Posts Tagged ‘causes of rioting’

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?