Civil disorder isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s older than recorded history and its presence in all societies may be taken as read long before the riot act was written. The brutality of the mob instinctively disturbs and perplexes. The vast majority of us feel violated by wanton violence and theft. We are well aware that violence intimidates the most vulnerable and weakest in society. It’s why instinctively we want to see it dealt with firmly.
These banalities offer an no exceptional insight save into the role of social conditioning in the evolution of our species. For by evolution with its imperceptible changes we have successfully adapted to survive – even thrive – in a hostile environment. We’ve evolved to be predisposed to calculate that in a longer run that’s measured comfortably within our life’s span, it’s in our individual better interest neither to kill one another nor steal from one another. By restraining the itch to steal immediate advantage by taking what we want and let the future hang we trust we’ll be better off. This strong co-operative urge has helped us triumph over our environment…and in the ashes of these riots that is of itself is something worthy of pause and to wonder at.
We should therefore be as much perplexed as angry that there are those in our society who don’t perceive their self interest through the same prism as we the people…the silent watching majority….do….
But before we indulge ourselves in misplaced pontifications about others’ reprehensible failures and cherry-pick convenient explanations as to the causes of this mayhem on the streets we should understand that this violent minority aren’t alone in our society in perceiving that their selfish interests can be placed above those of their fellow citizens. If this rioting underclass are so disinclined to participate in the social game as the rest of us play, if they decline to observe the same rules; pay their just share of taxes and be socially active through work or another approved mechanism…. then we can observe that in doing so they ape the values of another small group in our society. For amongst the privileged we also find that very same sense of entitlement to take and to have; that same inclination to believe that the rules that the rest of us live by do not apply to them. The difference is these populate a group who like rich cream have richly risen to the top of society and believe themselves entitled to remain in their superior place of privilege regardless of social justice or equity. And like the rioters they too powerfully organise themselves and intimidate the majority to ensure they retain the privileges they’ve acquired. They are as much beyond the reach of the law as the lawless rioters are in contempt of it. Both are brazenly contemptuous of the majority left in the squeezed middle.
There’s little moral difference between those city bankers whose incompetence led them to take more and more from the institutions they mismanaged and then when exposed as culpable so arranged matters that they could retire on vast pensions effectively paid out of the public purse and those looting flat screen televisions from the vandalised shops of our city streets. Both are taking something which isn’t theirs but to which they feel entitled. Nor are the bankers alone in their dereliction of duty to the greater good. From MPs through Murdoch’s grimy empire to the police service and out beyond….the notion has long been in place that the rules that apply to others do not apply to them for whatever reason. These hypocrisies flourish in the swamp of private and public greed fed by the vanity that in each individual case it is but a harmless blemish. It’s not.
The fact we’re blind to these realities ensures we’ll not see the root causes of these riots. The stones and bricks that broke the glass windows of our shops may also shatter our selfish self-belief that we are and therefore we shop… and as King Midas found a magic touch can be as much of a curse as a cause for celebration.
We’ve turned our selves and our society into one that values human success in terms of the possessions we accrue. There’s more to life than retail therapy and vacant consumerism. Things aren’t everything and though like the Pharaohs we may be buried with our treasure we cannot keep it. The values we impose on others must also be values we first impose upon ourselves. And neither poverty nor privilege should shield us from this obligation. We’re all worth more than a pair of free trainers from J D Sports. Isn’t it sad that these rioters have been so cheaply bought ?
But never forget we too have bought into the same empty dream.