Monday, 15 August 2011

Britain's PM Cites "Moral Collapse" Amongst Youth for the Flash Mobs

I have to say that I was originally ticked off that some people were blaming the riots perpetrated by youngsters in the UK as some kind of 'moral collapse' that is taking over British society, but then Britain's PM, David Cameron, had this to say in a speech to his constituents yesterday via CNN:
  • (There has been a) slow-motion moral collapse ... in parts of our country.
  • Irresponsibility. 
  • Selfishness. 
  • Behaving as if your choices have no consequences. 
  • Children without fathers. 
  • Schools without discipline. 
  • Reward without effort. 
  • Crime without punishment. 
  • Rights without responsibilities. 
  • Communities without control.
  • He promised that the government will "review every aspect of our work to mend our broken society."
Indeed.  What the Brits are doing at the moment is throwing all the participants they can round up into jail, and more power to them.  That's what their society's laws demand and it's exactly what needs to be done with any law breakers, swiftly and consistently, along with the general populace coming out both vocally to condemn the kids' actions and onto the streets in significant enough numbers to literally stand in the way of wanton criminality.

But back to the roots of the mayhem.  While I do not think that any of it is a result of British society doing the wrong thing, or politicians and civic leaders going awry with their policies, all of the things that Cameron lists above can be said today for most developed countries' youth (and most of the developing countries' youth as well).  What I'm getting at is that, while the rabid conspiracy theorists (everyone loves a good story!) will point to politics as a cause, I am a strong believer in Occam's Razor, that we should stick with the most simple explanation that mirrors the basics of human nature in individual behaviour before we start adding in complex explanations about society as a whole. 

Something to consider: my "Gen X" generation grew up 'bottle-fed' on WWII movies.  My early years were spent glued to the TV watching MASH, a series about the horrors of injuries in the Korean War that left only humour as a defence mechanism and "Hogan's Heroes",  a similarly funny take on life in a WWII POW camp (it was a time of healing and 'moving on').  I knew intimately about the Vietnam War as the protests played out during my youth and the casualties, the returning vets, were featured in so many movies and shows.  I heard first hand stories from my family elders and their friends about the suffering and death during WWII.

Want to know what the exposure of most of this new teenage generation has been to real life human suffering?  (They do not watch CNN.)  What these boys have been doing since they were old enough to get access to their older brother's (or Gen X dad's) video game device is play role-playing games like Grand Theft Auto, which involves winning points for criminal behaviour, and Call of Duty, which involves blowing up, shooting, knifing, etc. 'the faceless enemy'.  That's it.  No stories from their great-grandfather of losing your best friend to a machine gun while running through a field, just 100% virtual death and destruction.

And these boys are addicted to these games, spending endless hours playing them without leaving the couch, the teenage reward centres of their brains lighting up far more strongly, research has lately proven, than they will a few years later.  If mom and dad do not intervene, they will stop going to school and will even stop sleeping to play the games endlessly.  The thrill they get is just too much to resist!

Now having read that last two paragraphs, go back and re-read Cameron's list above.  To this generation of boys (and a few girls) the prospect of finally getting out and, in real life, participating in Grand Theft Auto actions and Call of Duty mayhem MUST be like offering a methadone-addict his first hit of real heroin -- finally the real thing and far too strong a temptation to resist.  Add to this the anonymity of a crowd, BlackBerry's untraceable PIN messaging (apparently BB has become the smartphone of choice for those in the drug trade, or who aspire to be like the thugs in the drug trade in England's poorer areas), and a brain that has not yet developed the ability to understand the long-term consequences of short-term thrills, and you will get rampaging 'flash mobs'. 

An Important Caveat

What I believe it is important to remind ourselves of is that every group needs a leader.  Those who 'step up' to lead in a riot tend to be older and/or socio- or psychopathic.  These 'leaders' are NOT indicative of the mob following them any more than the one car driver who murdered three young men in the Brighton riot last week by running them over was a fair representative of the individuals in the crowd.  When an emotionally/psychologically unstable individual gets 'empowered' by a mob, the impulses they will act upon are far darker and lacking in normal human empathy than the other 99% of the group.  Lumping these whack-jobs in with the rest and painting them all as murdering thugs is unfair.

