Whilst I would absolutely condemn the violence and criminality that we’ve seen over the last few nights in major English cities, I can’t help but think that we’re narrow-mindedly only accepting one side of a much larger, more complex (and more disturbing) picture.
Put yourself in the place of a teenager in modern-day England. Even if you keep your side of the bargain – if you keep your head down, work hard and keep out of trouble – you still have to pay what must seem like an egregious amount of money to get a degree, something that is fast becoming a minimum entry level qualification for many jobs. How would you feel then?
But what about if it’s worse than that? What about if you’ve grown up in an environment where you’ve been neglected (or worse still, abused), where it’s up to you if you decide to go to school, where there’s no money in the house for what others class as basics? What if the structure that used to be provided by families, schools and communities just doesn’t exist for you? What if there literally are no boundaries? Is that your fault?
As we saw with the student fees protests, you can be well-educated, articulate, and peaceful in your demonstrations and *still* be completely ignored by the government. What chance have young, poorly-educated and marginalised people really got, then? What use is marching with a placard going to do? Can you honestly say that in those circumstances you wouldn’t turn to gangs and people who, on a short-term and very local level *can* sort out your problems for you? I’m not sure I could be so certain.
So whilst I obviously don’t condone violence and criminal damage, I have to wonder just how our young people are supposed to vent their dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs. As I mentioned yesterday I believe that the structural inequality in England is larger than at any time during my 30 years living in the country:
As Richard Wilkinson points out in his book The Spirit Level the overwhelming cause of male homicide is status inequality. In fact, the power of the effect is three times greater than the strongest correlation previously measured. Status inequality affects seratonin levels which, in turn, lessens an individual’s ability to enjoy pleasure and amplifies negative emotions. As a result, cortisol levels are likely to increase which are linked to almost everything bad that can happen to you health-wise: depression, cancer, heart disease, you name it.
So let’s catch the young people carrying out criminal damage. But rather than punish them in unjust ways, let’s be measured in our response. And for goodness’ sake, let’s get their side of the story. Perhaps then we can do something about working towards a more just society.