Lesley posted an interesting item today in which she described her experience of Salford. I know Salford quite well, though I grew up on Langley - another notorious area that suffered many of these same problems.
The post was mainly about homosexuality. But what I found more interesting was the type of society that exists in these places that, despite all the publicity, is still below the radar for most educated people. There are plenty of hard working decent honest people in these areas (that's right off a politician's crib sheet) who live side by side with troubled families.
We think the gulf of understanding between atheists and theists is great - it's nothing compared to the gulf between the educated middle classes and this under-class. Let's not mince words; there are very different segments of our society, and even though we no longer like to think in terms of classes, that's as good a term as any.
The recent Raoul Moat Facebook page comes to mind. I urge you to listen to this: Siobhan O'Dowd. What you hear is a severely uneducated woman being taken down a peg or two by a reasonably articulate radio presenter. All his points are reasonable. It's so endemic in these sub-cultures to be so anti-police that anyone who evades them is a 'legend'. Siobhan O'Dowd isn't condoning any of the harm Moat caused, but isn't the least bit sympathetic for the police efforts or the expense of mounting the police efforts. Her mind is filled with this screwed (to us) view of affairs, "I wouldn't say he's a legend for shooting people, but I would say he's a legend for keeping the police on their toes, like I've told you about five times."
If you don't get this 'other world' that they live in, then you don't get quite a lot about life.
Here's someone who misunderstands, who comments on the clip, "What a disgrace of a human being.. the chav whore." Another, "this stupid bitch should be steralized and lobotomized." Another, "Ian is awesome!? This interview is hilarious. Siobahn O'Dowd is fucking retarded."
Well, she may or may not be clinically retarded or otherwise biologically impaired, but she seems to suffer a psychological depravation that comes from a life of poor education, poverty, and being forced to mix with others in the same deprived environment.
If school doesn't catch you and inspire you, if you come from a poor home that offers you little, if you can't figure out that a 200% or 2000% interest to a loan shark isn't a good deal, if a good bargain is knocked-off tele or mobile from the pub, if you think the police are your enemy, if you think the social is out to screw you and you're entitled to crew them, then you are basically screwed for the rest of your life, and you are bound to repeat the whole experience for your own children.
To think the Siobhan O'Dowd's are in control of their lives to any great degree beyond instinctive short sighted responses to problems that come their way, is to be mistaken. To think the common notion of free-will is at work in many of these individuals is a mistake. I'd say it would be mistaken understanding of free-will, but that's another story - yet our misunderstanding of free-will colours our judgement.
This is our under-class, that includes the Siobhan O'Dowd's, the mothers who spend more on cigs that their kids' meals, and the women who learn that some of the men in this environment can't be trusted, because those men too grew up in the same environment, where their inherent worthlessness leads to the abuse of women and children. You have to get a feel for how lost they are to what we consider a normal life to appreciate how much beyond self-help many of them are.
This isn't a liberal lefty plea to let everyone off the hook. As members of a society we have a right (we invent this right and claim it) to have a say in how our fellow members behave, to some extent: Golden Rule, least harm, whatever your view is. We are prepared to say that some behaviours are intolerable, and so we avoid where we can, and criminalise where we have to.
We often hear kids say, "I didn't ask to be born." when trying to avoid their responsibilities. Well, many of these people didn't ask to be born into poor families in deprived areas that condemn them and their children to this perpetual cycle. They will not, cannot, break the cycle. They cannot live up to their responsibilities because they are not equipped to do so.
Only the rest of us can do that for them, if we want to. We can make gestures like Lesley's and help on the ground - but this only alleviates a specific problem for some people. If there is no political will to make bigger changes then we have to accept that this is how it will be.