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Thread: Analysis of the social unrest, London Aug. 2011

  1. #1
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    Default Analysis of the social unrest, London Aug. 2011

    We have witnessed unwelcome scenes in London and a few other cities during the past few days. They are as disturbing to the vast majority of decent, law abiding citizens here as they must be to you outside the UK. We live in a society that allows considerable personal freedom, and it is this unpreparedness for extreme social disorder which allows small, isolated incidents to spread before the authorities are able to mobilise. We hear that encrypted Blackberry Messenger mobile phones (which the authorities cannot eavesdrop) are the tool of choice for these gangs.

    This isn't the place to discuss sociological issues in great detail, but I do want to put on record my reassurance that it is, despite appearances, a minority disturbance. Depressingly, the age of those involved seem (visually - no statistics are available yet) to identify them as mid-teens. This has been a wake-up call to British society - no doubt about that. The most shocking scenes are of looting; basic, simple undisguised theft and arson and by what are, largely, children.

    As a parent of three 'children' who grew up during the mad Blair social experiment of "Cool Britannia*" we experienced first hand the top-down laissez-faire attitude that has blighted a generation of teachers, police - indeed anyone in authority - from taking a firm hand with young people and making them aware that in school as in society there are rules. Life is, as those who leave the safety of school soon discover, a cruel hard place; making progress in society and work necessitates observing behavioural rules. Employers certainly demand conformity, should you be lucky enough to find a job and have examination results that make you attractive. So weak authority combined with weak parenting combined with the fantasy world of videos, pop music and video games had created, and institutionalised under the previous social administration a half generation of unemployable, under educated, dead-end 'have-nots'. It was blindingly obvious to me - and millions like me in 1997 - that this would be the ultimate consequence of the government sponsored illusion of promoting the cult of the individyual away from a healthy respect for authority and towards individual 'personal freedom'. In practice, this has led to the ludicrous situation of the police being almost incapacitated thanks to guidance on how they must treat suspects as 'customers' not criminals. 'Freedom' is a total fantasy for ordinary people. Real freedom is achievable only with real wealth.

    What is likely to be the outcome of this? Well, certainly, there will be action. The Mayor of London today talked of the pendulum having to swing back towards empowering teachers to regain control over disruptive elements in their schools with old fashioned respect and discipline without fear of depriving children of their "human rights". It's long overdue. As all good parents know, children flourish when they live and play within the confines of well-understood 'rules' of acceptable behaviour. That's very good for them as children, them as adults and parents themselves and for society at large. And that was how it was for countless generations in this country. Now we have to redouble efforts to make educational achievement a worthwhile ambition for all youngsters. And create worthwhile work for them. And we have to wean them off violent videos and computer games which have corrupted their minds.

    Perhaps a summary of the situation here
    ?

    *'Cool Britannia is a media term that was used in the 1990s to describe fashionable contemporary British culture. The term was prevalent during the 1990s, and was closely associated with the early years of New Labour under Tony Blair'. It may have been an appropriate and even true banner in the swinging London of the 60s but not in the late 90s. By then, it was just a dangerous illusion against the reality of the diminsihed global influence of the Great Britain. Even the term 'Great Britain' was expunged from the media (incl. the BBC) when we became rebranded as the UK.

    P.S. It occurs to me that looting that's been witnessed and especially that of consumer electronic goods, confirms the power of marketing and the aspirational pull that such products have. We occasionally here comment on the HUG that the aspiration to acquire goodies exerts a compelling pull on those with money. We forget that to those without the means to buy, the pull is as great if not greater. Has consumer marketing (for example, of large TVs) with its relatively broad-brush promotion to those who do have the interest and money and simultaneously those whose interest is piqued don't have the money created a class of 'underprivileged consumers'?
    Alan A. Shaw
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    Default Society, wants and needs

    I empathize with what most Britons must be feeling about this situation. Having recently experienced a similar sort of riot (though thankfully much briefer and more quickly contained) here in Vancouver following the Stanley Cup playoffs (ice hockey), I understand the frustration and anger and embarrassment that the vast majority of law-abiding citizens feel in the face of such apparently senseless hooliganism and violence.

