Friday, 12 August 2011

Quick thoughts on Rioting


Well, as everybody else in media or internet circles has given their own particular view on what rioting means to them, it’d be a shame to miss out on the opportunity. Also, I’m about to spend ten days away from the UK, quite long enough for the media to find a new tyrant in a desert, a woman dumping a cat into a wheelie bin, or increase the volume on the economic meltdown story that is, at present, bubbling nicely on the rear hob. In a nutshell then.

Riots and/or looting, are both political statements. Our entire social model is based on the sanctity of private property, when people do not respect private property, and are happy to risk criminal proceedings in not doing so, they have essentially stated that they do not believe in our politics. Society and politicians need to understand that it does not take a genius to feel that something is unfair, nor does it take a genius to perceive that your future isn’t looking too rosy. A youth smashing a window has the same meaning regardless of whether or not he calls himself a Marxist, has a university education, and has read Das Kapital. The window is still smashed, and if you don’t like broken glass all over the street, you need to figure out why the window got smashed. If you are only prepared to listen to ideas from the articulate and educated, you are going to wind-up ignoring an awful lot of people, in fact, most people.

People need to take a more mature view of politics, of social harmony as an act of bribery, a balance in which people have to feel their interests are represented. It is commonly-held that unrest in Arabia has been a product of demographic changes, an increasingly young population who are not represented by an old social order. I’m not sure why it is hard to grasp the concept of similar circumstances in the UK. The form that unrest takes is determined by cultural factors, if youths steal televisions and trainers, then (I know this is obvious) that is a reflection of our entire society. Similarly, if politicians are so unimaginative and cowardly to be unable to look beyond finger-wagging and where are their parents(?), then that too is only a reflection of our society. Some windows might have been broken, some buildings burnt down, but all we are seeing is a very real playing-out of all the traits that anybody with their eyes open would have perceived to have been present in society beforehand anyway. As citizens, as a population as a whole, we are constantly being violated by our government. In bailed-out banks, MPs expenses, rising tuition fees, and privatisation plans that did not appear on an election manifesto, our liberties and integrity are constantly flouted. A very wealthy minority of the population have done very well out of this, 1.5million people also got a buy-to-let mortgage in return for buying into it, 70% of people have got their own roof under which to be shafted, and public pensions have bought-off a few more million. If you fall into any of these brackets, you have a reason to shut-up and stomach the injustices for your decades on earth. If you don’t, then why would you? People can condemn mindless youths and thugs, but the fact is that you still have to live with them. A braver goal would be to help them become more productive citizens, after all, no number of judgments will alter the reality that you’re sharing your streets and society with these people.

As far as policing goes. Britain already spends, as a proportion of GDP, more on domestic policing than any other developed nation, having overtaken the USA sometime during the nineties. If fear compels people to interpret the riots as a case against cuts to the police, that is only one more step in a policy that has no end anyway. Police do not prevent crime, they deal with criminality. The best way to prevent crime is to give people a social and moral code that they value. The Japanese do not stockpile shovels and wheelbarrows to deal with earthquakes, they (endeavour to) build earthquake-proof structures.

Some blindingly obvious observations. The banking system stole a hundred billion from the taxpayer, left us liable for many more of their future losses, and still largely maintain the veneer of a respectable profession. Teenagers steal trainers and are immediately depicted as swines for doing so. MP David Laws embezzled £40,000 from the taxpayer to give to his boyfriend in rent, David Cameron accepted his resignation (which was over the revelation of his sexuality, rather than expenses fraud) as that of ‘a good, honourable man.’ It is deeply patronising (like most of our formal politics) to suggest that anybody, no matter how conventionally stupid, could miss the fact that this is not quite fair. There have been 937 deaths in police custody since 1990, a quarter of them at the hands of the Metropolitan police. That needs to be broken down into more than just a statistic. Almost a thousand people, since 1990, have been taken-in by the guardians of law and justice... and then died, were never again seen alive. When that happens in Uzbekistan or Saudi Arabia we see it as horrifying, a cause for Amnesty International, whilst in Britain it can be accepted as part of normalcy. Each of those corpses had family, friends, and was part of a community of other people who once knew them. Again, you don't have to be a genius or a politics student to figure out that something's not quite going as it should be.

The government (of all political colours), meanwhile, really must be applauded for their largely successful ability to evade almost all criticism. As an institution, the government has authority over education, finances, employment, housing, transportation and just about every other field of our existences. It is mind-numbing to think that the government could be responsible for almost everything that touches our daily life, and yet be responsible for absolutely nothing once society goes belly-up. Our lives have been given to/appropriated by Westminster to control and order, and when things go wrong they can do nothing more than blame the parents and tell the children to get back indoors. If Westminster had any meaning or nobility in it, right now would be a time for deep soul-searching, self-reflection, and guilt. If Westminster is just a charade of political legitimacy, 650 good-jobs and a talking-shop for ambitious people who can string sentences together, then we’ll be hearing more about police, zero-tolerance, and the word ‘tough’.

In the meantime, might I suggest this, and this, as the best way that we, as decent individuals, can deal with the fine mess into which we have been led. If you're sticking around, and are passionate about doing something positive in society, might I recommend doing it yourself, rather than paying somebody else to do it for you. If you care about your community at all, might I suggest walking around it, rather than watching it on a screen in the corner of the living room, it's never quite as bad as they like to make out.

Peace and love to you all, we're going to need it.

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