Yesterday I was laughing at my husband’s relationship with his laptop. Today I’m sitting at my desk watching my home town burn on Youtube.
I grew up in a leafy genteel suburb of London. Ealing was known then as the Queen of the Suburbs, a title we mocked in public, but secretly appreciated since it was always a safe, clean, friendly place to live. Since I left for the States over 30 years ago, it has changed. So has the world. But each time I go back, I find the atmosphere a little more charged. People are still friendly, and I feel pretty safe on the streets. But I’m constantly being told by my friends there that I’m too laissez faire, too lacking in awareness. They see me, as they see themselves, as a potential victim.
I have vowed not to be one of those people of a certain age who think the world is going to hell in a hand basket. But I do think that the cycle of lack of parenting, false expectations of wealth and fame, and lack of rewarding work (or maybe work of any kind) are proving to be a combustible mix. Even more repressive laws are not the answer. You cannot legislate good behavior.
The British Government has put in place many measures to deal with potential terrorism threats. Closed circuit TV means you have over 300 chances per day to be caught on camera in London. And local governments, desperate for more income, have adopted a draconian fine system for any infraction of the law. Parking tickets start at $150. Leaving your garbage unsorted or with the lid of the garbage can open can elicit a fine. Be a day late paying your property tax and the fine is around 40%. It makes for a very confrontational mindset. People like my 90-year-old mother, hate opening their mail because it will contain threats from the utilities and other companies that she deals with. These used to be reserved for the reminder invoice. Now they’re standard. Government offices are plastered with signs telling you that threatening or abusive behavior towards government officials will be prosecuted. When did those reserved, polite British people begin to threaten and abuse people they voted for?
Growing up in this sort of world is bound to take its toll on young people. Instead of looking forward to college and work, many of them spend their days trying to collect ASBO’s. These are Anti-Social Behavior Orders – a sort of legal parenting done by the police for kids aged 10 and up. You can get an ASBO for yelling at the neighbors, throwing bottles or otherwise behaving inappropriately in public.
And now we can add economic distress, government cutbacks, and cell phones to the mix, and suddenly there’s an excuse to start fighting the police, setting fire to cars and busses, torching shops, smashing glass and looting.
The 21st century has overwhelmed a Britain that was chugging along using the mores of the 1950’s as a benchmark. The government has tried to legislate a new way of behaving. Instead, it has simply given people an excuse to rebel against measures that would seem repressive in a dictatorship.
Okay, enough. I’m beginning to sound like one of those old farts…