Lessons From the British Riots
Since I first wrote on this topic two days ago, a lot more light on what exactly has taken place has been shed, and a lot more informed commentary has been penned as well. All the new information and revelations simply confirm what I said in my original piece.
In particular, three major lessons can be adduced from all this, as I suggested two days ago. The first is the harmful effects of family breakdown. Many commentators have rightly noted how a half-century of family breakdown, the erosion of marriage, and an assault on two-parent families is now bearing ugly fruit, big time.
Many analysts and commentators have highlighted this issue. Melanie Phillips put it this way: “As I have been writing for more than twenty years, a society that embraces mass fatherlessness is a society that is going off the edge of a cliff. There are whole areas of Britain (white as well as black) where committed fathers are a wholly unknown phenomenon; where serial generations are being brought up only by mothers, through whose houses pass transitory males by whom these girls and women have yet more children, and whose own daughters inevitably repeat the pattern of lone and utterly dysfunctional parenting.
“The result is fatherless boys who are suffused by an existential rage and desperate psychic need, who take out the damage done to them by lashing out from infancy at the world around them. And all this is effectively condoned, rewarded and encouraged by the welfare state which conceives of need solely in terms of absence of money, and which accordingly subsidises lone parenthood and the destructive behaviour that welfare fatherlessness brings in its train.”
Theodore Dalrymple concurs: “British youth leads the Western world in almost all aspects of social pathology, from teenage pregnancy to drug taking, from drunkenness to violent criminality. There is no form of bad behaviour that our version of the welfare state has not sought out and subsidised.
“British children are much likelier to have a television in their bedroom than a father living at home. One-third of them never eat a meal at a table with another member of their household — family is not the word for the social arrangements of the people in the areas from which the rioters mainly come. They are therefore radically unsocialised and deeply egotistical, viewing relations with other human beings in the same way as Lenin: Who whom, who does what to whom. By the time they grow up, they are destined not only for unemployment but unemployability.
“For young women in much of Britain, dependence does not mean dependence on the government: that, for them, is independence. Dependence means any kind of reliance on the men who have impregnated them who, of course, regard their own subventions from the state as pocket money, to be supplemented by a little light trafficking.”
The second and related lesson is the debilitating impact of the modern welfare state. This simply tends to increase dependency, irresponsibility, and apathy. The very virtues needed to maintain a strong and tight-knit community tend to be unravelled in the welfare state.
In another important article Phillips also looks at this issue: “And this breaking of the family was further condoned, rewarded and encouraged by the Welfare State, which conceives of need solely in terms of absence of money, and which accordingly subsidises lone parenthood and the destructive behaviour that fatherlessness brings in its train.
“Welfare dependency further created the entitlement culture that the looters so egregiously display. It taught them that the world owed them a living. It taught them that their actions had no consequences. And it taught them that the world revolved around themselves. The result of this toxic combination of welfare and non-judgmentalism was an explosion of elective lone parenthood and dysfunctional behaviour transmitted down through the generations at the very bottom of the social heap — creating, in effect, a class apart.
“Once, children would have been rescued from their disadvantaged backgrounds by schools which gave them not just an education but structure and purpose to their lives. But the liberal intelligentsia destroyed that escape route, too. For its onslaught upon marriage — the bedrock institution of society — with a tax system that penalises married couples with a wife who doesn’t work, was replicated by an onslaught upon the understanding and very identity of that society. Instead of transmitting knowledge to children, teaching was deemed to be an attack upon a child’s autonomy and self-esteem.
“Thus it was that teachers adopted the ‘child-centred’ approach, which expected children not only to learn for themselves but also to decide for themselves about behaviour such as sexual morality or drug-taking. The outcome was that children were left illiterate and innumerate and unable to think. Abandoned to wander through the world without any guidance, they predictably ended up without any moral compass. All of this was compounded still further by the disaster of multiculturalism — the doctrine which held that no culture could be considered superior to any other because that was ‘racist’.”
