“These are not hunger or bread riots. These are riots of defective and disqualified consumers. For defective consumers, those contemporary have-nots their lives are a festering stigma of a lives un-fulfilled & of good-for-nothingness. Not just the absence of pleasure: absence of human dignity. Of life meaning. Ultimately, of humanity and any other ground for self-respect and respect of the others around. The objects of desire, whose absence is most violently resented, are nowadays many and varied – and their numbers, as well as the temptation to have them, grow by the day. And so grows the wrath, humiliation, spite and grudge aroused by not having them – as well as the urge to destroy what have you can’t. Looting shops and setting them on fire derive from the same impulsion and gratify the same longing. ” – Zygmunt Bauman
The recent riots were a venting of pent-up anger and frustration, pure and simple. Yet the question the political establishment and too many blinkered middle-class associates are failing to ask; where has this anger come from?
There are of course a multitude of factors and reasons, but is boredom, opportunism and mindless thuggery the real cause of conflict? I think not. These are short-term rationalizations that ignore deep-seated and systemic inequalities in society.
Regional neglect, social exclusion, income and wealth inequalities, racial and religious injustice, police brutality and poverty, seem the most pertinent and poignant reasons our political leaders are failing to acknowledge.
“Politics can’t stop all crime but it can stop mass inequality and the creation of an underclass that feels so little sense of community that they burn down family homes,” comments Labour Councillor, David Levene, on a recent FaceBook post.
Whether politics can re-distribute wealth remains to be seen after centuries of disparity. However, it’s all political, and a consequence of years of neglect and inequality.
The underlying issues cannot be ignored however much the middle-to-upper class want to pretend it’s just bored ‘thugs’ having ‘fun’ and being ‘mindless idiots’. Understandably there are many people simply taking advantage of an anarchic situation, but the roots run deeper than that. It’s not as simple as a few ‘mindless idiots’ running riot for the sake of it; many are frustrated youths harassed by police and demonised by the media, who have given up on the educational system, and their community, because of anomie, alienation and a lack of social solidarity.
“To behave in this manner young people have to believe they have no stake in the neighbourhood, and consequently no stake in wider society. This belief is compounded when it becomes a reality over generations, as it has done for some. We have raised a generation of feral and self-hating youth. ‘Mindless’ thugs born and forged from a ‘mindless’ society. Bereft of camaraderie, community and collective responsibly. The children shown contempt and hate, now give it back,” an apt analysis by Nathanael Williams.
There are so many people involved, from a range of backgrounds, that these latest riots are symptomatic of a greater ill in society; our lack of support for the young and vulnerable within a system of greedy, consumer capitalism.
As John McDonnell MP has recently pointed out we are “reaping what has been sown over 3 decades, creating a grotesquely unequal society, with an alienated young copying the ethos of looting bankers.”
Why do we condemn the youth more? Simply because rioting is so blatant and in your face, when the theft of billions of tax-payers money has been relatively unchallenged because it is hidden, covert and almost impossible to police in an era of deregulation, trade liberalisation, mismanagement, corruption, and legal loopholes on a free-market of instantaneous, computerised trading.
These riots are the result of a socio-economic system which has complete and utter contempt and disrespect for the underclass. Those impoverished by years of servitude to an aristocracy and capitalist oligarchy that care’s little for the youth on inner-city streets, trapped on the fringes of society, but cares only about the bottom line: profit.
With the dismantling of the welfare state, privatisation of public services, wholesale cuts to youth programmes and arts council initiatives, increase in tuition fees, lack of job opportunities (and with it security), the youth of today have little investment in an economy of bullish self-interest. We act out of self-interest because that’s what we, as citizens, have been taught, reinforced by a foreign policy of embargos, invasion and occupation.
Lowkey, a rapper and political commentator of Iraqi and English decent raised on inner-city London streets, perfectly illustrates this point:
“Looters did to the streets what our state has done to the rest of the world for over a century.”Might is right” is all we as citizens have been shown. Capitalism has taught our children to be motivated by instant gratification, ego worship and to respect only violence. No person is born wanting to steal and fight police. Call them animals if it makes you feel better. Look at the reasons if you care about finding a solution.”
It’s ironic, I don’t see the majority of British citizens kicking up a storm about troops in Iraq murdering innocent civilians, or ranting about the injustice of bombing innocent homes and shops in Libya, or the immoral oil contracts we’ve gained from these ventures. It’s deranged how when things come home to roost people get agitated, but when it’s happening miles away, by our military (in an organised form of destruction and homicide) we don’t seem too bothered.
