There is rioting in the streets of London, and now it’s spread across the ocean to Philadelphia as well. The London (and Philadelphia) riots seem to be about "getting stuff" that advertising and the media have seduced these kids into thinking they have a right to own.

The British are baffled by this. Theodore Dalrymple (a doctor who has worked in prisons) wrote, "A population thinks (because it has often been told so by intellectuals and the political class) that it is entitled to a high standard of consumption, irrespective of its personal efforts, and therefore it regards the fact that it does not receive that high standard, by comparison with the rest of society, as a sign of injustice." In the Telegraph, Allison Pearson wrote, "Where are the parents? The adults are afraid and the children, emboldened by adult timidity, are fearless."

What no one in the news has noticed is that these seem to be inspired by the "Arab Spring" youth riots in Middle Eastern countries. However, in places like Iran, Libya, Syria and Egypt, young people are protesting against tyrannical leaders and fighting for democracy.

In the Guardian, youth worker Shaun Bailey wrote, "Young people have been looting the shops they like: JD Sports and mobile phone shops have been hit, yet Waterstone’s (a bookstore chain) has been left alone. This is criminality in its raw form, not politics." The fact that bookstores haven’t been hit, indicates the a lack of education might be part of the problem. If I was going to go out and break windows so I could get into stores to steal things, armsfull of hardback books are the first thing I’d want.

In the Daily Mail, Max Hastings wrote, "The depressing truth is that at the bottom of our society is a layer of young people with no skills, education, values or aspirations."

We’ve had riots like this in the US in the past, in places like Detroit in 1967 and Los Angeles in 1992. I was living in Ann Arbor, a college town near Detroit, during the Detroit riots and the famous Swiss sculptor Claes Oldenberg happened to be a resident artist at the university there. A black friend of mine who drove him to Detroit so he could see them for himself said he sat in the back seat of the car with his face pressed up against the back window, staring at the mayhem in awe.

In New York City in the bad old days, before Giuliani and Bratton, a young woman was jogging in Central Park was set upon by a gang of kids who beat her almost to death. When they were arrested, their families and schools were shocked, and said that these were all "nice kids." In another dreadful Central Park incident, a middle-aged man who was biking in the park was casually murdered for his bicycle because three kids wanted to go bike riding and only two of them owned bikes, so the 3rd boy simply went out and killed for one.

The incident of the young women who was almost killed caused the media to coin the term "wilding" about this sort of ting, but this wasn’t actually the term the kids used. In earlier reports, one of them said they were "widing" (which was probably a mispronunciation of "wilding," showing that–despite the testimony of the schools they attended–their education was woefully lacking). I once volunteered in an organization that taught illiterate adults to read. One of our students even worked as a printer! The amazing thing about these grown-up students was that they had all graduated from high school, promoted from one grade to the next because they were too much trouble to bother with.

In those days, researchers were just beginning to learn about dyslexia, a condition that Whitley had as a kid. He remembers a nun in his elementary school sitting him on her lap and patiently holding his hand while he traced letters, again and again. This is a "cure" that’s still used today. Whitley still enjoys reading license plates backwards as we drive along.

In the biking incident, I remember reading the poignant testimony of a bystander, who rushed to the dying man’s side and held his hand while he expired. She wanted to send a message to his wife and said, "Please let her know that her husband didn’t die alone." She had the compassion to stay with a stranger during his time of need.

You can teach reading and math, but how can you teach compassion and consideration for others? We haven’t figured out how to do that yet.

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  1. Hi Anne,
    I’m a new member of

    Hi Anne,
    I’m a new member of your site so I don’t want to start off on the wrong foot but here goes. In the seventh paragraph you talk about the attack on the jogger by teens who were all thought of as “nice kids”. And so they were, if you investigate further you will find that that all charges were dropped even after they pleaded guility. It seems the authorities decided they were guility from the getgo and through intensive interrogation convinced these teens that they should admit to what they did not do. I vaguely remembered reading about this in NYT quite a while back and was reminded again in much more detail after recently reading “Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)”-fascinating book about our oh so human habits of self-justification/cya. This wilding story seems one of those stories that fits our sad views of modern life with its materialistic shallowness and mindless acting out without regard to the consequences. I think it happens more by the powers that be than the young and this case proves the point. I found the book caused me no small degree of self reflection. The subtitle “Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts”.

  2. Actually I think, it’s much
    Actually I think, it’s much more complicated than that. It’s tempting, to accept a politicians words, sometimes because they seem to ofer an easy way to address an issue, that is quite disturbing.

    The following is a link to a NYT editorial, that delves a little deeper.

    As the above editorial points out, working class Britions have been hit the hardest by the troubling economic situation, and they will be the most affected by the planned austerities, and cuts to social programs. This while the banks, who have caused the economic problems seem to have gotten off without much pain.

    As a side note, Pictures of the protests in Britton have not been adequately covered here, thanks to our conservative media. But when they are aired, you will see many thousands of protesters, coming from all walks of life.

  3. In the Philadelphia “flash
    In the Philadelphia “flash mobs” I couldnt help noticing that most if not all the victims were white and the mobs black. Not sure what to make of it , but there it is.

  4. As the wealth and standard of
    As the wealth and standard of living of the western world contracts, we’re likely to see more rioting and social upheaval by the youth. Many experts are saying that this may be the first new generation in the U.S. to have a lower standard of living. Combine this with the consumerism they are indoctrinated with and lack of social ethic and you have a volatile situation. Contrast this with how cooperative the Japanese were after the tsunami and nuclear disaster in their country. If that had happened in the U.S. there would have been much mire looting and lawlessness. For all our supposed Christian values in this country, it doesn’t translate into much in terms of civility.

  5. This is indeed a sad
    This is indeed a sad commentary on the youth of today. The post WWII generation, (of which I am one) had it much easier. Usually it was a one parent working household. The mother was there to give the children guidance, teach them manners and how to behave. We usually had pets which taught us not only responsibility but compassion for another living being. Most of what we learned however was our connectedness to our family, friends and neighbors. Today with video games showing kids how to kill and maim, some have taken that to be acceptable behavior. Cell phones, iPods and other electronics have taken the place of real human interaction. When there is a disconnect from reality and relationships, how can we expect civil behavior? I feel sorry for these kids. But in the end, the outcome is the result of too much technology getting in the way of their feeling being part of humanity.

  6. They obviously don’t feel
    They obviously don’t feel part of the society. And frankly I don’t blame them, because all that remains for them is war, climate problems, debt and unemployment created by the politicians and the banksters. Any rightminded citizen would protest. When the bubble burst in ’08 all the fancy makebelieve dreams disappeared along with the trillions. Even today it is still all about the banks and the stockmarket. Nothing has changed.

  7. “In the Daily Mail, Max
    “In the Daily Mail, Max Hastings wrote, “The depressing truth is that at the bottom of our society is a layer of young people with no skills, education, values or aspirations.” ”

    That sounds dangerously like the opening precursors of announcing the need to round these dangerous element up and locking them away. Maybe in work camps. See where I’m going with this?

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