Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The London Riots- UK's Chickens Come Home to Roost

For years, we have been telling young people that they are what they buy, wear and own. We have been feeding them a steady diet of nihilism, violence and materialism. The recent riots across the UK show what happens when a whole generation of young people, bereft of values, is let loose in a society in crisis. We can soon expect similar riots in the US. The reason is clear- as the bible says, "You shall reap what you sow".

The pretext of the riots, police brutality and racism, quickly devolved into random violence. It would be easy to blame this on "black youths", but the pictures show another story. We saw young people, boys and some girls, of all colors, rioting, looting and setting fire to shops, cars and homes. Disenfranchised, alienated and hopeless, they took out their frustrations on whatever or whoever was at hand.

In the US in the days of the Great Depression, there was a spirit of unity. The idea that "we're all in this together" held society together, and while some social unrest occurred, on the whole, people made an effort to get along. One reason for this was that Roosevelt insisted that every segment of society should "buckle up" and make sacrifices, while at the same time, he provided relief for the neediest. The message was clear- all human beings are deserving of basic dignity, and our monetary worth is not the sum of our human worth.

Furthermore, people in those days had a belief in the greater good, which was linked to the common belief in spiritual values. Granted, religious beliefs alone do not make a person good, but for those who are inclined to goodness, there is a foundation for living one's faith, and for those searching, there is a direction. 

Today, not just in the US, but across Europe and the rest of the industrialized world, governments are slashing budgets for social programs, all the while refusing to add one penny of tax for the upper crust. Multinationals, banking cartels and the defense industry are making record sums of money, while the poorest of the poor are treated like rubbish. The message is clear- those who have money are somehow worth more than those without. Without the designer clothes, the fancy car and the flashy clothes, you are nothing. Is it any wonder that young people crave these things?

Delayed gratification is nullified by advertising campaigns that tell us to buy now, pay later. Kids have watched as, for decades, their parents and elders have paid for everything on credit, sometimes getting things they could not afford. A sense of entitlement has trickled down from the very rich, who are held up as idols. Paris Hilton, a woman with no discernible talent, is lionized by the press while millions wait at the local food pantry for a bag of canned goods.

Meanwhile, for decades, religious values and morals have been scoffed at, and parents began to believe that so long as kids have adequate food, clothing and some kind of job training, their needs are being met. We all forgot somewhere along the way that our greatest need is the need for meaning. Kids who are left to solve the riddle of their own existence on their own find themselves overwhelmed and rudderless in a sea of confusion. They see that their elders not only are without answers, they refuse to acknowledge the questions. The kid whose parents refuse to provide moral guidance may join the Taliban, become a skinhead or join a religious cult.  We let them "choose their own values", afraid to tell them what to believe mainly because we are afraid of having our own lack of faith and integrity questioned. Is it any wonder that they respond with violence?

Money and materialism have also steered  society for too long. "Extras" such as music, the arts and sport have been cut, in favor of "practical" programs that are more money-oriented. We often use money and careers as a "motivation" for kids to stay in school, not noticing as their eyes glaze over and they begin to tune out more and more. The message we send kids is that money is all that matters. The things that make life meaningful are delegated to being "extras". Without the arts as a means of self-expression, they will express themselves the only way they know how: with brute force. 

Who owns the television stations that pump kids up with value-free violence? Who owns the radio stations and record companies that promote music for "gangstas" and ""pimps"? Certainly not the young people! Yet calls to monitor the film, television or game industry are pooh-poohed as forms of "censorship". We forget that teenagers are still too immature to make wise choices.

We, the adults, have got to start behaving like adults. We have to be the role models that young people crave, and stop shirking responsibility. parents have to stop blaming teachers, teachers have to stop blaming parents, and corporations that make money marketing products have to start showing some corporate responsibility. And lastly, we need a return to spiritual principles and embracing our humanity instead of materialism, hedonism and nihilism. These riots ought to be a wake-up call to act now, before something similar-or even far worse- comes to your town.