Today, I came across this very powerful video that depicts the situation within which a slice of society in modern Britain finds itself. As I watch it, I feel entirely divorced from the drug subculture that has invaded our inner cities and threatens to severely limit the future for many of our young people.
When I consider the post war concrete mazes that have replaced the old terraced streets of London, I wonder how we ever managed to create such hideous places. The thought crosses my mind that they may have been built to serve a dual purpose by a population that had endured two world wars within such a short space of time. Such bunkers could relatively easily be turned into fortified defences should it ever become necessary; meanwhile, you could allow people to live in them. Although I don’t really believe that to be true, I do wonder why we ever built such uninspiring buildings and thought that people might be happy living there.
As I listen to the kids speaking, I wonder how the current Wire-style patois, a mixture of various ethic influences – perhaps mainly Caribbean – came to be the language of the London streets. But, most of all, as I look at those youngsters, I see wasting (perhaps not yet wasted) potential. As someone recently commented, some of these kids have no real home life, no supporting family, nothing from which to take support and encouragement. As a consequence, the street gangs become their surrogate families and, as they bond, their language helps to unite them and simultaneously distance them from people who don’t understand who they are and what pressures they continually face. Is is any wonder that some of these people turn to alcohol or drugs as a means of escape?
But the problem with drugs is that the escape is temporary and reality inevitably hits harder and continues to demand a response. For the unfortunate, the spiral of petty crime to generate the funds necessary to score and relive the experience will become their hamster wheel; their own version of the middle-class rat-race; their existence. And, of course, the adrenaline rush experienced in committing the crimes serves to further compound the problem. The film shows the sadder side of humanity as we glimpse the seedy business that feeds the habit. Wherever there is human need, it seems someone will setup a business to serve it – no matter what that need might be.
There is a wonderful twist at the end of the film when we are challenged to think about how we might react to the pursuit of knowledge under different circumstances. If it were made illegal, for example, to read books. It is not such a ridiculous comparison either. Books can be used for the same kind of escape purposes as drugs – that’s true – but, more importantly, they provide something that can truly strike at the heart of the problem – the real problem – because books contain information that people can use to assimilate knowledge. And knowledge, in the information age, is power. But this route does not have anything like the same appeal as drugs or alcohol because it requires effort, it demands attention, it is not cool and furthermore, those ubiquitous volumes are not written in the language of the streets.
A few days ago, my wife commented to me about a news item she saw on TV. It was a proposal for a curfew to be introduced that would effectively ban children aged fifteen years and below from the streets after 9 pm at night. What occurred to me was that in days gone by, such a proposal would have been entirely unnecessary because it would have been parents who would have imposed that kind of discipline. Somewhere along the line, it seems that parenting has changed because family values have changed. As a society, we are no longer passing the most important values on to our children and we leave them ill-equipped to serve society in bringing up their own children in the right way. It seems that proposals such as the curfew are what may become necessary in our changed society that has continually failed the present younger generation.
So where does all of this leave us and what are the answers to the problems of our society? As has been said before, quite famously, it is only by striking at the causes of the ills of our society that a new, hopefully better one can be forged. The difficulty is that such a program of reform would be necessarily lengthy enough to outlast any government and that means that momentum and commitment are very likely to be lost along the way. The only alternative is to accept the shortcomings of what we have created and deal with the consequences that produce illegal activity using something like the New York, zero tolerance approach.
Personally, I am in favour of working to transform the situation. It seems to me that the situation in this country has been completely transformed within the last 50 years or so and that shows us that transformation is at least a possibility. As I contemplate what would be necessary to produce such a change, I realise that we would first need the solid commitment of the populace after all, we live in a democracy. Our traditional method of gaining consensus has always been through the ballot box. But, because of the difficulty of the reform period spanning successive governments, mentioned above, we would need a meta-policy that overarches anything that party politics might conceive.
Assuming that it were possible to get the kind of commitment necessary, both from the people who constitute the nation and the politicians who would need to implement the necessary reforms, the next step I believe, would be to setup a think-tank. The job of that group would be to accurately identify the underlying causes that have led to the creation of islands of depravity that fester and threaten to undermine the interests of the country as a whole. The outcome would be to formulate a program of reform that would then be introduced to transform our nation into a place fit for our children and their children’s children.
So, I wonder if I am alone in thinking these things; I wonder if you agree or disagree. You might perhaps think that it doesn’t really matter either way, but I think that it does. As John Lennon once said, “you may say that I’m a dreamer” but then went on to add, “but I’m not the only one.” I don’t think I am the only one and I also think that it is about time that good, honest, decent men and women woke up to what is happening in our country and said, “Enough! It is time to change?”