When massive rioting and looting broke out this month across London, the British media quickly diagnosed the criminal behavior as the legacy of poor economic conditions and political unrest.
However, not everyone concurs with that analysis. A handful of England watchers proposed that the lawlessness on their streets was rather the symptom of a moral collapse across the nation.
Among those subscribing to this view, is veteran British Catholic journalist, blogger and broadcaster Joanna Bogle. Bogle was interviewed by email from her home in London. Her comments capture her grim assessment of the steady decline of moral and family values in England and its damaging effects on the nation’s young people.
First, was your suburban neighborhood in London touched by the rioting?
My area was not affected by the riots. The local shops did not stay open until 11pm or midnight, as they usually do, and there were police patroling outside the local supermarket. But this was just precautionary, and nothing whatever occurred.
In a recent blog post on your site (JoannaBogle.blogspot.com), you made the point that these young people taking to the streets looting and setting fires are not protesters. Who are they?
They are well fed and physically strong and dressed in fashion-conscious clothing. They are, for the most, part ill-educated and come from families that lack married parents. A good many are under the age of 18. Those over 18 are mostly jobless.
Their motivation is not hunger or poverty or homelessness. The goods stolen were mostly fashion clothing, TVs and luxury goods.
When interviewed, the young people talked about how they hated “the government,” “them,” “the police,” but were largely inarticulate about any deeper reasons. Many come from very deprived homes — no stability, no family life rooted in affection and the sharing of traditions and values, no passing on of skills.
What is the effect on children, particularly boys, when they are raised in families without fathers?
For centuries, in all sorts of situations, fathers have provided for their children, cherished, disciplined, loved and cared for them, taught them skills, introduced them to the world, showed them how to work, sang with them, played with them, prayed with them.
Children without fathers were pitied — and helped. Having substantial numbers of families without fathers has created a ghastly void. It has been assumed that all that a mother needs is cash, which she can get from the state.
How did England get to this point?
It would be absurd to point to one event that brought about these riots. To start, perhaps the Tony Blair and Gordon Brown governments (since the late 1990s) — with their emphases on young people’s “rights” — have been the single most formative thing. It was during this era [that] today’s teenagers lived their crucial years.
As well, the formation of the young over the past five to 10 years has been hugely dominated by the Internet and by mobile phones. Things which were once out of reach are now available — contacting friends at any time of the day or night; contacting people that teachers or parents would not want you to contact.
Also, the youth have easy access to pornography and are continually engaged with all sorts of computer games that involve violence, killing and rioting. This has affected everyone growing up in the Internet era, but those with good parents will find that their lives are checked and policed by this family structure.
You also made the point that the youth of today lack a sense of history. Why is that important?
A sense of history is what gives us roots and a connection with one another. It helps us to be a “we” and not see ourselves and our immediate friends as isolated from others. It explains place names, ideas, jokes, language and much more. It enables us to see things in perspective — human achievements and also mistakes, challenges, surprises, great and noble things, terrible things, good and bad ideas.
In the case of Britain, it establishes continuity — kings and queens, Parliament, the rolling on of events within the territory of these islands. It is confusing to be told to obey laws that are part of a culture about which you have never been taught and which you do not feel you share.
It is difficult to feel part of “Britain” if you do not know what is meant by words and phrases like Tudor England, the Battle of Waterloo, Florence Nightingale or Dunkirk.
Now that the fires of the riot have been squelched and the offenders of this massive mess are being apprehended, what is the solution here? Is there hope for a better England?
There is some hope for the years ahead, and it should be based upon support for lifelong male-female marriages as the basis of community life.
There should be support for discipline in schools, with concrete evidence that children or parents who physically or verbally abuse teachers will be punished.
As well, there should be a policy in place that calls for the withdrawal of benefits or money from those who refuse to take work when it is offered. Education in schools should include heavy promotion of marriage as the norm around which adult plans and prospects should be based.
The Church will play a major role in all the work that now has to be done to rebuild for the future. More importantly, we should note that in many of the riot-torn areas churches of all denominations have often been heroically working to bring the message of Christ along with practical neighborly service.
However, it is extremely tough doing this in territory where lawlessness has become the norm. The Church has a fine and noble record of service to the poor, of youth work and of schools, and this will continue.
Register correspondent Eddie O’Neill writes from Green Bay, Wisconsin.