Riots and condemnation without context

very eloquently written by John Wight

Just as the explosion of social unrest that has engulfed working class communities all over London are a predictable outcome to the enormous economic and social pressure said communities have been under as the Tory-led coalition government doles out its punishment to the poor and the working class in response to an economic recession not of their making, and with the tension that has long existed between the alienated youth of our inner cities and the police, so has been the response by the political class and mainstream commentators.

Condemnation without context has been the stock in trade of those sitting at the apex of society, as they seek to explain away the unrest as nothing more than “wanton acts of criminality” or the actions of “mindless thugs”.

While this may be the accepted truth according to the norms of polite society, it fails utterly to get at the root causes. But no one should be under any illusion that this failure is the product of ignorance. On the contrary it is exactly as intended. Assorted right wing commentators and politicians clearly have a vested interest in refusing to admit their own culpability in shaping a society more unequal than at any time since Charles Dickens was in his pomp as a searing critic of Victorian barbarism in the treatment of the nation’s poor and working class over a century past.

The current outburst of social unrest being played out on the streets of the country’s major cities has been cultivated over decades in the nation’s boardrooms and state rooms by a class which in its greed, venality and looting of society’s surplus do more damage to the nation’s social fabric in one hour than gangs of marauding disaffected and alienated youth have done over the past few nights of rioting and looting. The only difference between the two is in scale and aesthetic.

Indeed, what we have seen being played out these past few nights is stark evidence, as if any more were needed, that we are living in two Britains. One is populated by the rich and the connected, the children of inherited wealth, status and ostentation, living in rich ghettoes like Chelsea, Kensington, Notting Hill and their equivalents in cities and towns across the country. Theirs are lives of luxury and comfort; people for whom recession is merely an abstract word in the dictionary with no concrete meaning in their day to day lives. It is their moral values and the lie that obscene wealth, status and individual success constitute the pinnacle of fulfilment and human happiness that dominates the nation’s culture and media, driving the blanket condemnation of those normally invisible members of society, the children of the lower orders in their eyes, for daring to raise their heads and assert their will in a mass carnival of rioting and looting; the only recourse to self expression and self assertion left those who are expected to suffer in silence.

Of course, the looting and rioting we’ve seen engulf London, Manchester and the West Midlands over the past few nights by predominately young people has not been undertaken out of any concrete political or even progressive motivation. It is however driven by a primitive and instinctive rejection of a society that has long since rejected those and the parents of those involved. Gang culture grows out of need not desire, the need to inhabit an alternative society to the one whose values, culture, lexicon and laws are associated with a status quo that has clearly and unequivocally been stamped out of bounds. In other words the norms of polite society are as alien to those rioting and looting as they themselves are to those in power proffering condemnation from the vantage point of lives defined by comfort, respectability and social status.

It is said that a criminal act is an act of unconscious rebellion, certainly those criminal acts motivated by personal material gain. A spontaneous eruption of unrestrained and destructive liberation on the part of young people who from hard experience have early imbibed the most basic lesson of any capitalist society - namely that in life you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you take – has left mainstream opinion formers and politicians alike verily bursting with self righteous indignation.

The sight of politicians, members of a class who’ve been looting the public purse for years, clogging our TV screens to pour vitriol on those involved in the rioting and looting of shops and businesses has been stomach churning to behold in its hypocrisy.

The surprise isn’t that this unrest is taking place. The surprise is that is hasn’t taken place sooner, with Bertolt Brecht explaining the phenomenon most succinctly when he wrote, “The law was made for one thing alone, for the exploitation of those who don’t understand it, or are prevented by naked misery from obeying it”.

As David Cameron et al. look on with horror at the devastation that is being wrought around the country perhaps they would do well to consider that as with Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray, they are merely looking at a grotesque reflection of themselves and the society of greed, rampant consumerism and individualism which their class has forged.