frgavin on August 17th, 2011

Lord SacksBy Jonathan Sacks

The immediate aftermath of the riots is no time for a spate of finger wagging and the indiscriminate scattering of blame. We all remember Macauley’s line that “We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodic fits of morality.”

But what we have witnessed is a real, deep-seated and frightening failure of morality. These were not rebels with or without a cause. They were mostly bored teenagers, setting fire to cars for fun and looting shops for clothes, shoes, electronic gadgets and flat screen televisions. If that is not an indictment of the consumer society, what is?

Where were the parents while their eleven-year-old children were out creating havoc? Where was the internalised self restraint that says, There are certain things you just don’t do, because if you do, we will all suffer? Where was the capacity to defer the gratification of instinct which, according to Freud, is the basis of all civilisation? Where, to put it bluntly, was the sense of right and wrong?

There were moments, images, remarks, that will stay with us for a long time. The video showing one youth ostensibly helping another while in fact distracting his attention so that an accomplice could steal the contents of his bag. The statement made by one young man in Manchester, “I’m not going to miss this chance to get stuff for free.” Or another: “I’ll keep doing this every day until I get caught. When I get home nothing is going to happen to me.” Why were they doing it? Because they could. Because everyone else was. Because it was fun. Because the police weren’t really in control. Because they are not going to send me to prison for a first offence. Because there is always someone else to blame.

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