This Misguided Nation
As a nation, the past few years we Brits have become pretty adept at getting wound up by things that, in the grand scheme of things, are not really that important. The march against the Iraq War was one of the few instances in which the British people did get something right. But since then, we've hardly done anything, and a lot of people have been naive enough to believe Tony Blair that Iraq really is better now. Such people need to consult Today In Iraq.
But this post isn't about Iraq. Iraq is the only exception to the thesis I am about to launch into. I believe that Britain has a problem. It's not one that people will be prepared to admit to, and it appears to be something buried deep within the psyche of the nation. The symptom of this problem is responsible for some of the problems we see in society in terms of a small minority of people (not just children) who have no respect for the law. On top of that, we have people who like the law only when it is on their side. But underneath all this is one of the problems: Britain's obsession with abuse; that violence solves all, and feeding a general culture of misguidance.
Let us begin with speed cameras. Adults crave for respect to the law. Yet, see a speed camera - or better yet a speeding fine - and most adults blood will boil. "It's just another government stealth tax!" they yell as they slip a cheque for £50 in an envelope to pay the fine. Once caught, most adults don't reform. Fines are a blunt instrument. We just resolve never to get caught again. Who hasn't driven through speed camera zones to see a remarkable reduction in speed just for a short while only for the engine to start revving again once you're out of danger?
So immediately, most adults have no right to preach observance to the rule of law while being hypocrites in their spare time. Law is not selective. It is, once passed, an objective standard or criteria by which officers of the law and the judiciary cast judgement. Speeding is breaking the law. Not wearing a seatbelt is breaking the law. Using a mobile phone while driving is breaking the law. You have no excuse if you are caught. You are a criminal.
It's those last four words that rile people. "I am not a criminal!" they shout. The aggression builds. How could you possibly be a criminal? You pay your taxes. You keep your garden tidy. You don't attack people in the street. You're the model citizen!
You aren't. Much as it pains me to say it given the experience of the poll tax, if you want people to respect the law, you'd better take a look at yourself first. If we accept that our government is legitimate, and it has the authority to act on our behalf - and we do - then we should not be surprised if we choose to take on that authority and lose. Building "respect" in society as part of the processes of socialisation start at home. There are far too many parents these days, and we're not just talking about inner-city parents here, who wash their hands of their children. The schools are there to do the educating! I have work to do feeding and clothing my child with the best hoodies. I'll let them work out what's what.
You're wrong. And that's the first step. Neglect. Neglect is abuse. In my last post I complained about the fact that we seem unable to engage lower generations in any kind of conversation. This problem starts at home. The rise of the two-income household is not inherently a bad thing. I have no problem with two parents in a household working hard and earning a living. The only problem is what follows on from that. Children within such families have a habit of disconnecting from their authority figures. The parents are too tired to deal with problems. That "problem" might even be just helping with homework. The stress levels in work are too high... you don't want to go home to have to engage with your adolescent (and now increasingly pre-adolescent) and demanding offspring.
Our problem is that we are forgetting what it was like to be young. From the ages of 10 onwards, children begin to realise that there is life beyond the home. Things start to get a bit complicated. A lot of wires in the brains are not fused yet to deal with adulthood, yet adulthood and its values are foisted and expected from such individuals from this increasingly early age. To guide you through this process of mental maturation - something far more important than physical maturity - we need support. We need our parent(s) to be there for us. Someone who can share their experience, give friendly advice, set clear boundaries, show what is expected of you, being flexible to situations and allowing more as the years go by. In other words, children need mentors and role-models.
Do you think the stressed out, exhausted workaholics in this nation can adequately supply that? Children and young adults naturally will get into trouble. There will always be some problem. And when that challenge arises, the adult's response to it will have a long lasting impact. Wave your hand and say, "I'm watching EastEnders!" and suddenly the child has been rejected. A rejection is a permanent black mark. Children will always bring problems, and more than likely at the most inconvenient time. If you can't be interested in your protégé's problems, and aren't prepared to drop everything at a moment's notice - thus setting an example of how we should interact with each other - then why should they give a damn for your authority? The seeds are sown.
In the meantime, the adults watch the news. They see a story about a police officer driving 159mph who gets away with it. Hoho! How bad is that? They shout abuse at the TV screen - "it's one rule for us and one rule for them!" they roar, conveniently forgetting their own selective interpretation of the law on speed. Children witness it... more disrespect is cultivated. It now looks like it's OK to oppose authority? If my parent(s) are doing it, then why should I? After all, these are the people who I look up to the most. I get it now.
