So I read with a mixture of sadness and shame the behavior of the unruly minority in my country of birth. Like so many, my initial reaction was one of disgust at the mindless, wanton thuggery exhibited. This only heightened when I heard 2 girls being interviewed on the radio, then saw the cynical theft from the injured young Malaysian’s back pack on Youtube. The two girls happily admitted to drinking a bottle of Rosé they had stolen. One of the girls proceeded to blame the government, even though her friend clearly didn’t even know who was actually in government. Their parting shot was “We just wanted to show the police we can do whatever we want!” I must admit, my mind drifted to an imaginary scene where I became the interviewer. My response was to snatch the girls’ purses and tell them that I too was just doing whatever I wanted and how did they like it? The young student with the back pack, I have since learned, had to have surgery on his jaw, which was broken. As a couple of youths lifted him off the blood stained pavement, another reached into his back pack and calmly removed his wallet and phone!
But then the reaction faded to a more pensive approach. I began to muse, like so many others, on the reasons why this was happening. Frankly, this is nothing new. When I was a teenager in Manchester, I knew boys of my own age who had been wandering the streets from pre-teen years with ill-intent. Their nightly activities usually involved a few minor acts of criminal damage and very occasionally, left an unsuspecting bystander lying on the ground following a few well placed boots to the face. We had the ‘Crombie gangs’, the ‘Bovver Boys’ and the ‘Skinheads’. That was all back in the 60′s. One of the differences last week was the ability to mobilize many such gangs and a large number of ‘hangers on’. Their sheer numbers gave them a feeling of invincibility that spurs even the rankest coward to malicious acts without fear of reprisal. This is one of the many downsides of the social media revolution, more of that in a future blog. Finally I began to ponder a connection I had previously missed, and yet, I believe, sadly targets the very heart of the issue.
I asked myself the question. ”What is the difference between the criminal acts of those responsible for the financial crash of 2008 and those who are looting the streets in 2011.” The first and most obvious difference is the swift arrest and charging of the perpetrators of 2011. It seems to me that most of those responsible for the financial ruin caused in 2008 have not only avoided prosecution, but many continue to thrive and practice the very same businesses that were responsible for the ruin of so many in 2008. Yes, of course there had to be a couple of scapegoats; Bear Sterns and Lehman Brothers come to mind. A second difference is that the majority of the recent rioters in the UK were young, even as young, apparently, as 11 years of age. Many, if not most, were unable to explain their actions. In the financial debacle of 2008, the vandalism that was carried out on people’s finances came from older, educated, business leaders who knew exactly what they were doing. Their actions were calculated to deliver one thing….personal gain. And therein lies the connection between the two. Whilst the young thugs may have been less calculating and rode a wave of wanton violence, it seems that their underlying motivation began with a form of self-satisfaction from ‘screwing’ the authorities or the ‘rich’, the ‘Enemy’ and ended in nothing more than squalid personal gain. The captains of our cherished financial institutions knowingly created systems to amass wealth at the expense of those who relied upon them. Apparently, they even bet against those financial instruments they created and sold, knowing they would fail. They too were motivated by the satisfaction of beating the system and then….personal gain.
Many small businesses and homeowners lost their livelihoods or their homes last week because of the looting and vandalism of predominantly disaffected youth in the UK. I don’t condone any act of violence against either property or person. Those who are arrested and charged deserve to suffer the consequences of their actions, even if their motives are vague and ill-defined. In 2008, many more people lost their homes and livelihoods all around the world and yet where is the justice for those who perpetrated these more subtle and yet wider ranging crimes?
In the final analysis, the problem seems to lie with all of us. I am as guilty as anyone else of perpetuating a society that thrives on acquisition of material goods and wealth to ‘satisfy the soul’. Instead of going out and earning a living, the youth of last week chose to take what they desired in the heat of riots and opportunity. In 2008, many financial institutions exploited the consumerism of the middle classes by lending money for houses and cars and televisions, in fact anything. Credit, instead of paying with money already earned became the ticket to material comfort. Is there really much difference in motivation? Will we do whatever is necessary to obtain what we want? Will we continue to apply inconsistent judgment to those who are more obvious in their greed and illegal acquisition? Many of the looters of last week are unable to avail themselves of the credit most of us find so convenient. We take what we want before we can actually afford it. They take what they want because they feel they will never be able to afford it and it is unfair that others should be so able. What happened to the good old days of making something, taking satisfaction in the creation, earning money from it’s benefit to others and enjoying the fruit of our labors. It seems today that most of us are working hard to pay the institutions who made it possible for us to own the house, the car, and the flat screen TV. The true joy of paying for something with hard earned cash has become a historical novelty.
I am ashamed of my part in the looting of 2011 and 2008 and I feel compelled to examine my attitudes to material goods, borrowing money and the ways in which I encourage the behavior undergirding these events in our recent history. I hope these thoughts might provoke you to do the same, or to disagree and comment. Thank you for taking the time.