Marvin Gaye's seminal album of 1971 'What's Going On' held up a mirror to an America that was not at peace with itself. Against a background of urban decay, economic deprivation and systemic racism, the songs indicated the human cost of letting this continue. Widespread civil unrest and disaffection were the symptoms; living in parallel communities, in effect invisible to each other, was the consequence.
Fast forward 40 years, to London in the summer of 2011. Britain in the 21st century is a million miles from 70's America; but there are still some lessons for us if we choose to look.
The key issue for me is how it has become possible for so many of our young people to live so separately from mainstream society. It's a natural part of growing up to spend time away from our families, with other young people. But we always returned home. Look around at the groups of young people running wild on streets now and its very different. This is not true for everyone but we know for some that their own homes are battlegrounds; and so the children feel safer on the streets.
It's not necessarily about poverty but about lack of love and hope; about parents who have lost what it means to provide role models for the next generation. These parents are the children of Thatcher's Britain, who lived through a period of political leadership that claimed there was 'no such thing as society'; it is no surprise that they find it difficult now to identify with wider social life. They are one of Thatcher's many sad legacies. We need to reclaim them and their children.
How do we do this? There will be no quick wins but we can start by adopting a few principles:
Avoid being judgmental - just because the majority of families make it through, this does not mean that all of the rest are essentially worthless. Lack of education, training, jobs, slim life chances - there is a randomness sometimes to the way things turn out. We should not tolerate rioting but we need to understand that just blaming people in these circumstances is not a solution.
Listen - work with people to understand their own concerns and build those into a larger recovery plan. If we want to establish the family as a basic building block we will need to find out first hand why for some it has not worked; and help people understand how to accept and deal with the broader responsibilities we all have
Model the behaviour we want to see - economic and social justice are for everyone, not just the few and it is important that we demonstrate this consistently across all policy areas. We need to be seen to hold to account the bankers and politicians who have tried to defraud us in the same way that there are now calls for the maximum 10 year penalty for rioting. A poignant moment for me over the last few days was watching CCTV of just one incident. Asyraf Haziq, a young man Malaysian student, was sitting on the pavement clearly injured and distressed. He was helped to his feet by a young boy who then started to lead him to safety. A third boy arrives, sees that the injured boy has a backpack and starts to rummage around in it; he pulls something out and struts off triumphantly with his prize. The injured boy can do nothing. The one helping him seems to pause for a moment, and then himself reaches into the backpack to steal something; his initial humanity now replaced by the stronger force - to be like others.
None of this is about special pleading. We provide a voice for mainstream families, but just achieve it in different ways - through jobs, education and involvement in the political process. They are connected and feel they have a share in what's happening. So let's not exclude the others but try to re-engage. The aim must be to find a sustainable solution together and reunite our divided society.
Follow Jennette Arnold on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jennettearnold