Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Reflections on the English riots

Like many people, I've been following the mayhem on Twitter. First it was the #Londonriots. Then as they spread, they became the #ukriots. Last thing I noticed on the beeb rolling strapline was more accurate: these are the English riots, with Scotland being trouble-free.

Now I'm going to look a bit of a knob if it kicks off in Glasgow tonight but I don't think it will and the mere fact that it hasn't yet should, I would have thought, prompted people to put down their broad-brushes, step away from their keyboards and think about about they are saying. Because regardless of the position on the political spectrum people occupy, if they had correctly identified the 'root causes', it should be happening in Glasgow.

For many on the left, the riots are a function of austerity, poverty, shit housing, unemployment and lack of opportunities. Or more specifically for some, the closure of youth clubs. Some people have had faith in the magical properties of youth clubs for as long as I can remember. Well, it's not as if we have full employment here with all our youths happily playing ping-pong so these factors are at best incomplete explanations.

Same goes for the right - with lack of discipline, a 'dependency-culture', family break-down and shortage of press-ups being identified as the usual suspects whenever something bad happens. But we have all this in Glasgow too.

The commentary rather gives the impression of being a wee bit like that which followed the Norwegian tragedy. Loads of pundits who claim to have identified the causes in the very things they've been banging on about for years and reading into a situation exactly what they want to see. Probably the most absurd and pathetic example of this is those internet-Tots presently finding something Arab Spring about a bunch of fuckwits stealing trainers.

And like the Norwegian tragedy, one gets the impression that people would be deeply unsatisfied with narrower, more mundane explanations. So why not Glasgow? Perhaps it's the weather? I'm not being entirely facetious. You don't get long hot summers of discontent in Scottish cities because you don't get long-hot summers. But more likely, these English riots have at their root stuff to do with gangs, ethnic minorities and their interaction with the police? Wouldn't claim to know what the answer is, but looking at more specific practical things is likely to be more helpful than people just whipping out their prejudices?

Not that I'm free from these myself, obviously. I want to vomit when people start bleating about the need to find out why people involve themselves in acts of 'communal self-harm', like they need therapy or something. My own view is that there's an amazing amount of bullshit smuggled into arguments under the cover of 'community'. Maybe if the rioters had been torching their own homes, it could be seen like this - but they haven't, have they? So it shouldn't. Why do people go on the rampage? Really have to insist that the right doesn't get a monopoly on having a pessimistic view of the human condition. People do this sort of thing because they are arseholes and because they can. As Chris says, you need structures where the the costs of rioting outweigh the benefits. The difference between left and right is the former traditionally does not see the costs solely in terms of punitive criminal justice. But the left has traditionally seen a role for criminal justice and it's a tradition worth maintaining. Or alternatively you could pretend a bunch of feral scumbags stealing DVD players are at the vanguard of the English revolution - if you want to go on looking like a complete tit, that it.

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