The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The London Riots and the Collapse of Civilization.

The riots in London, over the shooting of one Mr. Duggan, a father of four, who apparently had a gun on him, at the time the police attempted to arrest him. (Well, police say a “non-police gun was found”, which implies as much.) The circumstances of his shooting don’t seem entirely clear, since the only bullet the police have found that might have been from him, turns out to be one of the police’s own. It was found embedded in a police radio. It seems that at least one officer is either unable to distinguish his fellow policemen, from suspects (which is telling, in itself), or he needs some more shooting training.

Conduct and training of the police aside, it is the reaction of the public, in Tottenham, initially that concerns me: they rioted. Cars were torched. Buildings were burnt to the ground. Shops were looted – indeed, rioters were seen pushing shopping trolleys loaded with stolen electronic goods. Police officers were attacked. I understand even shopkeepers were dragged out of their shops and kicked in the head. In the subsequent couple of days, rioting has spread, contagion-like, to Birmingham, Liverpool and Bristol, as well as many other areas within London including Clapham, Brixton, Ealing and Croydon. There are streets in Ealing in which every single storefront has been smashed in. Quite simply, the UK has gone mad.

I look at this situation, in which a single police incident can spark riots across a nation, and I think one very clear thought: civilization is very fragile. We delude ourselves, daily, into thinking that the civilized lives we have come to expect, will always be there. We delude ourselves into thinking that the nation states in which live, are stable. We delude ourselves into thinking that the average man is quite nice really and would never dream of harming us. Not so. Civilization can vanish overnight. Nation states can crumble in an afternoon. The average man can, in the right circumstances, commit crimes that make it to the front pages of newspapers around the world. In fact, they have, in the past few days, in London. The rioters are referred to as “young people”, as if youth were their only distinguishing characteristic. Many of them are, it is said, black. However, some are white, too. They are, I understand, generally “working class”…that is pretty “average men”. Yet, what they have decided to do, en masse, sets them apart from our expectations of the average man.

It is clear that the spark that set off this particular human blaze, was little more than an excuse, for the rioters to strike out at society and enrich themselves by looting stores, in the process. This seems likely since the troubles have spread far beyond the immediate locality in which Mr. Duggan lived and was, presumably, known. Hundreds of rioters, across the country, with no connection to Mr. Duggan at all, have elected to riot. They have, it seems, taken the pretext of the Tottenham disturbance and used it to pursue their own, immediate, short term goals. These seem both trivial and malicious. Electronics retailers have been looted of every single viable item. Shoe stores have been trashed. Sporting goods stores have been emptied. Clothing stores have been ransacked. Even convenience stores have been raided, with people stealing ice cream and toilet paper. It does seem rather ridiculous that they should attack police officers, beat up shopkeepers, burn cars and set fire to buildings, all in the quest for an ice cream – but what should not be overlooked here, is what it all means. It is the physical statement, by a large number of youths, that they refuse to abide by the system of society in which effort leads to reward – that to achieve something, one must do something, personally. They have, instead, elected to take, what is not theirs, en masse, under the cover of great civil disorder that they have created. There is great peril in this situation. You see, there is the risk that not only will the perpetrators of these riots learn a lesson, from this – but that thousands, perhaps millions of other disaffected youths, will learn a lesson, too, not only in England, but throughout the world. The lesson is this: the State is powerless to stop rioters from looting, stealing what they please, if they do so in large groups, simultaneously, in many locations – as has been happening in London. There simply isn’t the manpower to control simultaneous civil disturbances. The police will not do much to intervene when there are too few of them to do so safely against the rioting crowds. This lesson particularly applies to a state like the UK, in which the police generally make little use of guns and it is not expected that they should do so. They are expected to use gentler means to control crowds. Some commenters, online, have urged the use of guns, by the police, to quell the riots. This would seem to be a very dangerous tactic indeed since the riots began with the shooting of one man: how much more incensed might they become if others were shot, too? The very nation could descend into universal chaos, as the young – and it must be said, poor – took up whatever weapons they could find or make, and took out their anger on the police.

The stability of a nation depends on an unspoken contract with the people, that they should respect the law and abide by the “system”. In traditional times, most people do this – and so civilized life is possible. However, under times of strain, some people decide not to obey the system and to tear up the contract. When enough people do so, at the same time, a nation can become impossible to govern, without taking the direst – and potentially most inflammatory – of steps. The UK is not far from such a situation. Many areas have rioted, affecting cities across the nation. So, many different groups of youths, have experimented with what it feels like to disobey the social contract, en masse – and to reach out and take whatever they please and, in many cases, attack whomever they want.

At this time, there is no telling whether the riots will naturally subside, or whether this civil chaos, will spread further. Whether it spreads, or not, many youths will have learnt a lesson that it would be better that they had not. They may seem powerless in their typically unemployed lives – but together, acting as one chaotic being, they have great power. They have the power to take whatever they please, do whatever they please, the power to smash, destroy, loot and burn, maim and, even kill (some arrests have been made for attempted murder associated with the riots). Very few of the youths involved in these crimes are ever likely to be caught and convicted – there are simply too many of them. Thus, word of the power that they have within them all, as a group, is likely to spread far and wide. They will have learnt that all they need to do to get something – is simply to reach out and take it, as one, rioting, organism.

Very few people are natural leaders. Yet, all it would take, in the UK, for this situation to become both endemic and dangerous, is for leaders to arise amongst the rioting youths, to direct their efforts, coordinate them, time them and plan them. Such co-ordination, were it to arise, would create an unprecedented challenge to the security of the nation – particularly if it were to spread widely amongst Britain’s millions of unemployed youth.

