Another breakdown in our society?

Reading an article in the Scottish Review the other day got me thinking about the perennial question of whether our society (or more accurately the people who inhabit our society) are sliding down the greasy morality pole. Now, you may ask why, in a year that has seen some dramatic riotous events ranging from Tahrir Square at the beginning of 2011, to the streets of London in the summer, was I prompted to think about this subject by what, in comparison, is a rather mundane, albeit troubling, scene on a rural country bus in Scotland. Good question, and I’m not sure. Perhaps it is easier to explain away the large scale events with labels such as revolution, social change, unemployment or overthrow of tyrrany. However, when we see or hear about ‘bad behaviour’ by a small number of youths, causing disruption or offence to innocent people who are going about their daily lives, we reach out for old and over-used phrases such as ‘breakdown in the social fabric of our communities’, or lack of ‘social cohesion’, or simply ‘I blame the parents!’. Tabloids will often follow these headlines up with arguments that predict our society sliding into social turmoil, an apocalyptic vision of civil disorder, the lack of any moral compass amongst the youth of today. This is the daily diet the media feeds us on. They have an obsession with fear mongering, and fear is triggered easily in humans, so it is an easy outcome to generate. Are things really so much worse, and are they really becoming worse with each generation? Am I alone in remembering how awful our history has been, and how low our predecessors have sunk in the name of humanity. Without even having to touch on events such as the holocaust, the slave trade or Hiroshima, what about the razor gangs of the 20s and 30s or what about the football hooligans of the 70s. We can’t keep sweeping these under the carpet and re-writing history as if things have never been so bad. Things are not changing as dramatically as the media would have us believe. The liberal-minded, middle classes and aspiring working classes have always gasped in horror when confronted with what some people are capable of. What does change are individual people, and gaps do emerge between different people’s expectations of good and bad behaviour. The wider the gap becomes, the more people are shocked and horrified at what other members of their species get up to, and they distance themselves from it. Perhaps a natural reaction, but not a new one, and not a sign that this generation’s behaviour will result in any more of a breakdown in our society than has happened before.

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