10 August 2011

Raising amoral children... The London Riots Part One

I'll begin by saying that, in some ways, once a cop, always a cop. I watch the scenes in London, in Birmingham, in Liverpool and I want to go find a uniform and go after people with so little regard for their neighbors, their communities, their families. I imagine myself helping to at least compare photographs and identifying those so that they can be hauled out of their homes and brought to court.

And as I do this, I wonder. Hell, most animals are born with community sensibilities. I've spent a bunch of this year watching the eagles in Decorah, Iowa raise their children. I've watched my dog keep careful watch over our grand-nephew as he sleeps. I've watched swans negotiate territory on a frozen winter lake. So I cannot imagine - perhaps because I am not a Calvinist - that people are born bad. Somehow, they are made bad. They are taught to be bad.

"You've got to be carefully taught."

This week Nathaniel Tapley wrote, "Dear Mr. & Mrs. Cameron, Why did you never take the time to teach your child basic morality?" And in doing so, he taps into the basic, essential question of our time. How have we raised so many who are completely amoral? And he taps into the essential facts, since the 1980s the Anglo-Saxon world in particular, has revelled in amoral leadership. We have created a nightmare which is now just beginning to unfold.

For, argue all you might, but I felt exactly the same watching the riots unfold as I did watching Rebekah Brooks and James Murdoch in front of Parliament, as I did watching Republicans in the US Congress during the "Debt Limit" debate, as I have watching American Governors Scott Walker, Rick Snyder, Rick Scott, and Chris Christie perform "their jobs." In each case I stare at the television or computer and ask, "On what planet were such venal people raised?" "How does any human reach even adolescence not knowing anything of the difference between right and wrong?"

Is there a difference between the ways of stealing from the poor to enrich yourself and your friends... even if you don't need anything you took? Is Michael Gove, the UK's Minister for Education, less culpable for stealing £7,000 than any looter smashing a shop window? Is Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, shutting off housing support for the poor so that Dow Chemical can pay less taxes really any different than the rioter setting fire to a home? Is US House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, as he cuts health benefits for children (which will inevitably cause deaths), any different than the Audi driving morons who ran over three men in Birmingham last night?

Well, those elected leaders will not have gotten their own hands dirty in their vicious, amoral acts, but otherwise... ?

It is a rare leader, who other than late in life and wondering if the tales of Hell are true, will admit to moral equivalency. "LeMay said, "If we'd lost the war, we'd all have been prosecuted as war criminals," said former US Secretary of Defense and World War II bombing planner Robert McNamara in Errol Morris's film The Fog of War. "And I think he's right. He, and I'd say I, were behaving as war criminals. LeMay recognized that what he was doing would be thought immoral if his side had lost. But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?"

"We chose to burn hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children."

What makes it immoral if you're poor but not if you're rich? Would be the version of that question to be asked today.
Michael White in the Guardian: "What we are seeing here, by general consent, is an urban underclass with little or no sense of a stake in society, few ties to their local communities or, very probably, to each other in their feral, fragmented families. "Darren, where did you get those three new bikes?" "Shurrup, mum, I'm listening to me new iPhone."

"Liberals can legitimately point to their marginalisation in the workforce and at school (some of these kids can barely speak proper English), in part the consequences of globalising economic forces and the evaporation of low-skilled jobs.

"Social conservatives can point to the collapse of family and discipline, happily unaware that capitalism can be pretty devastating to all but the strongest families, both in terms of depressed wage rates and raised expectations."

My US Representative, Bill Huizenga,
consistently votes against the best
interests of his district because he gets
his pay offs from Wall Street.
"...with little or no sense of a stake in society, few ties to their local communities or, very probably, to each other in their feral, fragmented families." This is true of an underclass, especially in America and the United Kingdom which have, via tax and social spending structures since the arrival of Reagan and Thatcher, shut the door on social mobility. But it is also a very true description of our American and British corporations, and those who run them, as well as the politicians who lead both nations. No member of the "Tea Party," or even the Republican Party as a whole, worries about local support or local contributions or even local campaign workers. If they vote the right way their campaign coffers will be filled by the Koch Brothers and NewsCorp and other super-rich groups, which will also make their television ads for them, and pay for their vacations and homes in Washington, and will guarantee them jobs if they happen to find themselves unelected. They indeed have, "few ties to their local communities," and their only "stake in society" is to profit from it.

