Ed Miliband said today that “to seek to explain is not to seek to excuse”. This is more or less what I was getting at in my post earlier this week. There can be no excusing the criminal behaviour, the rioting, the looting, and the terror inflicted in London, Birmingham, Manchester, and several other cities this week. I do not for a second think that those walking out of shops with expensive brand-name trainers, large TVs, iPads, and mobile phones were making a valid political statement or directly expressing their anger about the government cuts.
However. Those who see their future as hopeful and positive do not tend to engage in the kind of destruction and violence we saw.
Saying “well, I grew up poor / without expensive trainers / on a council estate and I never…” is obtuse, and fails to address the wider issue. There have always been ‘bad apples’ – indeed, mass civil disobedience is not new:
“What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?”
Plato, 4th Century BC
So the problem is nothing new, and almost certainly nothing to do with our society’s move away from smacking as a generally accepted form of punishment, or any other imagined failing of our ‘soft’ parenting. What we need to explore is how we tackle the causes of the discontent. I don’t have the answers, by the way – and I don’t trust anyone who says they have a straightforward five-point plan to tackle it.
I do know I want to be part of the debate, and part of the solution. That seems to me an awful lot more useful than devising elaborate punishments and eye-for-an-eye retributions – which will do more to punish the children and families of the rioters than anything else.
“those who feel they have nothing to lose and everything to gain by wanton violence” – these are the lost of our society. They are not excused, but they must be understood.