August 21, 2011
There are tens of thousands of young men in our major cities who belong to a culture which is now seeking to assert itself.
It is not a culture based on race, since many of its adherents are black, white and mixed race. But it is a distinctive culture and one which has gained vigour and members because those who should have known better have ignored the vacuous creeds which lie at its heart. Let us - broadly - call it 'gang' culture. It is certainly not a manifestation of 'black' consciousness. Some commentators will use that word. It is as unhelpful as it is inaccurate. If you are a Nigerian stockbroker or a Ugandan doctor, you are not likely to feel any sense of solidarity with men in hoods speaking street patois and carrying 'steel'.
What, then, does this gang culture venerate? Masculinity, violence, sexuality, materialism. On one level it does not sound that different from the shallow parts of mainstream culture it exists within.
However, on other levels it is uniquely distinctive and vicious. It promotes misogyny and homophobia. Such intolerant expressions are frequently tolerated. Beyond a crude sense of kinship between those who belong, there is very little which could be described as 'positive' about gang culture. Its apologists will say it is nihilistic because a life of joblessness, police intimidation, poor housing, zero social mobility and ugly urban living provide few reasons to be cheerful.
They have a point. But they are not right.
At the heart of gang culture is a hole where the family once sat. The hierarchies within gang culture and the matrix of ties of obligation sub-consciously mimic families. In parts of London a majority of young men in gangs will not be brought up by their biological fathers, any father in fact. They are not set boundaries by a male role model. The rejection of any rules of behaviour laid down by a mother are quickly overthrown. There are rites of passage but they are unedifying and certainly nothing to do with the family; first encounters with sex, drugs, ASBOs, young offenders institutions, firearms and prison.
Of course, this may well all blow over and be seen as nothing more than a night or two of midsummer madness. But there are worst-case scenarios and they are of sufficient seriousness that the PM might think about cutting short his summer holidays. Ultimately, there could be a flight of the talented, the ambitious and the law-abiding from the newly-riot-blighted parts of London which will allow those left behind to further impose their crass worldview. There will be lots of hand-wringing by those who exclusively blame outside forces - the economy, schools, politicians, the police, the media - for the hard lot of those who think that looting carpet underlay is a viable expression of anger.
There will be a massive policing bill - not least for the Notting Hill Carnival at the end of this month - which has the potential to be a public order nightmare on a scale never seen before
on this island. Hopefully, last night's rioting will be an end of the aggravation and the beginning of a meaningful debate about our gang culture; a phenomenon which has much more to do with fatherlessness than many of us are prepared to acknowledge.