A Different Take on the UK Riots?

Posted: August 17, 2011 in Political musings
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Elsewhere on the worldwide web I am engaged in a fascinating debate on the recent riots in the UK, why they occured, and what to do about them. This series of comments from Paul Manzotti bears repeating, I think.

London riots

The recent British rioting - symptom of a deeper malaise than mere greed?

Seriously, people, the riots cost us £200 million. The bank bailout (cost) £1.5 trillion, a significant amount of which seems to have been used to line their own pockets, and they haven’t had to change one iota.

As a result we’re about to have another financial disaster, only this time we can’t do anything about it, because the governments have no money left to bail themselves out, because we gave it all to the banks. Meanwhile, there is an estimated £11.5 trillion squirrelled away in tax havens by a group of people who don’t seem to have the moral fibre to ask themselves the questions “How much more money do I need? Maybe I should try contributing to society a bit?”. And yet the nation is getting its knickers in a twist about the section of society that has tried to join in with getting money for nothing. Get a sense of perspective. Yes, we have a rotten society, but maybe, instead of looking at the bottom tiers of it and try to work out what’s gone wrong, maybe we should look at the upper echelons first? You know, the ones with the money and power to actually *do* something about it.

I have a lot of sympathy with Paul’s point, without in the least seeking to excuse the disgraceful behaviour of the British rioters. (And neither does he, incidentally.) It is easy to rant and rage against the criminality of what went on – right up to allegations of senseless manslaughter and murder – but we need, urgently, to understand and explain the rioting, so that we can learn the lessons.

(It’s the same problem with extremist Islamic violence against the west. Condemning it just isn’t enough. Sloganeering – “these people are evil” – may be emotionally satisfying, but it’s ultimately unhelpful. We need to look at the causes of the hatred, or it will be never ending.)

It has seemed to me for a long time that increasingly much of America and Europe in particular have become hard, brutalised societies, where old-fashioned concepts such as mutual inter-dependence and civic duty have become little more than amusing and slightly embarrassing cliches in a world dumbed down to the consumption of seemingly perpetual reality TV elimination shows, the goings on of uber-rich sports “stars” or other celebs and their charmless entourages, and grasping business owners paid obscene sums of money, largely regardless of their company’s actual performance.

The powerful in today’s society are the inheritors of the selfish, nihilistic nonsense talked by people like Margaret Thatcher (not that she was uniquely stupid, just more successfully so) when she opined “There is no such thing as society”, and we are all now reaping the whirlwind which that type of thinking inevitably leads us to.

It is hardly surprising, is it, that with no stake in this brave new world, and no apparent way to get a leg up to participate, some people resort to mindless thuggery and larceny? But the problem surely runs deeper.

For decades we have avoided imposing any moral expectations on people’s behaviour, mesmerised by the “Turn on, and tune out” principles of the 1960s. But those principles – which I embraced as enthusiastically as anyone else – grew up as a spontaneous revolution against a boring and stultifying conformity, and they have proven inadequate as a blueprint for mankind’s future.

But instead of embracing the best of the what was proposed by the flower power generation – nothing wrong with a bit more love in the world, just watch Woodstock and weep for the lost innocence – the Friendmanites, neo-cons and assorted political nasties reacted too far the other way, demolishing as quaint and outdated widely cherished and long-held principles of social inclusion and communal responsibility, (once shared by all sides of politics), and replacing them with a dog-eat-dog version of capitalism that harks back not to the intellectual traditions of Adam Smith and Disraeli – as claimed – but to a lawless free for all of medieval robber barons and cowed populations.

Concepts of corporate responsibility were swept away and replaced with a hunger for profit at any price. And internationally, it became morally acceptable to wage wars of dubious legality with apparent disregard for the human suffering inflicted on those unlucky enough to be on the receiving end of the West’s sophisticated armory of weaponry.

After all, if it’s OK for those in charge of us to write off the slaughter of 200,000 Iraqi civilians as merely unfortunate “collateral damage”, then what does nicking a pair of Nikes really matter? You know, like really? It’s all the same, innit?

As a result of this loss of focus, the West looks more and more like a construct that has lost its way, and it is rapidly being supplanted by the economic aggression of the command economies of the East. As a TV commentator remarked the other day, we may be the generation that witnesses the “end of the West”.

