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Friday 12 August 2011
Letters: This is what happens when underclass values triumph
Coming from a working-class family and having lived for 20 years on a council estate, I beg to differ with your paper's analysis of the situation on Britain's streets.
The rioting is not because the "underclass" has been ignored; it is because it has been embraced. It has been embraced by those who set the norms in our society – cinema, television, magazines and even the middle-class intellectuals who write opinion columns for The Independent.
We see in contemporary Britain an unprecedented glorification of ugliness, irresponsibility and underclass conduct in clothing, language, music, literature and the media while so-called "middle-class" values have undergone 50 or more years of cynical erosion. So let us not be surprised when this "underclass" conduct spills onto the streets.
The barbarians are inside the walls because the gatekeepers gave them the keys.
Paul McGregor, Moreton, Wirral
Why don't our leaders face up to the major generational change which shows up as a lack of respect for authority, especially parental authority.
My generation – I was born in 1939 – had worse levels of disadvantage than the current younger generation. But we did have the advantage within the poorer section of society of many intelligent, thoughtful, stricter, albeit often grossly undereducated, parents.
Our own education enabled those of us lucky to be born with ability to leave the ranks of the poor. We are now seeing one very sad effect of this process. It has left a poor, disadvantaged and generally not very able generation of parents struggling to raise not very able children within communities that lack a bedrock of intelligent and capable natural leaders. This disadvantaged underclass is also producing a disproportionately high number of children.
This new underclass has no faith in the elite-educated politicians that dominate the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat Parties – and nor do I. MPs don't seem to understand; they certainly don't discuss these issues openly. Until the underclass learn to use their power to vote, there's little chance of any change from MPs.
Mike Simpson, Warlingham, Surrey
The reactions to the riots fall into two basic camps of belief. The first: all violent rioters are an underclass of feral scum and must be dealt with by any means necessary. The second: rioters, however mindless in their actions, are the product of a disfunctional society for which we need longer-term political solutions, less taunting materialism and greater equality.
In terrible times like this, most people shun dualities, but it is possible that both are right. We need a combination of immediate, determined action from the police and longer-term social remedies from the politicians to put an end to the hot-housing of this underclass.
Mike Evans, Leicester
The invincible power of crowds
It probably wasn't in the holiday reading they left behind in their hotels or gites but our returning politicians would learn a lot from Gustave Le Bon's Psychologie des foules (The Psychology of Crowds), written in 1895. He wrote that when an individual forms part of a group he "acquires a sentiment of invincible power" and "inhibitions fall away and all the cruel, brutal and destructive instincts ... are stirred up to find free gratification".
Most relevant of all, perhaps, the group is "extraordinarily credulous and open to influence: if a suspicion is expressed, it is instantly changed into an incontrovertible certainty [and] a trace of antipathy is turned into furious hatred". Because the crowd is so aware of its great strength, Le Bon maintained, it respects force, or even violence, seeing anything less as a form of weakness.
Perhaps his prefiguring of the last few terrifying days offers one lesson. It is still OK to hug a hoodie but a rampaging mob of them expects and, Le Bon would say, demands to be countered by the full power of the state. But by the same token, once group members have reverted to being individuals, we should have the maturity to understand the power of the process they allowed themselves to be caught up in and to treat them with fairness and leniency.
Jeremy Walker, London WC1
Two young women rioters or looters interviewed on TV proudly proclaimed: "We can do what we like, no one can stop us." As several of your correspondents have pointed out, this attitude mimics that of other elements in our society, notably the bankers but also some politicians, police, footballers and the media. At least David Cameron has made some progress in his vision of a Big Society: we're now definitely all in it together, for what we can get.
Brian Rogan, West Wickham, Kent
Ask them why they did it
Why are they rioting? This is the question on everyone's lips. By the knee-jerk reaction to fast-track the procedure for those arrested, are we not losing a golden opportunity to find the answer from the very people who know, the rioters themselves?
Those who plead not-guilty cannot be dealt with immediately in any event, but for those who plead guilty, should not the magistrates be given ample time to ask them why they did what they did, not simply accepting the typical answer from their lawyers – "He's a good lad. It was a moment of madness" – but questioning them, (particularly as the court will already know or can find out immediately their gender, their age, where they live, their job prospects, their family, etc), in some depth as to their motives. The court staff and magistrates should not be under pressure of time.
If this does not happen, we will have lost the opportunity of finding answers more quickly than we could otherwise do, from the perpetrators themselves.
Robin Grey QC, London EC4
A scary loss of moral restraint
One of the scariest things about these riots is that there is a significant proportion of people who until now have only been stopped by the thought of being caught.
The notion that its wrong to act out of belligerent self-interest has been lost for many rioters, bankers, politicians and journalists. If this trend continues unabated we will require either a massive, powerful, all-seeing police force or descend into more regular states of anarchy.
But what has collapsed is not our culture, it is the moral restraints that once bound us.
Craig Beaton, Bodelwyddan, North Wales
On several occasions while travelling home on the bus I have overheard youths boasting about having spent time in jail. For these people jail is counterproductive. Their punishment after the riots should make them feel shame and humiliation; it should not be a matter of pride.
Richard Groom, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
What's wrong with the stocks?
D F McLellan, Bloxham, Oxfordshire
No substitute for the state
The riots have underlined one simple fact: we still need strong, adequately public services to protect the population and foster the goodwill of communities.
The violence has spotlighted that the Conservatives' "Big Society" vision of a wholesale turn to volunteerism with a major rolling back of the state is fatally flawed.
