We live in a troubled World, not helped by the decisions of democratic governments have been very short-sighted, geared more to keeping power than the long term good. One examle is the undermining of equality and sharing in society, which has resulted in the huge inequalities across the World, especially in the US and UK. These inequalities have contributed to the East African famine, over-population and environmental devastation. In my view is that this underlies the trouble this week in England (not Scotland, Wales).
The problems of alienation from society that result from inequalities are deep seated and complex, and although some very good minds have been trying to tackle them for a long time, their solutions inevitably answer only part of the problem and are ham-strung now by lack of money.
Factors contributing to the attitudes that resulted in the riots are (not in any order):
* Poor parenting, which has been deteriorating over the past 30-odd years. This stems from the way society has become more individualistic, materialistic and unequal so that people at the bottom feel increasingly hopeless, disengaged and powerless. Parents turn to drink, drugs, sex and difficult children are left to get on with it without standards, discipline or guidance.
* A materialistic society – one who’s values turn more around bling than caring. One manifestation is the ‘shop-till-you-drop’ celebrity who acts as an icon that suggests that you can have all the money and stuff without having to work and strive for it.
* The idea that greed is good: being super-rich is often a sign of achievement (though not for the offspring of the super-rich), but what is important is how that achievement is measured. If achievement is being a Madoff who doesn’t get found out (and they do exist though he was extreme), then society has lost it’s moral compass. Anger at the banking crisis and it’s outcome, where the bankers cleaned up and society paid, is deep and wide-spread and contributes to the ‘why should I care?’ attitude.
* The increasing gap between the rich and the poor, both within our countries and across the World. This has resulted in a disconnect between sectors of society, and between governments and the rump of society. The result is that people at the bottom end either despair, or grab what benefits they can and live without working or contributing, and/or they become criminal without any concept of it being wrong.
* Lack of education, or at least, success in education: T Blair put billions into UK state education, but we still have 30% of children leaving primary school below the expected basic standard, many unable to read and write proficiently or at all. This in spite of huge research and endless initiatives have been put in place to turn things around. Schools try to instill discipline and set standards, but the problem exists largely in state schools (social deprivation, large class sizes, unvalued teachers) and not in the private sector (social privilege, small class sizes, highly valued teachers). Again, the wealth divide pertains.
* Too much information: Vast amounts of information are fed at everybody, totally unfiltered, through the media and IT, so school learning is devalued. Values are influenced or even dictated by what people happen to absorb. The increased reliance on social networking where people will gravitate towards others with similar attitudes makes any trend self-perpetuating, to the extent of large groups rushing out to trash the streets to create mayhem. It is not a question of limiting the technology or freedom, but of working out how society can best cope with this to produce a favourable outcome.
* Lack of moral leadership: Politicians are not trusted, even less since various UK MPs and US Congressmen have been jailed for corruption and immorality. Of course, politicians are people like you and me, and neither all bad or all good, and no-one likes a ‘goody-goody’, but the media amplifies misdeeds, without balance and often with a political spin, whilst much good is ignored. Company directors tend to line their own pockets to the cost of everyone else. There is Enron, of course, and Madoff, and Fred-the-Shred (ex MD of RBS) but also in the UK, an analysis of the FTSE 100 company directors showed that the average pension entitlement of main board directors was £160,000 per year, whilst the average employee could expect £6,000.
* I have rights, but sod the responsibilities. It’s my right to have (or sire) any number of kids by any number of partners, and the society will pick up the bill. It’s my right to get benefits to pay for my flat, food, children, schooling, medicare and fags, so why should I work? This is a very difficult problem to tackle as any adjustment to benefits causes hardship to the most deprived and increases resentment and anger.
A positive solution will be very difficult to achieve as it is a long-term project – this has been 30 years in the making. It is not a question of left or right-wing politics as neither have all of the answers, and an unbalanced approach will end up with a worse situation. Funnily enough, democracy itself contributes to the problem as political parties work towards getting elected or re-elected, rather than longer term outcomes. I think, perhaps, that this coalition govt is trying to work long term, with the opposing factions within the parties (and they are dramatic – lefty liberals and hang-em-high reactionaries at the extremes) cancelling each other out. But leadership has to be decisive within this continuing war, and a fast-moving situation. Good luck to ’em.
Any blanket solution to the underlying problems is utopian and unrealistic when you take into account the reality of human nature and any govt that tried to carry out such a policy would probably end up fascistic and so fail.
Our society (Western capitalist) is a bit like a run-away train, with the drivers valiantly trying to keep the thing on the tracks whilst the bad injuns throw rocks and logs. And if the train comes off the rails, as it probably will, doing 90 miles per hour, and most of the people on board are killed, well it’s happened before. Of course it’ll be bigger this time, but those left will pick themselves up and start again. And we still won’t realise that you and me have no importance at all – we are as irrelevant as an ant in a heap: just read your history.