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August 10, 2011


Adam Bell

That other thing, of course, is 'improving peoples' economic situation /my/ way'. I don't think anyone disagrees with making people better off, they just disagree with the means. I, for example, disagree with some left-wing means of doing so: http://declineofthelogos.wordpress.com/2011/08/10/a-tale-of-many-cities/


"The Left, of course, can answer this; poor youth feel no obligations to society because society has done nothing to benefit them."

You mean apart from maternity care, free health care, education ect?..and policing when dad takes to beating up mum.

You could make a case that every 16 year old in the country is poor as they have never earned anything yet

As for parenting, for 14 years I thought my father was some sort of playmate, then just a mate. Then at 16 for some reason I did not understand until I was a father too, he started being a policeman and spent a good deal of time hitting my head.

I dont wish to appear condescending but this is how parenting works, for the first 12 years men dont really matter, mothers matter, after that you really do matter. Fathers instill norms and "obligations" into their children.

I am sure strong females can compensate more so than strong males can when it comes to being a single father family, but its always a better bet to have the real thing.

SO what the academics really need to know is the state of the household all through the child's life to adulthood to have real grasp on the dynamics.

I think you will find they are rioting because to them it feels good, I am sure the vast majority of them will feel embarrassed at 45 the way I do as they way I was at 16, and it might acutely make them good parents.

A mistake is less of a mistake if you learn from it, my dad told me that.


There is a crucial part of the picture missing here, both in Phillips' analysis and in your response. Both focus on the presence or absence of actual fathers. However, the deeper issue here may be the presence or absence of the role of fatherhood.

The social importance of the role of fatherhood suffers at the hands of those thinkers who wish to predict the dignity of single parenthood, presuming that any stress on the importance of fatherhood must be a thinly veiled accusation of the single mum who does everything she can for the sake of her kids. It suffers at the hands of those who regard any stress upon the role of fatherhood as an affront to gender equality (interchangeability?) and the sexual autonomy of women. It also suffers at the hands of those who wish to detach the family from its biological roots and relation to reproductive reality and any supposed right in the ordinary course of affairs that a child might have to be raised by the parents who conceived them (as in support for gay marriage).

We are troubled by widespread single motherhood in society not primarily because children are supposedly doomed to dysfunctional upbringings, but because this phenomenon is indicative of a loss of the chief role that serves to socialize young men. The role of fatherhood is one of the foremost ways that society affirms the value and necessity of the positive engagement of its young men and gives purpose to their lives and masculinity. The role of fatherhood is society's way of telling the young man that his active and committed involvement is important, indeed necessary, for the success of society's project.

Where society no longer provides roles such as fatherhood through which men can affirm the value of their masculinity, masculinity will be expressed in anti-social ways. Having interacted personally and over periods of months and years with a number of young men from deprived and criminal backgrounds (living in the same house as them, as they were helped through their issues), I cannot stress enough the importance of patterns of masculinity in their behaviour. Nor can the importance of fatherhood as a means of taming dysfunctional patterns of male behaviour and transforming their psychological outlook on life be denied.

Where there is a widespread abandonment of the role of fatherhood, society will fail to affirm young men in the value of their participation. Men can find themselves viewed as little more than inseminators. How many of the rioting young men would not have rioted had they grown up in a society that told them that they were needed and valued, or if they knew that their commitment and involvement was essential to the well-being of a spouse and their children (one of the reasons why government provision for single mothers and their kids, while necessary, can send out unhealthy signals to men)?


As you imply the comment on the "civil unrest" is merely an excuse for mostly right wing moral panic merchants to trot out their pet theories to justify cuts or vice versa to hit the Government with a stick for the opposition. "Red Ken" lost no time. Generalisations are usually simplistic. Without detailed social research conclusions are difficult to draw; and revealed preference theory would cast doubt anyway on the reliability of self expressed explanations for behaviour made by rioters. It seems to me that some people have an impoverished ability to enjoy life if looting and violence are their only recreational outlet. They need a constructive hobby. Will the small stock of looted goods really confer that much utility on the looters? Unlikely. So revealing the defects of a crass materialism. With respect to family structure it is important to remember that there may be no connection between it and the events. Children do have their own characters that can be seen often from an early age. As Chris pointed out people can reject their parents example. It is comforting for many people to think their is a formula for producing a good and happy person or society, which usually involves the idea everyone else should have the same lifestyle that "worked for me" or worked for their parents generation or work's here or there in the world. It may be comforting to trot out the preferred formula but not necessarily correct.


"Michelangelo, Washington, Lincoln, Darwin and Newton were all products of lone parent families and they didn‘t turn out too bad."

This is easily explained by pointing to the shortness of life expectancy until recently. All these greats had lost a parent, but millions of nonentities who were their contemporaries had lost a parent as well. It used to be the rule rather than the exception.

"I’m tempted to think that, maybe, talk about the riots is motivated by something other than a desire to understand or prevent them."

