Thursday, 11 August 2011

The Hopelessness of the London Riots

Everyone seems to think they have an answer as to what the riots have been about. Everyone has different ideas as to the primary causes, be they social, economic, racial or what have you.

People tend to see their own political reality made flesh by these riots. Socialists think it is the bare bones of a class struggle, right-wingers think it is a result of excessive immigration, economists think it is a result of economic uncertainty and pompous intellectuals attribute pompous intellectual reasons for the riots.

I am frustrated by this trend of commentators imprinting their own political philosophies on a situation that does not neatly fit any philosophy or motivation

The riots have been about greed, about social division, about unemployment, about anger, about frustrated consumerism, about youthful vanity, about racial tension, about a lack of respect for society, about a lack of recognition from society, about police brutality, about disenfranchised adults with no path to the dreams they've been sold, about mindless copycats, about intelligent people who want to destroy a society that has rejected and abused them and about cuts to public spending.

With all of these motivations apparent in the actions and the back-stories of rioters, I feel comfortable in saying that there are as many different motivations for as people involved in these riots. So maybe we're asking the wrong question.

The idea my brother had was that sometimes "Because I can" is sufficient motivation for rioting. Variations on "...and because I can" can be placed after every motivation one can name. The real question to ask is not why people did riot, but why didn't they not riot?

What is it that makes "Because I can" a sufficient motivation to do this stuff?

I guess you could restate "Not believing in society" in such numerous ways with enough leeway in the interpretation that it could be seen as in some way fundamental to the answer.

You could boil down reactions to the question "Why did you riot?" to: I don't believe in society: I don't believe in consequences; I don't believe I can succeed; I don't believe in authority; I don't believe I will ever afford these trainers; I don't believe you will ever help me; I don't believe I can be stopped; I don't believe I am treated fairly; I don't believe in money, etc.

All of these are a part of saying "I don't believe in society".

Without that belief, society does not function effectively. If one lacks the belief in society, simply being able to riot becomes motivation enough because at least then someone will notice you. At least then society will prove that it exists in one form or another.

It's like taking a train at random: at the end of the trip maybe things will be better but, at the very least, things will be different. It's a symptom of hopelessness: jumping on a train just to land up somewhere else, the one and only certainty is the ride.

(Picture by


  1. True. I'd agree that there are loads of reasons behind the riots and that each person involved had a different motivation for being there.

    And yes, a lack of belief in this society stops people from deciding not to riot.

    Food for thought... I'll probably write something about it at the weekend as well.

  2. I saw England some times in the beginning 1980s, when I was a teenager. Some of the problems at the time were not so different from now, but most people had a more relaxed attitude, although times were tough. Some aloofness (not arrogance) was a British characteristic, especially military officers stationed in our town in Germany, and that wasn't bad, but useful.

    Last time in England was on Heathrow airport, after a long plane flight. I'm a smoker, I didn't smoke on the plane, and there was no single space on the airport to smoke. I can cope with this, but it was a stupid and unrelaxed way, especially for a logistically-challenged airport like that one. How about doing their homework first?

    Smoking can help to control aggression, too. Maybe both the former and current governments are too busy with token gestures.

  3. It is easier to get a passport than to comment here. Blogspot sucks.

  4. @Taide - This might seem a rather trite, but Heathrow was basically designed by the same people who designed Britain's inner-city estates, and it has much same clunkiness, inhumanity and police-state-like atmosphere. It is my least favourite airport in the world (Frankfurt running a close second), Taiyuan (ex-CKS) on the other hand, has always been a wonderful reminder of the way things were before 2001.

  5. I agree with you about smoking bans as a symptom, Tai De. But those kinds of hyper-sensitivities can be found all across Europe. Political correctness taking turns with shows of "unity" (see British parliament the other day), taking part in a war in Afghanistan, but building a "peace museum" in Dresden (see Germany). You need to respect "peoples' feelings", no matter how silly they may be. You don't get things done without some sobriety.

  6. Ha! That's the best commentary I've heard. Especially on the WRONG conclusions. Your conclusion could be accused of the same leaps to something that sounds convincing to the author as the others, but I think it's a pretty good shot: Especially if you substitute civilisation for other similar possibilities, like the morals of the developed world. After all, society is different at every nation and not every nation experiences riot. Since these riots were isolated to English demonstrations too, one would think it wasn't society in general but a quintessentially urban-English disquiet.

  7. Thanks, Vapour, I was uncomfortably aware of that particular problem with my conclusion, but feel that if you don't take a shot, if you don't have any skin in the game, you aren't really playing and you're not adding anything of value to the debate. The fact is there are problems similar to these in many societies and those societies see riots, too. However, to cover all in the same brush would be ill-advised.