This piece by Seumas Milne in the Guardian is typical of the way the left looks at the riots and their causes:
…[W]here exactly did the rioters get the idea that there is no higher value than acquiring individual wealth, or that branded goods are the route to identity and self-respect?
While bankers have publicly looted the country’s wealth and got away with it, it’s not hard to see why those who are locked out of the gravy train might think they were entitled to help themselves to a mobile phone. Some of the rioters make the connection explicitly. “The politicians say that we loot and rob, they are the original gangsters,” one told a reporter. Another explained to the BBC: “We’re showing the rich people we can do what we want.”
Most have no stake in a society which has shut them out or an economic model which has now run into the sand.
Reactions to the riots have highlighted some of the major differences between left and right. To the former, (a) the poor are never responsible, even for their own bad decision and actions; (b) the rich are always responsible, even for the bad actions of others; and (c) there is no problem that can’t be solved by more social services and/or income redistribution. The right, of course, has a very different idea of personal responsibility—to them, it’s actually personal—and believes the welfare state has been part of the problem, because it helps take away the idea of personal responsibility, dampens initiative, and leads to a sense of unjustified entitlement.
The argument makes me think of this number from the 50s, the song “Gee Officer Krupke” from the musical “West Side Story”. As I watch it now, these “juvenile delinquents” seem as archaic and outdated as the term itself, and nearly as tame as a bunch of Eagle Scouts. As they mock all the excuses made for them by supposedly well-meaning authorities, I note that there are fashions in these things: the bulk of the explanations back then had less to do with not enough money being spent on them and more to do with familial dysfunction, although the song does feature the famous line “Hey—I’m depraved on account I’m deprived!,” which pretty much summarizes Seumas Milne’s article:
Theodore Dalrymple offers a corrective to reasoning such as Milne’s. He even uses that word “deprived” [hat tip: commenter “Denise”]:
The riots are the apotheosis of the welfare state and popular culture in their British form. 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. It believes itself deprived (because it has often been told so by intellectuals and the political class), even though each member of it has received an education costing $80,000, toward which neither he nor—quite likely—any member of his family has made much of a contribution; indeed, he may well have lived his entire life at others’ expense, such that every mouthful of food he has ever eaten, every shirt he has ever worn, every television he has ever watched, has been provided by others. Even if he were to recognize this, he would not be grateful, for dependency does not promote gratitude. On the contrary, he would simply feel that the subventions were not sufficient to allow him to live as he would have liked.
At the same time, his expensive education will have equipped him for nothing. His labor, even supposing that he were inclined to work, would not be worth its cost to any employer—partly because of the social charges necessary to keep others such as he in a state of permanent idleness, and partly because of his own characteristics.
[NOTE: Here are the original lyrics to the Officer Krupke song from the play, slightly different from those in the movie. Also, rumor has it that the song was originally supposed to end with “Fuck you!” rather than the rather tepid “Krup you!,” but it wasn’t allowed in those oh-so-innocent days.]