In Mary Midgley's underrated little book Can't We Make Moral Judgements?, there is a sentence that resonates within me regularly many years after reading it first: "There is a very common tendency in human societies to exploit institutions of blame and punishment by using them simply as excuses for indulging in uninhibited cruelty."

Tim Almond

improve people’s economic situation and they’d have more to lose by rioting and so they’d not do it.

The key thing is having something individually to lose. Throwing more money at benefits or social programs gives people no extra incentive.

Introduce a citizen's income, lower the tax rate and people will start going to work because it's worth it. Then they'll be less likely to carry out petty crime because they'd rather keep their job.

alan alawaki

well it woudl be good to analyse the parental status of the rioter's being booked now and see how many came from single mothers , but it wont happen because thats the sort of evidence leftwing socialologists dont collect to prove their theory.

alan alawaki

missing dads are part of the problem along with the absolute failure of labours 12 year multicultural & social policy experiment to create a labour voting dependency culture

Harmonious Jim

The concept to use is paternal investment, or lack thereof (not the fatuous idea of role model).

The other concept you need is female mate choice: the mothers are choosing a certain kind of mate.

Put the two together and you get beyond pundits moralizing and some way to an understanding.

Paternal investment is correlated with the latitude a population evolved in: low in tropical populations, higher as it gets colder. Perchance might genes influence levels of paternal investment?


Really interesting one. I agree, to an extent, with your last point:

"In principle, Ms Phillips' theory is consistent with a Leftist answer to the riots - improve people’s economic situation and they’d have more to lose by rioting and so they’d not do it"

I'm a great believer in the idea that if people have nothing to lose they are more likely to commit crime, but your formulation doesn't quite capture this right. Let's say that in a riot the chances of getting caught looting are low, but far from zero. Our sample person is on benefits, but a free man. He has something to lose by rioting (his freedom) but higher benefits won't change the loss equation for him. A job, on the other hand, would. Not only might he lose his freedom, but he might also lose his livelihood. This applies also to 'a decent prospect of a job'.

As a caring society we are unlikely to do what the most popular of government's new e-petitions calls for and remove benefits from rioters. So (rightist argument warning) the disincentive to riot for the long-term jobless type is pretty low.


alan alawaki,

" Millionaire's daughter Laura Johnson, 19, was charged with stealing £5,000-worth of electronic goods, including a Toshiba TV, Goodmans TV, microwave and mobile phones."

"Her father is a businessman with directorships in several companies"

But don't let the facts get in the way of misogynistic hostility to single parents.


Harmonious Jim's point about female mate choice is worth pondering. Whereas most societies known to man involve male economic dominance, in welfare society, single mothers will receive disproportionate resources. The high 'price' of sex (the expectation of long term faithfulness, financial provision, reliability, etc.) is in large measure set by women. Men will generally seek to lower this price. The high price of sex drives men to become responsible, reliable, and provident members of society in order to be regarded as viable partners.

The fact that single mothers independently command far more resources than their partners changes the economics of the sexual marketplace. Within the community it lowers the price of sex, as women no longer economically depend upon the provision of a man. As the price of sex is lowered, there are fewer expectations of men. When men get what they want sexually without having to shape up in order to do so, they simply do not have the incentives to act as responsible grown ups.

The economic value that a committed man brings to a relationship in such a context may be negligible. Unreconstructed though it may seem, in most situations both sexes will tend to be unsatisfied with a situation where the female partner earns considerably more or holds much higher social power than the male. Men who feel emasculated in such a situation would be far more prone to abusive, predatory, or promiscuous patterns of behaviour as a means to assert what dominance they can, when demonstrating competence and providence is difficult.

Chris' post makes the connection between fatherlessness and economic disadvantage. However, this economic disadvantage is a powerful incentive to women to seek responsible, reliable, provident, and long term committed partners, which is in turn a powerful incentive to men to shape up. Removing the economic disadvantage of fatherlessness may have dangerous and undesired effects upon the sexual economy.



Well that would be a 'fact' if the aforementioned Laura Johnson was a typical example of the few thousand who indulged in this orgy of greed and irresponsibility, but she's not, is she? You're highlighting of her illuminates that.


I’m tempted to think that, maybe, talk about the riots is motivated by something other than a desire to understand or prevent them.

Or as Captain Renault didn't quite say: 'Let's blame the usual suspects...'


"fatherlessness, like poverty, has existed for years and yet the riots are only occurring now"

Only half of Chris' statement makes sense. Fatherless has existed for a long time but so have riots.

In the 20th century we have had large scale riots in 7 out of 10 decades. Here is a list of riots in London going back to the 12th century: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_riots_in_London.

Many of the riots in the second half of the twentieth century involved looting and were not a considered political act. Participants frequently stating a feeling of marginalisation and victimisation by the police as part of the cause.

