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
Harbeth Audio UK