    One of things that was apparent in the Vancouver riot, however, is that a number of the looters and rioters, perhaps not the primary instigators but certainly some of the participants, were actually well-educated, economically-privileged university students. One was a nationally-ranked amateur athlete on his university water polo team; another was a university psychology (!) student who, having just emerged from the smashed storefront window of an expensive shop with a designer handbag in her hands, was asked why she had taken it, and replied blankly "because I wanted it."

    My point being that at least of these individuals had been very successful in following the "rules", in academic achievement, in playing by social rules and following social norms - these were "good" kids, wealthy and well-educated, living in comfortable suburbs, and yet ... there they were, taking part.

    That says to me that one should be wary of adopting any one single explanation as "the answer". Yes, the pendulum may have swung too far away from a healthy respect for rules and authority and structure, but I'm not convinced (based on the above examples) that that's the entire answer. In addition to examples of excessive liberalism, I think there's also a contribution of the influence of a certain kind of free-market conservatism, in which social relations and transactions tend to be reduced to economic terms exclusively (as in the example provided of police referring to citizens as "customers"). To my mind, this kind of mindset and economic reductionism is just as much a contributor to the breakdown of a stable and orderly society as the excesses of a certain type of extreme liberalism, that would confer on children "rights" that they are really not prepared to exercise responsibly. The "consumer" mentality fosters a sense of entitlement just as much as the "rights" mentality.

    I do however completely agree with the point about people's wants, i.e. their desire for consumer goods that confer status, pleasure, what have you, driving much of this behaviour. Advertising and marketing (not notably liberal institutions) have very successfully convinced people, perhaps especially youth who do not yet have the life experience to take such messages with a grain of salt, that the acquisition of the right material goods is the key to happiness. Not surprising then that the opportunity to acquire such goods costlessly in the general mayhem is attractive to at least some.

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    Default

    I can report that the shock waves of these past few days have rippled through British society from the top to the bottom regardless of race, creed, colour or political persuasion. These events have been and will be seen as a defining moment in what has been brewing for many years since the concept of respect and obedience was marginalised by our political leaders and the cult of 'individual freedom' replaced civilised behaviour. As my wife commented as we watched the evening news, 'we've been saying this for years ...'. We here in the UK are deeply, deeply ashamed of this behaviour.

    British PM David Cameron's full statement here. Overview of policing here.
    Alan A. Shaw
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    Default A generation of "unraised" youngsters

    I can not agree more with Mr. Shaw and the summary on the linked article, a remarkable piece that people should indeed read.

    I would add that moral, ethical, ideological and cultural relativism has helped quite a bit for this situation to unfold. Anything goes, all opinions are equal, no matter what, and saying otherwise makes one usually a hard liner conservative, or an intolerant person, if it's not even a fascist....that's where we've come these days, at least in France or in Luxembourg, where i live. All this encouraged by medias, self acclaimed journalists, politicians, sociologists and auto proclaimed philosophs.

    I'm not surprised that even well educated, wealthy students come to act like this. A certain form of education can still be lacking, and amidst relativism of all sort, the limit of excitment has to be pushed farther still - drugs, *** and consumerism in not enough anymore - helped probably by a selfish and/or ruthless character.

    Our politicians and a lot of parents have allowed whole generations of people to be raised - or rather "unraised" - in a way that will not only be unproductive for themselves and the society which offers most of them so many opportunities, but will represent a burden for most of us for a very long time. Their own kids will be another such generation that will follow.

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    Default A very British approach to a crisis?

    Quote Originally Posted by Haddock View Post
    ...Our politicians and a lot of parents have allowed whole generations of people to be raised - or rather "unraised" - in a way that will not only be unproductive for themselves and the society ...
    Above all, we must remember that the pictures of these antisocial young people reveal that the vast majority are, it would seem, children. For whatever tragic reasons in their family (or lack of family) life they have not had the leadership which clearly differentiates right from wrong. We can't blame children for that - the blame must lie with their parents and collectively with all of us in the bigger society for letting this happen.

    So, whilst observing these terrible events we have to be aware that we are going to have to deal with large numbers of offenders (over 1000 arrested so far) who are below the age of consent (18 here), and who we have to treat with especial sensitivity, whatever they are accused and found guilty of. The British government - supported universally by the entire population here - has been horrified by what we have seen and universally expect the government to be seen taking a tough line, to send a signal to a wayward generation that 'enough is enough'. And that is exactly what they are doing.

