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Kylie writes from Manchester England: This week saw us all take a long hard look at our nation, and it’s safe to say, that we have learned a hard reality. There is a large body of people who if given the opportunity, will indulge in illegal, unsociable and dangerous behaviour. This week across England we have seen looting, burning, stealing, even m
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urdering, committing acts of violence on such a scale that is just unfathomable.
My husband and I were on holiday in Gorleston on Sea, a little town on the East Anglian coast, a long way from Manchester when we saw the first reports on the news of rioting in London. My husband sagely said “London’s burning Manchester will be next”, and he was quite correct. What started as a peaceful protest about the death of a man in a police shooting took an evil and sinister turn, and became something quite different, an excuse for a mass display of criminality.
What has caused this? I’m not a social commentator, or perhaps as a blogger I am, but I think it is a number of factors, not least the rise and rise of materialism. When I first moved to the UK 9 years ago, I was struck by how shopping seemed to be the national pastime. We’re talking designer goods, technology, games, things that sparkle, amazing clothes, shoes and bags. I wondered to myself how people afforded this stuff. I certainly couldn’t. And I soon learnt. Alongside the television shows I watched, were endless advertisements for credit cards, pay-day loans and debt management schemes.
In many areas, loan sharks abound, with hideous repayment schemes. They charge interest rates, that if the impact wasn’t so horrible, would appear funny, many hundreds of percentages. Entire communities are at times held to ransom by these low life scumbags, who prey on people with low incomes, and an inability to apply for high street credit.
Drug use is prolific too in some areas. No one ever talks about it, but crack cocaine is rife, along with other drugs. My area of Manchester has the dubious honour of being the highest users of crack cocaine in England. It holds young lives captive.
Our heroes are dubious. Footballers with the morality of an alley cat, plastic women with little more career ambition than sleeping with said footballer, and these two sorts of heroes promote the “bling culture”. Further exacerbating the young person’s need to acquire goods, the items their heroes have.
These sad elements are parts of the England “they” don’t want you to see. This England came crashing through our living rooms this week, as we looked in horror at images of young people and older people committing appalling acts of criminality.
And reading through the lists of people charged it is clear it is not just “disaffected youths” that took part in this. Professional people, aspiring sports people, very young people. Undoubtedly some of the looting was pure “I walked past, saw an opportunity and took it” moments of madness, not premeditated and probably now, sorely regretted. A lot of the violence and looting, say the police, was by existing gangs, who seized on what was happening, and mobilised quickly.
I wish I knew the answers to why this happened and how to prevent it. I wonder whether the current atmosphere of government cutbacks has increased these feelings of desolation and poverty. Many people, including ourselves, have felt the impact of these cuts, and we are by no means wealthy. I asked myself the question this week, had I walked past a shop and saw a pretty handbag lying near the street but still with tags attached, would I have taken it? And I didn’t like the answer that came back. Because maybe I would have picked it up. I don’t know. I do know for certain I wouldn’t have broken a window or burnt down a shop, however. I certainly know that I would not have committed any acts of violence. Do I feel, at times, that no one is listening to me? That no one cares about me as an individual? Yes I do. I recently applied for jobs with a major supermarket, and a major food retailer and did not even get a rejection letter. These sorts of things increase bad feeling and that feeling of desolation. Not everyone has the knowledge and skills to start a blog, and have a good rant!
But the good news is that England has a resilience and ability to regenerate that is truly inspiring. Manchester had its guts ripped out by the IRA in 1996. In 2005 London was rocked by terrorist bombings. The spirit of the Blitz is alive and well. But this time the terror lives amongst us and within us. We all need to take a very long hard look at ourselves, and how we are as a community, and what we want to be.
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Please write your comments below, so we all can read and discuss this event and its ramifications.
Kylie is from Australia, now living in Manchester. She started blogging in 2009 following the birth of her son at 27 weeks gestation due to pre-eclampsia. She blogs at Not Even a Bag of Sugar about family life, and about problem pregnancies and prematurity. Follow her on Twitter @Kykaree
*We have held the article on menopause over for the time being.
An interesting read, and I agree with the points you’ve made. I feel that as a society, this “keeping up with the Jones'” has a lot to answer for. The GFC as also contributed to the feeling of desperation that so many people feel and you only need to look at the footage to see the rage these looters have within them. I truly hope we’ve seen the worst.
I think our Government’s reaction to the GFC certainly hasn’t helped. They have cut a lot of benefits that helped young people stay in education, and have increased feelings of despair.
I do think that they should have looked in their own backyard first, cutting wages, cutting waste, and really analysed the potential impact on society of cutting benefits and services in poor areas. I am not saying that is entirely to blame, however I don’t think it can be ruled out.
Yes Kylie, it’s a complicated and frightening reflection on society. I was so shocked when I saw the images on television and had to wonder, “Where have we gone wrong!” On further discussions with friends in the UK and Australia people have their own opinions. The two most common opinions were that Gen Y has a sense of entitlement (possibly brought about by having had whatever they want and now thinking they deserve it) and the other opinion was that people are feeling disenfranchised about life and disconnected from each other (could these horrendous riots just be driven out of a desire to try to connect with other human beings?).
The question for me is “How do we repair the harm that’s been caused?” I remember reading that in an attempt to end conflict in Korea the government offered an amnesty to rebels and attempted to understand their unrest which was mainly caused by sub standards living conditions i.e. no water, electricity etc. these people were then employed to try and find solutions to remedy the situation.
Another project I’ve been involved in is the restorative justice program originating with the Maori people of New Zealand. This type of justice promotes people taking responsibility for the harm they have caused by facing their victims and making amends. As a convenor of these processes I have seen firsthand how powerful the impact is of these meetings and reconciliations are for all parties involved.
