August 10th, 2011
|02:30 pm - Making sense of it|
There seems to be a big division around the web. There are people who offer various explanations for the behaviour of the looters, and others who decry the attempt to understand or explain as excusing or even celebrating them.
I think it is acceptable, even essential, to think about the reasons behind what has happened this week. It can not be simply ascribed to either personal or universal evil, because things change over time. If we understand why things have changed, then we have more chance to change them differently.
Let me suggest an analogy. If a businessman refused to employ black people, we would condemn him, and yet we would also want to understand what caused his racism, so we could improve our society. It would not be enough to say 'Oh, he is evil', because that gives us nowhere else to go.
Among those who seek explanation, I have read two kinds. The explanation I favour is alienation, arising from consumerism, turning people into selfish units, and destroying the social contract by which everyone in society takes responsibility for our communal life. I believe it is the ruling elite who ultimately bear responsibility for making decisions motivated by their own greed which have degraded our society. I think those people are take, take, take, and never think of giving anything back. No wonder the weak and stupid emulate them.
Conservatives on the other hand say it is because our society is too soft, makes things too easy for the poor. That people have too much (too much hope, too much comfort, too much pleasure, whatever). I think that's barmy. I think only a person with no hope or pleasure could riot in that way.
Boris Johnson - and I find this incredible - says that poor people have too much sense of entitlement. Boris Johnson is like the embodiment of the Platonic ideal of too much sense of entitlement. His idea of a good night out, when he was young, was setting fire to restaurants. Jeepers.
|Date:||August 10th, 2011 02:01 pm (UTC)|| |
It is always worth asking, "Why now? Why here?" and "Why then? Why there?" to find commonalities so that the conditions that make this more likely can be avoided.
As you know, I agree with you about the present cause.
I wonder whether people (I include myself) project their own emotions. So, Johnson says 'entitlement' and I say 'alienation' and someone else says 'hopelessness'.
Changed because previous comment was ambiguous!
I think it very likely that people are talking about the same thing - perhaps it is not 'emotion' but 'belief system' or just 'stance' that results in different interpretations.
I'm interested in how people often seem to be describing themselves when they say what they hate most - like fundamentalists of one religion decrying the fundamentalists of another.
That makes me turn that same question on myself - what am I projecting outwards?
I'm in general agreement with you. I think there is another factor. The people who feel excluded are excluded not just from the distribution of consumer goods but from the political process at all levels. "High" politics in the UK (and elsewhere) is almost entirely concerned with the distribution of wealth, social goods (eg university places) and power within the well to do strata of society (and increasingly is monolithically inclined, even there, to increasing the share of the wealthiest). Nobody speaks for the less privileged. Labour has abandoned them and the other parties never did give a toss. Equally there is no means of informal mediation. If somebody got shot by the police in a "nice" neighbourhood the local MP would be all over it and s/he'd expect to get answers. One more young black man gunned down by the Met isn't worthy of comment.
Yes, it's a good point. People can be very scornful of the effect of political engagement, but I think it makes people feel differently about the society they live in. I left the Labour Party when Blair took over, though I still think they are the best of a bad lot, and I hope they will improve now.
I'd left the country by the time Blair took over but I watched the changes from afar with a mixture of dismay and disbelief. I never thought I'd look back on the days of Wilson and Callaghan with something like repect and affection. I don't have too many hopes for Miliclone. As far as I can see the party has been gutted at the activist level and I don't see a PLP and party apparatus of Oxbridge grads, even if one or two sound like Mike Gapes, rebuilding the grass roots as it needs to be rebuilt.
But, and I think this is crucial, this does not mean there is no difference. Because everything is now getting much worse.
I'm not sure which bothers me more; reduced social mobility or increased wealth/income inequality. New Labour failed badly on both counts. I guess what worries me about the emphasis on social mobility is that while it benefits people like me, the first member of a traditionally working class/petty bourgeois family to attend a university, it ignores the existence of a permanent underclass.
|Date:||August 11th, 2011 10:18 am (UTC)|| |
The liberal response is that equal opportunity is sufficient. I don't agree, because our society includes all kind of people, and all of them should have at least a basic decent standard of living.
