Monday, 15 August 2011

Why Aren't We All Rioting and Looting?

'When I was a student, I took a course in the sociology of deviance. After weeks reviewing theories about the causes of law-breaking, the lecturer announced that we were asking the wrong question. "The real question," he said, "is not why some break the law. It is why we don't all break the law." Following last week's riots in Britain, politicians and commentators have similarly been asking the wrong question. What caused thousands of (mainly) young males to torch buildings where they live, loot local shops and attack fellow citizens is a no-brainer. Kicking against authority is exciting. Being in the thick of the action when the television cameras are rolling makes you feel important. And the chance to grab some designer clothing and a widescreen plasma TV is too good to pass up. Yet many people did not riot, and they are the interesting ones. Why didn't everyone cash in on the anarchy? The answer lies in external and internal constraints.'

So writes Peter Saunders, an honorary senior fellow in the social foundations program at the Centre for Independent Studies, a conservative 'think tank' in Australia, in an op-ed piece in 'The Australian' newspaper concerning the causes of the riots in England last week. There are, no doubt, plenty of things wrong with English society which have contributed to the recent descent into anarchy in some parts of her great cities - poverty, materialism, the anonymity and disconnectedness of urban life, fatherless sons and ethnic tensions with the police have all been cited by the pundits. Among those contributing factors we should not neglect what the recent parliamentary expenses scandal revealed about the venality of many of the British governing class; a society which is rotten at the top should perhaps not be surprised to find it cannot command the allegiance of those at the bottom.

But I think Saunders has identified the heart of the matter - which is not economic or racial or sociological but moral, and therefore ultimately religious, namely the loss of external and internal constraints, the outer and inner laws if you like, which restrain people from committing sinful and criminal acts, even when they think they'll probably get away with it (and if you think you're above the need for such constraints, when was the last time you exceeded the speed limit when no police were likely to be about?). Beginning in the 1960s, there has been a 'cultural revolution' in English society which, like most revolutions, has only made conditions for 'ordinary people' worse, in this case by attacking and destroying the previously accepted fundamental assumption that, in as much as we are fallen and sinful creatures, we need to be bound by external and internal constraints for the sake of the preservation and flourishing of our common life. If not for these constraints, the old Adam in all of us would be out there rioting and looting with the worst of them.

10 comments:

Lvka said...

Kicking against authority is exciting


It is, isn't it?

What a marvelously-succinct way of describing the inception and subsequent history of Protestantism!

Pr Mark Henderson said...

And with that inane comment, Lucian, I'm afraid you display that you don't in the least understand the motivations of the man whose image you use as an avatar. We can only suggest that you pick up and read a good biography of Luther.

Lvka said...

Oh, I did... It said there that he was a very humorous and fun-loving guy... I'm quite sure he would've appreciated my snarky little joke at his expense... :-) But maybe humor is only a mainland or boreal thing... (Besides: we were both born in the autumn of '83... and we also get banned quite a lot!)

Pr Mark Henderson said...

OK, I forgive you, seeing as you're 'Gen Y'.

Lvka said...

I don't think I am. Or that I ever was. At least not mentality-wise. Only chronologically maybe. Don't really have much in common with the mind-set that is considered to define or be characteric of that
generation, or the one that went before, or the one that came after.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

You're a singularity then, Lucian?

Lvka said...

No. It's just that generations are like zodiacal signs. I've seen enough people who DO, and enough who do NOT share in the supposed psychological profile of their sign, or generation, or ethnicity, or whatever.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Yes, I certainly don't see it as a deterministic thing, but I think generations share common cultural, economic and political factors which influences them in a general way. For example, your being born in 1983 and Romania coming out of Communist rule in your childhood would presumably be a political/cultural/economic factor that has influenced your generation of Romanians. Those who lived as adults under Communist rule have a different experience, as do those born in post-Communist Romania.

Certainly, when I look at the last five or so generations in the West, particularly in the 'Anglosphere', I see common traits shared by people born around the same time who experienced the same things, e.g. the Great Depression, WWII, the Cold War 1950s, the cultural revolution of the 1960s and early 70s, the stagflation of the mid-1970s, the AIDS era of the 1980s, the post-Cold War era of the 1990s, etc. These events have all shaped otherwise disparate people in some common way. I think we see the same thing with these riots reflecting a nihilism in Western youth born of materialism and declining moral standards.

Lvka said...

I agree: historic, cultural, and ethnic stereotypings are NOT to be completely disregarded.

But -take my case- the people of my generation did not underdstand communism as I did. They did not begin reading through the stories of the Old Testament at age 4 or 5 after already being acquainted with the life and teachings of Christ at age 3 by their kind and loving granny who made them aware that despicable atheists monsters with disfigured souls are killing and torturing people in Communist prisons "in real time", "as we speak" for no other 'fault' than being a believer... Rather, for them, Communism is just this thing they never really encountered, in which cool music was forbidden, and there was never anything on TV, not to mention all those nice clothes and good food they have nowadays in stores...

Lvka said...

Why Aren't We All Rioting and Looting?



Beats me! (pun intended)