August 10, 2011
Riot of a Time
Very quick thoughts on the recent riots.
1. Clearly it is true that poverty, alienation, deepdisgruntlement with the police and lack of opportunity are important background facts that any serious attempt at understanding will have to take into account.
2. But these alone cannot explain what was clearly, in many cases, opportunistic theft and glee in destruction.
3. So where do we go from there?
4. I take these to be true and important components of any description of modern British politics and society: that it promotes self-interested greed, materialism, the possession of ostensive goods for status, immediate gratification, and a toleration (even encouragement) of ruthless competitiveness with a deep disregard for the welfare of others. (Call this the “no-such-thing-as-society society”, if you like.)
5. Putting 1 and 2 together with 4, and adding in conditions of spontaneity, anticipated impunity and evident opportunity, a basic yet broadly sufficient explanation appears to emerge.
6. Note that the things described in 4 above constitute the core tenets of the political ideology broadly known as ‘Thatcherism’ (or if you want to bring things up to date post-1997, ‘neo-liberalism’).
7. Also note that the conditions described in 1. have been massively and continuously exacerbated by Thatcherism (or ‘neo-liberalism’), especially if enormous inequality and its debilitating effects on individual well-being and self-respect are included too.
8. So actually this may not be such a mystery after all. If you constantly tell people to be selfish, ruthless, competitive, greedy and disregarding of the welfare of others, then you can’t really be surprised when they behave as they are told they fundamentally are and must be (even if they forget about the bits to do with obeying the law).
9. However, if you happen to be the prime minister just invoke some vacuous covering fluff about ‘moral responsibility’. Continue to condemn loudly, and then get back to promoting the elements in 4. on a daily basis. Without wondering about which ways the knife may cut.