[Edit: On re-reading, I realised this post might be a little confusing. It’s meant as a sort of parody-by-reversal of the usual style of writing about riots and repression, in which the tropes usually employed for talking about poor communities (‘it’s so sad that they do this, but we must remember the context’ etc.) are employed for talking about the state apparatus. I’m not sure how successful it is.]
Most of us will by now have noticed the growing wave of mindless, destructive violence that is sweeping the country in response to last week’s riots. Hundreds or thousands of people are being locked into the same set of dangerous, unfair, dehumanising cages that we have become all too familiar with.
- People jailed for swearing at police or picking up goods lying in the street.
- People jailed for taking a £3.50 water bottle.
- People arrested for facebook comments.
- Jailed for receiving looted goods from others.
- £335 fine for throwing a coin
- Families evicted because one member was charged
- Online campaigns to encourage people to inform on each other
- Government asks that normal procedures be suspended so as to ensure sufficient humiliation of juveniles.
- Parents turning on their children.
- Calls for people’s exclusion from the social wealth to be made complete
- Public claims that rioting expresses ‘black culture’
- MP calling for summary executions
Of course, all right-thinking people will condemn this orgy of state violence, but we should not rush to judgement. Those who denounce this as ‘bigoted’, ‘obscene’, or ‘fascistic’ are missing the crucial context of these events. We can’t understand these moves to indiscriminately victimise and incarcerate people without understanding the events that preceded them.
Similarly, the constant refrain that “there can be no excuse for using violent punishment against mere expropriation” serves simply to salve the consciences of those public figures who want to avoid taking a long hard look at the causes of this sudden outbreak of repression.
The people who are carrying out these acts, who are master-minding them or cheering them on from the sidelines, have very real greivances. Many of them have a history of being harassed, humiliated, or intimidated by poor youths, or have seen their families languish in poverty due to constant petty thefts or vandalism.
All of this came to head last week, when the irresponsible actions of poor youths went from merely humiliating to actively lethal. The handling of these events, especially the lies that were told by various individuals and groups to obscure their own role in those deaths, further exacerbated widespread anger and resentment.
But it’s more than that. This explosion has been brewing for a long time. The persistent, outrageous poverty of our political class’s discourse, the endless spirals of expressing and pandering to ignorance and prejudice, together with a steady growth in inequality that leaves far too many wealthy people completely out of touch with the realities of national life, makes outbreaks like this inevitable.
And there have always been too many working class people who would make excuses for these people, or endorse their views, out of a misplaced feeling of guilt.
Now, let there be no mistake: understanding is not the same as justifying. There can be no excuse for snatching up relatives of rioters, or shoplifters, or people who just took home valuable goods lying in the street, and subjecting them to prison, or homelessness, or destitution. Such actions are completely inconsistent with the principles of a civilised society, and they can have crushing effects on the lives of their victims.
Especially in the present economic climate, to give already-struggling people the stigma of a criminal record, or of homelessness, or to remove them from education or from their social support network, and put them somewhere known to be psychologically harmful in addition to its evident humiliations and deprivations, amounts to little more than pushing them to the edge of a self-sustaining cycle of imprisonment, homelessness, joblessness, or drug addiction, and then pretending to hope that they don’t fall in.
Perhaps the saddest thing of all is how pointless this violence is. These people are ruining their own communities, further ripping up the social fabric whose frayed, ragged character originally provoked them. The people lashing out like this won’t even benefit from the cathartic outburst of aggression, because by their own actions they guarantee a backlash, more riots, more clashes with the police. Their actions are not just destructive, but self-destructive.
Ultimately, what this reflects is a problem of culture. A certain section of our society has been allowed to develop a victim mentality, where everyone but them is responsible for their problems. Rather than looking at themselves and how they can change, they blame the media, they blame immigration, they blame political correctness, they blame women’s rights, they blame muslims or the nanny state or liberalism or the BBC.
This attitude generates a toxic cycle, whereby people lash out at any symbol of non-authority, strengthening their own conviction of persecution while also breeding hostility in their own victims that just leads to more trouble down the line. Of course, we must never allow ourselves to slip into the easy conflation of culture with race. It is not white people who are the problem, but we should be able to criticise a culture without being accused of racism.
Britain is broken. How can we get it back on track?