Monday, August 15, 2011

The Philadelphia Solution

It’s happening over there, but it could be happening over here.

Today, we have flash mobs roaming the streets of major American cities, descending on innocent civilians, robbing and beating them. At other times they swarm like locusts in a store and clean out whatever they can carry out.

The police are either helpless to stop them or lack the will to do anything about it.

England used to have roaming bands of drunken youths who made it impossible for older people to venture outside their homes in the evening.

Now these youth have graduated to riots.

Theodore Dalrymple describes what it was like in England before the recent riots: “The youth of Britain have long placed a de facto curfew on the old, who in most places would no more think of venturing forth after dark than would peasants in Bram Stoker's Transylvania. Indeed, well before the riots last week, respectable persons would not venture into the centers of most British cities or towns on Friday and Saturday nights, for fear—and in the certainty—of encountering drunken and aggressive youngsters. In Britain nowadays, the difference between ordinary social life and riot is only a matter of degree, not of type.

“A short time ago, I gave a talk in a school in an exquisite market town, deep in the countryside. Came Friday night, however, and the inhabitants locked themselves into their houses against the invasion of the barbarians. In my own little market town of Bridgnorth, in Shropshire, where not long ago a man was nearly beaten to death 20 yards from my house, drunken young people often rampage down one of its lovely little streets, causing much damage and preventing sleep. No one, of course, dares ask them to stop. The Shropshire council has dealt with the problem by granting a license for a pub in the town to open until 4 a.m., as if what the town needed was the opportunity for yet more and later drunkenness.”

Some sad souls are telling us that young Brits are rioting because the government is going to take away some of their welfare benefits. The truth seems to be that these “feral” bands of young people are the product of a welfare state that saps initiative, fails to punish criminality, and systematically undermines character.

British culture has long since abandoned strict policing, good personal habits, and a work ethic. In their place it has been offering empathy and understanding.

If you want to know where a therapy culture leads, look to the formerly Great Britain.

There, even the conservative mayor of London, Boris Johnson, declared that we needed to offer the rioters… more empathy and understanding.

This and other comments suggests that the new enlightened British way of addressing these issues is to offer help, not punishment, handouts, not jobs.

In his words: “We must look into the minds of the looters and the robbers, and try to grasp why you would dip into the backpack of a young man you were pretending to help.”

Compare this to the American reaction to the growth of flash mobs. Compare it especially to what Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter said in a recent sermon.

Since Philadelphia had become an epicenter of lawlessness, Nutter felt called upon to address the problem and to put an end to it.

Nutter says that his sermon is not very PC; he is correct. It also stands in stark opposition to therapy culture values.

Nutter told the parishioners: “The first is, this nonsense must stop. It must stop. If you want to act like a butthead, your butt is going to get locked up. And if you want to act like an idiot, move, move out of this city. We don’t want you here anymore.”

He continued: “We won’t tolerate it, and we’re not going to excuse it, because there is no excuse for it. Sense and nonsense cannot exist in the same place, in the same city, in the same world, and is not going to happen here in Philadelphia.”

And then: “So, to our young people. If you want black folks, if you want white folks, Latinos, Asians, or anybody else to respect you, and not be afraid when they see you walking down the street, then leave the innocent people who are walking down the street, minding their own damn business, leave them alone. Stop it. Cut it out. We’ve had enough of this nonsense going on. We’ve had enough. Some of them should be ashamed of their behavior. And some of them have made shame on our race.”

Later he offered some advice to young people who are seeking jobs: “And another thing. Take those doggone hoodies down, especially in the summer. Pull your pants up and buy a belt, because no one wants to see your underwear or the crack of your butt. Nobody. Buy a belt. Buy a belt. Nobody wants to see your underwear. Comb your hair. And get some grooming skills. Comb your hair. Running round here with your hair all over the place. Learn some manners. Keep your butt in school, graduate from high school, go on to college so you can go and make something of yourself and be a good citizen, here in this city. And why don’t you work on extending your English vocabulary. Extend your English vocabulary beyond the few curse words that you know, some other grunts and grumbles and other things that none of us can understand what you’re saying. And if you go to look for a job, don’t go blame it on the white folks, or anybody else. If you walk in somebody’s office with your hair uncombed and a pick in the back and your shoes untied and your pants half down, tattoos up and down your arm, on your face, on your neck, and you wonder why somebody won’t hire you. They don’t hire you because you look like you’re crazy. That’s why they’re not hiring you.”

Sometimes we obsess so much about speaking truth to power that we forget to speak the truth to those less powerful, but perhaps more in need of hearing the truth.

Nutter’s call for personal responsibility is an extraordinary gesture. He does not call for new programs; he does not say that these are misunderstood youth.

He tells young people that they need to get to work, and that they need to adopt the character traits that would make them employable.

He is offering the antidote to the entitlement culture that has ruined Britain and that is in the process of doing the same in America.

But he is not just offering words. Nutter declared a curfew for high school students and sent his police force out to make sure that it was obeyed.

Of course, the problem is hardly limited to Philadelphia. It has shown its ugly face in a number of American cities.

Yet, where the British version is diverse, American flash mobs tend to commit black on white violence.

Nutter’s words are striking because they are addressed to the black community that is the source of the violence.

To my knowledge he is the only major African-American political leader who has spoken out this forcefully on the issue. Our president and attorney general have been silent.

Whether the social disease afflicts a diverse population in England or a largely black population in America, it has been produced by the same cultural malformation, the same effort to undermine the good order and discipline of traditional American culture.

We too have schools that do not teach, schools that demand little of their students, schools that offer empathy and understanding in place of strict guidelines and rules.

We too have a rash of dysfunctional and disordered families, situations in themselves that allow children to grow up in anomie.

We recall reading about British families where one woman has several children with several different men, none of whom are present. And we know that the British welfare system is underwriting this social chaos.

It has produced a generation of children who have no grounding, do not know where, if anywhere, they belong, and have no real investment in anything more than their own cheap thrills.

Of course, similar conditions exist in America’s inner cities, the places where welfare and social programs have been given almost free reign.

And, of course, a culture that offers empathy and understanding is not a culture that teaches right and wrong, good and bad.

Children are systematically being brought up without a moral compass.

In theory, a culture based on empathy sounds loving and caring. It feels like it ought to make everyone bask in the glow of enhanced mental health.

In practice, it produces anomie and anarchy.

It’s believers might think that it is just do-goodism gone a little too far. In fact, it will undermine American culture, and produce American decline, as it produced British decline.

We ought to be thankful that there are political leaders like Michael Nutter who know how to lead on the issue. We have a right to expect that other politicians will follow, beginning at the top.


Robert Pearson said...

"Sense and nonsense cannot exist in the same place, in the same city, in the same world, and is not going to happen here in Philadelphia." - Mayor Nutter

"It is impossible that the same thing belong and not belong to the same thing at the same time and in the same respect." - Aristotle, Metaphysics

The other day we talked about drew Westen's BA from Harvard and seeming lack of a classical education. Mayor Nutter went to Catholic schools all the way through 12th grade...

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks for the info... somehow I am not at all surprised.