Tuesday, 9 August 2011

"I Blame The Parents"

This used to be a a commonplace of a certain kind of humour.  Inexplicble behaviour by children, particularly of a reckless, indulgent, or flamboyant, kind, was to be attributed to the previous generation.  

It is too early to understand what the Riots of the Innit Thieves are all about.  In the few snippets of interviews I have heard, it seems to be an inchoate sense of grievance combined with a sense of thrill, as if bare and wasted lives will somehow be mended by lawless violence.  It is easy to despise those who are doing it, those who will steal from a shop, then burn it down, defy the forces of law and order with violence, and terrify the people of their own communities with their viciousness.  It is very hard not to despise them.  But for all our sakes, and the sakes of generations yet unborn, we must seek to understand.

I hope that I should not need to say, that I do not in any way condone anything that has been done in the streets of the City of my birth, in Ealing where I was on placement, in Romford, where I had the happiest of curacies, in Croydon, in which I had hoped to become a vicar.  These places matter to me, as do their people, for the most part straightforward, kindly, honest, hard-working, family people.  Like the families in which I grew up.  I say "families" because we (almost) all have four grandparents, and those different strands of life give us different experience and understanding of human nature.  It is heart-breaking to see the damage, the violence, the cruelty, wrought by these disaffected and useless youngsters.  Literally "care-less".  Couldn't care less.  What a horrid expression.  But if you have no job, no prospects, and no one to care for, what do you have to lose?

At some point, though, we must, as a society, or even individual by individual, wonder what on earth went wrong, how did all this wickedness enter the souls of people who surely must have entered this world, probably underweight owing to booze and fags, as innocents like the rest of us, crying, smiling, pooing, wondering, laughing, grabbing our fingers with their own gloriously beautiful tiny digits.  Surely, they could have turned out well?  Poverty alone, nor racial prejudice, not that those involved in the riots have been only of one class, nor of one race, does not doom you to acts of extreme and disgusting violence.

There is a lot wrong with our political and economic system.  For over thirty years the Thatcherite-Monetarist Hegemony has been deeply uncomitted to the poorer members of society.  Our rulers have done their looting, through the law, the banks, business, and creamed off the profits and the share options and the dividends.  They have worked hard, but been rewarded highly.  My cleaner in Romford worked as hard, but for her I could only afford just above the market hourly rate, a card at Christmas, and the occasional bunch of flowers.  She deserved far more.  But she worked, and she didn't begrudge others what they had.  It is a matter of statistical record that the gap between rich and poor is wider than ever in memorable history.  But too, it is a  matter of statistical record that the poor are not as poor as they were.  We have cars, and washing machines, and televisions, we can afford to go to the pub, we have baths and lavatories in our homes, we will never go hungry.  I'm not saying that we should be sending up daily prayers of gratitude for our slendernes - well, maybe we should, it can't make things worse and might make things better - but for most of our people, as Harold Macmillan was once misquoted saying "we've never had it so good".  And yes, I know there's a recession on: I know the price of a slab of butter, and I use up the vouchers I am sent for using loyalty cards, and pay for things ending in 99 pence with precisely 99 pence, but this is nothing like the Great Depression.  If anyone starves it is because they choose to, or that the choice (as for children and old people) is made for them by others.   
So what are we to say about this rebellion without a cause?  Well, yes, I blame the parents.  I say so because I blame my parents.  I blame them that they (especially my mother) taught me to read and write and count by the time I was three; I blame them that they taught us to say please when we wanted something, and thank-you when we got it, and that the one did not automatically lead to the other; that we were taught to be as grateful for the presents at Christmas that we liked, as for the ones that didn't hit the spot, and not to give away our feelings, the positive ones of which could be expressed in a thank-you letter later; I blame them that I was taught that all men and women are equal, and you are to treat your betters and your inferiors equally, because they are neither; that respect is to be won, but it starts with age, wisdom, education, kindness, and love; I blame my father for making a bookcase, and my mother for filling it with books on all kinds of subjects some of which she would never read, but we might; I blame them that in the daytime there was always a mother at home for us; I blame them that access to the television was limited, and that sex and violence were off-limits, the one because it is private, the other because it is evil; I blame them that though sometimes we didn't see my father from one day to the next, up early, home late, we knew where he was, because we knew his scrapyard (a magical place for a child, and supremely dangerous!), and we knew that even after we had gone to bed, he would be there, locking the doors and making us safe; I blame them that I was taught to disagree graciously, and to listen to all sides of an argument, without losing my own.  I blame them that I passed a shed-load of exams and got into Oxford, without a moment's pressure to succeed, but for the sheer joy of learning.  My parents had not one qualification between; my father had known indifferent parenting; my mother had never really been a child, but I blame them for having the imagination, and the love, to make for us a world they never knew, a world in which we could be ourselves, make our choices, and fashion our destiny. 
We are, of course, animals, but animals made in the image and likeness of God, and that means anything can be redeemed, transfigured, and made glorious.  Sometimes the bird is born into the right nest, the fox into the right litter.

