Since the riots have subsided the excuse makers have been busy trying to find justification for the feral mobs that burned working and middle class families out of their homes as well as laying destruction to local businesses and people's workplaces. Wednesday's Guardian gives a few of them a platform in which to try and rationalise mob rule.
Last Thursday's edition of Young Voters Question Time on BBC 4, also revealed a disturbing antipathy to the concept of law and order by members of the audience and a palpable hatred for the police.Rudeness and an inability to converse and share ideas in a diplomatic manner were also on display in that the majority of these young people (between 18-35) wouldn't allow each other to speak or finish a sentence. Indeed, the presenter, Richard Bacon, had a hard time trying to facilitate discussion due to the lack of manners and etiquette needed to conduct a civilised debate. Myths and a multitude of excuses were put foward by members of the audience and have since been repeated by many commentators in the media. I will attempt to dispel a few of them here.
1)The killing of Mr. Duggan by the police
How can stealing a wide screen TV from Currys or thieving a shiny new tracksuit or burning your neighbour's flat down be interpreted as a justifiable expression of grief and anger over the death of a stranger? The logical extension of this form of reasoning would allow anyone who felt aggrieved by any kind of violence to go out on an orgy of looting and destruction as a means of releasing anger and frustration. It would be like hearing that an elderly woman you never knew had her house broken in to and then responding to the news by torching your local family run corner shop. And as a local community worker observed on the program, where was the public display of anger at the twenty young people murdered in his borough in London by other young people over the past year?
2) Poverty and Inequality
Whilst I abhor the inequality that exists in the UK as a result of decades of neo-liberalism and indeed am a victim of it myself, it doesnt naturally follow on that this gives me a reason to loot shops, commit acts of violence and terrorise my community. The poverty that exists in the UK is of a relative kind. The welfare state in Britain provides the underclass with housing, benefits, education and a health service, all free of charge and the envy of sub-saharran Africa. I am not saying they have an ideal life, but their basic needs and those of their children are met. Whilst working in Supported Housing with today's poor I observed how many of them were so well fed they were obese and that they had money to spend on cheap alcohol and recreational drugs. The majority of them also possessed luxury electronic goods such as laptops, playstations and the newest in mobile phones. They may be poor compared to the folks that live in the mansion on the hill, but they are wealthier than the monarchs of medieval Europe. The grinding abject poverty that existed in Britain during the ninteen thirties (see Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier) and that of the post war rationing period never led to marauding gangs of unsocialised teenagers ransacking their communities. The reason being that in those decades there was no uncivilised underclass and although society was too rigid and authoritarian we have now gone to the other extreme. The working classes of this earlier epoch had a sense of backbone and a collective set of norms to which they adhered and a Labour party that promoted collective values. Cultural relativism and the doctrine of non-judgmentalism that pervade the public sector along with the enchantment with all things materialistic thanks to the triumph of neo-liberalism have eroded the responsibility of some young people to act in a civilised manner with respect and consideration for others.
Several young rioters being interviewed on Sky News claimed that because they couldnt get work they were taking revenge on the local businesses and high street chain stores that had overlooked their job applications. As recipients of the already generous welfare state and as products of a comprehensive education system that eschews the concept of personal responsibility by labelling badly behaved children with non-existent psycholgical conditions such as ADHD, ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) and CD (Conduct Disorder) these young rioters have been imbued with the notion that their behaviour is not their fault and that it is the responsibility of the state to cater to their every whim. They will have been indulged in this fallacy by every agency of the state they will have come in to contact with be it their schools, social services, supported housing sector, youth offending service, youth workers, Connexions and so on. Whilst I believe strongly in the welfare state I believe that every citizen has reciprocal rights and duties towards her or his fellow citizens which precludes burning peoples homes and places of work to the ground. The UK's youth unemployment rate runs at around twenty percent and Spain's is at forty percent. The reason the Spanish youth are not rioting is that they have strong communities. Above all though their police force wouldn't spend days debating with politicians whether using water cannon was an infringement the human rights of criminals who were blighting the lives of working class communities.
A middle class girl in the audience on the aforementioned BBC programme claimed that as young people are so bored what with being unemployed and not having enough youth clubs to go to they took to the streets out of frustration with the dullness and ennui of their existence. I like to call this the 'Throwing One's Toys Out of the Pram' theory. In other words, if I am not indulged and provided with entertainment and leisure by others I will terrorise my community and the lives of my neighbours. This excuse is actually insulting to the majority of the sullen, withdrawn and bored teenagers who don't resort to arsonry or throwing molotov cocktails at the police just to kill some time. I spent a large proportion of my teenage years rigid with boredom but I never once thought I would alleviate the monotony of my existence by setting fire to a school or stabbing one of my friends or a passer by as we spent hours stupified with disaffection up alleyways and on street corners. A few years ago, I used to volunteer at a Youth Club which provided the youth in the area with meaningful activities and somewhere to socialise. However, it was taken over by young hoodlums who disobeyed the rules and bullied and victimised their well behaved peers. When I challenged them I had a bottle thrown at me and a bin thrown over my head. As is usual I got no support from the other staff as they were afraid of the thugs and instead they tried to reason with them which didn't work. I almost responded Clint Eastwood style to this attack, but in the interests of keeping my job in the school next door I restrained myself. We had to close the Youth Club for several months as the manager couldnt control the rough element that kept turning up and the police and local people complained about an increase in anti-social behaviour in the area on the nights it was open. It is a glib prouncement to asssume that the building of a Youth Club will eradicate anti-social behaviour and boredom is a pathetic excuse for violence and destruction.
To end on a positive note, there was one young black man in the audience on Young Voter's Question Time who stated that it was the lack of respect for other people and their own communities that were the cause of the riots. He too was unemployed and relatively poor he stated, as were his friends, but at the end of the day he remarked that his mother and other people in his community had instilled in him with respect for others and his fellow human beings. This is the challenge that Britain must now rise to and that is instilling a common value system based on respect for others and the rule of law in our young people. This will involve a complete reversal in a lot of the social policy and a re-imagining of the welfare state where individuals are encouraged to not see themselves as victims and passive recipients but as citizens with both rights and concomitant responsibilities towards members of your community.