It’s not that surprising that after years of looting, pillaging and theft of natural resources in foreign climes by the British Empire, accumulating vast amounts of stolen wealth, it is reflected in the gang culture of our youth today looting high street stores.
“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” (James A. Baldwin).
Perhaps David Cameroon and Boris Johnson should bare that in mind when denouncing rioters as ‘criminals’, having once smashed up restaurants as part of the Bullingdon Club at Oxford.
Who are the real criminals? The ones on the streets breaking into shops and burning cars, or the ones dropping bombs on innocent civilians? Both you might reply, but which is the cause and which the effect?
We live in a kleptocracy, a world of corporate exploitation, cronyism and gangsterism and are surprised when the youth copycat our so-called leaders. When poor kids steal things and ruin people lives it’s called sheer criminality, when rich grown-ups in army uniforms do it its called ‘humanitarian intervention’ (or in other words a euphemism for war).
What have we taught the next generation? That invading countries is acceptable, that looting their natural resources is ok, that causing widespread mayhem is the natural fall-out (or collateral damage done) when we fight ‘terrorism’ while glorify the virtues of medal of honour type killing. No wonder the youth of today are desensitised to violence and why they now terrorise British streets. They maybe opportunist criminals, but they are no different from our leaders. They are a reflection our political elite, a reaction to a global, neoliberal market of exploitation.
The looting and theft that accompanied the riots is an indication of the consumer society we hold up as the golden patron of Western democracy. As Zena Edwards, a poet and youth leader, states:
“I do not excuse or condone the looting but when you sell people the “illusion of success” by the accumulation and possession of “stuff” when they do not have the jobs to make money to get it, they will be opportunist and take it.”
When we live in a capitalist economy based on greed and individualisation is it any wonder our youth aren’t grateful for what they have when compared to what they have-not in “a society where responsibility and opportunity are individualised.”
‘These people’ we’ve labelled looters may have much comparative to the rest of the world. At the same time most have very little when compared with the wealthy elite in our country (the Lord Sugars we hold up as the pinnacle of success). And in a consumer culture don’t be shocked when the youth consume a culture of ‘dog eat dog’ and ‘get rich or die trying’ mentalities.
These business leaders and entrepreneurs, who promote such tripe, rape the earth of her resources, looting the planet and its people for all they’re worth, without concession or remorse and yet we are outraged by the youths on the streets doing the same on a smaller-scale.
“I love the way that we call people who break into chain stores ‘looters’, yet the rest of us law abiding citizens get to loot the entire planet and are deemed peaceful. Instead of H&M, read rainforests. Instead of JD Sports, read oceans. Instead of Tesco, read soil. If you want to see a looter, look within, we’re all looters. Just some are culturally normalised” (Mark Boyle)
As Nathanael Williams, a friend and political analyst recently commented: “The rioting and looting is wrong but this is OUR problem, not their problem. My mother on coming to this country in 1947 remembers a time when the saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ was all too true and real.” No longer do communities raise children. Children are expected to raise themselves to the status of rich businessmen without the help of what conservatives deem a ‘nanny state’.
Are these rioters really rebels without a cause? Or has their cause been lost behind a smokescreen of consumer ideology, Neoliberalism and a fallacy of democratic meritocracy?
Our young are fed on fast-food and throw-away luxuries, are always encouraged to want, and expect, more. Our media feeds them images of grandeur and luxury, and they are gulping it up. And now they’re taking matters into their own hands. As Frank Natter, a friend and social commentator, as concluded:
“Our media lies to us, taps our phones and spreads its tentacles all over state and military power. Our banks dominate, have our country by the balls and are wrecking havoc on communities daily (13,000 homes repossessed this year). Our police are structurally racist, targeting minorities. Our army brutalise abroad on a mass scale, destroying cities in Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan. And our youths who hit the heart of Babylon are what make you indignant?!”
The social order has neglected the young for far too long, has ignored their cries for help, and has demonised a generation vexed by years of exclusion, brutality and condemnation. Youth clubs have been shut down on mass and many of their schools have been underinvested in, so where do our youths have left to go? The streets.
Many of these ‘thugs’ are illiterate because of an educational and social system that has failed them. They don’t know how to express themselves through peaceful protest; they don’t know how to articulate themselves effectively and politically, and have no-where to go. Hence they vent their anger in the only way they have learnt to; violence on the streets.
