Regarding What Happened Uptown

I’m not going to write a very big long thing about this (really), but if you’ve been following the news at all you will be aware that last week was a very rough one for England.* There’s no point in my recapping it all here.

bham city centre saturday

Victoria Square in Birmingham on Saturday. Notice the glaziers' trucks.

I will, however, say that the looting and unrest provided many lessons in How To Be Human. This is a fundamental concern for most people, and systems that purport to teach how to do this form the basis (in theory, at least) of all the world’s major religions.

In my opinion, we are all animals born with the potential to behave like human beings, but actually being human– using rational thought to weigh a course of action, suppressing violent tendencies, refusing to fear, persecute, or ostracize those who are different while being lenient with those like us– is a conscious choice.

There are two ways we make people aware they have this choice:

1) Through training in childhood (moral instruction, religious or secular, that does not come with a side order of fear and guilt)

2) Through inclusion in society– i.e., having a stake in a common fate with others

People who lack either of these things tend to fail to become fully human (you could also call this “fully adult”, I guess).  You see this with insanely rich or insanely powerful people who have walled themselves off from reality and wind up committing crimes of one type or another because they think they’re untouchable. You see it with children who were victims of abuse and then go on to become abusers.

You’ve seen it out there on our streets in the last week, too. Reading the names of those who’ve been arrested and charged in the papers, you see a lot of teenagers who clearly did not absorb any kind of useful message about right or wrong. You see a lot of people from the poorer end of society who felt they wanted some of what others had got, lawfully or not.

You also see entirely too many people with decent working-class jobs, over the age of 21, who suddenly failed to choose to behave like humans at the critical moment when the greedy lizard brain took over (the “I just got swept away” defense).

This is just my way of explaining what I’m seeing, which is different from excusing the behavior. I don’t. I hope people who committed crimes are punished appropriately, particularly the people involved in murdering Haroon Jahan, Shazad Ali,  and Abdul Musavir on the Dudley Road last Wednesday.

But we can’t just say “criminals, yo, they be crazy! Shoot ’em all!” Demanding revenge rather than justice is a lapse in our humanity. Failing to attempt to understand what drives others is a lapse in our own humanity– after all, there but for the grace of God go you, right?

We need to look at people who are not included in society, whether they’re smashing windows to steal sneakers or inventing possibly illegal new ways to gamble other people’s money or abusing their positions of authority to destroy the lives of others. We need to understand why they behaved the way they did, identify others who might be like them, and see how we can bring these at-risk people on board with the common purpose of civilization.

And we need to evaluate ourselves, every action, every day, to see if we are behaving to our fullest, most human capacity.

*I say “England” rather than “The UK” because there were no reported outbreaks of this craziness in Scotland, Northern Ireland, or Wales.

P.S.: Key primer in “how to be human” in the video below. Don’t watch in a place where it isn’t okay to cry:


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