That widespread rioting and looting is appalling seems so obvious as not to require much stating – though politicians and the media keep restating it. What is also appalling – perhaps more appalling, for it suggests the impossibility of resolving such chronic problems – is the emptiness of statements on the subject from our various ‘leaders’, and the crudity of statements from most other people who are saying anything at all. Opinions divide depressingly into two lists: one of crude right-wing clichés, the other of limp left-wing generalisations. I humbly and politely submit that such responses are brainless – and are likely to have no effect except, perhaps, a counter-productive one.
Serious problems very rarely have single, still less simple, causes. To offer a simplistic analysis of such a grave problem as the current crisis in society – whether from the right (Boot all the blacks) or from the left (Show ‘respect’ to young hooligans) – is unhelpful and perhaps wicked. To be both effective and humane, any analysis of a serious issue, and any strategy for tackling it, must fearlessly draw on the best and the necessary ideas, regardless of whether in themselves they come from left or right. It is in the combination that something wise and effective may emerge.
So, in what is the worst social-political crisis of my life-time (which unfortunately, gentle reader, spans some decades), I suggest that a few ideas which in themselves are left-wing cannot be discounted as likely or possible factors…
1. We are suffering under the most arrogant and least competent government in memory.
2. This government was not – as constituted – voted for by anyone; but it has not set appropriate limits upon itself.
3. Financial cuts and ideological threats on an unprecedented level have been made against our national institutions and services. (Cutting public expenditure may or may not be deemed essential, depending on the economic philosophy prevailing, but clearly some of the cutting has been done ruthlessly, wastefully, and harmfully.)
4. The Deputy Prime Minister has revealed himself as a self-seeking political hypocrite who has betrayed his former supporters and overturned his own previous promises; but he has not resigned.
5. The Prime Minister has been revealed as involved in corruption; but he has not resigned.
In the light of such factors, it is less surprising that people are rioting. I say less surprising. I do not say that rioting becomes excusable because of such factors. I do not even say, of course, that they are sole reasons; but I suggest they are factors in the compound reason – that whole reason being the substantial breakdown of social norms. Certainly no such factors (nor any others) can be excuses for looting. Looting is not a political protest: it’s a criminal act. Rioting, however, is or can be a political protest. Whether or not it is a morally acceptable form of protest depends on the extremity of the corruption and/or incompetence of the government in question, set against the availability and likely effectiveness of other methods of protest. In my own opinion, our present government is not such a one as to justify actual rioting; but it is, more than any other in my life-time, one that makes rioting less surprising than it would otherwise be in this country.
But I would also suggest as having equal weight a few ideas which in themselves could be called right-wing…
1. Our general level of public morality, and the general levels of compassion and responsibility in our public attitude, are at a record low.
2. Selfishness and materialism, and a general hardness of attitude, are at a record high.
3. Parenting (with many exceptions, but in general) has sunk to such a level (physical absence, moral neglect, lack of domestic cohesion, and utter stupidity in attitude and behaviour) that many of the young people in our society are beyond what used to be regarded as proper control and have simply not been brought up to recognise what used to be regarded as normal standards.
4. Schooling (with some exceptions – fewer and weaker as every year goes by) has been dragged down and down (by many factors) in almost all areas, but spectacularly so in the area of discipline, so that many of the young people in our society – many of those who are now at school and many of those who have been through school in recent years – are no longer capable of accepting discipline by the agents of society and still less capable of disciplining themselves.
It seems to me to be a tragic refusal of intelligence for some people automatically to reject the idea that arrogant and unwise cutting of services is a factor in this social unrest simply because that smacks of a ‘leftist’ attitude which one of the less agile parts of their minds rebels against automatically. It is equally tragic when others will not accept (because they won’t associate themselves with something that sounds reactionary) that gradually giving up on obliging children to show respect and obedience from an early age (when it is easily achieved) was a disaster for children and for society and needs to be put sharply into reverse in homes and in schools.
Any society – a family, a school, or a nation – needs both firmness and compassion; and it needs both its principles and its strategies to be considered and applied with an intelligence that is sober but agile. We have ceased to be a sufficiently thoughtful nation – thoughtful in both senses of the term. Neither the pure radical way nor the blind right-wing way works alone – any more than the dry, separated ingredients of bread make a meal. It is only in just measure and skilful combination that they lighten and leaven and flavour and transform each other into a whole thing, which is the bread of life.