Society was never perfect, which is why we have always had to have laws and rules and regulations, and a police force and a legal system, to enforce them and to punish law-breakers.
From being toddlers we have been involved in a gradual process of learning the values and principles upon which our society is based and therefore the behaviour that is socially acceptable.
The process typically comes off the rails slightly during the “terrible twos” when we are convinced that the world revolves around us and exists solely for our pleasure and benefit.
The lessons taught and learned at that time in our lives are essential for our psychological and social development, but, sadly, in recent decades there has been a suppression of the right of parents to discipline their children who now grow up never having heard the word “no” and knowing from experience that nothing ever happens to them if they ignore that word even if they do hear it.
The world of the “terrible two-year-old” now continues well beyond that age as undisciplined toddlers grow up to be undisciplined teenagers who, in turn, grow up to be undisciplined adults because no one has ever figuratively, or actually, slapped their legs. They have learned, stage by stage as they got older, that there were never any negative consequences for doing whatever they liked. It’s all about “me, myself and I”.
And so we see the problems that are currently spiralling out of control in terms of the abusive use of social media and the anonymity that people can hide behind while they unleash their often foul-mouthed abusive electronic attacks on other people. It is what happens when individuals still think the world revolves around them.
And it continues on an upward spiral – actually a downward spiral morally speaking – exhibiting itself in the tragic and appalling increase in lives being lost to stabbings and other violent crimes.
Once again, and as unbelievable as it may seem to most right-minded people, it is the self-centred, I’m alright jack, “terrible twos” indiscipline that causes people to act out their concept of “self” even at the cost of someone else’s life, and they have learned that there are never any consequences to ignoring being told not to do something because it is wrong.
In between those two examples are a whole host of self-centred behaviours that are a further illustration of how people think they can behave when everything is about “me, myself and I”. And so breaking speed limits; driving while using a mobile; “neighbours from hell”; “passengers from hell” on trains and planes; spousal abuse; general rudeness and discourtesy and bullying; violent and abusive behaviour toward the police and emergency services personnel – the list goes on. Those (ir)responsible have never heard the word “no” and never had their legs slapped for ignoring it, and even now might only get their wrists slapped and so they don’t care.
The hand-wringing continues as statistics show how violent our society has become. Why is life apparently regarded so cheaply that people are maiming and killing without a second thought?
I submit all of the above as a general explanation, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the spiralling statistics started when we became such an enlightened(!) permissive society, removing the right of parents (and teachers) to discipline children, and taking away from our police powers to do whatever they need to do in order to carry out the job we expect of them in enforcing the law.
Once upon a time people wouldn’t have dared lay a hand on a police officer or they would have paid dearly for it – in court for certain, but maybe also down a convenient back alley in the meantime (when people weren’t carrying smartphones to film it). Now police are being stabbed in our streets, so little regard is there for what it is they stand for.
And if the interference of do-gooders is where all the problems began, isn’t it rather obvious what we need to do in order correct those past mistakes and get our society back on the right track once again?
Neil McNicholas is a parish priest in Yarm.