There is no substitute for strong central government and proactive public services, both of which were wanting in the midst of the riots because of government inaction and the cuts.
Anthony Rodriguez, Staines, Middlesex
Cuts shatter fragile hope
As in many communities there is a college in Tottenham where students deemed too disruptive to control, let alone teach in the school system, are sent to keep them away from the rest.
Teaching them is not an easy task, but sometimes, through the hard work of the teachers and the realisation of some of the students that sometimes people are there to help them, the magic works. Last year one of these moments happened. A small group of tough – "I don't care: you don't matter" – youngsters began to "get it'', not every day in every way but bit by bit. People actually wanted to come to school; people whose idea of art was spraying shop fronts were walking round Tate Modern in a group talking about Bacon and Duchamp – of course in a thoroughly disrespectful way, which is as it should be.
It has taken two years to bring these people to a place where they can show that they are not yobs. In fact they have come so far that when the local authority told them that they wouldn't pay for the last year at the school and with no notice at all they were being sent back into the system that which was a part of their failure, some of them wept.
What has happened over the last few days in north London has been reprehensible. People cannot blame the system for them making a choice to be callous, violent and uncaring. But as I sat watching with TV screen with disgust at the mob's behaviour I couldn't help but think of a group of students being told that a small budget cut was more important than their education, future and ambition. Now it's time for us to weep too.
Michael Sandle-Brownlie, London E11
In the early 1980s, before the introduction of the National Curriculum, I visited many schools, including several primary schools in inner London. I came away with an overall impression of happy teachers and happy children enjoying meaningful education.
A few years ago I read a report that we now have the most unhappy schoolchildren in Europe. And I thought to myself: "When these disaffected young people get a little older, there will be riots."
John Davison, London SW9
Expertise from the grass roots
Neither of those you cite ("A must-read", 10 August) as disagreeing with Camila Batmanghelidjh's riot analysis ("Caring costs – but so do riots", 9 August) addresses its twin contentions.
Her case is: first, the rioting is evidence of the existence of "parallel antisocial communities with different rules". Second, these parallel communities have arisen in response to "the perverse insidious violence delivered through legitimate societal structures". Moreover the rioting is symptomatic of a "false moral economy" in which the humanity of those trapped in dysfunctional communities "is not even valued enough to be helped".
Expert grassroots analyses such as this surely merit properly considered debate if we want our politicians and police to take appropriate measures in response.
Richard Bryden, Llandudno, Conwy
If Mr Cameron were to ask my advice on how to fix society after the riots he would get a mixture of assumption, prejudice and what I have read in my newspaper. On the other hand, Camila Batmanghelidjh has first-hand experience and knows what she is talking about. Her advice should be heeded.
As for the young men she mentions at the end of her column who walked away when the riots began, I am proud of them.
Roland Taylor, Macclesfield, Cheshire
The national debate we need
Politicians are right to condemn the destruction on our streets and call for prompt action from the Government, who will either increase their popularity or end up regretting cutting police budgets.
The only way out of the difficulties, is for government in partnership with local authorities to establish a national commission to investigate what fuelled the disorder. Is it down to an undisciplined society, materialist society, work-life balance pressures where parents spend insufficient time with their children or social media or violent computer games which are all too easily accessible?
Our economic system has created a selfish society. Drugs, particularly "skunk weed", make citizens paranoid and lazy and undermine the chance for a generation which is lacking in moral fibre, respect and positive ideals.
My own contribution, however, small this may be, is not only in my role as a councillor to go out and meet local residents to get a sense of what people want to happen in response to the riots, but to continue with a campaign calling on the Government to look into the growing problems of gangs.
Councillor Ozzie Uzoanya (Labour, Enfield Lock Ward), London Borough of Enfield
Marginalised by property prices
While I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments of your leader about marginalised youth (10 August), may I point out that you don't have to be young or part of the "underclass" to be marginalised.
I am middle-aged. I decided to buy a property in London 1996 – a one-bedroom flat for £42,000. I changed my mind, thinking I would look around. In the few short years that I waited, the £42,000 flat increased to £200,000. I earn a modest income, just above the average for London.
I am now priced out of the housing market while the City and foreign money continues to keep prices high in London and any social housing is taken up by families and many needy people from overseas. Banks won't lend unless you have a massive deposit.
As I was brought up by strict parents I don't have the luxury of rioting. I wasn't from a broken home. I now have no home of my own to be broken.
Helen Bailey, London NW1
Robbery by 'good Samaritans'
We all heard David Cameron say that certain elements of our society were "not just broken, but downright sick".
Fifty years ago, almost to the day, a friend of mine was knocked unconscious by a car in Plymouth. It was a genuine accident, and a number of passers-by (all adult and white) ran to help him. When he regained consciousness in the ambulance on the way to hospital, he realised his (rather expensive) watch was gone. What had happened was not recorded on film, it didn't get on national TV or even in the local paper.
If robbing a confused victim is evidence that there is "something very wrong" with our society, then our society has been very wrong for at least half a century that I know of. It's disingenuous to use this incident, distressing as it is, as a unique indicator of newly discovered ills.
Jenny Backwell, Hove
Cut it out, Nick
I have just heard Nick Clegg on the BBC news describe the suggestion that the riots are in some way connected with Coalition cuts as "simply ridiculous". Would he therefore explain why when London was policed by 6,000 officers there was extensive rioting, and when it was policed by 16,000 officers the rioting stopped? I think we know who is ridiculous.
Robert S P Jenkins, London W2
A society reduced to identifying its own youth as feral pests has reached a stage of no-return in decadence.
Yves Lombardot, Godalming, Surrey
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