I wonder what the robbers and looters of London blame their parents for?  

I wager our cats are looked after better than they were.

Substitute "blame" with "thank", and the point is just the same.

Richard Haggis
August 2011


  1. that's *very* good, and not dissimilar to my own story [the first person in my lineage to go to university]. however, it seems to me that that simple fact has a whole socio-political world behind it, which enabled our frictionless social mobility and gave our parents the optimism to propel us into a future they had barely dreamed of. there were bad youths then, and bad parents, but perhaps it was easier to be good.

  2. And the good were sooner and better rewarded.

  3. I think one of the problems is that it used to take a village to raise a child, and it still does, only we haven't got those communities any longer. There was always someone around to teach you how to bring up baby and deal with toddler, and someone to do it with you when you couldn't.

    When I see some of those barely educated, celeb-worshipping kids have their own babies, push them along in a pushchair while talking into their mobiles, no interaction with the baby... and there seems to be no-one to show them how and why that's damaging.
    Poor nutrition, not enough mental stimulation, a fractured family around them - these kids' brains don't develop as they should do.
    When they turn up at school, years later, no-one reads their books with them at home, helps them with their sums, their spelling...

    And we somehow expect them to bring themselves up and turn into responsible adults and are completely astonished when it doesn't work like that.

    Many of them turn out to be completely unemployable, but the popular press tells them that it's not their fault, it's the EU's for allowing foreigners in who take our jobs.

    The other problem is that the shallowness and the me-me-me isn't restricted to the looters. They only do in their way what is being played out on the national stage every day of our lives.

    Can anyone really forget Hazel Blears commenting on the immorality of the looting the day after the riots in Salford?

    Stories of rotten bankers with big bonuses hit the headlines - reality may possibly be more complex than that, but this is what feeds people's imagination.
    They all get away with it, why shouldn't we have some of it too?

    This goes way beyond blaming parents.
    We live in precisely the kind of society we’ve created all together.

  4. Providence has not given us children. If it had, I would repeat my parents' mistakes to the letter. But there might be more cuddles.

  5. Just thinking this through for the umpteenth time. There is so much wrong in this country, I'm surprised we haven't had a revolution. And before you say it's not the British way, what happened in 1774 in the Colonies.

    I've read a loads of comments about 'Bad Parenting' or 'Family Breakdown' being to blame. Surely this is to simplistic. I've read about anger, frustration, poverty, deprivation, feckless, workshy people, criminality, gang culture, and a whole host of other things being to blame. I read and listened to politicians scoring points from each other, even blaming neglect from previous regimes for the troubles, not acknowledging that their own greedy acquisitiveness might be part of the problem.
    Everyone is in the blame game in a rush to judgement and only a few seem to be arguing for intelligent, listening debate. Perhaps they are urinating into the wind?

    It seems to me that the things that have gone wrong are complex, not clear cut, and need to someone with more brain power than I have to work them out, however, something fundamental seems to be missing, which is I believe that absence of God or some other moral deity that people can believe in and model their life upon.

    I trying hard to pray sensibly for wisdom, tolerance and coherence in the debate already started, and to come on these issues. Without which, we will just put in place short term solutions, which will ignore the underlying causes. We do this at our peril.