Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Tuesday, August 9, 2011 8:03 pm

Insert ritual condemnation of violence and/or inevitable “London Calling” headline here

Filed under: Sad — Lex @ 8:03 pm
Tags: , ,

This … is London:

Violence is rarely mindless. The politics of a burning building, a smashed-in shop or a young man shot by police may be obscured even to those who lit the rags or fired the gun, but the politics are there. Unquestionably there is far, far more to these riots than the death of Mark Duggan, whose shooting sparked off the unrest on Saturday, when two police cars were set alight after a five-hour vigil at Tottenham police station. A peaceful protest over the death of a man at police hands, in a community where locals have been given every reason to mistrust the forces of law and order, is one sort of political statement. Raiding shops for technology and trainers that cost ten times as much as the benefits you’re no longer entitled to is another. A co-ordinated, viral wave of civil unrest across the poorest boroughs of Britain, with young people coming from across the capital and the country to battle the police, is another.

Months of conjecture will follow these riots. Already, the internet is teeming with racist vitriol and wild speculation. The truth is that very few people know why this is happening. They don’t know, because they were not watching these communities. Nobody has been watching Tottenham since the television cameras drifted away after the Broadwater Farm riots of 1985. Most of the people who will be writing, speaking and pontificating about the disorder this weekend have absolutely no idea what it is like to grow up in a community where there are no jobs, no space to live or move, and the police are on the streets stopping-and-searching you as you come home from school. The people who do will be waking up this week in the sure and certain knowledge that after decades of being ignored and marginalised and harassed by the police, after months of seeing any conceivable hope of a better future confiscated, they are finally on the news. In one NBC report, a young man in Tottenham was asked if rioting really achieved anything:

“Yes,” said the young man. “You wouldn’t be talking to me now if we didn’t riot, would you?”

“Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard, more than 2,000 of us, all blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what? Not a word in the press. Last night a bit of rioting and looting and look around you.”

Eavesdropping from among the onlookers, I looked around. A dozen TV crews and newspaper reporters interviewing the young men everywhere.

There are communities all over the country that nobody paid attention to unless there had recently been a riot or a murdered child. Well, they’re paying attention now.

Rioting is wrong. We know enough about human nature to know that it also is a nearly inevitable consequence of pinning people up without logic, justice, opportunities or hope. That’s not to say everyone who is poor riots, or that none of those who riot are consciously choosing to be criminal; some certainly are. But for a subset of a subset, rationality exists in a different, distant dimension, while in the here and now there is nothing but terror, grief, frustration and rage.

The converse of that fact is that for those of us who actually have a little, it is in our best interests to share because then people are less likely to be driven to the kind of irrationality that leads them to destroy what little they have and — oh, by the way — take what’s ours. That’s not paying blackmail, because the concept of blackmail, or extortion, involves premeditation and willful intent — a measure of rationality, in other words. But when you drive people crazy, sometimes — Stop the presses! — they don’t act rationally. As Athenae observes:

Giving people who need assistance a stake in society doesn’t just help individuals. It tethers people in, so that even if they don’t have what you have, they see the value in what all of us have, and feel a part of things. This isn’t charity.

Nope. Indeed, even under close scrutiny it looks remarkably like enlightened self-interest.

One other thing: I can’t prove it, but I can’t help wondering whether the riots in the UK (and demonstrations ongoing in Israel) aren’t a more-or-less direct consequence of the so-called austerity measures taken by the IGMFY factions controlling those respective governments. If so, then it’s entirely possible we can look forward to the same thing here. Not immediately, of course, because as all the critics pointed out, the $2 trillion in cuts that got our debt ceiling lifted recently don’t all take place anytime soon. But given how much a significant chunk of the most vulnerable Americans already have been through in the past four years, it could be sooner than those of us who are comfortable think.

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