Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The riots

I'm following the coverage of the riots in London and other cities with a mixture of disbelief, horror, sympathy for the innocent victims, and a total lack of surprise.

Disbelief because the sheer scale of what's going on is extraordinary. Massive buildings burnt to the ground. Blatant looting in front of the police. Thousands of youngsters casually running amok all over London. Whole neighbourhoods trashed. This goes way beyond the odd local disturbance we're used to seeing.

Horror because of the danger ordinary people are exposed to from burning buildings and vehicles, flying missiles, falling masonry and broken glass. Many people were afraid to venture onto the street for fear of injury.

Sympathy for the innocent victims of destruction. There are people who've lost both their businesses and homes, their lives wrecked. Other people who've lost their jobs, cars, precious belongings, maybe pets.

Lack of surprise because many young people in deprived areas are facing the bleakest future for generations, struggling to find jobs and a meaningful existence in the face of economic recession, deep cuts in services and facilities for youth, and politicians who're indifferent to their problems. This colossal explosion of anger, bitterness and outrage hardly comes as a big shock.

Condemning those involved as criminals and thugs is pretty futile. Yes, of course that's what they are, but it doesn't address the basic issues that have led to such rampant destruction on such an astonishing scale.

Firstly, how swathes of young people have become so alienated from the rest of society they think nothing of ruining other people's lives and laying waste to their property and possessions, and are immune to their misery and anguish.

Secondly, how numerous parents have abdicated responsibility for their children's behaviour. They've become oblivious to where they are and what they're doing, and couldn't care less if they're committing crimes or terrifying the neighbourhood.

Only when the politicians start to focus on these underlying social disorders can we have any confidence that the sort of ferocious mayhem we've seen in the last few days won't reoccur in the future.

PS: Several people have referred me to an excellent piece about the riots by Peter Oborne in the Daily Telegraph. He points out that corruption and immorality is now as common at the top of society as at the bottom, and that MPs and businessmen condemning the actions of the rioters are guilty of hypocrisy and double standards.

Pic: burning building in Tottenham, Saturday night

33 comments:

Baino said...

Nick I don't know what disease has afflicted so many. I saw a video on Facebook yesterday of a kid who was already injured in the riots being helped to his feet by other rioters before they undid his back pack and made off with his wallet. Not even any honour among criminals and that's what they are. Why the authorities are taking so long to get a hold of the situation I'll never know but you're right about the alienation from society, what possessed them?

Nick said...

Baino - Yes, I heard about the injured kid who was robbed. How exactly does that fit in with attacking the rich and privileged? The authorities are completely overwhelmed, there are so many riots going on in so many places they just can't keep up.

e said...

Deep seated anger, fear that there will be nothing for them in the so-called future and a total disregard for the effects of their lashing out at others...When you combine these with inept or uncaring leadership, you get one effing big mess...

Macy said...

I've been watching with disbelief over the past two nights. It's looking like mob rule fuelled by Facebook and Twitter.
There's going to be no easy or single explanation - not least for the 8 and 9 year olds torching stores in Manchester tonight.

kylie said...

my grip of politics and history is poor to say the least but it seems to me that the problems in the US and the UK could have been alleviated by a bit more socialism and a good deal less capitalism. and for some reason i am still surrounded by people who think they must earn more, spend more, "achieve" more.....
we dont seem to learn much

secret agent woman said...

It's so sad and frightening.

Princess said...

generations have now grown up on a diet of moral decay. TV programs that glorify violence, video games that focus on looting maiming and killing anyone and every thing that gets in the way. Many have grown up not knowing the difference between fantasy and reality and think that it is just a matter of pressing the restart button without any sense of guilt or personal responsibility or that their actions effect Real People.

Scarlet Blue said...

They have killed three people now, in a hit and run.
It's one big political and social/cultural disaster.
Sx

Nick said...

e - Absolutely right. Social and political ineptness in every direction, with predictable consequences.

Macy - Mob rule indeed. And as you say, young children happily joining in. What the hell are their parents doing?

Kylie - More socialism and less capitalism is precisely what's needed. But the gulf between rich and poor is widening all the time.

Nick said...

Secret Agent - Sad, frightening, and utterly frustrating for those of us who know a more egalitarian society would prevent such convulsions of despair.

Princess - I think you're right that a lot of young people hardly know the difference between fantasy and reality. Setting fire to buildings is just another video game.

Scarlet - I don't think it's clear yet whether the three deaths were linked to the rioting. But it's a disaster all right. So many wreckled communities and lives that will have to be slowly rebuilt.

nursemyra said...

a sad indictment on society

Nick said...

Myra - A serious indictment of politicians who ignore struggling young people and give all their attention to those who're already comfortably off.

speccy said...

The whole thing has been remarkable and fascinating and scary. The failure of any body to manage the situation is amazing. It's another weapon to beat people with, folk who've already been demonised. How will these communities recover?

