Sunday, August 14, 2011
Inequality at Root of Rioting Tendency
It's a country where people are living longer and feeling healthier, where household wealth doubled between 1987 and 2009; crime is at a historic low, divorce rates falling, abortion rates, too.
Yet we cannot explain what has happened in our inner cities and Tory MPs are slavering for a tough response to exact revenge on a collection of 'feral rats' as the rioters were characterised; round them up in Wembley Stadium was one, chuck them out of their council flats was another or stop their benefits. Yet none of these public spirited rightwingers care to mention the widespread looting of the economy which was conducted by the bankers causing the recession after 2008 or the expenses fiddling by MPs either. Peter Oborne provides a timely reminder of this fact for his rightwing audience when he points out that the moral decay is just as bad at the top of society as at the botton At least some of the latter have been banged up; not one banker has paid any price as yet, and Sir Fred Goodwin, emerged more or less unscathed.
Now if you are an ill educsted unemployed youth from a broken home-i.e. classic underclass- and you daily see images broadcast to you of such felonies occurring with no penalties paid together with a flood of images of all the things which are deemed essential by young people- designer clothes and trainers, mobile phones-then I think I can almost begin to understand the mindset of some of them. It doesn't justify violent rioting and pillaging, but it does enable us to get closer to the context in which these events took place.
The Observer editorial called for 'a new ethic of responsibility', a kind of moral renaissance to recover from the depths to which we recently sunk. I'm sure this is necessary but who knows how to achieve this? Exhortation won't do it and our political elite is too complicit in the system to effect the wholesale restructuring of society that the newspaper reckons is required:
Blaming a "mindless minority" of thugs for scenes that shocked the world and confounded our idea of what England is and how it works is not good enough. The looters and arsonists must be charged and convicted. But we must resist any attempt to create an enemy within dealt with by a more politicised police force. Instead the rest of us must attempt to make sure that never again will people feel such contempt for the communities they live in. In the battle to restore England's tattered social fabric, we really are all in it together.
I think the bad people in our country should be demonised. If people don't want to be demonised, they shouldn't do anything that may make people want to demonise them. Unless we believe there is a whole class of potential rioters, there is no need for the rest of us to persuade that class that it shouldn't damage their communities.
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