It was very striking in Cameron’s first speech responding to the riots and looting (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/david-cameron/8690895/David-Cameron-condemns-sickening-riots-across-UK.html ) that there was not one word – not one – about why this violence may be happening. Cameron was happy to enunciate very clearly that “If you are old enough to commit these crimes, you are old enough to face the punishment”, which appears to me to be an incitement to jail children however young they be; but he said literally nothing about why these crimes are taking place.
This is a complete failure of thought and of leadership. Come back Lord Scarman and ‘Hezza’, all is forgiven?…
Why is the violence happening and spreading? Why is so much criminality so easily sparked? As has been argued fairly convincingly over at LeftFootForward (http://www.leftfootforward.org/2011/08/a-crowd-psychology-analysis-of-the-riots/ ), it is simply not enough to talk about ‘copycat’ violence. Why is the copying occurring? And what exactly is being copied?
Hypothesis: Part of the copying is not just of other rioters and looters. It is of the rich. As Sunny Hundal put it, here (http://liberalconspiracy.org/2011/08/09/only-poor-people-go-looting-and-other-silly-claims/): “rich people do go out looting; they just do so in other ways.” Some of the copying that is going on, I would hypothesize, is of massively wealthy law-breakers and corrupt individuals and companies, be they in tax-evading corporations, in the media, (in) the banks, in Parliament itself, etc. . A society that projects unattainable images of wealth and opulence and then is surprised that, at a time of government cuts to community centres etc., there are lots of young people prepared to risk jail or worse to get their hands on a plasma-screen TV — or just to thumb their noses at society at large, at get their 5 minutes of fame — is a society that deliberately is refusing to know itself.
This is how and why a respectable protest against police brutality can morph into a far bigger wave of disorder and disaster.
My philosophical colleague Dr. Phil Hutchinson made some of these points 7 years ago, in a report (see the Appendix to this Met Police report) which you can still find on the Met website!:
His argument that Operation Trident is racist made the front page of the Indy at the time (albeit the reporting on his arguments there was of very poor quality); but his report and his recommendations were greeted with great hostility by the police, and were ignored by politicians.
It is likely that Operation Trident played a substantive hand in starting this trouble in Tottenham, as a BBC reporter put directly to Simon Hughes on TV earlier today. But it did this not just by being a racist targetting of black people, but also, more broadly, by sequestering off ‘the black community’ as a ‘them’ and not part of ‘us’, thereby making it easier for their problems and aspirations (e.g. for what society tells us all is a desirable level of material wealth) to be ignored … at the same time as our society has ruthlessly stoked materialism and generated the fantastic levels of inequality whose natural consequences (in terms of alienation, desire to emulate the rich in terms of material consumption, reduced levels of trust and mutual care, etc.) have lately been documented for instance in THE SPIRIT LEVEL.
Take a look at the key relevant sections of
In sum: Racism seems to have played a significant role in the police shooting that started all this off. Racism and social exclusion is endemic to Operation Trident in a far-wider sense too; in this sense, indeed, Operation Trident is simply symptomatic of elite ideas and practices in a society whose materialism and race- and class- hierarchies generate widespread cynicism and a sense that the only principle that needs respecting is the pursuit of personal profit, whatever the wider costs. The rioters and looters are copying, emulating the practices of the thieves – the banksters, the corrupt politicians, the corporate tax-evaders, the non-doms, the law-breaking media moguls etc. – who are lauded as the’ leaders’ (sic.) of our (in many ways, indeed) sick society…
The police, the government, and all those who have stoked a rampantly inegalitarian materialist culture bear some responsibility for the disgraceful and repellent looting and destruction that is at present consuming several parts of our country.
‘Consuming’: much as in rampant out-of-control consumerism…