    David Cameron, the British Prime Minster has caught the public mood exactly. See his Statement to the British House of Commons (where our six hundred MPs sit) today here. Firm and determined to round up the guilty. Courts are unprecedentedly operating twenty four hours a day to shorten the time between offence and sentence. We here do not ever want or expect to see such social disorder again but we have to take care to balance that with our expectations of continuing personal freedom.

    The rational way the British government is approaching this uprising without the use of physical force is (perhaps) a characteristically British way of handling a crisis. The same cool restraint and factual analysis is reflected (unwittingly) in the way we approach our product design and manufacturing. Perhaps Harbeth is more a product of 'Britishness' than we realise.
    Alan A. Shaw
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    Default Swift response by legal system

    The thing that has impressed me the most is the speed and efficiency of the legal response in Britain. Here the police are still "investigating" following the Vancouver Riot over two months ago, and few if any charges have been laid despite the fact that there's ample video and photographic evidence, and many of the perpetrators have even confessed their actions.

    Of course, there may be dangers in moving too swiftly, but the problem with moving too slowly is that it undermines public confidence in the government's ability to deal with matters like this. Which is a real problem when the underlying issue (one of them, anyway) is a lack of respect for proper rules and authority. The police response can be good, but the legal response may be dishearteningly slow.

    Kudos to Great Britain for (apparently) doing an excellent job on both fronts, but particularly on the legal front, which traditionally is not an area that moves very fast.

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    Default Enough is enough .....

    We're all sickened by events. And on the UK Government's website, an electronic-petition has been started to which 160,000 people have signed, here. At 100,000 signatures, the government is obliged to take heed of public sentiment. The first eviction notice has been served.

    Prime Minister David Cameron speaks here. His comments here:

    Mr Cameron told the BBC's North West Tonight: "If you live in a council house {lower cost, subsidised housing provided by the local councils and in great demand} you're getting a house at a discount from what other people have to pay and with that should come some responsibility.

    "For too long we've taken a too soft attitude towards people that loot and pillage their own community. If you do that you should lose your right to the sort of housing that you've had at subsidised rates.

    Eric Pickles Communities Secretary:

    "Obviously, that will mean they've got to be housed somewhere else - they'll have to find housing in the private sector - and that will be tougher for them, but they should have thought of that before they started burgling."

    The prime minister also said there could be a knock-on benefit to the policy because it "might help break up some of the criminal networks on some housing estates if some of these people are thrown out of their houses".
    UPDATES .... 6 days on and the courts are full, here.
    Alan A. Shaw
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    Communities pulling together ...

    The police have hundreds or thousands of hours of high quality CCTV video recording the rioters. Video footage analysis here. And a knock on the door from the Old Bill here.

    And the big clean up - communities roll up their sleeves and get down to cleaning up the mess. Note the similarity in age between the rioters and those volunteering to do cleaning. There is hope; our society is not completely disfunctional.

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    British PM David Cameron and mending our society, here.

    Statistics from the Courts at 5 Sept. 2011 .... 1630 persons have appeared in court and more every day being rounded up.

    Metropolitan (London) police gallery here. Recognise anyone here?

    We the silent majority hope never to see this disgraceful eposode repeat itself.

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    Default The moral decay of our society is as bad at the top as the bottom

    Presented here by way of balance as it is not a view that has been raised thus far:

    From Peter Oborne, the Daily Telegraph's chief political commentator.

    The culture of greed and impunity we are witnessing on our TV screens stretches right up into corporate boardrooms and the Cabinet. It embraces the police and large parts of our media. It is not just its damaged youth, but Britain itself that needs a moral reformation.
    full article here

    For those outside the UK, wiki has the Telegraph as: Political alignment Centre-Right, Conservative

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    Default Collective sensibilities

    There is truth to that also, and example has, by definition, to come from top, just as parents have to set the right benchmark for their kids.
    What bothers me is that our governments have tended to take up ever more costly tasks - sometimes justified but often not - over the years while neglecting or even forgetting the very reasons that justified their existence in the first place: security of people and property, freedom of travel and commerce, infrastructure, basic rights or needs such as health and education.

    The tradeoffs were taxes and moderate restriction of individual freedom, both more than compensated for by the collective and individual benefits of this sound social organisation.

    While i'm not fundamentally against government taking new tasks if citizen wish so, it must first and always have full control of the basic ones. This has now failed for a long time and government has become the biggest but most unaccountable and often least efficient company/actor in many european countries.