A long bow to draw from a week of soon-quelled and essentially avariciuous rioting? Well, perhaps. And humankind is yet to work out the perfect balance of any society.Perhaps it’s nothing more than a little local difficulty.

But I think not.

And I also think the future will be dark, indeed, if we end up losing, through inattention or lack of willpower, all the things the West successfully exported to the world for four hundred years or more – yes, patchily, it is true – things like innovation, industry, exploration, the rule of law, the concept of civil service, proportionate international behaviour, domestic democratic freedoms, and not to mentionpersonal civility and responsibility – and replace them with societies made up of obedient worker drones, kept in check by the doling out of material wealth in tightly-controlled countries run by ever more powerful elites.

As Paul said, if we’re going to fix this, we have to shine a bright and unblinking light on the whole of Western society, and, we probably need to start from scratch to get back to what we once took for granted.

Sadly, I won’t be holding my breath waiting for our leaders to show the intestinal fortitude to begin, let alone sustain, the process.

That’s just what I think. Comments?

  1. Richard Ember says:

    Would Paul’s (I presume by implication) yours solution involve taking their money off of people? Quelle surprise.

    Why is it any Left Wing Government cannot get out of the starting blocks without trying to steal other people’s money?


    • I am not talking about money. I am talking about moral and spirtual standards. Of course nothing can be achieved without effectively targeted spending, whether in private business or government. But I honestly don’t think that is what this is all about. I have been watching this decline for decades … the latest riots are surely only the latest expression of the problem.


  2. simon ondaatje says:

    The reality is that by UK standards of rioting….these were fairly tame…compare back to 1981…now thats what I call a RIOT…but with social media and modern technology ‘mobs’ can form very quickly and start the carnage which mainly is carried out by people nicking stuff…i wouldnt get to cerebral about it the tensions which started it morphed into a cynical execise in thievery….very simple answer..bring out the Army with rubber bullets…pimply face hooded twats dissapear very quickly…


  3. I think that misses the point, Simon. You are right when you describe how the riots happen so “spontaneously”, you may even be right when you prescribe a simple solution to them (although I don’t recall rubber bullets or water cannon slowing down any rioting in Northern Ireland all that effectively, and they don’t seem to be working all that well in Greece), but the TRUE problem is you and I wouldn’t smash shop windows and nick stuff, burn people’s cars and houses, and run people down, because you and I were brought up not to.

    So how the hell do we get back in control of the MORAL dimension of this again? Unpopular, wowserish and middle aged as that may seem?

    Mind you, you are a Man Uninted supporter, so maybe you don’t really understand what I am talking about after all.



  4. Beth says:

    I quite agree Yolly. So does this rather excellent article in the Telegraph, surprisingly! Worth a read. http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/peteroborne/100100708/the-moral-decay-of-our-society-is-as-bad-at-the-top-as-the-bottom/


  5. Yes, I had seen that, Beth, thank you: a well-written article basically saying exactly what I think. Encouraging to see it in an Establishment paper. Wonder if any of the Establishment read it?


  6. james lamb says:

    James Lamb says:
    As a B stream secodary modern school 15 year old leaver, I believe everyone has the opportunity to be the best they can be, and that opportunity is available to everybody who has been taught the values to do that.With your commentators quoting historical observation and your have’s always being put down because of their achievments and becoming wealthy or polititians not recognised for their efforts,regretably often coming from different opinions of party policy, but non the less service to society are not appauded for achievement. I believe that few or non were give that priviledged education or ability to succeed they all had to make the effort and work or make sacrifices for it.
    Discipline,and respect are the esscential values which seem lost. The right to have has taken over core values. To me rights and recognition are earned not given.
    There are those that society needs to look after and they deserve it.There are also those who demand it but do not deserve it, but get it anyway. I grew up excpecting nothing but persued the chances and opportunites to have everything.I did OK and so can anybody else. I was taught discipline and values at an early age.Not until my thirties and already successfull did I find some guidance which society could do well to use.

    The JCI Mission

    To provide development opportunities that empower young people to create positive change.

    The JCI Vision

    To be the leading global network of young active citizens.

    The JCI Values

    That faith in God gives meaning and purpose to human life
    That the brotherhood of man transcends the sovereignty of nations
    That economic justice can best be won by free men through free enterprise
    That government should be of laws rather than of men
    That earth’s great treasure lies in human personality
    And that service to humanity is the best work of life.

    Mr. Yolland….I propose!


