The very recent trouble in London and now elsewhere in the UK, that at the time of writing is still going on, has shocked most British people and has shocked people around the world it seems. English people are seen as civilised, ordered, polite and respectable, by themselves and by the rest of the world; although there is another, very negative stereotype, too. Are the English somehow more polite than every other country in the world? Perhaps not.
Over the coming weeks and months and even years, long after these riots have disappeared and the rioters dispersed, there will be all kinds of people commenting on them, from all different perspectives politically, religiously and from all walks of life; some of these voices will be heard because they are influential in some way, and most won’t be heard. Some of those commenting will be honest and will talk in a genuine way about why they happened and what are the solutions, and others will be merely trying to win points or make political capital, or have some angle for whatever private reason.
There are many communities in England that are prosperous, people have work, they have nice houses, they live in communities where there are good facilities and areas where there are nice shops and pleasant parks and places to go. In other parts of the country, there is a sense that poverty, and all that goes with it, is an accepted way of life. Such areas can be run-down in many ways; economically, socially and in life chances generally. For most people in places like these, there is an acceptance, albeit reluctantly and grudgingly, of living third-rate lives. Now and again though, something happens to shake things up; and then usually there is trouble.
Anyone who grows up in a big city, and certainly those who come from the poorer parts of any big city, will tell you, if they are being honest, that crime is a way of life for some people. Not necessarily serious organised crime, although that does play a part in all English cities, but often low-level crime of all kinds. Sometimes, the small-time gangsters become big-time gangsters; it happens all the time. For some people who come from seriously disenfranchised communities, criminality is seen as the best way for getting on in life; whether it’s robbing post offices, burgling people’s houses, breaking and entering commercial premises and, more and more, dealing drugs. This is the real money-maker for criminals in England and Western Europe generally.
Some respectable people, from nice neighbourhoods, think that a big city criminal is kind of evil, that they do things because they want to be evil and harm other people; but they couldn’t be more wrong; it’s nothing personal, it’s strictly business. The big drug dealers of today, are like the big slave traders of yesterday; they are plying a very shady trade, but the emphasis, for those who do it at least, is all about making money; morals are left somewhere else for someone else to deal with. The slave traders of yesterday consolidated their wealth, and bought political power, and some even bought themselves into the aristocracy so they could be even more untouchable. Maybe some members of the British establishment are only there now because of a shady ancestor, or two. In the same way, drug dealers move on, buy big houses in wealthier areas, and buy legitimate businesses to distance themselves from their criminal beginnings; nothing ever changes it seems.
Criminality, in all its forms, is the shadowy half-brother of the so-called square world, the world of respectable people; and in many cases, you can’t have one without the other. Every wealthy society certainly has corruption of all kinds, in one form or other. Many people who make it in some way, probably bend the rules now and again; even the best of us.
When serious civil disturbances rock a seemingly well-ordered society like England, it begs all kinds of serious questioning, and the necessity or hope for all kinds of answers. Why do people feel the need to riot, and cause mayhem? What point are they making, if any? Can we just dismiss such people as scum, quite frankly? What’s the Christian response?
There are, of course, moral issues at stake. Nice wealthy people, and prosperous areas, are being protected in many ways, certainly economically, and poor people and poorer communities are bearing the brunt of the credit crunch and savage cuts to services; the people who caused the credit crunch have got away with it, and the people who didn’t cause it are in many ways being very unfairly punished for something they didn’t do. Just for being poor it seems. I hasten to add, I don’t condone in any way the rioting or people setting fire to buildings; that is criminal and plain wrong. What I am trying to get at is that one injustice can lead to others; it’s as simple as that.
We spend fortunes jailing people, in some cases people who do merit jail sentences. But the ideology of the West, and certainly of Britain, is that rich people will prosper and often at the expense of everybody who isn’t wealthy. How much money does someone need, after all? Can’t there be some common sense in all of this after all? and why have all governments turned their backs on serious problems like lack of opportunity, serious unequal wealth distribution, prejudice of all kinds that does affect people and why is there a serious lack of vision in the political class, who in the final analysis are supposed to be our servants but who act like careerists who are only interested in serving themselves? This goes for all parties of whatever political persuasion.
The disenfranchised are amongst us; they are everywhere. We may ask again why wealthy countries like England have such serious pockets of poverty; yes, I know it’s a complicated issue with no simple answers or simple solutions; in that case, we need to discuss it openly and honestly. I fear however, that all the genuine concerns will be swept under the carpet, and only the most superficial issues will be ‘dealt’ with; meaning quite frankly that it will be forgotten; until the next time.
Why can’t there be more equitable wealth distribution? Does an area that is already prosperous need more cash pumping into it? Surely common sense dictates that those who are in need, get some help? If we give money to starving people in Africa, do we hope that it goes to those who are in dire need, or rich people who aren’t in need? If you’re honest, you know the answer.
When people first became civilised, it was then we started living in cities; sometimes very big cities. The rise of human civilisation, maybe in the last 6,000 years, was also the rise of the first cities. In some cases the very thing that shaped civilisation, us living together, may be the very thing that is now causing us to disintegrate; and I don’t just mean lack of community spirit and getting on with each other, I also mean disintegrate spiritually too; lacking money and a job is one thing, lacking morals, vision, purpose and consideration for your fellow human, is something else; and it’s not just thugs on the street I’m talking about, it affects every walk of life, from those perceived to be at the top right the way down to those perceived to be at the bottom, and everyone in between. There are good people in every walk of life too; and we need to integrate and not disintegrate.
God said He would spare Sodom and Gomorrah if He could find ten good people; could we find ten really good people in any city today? Or ten good people in any town or village? Perhaps we need to think what being good is all about? Some honesty might bring us all the answers we need.