London Riots: don’t be misled by the debate

9 Aug

With the london riots, there has come the inevitable debate between sides as to the cause of the situation. Both sides have already begun wading into the argument with their own particular brand of special.

(Credit for the pic goes to whatever photographer who took it. I got it from breakingnews.ie, but it’s probably an agency copy. Apologies to the owner if you take offence at me using it, do let me know)

I heard a conversation last night on the BBC news channel between ( I think, not sure if I remember correctly) Ken livingstone the ex-mayor of London and the newsanchor. Livingstone, was quick to highlight the massive unemployment, bleak education prospects and huge cuts to youth services that had a hand in laying the foundations for such violence and destruction, and then the cuts to the police force and emergency services that had a big hand in denying them their ability to tackle the situation and do their job right. The newsanchor was quick to condemn this point of view, saying that we could not dismiss simple hooliganism because the people commiting it had no jobs: to do that would be giving them a free ride, which is true…to a point.

While I agree with both sides of the debate, I do lean towards the sociological explanation a little bit more, for this very simple reason:

To persistently say the London riots have been caused by simple hooliganism and thuggery -and nothing else-, is like saying the East African famine has been caused because the people there don’t have enough tomatoes. Sure it’s a part of the problem, but to hold it up as the absolute only reason the situation is as it is? well…that’s just ridiculous. There are a lot of other parts of the jigsaw that need to fit correctly before that particular piece fits*.

*Whether a person should learn morals, ethics and principles as soon as possible or only when they are financially and socially stable enough to tackle those big subjects is an interesting question, one that I don’t know the answer to.

The opportunism many people have displayed in looting businesses during the riots is most definitely a point of self control and personal responsibility, but quite a lot of the people involved need basic foundations before they can start worrying about the ethical remifications of their actions. When a kid of fifteen sees a louis vuitton shop bared open for anyone to waltz away with an armful of goodies, they’re not gonna think “Well shucks, I better wonder a minute about what my actions will do to my community and society”, they’re gonna think “Well fuck this innit, I’m stuck on the dole and want something nice to give my ma…louis vittin never done nothing for me, why should I care bout him”.

But, to only focus on these two points of view is a mistake (and to only agree with one side an even bigger one). A lot of the destruction can probably be put down to simple mob mentality and the fact that when you’re wandering round the empty streets looking at it with fresh young eyes- eyes that scream “Hang on a sec…the world isn’t as efficiently well ordered as we’ve been led to believe…I can do anything I want!”- you’ve got a tendency to go crazy and follow the crowd.

The crowd, which is made up of mainly your friends and peers. Single yourself out by not taking part, and there could be a lot more serious repurcussions than a few weeks in a juvenile detention centre. You could be cast out from your group for not manning up.

I should stress that I am not in any way condoning or agreeing with this mentality. There’s a huge difference between agreeing with something, and understanding it.

I read a pretty interesting quote this morning in the paper. I can’t remember it properly, but it was something to the effect of “It’s not about what you do anymore, it’s about what you buy…We’ve got a generation of kids raised on consumerism going wild out there…”

Yes, the riots are based on an excess of aggression, destruction, a wildly skewed sense of entitlement on the rioters part and an an unhealthy disregard for people’s safety. It’s stupid to leave it at that though and forget about investigating the underlying causes. Economic depression, unemployment, lack of services, discrimination, lack of opportunities, apathy. (And of course, there’s the underlying causes for the length of time it has taken the emergency services to react properly to the disorder: massive budget cuts made to the public services). These are all parts of the jigsaw: each one needed to make sense of the next. To hold one single piece up and blame the whole ugly picture on it and it alone is a horrifically small minded mistake.

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One Response to “London Riots: don’t be misled by the debate”

  1. EAM August 12, 2011 at 5:17 pm #

    Great post! I’ve been following how the media have been framing the riots, and the blame’s been put on a wide range of things (rap music, Facebook, Twitter, Blackberry). People nowadays are looking for easy, clear-cut solutions to complex social problems. Quite often they don’t realize how different aspects interlock. I love your metaphor of the puzzle; it is so true.

    And of course mob mentality warps an already skewed sense of ethics – which is the offshoot of our love for “individualism”. People need to get off that individualism bus and start to think in terms of being part of a greater whole: and not as being a collection of highly autonomous individuals.

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