“Youth! There is nothing like youth. The middle-aged are mortgaged to Life. The old are in Life’s lumber-room. But youth is the Lord of Life. Youth has a kingdom waiting for it.”
Oscar Wilde, British author.
“Violence among young people … is an aspect of their desire to create. They don’t know how to use their energy creatively so they do the opposite and destroy.”
Anthony Burgess, British author.
“Hey. Don’t ever let somebody tell you… You can’t do something. You got a dream … You gotta protect it. People can’t do somethin’ themselves, they wanna tell you you can’t do it. If you want somethin’, go get it. Period.”
Chris Gardner, American author.
Britons are aghast at the rampage, looting and destruction witnessed on the streets of London and other English cities this past week. Politicians have cut short their normally sacrosanct August holidays in the Tuscan sun to return to an emergency session of Parliament. British Bobbies are chided for standing by as youthful looters took their sweet time to find just the right mobile phones, pairs of running shoes and assorted Bling to swipe, not with credit cards but five-finger discounts.
The soul-searching and blame-gaming has begun in a country that knows, indeed invented, the Importance of Being Earnest. One of the most insightful analyses I’ve seen is Guatam Malkani’s “Britain burns the colour of ‘A Clockwork Orange,” which compares the recent nocturnal uprisings to the 1962 Anthony Burgess novel and “its depiction of a lawless Britain, where the police command neither confidence nor deference and residents live in fear of feral youth”. Malkani, a journalist with the Financial Times, notes the self-destruction that is “more dystopian than even nihilism” in these British rioters:
[The] first buildings and cars to burn in London were not in the resented districts of the rich, but those in the perpetrators’ own communities. So not only was there no discernible political agenda to improve their lot (save for a few fleeting material possessions), the rioters were actually destroying their own.
I can’t help but contrast these self-destructive behaviors with the inspiring and courageous actions of America’s DREAMers, “a group of approximately 65,000 youth . . [who] are smeared with an inherited title, an illegal immigrant.” Just compare their sentiments here and here with the behaviors on display across the Atlantic. If you do, you’ll see that Chris Gardner’s quote above originating from his memoir, The Pursuit of Happyness, is found among the DREAMers’ “Inspirational Quotes,” not as a justification to take what is not owned, in the manner of dystopic Brits, but to quest for what one justifiably deserves.
The pain and poignancy of the DREAMers plight is also described in exacting sociological detail by Roberto G. Gonzales (“Learning to Be Illegal: Undocumented Youth and Shifting Legal Contexts in the Transition to Adulthood“) and by Immigration Impact, the blog of the Immigration Policy Center (“What’s the Value of Keeping Undocumented Youth in the Shadows?“).
Yes, the British are justifiably alarmed by their riotous youth. We Americans, however, should be appalled by our uncivilized adults, who spout platitudes about the rule of law yet deny our American DREAMers the chance to live out their aspirations in laudable and lawful ways. Whose shame is worse?
Oscar Wilde had it right. The last line of his quote, which I omitted from the excerpt above, could well be referring to the American adults who dash DREAMs: “Every one is born a king, and most people die in exile.”