Explanations not excuses; the “English Riots” summer 2011 and where we go from here.
This is not yet the article I want to write; that may never come to be. But in trying to make sense of the events of this summer, how I feel about them and, more importantly, in looking for solutions, I have gathered a few articles which I think help us to move forward.This is not some definitive list, no scholarly bibliography. It is a random collection of articles I have read and which have helped me sort out and organise my thoughts. So here are a few of these thoughts and a few of these links.
I am not dealing here with the initial, peaceful demonstration over the Duggan shooting and the lack of information from the police to the family. Nor with the initial violence that arose directly after this. These are important events but have a very different character to the events that followed both in Tottenham later that night and subsequently in other areas of London and elsewhere in England.
This was my first reaction on tumblr ; I expressed a fear that there would be many questions asked, but not answered.
Initially, I was wrong. No questions were asked. The violence, the looting was “senseless.” Carried out by “thugs” and “feral youths.” Pictures took over where words failed us. No one dared ask the question out loud:” How did we get to create a society where so many people think this behaviour is ok?”
Over the next few days though, the question was asked and if any one dared to try and answer they were immediately accused of “making excuses” for the “senseless violence.” One of the first to try and make sense of it all was Camila Batmanghelidjh, a woman whose work with Kids Company I greatly admire. Now she could be described as – and has been- dismissed as a ” bleeding heart liberal.” But her views are not so easily dismissed when you see what she and her organisation have come up against and the successes they have had. On 9th August she wrote an article for the Independent headlined: “ Caring costs -but so do riots.” Without excusing she explains the situation and the mind set of some of those who might have been involved in the riots. “Hug a hoodie” , with tough love, may actually be a good piece of advice rather than just a sound bite.
But to me, the most significant thing she says is:
“over a number of years, many of us have been concerned about large groups of young adults creating their own parallel antisocial communities with different rules.”
There cannot be a teacher/social worker/ community police officer, working in certain areas of our cities and towns , who does not agree with this. And why should any one be surprised given that their parents and grandparents were told by Thatcher that “there is no such thing as society” ? We have allowed this class of society to grow and grow apart. We have mocked the “chavs” but never wondered how the society we have created is responsible for the lack of values, empathy, responsibility and aspirations of an increasing number of people.
But, as has been widely commented upon, these same failings have been demonstrated across society: “lack of values, empathy, responsibility” could equally be applied to bankers and politicians, both groups of people who have not had to face the consequences of their actions.
We have created a society of the spectacle where goods represent status, where x-factor represents having a vote. We should not perhaps be surprised then that, when the opportunity arises, some people feel that it is ok to grab some of these status symbols for free. The consequences of their actions-the heartache and the damage- are unimagined. like the bankers perhaps, or the politicians and their expenses claims.
Over time, I think we have confused this underclass, the “chavs”, with the working class and this lack of clarity has made it more difficult to look for solutions. Owen Jones has written a book entitled: “Chavs: the Demonization (sic) of the Working Class.” I have not read the book (for a favourable review see here – what interests me is the title. It assumes that the image we have of Chavs is in any way related to the working class. There has always been differences within the working class. The first Trade Unions were set up to protect the jobs of craftsmen from unskilled workers. But I believe the gap between the underclass we have created and traditional working class values has widened. In fact the “chav” values- there are no consequences to my actions, I want it now, what’s the point of education- resemble more the values of the afore mentioned bankers and politicians. In my view, working class values- essentially communitarian- were best expressed during the riots by the clean up campaign and “the woman from Hackney” . She expresses a view of community which was undermined by Thatcher and which the Labour government did little to address.
Of course Blair has aired his views on the riots. In an article on 21st August in the Observer, Blair states :
“The big cause is the group of alienated, disaffected youth who are outside the social mainstream and who live in a culture at odds with any canons of proper behaviour. “
Well I can actually agree with that. What I can’t agree with is the that we have a ” group of alienated, disaffected youth who are outside the social mainstream and who live in a culture at odds with any canons of proper behaviour. “, has nothing to do with society as a whole.
I acknowledge that I am muddled headed but he then goes on to state:
“The key is to understand that they aren’t symptomatic of society at large. Failure to get this leads to a completely muddle-headed analysis of what has gone wrong.”
To suggest on the one hand that the riots were caused by a group of alienated youth and then suggest that this is not a societal problem; well that to me seems muddle headed.
Mary Midgley- a philosopher and wonderful person- compared philosophy to plumbing. She suggests that both philosophy and plumbing are hidden systems which no one recognises the need for- unless they go wrong. And when things go wrong with plumbing, we call in the experts. When things go wrong with society however we rarely turn to philosophy. See here
An inquiry has been announced into the riots. I hope the inquiry digs deep and examines the plumbing which underpins our society.
I hope that they: examine the values that we promote through our press and the media in general,
: examine an education system that promotes training above education for life not just employment.
: look at the parts of England where there weren’t any riots and what they are doing RIGHT.
: Look at where those convicted have come from, check the deprivation levels and the gcse results
Unless we address the issues of what type of society we want to live in then the problems exemplified by the riots this Summer willnot go away.
Here are a few other articles in the press that I think are relevant:
(There were no riots in Derby thanks in part to the proactive intervention of community groups getting out on the streets (community groups threatened with funding cuts) and the beat police officers ( threatened with funding cuts) and positive use of social media. (Threatened by censorship.)