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Friday, June 20, 2008

Opinion: When did we become so angry? asks Tony Parsons

After a row about queue-jumping, a 57-year-old man called Kevin Tripp lies dying in a Sainsbury's. As his life ebbs away, children are ushered out by their parents. Tony Virasami, a 37-year-old who was called to the store by his girlfriend, is charged with his murder. How many lives were ruined that day? And all because an incident that would once have been dealt with by someone clearing their throat, or raising an eyebrow, is now settled by someone getting killed.

They call it "shopping rage" but that trivialises something that is eating us alive - a willingness to resort to extreme violence at the slightest provocation.

Where someone would once have raised their voice, they now raise their fists. Incidents that would have, at the very worst, led to A&E now end in the graveyard, the court and jail. What is wrong with us? When did a country famous for its humour, patience and tolerance give itself over to this uncontrollable rage?

Rage is our distinguishing feature now. And we know it can erupt at any moment. You see it everywhere. You risk your life if you object to anti-social behaviour.

Respect is a term we hear a lot of, but there is precious little of it for old people, for women, for children. It feels like all the old taboos have been discarded, all the old borders that made this a decent society have been torn down.

Where there was once indulgence for the old lady with her change in a shop, there is now impatience.

Where there was once tolerance for the ways of others, there is now murderous fury. And where there was once politeness, there is now rudeness. Something about us has coarsened. The man who died in Sainsbury's would not have perished even 10 years ago. The man who assaulted him would not so readily have resorted to extreme violence. This is not looking back at the good old days through rose-tinted contact lenses - we really were a gentler, more tolerant people.

I don't know how you get it back, that lost England where someone would behave on a train or bus just because someone rattled their newspaper. But I know it is gone.

We all feel the frustrations of the modern world and impatience with people who get in our way.

What has changed is the total lack of restraint. We have lost the fear of our father, of the police, of the courts, our fear of being punished.

So anger is allowed to erupt like a volcano because someone cuts us up at the lights, or looks at us the wrong way, or upsets our girlfriend at the checkout.

It's ironic that the generations who knew the suffering of war and poverty are less angry than the brats of peace and prosperity.

Reports suggest the man who died wasn't the one who jumped the queue. He was patiently waiting his turn. The wrong man was punished for a petty crime. But that's anger for you. When the red mist descends, all you can think about is violence. The brain switches off. And a man dies from massive head injuries because a woman was slighted and her boyfriend's response was immediate, uncontrollable rage.

And why? Because someone thought they might have to wait an extra 90 seconds to pay for their oven chips. We have to get back to the old ways when respect was something you showed others, not something you furiously demanded yourself.

Where the old and the weak and the young were tolerated, not regarded with impatience. And where a man could face the everyday frustrations of life without losing his rag. Where there was once tolerance for the ways of others, there is now murderous fury. What is wrong with us?

Philo Holland
Senior Broadcast Journalist
BBC Radio Five Live
Phone: x44290 (0161 244 4290)
Fax: 07921 648 298
E-mail: []
Mail: Room 1044, BBC, Manchester, M60 1SD
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