I have often wondered in my contemplative moments what would happen in the UK if food and fuel became scarce as a result of some apocalyptic disaster. Would the traditional Britsh stiff upper lip hold firm with everyone sharing what they had and standing in orderly lines for essential supplies or would we slowly tear each other limb from limb or sell our grandmothers for a couple of Mars Bars and Cup-a-Soup?
I suggest the latter.
Despite what David Cameron would have you believe there is no big society anymore. Gone are the days of rosy-cheeked neighbours rallying around in traditional Dunkirk spirit with everyone pulling together to get through the tough times. As evidenced by the fuel protests of 2000 where motorists rushed to the pumps filling up any container they had as soon as there was a whiff of a shortage, when the going gets tough people are out for themselves to hoard as much as they can.
It's not just the U.K who has this "I'm alright Jack" attitude. Last year there was mass looting in Chile after the earthquake caused a shortage of supplies and resulted in troops having to be called in to restore order. After Hurricane Katrina, Nola residents had to defend their shops and houses at gunpoint from marauding scavenegers out to rob and loot whatever they could get their hands on.
It is with this in mind that I am amazed at the japanese reaction to the tsunami related devastation. Yes, their homes have been torn to pieces. Yes , there is a shortage of rice, bread, milk and other essentials. Yes, it is the biggest disaster to hit Japan since WWII.
Yet, despite all this, there is no looting.
On the contrary, supermarkets are cutting prices to help those most at need and vending machine owners are giving out free drinks to those who have nothing. Volunteers are shifting aid supplies into designated areas rather than nabbing them for themselves and running off into the sunset. The Japanese don't do what comes naturally to the rest of civilised society an opt to work together in order to survive.
The lack of looting says a lot about the Japanese people. It seems they have sense of solidarity and self-sacrifice that is laregly absent from most developed nations. You only need to look at the traditional cultural practice of seppuku or hari-kiri where people would rather kill themselves then lose honour and embarrass themselves or their family. Japanese people care a lot about how they look in public and would be mortified if their reputation was tarnished by a spot of thievery even in extremis.
Their exemplary behaviour make the rest of civilised society look pretty shamefaced in comparison.
If mankind is ever going to make it through the dual challenges of the modern population explosion and the growing impact of global warming we are all going to have to take a leaf out of Japan's book.