The look-away society is killing us

Posted on: 22 October 2010 by Alexander Hay

Too many people in our country look the other way when something bad happens. It's time for us all to challenge this.

In the midst of our decadence, rot takes rootThere are many people in this world that it is hard to like. Traffic wardens leap to mind, but they're just doing their jobs. Criminals? They're us after 10 pints. Celebrities? We made them in our own image. Saying you loathe terrorists or sex offenders is pretty redundant too. No, if you're going to dislike a certain kind of person it must be because they choose not to do something even though they know it is the right thing.  And one heinous example of this is the Look-Away.

What is a Look-Away? They're easy to spot. Just stand on a busy high street one night and wait until a fight breaks out. As a rule, the loser will end up on the floor, being stamped on. But don't watch that. Instead, look at all the people around. Some will be gawping, like you. But most people will be walking past or acting like nothing's wrong. That is a Look-Away. They could do something but they don't. 'It's nothing to do with me!'

Or have you ever been in a school, a job or a shared flat where the outsider (often picked at random) gets at best the cold shoulder, and at worst the Mark of Caine and all the abuse? It happens not because all the people there are thugs but because most of them are Look-Aways. Because that's the most convenient path to an 'easy life'. A look-away says 'hello' but never 'I'll help'. They may wave across the street but they will leave you to die in the gutter if trouble starts.

Look-aways exist at every level of society. Is your local MPs fiddling his or her expenses? Is your local park bursting at the seams with litter, dog doings, used condoms and vomit? Do the neighbours who live on an expensive street rush out to help a woman who's being mugged? Do you care if the family downstairs neglects or abuses their children? 'It's nothing to do with me!' There is a seductive logic there, but seduction isn't always a good thing.

They also go hand in hand with hypocrisy. One night my sister and I were walking down Charing Cross Road when we saw two men charge into another man and start hitting him. 'Don't get involved!' my sister said, pulling me along. 'It's not worth it!' A few years later, it was me in need of help one dark night. Then, without a shred of irony, my sister ranted and fumed about why no one came to my aid. That scared young man a decade before, outnumbered and utterly alone, probably had a sister too.

And yet the Look-Aways haven't fully won. Some members of our society are so chicken they're stuffed with Paxo, but others will stand up to any number of yobs who dare to cause trouble. Or there's the one woman, often five foot nothing of fearlessness, who charges out of her house and screams at the chavs to get lost because she's phoned the police. Or the complete stranger who leaps into the midst of a fight between an old woman, her hand bag and a thug because robbery, would you believe it, is still a bad thing?

It's also worth noting that the number of toerags in our society is still pretty low. The real danger is in fact the Look-Away because he or she in effect sides with these people. No thug would be as mighty if there weren't so many Look-Aways so willing not to do the right thing. They are self-fulfilling prophecies.

The fact is that we now live in an age of fear and resentment. Margaret Thatcher didn't quite say that 'There's no such thing as society', but the Look-Aways had made that come true long before she made the speech. Look-Aways will gladly benefit from living in society, but the other side of the bargain, to aid others as you are aided, is swiftly dodged, like cheapskate diners legging it before the waiter can bring the bill.

But what Look-Aways don't get - in part because it means actually putting their necks on the line - is that what's bad for others is also bad for them. A society that walks on by deserves no pity if its streets become unsafe as a result. Yet Look-Aways seem too stupid to realise this, swapping long term safety for a moment's reprieve. Through this, they make us all unsafe. They do this simply by doing nothing.

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Alexander Hay

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