Whilst out doing some photography I noticed an elderly lady repeatedly attempting and repeatedly failing to raise herself from the bench and approached intending to lend a hand and anticipating someone assisting her. The only physical action performed by the three bystanders involved twisting their necks and watching. By the time I reached her she had finally managed to stand.
This (albeit laterally) got me questioning recent comments made by politicians and the media describing the riots over the past months. Several terms have been banded about including these – attributed to David Cameron – calling rioters ‘irresponsible’, ‘selfish’ and having a ‘twisted moral code’. These behaviours could equally apply to the bystanders in the photograph and to myself (taking a photograph of the lady struggling). The context is different but are the behaviours morally and ethically any worse? A ‘rioter’ was jailed for the opportunistic stealing of a £3.50 worth of water. He did not, from what I have read, damage property. His crime was walking past a supermarket which had its window smashed, he walked in took the water and left, ethically wrong but selfish? There was no malice, just blatant in your face opportunism, an act of creative spontaneity. In his youth Boris Johnson reputedly used a flower pot to deliberately stove-in a restaurant window, both Tony Blair and David Cameron have admitted smoking cannabis (but they did not inhale), George Osborne is photographed next to a brothel mistress and what resembles a line of cocaine (but no impropriety occurred…), Elliot Morley and some MPs are jailed for defrauding the public purse but released ridiculously early. Read into these examples what you will. Are their acts any superior to opportunistic rioters? Does getting away with it (and having the contacts / networks that allow a person to do so) allow one to occupy the moral high ground? Does some ones class / social position / age allow them to circumvent normative ethical behaviours? There was good quote by Tim Farron saying – “The super-rich do not need to go down Ealing High Street nicking TVs to demonstrate contempt for society”.
The people on the benches whilst not committing any crime could appear to be acting irresponsibly, selfishly and with a twisted moral code based on David Cameron’s logic. The lady with crutches appeared very infirm – is it right to just sit and watch an individual (no matter who they are) struggle without intervening?. On the flip side it could be argued the only reason for non-intervention was that the onlookers themselves were elderly and incapable of helping. “Teamwork, discipline, duty, decency…old-fashioned words…part of the solution to this very modern problem of alienated, angry young people.” These words by Cameron invoke the supposed values of times gone by (yet another cliche). With this viewpoint alienated, angry young people could easily be substituted with ‘indifferent onlookers’.
Why are these words called old fashioned? Do these values not exist today? Have they ever only existed during a specific period in history? Gangs members for example use teamwork, discipline and have a duty and decency to each other – the very values Cameron espouses. I personally think values today are no different to those any time throughout history, they just evolve and adapt to any given environment, society and community. The Blitz spirit is often invoked by politicians, Britain banding together against a common enemy. What is not spoken of are the people stealing valuables from corpses and looting that took place, not such a cohesive place after all. Less all for one, more some people for themselves. I am not a historian – just another member of the proletariat – so don’t take these views as reasoned analysis, they are purely musings on a damp overcast day. I doubt there has ever been a time when behaviours were substantially better than now. Even those condescendingly described as ‘feral youths’, in the right time, right place might have helped this lady, however these specific bystanders – in this specific time, location and personal circumstances – did not. What does that tell us about society? Not much only that human interactions are highly complex and cannot be easily accounted for using populist slogans.