What’s causing the riots that have engulfed London and spread to other British cities in recent days? The sheer size and intensity of the uproar suggests that it has far less to do with the shooting of one man by police last week and rather with the mentality of the young men and women involved.
The arson and looting has been notably confined to desolate neighborhoods of London and nearby cities. The few culprits who have been interviewed by news media talk of “showing the rich what they can do” and brag of challenging a police force that at least during the first days of the unrest appeared impotent in the face of the youth uprisings.
Local stores — hardly the bastions of international capitalism — were plundered by thugs who otherwise roamed the streets to take whatever they could from whomever they would overpower. Buildings and cars were set ablaze in mindless frustration.
British prime minister David Cameron hinted on Wednesday at the “complete lack of responsibility” that decades of welfarism has fostered in blighted parts of Britain where “people [were] allowed to feel that the world owes them something.” He said that the country has a “moral problem” when a “sick” part of society believes that it has only rights and no responsibilities.
He’s right. The London rioters aren’t guided by any particular ideology. Their anger has nothing to do with austerity measures that haven’t been implemented yet nor with mild cuts in university tuition fees that these youngsters are unlikely to benefit from anyway. Their anxiety reflects an entitlement mentality that is under threat. They and their parents were told by generations of politicians that they had a “right” to welfare provisions paid for by the productive segments of society and now that promise is falling apart. They were never taught to take care of themselves and soon, they might be forced to.
It’s tough adjusting to reality. But that’s not an excuse to take it out on your neighbors who always did just try to make a living.