Tuesday 9 August 2011

Frankenstein’s Britain

Listening to the radio at lunchtime one couldn’t not help but be moved by the accounts of so many unfortunate folk that have been injured, threatened and had their possessions and livelihoods ruined by the rioting in London and elsewhere. These are real people really suffering; innocent law abiding citizens. As a pacifist I could never excuse or wish to justify any violent act. But, to dismiss those who are rioting on the streets of London and other cities in England merely as gangsters, looters and thugs is to totally misunderstand what is going on in this country. When David Cameron used the term ‘Broken Britain’ in many respects he was right. Oh dear that’s twice when I’ve agreed with him lately. I suspect where we differ though is on how we perceive ‘Broken Britain’ and how we would ‘fix’ it.

For my sins I travel on public transport most weekdays. At either end of my journey from Norwich to Thetford I walk to and from both stations. Almost on a daily basis I see people whose behaviour is just so alien to my neo-polite upper working class sensibilities that I often cringe and wonder how they can be so, quite frankly, horrible, selfish and rude. The dysfunctional behaviour that is displayed by an increasing percentage of the population is both staggering and horrifying. I’m not just talking about what is increasingly and sadly being referred to as an underclass but right across the socio-economic divide. Too many people are just too bloody selfish.

It would be so easy to say that it is all Thatcher’s fault! And I fear I might have been guilty in the past of such a comment. But whilst the seeds of society’s decay were sown in the Thatcher era, “There is no such thing as society: there are individual men and women, and there are families” both Tory and Labour governments have perpetuated and allowed the decay to continue. We live in a me, me, me society where I’m alright Jack sod everyone else prevails. It would seem that in this pseudo-libertarian age it is okay for individuals to break the rules. They apply to everyone else but not me. This approach pervades all sections of society; breaking the rules is now acceptable. It doesn’t matter if it is rudeness, dropping litter, queue jumping, never switching your mobile phone off, driving whilst holding you phone to your ear, speeding, phone-hacking, awarding yourself large pay rises and bonuses, or good old fashioned looting and rioting people, right across society so many individuals just do not give a shit about anyone else or the consequences of their actions. To a certain extent we are all guilty of perpetuating this downward spiral into anarchy. But it doesn’t have to be like this. If enough people want it to change it will. Thankfully we still live in enough of a democracy to make it happen.

The big challenge is to persuade the majority that it is in everyone’s interest to try and improve social cohesion and that equality is the key to improving the society that we live in. It is easier said than done of course as so many people take a burying their head in the sand approach and will just dismiss it as liberal Guardian-reading woolliness. The bigots will call for short sharp shocks, more police and other oppressive solutions, but these are sticking plaster solutions to deal with society’s broken limbs and slashed arteries. Unless we have a society where everybody has genuine opportunities in housing, health, education and employment we will never progress. Unless we recognise that equality really does make a difference and recognise that the wealth gap between the top and the bottom of the economic scale impacts on the quality of life that we all live nothing will change. Looting is going on at both ends of the economic scale. A small minority of undereducated, undernourished under fulfilled poor kids are grabbing all the headlines with cries from the general public of “something must be done” whilst quietly company executives award themselves ridiculously high salaries and ridiculously high bonuses and at the same time making thousands redundant and paying too many others the minimum wage. Looting on a grand scale, causing hardship and ruination to so many good people, and there is simply nothing that anyone seems to want to do about it. Most rich people don’t get rich through pure luck. They get rich through exploiting a situation, people or both. We are not yet a civilised society me thinks.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs illustrates what most humans strive for in their lives. But if you take away the opportunity and the hope of ever improving the human condition from millions of people there are bound to be consequences. More equality won’t solve all this country's ills over night. In fact it’ll take a generation or two before any substantive change will be noticed. But if we make no attempt to even things up matters will just continue to get worse and worse.

These two articles, one from the Guardian and, surprisingly, one from the Telegraph that hint at some of the many complex reasons for what is going on.

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