Thursday, 11 August 2011

Riots and rights.

I've been wondering how to approach the riots the started in London and spread to other UK cites.

I've worked it out: I'm sorry.

Although hundreds of people were involved, and probably millions of of pounds worth of damage has been done (not to mention the number of innocent families made homeless when mobs looted and torched the shops over which they lived), these people are not typical of Britain.

They show us in a bad light.

OK, so we've had riots in the past, frequently on a much larger scale, but they were riots with a reason. They were mass action against racism or government policy.

These riots stopped being a legitimate protest within a couple of hours.

Since then, they have been purely criminal. Mobs using a false sense of "entitlement" as an excuse to go shopping with a brick.

Nobody can pretend there is a political motivation to a woman caught on CCTV, sitting in a smashed shoe-shop window, trying on the displays.

No sane human can find the actions of the infamous "Bad Samaritans" as anything but abhorrent.

People have been trying to explain the riots, pin blame on something so that a quick fix can be pasted over the cracks and look like something useful.

"It's the internet, blame the social networks" is the most common cry, yet also the weakest excuse. Of course, folk used SMS, Twitter and Blackberry Messenger to get organised, but that's just the modern equivalent of yelling in the streets with a megaphone. Technology wasn't the reason or cause of the riots, just a tool of the criminals.

To me, the problem is deeper than that, and has been worming its way into the social psyche for years.

A sense of "entitlement" has taken over from a sense of social responsibility. People feel they are entitled, not just to being kept fed and sheltered, but to being entertained and pandered to. The acquisition of material goods becomes prioritised over mental and emotional well-being.

As a teacher, I have often heard children and parents declaring that they "know their rights", whilst simultaneously trampling or ignoring the rights of others. These are the same children who misbehave until somebody shuts them up by buying them a new game for the PlayStation, the same parents who think that it is more important to buy an iPhone for their 12 year old than it is to clothe them properly, or to encourage them to read or work hard at school.

Who needs to work for stuff when The Social will provide it anyway? Why should politicians spend their own money, when they can claim for luxuries on expenses?

This all sounds like I am blaming the welfare state, but I'm not. The welfare state, run properly, is a wonderful thing. When I was unemployed, it kept a roof over my head and food in my belly. It provided advice to help me get back on my feet and become independent again.

But, somewhere along the line, that last part has gone missing. People are too eager to take the material stuff, and leave the independent bit to waste away.

There is no quick fix to the causes of these riots, but there is a fix.

It is time to remind people, at every level of society, that for every entitlement, for every right, there is a responsibility.

A responsibility to ensure that everybody has equal access to their rights.

One of the great documents of human history is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The kind of folk who were at the heart of the riots are very keen on appealing to the idea of Human Rights to get their way, but I doubt they have ever actually read them. Shall we do that now?

Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Is that what the rioters were doing when they set fire to people's homes? When they robbed Asyraf Haziq?

Article 3: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Tell that to the woman who had to leap from a fourth-floor window to escape a fire.
Tell that to the three men mown down and killed by a car, just because they did not want rioters to loot their local shops.

Article 17 (2): No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

And what would looting be?

Article 20 (1): Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

See that important word? "Peaceful". As soon as the original protest stopped being peaceful, the rioters threw away their own rights.

Article 29 (1): Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.

Hang on...

See that? I'd bet a year's pay that none of those people hiding behind the banner of "it's my right" have absolutely no idea that one of their "rights" is actually a responsibility to contribute positively to their community.

Part two also implies a responsibility to ensure that public order is maintained to allow society to function.

So, what we, the sane members of society need to do is to ensure that the deeply materialist, "entitlement" driven members of society are educated about the true nature of "rights".

Obviously, schools must do a large part of the work, but the greater part must be done by parents. They must instil in their children a spirit of independence from free help wherever possible, and a respect for the rights of others, including the wider community.

Stop using bribes to buy reasonable behaviour, start rewarding good behaviour instead.

1 comment:

  1. I confess I tend to get a bit on edge when people start speaking of those on welfare as "feeling entitled" (I guess I'm far far too burnt on Republican rhetoric over here!) but relatively unfamiliar with the UK as I am, what you say sounds eminently reasonable.

    Your proposed solution is, I think, an essential one for _any_ democratic society. Although I would not presume to speak of your country to you, if it's anything like the United States, there is certainly a subset of people who feel entitled to everything. I'm not sure you can ever be fully rid of that.

    Of only I thought it would ever be implemented. Astonishingly, I think you're more idealistic than I this time! ;)