    I admire what appears to be british common good sense and "britishness" as Mr Shaw calls it, still found with many of its citizens, but quite rare elsewhere on the continent ...

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    Default Rotten to the top?

    The Telegraph article is superb, though it is a shame the author does not go on to say how a moral reformation can be brought about.
    Last edited by Dougal; 17-08-2011 at 09:00 AM. Reason: To remove irrelevant content.

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    Default Desert rats in Australia?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dougal View Post
    ... the author does not go on to say how a moral reformation can be brought about.
    Send them to Australia! There's plenty of desert here which needs to be won back.

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    Default Corrosive morals?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dougal View Post
    The Telegraph article is superb, though it is a shame the author does not go on to say how a moral reformation can be brought about.
    Well, he may not know. It is rather a difficult question, after all. If you accept the thesis that the rich as well as the poor may act in ways that are anti-social and socially destructive, then what do you do? Everyone understands that burning and looting is bad and cannot be condoned. But the harm caused by wealthy individuals and/or corporations not - for example - paying a fair amount of tax, or banks gambling with their investors' money, may be far less obvious, though just as socially corrosive (or more so) in the long run. But it doesn't make for exciting television viewing, so it's harder to come to grips with it (though it can be done: see Charles Ferguson's excellent documentary called Inside Job which dissects some of the causes of the 2008-2009 economic collapse in the U.S.).

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    An now we have the breakdown of those processed through the courts. It's very depressing reading indeed. If only there was one single magic formula to fix to complex this socio-economic-moral dilemma. Figures here. As Justice Secretary reports today 'Three-quarters had a previous caution or conviction, Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures show, and those with a criminal record averaged 15 offences. This showed "existing criminals were on the rampage" during last month's riots, said Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke. The justice system needed changes "to ensure both effective punishment and reform to tackle reoffending", he said. "I am dismayed to see a hardcore of repeat offenders back in the system." Report here.

    How, in the current constrained economic situation, do we create meaningful work and employment for these youngsters to give their life a purpose to which their boundless energy can be steered?
    Alan A. Shaw
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    Default Replace Benefits with State-Paid Work?

    Well here's a suggestion...

    I believe you can make more money here in the UK from social security benefits than full time work on the minimum wage.

    The UK is currently short of available work. It's short of work because there's not enough cash flowing around to pay workers; not because there's a shortage of work that could use doing.

    Would it be entirely unacceptable to suggest replacing social security benefits with state-paid community work? Workers would be paid for the hours for which they are bothered to turn up and for them there would be no alternative income. It wouldn't cost the stateóbenefits cost the same anyway.

    Those reliant on benefits would be naturally excluded from this idea.

    Separating those reliant from those not is another difficulty and I'm not sure how to address that.

    Is it easy for me in my comfortable, well paid working environment to suggest such a thing? Yes. But I've been there before - between losing a job and find another I cleaned a warehouse floor for a few months earning slightly less than the UK dole.

    (I've just realised I sound like an extreme conservative, but politically I'm actually far out left).

    There must be loads of things practically wrong with this idea... just haven't thought of them yet.
    Ben from UK. Harbeth P3ESR owner.

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    Default Labour market statistics

    http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/lms/la...September-2011

    The quarterly rise in unemployment occurred mainly among people aged from 18 to 24. The number of unemployed people in this age group rose by 77,000 over the quarter to reach 769,000.

    Peter

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    Default Where is the cash leak?

    Quote Originally Posted by BAS-H View Post
    Well here's a suggestion...

    The UK is currently short of available work. It's short of work because there's not enough cash flowing around to pay workers; not because there's a shortage of work that could use doing.
    The interesting question then, if there's not enough cash "flowing around", is where is it going?

    I am personally a strong proponent of the free market, but anything taken to an extreme tends to fall apart. The simple fact is that wealth and power tends to concentrate over time, because once you have it, it becomes ever easier to acquire more of it. But how to keep the money, as you say, "flowing" without going the opposite extreme of over-controlling the economy and destroying creativity and productivity?

    I think one could do worse than approach society as if one were designing a loudspeaker. Everything is tradeoffs. Too much focus on one area will cause a loss in another. But that said, good engineering beats bad every time. And speakers don't design themselves.

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    Default Agree

    Quote Originally Posted by EricW View Post
    Sound argument.
    Ben from UK. Harbeth P3ESR owner.

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