It needs to be acknowledged that all people have been affected by these riots not just those with shops looted, it has shaken the foundations. In times like this I always think of the Chinese character for “Crisis” which has a double meaning, danger and opportunity.
I totally agree that there is a culture of entitlement. People have forgotten that those who “have” have either worked for it, or been fortunate enough to inherit. But the pressure to “own” is immense.
I do think that some of the “youth gangs” are substitute families, and the only real community that some people have ever had. I like the idea of restorative justice and getting people together to discuss and to conciliate but the UK is just not so much like that. Perhaps we all need to change.
I find myself wondering where Gen Y got their sense of entitlement..is this a flow on from the Greed is Good 80’s? Are the parents, to blame? I heard a story on the radio last night about a mid teen in England who was afraid to go outside and would not go to school. It tuned out he did not have brand name sneakers/runners and was afraid of being beaten up due to his failure in this. He had all his mother could afford.
I am interested in the solution Korea came up with. This is a nation with a very strong work ethic, however I know from my visit to Seoul it appears to embrace Capatilism to the extreme. I felt overwhelmed by the choices available and wonder what the need and drive for Brands does to a Nation that has access to the best the world has to offer. Especially what it does to that nations youth. We see this now in England. And have we now seen the inevitable outcome? There is a lot of anger out there, and not good anger on behalf of others, but anger based on greed. Greed is not good. I need to think more on this. Thankyou Kylie for the article and Tammie for further insights.
Saying “gen y have entitlement issues’ is really just another way of saying “young people today”. Fifteen to twenty years ago it was all “Gen X is the slacker generation”, no one calls us that anymore because we grew up and got middle aged and boring and sensible.
This generation is the first that is worse off than their parents, so as far as “entitlement” issues go, I think it’s more accurate to look at the social pressures on young people – rising costs of tertiary education and housing, employment increasingly short term and unstable, global financial uncertainty. Increasingly young people are marketed to and commodified, but in the midst of this confusing message of how powerful and important they are as consumers, they are belittled by the institutions that rely on their participation in the economy. I don’t really believe they have “entitlement” issues, I think they are just normal young people, responding to an increasingly confusing world. Have you noticed how quick the media are to stoke the intergenerational tensions? Media feeds off polarity and prejudice and fearmongering and scapegoating, it gets bloated and fat from hatred and blame.
Kylie, an interesting look at a complex problem. I like the way that instead of trying to apportion blame, you are instead investigating the social sickness at the heart of the issue.
I think that’s why I have used “culture of entitlement” because I do think that’s what it is. A culture that we need to have. I see it from a young age. My son is two, he’s had wooden toys, creative toys, very little that buzzes or lights up. Some of my friends houses look like Toys R Us. Children, and lets face it, a large number of children have been caught up on this, are taught to rely on “things” from a young age. To just “be” is not enough.
I think the media are over-egging the “intergenerational” aspect as they cannot blame race, there have been a large number of older, employed people arrested, charged and found guilty. The problems are very deep and entrenched, and I do believe that we have, as a society, focussed so much on “getting” that we have forgotten how to give and to support, and that there are riches far more important than possessions.
Really interesting read and the comment regarding entitlement just rings so true. What a sad and selfish time we seem to be living in 🙁
I wonder if this is something that could happen elsewhere? Yes there were riots in USA caused by court decisons etc but there seemed to be a direct connection between the trigger and response. In England that has been less obvious. Or was it? Could riots such as these happen where you live?
I cannot imagine such things in Brisbane, Melbourne Hobart? I wonder why that is? Sorry this is difficult to read, I had not expected the blue back ground.
I think what happened is kinda similar to the King riots in LA, it was the catalyst but a lot of the looting wasn’t connected to the case. I do think it could happen anywhere, but I think the culture in Australia is different. (I am from Hobart originally). The level of materialism and brand aspiration is different here, its everywhere and its pernicious. The weather also means that people don’t have the same outdoor lifestyle than in Australia. Sport is more elite too, so there’s much less for young people to do, if they are not motivated and encouraged. I’d like to think you wouldn’t see the centre of Hobart looted, but I’m not sure I’d like to say “it would never happen in Australia”
I see the blue background has disapeared. hmmm
I was interested to hear that 2 riot organisers had been jailed for 4 years…is that harsh? or a needed example?
A great read. As I sit in my safe little house it is easy to think “that would never happen here”. The truth of the matter is, you never know where or when it could happen.
These riots have reminded me of the images I saw on TV back in the early ’90s when police officers were acquitted for the part they played in the beating of Rodney King here in the US.
England has gone through much worse and will once again rise from the ashes with their collective heads, up high.
It is horirfic reading this and as an historian residing in Australia it is like reading England back in the medieval times. How does one stop it? Can’t send all immigrants back where they came from, neither can one bring out thr riot squad and add violence to vilence all the time. It would have to be education. Of some kind that is. Needs better brains than what I have got.
You have to question whether it really was purely about acquiring goods, when some people stole such low value items (think the broadcast incident of someone stealing a bag of tesco value rice). The motivation can’t purely have been what they stole, but the fact that they thought they could get away with doing it, and were proud to do so. Equally it wasn’t just young people (or poor people!), and so to the people commenting that this generation are the first to be worse than their parents in terms of ‘entitlement’ ideas, where do you think they got there thinking from, and what about all of the adults looting (and the ones posting their children into shops to collect goods!)? It isn’t the youth of today, it is the whole of society. The older generations created and raised this youth (not just their parents, but the older generation as a whole), creating and contributing to the society that we now live in. The choices we make affect the future generations, we can’t then blame them entirely when those choices backfire on us! Lastly, this isn’t just a UK based issue, and I think it is naive to think it is.