I tend to not get too political on my blog, which is mostly for writing, editing and publishing, as well as a few other posts on parenting and my day-to-day life, but today the escalating rioting in London has bothered me so much that I felt I had to weigh in. I lived in London for the better part of three years, moving around (as backpackers do) from Crouch End to Turnpike Lane (up near Wood Green) and eventually to sleepy little Stoneleigh in Surrey.
Some of my best friends in the world are Londoners, and I love them. I love their humour, their stoicism, their concern for others, their leftist leanings (which as you’ll see I sometimes find amusing) and, sometimes, their irreverence. Even their political correctness I can live with, mostly because I know it comes from a foundation of respect for others. What always amazed me was how Londoners could live crammed in a human stew of people and yet be unflinchingly polite and respectful. At least that is mostly what I observed.
The scenes of hooded (and masked) cowards destroying one of the world’s greatest cities and terrorising some of the world’s proudest people has not only shocked me, it has sickened me. This is a nation that has fought through two world wars, battled through the blitz and sent its young men and women throughout Europe to the beaches of France (in an incredible, last ditch triumph) to protect the values it holds dear. This is a country where healthcare is available (not matter how many times I have bemoaned the inefficiency of the NHS), where clean water comes out of a tap, where food is plentiful, where jobs are available, where education is accessible (if not entirely free), where human rights are championed. This is a country that has stepped in many times to play the policeman in conflicts worldwide.
Sure, Britain has made its fair share of mistakes. Public policy and international relations are not above reproach, but the Empire days are long gone and I’d bet life in Britain is a darn sight better than life in 90% of the world’s countries. What disturbs me most is that these youth ARE from a privileged country. Sure they might belong to the most underprivileged segments of that society, but these are not “poverty stricken” people by chance, but by choice. Now you’re probably thinking “Oh, that’s harsh. No one chooses to be poor.” But I don’t believe that. It is time people started to accept responsibility for their lives. We all have choices. While we cannot choose the family we are born into, or even the suburbs we grow up in, we can choose to rise out of poverty. We can, in such countries, apply ourselves to our studies. We can choose to learn, to read. We can choose to dream. We can choose to respect others. We can choose to work at McDonalds rather than be on welfare, even if it isn’t our dream job. We can choose not to drink or gamble our money away. We can choose whether to have self-respect or whether to be disrespectful in general. We can choose whether or not to have children. We can choose whether to raise them as decent human beings or as entitled, ungrateful little thugs.Above all else, we can choose to hope for better—to be better.
This, to me, is symptomatic of a whole lot of poor choices, poor choices from governments and individuals. Poor choices from parents and terrible choices from young people who may not have chosen to be born into petty crime and poverty, but have chosen not only to stay on the wrong path but to make that their only source of pride. All of these contribute to the problem, but none of them are to “blame.” I see protests in Iraq or Somalia or Egypt other underprivileged countries and I think “Those poor people.” Even I might be driven to seek justice in those places. But when I see young Brits who have been born into one of the world’s wealthiest nations burning it down, it just makes me angry. It makes me angry, too, to see that some British parents have failed so spectacularly. They have failed to instill in their children any respect for others, for their history, for their nation, or for themselves. They have failed to remind their children that in a democracy they do have a voice and that voice is a vote. That voice is a peaceful protest, which Brits are, on the whole, very good at. (Actually turning up on a polling booth and putting a ballot in the box, however, is not).
Now I don’t mean all parents. I don’t mean all kids. I know there are perfectly lovely British teenagers sitting at home and watching the carnage and wondering how this happened. There are parents who are fearful for their children’s future and for the future of their children’s children in the face of such hooliganism. But there are also an awful lot of angry, disrespectful anarchic kids out on the streets terrorising Londoners, looting, burning and showing a complete disregard for their own reputation, for authority or for anyone else. Make no mistake, these are not riots, these are not “protesters,” these are terrorists, and they are holding London and its Metropolitan Police force to ransom. Anyone crying “poor poverty stricken youth” is enabling them to do it. Entitling them almost.
So many are quick to blame public policy, policing, multi-culturalism or parenting for this crisis. Not me. While I think these parents have failed, I don’t blame them (although I do think they’ve made poor choices too). I don’t blame the playstations. I don’t blame consumerism at the expense of consideration. Instant gratification at the expense of work ethic. I don’t even blame the rampant political correctness and the fact that everybody is too busy worrying about whether a smack on the bottom constitutes child abuse and not about whether burning, looting and shooting all day long while “gaming” just *might* be contributing to dissociating kids from reality. [Oooh, now I’m getting all conservative aren’t I? But in reality, my partner sits here some days playing Call of Duty for hours and yet I know he is a respectful man who would never replicate that behaviour outside of gaming, so I’m not calling for censorship, I’m calling for research]. I don’t blame any of these things. I blame the kids.
I blame them because they have chosen to react in this way. I am tired of reading social commentary calling them “disenfranchised youth” or pointing the finger at the poverty in council estates, or the police presence and stop and searches in these neighborhoods (let’s talk about crime figures in these neighbourhoods, too, in that case). I’m tired of hearing about high unemployment among youth when so many of them can’t even string a sentence together because they chose to wag compulsory school to smoke drugs and harass people outside tube stations. This is Britain. Even the most poverty-stricken in this country must count themselves lucky (and I say that knowing how lucky I am to be an Aussie). If you can’t make a decent life for yourself in Britain, with the many government initiatives available to you, you can’t make it anywhere. Your choices have failed you.
I’m all for democracy, I’m all for peaceful protests and the right to make a difference, but this is not protesting, this is not even rioting. This is not even negligent parenting or high unemployment or police intimidation. This is chaos, and there is no excuse for it. This is a complete unwillingness to be the best person you can be. Until we are willing to make our kids and our citizens take responsibility for their lives, their choices, and their actions, there will always be somebody or something else to blame.