Britain is on the edge of chaos. The riots that we have so far seen, the burnt buildings and cars, the looted stores and the assaulted shopkeepers, are nothing compared to the potential devastation which could be unleashed were this behavior to be emulated across the nation, by even a small minority of the unemployed and other disaffected people.

Our civilization will, most probably, fall, one day, like many civilizations before it. What might surprise those who see this occurrence is the swiftness with which it could happen. A few days ago, there were no riots in the UK: now there are. The descent into chaos can come as swiftly as the flicking of a light switch. Of course, the circumstances that create the underlying strains, may take years or decades to build up – but the ultimate chaotic expression of those built up pressures, can break out in an instant.

I am struck by how much chaos the shooting of one man, in an attempted arrest, can lead to. Imagine how much greater the potential chaos, were oil to run out…or food to suddenly become scarce? Were either of these two events to occur – the first, without a viable alternative – the second to happen at all, then we would see the almost immediate break down of our society. Within days, our civilization, so carefully built up over centuries, would collapse into universal criminal chaos. It would be beyond the control of any state to maintain itself, under the kind of pressures, indeed, distress, the people would feel. Any state facing such situations could very well collapse completely, and, what’s more, ferociously. Many would die – and, depending on the severity of the strains upon it and the depth of the resultant collapse, it could be decades, even centuries before there was a semblance of recovery. It should be said that there might be no such recovery in the event of the end of oil, without a viable replacement, available.

Oil is coming to an end. With it, will come lowered agricultural productivity, since all modern food production (everything from fertilizers to tractors) depends on oil. Thus, our world will one day see the dual shocks of the end of oil – and a scarcity of food. That day is not far off. Oil has no more than about 40 years left at present rates of consumption – perhaps less if oil producers are lying about their reserves (very likely, some cases of such are proven). Thus, without a viable alternative to oil, our world will face just such a collapse, within the lifetimes of many now living. Only a complete reorganization of our energy infrastructure and agricultural systems to adjust to the absence of oil, can forestall it – yet, too little, at this time, seems to be being done.

The end of oil and its consequent scarcity of food, will see riots like the ones in London, across the face of much of the world, perhaps all of it. Lawlessness will become universal. States will crumble –and a new dark ages is very likely to begin. All of this is within the realm of possibility, if not enough planning and implementation of new energy infrastructure, and alternative means to support agriculture, is not put in place within the next four decades. Of course, the strains upon the energy and agricultural systems will become evident long before the ultimate end of oil – for long before then, oil will become shockingly expensive – and so, too, will food. Many in the world will starve. We are all accustomed to seeing people starving in the Third World – how will people react when people start starving in the First World?

I like living a peaceful life. Everyone should have the right to a peaceful life. Unfortunately, as I get old, I might have only chaos to look forward to, unless the world’s leaders really LEAD on the issue of the end of oil, energy security and food production. Any failings in these areas, will lead directly to a world in which riots, chaos and mass criminality, will be the new normality. In such a world, people will murder for a pint of milk or a loaf of bread. It is not a world in which anyone would like to live – and perhaps the only thankful aspect is that most people won’t live long in it. Only the most ruthless, the most violent, the most prepared and organized will survive. Once the collapse begins, all that man has striven for, for millennia, will come to a swift end. In a couple of generations, much that we were and had, will be lost, perhaps forever.

We are at a very vulnerable time. It is a time in which much foresight is needed to plan a path through the inevitable future. Sadly, most politicians care only for today, not a seemingly far tomorrow. Without visionary leadership, many of us alive, today, might live through the peak of human civilization, into its decline and eclipse.

Civilization is fragile and precious. Without it, life is bleak and rather brief. Only wisdom and foresight, can safeguard civilization through the trials to come. I only hope the world’s populations, have the wisdom to choose, nay, demand, wise leaders, with a vision of the tomorrow they wish to build and the challenges they must overcome. I see no signs, at present, that the world has such leaders, in general. The US, for instance, is consumed with infantile bickering between the Republicans and the Democrats, whom to me seem just like two brands of spoilt children, fighting over every single issue, and never coming to any agreement. No. There is no leadership, in the US, at present, to help direct the world through what is to come. It is unlikely, given their political system, as it is, that there ever will be. One must hope, therefore, that other nations are wiser and more foresighted. It wouldn’t surprise me if some Asian nations take the steps that Western nations might fail to. We shall see.

Posted by Valentine Cawley

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 4:13 PM 


Blogger Joshua of Tyatora said...

I'd agree with your analysis completely -indeed our society can very easily be toppled by anything -major (like oil being used up, as you described) or minor (like the shooting of one man bringing a nation into uproar. :P I cringe at the thought of this, particularly at the oil.

Though, as a thought, I wonder how our current worldviews will influence the coming times, and how we respond to it. How would the Postmodernists and the existentialists react to this? HOw would HUmanist philosophies and ethics stand up to Lord-of-the-Flies crises? Or even Christianity, and more somewhat rational faiths? It seems clear they are making an intellectual and moral comeback in the modern age, considering the works of Francis Schaeffer, Pearcey, etc. How successful they'll be at this remains to be seen. But I do very much worry about how humanity shall exist based on the philosophies they adopt and practice.

3:15 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Joshua,

I am not sure how influential philosophies are these days. Too often, I think, people do too little thinking to consider any particular philosophy, at all - except perhaps a political philosophy, in the case of leaders.

It would be good to have Plato's world of philosopher Kings but I don't see it happening.

10:10 PM  

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