Watching what is happening in England has been heartbreaking this last few days. None of the blogs I read, or the political shows I watch, have even mentioned the riots and this has cemented my feeling of alienation from America. Not that people in America should care hugely about something happening so far away – but I care and I am here and turning on the news and seeing people waffle on about this or that Presidential candidate, or the latest stock market jitters just really means nothing in the face of watching my country burning.
That’s an exaggeration of course. A few hundred people in a handful of cities are causing chaos, but the vast majority of Britain remains untouched by this madness. And yet somehow it feels worse than that.
Maybe because this kind of rioting is a reminder that societal norms only exist because everybody accepts them. If enough people decide that they don’t care about those norms, things break down very quickly. Civilization it turns out, is a very fragile thing.
This behavior is nothing new for England of course. I spent enough time at football matches in the 70s and 80s to know that something about Britain breeds a class of people for whom violence is a chosen pastime. Back then they were almost all white and coalesced around football teams as their excuse. Now they are multi-colored and multi-cultural and instead of waging pitched battles on the street, they are raiding stores and stealing stuff. But for all those differences, I can’t help feeling like I’ve seen this movie before.
The ex-pat forums are alight with conversation about what it all means and whether it’s wise to move back to the UK now that this has happened. It doesn’t affect me that way – I still want to go home – but it does make me unspeakably sad to see images like this.
Of course, Britain being Britain, there is also the counterbalance. Here are community members in Battersea who volunteered to come out and help clean up on Tuesday morning.
Maybe we’re not seeing the breakdown of society after all. Perhaps we’re just seeing the criminal underclass emerge into the light, like bugs when you lift a rock in the garden. They’ve always been there and the only thing that will make them crawl back under their rock is when the light gets too bright.