First, let me say I think the inexplicable thuggery that’s going on in London (and elsewhere) is indefensible and the people doing it without respect for people or property are despicable. They deserve everything they have coming to them. But if we want to stop more of them emerging, we need to realise that a thug with no job and no hope of a job isn’t intimidated by the thought of a criminal record. A crackdown on crime and kids without a thought for the context will fail.
The context is the example these thugs are emulating. Consider a guy who sees the police treating him as a suspect by default because of his age or attitude, who is considered a lazy parasite because he’s never been able to get a real job.
- The example from his parents has been to treat others with disrespect while demanding it for himself.
- The example he saw at school was that qualifications matter more than common sense, yet people with qualifications still end up unemployed.
- The example of those in authority is to exploit every loophole to get rich and to suck up to the powerful and ignore their abuse of power.
- The example he’s absorbed from media stars is to want more, more, more and blame the little guy for “piracy” when it doesn’t happen.
- The example he’s seen of the law is that people who destroy the economy and society get paid off while everyone else ends up in court if they’re caught.
- The norm he’s heard constantly is that bling is best and getting it on credit you can’t afford is OK.
He’s no money to spare, he’s one of thousands, and he sees no consequences to his actions if he can stay in the crowd and avoid the cameras. And he probably can.
Given the context, it’s no surprise a guy like this would run along with a crowd he hardly knows and in which he can be safely anonymous, using up energy in acts of destructive defiance and maybe stealing stuff he can’t afford and can show off to his mates. He’ll get a special delight from the fact the police have no idea who he is or where the crowd is heading, and the more fuss they make the more he’ll do to annoy them. No surprise at all, no matter how despicable it is.
To stop it happening we don’t need more laws, or more reasons to fear authority, or more surveillance to dehumanise people, or more austerity measures that cut the quality of education and the availability of jobs. I am sure we will hear calls for all these things, especially from people who’ve already been demanding them and for whom this is just an opportunity to use a crisis to excuse profitable change. But the truth is, these things will just make the problem worse, and the inevitable calls for controls on social media won’t help either.
We can’t bludgeon this problem from society without losing our own freedom and identity in the process. More bad law combined with less privacy and respect just plunges us deeper into authoritarian servitude. It’s time for a change of direction. Time to correct the examples we’re setting for the next generations. Time to dismantle the surveillance society, to invest in apprenticeship and job-based training, to sponsor community-focussed volunteering around properly-funded local initiatives, to spend effort visibly punishing the hedge fund traders and bankers who’ve spent decades leeching the economy, to ignore political parties who won’t work together and unions that forget society. Time to work locally with national backing.
The sub-human behaviour of these thugs can be the trigger for the change we really need. But only if we speak out against the other kind of change.