Two schools of thought are developing on the rioting: the whole thing is either very complex, or it is very simple. I think it’s more the latter, just.
Stalin often has the following quote misattributed to him: “One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is just a statistic”. He never said this. But he did say, “The theft of one plasma television is a crime. The widespread theft of hundreds of plasma televisions is an act of political protest.”
I have resisted the urge to leap to hasty conclusions but I seem to be settling on the assessment that last week’s madness was simple criminality. The spark may well have been a legitimate and peaceful protest against possible police brutality but I do not accept that the rioters were motivated by a worthwhile desire to hold the police to account. I doubt most of them even know who Mark Duggan is.
I remain unconvinced that the rioters were protesting against government cuts or any other government policies. The only connection between cuts and the riots that I’m aware of is the lack of police resources to deal with them effectively. Come to think of it, the only people taking part in a political protest during the riots might have actually been the police because for a while I thought they were on strike, such was their inaction in allowing residential and commercial premises to burn to a crisp and to stand by as looters gorged themselves on high-calorie, low nutritional value consumer status symbols.
It’s difficult to know where to start with the rioters. When you hear them speak, you realise they are obsessed with the notion of “respect”, yet they display no propensity to afford this noble quality to others. They are experts in their chosen specialist subject of rights but not even amateurs when it comes to responsibilities. They guard their own personal property – clothes, jewellery, phone/s, trainers – as jealously and as viciously as a rabid hyena guards its meal, yet they don’t hesitate in relieving others of their personal property given half the chance.
We have even witnessed behaviour which could be described as sub-human, because the natural instinct of most of our species when they come across an injured fellow human is to show compassion, not to rob them.
I also reject the theory that the looting was caused by poverty; in fact, the lazy correlation between poverty and theft that is intrinsic to this theory is quite repulsive because there are countless people who have little and who do not resort to theft. In any case, I’ve given up trying to understand how we define poverty in the UK. Is it not having the latest iPhone? Having less than five pairs of trainers? Living in a household where the combined inches of all plasma televisions is less than 200?
It’s also becoming clear that those involved weren’t just rough kids from rough estates, and this further suggests that the looters were not driven to commit these acts by a desperate desire to place food onto a barren dinner table; rather, that many people just saw an opportunity to get rich quick and literally grabbed it with both hands. Sprinkle on to all this an eerily slow and ineffective police response, and the ability of the rioters to organise themselves with social media (especially Blackberry Messenger, which unlike Twitter or Facebook is not publicly visible) and it’s not that difficult to understand how things got so crazy so quickly.
As always in these situations there was a partial antidote on offer by way of very decent human behaviour. Like Louise Smith, the owner of a hair salon in Wolverhampton who bravely defended her business against a mob of scum, alone. And the proud group of Sikhs who stood by their Temple to protect it from the feral vermin roaming the streets (though as a Secularist I would of course argue that Sikhs should have no greater legal right than anyone else to carry an offensive weapon in public simply because this is an “article of faith”).
Although I have settled on a reasonably simple analysis of these events, I do believe there are things profoundly wrong with our society which played a contributory role and which will need deeper analysis when people have calmed down, such as rampant consumerism verging on brand-worship, greed generally, a failed education system, and a complete lack of respect by many young people for the communities in which they live. And it’s a bit toe-curling hearing politicians condemn looting when it wasn’t that long ago that so many of them got their own grubby paws jammed in the till.
I think the rioting to some extent confirms Cameron’s “Broken Britain” diagnosis, though if I were tempted to score a cheap point I might suggest that listening to a Bullingdon hellraiser condemn rioting is like listening to Goebbels speak out against the demonization of Jews. Rioting in a £3,500 dinner suit is still rioting, Prime Minister.
The rioting is probably also the final nail in the New Labour coffin – assuming there is room for any more nails – especially as far as education and social responsibility is concerned. (Great performance by Michael Gove on Monday’s Newsnight, incidentally, in which he pretty much tore Harriet Harperson a new arsehole. Well worth a gander.)
The most striking and worrying thing about last week is how rapidly law and order can collapse. It’s sometimes said that any society is only ever three meals away from revolution. Well it looks like we’re only ever one viral, social media-driven craze away from a breakdown of society. At least when it happens everyone will have state-of-the-art televisions on which to watch the apocalypse unfurl.