Friday, 12 August 2011

So why did it happen?

I've been mumbling on to myself for days, as I do here on The Sensible Bond, trying to prod and poke my way to understanding the riots of the last week in England. Perhaps you're bored with it and want to read about something else. Nobody is stopping you. Go forth with my blessing. The rest of us have to try to understand, however. We have to try to understand because, make no mistake about it, if the country were a physical body, these riots would be as significant as a sudden and complete loss of bowel control.

All the usual suspects have lined up for the identity parade. What was it then that we saw rioting through the streets of London? Was it family breakdown? Absent fathers? The failure of state education? Moral relativism? Sheer criminality? Opportunism? The vacuity of the political system? The structural deprivation in our council estates?

In my view it was all of these and more. Another interesting feature of the events of this past week is that those responsible come from a whole range of backgrounds. Yes, there are the gangs, the career criminals and those 'known to the police'. But there are also the educated, the professionals and the daughters of wealthy businessmen. Whatever ills we put in the dock, somehow we have to recognise that our problem crosses all class divides.

Diseases have a way of joining forces to create a symbiotic tsunami: obesity leads to a strain on the heart which leads to blood pressure which triggers, etc., etc. So I imagine it is with the riots. One crisis simply led to another, while the latter was ready to burst like a boil and provide a catalyst for the next crisis. Okay, enough of the biological imagery. You get my message.


Chesterton characterises modern life as the result of the dismantling of things which once lived in organic unity. The electric light bulb and the radiator are undoubtedly great boons to modern life, but no family ever pulled up its chairs and sang songs around a radiator; no poet could stand looking into the bulb long enough to feel inspired by the passionate glow of its filament. And, as the fire's organic unity of light and warmth were broken up into bulb and radiator - for eminently practical reasons - something was lost which had hitherto graced human life and shaped a million imaginations.

Every comparison limps of course but here is the point: there is a layer of complexity and integrity in the right order of things which cannot be reassembled simply by putting together all the component parts. Life is not a problem set by Ikea or a special kind of Lego.

Let me take just the example of education to explain what I mean. We have heard many laments about education. But the fact is that state education is always a function of the culture in which it is born. Children whose home-lives are characterised by TV dinners, late nights and general dissipation are not going to get what they need out of even the best educational syllabus. They will not be apt to take part in it. The late, great John Senior observed that the Great Books movement had failed not because of the weakness in those books but because students who had not been raised on the 1000 great fairy tales did not have the imaginative and moral capacity to extract the great ideas from the great books. The popular view of education - that it has something to do with what happens in the classroom - is naive at best and hopelessly wrong at worst. Of course, learning goes on in a classroom, but book learning is part of a wider project by which the human subject becomes capable of civilisation. Frankly, there are many paths to that point and they are not all contained in a book. Capable of civilisation: there are many walking around today with iPods, the latest fashions, degrees, doctorates, successful careers, fancy cars and holidays abroad who are in point of fact substandard in that regard.

Everything has been separated from everything else and everything has grown cold: such was Chesterton's conclusion, and he was writing a hundred years ago. These riots were not a new problem and neither can they be answered by all the panoply of the technocratic state swinging into action to express the instinct for revenge. The riots happened because we have not done our duty. We have not done our duty because our duties have long been kept in the deep freeze of pragmatism. And now we're frost bitten, we want to plunge our limbs into boiling water by a juridical backlash against the rioters. Let justice act, of course. But justice; not some substandard form of justice. I honestly doubt we're even capable of it.

So, what should we do now? I have but one answer and it involves our collective repentance and prayer. England needs to pray, it needs to turn off the TV and introduce itself to its neighbours, and it needs to remember what it has lost: principally Jesus Christ. Any priest or bishop who climbs into his pulpit this Sunday and speaks of anything except Christ as the ultimate answer to the problem has thereby declared himself to be part of the problem.

Because short of reconciling with Christ, we will simply continue sleep walking into our next embarrassing disaster, the disaster of a highly sophisticated and popular socialite who functions brilliantly until she goes home at night, makes a cup of tea and retires to her room to self harm. Eventually she'll do it in public.

Everything has been separated from everything else and everything has grown cold. And every evocation of technocratic solutions without the invocation of Christ will only compound our problems.


Ben Trovato said...

Thoughtful and thought-provoking piece, Ches.

Think there's a typo here: 'And, as the fire's organic unity of heat and warmth were broken up into bulb and radiator..' Light and warmth surely...

(which at least proves I read it and was paying attention. Do I click the OCD button now?)

Ches said...

Yes, in your own time now, Mr Trovato!

(and thanks!).

GOR said...

No doubt there are many reasons for the scenes we have witnessed in recent days and many ‘solutions’ will be attempted at official levels. Most will probably miss the mark as people implement their pet theories for why all of this happened, skimming over the real reasons as they pay homage to the twin gods of diversity and political correctness.

Here in Milwaukee we had something similar – on a much smaller scale. On the opening day of State Fair – the annual celebration of the State, much like a Carnival – a mob of black youths attacked white fairgoers leaving the grounds. People were pulled from their cars, off motorcycles and beaten up. Some had to be hospitalized.

In the aftermath there was much hand wringing and explaining away of how this had come about. It was the ‘disadvantaged versus the advantaged’, it was just youthful exuberance, it was the heat... One black writer even opined that this was done merely by “idiotic, impulsive and inconsiderate children”. HUH? ‘Inconsiderate’ is not giving up your seat on the bus to the pregnant woman standing in the aisle. ‘Impulsive’ is throwing a golf club after a bad shot. ‘Idiotic’ is making the same mistake repeatedly but expecting a different result. This was thuggery - pure and simple – and they were not ‘children’.

When society fails to uphold moral standards, when respect for authority is not taught, when the family is undermined, when single-parent households abound and fathers do not, when religion is demeaned and materialism extolled - chaos ensues. And when we do not face up to the real reasons behind these occurrences and explain away the underlying causes we open the door to further chaos.

Here in Milwaukee the police and security presence was beefed up at State Fair and there was no recurrence of the violence. I don’t have confidence that the police in Britain will have similar success, hidebound as they are by the requirements of diversity and political correctness. The root causes may take much longer to resolve, but restoration of order should be more immediate and effective.

And yes Ches, if we are not Christ-centered we run the risk of being Satan-centered…

bobonner said...

My good friend,

It is timely you mention John Senior. This past week, at the Abbey of our Lady of Clear Creek Monastery, we just wrapped up a 4 day John Senior Colloquium. To utilize an expression chalked full of too many big words, its seems we have deprived our children of imagining a world worth fighting for, striving for, or loving at all. It is one thing to say the heavenly city is too hard to embody anywhere on earth. It is quite another to ignore the blue print altogether. A generation without an imagination is a generation lacking vision of a moral horizon, one where the sacrifice of having concerned for anyone other than yourself is nigh impossible to see.

The solution to this? Living in Christian joy together, as if Christ truly has overcome the world. We will not win souls with hand-wringing, but by a childish, peasant-like confidence in the mercy of the Sacred Heart.