In just a brief break from regular programming, I wanted to offer a few words about the London riots. While ostensibly in response to the police fatally shooting a reputed drug dealer who was certainly armed (not something that is legal), the arson, looting and generally thuggery that started in Tottenham (a mixed-to-poor area of North London) is clearly not about that kind of justice. Many looters are clearly stealing plasma screen TVs, athletic shoes, electronics and clothing out of greed; social media and Blackberries have clearly helped spread the violence and I'm sure in some cases there's organized crime and gangs involved. Some of the teenagers may just be guilty of being young, on an adrenaline kick and/or poor. Clearly policing has failed as the riots have spread in all directions, even leading to some looting in Tottenham Court Road in the West End, but some of this may be because new technologies and recent cutbacks make these riots very different from those in the 1980s.
I don't think that consciously many rioters have an agenda beyond smashing, grabbing, looting and getting high on being there. But besides the ingrained dislike of police in some communities, there are clearly broader cultural issues at stake. It's no accident that these riots have occurred as major austerity cutbacks have affected the poorest, including the loss of youth clubs that keep young, poor kids occupied, the loss of the Educational Maintenance Allowance and the tripling of University fees under this government of Old Etonians, aristocrats and other social elites, for whom my contempt is endless. Combine that with cutbacks in police manpower, public services and the collapse of the global financial systems--which have already created housing bubbles and disenfranchised the majority at the expense of the few--then rioting is to be expected. Of course, the younger generation have been most subject to these cuts, and suffered the most from the downward spiral in wages and the off-sourcing of jobs, so their anger--and their ability and willingness to act on it--should not be surprising.
But that kind of rioting--the kind with a goal that suggests a true collectivity--seems to be a more modernist phenomenon, one responding to the possibility for change coming from the people, and the desire to attain social mobility while still protecting the social good. This is more aimless, viral in the most cliched sense, but it doesn't mean that there is no social context. In a western culture saturated with greed, where identity seems to be dependent on having the latest consumer goods, this response should not be surprising. Sadly, it's likely that aimless rioting will bring no results--especially when the perpetrators hurt their communities and those of others, and are probably as unlikeable as their actions would attest. But it doesn't mean that these riots are just meaningless bad behavior. I don't condone them at all, but they are a product of a broader malaise, one entrenched in the financial system, the rapaciousness of increasingly global corporations and the international shift back to a world of a few ultra rich, a select, small middle-class and bitter competition among the rest for increasingly limited resources.
I'd hope to see these riots--in what is one of the safest, most beautiful and most prosperous global cities--as a wake up call: I just hope the British people, myself included, attach blame to those who deserve it--both at the micro level of finding and convicting ring leaders and looters, but also at the macro-level--the politicians themselves, particularly Cameron, Osbourne and Clegg, who with all their millions have cut off the resources to so many who depend on them. And, more importantly, I hope that the financial system and the neo-liberal corporate culture with which it is synonymous, is seen as one of the major forces behind these kinds of behaviors. The bigger criminals, after all, are those that would plunder communities, remove jobs and entire industries overseas while bribing us all with the allure of cheap commodities.