Having no future – it’s a terrible thing

August 10, 2011

A few random thoughts and musings about the recent (at the time of writing, ongoing) riots. They’re not extensively researched and are based on my impression about what’s going on from a feed consisting primarily of the Guardian website, Twitter and Facebook. As always with these things, I could be wrong.

  1. The riots have brought out the best in people. The groups of volunteers out on the streets clearing up the mess and making cups of tea for knackered policemen and women represent Britain at its finest.
  2. The riots have brought out the worst in people. The demands for the thugs to be shot on sight, insistence that the army must be brought in, suggestions that if we were all armed it would prevent the looting – none of these things are helpful. News that sales of baseball bats have shot up on Amazon is quite troubling – I suspect some would-be “defenders of the realm” are actually hoping for a fight, in which case it’s not clear how they’re morally superior to the rioters.
  3. It is unfortunate for the looters that they don’t work in the city. If they did, they could do much the same as they’re doing now, except that it would be called “asset-stripping” and they would be richly rewarded for it. We’re seeing the “greed is good” morality of the Thatcher/Reagan years transplanted from the haves to the have-nots, though in both cases it’s the have-nots who will be the losers.
  4. We’re fortunate that the rioters don’t appear to have a purpose beyond destroying stuff and haven’t put much thought into what they actually destroy. Panes of glass in shop windows are relatively easy to replace, shops can be restocked and paid for through insurance (which means higher premiums – thanks for that…). They’ve not, as far as I’m aware, tried to disable transport links (a burning bus or two doesn’t count), or sabotage the rail network. An angry mob which thought about what it was doing could inflict far more economic damage than we’re seeing now, which is not to say that the chaos we’re seeing now is going to be cheap.
  5. There will have to be a rethink of the whole “austerity Britain” idea. For want of comparatively small expenditures on social programs (youth clubs etc.), we now have the large and ongoing expense of dealing with the resulting frustrations. Exacerbating the massive inequalities in our economic system by pulling the rug from underneath those at the bottom is simply going to result in more young people abandoning what pitiful stake they have in society and turning to violence. We won’t be able to keep locking them up for ever.
  6. On the “punishment” front, I want to see the rioters punished within the law, but I expect their punishment to include a significant amount of rehabilitation, education and help. No doubt there will be those who regard this as woolly liberalism gone mad and will expect solitary confinement and a diet of bread and water. To people with this mentality, I have one simple question – do you want these people to come out of prison just as bad as they were when they went in?
  7. Things which need to be fixed: The massive inequalities in society (probably by fixing taxation system to make it more redistributive). Idea that a person’s worth is measured by what kind of trainers they wear (i.e. the corrosive association of wealth with status – don’t know how to fix this as it seems ingrained in popular culture). Education system that tolerates failure and allows children to leave without being able to read and write meaningfully (this will cost a lot of money). Treatment of the unemployed as second-class citizens and demonisation of so-called “benefits scroungers” (if we’ve abandoned the goal of full employment because capitalism can’t deliver it, we shouldn’t be stigmatising victims of a systematic failure)
  8. The title of this post comes from the song “Right To Work” by Chelsea. It encapsulates one simple fact: if there had been worthwhile jobs for all of the rioters, the riots wouldn’t have happened. Cameron may see the root cause as a lack of respect, but why should people respect a system which gives them no hope and no opportunity? Not a lot of point getting on your bike and looking for work if it’s plain to see that there’s very little work to be had.

One comment

  1. Whilst I agree with all your comments and applaud you for putting them to paper (so to speak) I have a couple of additional points to be considered. Firstly, not everyone is insured and most the small businesses won’t have adequate insurance to cover their losses by a very long shot. Plus there are people who have lost everything in the fires, they are homeless and only have the clothes they stand up in. OK, possessions can be replaced, but there are ‘things’ that can’t be. For instance, I cannot imagine the pain I would feel to lose all my photographs of family and loved ones sadly departed, or the other small mementoes from happier days!

    My second point is the assumption that not having a job (therefore a future) is the driving motivation for this behaviour; personally I’m not convinced on that score. I do, however, agree that the increasing importance of materialism is definitely partially to blame. I also hold lack of discipline and poor parenting up for scrutiny here. I know my mother would have kept extremely close tabs on me and I wouldn’t have been allowed into the city centre, or probably out of the house, for my own safety and to ensure I wasn’t getting caught up with “the wrong crowd”. I also know that there is no way I could have passed off a new mobile phone or trainers without the 3rd degree. I suspect there are many parents out there enjoying watching their new 52” plasma TV without conscience or considerations for the larger ramifications. My brother, in his youth and as a bit of a dare, pinched a paperback book from a local shop along with a mate. My mother found out and devastated, so after giving him a good beating, marched him (with the book) straight back to the store to confess & apologise. She was perfectly prepared for police prosecution to follow if that is what the shop manager desired. Thankfully he did not and considered my mother’s retribution and the humiliation punishment enough. My brother was very well behaved after that. Plus the added bonus that having witnessed this, I too decided thieving certainly wasn’t worth it!!

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