The reality is that if I'd been born in the 90's and found myself in that group, I can imagine I would have participated in the looting and rabble-rousing, but I would never have stooped to hurting people, it is just not in my core make-up.  I do know there were a few lads in my neighbourhood who could have taken things further, however, and it is for the sake of everyone in our society that this new 'flash mob' phenomenon, spurred by a sense of entitlement, a lack of real-life experience with true human suffering, new smartphone technology and social media, must be brought under control whatever the cost.  These kids today grow up OUTSIDE their parents (dual or single) control -- their world integrates influences from people and groups that no kids in the past had access or exposure to.  We need to guide them in new and as yet untried ways, and soon.


  1. "We need to guide them in new and as yet untried ways, and soon".

    Mr Cynic, I was sad to see you too falling into the ranks of describing the problem without offering a solution.

    Unfortunately single mothers lose control of their teen boys around 13-14 when the boys get bigger and stronger than mom, and more interested in pleasing their mates rather than pleasing her. Beating her up starts them off on their life of intimidation, bullying and violence.

    The only way these boys can be socialised is by interaction with older stronger males who force them to keep a lid on their violence.

    Fathers traditionally provided this role, but with masses of absent dads, who else is there to step up to this job?

    Normal men don't want to get involved with other people's teens out of fear of being suspected of being a pedophile.

    Teenage elephant males rampage out of control if they are not socialised by older bull elephants. I think us humans are similar.

    Whilst I don't think compulsory military activity is the way to go, (as we don't need these lawless people trained to kill), I do think some kind of structured activity is needed to socialise boys without present fathers.

    Maybe some kind of program that is tied to their receipt of welfare. It wouldn't be cheap, but just might save a lot of damage to society.

    I don't think the need is as great for girls, as they mostly tend to be followers and supporters of the boys and the damage they cause is more subtle and long term with producing babies without good parents.

    Looking forward to you telling more of your solution.

  2. Wow, Robyn, you've succinctly raised a human insight I haven't even delved into, though I've thought often about the issue of fatherless boys in the world's poorest neighbourhoods. Two years ago here in Toronto the school board decided to try an experiment with an all-African-Canadian high school, an idea that I believe is wrong-headed and further encourages passive racism (we're all Canadians and we really don't need parents imposing their own segregationist tendencies on their kids with Jewish, Catholic and Muslim schools, or other schools based upon colour or nation or culture -- we live in a pluralistic, multi-cultural country and that mix, that melange, should be what all young Canadians are brought up within). This new school is just a desperate attempt to address what you are getting at, regardless of whether the youngsters are black, white or blue, growing up without a father figure is not what any child needs.

    "It takes a village to raise a child." That is a truism that our modern society has chosen to believe is unnatural. We know accept a blatant falsehood: that it is up to untrained, self-focused parents, or even extremely outward-focused single parents, etc., to magically provide sufficiently broad-based influence/guidance to properly socialize their kids without any outside influence. I actually speak to this issue in some depth in this post:

    I totally agree with your rather, ah, 'heart-felt' description of what happens with 14 yr old boys with only their mother's (and/or grandmother's) influence upon their lives. I was also a 14 yr old boy once and vividly remember the hormone-driven aggression I felt back then and the desire to wreck havoc (the graffiti covering the world is virtually ALL perpetrated by 13-15 yr old boys), and it was mostly my dad's threats to punish me that held me back from getting into more trouble. What he was injecting into my brain was the notion that a powerful force existed outside of my self-centred, short-term-focused brain's desires to satisfy my newly formed teenage independence. He was a stand-in for society's laws and morals. We do need to find ways to replicate that with the fatherless boys out there.

    Big Brother is one proven-effective way to do so, community centres led by strong male mentors is another, your suggestion (while unformed) is yet another. Another might be the careful selection of older males who are victims of the unguided reality that is currently out there who's freedom from the penal system is dependent upon mentoring and coaching the underage cohort in their neighbourhoods. The risk that they'll just recruit the younger kids into their gangs and the drug trade (as they do already) is high, but maybe there's some way around it. Just a thought.



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