Wednesday 10 August 2011

London : The Aftermath

I'm pleased to report that London was quiet last night, aside from some minor disturbances that were dealt with quickly. Sadly I can't say the same for Birmingham and Manchester, and I only hope their inhabitants rally around the same way London has to both clean up, and stand up for their city. Let's hope the worst is over.

Of course, now the time for analysis has begun. I couldn't believe the audacity of those making excuses for the appalling behaviour of the rioters and looters while the city was still in shock, but then it's so easy to make proclamations or spew forth rhetoric when the trouble is happening so far away from you, isn't it? I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one whose sympathies rest with those made homeless, or those whose businesses have ben lost - not with the perpetrators.

Still, that said, I read this interesting piece on The Guardian this morning and felt compelled to share the link. In it, the journalist describes possible explanations for the riots. Note the word "explanations". She doesn't excuse their actions, but offers instead potential causes - a far more productive exercise, since now we have something to tackle. Personally, I never bought into the idea that the riots were grounded in anything directly political, particularly considering most of the trash spilling out of the mouths of the hoodies regarded them taking what they wanted, or finding the riots to be "good fun". Yes, the budget cuts have been horrendous and in many cases they're nothing short of outrageous, and one has to wonder if Theresa May is still intent upon cutting police numbers. However, people have been living in a state of both deprivation and dependency on social services for several generations now, and it would be both unfair and simplistic to simply point the finger at the current government. The causes are too deeply rooted.

I think the points raised in this article are far more pertinent. The looters did not target high end or high profile stores in the affluent West End, as the anarchists did during the student fee protests earlier in the year. That would have made the riots directly political. Nor did they raid their local shops for essentials, which would have made their plight both political AND understandable. No, they looted general consumer goods, and where they weren't available, they looted cigarettes and alcohol. Yes, this is political in a way, but it highlights a fundamental problem at the heart of our culture, and points to the "Have" and "Have Not" divide within our society. The very fact that many attacks were orchestrated using the BlackBerry Messenger service points to the fact that the so-called "disenfranchised youth" want to be a part of the consumerist society, but find themselves largely unable to do so. You or I would either purchase what we'd like to own on credit, or save up to buy things, but when you can't get credit and have no means to earn money, the only way you might believe you can attain these mostly unnecessary "symbols" is by simply taking them.

I'm not saying that's right. I think it's abominable, and you have to wonder how they would react if I walked into their house and said "I want a 42" plasma TV but I can't afford one so I'll just have yours, thanks". Yes, I think the government need to tackle the social causes which leave these people thinking that this is the only way they can connect to society, but I do think we need to see a cultural change so that you aren't viewed as a member of society based on the number of consumer goods you've managed to amass, but rather on your behaviour within and towards that society. Of course, this is where the politicians need to rein themselves in, since their encouragement of consumer spending in order to stimulate a failing economy is exacerbating the problem, instead of easing it.

We're bombarded on a daily basis by advertising that promises a better life if only you buy certain products. We're living in a society in which kids insist on their own TVs in their rooms, or video games consoles each, instead of learning to share. This is a world in which the family unit has broken down, each member going their own way instead of connecting to one another. London is a vast, lonely city, and I understand that totally disconnection from the local community, but I'm lucky that I come from an incredibly strong family unit so that even when I'm 300 miles away from it, I still feel part of a group. Not everyone is so lucky, and it's no wonder the gang mentality takes hold so easily since it's a natural human need to want to belong to a group. We're a social animal and we like feeling like we're part of something bigger. It's just a shame that "something bigger" has to take on such negative traits before anyone pays attention to the problem.

If you want to do something positive, @RiotCleanUp is still orchestrating a clean up operation, and donations are still welcome for those in Tottenham. Or how about we all just check on our neighbours?


Cathy Olliffe-Webster said...

Thoughtful and interesting post, Icy. What you say makes so much sense and has illuminated the problem for me in a way the news hasn't. I hope the situation eases very soon and best of luck to everyone during clean-up. (It always kills me that the people who made the stinking mess aren't around during clean-up time.)

Jen said...

I'm happy to read this, Icy. I wasn't sure how to articulate a lot of what I've been feeling about this but you achieve it nicely.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Cathy - I just wanted to try to make sense of it in my own way. I've been accused of excusing their actions, which I'm not since I'd quite happily see the lot of them scrubbing the streets clean with toothbrushes, but I just wanted to look at maybe why they kicked off. Obviously I don't know why those people in particular kicked off as there are plenty in the same boat who know how to behave properly, but it's my way of getting my head around it.

Jen - I'm glad you liked it. I was a bit worried about posting it considering some of the stuff flying back and forth yesterday but I was going mad trying to unravel it on my own.

John Wiswell said...

You write about it respectfully, much less categorically volatile than what I recall flying from your Twitter account about it, and I think the readership you have here would at least appreciate your tone if not your attempt to examine why this happened.

The most provocative (and likely fringe) theory I've read is about racial and ethnic tensions reaching a point where a single event could insight widespread action. In the Los Angeles, California a few years ago African Americans formed the bulk of a massive rioting group after the police were caught beating an African American man, Rodney King. I've heard comparisons, particularly to the U.K.'s African, Muslim and general immigrant blocks, but actually have read no data whatsoever on the groups.

I figure such massive events are wildly complex. Again to selfishly think in U.S. terms, when we had the atrocious storms in our south such that a city flooded, people were filmed stealing flat screen TVs when they ought to be getting to high ground. The motivations that might make one person do this could be simple, but to get mobs to do it probably betrays more than one rational motive.

Icy Sedgwick said...

To be fair, our immigrant population has behaved amazingly, coming out to defend their communities, and I cannot praise them enough. We've all suffered. I think the initial spark was the protest on Saturday over the shooting of Mark Duggan but the later trouble doesn't seem to have had much to do with that, especially outside of London - when asked, many rioters say they've done so because it's "fun" or they have nothing else to do.

I'm well aware that the causes are complex and probably won't be fully understood for a while but I merely wanted to add a potential theroy to the plethora already circulating online. It's unrealistic to assume I'd be able to articulate every possible cause in a single blog post, and therefore unreasonable to expect me to do so. Perhaps when the dust has settled, we can put all of the theories together and hopefully reach some useful conclusions.

In the meantime, I renew my repeated calls for people to help in whatever way that they can. People have already shown how fantastic that can be in a united cause, and I'm so proud of everyone who has been able to join in with the clean up efforts. I wasn't allowed time off work to do so, so I'm hoping my donations to those made homeless may at least help in some small way.

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