There is no easy fix and no easy answer as to why the recent riots in England kicked off the way they did.
The riots brought out the worst - and the best - in people. What is it, that makes an individual give up his or her social responsibility and respect for others? Why did people throw away all their moral scruples for a pair of designer trainers, a box of mobile phones or even a pack of mineral water?
Where lies the excitement in throwing missiles at police cars, smashing a shop window and setting the corner shop alight? The very same corner shop where you buy your fags & mags and chat with the owner?
Part of it is down to group mentality, like fish in a fish shoal. The dictionary says:
"Swarm behaviour, or swarming: A collective behaviour exhibited by animals of similar size which aggregate together, perhaps milling about the same spot or perhaps moving en masse or migrating in some direction."
That pretty much says it all. But at what point did people - of all races, sexes, ages and walks of life - let the swarm behaviour take over their social instincts and morals?
Sadly, the debate so far has been very polarised. You either blame the society, culture and/or the government and point at the underlying reasons as to why it happened. Or you blame the individual, their parents and ask for tougher sentences, rubber bullets and longer prison sentences. Adapt the former view and you are classed as a left-wing, liberal idealist with no sense of reality. Adapt the latter and you are a right-wing, conservative traditionalist who believes discipline and deterrence are the only ways forward. I believe there is no black and white analysis to be had. It is, indeed, complicated.
As much as I condemn the appalling actions committed by these individuals, I still believe everyone is a product of his or her society. We all started off as newborn babies, but for some, the environment was not as socially nourishing as it was for others. For some, the world consisted of things. Comforting things. 'Dummy' replacements. Toys. Bags of crisps and Play station. If all you have ever been offered by your parents are things, rather than their time and love, then 'things' will become important to you.
If you have never had a book read to you, never been taken on a visit to the museum, been offered help to explain that algebra homework or had a chance to go on holidays where you meet other people, experience different cultures - then the perception of the world is bound to be different. So yes, I do think a lot of the riot behavior stems from inequality. It is easy to blame the parents but - what were these parents offered by their parents? Also, it has to be said, the society we live in now is not the same as it was, say 30 years ago. On the other hand, not all the rioters were children. In fact, not everyone was even rioting as such. It all started off as a reaction to the shooting in Tottenham, but - somehow, that feels a long time ago now.
A question was raised during the recent BBC Question Time: "Why is it, these riots never happen in countries like Sweden and Norway?" Someone replied: "Equality. It's down to equality."
I feel that really IS one of the fundamental reasons. When part of a country's population has been bereft of the possibility to achieve what they want because of social and economic inequality, there will be consequences. Instead of aspiring to become something, to get out of life what they want, people will become fed up. Fuelled with low self esteem, bitterness and anger with just about everything and everyone, these individuals collectively make a dangerous mix.
If an opportunity arises to get that pair of designer jeans which has just suddenly become available in front of your eyes - with no police to catch you - then you grab them. In fact, you might as well grab the whole rack.
As much as I find the looting morally wrong, I can sort of understand the reasons for it. What I can't quite apprehend is the lack of respect for one's own community. How can you deliberately rob and set fire to someone's corner shop, risking the lives of everyone living in the flats above? If someone was angry with society as a whole, I would expect him or her to attack Westminster, not Hackney. That puzzles me. I can only assume it was that "swarm behaviour" taking over. No 'inner' moral barrier to stop , to say "Hang on, this is wrong."
I do not want to blow my own Swedish trumpet too much and we are far from perfect in Sweden either, but having lived in both countries I do feel there is a difference. The relevance in bringing the Swedish model up is the fact that we have yet to experience something like this in Sweden and I doubt very much we ever will. Undoubtedly, there is still a lot to be done to achieve increased equality in Sweden, but I dare say we have come a lot further than the UK in this respect - with regards to both class and gender.
We don't do titles. Uniforms, suits & ties are not that important. We have a relatively well working social 'rescue net' which catches vulnerable individuals before it's too late. Not always, mind you - but most of the time. We say parents - not 'mums'. A 'page 3' in our few tabloids would be stopped by our discrimination laws before it got a chance to cause public outrage. I could go on.
I firmly believe that the likelihood for riots to happen is relative to the degree of equality a country can show for herself. It takes generations to change and is sadly not a quick fix.
If nothing else, the riots made a lot of people stop and think. We opened up and shared information to support each other. It made communities stick together and stand strong, offer amazing help and support, building new bonds which, I am sure, will last forever. There are so many aspects to discuss, too many for one single blog post. I feel another one coming on...
One which will talk about the role of Social Media in the riots.