New Internationalist

Not the last time London will burn

The usual round of celebration, condemnation and name calling has begun. The riots in London and elsewhere over the last few nights are being portrayed as something between the collapse of civilization and the final insurrectionary act of the glorious working classes. You pays yer money, you takes yer choice. 

image of looters and onlookers
Photo by Hozinja used under a Creative Commons licence.


The lefties are pointing out that the riots are happening in the context of massive cuts to welfare, in communities that have at best problematic relationships with the police and involving young people alienated by the systematic inequality and racism they suffer routinely. 

Right-wingers are just looking for someone to blame, from the borderline classist/racist 'it’s these criminal chavs/blacks/muslims/insert Daily Mail hate group' to the 'give the police tanks/machine guns/rocket launchers' to the 'they all use Twitter and Blackberries you know'. 

But I’m surprised we haven't seen things kick off sooner.  

Item: A generation of kids are constantly told that having more stuff is the route to fulfilment in life. Item: The same kids have no access to said stuff. Item: Dear old Lady T did away with society in order to free us up for total market domination of every aspect of our lives. Item: Her successors continued the policy and persisted with consumerism as the axiomatic basis of all human fulfilment. Conclusion: Kids with a burning desire for more stuff and no belief in society may very well start smashing up their communities to get a taste of the good life. 

While Jody McIntyre is correct to say that many of the rioters are angry with the police, and with our society's inequality, I think the rabbit hole goes deeper. If these were the only issues, we could expect to see more police stations blazing, more sharing of the looted consumer durables among the community and fewer homes on fire. 

We need to examine the dual forces of consumerist dogma and the ideologically driven collapse of community cohesion. These two forces when applied to a poor and alienated underclass of young people who have learned to hate the police are nothing short of incendiary.

Over the next few weeks we can expect to see the media on both sides of the political divide calling for ever more authoritarian measures to deal with 'these people'. Politicians and politicos will rush to condemn. They will leverage the crisis to push their particular agendas. But, with a looming financial disaster and continuing commitment by the powerful in society to never-ending consumption, uninhibited greed, and systematic inequality as the only way to manage the world, this is probably not the last time London will burn.

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