(Source of picture, HERE)
Zoe Williams, a Guardian columnist, has written the best analysis I have read until now on the roots and the meaning of the riots in the UK. Reading this article I was wondering where are the ethics theologians when we need them.
I paste below a few quotes from this remarkable text, in the hope that this will motivate you to read it in its entirety.
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I think it’s just about possible that you could see your actions refashioned into a noble cause if you were stealing the staples: bread, milk. But it can’t be done while you’re nicking trainers, let alone laptops.
I wasn’t convinced by nihilism as a reading: how can you cease to believe in law and order, a moral universe, co-operation, the purpose of existence, and yet still believe in sportswear?
Alex Hiller, a marketing and consumer expert at Nottingham Business School, points out that there is no conflict between anomie and consumption: “If you look at Baudrillard and other people writing in sociology about consumption, it’s a falsification of social life. Adverts promote a fantasy land. Consumerism relies upon people feeling disconnected from the world.”
Leaving Baudrillard aside, just because there is no political agenda on the part of the rioters doesn’t mean the answer isn’t rooted in politics. Theresa May – indeed most politicians, not just Conservatives – are keen to stress that this is “pure criminality”, untainted by higher purpose; the phrase is a gesture of reassurance rather than information, because we all know it’s illegal to smash shop windows and steal things. “We’re not going to be diverted by sophistry,” is the tacit message. “As soon as things have calmed down, these criminals are going to prison, where criminals belong.”
Those of us who don’t have responsibility for public order can be more interrogative about what’s going on: an authoritarian reading is that this is a generation with a false sense of entitlement, created by the victim culture fostered, and overall leniency displayed, by the criminal justice system. It’s just a glorified mugging, in other words, conducted by people who ask not what they can do for themselves, but what other people should have done for them, and who may have mugged before, on a smaller scale, and found it to be without consequence.
At the other end of the authoritarian-liberal spectrum, you have Camila Batmanghelidjh’s idea, movingly expressed in the Independent, that this is a natural human response to the brutality of poverty: “Walk on the estate stairwells with your baby in a buggy manoeuvring past the condoms, the needles, into the lift where the best outcome is that you will survive the urine stench and the worst is that you will be raped . . . It’s not one occasional attack on dignity, it’s a repeated humiliation, being continuously dispossessed in a society rich with possession. Young, intelligent citizens of the ghetto seek an explanation for why they are at the receiving end of bleak Britain, condemned to a darkness where their humanity is not even valued enough to be helped.”
Between these poles is a more pragmatic reading: this is what happens when people don’t have anything, when they have their noses constantly rubbed in stuff they can’t afford, and they have no reason ever to believe that they will be able to afford it. Hiller takes up this idea: “Consumer society relies on your ability to participate in it. So what we recognise as a consumer now was born out of shorter hours, higher wages and the availability of credit. If you’re dealing with a lot of people who don’t have the last two, that contract doesn’t work. They seem to be targeting the stores selling goods they would normally consume. So perhaps they’re rebelling against the system that denies its bounty to them because they can’t afford it.”
As another criminologist, Professor John Pitts, has said: “Many of the people involved are likely to have been from low-income, high-unemployment estates, and many, if not most, do not have much of a legitimate future. There is a social question to be asked about young people with nothing to lose.”There seems to be another aspect to the impunity – that the people rioting aren’t taking seriously the idea it could rebound on them. All the most dramatic shots are of young men in balaclavas or with scarves tied round their faces, because it is such a striking, threatening image. But actually, watching snatches of phone footage and even professional news footage, it was much more alarming how many people made no attempt at all to cover their faces. This could go back to the idea that, with the closure of a number of juvenile facilities and the rhetoric about bringing down prison populations, people just don’t believe they’ll go to prison any more, at least not for something as petty as a pair of trainers. I feel for them; that may be true on a small scale, but when judges feel public confidence seriously to be at issue, they have it in themselves to be very harsh indeed…
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Read the whole article HERE.
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