Due to driving from Birmingham to North Yorkshire this afternoon, I got to hear David Cameron’s statement about the Government’s response to the recent riots.
David did not disappoint me – he was way off the mark, just like I thought he would be.
Firstly, as this is the third post I have written on the riots, I reaffirm that I think the actions of the rioters were criminal and deserve punishment.
What is key, however, is understanding the root causes that led so many to commit vandalism, arson and theft. Understanding is not condoning.
My interest in the Prime Minister’s statement is partially due to the fact that my professional life is about looking at problems, discovering root causes and implementing long term solutions.
The wrong approach, often taken, is largely blame-centred, with the critical analysis stopping when someone has been identified and punished. The individual made an error or did something wrong. It’s their fault and no-one else’s.
The approach of much of the media and politicians has followed this style. People who committed arson know it is wrong, they had a choice and they did the wrong thing. Period. Parents should know where their children are, they didn’t, it’s their fault. The rioters have no moral values, that’s their parents fault too.
This emphasis on individual responsibility is something Hayek and Friedman would argue. It is core of neo-liberal economic systems.
This approach does not solve problems. What this methodology misses entirely is the fact that most people don’t really have a solid, independent ethical base that is permanent and applies to everything they always do.
The environment people are brought up in, their economic and emotional security and many other factors all can make people act in ways they would not think possible. How many good German people turned a blind eye to the plight of the Jews? There are many other pieces of historical evidence to demonstrate this.
The best approach is to look at what factors made the rioters do what they did. What incentives and punishments does our economic system create, and how do people find a way through them? How do youngsters cope when they are not given the tools to survive this system successfully by parents who don’t have the tools either?
This requires less condemnation and more understanding. It requires the open-mindedness to recognise that the system that the Police are trying are trying to maintain in riot gear might not be working for everyone.
It is the nature of capitalism to reward the winners, but what are the losers supposed to do? Not everyone can win, and losers cannot surely be expected to watch their prospects go down the toilet and just sink with it.
Our economic system has been failing too many for too long, and not met their needs as human beings.
Until this is recognised I’m afraid that the problems that led to the riots will not go away, and the blame game will in fact exacerbate them.