“Why here, why now?” Response to Tariq Ali on Londonriots. LRB blog

Posted on August 9, 2011


Lord of the Flies

Image by liquidnight via Flickr

Why here, why now? « LRB blog.

Tariq Ali is right,  politics and years of failed policies are the main causes of the London riots, and tied in with that is economics as well. Disenfranchisement is the reason why the youths feel that they’re taking back what should be theirs or showing the police what they can do. It might be the reason why they loot and steal to regain a sense of power over the system.

But if the underlying cause appears to be socio-economic and the grievance political, then the solution should be a combination of both. To put it crudely, it should be education. I realize this has been repeated ad nauseam, but it’s true. Education could’ve shown rioting girls drunk on rosé  that by stealing from shops they were affecting the shop-worker as well as the shop-owner, and that shop-owners are also victims of inequality and tax hikes. Youth programs might’ve made rioters think twice about setting fire to that the furniture shop in Croydon; they might’ve injected in these kids with a sense of community that could’ve helped them to understand that House of Reeves didn’t not in fact represent ‘the rich’ they’re claiming to fight against but rather the average worker. Education could’ve made some of the hooded youths see that they were not “sticking it to the man” but rather ransacking normal people’s livelihoods. In short, it could have been the means that led them to voice they’re frustrations in some other way or form, it might’ve sent them to protest outside Downing Street instead of breaking windows at Clapham Junction.

That said, I cannot help but see another force at work beneath all the politics and social theory, one that is far more primeaval and forceful. Yes there is isolation, yes there is racism, yes there is inequality and unemployment, yes there is a lack of investment in social programs— but there is also the thrill of pulling down a hood and putting on a mask, the rush of erasing your identity at night and becoming part of a ‘we’ that strikes fear, there is excitement in imposing your will on others, and there is the satisfaction of living without consequences. ‘Fuck them. Who gives a fuck’.  Haven’t we all experienced the thrill of the god-like  power of destruction as little kids, kicking apart anthills and wreaking havoc upon tiny universes? Behind all this is the mark of everyday life stuff. That’s the scariest thing; that it might not entirely be the government’s fault, it might not be all economics, or just a response to injustice. “What I mean is… maybe it’s only us.”