London towne’s morals are melting down

By Joydeep Mukherjee

Having been an Anglophile all my life, I identify all that is best of human civilization with what Britain once stood for, a long time ago. Perhaps I happen to be one of the few remaining people in a shrinking group who associate Britain with the finer things in life: great literature, classic rock bands, Radio 4, Earl Grey tea, polite drivers, long walks and an intrinsic sense of courtesy and decency. Once upon a time, the British empire was not only the largest, but also the most powerful and influential empire the world has ever seen. During this period of total world dominance, Britain achieved an astonishingly large number of things which she taught other countries to follow. The greatness of Britain transcended beyond mere military might– the country’s success lied in the numerous achievements which other nations admired, worshipped and tried to emulate. These achievements range from creating the grandest body of literature to building the most efficient police force in the world, from creating a wonderfully balanced society that nurtured science, arts and commerce with equal fervour to organizing missionary activities on a massive scale, from establishing a solid foundation for education and social security to insisting upon the need for good manners and courtesy and humour in a democratic nation. Therefore it comes as no surprise that Britain has produced geniuses of world- changing stature, right from Shakespeare and Newton to today’s J.K.Rowling and Stephen Hawking.

History has been a testament to the fact that all nations experience periods of rise and fall. For Britain, this fall started shortly after the Second World War, even though the decay was hardly noticeable in the early years. The full impact of this decadence came to light in the massive orgy of looting, rioting and vandalizing witnessed in London and other parts of the country last month. Described as “the worst outbreak of civil disorder in Britain since the riots of 1981,” the recent London riots present ominous portents not only for England, but for the whole world in general.

I am of the disposition that the London riots are distinct from the riots happening elsewhere on the globe. The exact reasons for the riots have been debated by politicians, journalists, sociologists and arm-chair thinkers such as me. From increasing poverty and growing income disparities to joblessness and police atrocities against a certain section of the society, numerous reasons as to what led the general public to ‘protest’ in the form they did have been cited. Several commentators have criticized the lax policing on the government’s part in the face of the riots. They may have a point– the British prime minister took three full days to authorize the police to use force against the rioters.

It’s not only the riots but the nature of them that troubles the common Britons. The looters and vandals were mainly teenagers (and even eight year old kids!) who stole iPods, flat screen tvs, laptops and sports equipment. The point to be noted here is that the looters stole no food or no books. Water bottles were occasionally stolen, more for the sake of fun than genuine need. Many among those who stole cigarettes from the corner-stores were university students and the well off, a far cry from the image of poor rioters stealing essentials such as food. The prime minister of Britain dubbed the rioters as “sick,” a rather strong term to be used against one’s fellow citizens (perhaps not as strong as Nicolas Sarkozy referring to the Paris rioters as “scum” in 2005). Another Londoner said this in disgust: “We have indeed brought up a horrible generation of kids!”

Some people might try to justify this sort of behaviour on the grounds of need. But the pattern of looting and arson in the recent London riots suggests otherwise. A vast majority of looters were hardly needy, and all they targeted were fancy digital equipments and brand accessories. The truth of the matter is that the widespread decay in the moral and cultural side of Britain has severely affected the way young generations of people have been brought up. A section of the British media has been lamenting over how young generation of Britons identify themselves more with brands and consumer goods rather than anything else. Eminent British psychologists are now saying that the pampered society has produced generations of people with absolutely no sense of values. The lack of moral authority in home and school has led to a state where young Britons have forgotten the distinction between right and wrong. What is to be carefully observed here is that all countries– developed, developing or otherwise– can take a huge lesson from the recent London riots. When so many people identify themselves with ownership of consumer goods rather than family values or national heritage, a dangerous breeding ground for immorality is created.

When people start living by the doctrine “you are what you own,” the moral fibre binding the nation together loosens up to reveal large patches of recklessness. At the risk of sounding like a doomsayer, I must stress the fact that the rot is not limited to Britain alone. Leaders of all nations should take immediate measures to prevent the rot from spreading further.

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