It’s a Riot

It is an understatement to say that in this society injustices abound: in truth, it is itself the quintessence of injustice.—Emil Cioran

Beat them, impose martial law, they deserve what they get; they’re thugs! Get the water canons! Baton rounds! Impose curfews! Explanation is justification; they’re mindless, thoughtless, reasonless, motiveless, essentially—somehow—ex nihilo. To say otherwise is an unforgivable violation of a bipartisan consensus; only maddened rage and stunned melancholy are permissible. Perhaps there was a reason initially, one that can be appropriately dissected only after the issue is no longer relevant, but at this point they can only be said to have arrived out of the ether—without raison d’être—to break our otherwise perfect society; they are a sickness, a disease that demands an unforgiving cure. And, let me stress, nobody saw it coming:

I said, nobody:

Shut up, stop explaining, we should shoot on sight! Until someone does get killed by another dumb cop, then investigate police brutality. Right now though, kill! Blood, blood, blood. Cure the sickness in our midst.

Subconsciously we have seen this coming for a while, projecting our Jungian shadow on the unruly masses. Our narrative daydreams are replete with the monster the rioters so quickly recall; Walking Dead, 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later, The Crazies, I Am Legend, Resident Evil and, speaking of films adapted from games, the Resident Evil console series, Left 4 Dead, Call of Duty: World at War, Return to Castle Wolfenstein and on and on; after the Red Dead Redemption DLC Undead Nightmare the number of zombie games is becoming a joke. It’s a cultural tendency that has not been entirely missed. It’s the image of the shambling hoard, of the rotting sleepwalkers; the archetypal dispossessed. They move as a greedy mass, consuming. They are amoral, hunger machines that cannot be tackled without a hefty flamethrower.

However, before I despair at the violent mythic overlay, let’s cursorily, concretely examine these UK rioters. They were raised in the worst country in the industrial world in which to be a child. Few would dispute that they largely belong to the lowest social classes amidst massive inequality and high unemployment, with low expectations. Additionally, despite lacking the means, their society measures them by their capacity to consume and bombards them with hyperreal fantasies of materialistic life from every direction: billboards, online pop ups, TV ads, magazines, films, email spam, etc. The few institutions that served them are being pulled back; everyone has to do their bit in the age of austerity, even if everyone means the young, old, disabled, unemployed and impoverished. The standard of their education is appalling. They live in communities in which the peoples’ relationship to subpar police has broken down.

And let’s not indulge too readily in hypocrisy; if the underclass (collective guilt is in vogue) has been shamed, they have only joined the ranks of the political class (expenses, cablegate, complicity with Murdoch press…), police (brutality, draconian suppression of protest…) media (phone hacking, woeful factual inadequacy, demonization of the vulnerable…), the army (complicity in torture, the orchestration of devastating and immoral wars…) and the whole of society (unwillingness to challenge power, prioritising capital punishment above correcting humanitarian, ecological and economic disasters…).

If these residents of poverty traps are guilty of a consumerism that puts morality to one side, then so is every person (including moi) whose purchases help continue the crimes against humanity perpetrated in Congo, China, etc. So too is every politician who ‘bent’ the rules to steal their bit of public money. So too is every corporation that sells unsustainable dreams; inducing young girls to anorexia as surely as they reduce the world to a barren wasteland. I would not suggest that one evil excuses another, but evils should be taken together; the middle classes are angry, but only because they are feeling some of the pain.

To return to the rioters; they have no investment in our ‘big’ society, which already hated them. At best they get condescending pity; mostly, the media calls them chavs and the voters regard them with ageist, classist suspicion—contempt. They are the ‘lumpenproletariat’ and their anger does have a context, even though their actions can be inexcusable.

Vince Cable is quick to argue that the causes of the riots are not economic and therefore not about the policies of Coalition government; that is, he wants to make it clear that this is not political à la Greece. Superficially that appears right; most of the rioters can only offer an incoherent mass of clichés to justify their looting. And some offer no comprehendible justification at all. Yes it is mad to look for a complex underlining political theory urging arsonists and muggers to realise a recognisable utopic vision against a carefully defined enemy. However, that is a somewhat narrow definition of political—let alone economic. Look at the situation, not at poorly expressed intentions.

