Public outrage over the riots in Britain, while perfectly understandable, has been utterly predictable and therefore sadly unhelpful.
What was predictable was the degeneration of the ensuing debate into a slanging match between two distinct camps. On the left, so-called ‘bleeding heart’ liberals are bent on tackling what they see as the underlying social causes behind the trouble. On the right, out-of-touch and unthinking conservatives demand the imposition of a harsh regime of discipline and punishment. The unhelpful aspect is that, neither side being prepared to budge an inch from its deeply-imbedded preconceptions, any fresh thoughts on the issue are resolutely excluded.
At the risk of sounding pathetically indecisive, I feel obliged to concede that both sides of the argument have their merits. Britain has, as the liberals point out, created a greed-driven, unequal and thoroughly philistine society that leaves the poor and hopeless adrift in its spangled wake. And there is something to be said for many of the disciplinary measures craved by the traditionalists, if only to satisfy a base appetite for retribution.
The trouble is that both ignore the practicalities. Even if society were magically to transform itself into something approaching a spiritual utopia, and draconian penalties were introduced for offenders, the problem would not go away. Utopia is an unlikely prospect, and history has surely demonstrated all too often that even the most severe forms of punishment have rarely proved their deterrence value.
I honestly don’t know what the answer is. It must lie, I feel instinctively, and in the broadest sense, in improved education. For I can’t help feeling that the despair of the so-called disenfranchised of society stems in large part from their ignorance of the more agreeable aspects of life and an inability to articulate their desperation. Some will be always prove beyond salvation, but surely many would respond to the stimulus of learning, accompanied by discipline in the constructive, pre-emptive sense of the word.
How we go about creating such a project must be a matter for experts in the field of sociological management. Some inspired and intelligent political leadership would be a good start.
Surely it is not unreasonable to expect our thought-leaders to try something that transcends pipe-dreams and flogging.