By Doug Saunders (with Files from AP) Globe and Mail, August 8, 2011
Whether the thousands of rioters actually did express disillusionment – some did say they were angry at police or the world, but many appeared gleeful or greedy – it is clear that most had nothing else to do with themselves, and no reason to fear or feel responsible for the consequences of their actions.
This is a chronic problem in Britain, which has a “lost generation” of young high-school dropouts far larger than most other Western countries.
One European Union study this year found that 17 per cent of Britain’s youth are classified as “NEETs” – for Not in Employment, Education or Training, in other words high-school dropouts with no prospects of employment – the fourth-highest percentage in the European Union. There are 600,000 people under 25 in Britain who have never had a day of work...
This is the most extensive rioting Londoners have seen in a generation, surpassing the scope of the huge race riots that paralyzed the city in the 1980s, with scores of fires and skirmishes spreading over Monday night into Croydon in the far south, Camden Town in the north, Hackney in the east, Ealing in the west, an unpredictable and seemingly random set of mass crime explosions – but also the least comprehensible.
When any society focuses on the baseline of economic and financial indicators to the exclusion of the "soft" and "less important" sociological issues like community building that has roots in deep and mutually beneficial relationships then the young will be marinated in such an ethos. When individual and corporate profits are the highest value on the social and political totem pole of society's values, such a perception and such a totem pole will certainly be oversimplified and exaggerated by the nations's young people. While they may seek the occasional keyhole of opportunity to strike it rich, for example through winning a lottery, or joining a professional sports team, if they have both talent and motivation, the vast majority see no such keyhole, and no long-term purpose for such "establishment" virtues as education or employment. Pushing keypads on cell phones, and then pushing the send button and waiting for someone to do the same at the other end of the text (sextext, tweet, or whatever) is no substitute for human relationships. Many adults in poor families struggle to make enough income to pay the usual bills; their energy is spent if and when they return to the family house. Their children know they have none of the perc's of the rich, and no hope of acquiring those perc's and no useful purpose for their daily getting up, washing, eating, dressing and "attending" a proper institution of learning, as soon as they are old enough to leave. Their picture of the norm of society is, in many cases, one of hunger, starvation for authentic human regard and respect perhaps because they have lost what previous generations called respect for such social "givens" as the older generation, the school, the church, the bank, the hospital, the library, the college, the university, the military, perhaps the local hardware store or even the pharmacy and the family itself.
While we have connected everyone on the globe through digital technology, we have let our community building blocks erode through apathy and entropy, while we focused on "the adult" issues like the GDP, and the latest stock trends, and the "numbers" that are the fuel in the digital world. Have you noticed that questions of education, parenting, relationships and health are relegated to the "family" sections of the daily newspapers, out of the mainstream of the front page, the issues or focus sections of the papers? These are not considered as important as the business or political section, or even the sports section.
And the level of narcissim, greed, avarice and carelessness about the lives of "the other" has surmounted the levels of those tapeworms from previous generations.
Are we so blind and unconcsious that we think, believe or perceive that our young people cannot see our attitudes, our actions, our cultural totems?
A conversation with a highly educated lawyer, a member of the political class in my country, surprised me a few months back when we were talking about the "scapegoating of men" in our society. "Do you think the political science department at the university would be interested in this issue?" I asked.
"I hardly think the political science department would be interested in the subject of human relationships," he commented without rancour or disdain for my question.
Perhaps, now that London is burning, and Somalia is starving potentially millions, while terror groups are marching through the streets of many large cities in many countries, with various levels of hunger, unemployment, and voicelessness and even purposelessness, the political class will awaken to the question of whether the GDP, GNP, balance of trade, and mere statistics should be the focus of the political class in every country.
Education, communication skills, the arts, the social skills....these are not unimportant aspects of individual, community, provincial or national stages of life. And they must be brought onto the front pages and into the forefront of political policy and thinking...in order to address those long-neglected questions that include those most desperate, and not flatter ourselves with our generation of increasing numbers of billionaires. How empty, hollow and despicable is that?
It is long past time for us to take public policy issues like education, parenting, relationship building, and culture far more seriously than we have done in the recent past. We in the west are far too addicted to technology and medical science, finance and profit-making and far to dismissive of social sciences, the arts, and humanities, in our hell-bent drive to anything that will make us financially rich. We take these "soft" issues seriously only when they imperil our society's capacity to cope with the tragedies they generate, at our peril.
Without full public engagement with our public education institutions, they will give us back only a reflection of what they think the "public opinion" wants from the classrooms they control. They will close the libraries, and they will close the art and music rooms, and they will closs the extra-curricular activities "because they do not generate profit-motivated graduates." And yet, these are the very programs that generate ideas, and create new models of expression and networks of collaboration that seem in such short supply in the adult world.
Update: Tuesday evening, August 9, 2011
I have, on CBC's Connect, heard only one Housing Advocate from the U.K. name the issue that most of these male rioters, pyromaniacs if you like, come from single parent families, and have no male role model to look up to, to inspire them, to coach and mentor them and to guide them even to discipline them. They also have mostly heard "yes" when they asked for something from their families, so they are unaccustomed to being told, "No!"
This issue may show up in the divorce statistics, and in the housing records, and even in the court reports and the probation reports. However, the simple fact that their family structure is virtually non-existent is too politically "incorrect" to mention in public discourse is a sign that we have gone way too far in refusing to call the elephant in the room, the "elephant in the room."
It says here that boys, and their parenting and their education from kindergarten through graduate school and their integration into the workforce, and thereby into the mainstream of the society, and the spin-offs that result from their "going off the rails," will become one of the main issues in western culture, if not global culture over the next several decades. And our willingness, tenacity, courage and creativity in attending to the many dimensions of this male demographic will create a level playing field for young men with young women, who by their nature, are far more compliant, far more obedient and far less troublesome than their male counterparts....and that fact must not be allowed to marginalize the essential nature of masculinity.
Our inner cities are filled with disillusioned males, under the age of twenty, who need male role models, and educator-mentor-coaches, and apprenticeship/training programs to develop their interests and their skills, and they must not be either pitied or patronized no matter the program into which they fit best. And we need hundreds of non-profit foundations to undertake this work no both sides of the Atlantic. And we need these approaches now, not ten years from now. It could be that these programs rate as "national security" programs, and not merely as "get-the-damn-kids-off-the-streets" initiatives.