What if we look at corporations, HSBC, one of the UK's biggest banks, just announced both greatly improved profits and the lay offs of over 30,000 employees. "...few ties to their local communities or, very probably, to each other." Michigan's Governor Rick Snyder, took over the Gateway Computer Corporation, fired all the workers, sold the name to a Taiwanese competitor, and pockets a hundred million or so for his efforts. "...with little or no sense of a stake in society." We need not look far to find a thousand more examples.

And all we had to do was to watch NewsCorp executive after NewsCorp executive throw their friends and associates under very large Routemaster buses, or see David Cameron's dismissive response to his own party's Mayor of London, to understand, "or, very probably, to each other in their feral, fragmented families."

All this, which our societies in their rush for wealth at all costs have allowed to happen to those born both rich and poor, simply sets the stage, however. Humans do not grow naturally to attack their own, this is taught.

It is taught to children, rich and poor by "role models," from parents up to priests, presidents, and prime ministers, who demonstrate that it is not only "all right" to abuse others, but personally profitable. It is all right, say many a wealthy parent, to cut off aid to the poor so our family can save a buck or a quid a week in taxes. It is all right, say too many poor parents, to take advantage of others because we are taken advantage of. It is all right, says the American Catholic Church, to ask our members to vote based on abortion and not health care for children. It is all right, say many American church ministers, for people to abuse Christ's words to get our support. It is all right, school leaders say, to forge and fake test results so we can get higher personal bonuses - and our Secretary of Education sees that as no big deal. It is all right, say British members of Parliament for us to lie and steal thousands of pounds as long as we apologize for it. It is all right, say too many rabbis, for the Israeli government to abuse Palestinians because Jews were once abused. It is all right, say many in homes, churches, schools, and newsrooms across the US and UK if innocents die in Iraq and Afghanistan because, "we were attacked, and we must be made safe." It is all right, say our "left wing" Presidents and Prime Ministers, if we do not stand up vigorously for what is right, because "politics is only about what is possible."

Where, oh where, might our children get the wrong idea?

NewsCorp: "We only do completely illegal things within the law."

After watching the absurdness of the US government during the "debt limit" debate, I suggested on Twitter that we make John F. Kennedy's book Profiles in Couragerequired reading in our schools this year.

I suggest it because it is about time that our schools begin to teach a counter-narrative to the past 30 years. That we begin to help students learn that humans are social animals, and that the health of the human community is dependent on the health of all those who are in that community. That we begin to help students understand that no human survives alone, or pulls themselves up by their bootstraps, but that we are all interdependent, and that we all have benefitted, and continue to benefit, enormously from the efforts of all those who have come before, and who live beside us.

But more than that, we have to begin to help our children understand that morality is not something chanted on a Sunday morning, but rather something courageously lived. That just as someone in David Cameron's cabinet, or the Republican caucus in Washington, needs to have the guts to act in the best interests of humanity, someone in each of those groups of rioters in London needed to have the guts to say "no."

And we have to begin to raise the next generation to believe that courage has rewards beyond a lobbyists job till retirement, a bigger vacation home, or a new pair of trainers...

This is work we must begin.

- Ira Socol


David said...


I'd like to believe that we can change our society. I'm not convinced at this moment, but perhaps I will change my mind.

The difference between the immoral acts carried out by the rich and the poor is that the rich write the laws that make their immoral acts legal.

Gary Miller said...

Absolutely brilliant!

Thank you for such an insightful article.

I hope more people read this.

Thank you.

Steve said...

As someone who lives in Liverpool, It is interesting to see a view from afar. Today Mr Cameron will outline his plans to sort out society, and deal with the absent fathers who he sees as being a reason behind the broken society. I heard 2 comments at the week-end that had more relevance than any of the rhetoric spouted by so called experts.
Firstly "if politicians can 'give back' the expenses that they fraudulently obtained without punishment - would looters be let off if they gave back the trainers they took?" Secondly, "Cameron falsely claimed a grand in expenses - that's like two flatscreen TVs..."
Both these comments were from teenagers who are from the sort of background extolled by Cameron and other politicians; they have good parents who have instilled morals, discipline and a work ethic. Those very morals that Cameron, Gove, the Press etc. are demanding, are distinctly lacking in those who lead society, and unfortunately our children can see all too clearly see this.