Tuesday, 9 August 2011

London Riots

I say I cannot understand the actions of the rioters, but then when I break it down in to the most simple or obvious explanations it doesn't seem to hard to understand.

The rioters actions seem so at odds with what is best for the rioters and looters themselves. For a start they're helping to create a rhetoric about the poor and unemployed in the country, even if not all of them fall in to those brackets. Then they're destroying property and homes that other people rely on to keep out of the same poverty themselves, businesses and even charities that give back to the community and have done for years.

Perhaps it's just malicious spite driving them once the momentum has taken hold, that even those who are only marginally better off with their minimum wage job are "rich" enough that they are legitimate targets for these people. To say that those that attacked charitable shops, the smallest of local businesses, weren't doing so out of a feeling of social disconnection with their community seems almost quite wistful...the product of people wanting this destruction to be purely mindless and not of their own making.

Ask yourself, how can people go around attacking indiscriminately in their communities, putting life in danger, attacking those trying to protect life, if they aren't feeling completely removed from those areas of their community, of that society? I urge you to try and think about how hard it would be to just throw a brick through your next door neighbours window. If you relate to them, respect them, it'll be unthinkable...if you don't know them, don't respect them, perhaps it doesn't sound so abhorrent after all.

The question is not "Are these people disconnected from communities in their areas, are they socially excluded and detached?", that questions has been answered for all to see and hear by the actions taken. The question is "Why are these people detached from our society?" The answer primarily feels like it has to lie in their circumstance of poverty and lack of ability to see an end game that improves their lot in life.

But this is where segments of the public speak up. How dare we say that it's poverty and lack of aspirations that have caused these riots; after all "I am in poverty, and I don't need to riot".

Anecdotal irrelevancies, every time this is stated.

Fast cars cause speeding fines...at least I think we can for the purpose of this example assume they do. Does this mean every fast car breaks the law and attracts a speeding fine? No, but the faster a car is the more likely it is that it'll break the speed limit...or at least it's driver will.

It's the same with this argument. Listen to examples of the people themselves and you'll hear the utter disconnect between them and the rest of society, where *any* business owner is "rich" and those that work for them privileged. Do all poor people think this way? Of course not, but it is much more likely that they would from such a position.

Perhaps the differential is how much those in poverty understand of their own situation...duration in poverty, generational knowledge of their lack of opportunities, these are all factors that will change your feelings on the riots and who is right or wrong. In this sense it is surely more true when we talk about poverty and immobile society being the cause, it leaves those in the worst position without the ability to realise what they're doing just doesn't make sense for themselves.

Of course I am sure not all those involved are those who genuinely feel lost in our society, the way our psychology works means that those that affiliate or relate to those who are rioting will wish to conform too. Even if those that are more well off, less disconnected from society, are looting too it feels to me that it is because they feel they can...that there is a certain populism about doing it that they want to join with. For them it'd only be as "mindless" as seeing several people they feel some kind of affinity to looking to the sky, and feeling compelled to look up also, regardless of the existence of something to look at.

But if these rioters are not playing it smart, neither are a section of the anti-rioters. Encouraging vigilantism, calling for non-lethal-but-still-more-lethal-than-a-baton weaponry, or even the deployment of the army as if we're so incapable of dealing with the problem of a few thousand kids with a temper we have to resort to Middle Eastern or South American tactics on public order control. It is astounding that people claiming that looters and rioters are such idiots for targetting their own community can, almost in the same breath, advocate actions that would only stand to further justify those riotous actions...either through an unfortunate death or serious injury caused by the greater force deployed, or just a simple affirmation of their views that the state is out to get them, not to help them.

I feel more than a little uneasy with how people have approached these events. At the end of the day we are talking about a statistically insignificant number of people causing these troubles, by numbers an extreme minority and no doubt edge of society. Yet this small number of people have some (mainly well off types) feeling scared. In return we've tried to find bogeymen to take the blame, either through extremely partisan short term political point scoring, or ambiguous notions of these people being completely autonomous and not at all effected by the world around them, as if they're all completely psychologically damaged and incapable of rational thought.

For years we've had Labour and Tories alike trading blows on how to further alienate these areas of our society, from Caroline Spelman's policy of kicking people out of the only homes they can afford (the ones given to them for free), to Purnell/IDS's "workfare" where we don't even pretend to want to treat them as equal human beings. After this how much are we going to see politicians, police and community leaders get together with their communities more pro-actively, with greater direction and conviction, or will we instead continue our trend of apathy towards them and just see these people dismissed as utterly criminal and ignore them even further?

It's easier to believe there isn't a reason for these people to have started to riot, because the alternative is recognising that ultimately we are as bad as the bankers we love to loathe. We have taken the benefits of a prosperous society for the last decade and have barely looked downwards at the classes in our country that are institutionally disaffected and untrusting of "the system" to which the rest of us conform, because mostly the system benefits us and doesn't open it's arms to them. We've taken what this country has had to offer, and we haven't passed any of it down the line, and we sure as hell haven't prepared to protect those below us when our world starts to crumble.

If all this isn't mindless, if this part of society's long term situation is the cause of their choice to just put their arms up and say "fuck it, I'm doing what I want", then it's because we, the majority of society, have failed them. We have chosen to push politicians in to a corner that means they focus only on us in the "middle", and ignore those who actually need the support of their government, and we have chosen to do the bare minimum for these people with a look of disdain and disgust as we do so.

Statistically insignificant as the numbers of actual rioters are however, the actions this week have been like the discovery of a crack in the wall of a home...itself small and perhaps easy to try to hide away, but indicative of a wider problem that hasn't made itself apparent yet; a problem much harder to fix than the simple action of filling in that initial crack and hoping nothing deeper is also starting to break.

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