One of the most irritating viral Facebook reactions to the riots I’ve seen is this:
“RIP Broken Britain.. You went soft on discipline!..You went soft on crime.. Parents were told.. ‘No you can’t smack the kids’….Teachers were prevented from chastising kids in schools.. The police couldn’t clip a troublemaker round the ear.. Kids had rights blah blah blah.. Well done Britain..You shall reap what you sow.. We have lost a whole generation!!”
Yes, the most appropriate and effective reaction to the riots is judgemental, sanctimonious hyperbole. Well done.
I hate this partly because it’s dreadfully smug and self satisfied, and partly because it’s inaccurate. For goodness sake, of course children should have rights. And are you really encouraging police brutality? Corporal punishment? How many of you posting this acted up a bit at school and turned out just fine? And parents are still legally allowed to smack their children, as long as they don’t bruise them/use an implement such as a belt (simplified version of a long debate of what constitutes “reasonable chastisement”). Would you prefer them genuinely harmed?
My country is not perfect. We have crime, inequality, poverty, bureaucrats getting in the way of effective healthcare, a lack of caring and support towards those with chronic illnesses or disabilities, and apparently hundreds of young people who feel so alienated from their communities that they don’t think twice about smashing them up. But we are a first world, developed country. We have universal – if imperfect – healthcare. We have a welfare system which offers crucial support those in need, even if many still fall down the cracks. We have a voting system which may not be the most effective and fair, but is still more democratic than a one-party system or dictatorship. Upwards social mobility is difficult but possible with the help of encouraging teachers/youth groups and student loans. There are hundreds of kind and generous people running charities out there – the one I work for is run by just three waged staff on a shoe-string budget, but supports hundreds of people per year who have eating disorders not medically severe enough to qualify for intensive support on the NHS. In cities there are resources for almost every marginalised group in existence: in Newcastle we have non-profit support groups for those with mental health problems and disabilities, several friendship groups for the LGBT community, a charity which offers medical, legal and psychological support for victims of torture, rape crisis organisations, a major branch of a nationwide charity for disadvantaged and abused children, services aimed specifically at different ethnic or religious groups (for example, Muslim women’s helpline), and so on. One of my friends from college runs a charity for people who have lost babies to stillbirth, miscarriages or profound disabilities. The list is endless.
I acknowledge that Britain is not perfect. My experience as someone with sometimes disabling mental health problems showed me that. I’ve felt alienated and uncared for frequently, and I’ve been put under a lot of financial stress in trying to support myself while still too sick to work. But I did get back on my feet – with the help of the citizen’s advice bureau, an independent ED charity in Dorset, my support worker in the NHS services, the Jobcentre, and so on. My mental health problems were complicated by the fact that I was raped at 18. In some third world countries rape is used as a weapon of war, and many women and men will be physically and mentally wounded to the point of death by sexual violence. I won’t give you the “think of the starving children in Africa!!!” reaction to eating disorders because I think it’s unhelpful and not a particularly valid comparison, but even so, it is easy to see that with my personal vulnerabilities, I would have been long lost if I had been born in one of many less fortunate countries.
I don’t see the point of patriotism because as far as I’m concerned, if you go back far enough we probably all came from the same point of origin, and more recently in history there have been so many invasions and merging of cultures that we are all partly from elsewhere. But I won’t put up with people wagging their finger and saying “I TOLD YOU SO” over things which were designed to make the country a fairer and safer place for children to live. And I won’t let anyone tell me that my country is broken when the news shows me that people in other countries struggle for their survival on a day to day basis. We are lucky to be shocked by rioting when warfare is a constant reality for many. My country is a work in progress, but there are people fighting to make it a better place, and as long as they continue to do so we will never be truly broken.