Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Mystery of the English Riots

I've been struggling to understand the arson, looting, and senseless violence in England over that last four days. That sort of behavior is so alien to me that this is like understanding beings from another planet. This article, though tainted by the shortcomings of the author's Tory priorities, seemed helpful to me. He says, in effect, these people are not from another planet, they are from the future. The may or may or may not be from your future. For sure they are out of a futuristic novel and movie call A Clockwork Orange. Say hello to Alex and his droogies!

The idea is that the system, one of the wealthiest welfare states on Earth, has created a large underclass of young people with no marketable skills and little or no interest in being productively employed, kept in useless idleness on the dole.

The distinguished political philosopher John Rawls claimed that if we arrange social institutions so that inequalities are in the interest of the least well-off people this will boost their self-esteem because it will show that we care about and value then. He never went into just what institutions fill this bill (with commendable humility, he figured he is not qualified to do this, not being an economist) but it seems to me that for this particular point, he would have to accept as an example of such a system getting a monthly check in the mail of money taken from the most well-off people. The stuff the system gives them, just for being the worst-off brings a convincing message: you are good.

No it doesn't. The message it carries is more like: "So sorry you can't seem to fend for yourself! Well, here's some stuff produced by people who, unlike you, can fend for themselves. Hope things start lookin' up for you! Cheers!" How self-esteem-boosting is that?

Rawls was a brilliant man, but he was a rotten psychologist. Much better were Dostoyevsky (in Notes from the Underground), Nietzche, and Erich Hoffer. These people would tell you that people don't get a sense of dignity and self-worth by being paid for nothing. They get it from a sense of efficacy (that is, power), and this can only come from their own action. And if for some reason they can't or won't act constructively, then they will act destructively, if only to prove that they are still human beings and have to be taken seriously.
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Update: For an interpretation similar to the above-linked article (but in the leftist Guardian) see this.

3 comments:

Chiara di Benedetto said...

I have so many feelings reading the Hastings article -- sadness for England that it has devolved to a state where everyone has checked out and abdicated responsibility, horror at the idea of so many wasted lives in the name of being "caring" and "fair," fear for the future of the United States if the Euro welfare state arrives here...

JohnJEnright said...

Love that last picture from Clockwork. Worth a thousand words.

Lester Hunt said...

Chiara, My thoughts exactly.

John, It's even better if you click-to-enlarge. Yeesh!