If riots are due to poor parenting there is no reason to think the present riots provide evidence that parenting has got worse, just not better. I'm not sure how fruitful a project it is running around looking for new social phenomenon (an increase in absentee fathers, fall in the price of sex or a decrease in corporal punishment) to explain the long occurring phenomenon of riots.

Churm Rincewind

"The answer is that...people riot for the same reason that I write about economics - because the benefits outweigh the costs."

And what are the benefits of rioting, exactly? Or do you really mean looting?

That's where your argument falls down. The reason no-one sees a link between Melanie Phillip's analysis and the "Leftist" view is because there isn't one. You're talking about looting; she's talking about rioting.


'people riot for the same reason that I write about economics - because the benefits outweigh the costs. And one reason why the costs of rioting are low is that such people have little to lose.'

Is this economic imperialism I see before me? I really don't think it's this simple; the idea that people are constantly making cost benefit analyses with their decisions is strange way to look at the world.

Firstly, do they have the tools to do a CBA? There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding whether they'll be caught; what they'll steal, whether they will get Kudos, the attention they seek, etc.

Secondly, is that actually what goes through people's minds? The two girls saying 'this is how we show rich people we do what we want' may have just been peddling the party line, but I think a significant amount of people were just lashing out in the same way you might kick a chest of drawers if you walk into it.

There was probably some 'rational' stealing, but overall I don't think you can use cost benefit analysis with something like the riots.

robert the crip

Interesting so do we treat soldiers who died in wars started by Politicians as missing, perhaps they tried to get killed.
fathers who die in road accidents, accident at work, Ms Phillips has a brain which is wiothout doubt not working.

Riots in most cities tend to end up Looting, never mind the American police are here and have already annoyed Mr cameron he stated Kangroo courts do not work.

Laban Tall

Harmonious and Zugzwanged indeed have a point - if you subsidise something, you get more of it. Those on the free-market right who claim that State intervention in a industry can only ever be negative should ponder on the productivity triumph of the vitally important bastardy sector.

"A remarkable feature of English demographic history is the explosion in childbearing outside marriage during the last quarter of the twentieth century, after 400 years of relative stability. Over the period 1845-1960, the percentage of births outside marriage moved within a small range, averaging about 5% ... After 1960, when the contraceptive pill was introduced, childbearing outside marriage began to climb slowly, and it exploded after 1980, reaching 42% in 2004."


Black communities in England have the highest rates of illegitimacy and absent fathers, as that Camilla Bfhjfhdjfhjd is always pointing out. Does the culture of rap reflect this reality, reinforce it, or is it a dialectic process ?


Given the strong effect of the peer group, I think it must be true that a "fatherless child" in a society where children generally have two parents is considerably different from a fatherless child in a society of fatherless children.

Which brings me to a curiosity. In principle, Ms Phillips' theory is consistent with a Leftist answer to the riots - improve people’s economic situation and they’d have more to lose by rioting and so they’d not do it.

I think that's too simplistic. I don't think it's "having stuff" which makes you not want to risk losing it, it's being invested in your stuff. If your stuff represents significant effort on your part, you take care of it. Free stuff? People take much less care.


I must be missing something. Please point me to the evidence that lots of rioters have absent fathers? I don't see it in the court case lists.

Jonathan Barnes

Economies around the world are collapsing at a breakneck pace, but there is still time to prepare ... http://goo.gl/25cDy


I think Chris is underestimating the power and toxicity of the vicious circles that suck these young men into a life of violence, crime and futility.

In many cases, it is not just that fathers are absent. Often they are (temporarily) replaced by other male interlopers who father further children with the same woman and then disappear from her life. These males themselves present an insidious example for the male children in the family – at best they are irresponsible, and in many cases they will be involved in criminal activity. But they may also both show cruelty and neglect towards children that are not their own, but also encourage it in the mothers.

And then you have to think about the impact of such unhappy and ill-brought-up children on the school environment. Even a relatively small number of them in a class are probably sufficient to ruin the learning environment and encourage destructive and self-destructive behaviour among fellow pupils.

The result is that large numbers of children are leaving school not only without the fundamental educational attainments needed to succeed in the workplace, but also a set of attitudes that glorify violence and criminality and hold in contempt the humdrum graft that the vast majority of people need in order to succeed in their careers.

The reason why there is no future for them is not because there are no jobs. In London, there’s always a job for someone who is prepared to work hard. It is that they are psychologically incapable of doing any sort of job that does not provide instant rewards and gratification and requires them to show discipline and humility.

And then all this starts over again, except next time round it is probably worse.

So, of course, it is not just fatherlessness that makes these youths feral; it is a nasty cocktail of circumstances that become ever more toxic with each succeeding generation.


Personally, I would not say tbat they are to blame, but when the role figure of the father is not clear and his authoritative figure is missing, children have no limits.

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Agood dad can be a good role model. But equally, a bad one can be a bad role model and so it might be better if he leaves; if I’d regarded my dad as a role model, I’d have become a gangster

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