I'm going to London next month (to speak at the annual conference of the UK Speechwriters' Guild, in Bournemouth).
So you'd think I'd be following the riot story over there closely, but honestly, it sounds like every other riot story since the Chicago Race Riot of 1919, the Harlem Riot of 1935, the Notting Hill race riots of 1958, the Watts Riots, the Hough Riots, the 1968 Chicago Riots, the 1992 Los Angeles Riots and the dozen urban riots in between each one of those urban riots.
The only unique entertainment value of this riot has been listening to the British authorities sputter as only British authorities can, about bad seeds and the bad apples they grow.
On the BBC, I actually heard London's deputy mayor sternly remind us through clenched teeth that there are thousands of young people in London who aren't rioting, who are trying to be good human beings, who are thinking of their futures, etcetera.
No wonder Monty Python came out of England.
But then, early last week, prime minister David Cameron finally cut his holiday short and delivered a big speech on it. Cameron seems like a smart guy to me, and I was interested to hear what he had to say. After a sharing his plan to quell the riots, he launched into a section on "Tackling the Deeper Problems."
I leaned in, hoping Cameron had done some thinking on the beach:
Responsibility for crime always lies with the criminal. But crime has a context. And we must not shy away from it.
Well said, Prime Minister. Continue.
I have said before that there is a major problem in our society with children growing up not knowing the difference between right and wrong.
Whenever Person A accuses Person B of not knowing the difference between right and wrong, there are only two possibilities, neither of which Person A will be happy to hear:
1. If Person B literally does not know the difference between right and wrong, he or she should be spared punishment, in the same way a desperately mentally deficient person would not be put to death (except in Texas).
2. More likely, Person B has simply developed a different idea of "right and wrong" than does Person A, probably because Person B's circumstances are very different from that of Person B. Just as all is fair in love and war, anything goes in the ghetto. At my wife's school on the west side of Chicago, parts are stolen off teachers cars in the parking lot.
But a more honest way to say it (or, to use Cameron's terms, a more "right" way to say it) would be, "There is a major problem in our society with different groups of children growing up in such vastly different worlds that they grow into adulthood with incompatible values and contempt for one another's codes of behavior."
This is not about poverty, it’s about culture. A culture that glorifies violence, shows disrespect to authority, and says everything about rights but nothing about responsibilities.
Well gee, if it's not about poverty, why is it that riots always seem to happen in poor neighborhoods and never in middle-class or rich neighborhoods? (Whenever anyone uses the construction "this incident isn't about this, it's about that," they are baldly stating their intention to bamboozle you into ignoring something. "This story isn't about the man behind the curtain ….")
In too many cases, the parents of these children—if they are still around—don’t care where their children are or who they are with, let alone what they are doing.
Now you're accusing a whole class of people of not loving their children as much as your class of people. That ought to calm everything down.
The potential consequences of neglect and immorality on this scale have been clear for too long, without enough action being taken.
So there you have it. The whole story in England is simply a righteous battle of the moral against the immoral, the responsible against the feckless, the honorable against the dishonorable.
If that's Cameron's "deeper" analysis, what on earth would his shallow one be?