We’ve seen violence, looting, burning and mayhem not only in London, but also Bristol, Birmingham, Nottingham, Manchester and Liverpool. “Mindless criminality’ is a phrase that has been offered a few times by way of explanation. Which is no explanation at all. Sat in a quiet corner of the UK, I’m not directly affected, but so many people are, or must be fearful this morning that they too will be caught up. Others, no doubt, are looking at the TV footage and feeling an urge to get their piece.

Civilizations are made up of individuals. They only work so long as enough people co-operate with the systems, institutions, laws and habits that the civilization purports to uphold. In my occasional posts about the idea of quiet revolution, I keep saying that if there are enough people who want a thing, change will happen. But what we’re seeing here isn’t coherent protest or revolution, it’s theft, arson and violence. The homes and property of ordinary people are coming under attack, as the ordinary people themselves. Whatever else is going on here, the people out rioting clearly don’t have much empathy for others or much concern for their communities, or even their own futures.

As a country, we are in financial crisis. Services are being cut all over. Mounting a police response on the scale these riots require, is going to cost a fortune. We are all going to have to pay for that. Damage to homes and businesses is damage to jobs, incomes, communities, futures. Some of us will pay for that more than others, but we will all pay. Part of the problem is that our rioters have no sense of their own involvement, their own relationship with community and state and they probably have no thought for the consequences.

There are a lot of issues underpinning what’s happening here. Loss of hope, lack of opportunity, poverty, lack of work, a materialist culture that stokes demand but can’t pay people to buy what they are told they must have. Lack of social engagement. Widespread isolation. If people feel engaged with each other, if they have meaningful relationships that inspire care and a sense of belonging, they don’t go out and burn each other’s cars. Disenfranchisement is a word that springs to mind.

The people on the streets did not spontaneously wake up at the weekend and decide, out of nowhere, to be destructive and irresponsible. Every single one of them has been through a process, a life, a series of experiences that have brought them to this point and made that action seem like a good idea. That’s something we ignore at our peril. And if the media reporting is much to go by, for every rioter, there are hordes of quieter, but no less angry people. The Metropolitan Police are appealing for people to clear the streets so they can sort out the ‘criminal element’. I fear they are missing the point a bit. Why are all those non-violent folk also on the streets, witnessing but not participating? Why are they taking the risk? What is motivating them? Those interviewed talk about racism, social breakdown, loss of opportunities. The quiet people are angry too. They might not be going to join in the looting spree, but there are a lot of troubled, frustrated people out there empathising with the rioters. They too have been through a series of experiences that have brought them to this point.

Over the weekend, listening to radio reports about the financial crisis, I heard a lot of people questioning the very concepts on which our current, capitalist system is based. We have built a system that is entirely about winners and losers. We’ve gone for competition, not co-operation.  Buy now, pay later. We have an advertising industry that sells us fear, greed, social anxiety and a sense of never being good enough, so that we spend money we don’t have on products we don’t need. We have a government paying a fortune on war that can’t house and care for its poorest people. This is not working.

We need radical change.

Rioting and violence are not answers to social problems, but they are symptoms of despair and alienation. We are not going to make those underlying problems go away just by arresting a few people, labelling the problem as ‘criminality’ and trying to sweep the causes under the collective carpet. I am absolutely opposed to violence. But we have to recognise that what is happening on the streets of our cities, is happening for reasons. Lots of reasons, none of them good. We are all part of this. How we get out of it, I have no idea, but inspired, and inspiring leadership would be very welcome right now, not the language of dismissal or attempts to diminish the wider social issues underpinning this.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

10 responses to “Rioting

  • Jayne

    No….you are wrong! Most of the people rioting on the streets are the very same people you will find in a football brawl..they do this ‘for a living’, they get a kick out of destroying other peoples lives/property. These thugs are criminals and should be treated as so. No decent, troubled person will empathise or condone such unforgivable behaviour!

    • Nimue Brown

      thank you for commenting. I hope you are right, but a lot of what i’ve been going on here is comment I’ve heard on the radio over the last few days, interviews with people on the street who are not themselves rioting. At least early on, there seemed to by sympathy. I knpw there is a subset that takes delight in all kinds of ick, but I think we need to ask why some people go that way and others do not. I don’t think there are any easy answers, but these folk do not exist in a vaccum. Then there’s the issue of why this, and why now, perhaps they do indulge in smaler scale things much of the time, but the escalation says something, I think, about how people must be relating to place, state etc at the moment. partly it must be ebcause they think they can get away with it.