Victor Davis Hanson speaks of “Paralytic Western Society”. He writes, “We seem able to admit that massive federal and state entitlements have created a sense of dependency, a loss of self-respect and initiative, and a breakdown of the family, yet we still seem to fear that trimming the subsidies would lead to some sort of cold-turkey hyper-reaction. We assume that society is to blame for disaffected youth and therefore are hesitant to use commensurate force to quell the violence or even to make it clear that perpetrators are responsible for their own conduct. Yet at some point — when the violence reaches middle-class communities or, in serial fashion, downtown or suburban stores — we likewise assume that sufficient force will be used. Sociological exegesis will go out the window. Reality has a way of dispelling such cognitive luxuries.”
And a third lesson is this: it is time to lay to rest the old leftist clichés about such situations. We have seen again the folly of those on the left rehashing old Marxist analysis of such riots. The old leftist claims that these troubles are reflections of a war between rich and poor – the old class struggle, in other words – just don’t wash here. The left has been pushing this line at least since Lenin, but it really is beginning to wear a bit thin.
Indeed, I have had people pushing this line on my own site. I replied to one such person this way: “The typical leftist/Marxist line on this (it is all due to poverty and the class struggle) is simply not the case. The evidence is quite the opposite. We did not see poor starving rioters and looters stealing milk and bread to survive. We saw well-heeled young people stealing IPods, designer sunglasses, plasma TVs, and expensive footwear. Many of those arrested were university students, or children of wealthy CEOs and businessmen.”
I cited from an excellent piece which makes this quite clear. Andrew Gilligan begins his article this way: “They were, some said, the alienated poor, those without hope, lashing out in rage and despair. But as the accused London rioters started appearing in court they included university students, a wealthy businessman’s daughter and a boy of 11….
“Among the accused was Laura Johnson, 19, daughter of a successful company director. She lives in a detached converted farmhouse in Kent, with extensive grounds and a tennis court. She is an English and Italian undergraduate at Exeter. Before that, she attended St Olave’s Grammar, the fourth-best state school in the country, where she studied A-levels in French, English literature, geography and classical civilisation. On Wednesday, at Highbury, she was accused of looting the Currys superstore, in Charlton, of electrical goods worth £5000 ($7800).”
Ann Coulter speaks of how “The Sun Never Sets on the British Welfare System”. Her entire article is well worth reading, but consider this snippet: “Britain has a far more redistributive welfare system than France, which is why France’s crime problem is mostly a matter of Muslim immigrants, not French nationals. Meanwhile, England’s welfare state is fast returning the native population to its violent 18th-century highwaymen roots.
“Needless to say, Britain leads Europe in the proportion of single mothers and, as a consequence, also leads or co-leads the European Union in violent crime, alcohol and drug abuse, obesity and sexually transmitted diseases. But liberal elites here and in Britain will blame anything but the welfare state they adore. They drone on about the strict British class system or the lack of jobs or the nation’s history of racism.”
Jonah Goldberg speaks about “left-wing pundits both there and here who insist that the new Tory government’s budget cuts have led to widespread violence, even though most of the relevant cuts haven’t even gone into effect. Of course, they always manage to say ‘there’s no excuse’ for violence. But there’s always a ‘but’ that leads a long parade of excuses.
“Invariably, these rationalizations amount to a license to spend ever more on the social programs that have, at the least, helped to produce the sort of ‘youths’ who will burn homes and cars and beat people to death should the programs be even moderately curtailed. Indeed, according to liberal logic, the mere threat of reforming such programs is enough to cause wholesale violence. In other words, the cuts don’t justify the violence, but the threat of violence justifies avoiding cuts. It’s a clever rhetorical trick, but policy-wise it’s both appeasement of and appealing to thuggery, pure and simple.
“This helps to clarify how economic inequality has come to replace poverty as the most cited ‘root cause’ of social unrest. Poverty, while a more slippery concept than you might think, is still a definable thing. If you lack adequate housing, food and clothing, you’re very poor. Western democracies don’t have much of a problem, comparatively speaking, with that kind of poverty. But we do have income inequality. Inequality is a statistical artifact, an aesthetic offense. Its chief advantage as a bogeyman is that it will always exist and thus always justify programs to reduce it.”
Plenty of other lessons can be learned from all this, but if policy makers, the ruling class, and the opinion makers would just get their heads around these three, we could perhaps prevent such rioting from occurring in the future, at least to some extent.