  7. Richard Ember says:

    So, the Establishment is all beginning to unravel. The cosy relationships between the Police, our ruling Elite and the Media barons is slowly being opened up for inspection and and yesterday’s whitewash by the IPCC will not stop it.

    Cameron, who “was destined to rule” simply because he could be manipulated by all and sundry is suddenly looking very unstable and may be forced out himself, much to the delight of the Left, who did exactly the same for the past 30 years, using the BBC, Guardian and Maxwell (yes, and Murdoch) to get what they wanted. Cameron has been a massive disappointment and I for one will shed no tears when he departs, which he will as soon as Coulson is charged.

    In a nutshell, we have the Press, the Police and the Politicians we deserve. We all knew what they were up to. Private Eye has been opening cans of worms since long before the Internet handed us the tools to do the job, yet for whatever reason, none of us was interested. Me included.

    We simply sat back, looked at the tits on page 3, watched another episode of Eastenders and let them get on with it.

    So what has changed? Well, nothing really. The “faux” outrage of other Media barons and the Left is merely positioning to ensure that their favoured elites are in place when push comes to shove.

    Our MPs are still wined and dined by every vested interest Lobby group on the planet, our Police chiefs are still appointed by the very same people they are arresting and our Mainstream Media publishers still know they control the hand that feeds them.

    Miliband is calling for stricter regulation of “large Media” yet is happy to watch the BBC remain a monolithic monopoly spouting Fabianism at those forced under threat of prison to pay for it all.

    Meanwhile, our Politicians prepare us, the idiots paying for all this, to bail out yet another tranche of feckless bankers who lent the Politicians the money to promise us the Earth whilst failing to deliver anything but bankruptcy. Our excellent Armed Forces are still protecting the vested interests of anyone but us, it seems. OUR hard earned money is still seen as a “Govt resource” to be tapped into whenever the unelected Eu or UN or fake charity or Treasury decides your needs are secondary to theirs.

    One thing is for sure. If we let these ashes give rise to another Phoenix of the same ilk, we will have missed the opportunity of a generation. The chance to get these parasites off our backs and out of our lives.

    Now is the time to simply refuse to put up with more of the same. News International was brought to it’s knees in under a fortnight and yet we still pay 80p tax on a litre of petrol. The head of the Metropolitan Police is gone and yet our children will be forced to pay the debts of Greek Socialists.

    If you have an ounce of Libertarianism in you, now is the time to throw off the chains that the last 70 years has encased us in. We allowed them to put us where we are, and I will not allow them to do it me again.

    I will not be ruled by an “elite”, I will not be Policed by their “appointees” and I will not be fed information deemed” good for public consumption” by those who refuse to leave me alone, “for the greater good”.

    If the institutions that have enslaved us are really crumbling, do not expect me to mix the cement to rebuild them. Rome can damn well burn – and good riddance.

    Yolly, despite the fact you did it to run from Thatcher (our last chance of freedom in the UK, in my opinion – but that is another story and another blog) you did the right thing in getting out of the UK. I am off too. Sooner the better.


    • I don’t think shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic is really what this debate is all about, Richard, but I would be interested: if Cameron were to go (I don’t think it’s likely, but it’s possible) if you were a Conservative backbencher, who would you replace him with?

      I must say, the UK and Australia seem to have one problem very much in common at the moment, which is a terribly dispiriting lack of quality of leadership on all sides. Milliband, Clegg and Cameron don’t impress, any more than Gillard and Abbott do over here. What happens to ourcherished democracy when it seems perennially unable to vomit up any leaders worth the name worries me no end.


  8. Richard Ember says:

    Do you really think, in the final analysis, they will do anything but shuffle the deckchairs?? The whole lot needs taking back to bare wood but they won’t.

    Replacement for Cameron? He will be a rw radical, an old-fashioned Tory. If they go for an interim leader, you may even see Hague step up.


  9. Interesting post. Thank you!


  10. Adam says:

    The bank bailout did not cost 1.5 trillion, and the banks have to pay back the money they’ve borrowed. We will in fact profit out of the money lent to banks.

    There is a lot of misunderstanding over what and why the banks were bailed out – and in the UK it has *nothing* to do with investment banking, it was lending to consumers that couldn’t afford to repay what they borrowed.

    Peddling this rubbish only makes people angry and takes the blame away from the people that deserve it. Stop whinging and start coming up with solutions!


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