This is a rising to the surface of the contradictions inherent to the superstructure of the status quo. It is more the failure of parliamentary democracy and capitalism per se, than the Coalition or British government in particular. As usual; families, poor communities, those on the peripheries are paying the most for the actions of the least.

So what should we do? Blindly looking to the PM to set the mood (of ‘tough love’) and return us to the normal is inexcusably cretinous and invites us to stay on the same miserable trajectory. Further empowering the poisonous police  is a bit like responding to violently abused and violently abusive children by locking them in a room with a Rottweiler—tough love indeed. In fact, with a new bent on draconianism, policing for the lower orders may be the new justification for curtailing civil rights for everyone. Much as terrorism has been the excuse for power to exert its natural tendencies.

So shall we continue in the way we have? Do we really degrade our society one more time and deem the rioters’ mere mindless zombies, arisen ex nihilo, controllable only through a police state? Alternatively, do we radically cut across divides and consolidate against the general condition of consumerist greed that is the true sickness of our society?

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5 Responses to It’s a Riot

  1. Sue Cvach says:

    I’d like to hear more about how we would ‘cut across divides’ (divides, as in class divide? religious/cultural/ethnic/political/all? how can this be done?) Is a ‘general condition of consumerist greed’ the one, only, most important ‘true sickness of our society’? Would you advocate a reigning in of capitalism, and a top-down direction of what is produced and how much and who gets it? Is liberty an over-riding value, worth the trouble to defend?

    • incomingpast says:

      Cutting across all divides (importantly, but complexly, class) is vital. By this I mean going beyond single issue politics in which groups defend parochial interests to the exclusion—and sometimes detriment—of other interests; e.g. ‘not in my back yard’ with the unspoken implication, ‘but in someone else’s.’ So, hypothetically, a gay rights group defending asylum seekers; environmentalists defending home-education; an oppressed religious denomination speaking out against poverty. Better: a classical liberal arguing for the freedom of speech of a radical socialist, an atheist critiquing sloppy anti-theist arguments, etc. In essence, a reaching out that implies an inherent acknowledgement of universal human dignity à la the most liberationist strands of Christianity.

      Consumerism vis-à-vis the profit motive is the prevailing motivating force in capitalist society, which I would indeed say is the most important sickness—allowing that the language is highly theatrical (reductionist) in parody of the rhetoric of the British Coalition government. Note that in this case the looters were consumers predominantly motivated by material aspirations and comprehendible resentment

      The twentieth century—politically, socially, morally—has proved the disastrous consequences of top down economics and centralised planning as surely as it has discredited the prevailing neoliberal orthodoxy; instead I am more interested in looking at a system of negotiation between different groups overseen by multi-level democratic institutions or, less radically and perhaps less effectively, some form of market socialism.

      Liberty is definitely an over-riding value and must be defended from the implications of a neoliberal implosion.

  2. Pingback: Neoliberalism contra Liberty | incomingpast

  3. I personally don’t feel you emphaized just enough how much no one saw this coming. I was always certain that the massive drawbacks of crushing labour unions, decreased wages, and increased social inequality created by the super-capitalism of Thatcher and Reagen had no drawbacks what so ever.

    It worked out so well in all those Ayn Rand novels I read…

    • incomingpast says:

      I think it is important that we avoid confronting anything so catastrophically traumatic. Okay, in hindsight we can now say that Ayn Rand was mostly wrong—the bourgeoisie did not rally around a mythic figure and his (capitalist friendly) pirate compatriots; the Fountainhead turned out to be Patrick Bateman; deregulation did not save capitalism from crisis, etc—but let’s not forget that, no matter anything else, A is still A. And you just can’t get past a contribution to Western thought of that magnitude.

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