I've been entertained by the debate for days whether it's ok to use water cannon, since it's not at all 'British'. Water cannon will not solve anything, as we know, since it's been used in NI for years!

Nick said...

Speccy - I heard an American tourist saying that in the US the police would be using plastic bullets, tear gas, the lot, and the riots would be over in a few hours.

I think there's disagreement over whether water cannons are effective or not. Having never seen them in action, I wouldn't know.

blackwatertown said...

It's so maddening and saddening.
The deaths of those three guys in Birmingham simply awful. Great though to see people, including those guys, out trying to protect their communities. I've been trying to concentrate on the upside here http://tinyurl.com/42umapg though it's hard to.

Nick said...

Blackwater - Yes, it's good to see all the positive initiatives, like support for the police, the clean-up volunteers and people telling the rioters to get stuffed.

Sorry, Google won't accept your link!

Rummuser said...

Nick, riots of various types are now taking place in many other parts of the world too. In democracies, theocracies, dictatorships, monarchies and what have you. Why do you think that this is happening now? Suddenly when it happens in England it is the focus, much to the delight of people like Assad and Gadaffi. Why do you think that they are gleeful? I am willing to bet that riots will now start in the USA and other European countries too. In India, I don't live too far away from a major rioting site and that area is unlikely to be ever the same again and the political leadership of that area dare not go anywhere near that area. http://www.firstpost.com/fwire/maharashtra-orders-probe-on-maval-police-firing-58312.html

There is now urgent need for the leadership of all countries to undertake some serious introspection and come up with solutions and implementation of action to redress many injustices. The time has come to re-look at Hayekism and its various avatars.

Scarlet Blue said...

Hello Rum,
I think the rioting felt odd here because generally the British are a bit Hobbit like in their ways.
Sx

Nick said...

Ramana - No doubt there will be further riots in other countries. But how long, I wonder, before governments take heed of the growing gap between rich and poor (and well-skilled and unskilled) and do something to create more egalitarian societies?

Scarlet - Very true, the British tend to retreat into their burrows and lick their wounds rather than make a big fuss about anything.

Wisewebwoman said...

arggggghhhh interwebz probs, gobble of comments......
XO
WWW

Nick said...

www - No worries, I have a stack of HTCs I nicked from some shop in Tottenham on Saturday night. I'll send you one. That'll sort out your internet access.

Wisewebwoman said...

Thanks Nick - that seems to work just fine :).
I can't remember the brilliance of my prose that was lost in the ether, something to the tune of the hopelessness breeding anarchy. For this is anarchy, they have nothing to lose and maybe the bells of change will ring and they will be listened to for the first time.
XO
WWW

Nick said...

www - This is it, they think they have nothing to lose so they just go completely crazy. Some of them will get arrested and get convictions but most of them won't. And yes, the politicians should be listening to all those people washed up on the margins of society instead of ignoring them.

wendy house said...

The Brits have a strong history of riots, here's a few -
1668 - Bawdy house riots
1743 - Gin riots
1769 - Spitalfield riots
1780 - Gordon riots
1814 - Luddite riots
I have a vague memory of learning in at school that in the 18th Century Brits were known in Europe as a naition of rioters...

Nick said...

Wendy - They've certainly rioted plenty of times in the past, though not so much recently, which is why the recent three-day mayhem was so extraordinary and shocking. If the government doesn't give more help to people starting out in life, there could be more of the same in a few months' time.

conortje said...

Nick - I just wanted to let you know that I've been reading your blog on my kindle but for some reason I cannot comment. I'd hate you to think that I was abandoning you in Ghana. Just have a few minutes now in the next city in an internet cafe so I thought I'd finally set the record straight.

I've read with intrigue about these riots - it's something I might have expected in some of the developing countries I've visited in the last while (but never saw) but interestingly enough there was one in 'civilised' Canada when I was there and now in the UK. Just goes to show...

Nick said...

Conor - Very mysterious. Several people have said they've had trouble commenting but I never have any trouble myself so I can't enlighten you. Blogger is a law unto itself! I'm told the internet access on Kindle is a bit unreliable so maybe that's a factor.

England may call itself civilised but it still treats the vulnerable and deprived as second-class citizens. So the riots are not exactly a surprise.

e said...

I read the editorial from the Telegraph suggested by Fly in the Web this morning. My hat is off to Mr. Oborne and the Telegraph for its publication. Perhaps your readers would like to read it for themselves.

Nick said...

e - It's an excellent article. I've put a link to it on the post.

speccy said...

I read that Oborne article today- excellent. The Telegraph has had a few good articles on the causes of the riots, reminding the readers that repect etc works both ways.

Nick said...

Speccy - Exactly, respect works both ways. Those at the bottom of the heap can hardly have respect for those in prominent positions if they're busy fiddling and scamming on a huge scale.

Jenny Woolf said...

Did you see the TV programme about council housing tonight? (25th Aug) I found it tremendously thought provoking and somewhat relevant to this post.

Nick said...

Jenny - I didn't see that programme in the TV guide. What channel was it on?