Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Some Thoughts on Present Disorder in English Society

It is quite clear that the riots and looting by children and young people in scores of towns and cities are not borne of grievance at systemic exclusion from education, or access to economic prosperity, nor because of the suppose racism or oppressiveness of the police, or the failure of power to listen to disaffected youth. People of many ethnic origins are involved - just as they are in the police and fire services. It seems, too, that a good proportion of those involved are students, or in work. Furthermore, whatever our problems in England, this country has an education and schools service that is the envy of children in, for instance, India and South Africa, where only a fraction of the resources we enjoy are available' and yet children there work hard to achieve, get themselves and their families out of poverty and go on to improve their villages, cities and wider society. It is shaming to think that, in a country with so much - one of the richest in the world - where young people have more going for them than almost anywhere else in the world, a tiny minority have unleashed their utter self-absorption in a feast of violence and unruled wills that has not even remembered the taboo of preserving life, ahead of the self-indulgence of acquisition - of something for nothing.

Most young people are not disaffected. They have strong senses of identity, aspiration, hope, love and duty. Most young people have a clear sense of dignity, worth and self-respect. They want to be understood as indiviudals with thoughts and ambitions that matter. Most want to make their families proud of them through their achievements, hope for a good job and a happy home and family life of their own. A lot of young people have heart-breaking obstacles in their path; some have made terrible mistakes; a few others face terrible dangers from involvement crime, gangs and drugs. We may not always get the solutions to many of these problems right; but this country, from the government to the energetic world of self-sacrificing charities, bends over backwards to try and put things right and make them better. Everywhere there are signs of hope, as young people at risk find out who they are and what they want to be in life - through arts, sports, inspiration, reading and imagination, finding what they would love to do for a job, learning about their health and threats to it, choosing their own future rather than having it dictated to them by cowards, and learning the skills that make them effective as contributing members to society, with voices that deserve to be heard and are worth hearing.

The rioters in the streets are in a class apart from the glorious young people who are our country's future and who continually make our country a dynamic place to live. It is most unfair to them for the public and media discourse to blame them for the transgressions of a few. Whatever the faults and setbacks, most young people take pains to overcome them and we every reason to be proud of them and confident of the future.

There is much comment about root causes to the problems of the last few days, relating to social disaffection and financial exclusion owing to the state of the economy and the public spending cuts. There are grains of truth in this, but the true problem is the entrhonement of the paramount self in the formation of some young people. The Judeao-Christian tradition, to build social cohesion through the community of faith, has answered this in a very few short phrases that, formerly, we learned more or less by heart. Not that this wild and strange children will listen for years to come, but it is worth repeating them:

  • Thou shalt do no murder
  • Thou shalt not steal
  • Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house ... nor anything that is his
  • Cursed is he that removeth his neighbour's landmark
  • Cursed is he that smiteth his neighbour secretly
  • Lay not up for yourselves treasure upon earth
  • Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do unto them
  • Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind and with all thy strength
  • Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

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