London riots: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

It seems strange watching the sad events unfolding in the United Kingdom from such a distance. With the spreading riots, looting, and mob violence it is apt to recall the words of Charles Dickens describing turbulent times past:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

From A Tale of Two Cities

There will be discussion, analysis and commentary dissecting these events for months to come. And that will do nothing to change what has happened: the people injured, the homes burned, the businesses destroyed.

But in turbulent times such as these we can expect some people to behave as if the bonds of community have been severed. We can expect those bereft of hope in material gain in the normal course of things to turn to other ways of acquiring goods that are out their reach.

It makes me wonder what we can do to ensure that people in our local communities do not feel like this. And it makes me wonder how we can recreate the communal bonds that build up a society for the common good.

I also wonder what role government can play in this. Not as a benevolent Santa Claus doling out material benefits, but as a builder and facilitator of a civil and inclusive society in times of economic constraint. And what about the role of government 2.0 in all of this too?

Mostly at this time I hope that people in the UK can stay safe and well; and that actions by people of goodwill can outweigh the actions of the others.