Interesting comment piece here
which rings true for me, in particular:
"...not one commentator seems to have touched upon the sole unifying factor that fuels and drives such unrest – excitement, fun, teenage kicks. In 1981 I could have cited unemployment (check), low-income, single-parent family (check), experience of police brutality (check) as factors in my participation, but none of the above even remotely came into my thinking then and I doubt it is stoking today's unrest, either.
"I went along in 1981 because I was swept away by the mind-blowing buzz of mob mayhem. There's no justifying that – in the crudest terms such behaviour is quite simply wrong – but try telling that to a 15-year-old on a mountain bike. To him or her, it's like a Wii game come to life – a hyper-real version of GTA."
|Date:||August 10th, 2011 03:05 pm (UTC)|| |
Where that leaves people who enjoyed the 1981 riots when they were young, is struggling for a way to label these riots "different". It's a bit like Paul McCartney telling his kids not to do drugs because today's drugs are different. (teh walk-back is even worse for some because it's been mere *weeks* since they were cooing over the middle east riots)
It's okay to enjoy the social chaos of your time when you're young and foolish: some people got a kick out of the Blitz when they were kids. It's not okay to claim kids today are different, when what's really changed is you've acquired a six-figure sum in capital assets.
I certainly don't want my kids to do any of the stupid things I did when I was young. Though I had a bloody marvellous time doing them myself :-)
what's really changed is you've acquired a six-figure sum in capital assets
... and the sort of looting you enjoy is known as 'short-selling' and ruins entire economies...
none of the above even remotely came into my thinking
Though sometimes things can have effects, even if peple can not articulate those effects, or call them to mind. For example, he might have never consciously thought 'I have no chance of getting a job, so what have I got to lose?' but emotionally that equation was there in the background, influencing his emotions.
I can remember when I was young, getting drunk before I took my exams. Was I consciously reacting to my teachers telling me 'It doesn't matter what grades you get, you won't be accepted at University'? No - but I think it unconsciously made me reckless.
A commenter to that piece says that you can treat the riots as political without politics going through the minds of the perpertrators. I think it's interesting that most of what's happened in the last few days after the initial violence in Tottenham, has been semi-organised looting rather than direct physical attacks on the police.
I'd bet (and admittedly haven't got a huge amount to base this on other than speculation and comments from people interviewed) that many of the young people looting don't have any specific anger directed at anyone, it's just a wider sense of entitlement and greed that society generally instils in us, which goes back to your 'alienation arising from consumerism' explanation. We are taught to 'need' the expensive trainers/clothes/electronic goods and feel that we deserve them as much as the next person. All that, combined with the buzz of participating and you've got a pretty explosive mixture (comments to the article here
(with the exception of the right-wing solution!) and here
make sense to me).
I agree, I think it will happen in America soon. Rain will put a stop to it here I think.
Thanks - just going out but I will read that when I get back
There's a Jeremy Hardy tweet around atm with a silky bite that bears a lot of thinking about, "Some of these kids out nicking trainers look young enough to have made them".
This seems sensible
-- it's about teenagers who don't feel like they're part of society because they've never been treated as though they're part of society.
There may be an important difference between looting and setting fires. The latter shows a much greater disconnection from consequences.
I am afraid I don't think it's sensible, because I think there is a political subtext there which I disagree with mightily. Politics does not concern the 13 to 20%; criminality is their norm, just as it was their parents' norm. This is the Tory world view, and the world view of many people on livejournal, but I do not agree with it.
(PS sorry if this sounds dismissive. I think it's cleverly done, but it makes me feel very angry)
Edited at 2011-08-10 09:24 pm (UTC)
I liked this comment on crooked timber
for most people it remains true that you don’t, fundamentally, go out and steal yourself a tv when the opportunity presents itself if you actually feel a good deal of allegiance to a society and its rules... The interesting question is why these people don’t feel such allegiance. When that question gets asked by the commentariat on tv and radio, the question always seems to mean: ‘what is wrong with these people?’ But it could also mean: ‘what is wrong with the system, such that it generates no loyalty to itself, such that the police are widely hated, and people take such joy in spontaneous acts of rebellion?’ The answer is: a lot.
And if that allegiance is gone, the consequences can not be contained by the policing we have in our society. We would need millions of police.