  • nowyat

    What bugs me is they complain they don’t have any money, as a motive, but they organize it all on cellphones and Blackberries. I’ve worked in a factory for thirty years and I can’t afford a cellphone. ;( Plus how do they know where and what all the high end items are that the BBC reports they are targeting for looting. Poor people don’t know brand name expensive items. I don’t anyway. I totally can’t relate to them. Maybe it’s a middle class riot… I’m just working class.

    • Nimue Brown

      I think ideas of what constitutes ‘poverty’ are very badly skewed in some people’s minds. I totally agree with you that if a perosn can afford a blackberry, they are not seriously poor. And that mobile phone shops are being hit hard… it’s not like stealing bread to feed your starving children, by any stretch of the imagination. There is clearly conflict between what people have and what they want/imagine they need, I think therre are some huge cultural issues there, but those issues do not justify this kind of behaviour.

  • ronnie

    well, where is this caring community? Its all about money, a portfolio of houses and making families suffer! where are the affordable homes for families? the homes that parents can spend time with the children instead of working all the time just to pay the rent to a greedy landlord who only acquired wealth through a governmental popularity ploy! well done Thatcher so short sighted, she breed greed and not love and care! bankers get bonuses at the expence of the family and people are saying the children are thugs! they are merely showing us there pain, unable to pay for magazine articles of clothes, unable to go to university, unable to get a job, and we ask ourselves why they are burning the citys! Is it not obvious why? they are people! they have been brought up in oppression from landlords, utility bills, lack of! Blackberry’s are part of some tarrifs! and if it isin the magazine that they should have one then if they do not have one then they do not fit in, duh! why are the magazine all about buy this and own that and me me me attitude? its all about money, not the care of society! well done anyone who can not see this! we need to change a lot! i am sure landlords will not like this or banks, politics or anyone making money out of your hardship or vunerability. The thieves are the bankers and policitians….but see how Cameron is really angry with the children more so than troops dying. The children are hitting where it hurts! the money! i do not agree with violence however they have had a raw deal…..

    • Nimue Brown

      Lots of powerful points there, and yes, I heartily agree that until we examin the effects of consumerist culture and this constant pressure to own, we are not going to get anywhere. I don’t agree with the violence either, and the way people ar eturning on their own communities is disgraceful, but it speaks of a loss of values, a lack of connection, some deep, deep wrongs that need tackling.

  • connie

    I think it’s less despair and alienation, and more lack of shame or personal responsibility. Sure, it sucks to be poor and to be struggling, or whatever the excuse is, and nobody wants to make anyone feel worse about it, especially during this age when nearly everyone is feeling the bite of poor economies, but teaching people, from childhood, that they ARE responsible for their actions and inactions is needed in a bad way! Kids do need praise and encouragement when it’s proper but, they also need to be told when they do wrong, need to be failed when they fail, and held accountable when they screw up. Obviously parents aren’t always doing a good job of this, so teachers and authorities need to be tougher. btw… I’m not talking just about the UK, but everywhere. I’m also not talking about punishing people just to be mean, but coddling and spoiling is just as destructive. People HAVE to learn how to be good citizens – ie. my rights end where others’ begin, etc. – if there is any hope of maintaining a civil civilization! We’ve got too many kids who have no shame, no empathy, no concern for others.

    • Nimue Brown

      Very important points there too Connie. Lack of shame and empathy are detinitely part of it, although I think those are so intertwined with all the other issues, the not belonging, the lack of engagement. To feel you are part of a community, that you have a place, is going to give a person some dignity, some capacity for social shame.

  • Jayne

    Really interesting blog. I have to agree with Connie. Too many young people seem to think they have a right to be ‘given’ handouts, that society owes them! Why…because that’s all they know. For too long this country has allowed people to live on money paid to them by the taxes from the people of this country who actually get off their butts and work…people don’t care what the work is..they don’t moan that they only get the minimum wage..they have pride and self respect. I have no answers to this huge problem unfortunately, no quick fixes, but I can not condone or understand why anyone has the desire to destroy something that some-one else has worked damn hard for. Just in case anyone asks….yes I am on a wage which is just over the minimum, but rather that and have my pride than soak off the state!

    • Nimue Brown

      Lack of pride does seem to be part of it too. I’m a firm beleiver in there being a safety net – perhaps not least because I couldn’t survive without it at the moment. (I am working where I can and being topped up) What I feel is not entitlement, but profound gratitude. I’ve long thought that many people destroy because they lack the means to create, or the beleif that they can create, and that destruction is therefore the only way they can see to make a mark on the world. There’s a huge amount here to contemplate, many thanks for your input.

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