Was Saturday night an orgy of mindless violence or a cry of rage from a marginalised, disaffected part of society?
The images of youths torching buildings and cars, attacking police and laying waste to a community rightly anger. Never mind the sight of adults old enough to know better filling their cars with looted TVs and stolen clothes.
But it took place in a part of London where resentment by some against the police had been building for days after a 29-year-old man, Mark Duggan, was shot dead by officers in an incident the circumstances of which may not be fully understood until an Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation is completed.
For BBC journalists, there is no question of personal responsibility. People simply react, like underprivileged automata, to poverty and marginalisation.
No BBC article is complete without a reference to Coalition Cuts, and they somberly report that police budgets "are being squeezed by 20%" and that "Haringey Council, the borough that contains Tottenham, has seen its youth service budget slashed by 75%".
However, this paragraph stood out to me:
... if it were poverty alone were the driving factor, one would expect communities in the cities of the north of Britain, not the south, to have been in flames on Saturday night.There are two politically incorrect answers: that those involved are genetically predisposed to violence, and that they are culturally that way inclined. A rational, dispassionate observer would not dismiss either possibility out of hand, but both theories are taboo in modern Britain.
Whatever the truth, I like to think that no man is a slave to his genes, and that cultural attitudes can be changed. People do respond to incentives, but what's needed here is not more Diversity Outreach Advisors, handouts, or special exemptions to university admissions standards.
Rather than encouraging a sense of victimhood, we need to ensure that work pays, and that teenagers don't see pregnancy as a route to income and housing.
Nothing fosters resentment like welfare dependency and the enduring poverty it brings. And nothing engenders self-respect and social integration like personal enrichment through voluntary exchange with other members of society.