at how mild mannered Canadians could become so violent.

    Like the London riots, it was only a tiny fraction of the population responsible for the mayhem, but it quickly snowballed due to the crowd mentality. People who were self-aware with a sense of justice and responsibility didn’t follow. Others did.

    For your country, the world awaits to see if those in power will put a band-aid on the situation, or will they have the courage to cut into an open wound, remove the tumor, and put a plan into place to heal over the long term?


  5. And thank you, Eden, for your insightful comments to this post. I have left a fuller reply to this as well as to your further comment, in "London's Burning... Part Two".

  6. Thanks. I responded to part 2.



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