Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Atari Teenage Riot

There's been a lot of opinion written on the #londonriots. The main divide seems to be between those who think this is 'pure and simple', 'just criminality', and those who see the matter in its complexity. The first view point is understandable from the standing point of the ruling classes. If this matter were complex, more than an act of mindless animals, then that might necessitate a rethink of an action like scrapping EMA. It would necessitate the entire political class, all the major parties to admit the abject failure of the Neo-Liberal project. It would also force a wider rethink of our own negligence of communities such as Tottenham and Brixton, our own role in the hollowing out of the social sphere.

Those who seek to probe the causes of these outbursts beyond shouting 'thuggishness' (say it aloud over and over again) are charged with the difficulties of articulating the questions of blame and causality and potential plans of action to be drawn from these.

Seeing the enormity of this task, I thought I'd restrict myself to trying to answer the question 'what about these protests is political'. The question is not 'are these protests political'. I'm a Marxist. Of course they are. But they are not political in the sense that most liberals/lefties have argued so far.

The argument runs like this:

"I understand that there are legitimate concerns with police brutality and cuts to youth services etc. But there are people out there who are just using this as an excuse to get a new TV".

This forms a neat parallel with what was said of the student protests:
"I'm against tuition fees but some people are just using these protests as an excuse to smash shit".

But these riots are not the student protests, and though the Left was right to challenge the division of 'good' and 'bad' protesters then, they are wrong not to see that there is a big difference between the vigil for Mark Duggan and the mass looting taking place across the country. The latter are far more 'political'.

The idea is meant to be that there are some people with legitimate political concerns re: police and poverty and that there are others who are 'stupid', 'greedy', 'selfish', with no higher motive than acquiring a new pair of Nikes. Every society everywhere has some people who are willing to clash with police, who are willing to risk jail for their political beliefs. But what the fuck does it say about our society that there are so many with no higher motive than acquiring a new pair of Nikes? What does it say about our society that there are so many who would have no guilt in stealing them?

I wouldn't mind getting a PS3 for free. But I could never steal one. For one I'd feel guilty, because stealing goes against social conventions and society's treated me well. And secondly, I'd be scared, because I'm part of that tiny minority who are privileged enough to have received an expensive education providing the skill-set and the networks/networking skills and all the life opportunities that arise from that. If I were to steal a TV and get caught doing so, it would fuck up those opportunities. Clearly my life is too good for looting to be worth it.

The majority of people have something that means that the risk of prison or social exclusion for stealing a £50 pair of shoes isn't worth it. You don't need loads of money for the algebra not to add up. A caring family might be your dissuasion. Your religion. Your diploma course. Your part time job. That tune you're working on in Reason. Some of us have every reason, and most of us have a few, to think "should I go riot? Nah". The people out at night on the High Streets of Britain now, have none.

The left have talk much of 'simmering anger', this is certainly one component in the mix of social unrest, but what about simmering boredom? The question on people's lips is 'why are these people rioting', but perhaps the question should be 'why wouldn't they'?

Politicians can't see any political message to be drawn from the eruption into the public consciousness of thousands of people around the country with so little stake in society, so little to loose, so little to do with a long hot summer and no EMA, no spending money, no youth centres to do anything in that they're willing to risk jail time for the thrill of a firebomb and a new TV. If they want to see an end to #londonriots11 and avoid #londonriots12 they better look a bit closer