Fear of what the middle-class doesn’t understand has lead to the young being labelled as ‘hooligans with hoodies’ and ‘thugs’, but whose really taken the time to get to understand the problems they face?
Perhaps we should all take heed from Brij Sehgal, a 79 year old whose shop was looted in Ealing Broadway, but bears no grudge for the perpetrators, saying: “If I had the chance to speak to them I would make them tea and ask them why?”
The media has labelled them ‘thugs’ and ‘scum’ for too long, and now, as the labelling theory implies they fulfil their role, they fill the streets with rage, vandalising and looting as they go, and we act surprised.
Now David Cameron has been quoted saying those who “loot and pillage their own community” should be evicted from council houses. Ravi Govindia, the leader of Wandsworth council has justified the eviction of a tenant, only 18 years old, accused (not convicted) of burglary and theft during the riots.
If the government, and councils alike, think kicking people onto the street will solve the anger and vengeance apparent in our youth, they’ve got another thing coming. This policy of, essentially, cleansing neighbours of the poor (the so-called lowlifes and scum of the looting masses) will have the reverse affect. This policy of gentrification will further marginalise the deprived, they will have even less to lose and even more to gain from rebellion.
The penal system in Britian is backwards and is in need of urgent reform. Sending the rioters/looters to prison and evicting them from their homes will not reconcile the situation it will make things worse. It will not educate them in the ways of collective responsibility and building a community that cares for and nurtures its young and vulnerable – by offering welfare support and job opportunities.
Instead, feeling the full force of public fury through incarceration and evictions will educate them further in the ways of gang culture and a philosophy that might is right. If we show no empathy – if court rulings and punishments are meted out without forethought of long-term consequences – this will only further divisions in society and teach our young that there is no room for apologies or compassion. These convictions and evictions will be yet another way we have failed this generation.
Community service and tribunals of reconciliation with victims is one short-term solution. However, in the long-term we need to address fundamental issues; underemployment, inequality and disempowerment.
Yet with cuts to legal aid who will represent the most vulnerable in society? And where is the representation of our youth in the policy decisions of parliament? Holding people to account for their actions is the way of the past and the way forward, absolutely, no-one disputes this, but when our policy makers and legal advocates don’t enforce the law within the police services and political establishment, act with impunity and are a law unto themselves, we lack any sense of retribution and justice.
And yet another problem is being faced, when no-one is held accountable in the armed or police forces for civil and human rights abuses this brews anger in the public. Government, the military and corporate conglomerates have become divorced from civil democracy, protected by the legal establishment and the biggest gang on road; the police. As a consequence the rights of minorities, and the disempowered, get abused.
Not one policeman has been imprisoned for the murder of Charles De Menendez at Stockwell, or for any of the deaths of predominately black citizens in police custody in the last decade. Yet a police officer was suspended the other day after two police dogs died from heat exhaustion after being left in the back the his police car.
Not one politician has been imprisoned for illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention all the other illegal clandestine operations in Libya and elsewhere. Yet youths are being jailed for smashing up windows and stealing a few items from multinationals.
Unfortunately sometimes things need to get smashed before people pay attention. It’s just a shame that local business and innocent victims bear the brunt.
The looting was not about getting ‘rich quick’ it was sending a political message, whether conscious or subconscious, that the youth have had enough. Whether you like it or not, they are pissed-off and frustrated.
This was, and is, a message to the government, corporations and society in general, if you don’t give a fuck about us, we won’t give a fuck about society.
This is what you get when people are pissed-off and powerless. Finally something happens to kick it off – just like the guy who set himself alight and burned to death in Tunisia outside a police station after they took away his livelihood (which started the spring revolution) – the murder of Mark Duggan by police the other day was the last straw.
After years of police brutality and injustice, a riot becomes an insurrection. It takes something to ignite the burning anger that smoulders within those disposed by years of exploitation by capitalist elites. Then it erupts into mayhem on the streets.
The point being made; what price do we put on our youth?
Closing community and youth centres, cutting public services and ignoring the voices of the voiceless is going to result in a mass uprising, a rebellion of the disenfranchised. And this will boil over, whether the political establishment and middle-class like it or not, as the case may be.
I’m not saying the riots were justified, just why they are happening. If we don’t address the root causes, disempowerment, unemployment, inequality, injustice and lack of representation etc, this will not go away…there comes a point where the poor have nothing to lose but their chains, they have a world to win!!
For those who have not seen a documentary called ‘The Corporation’ or any of John Pilgers documentaries I highly recommend them, it’s the first thing you should do. Go to google videos…