Meanwhile, we miss the story demonstrating for all to see just how the police like to fit people up. But that doesn't matter. The kid probably deserved it. The police are normally right.
Bzzt. Error in logic. On the one hand we don't really care about police brutality. Some of us secretly crave that the police come decked out with AK47 assault rifles. We want the police to have the authority to implement their own version of justice out on the streets with their batons and stun guns. Some of us even want the army to do the police's job. By cracking that baton, some skulls, and maybe bringing back the birch, the cane and some capital punishment to go with it, all the problems would be solved.
But wait a minute? What about the copper at 159mph? What about the copper telling the kid how he'd "write it up properly"? If police officers don't even respect the law, why would you trust one implicitly to hold an assault rifle and accurately dole out justice 100% of the time?
The fact is the police are as corrupt as the rest of us. A lot of us have no respect for the police - I include myself here - for reasons that we find difficult to back up. Police corruption is normally kept hush-hush. Allegations of this kind of behaviour are normally investigated by fellow police forces. Coppers don't do another copper over. So if you accuse the police of being bent, you're only going to look like a criminal yourself. The classic, "The innocent ones have nothing to fear!" gets wheeled out. Would you like cameras throughout your house to make sure you don't beat your wife, or take drugs in your own home? Why not? I thought you were an innocent one?
This is the fundamental flaw in the British people. We encounter a problem and our first instinct is to lash out at it. We like to use our fists. We are a notoriously aggressive nation. We measure our worth in the amount of pints we can drink before we hit the floor, and then on how much we value brawn over brains. If people don't like who we are, then fuck them. We have bigger muscles than them. If our kids step out of line, then whack! - take that you little bastard. The headmaster isn't getting respect from the kids? Then why not give him back the cane, and belt the little shits back into line. That oughta teach 'em.
I don't know about you, but I don't want to live in a fear culture. We have the government leading from the front in scaring is into isolation. We have a complicit media who like to do the same and then magnify the problem many times by clamouring for dictatorial measures to solve the problem.
There is a reason why we live in a liberal democracy. The principal tenets of the Liberal Revolutions of the 17-18th centuries were that we were fed up with autocratic leaders, making up the law as they go along, showing no respect for fellow members of society and putting themselves up on a plinth as somehow being morally superior by nature of their position. The rule of law was devised so that everyone had the same objective code to work from. We rejected dictators, because they had a habit of interfering here, there and everywhere for their own ends, and to be frank, a lot of them were psychotically deranged, taking pleasure in the beheading and torture of dissidents.
We decided we didn't want that. We created systems of government that kept them out of our lives as much as possible. That is why it is called liberal democracy. We believe that individuals, families and to some extent society should be empowered to solve its own problems. Governments only tend to mess things up.
Now we've encountered another problem. This seems to be reversing. Bring back national service. Ban hoodies. Ban children from congregating in groups more than two. Bring back the birch. Bring back the rope.
Authoritarian measures. Authoritarian measures to solve a general decline in respect.
Where I come from, respect is earned. Whoever heard of respecting the puny headmaster who gets his jollies out of thrashing the living daylights out of kids? Why was it that it was always the same people who ended up in front of the headmaster, week after week? Why we do we really think that abusing and assaulting children will restore respect to society?
Perhaps there is an ulterior motive. For respect, do we need to read fear? Do we want to get to a situation where the nation is constantly on edge for the police officer with an itchy trigger finger? Where adults have the right to violently assault their children, without understanding that the age-old maxim of "violence breeds violence" is true? Where adults violently assault each other to solve their problems?
I don't want that. I want us to be in a situation where people respect and tolerate the law not because of fear of being caught, whipped, brutalised or even summarily executed by police officers, but because they believe the law is right and in the best interests of society.
And the only way we can get to this position? Like I said, it all starts at home. Start with your own respect for the law. Then try to engage with other people from other generations. Your own kids would be a start. They need you in their corner: they don't want to be ignored, and they can't be told that everything they do is right either. You need to draw credible lines and boundaries. You need to offer support, attention, reassurance and an open door. Many children don't even bring problems to their parent(s) because they don't feel they'll get a fair hearing. Listen out for cries of help. Encourage those who don't want to ask to feel there is no shame in talking out problems. Communication is the best resolution. Parent(s) can't expect schools to teach this kind of thing. Our teachers are supposed to give children knowledge and information about the world. But only parent(s) can really impart wisdom.
Once we start to foster back the values of talking, debating, exchanging opinions and preparing solutions acceptable to all, then we also demonstrate the reason why we have politics, not just at a national level, but everywhere. The art of politics is all around.
It is the first solution from which all other solutions are derived.
It is the only solution.