Pick Up The Pieces

August 12th, 2011

I decided to write about rioting.

This has been an odd thing to get round to writing. I’ve been thinking about it for days but everytime I’ve gone to start typing I’ve read something that eloquently sums up my views far better than I can myself.

A case in point being Russell Brand’s excellent thing in the Guardian.

First off I don’t think I have any particular insight into why our society apparently began to unravel this week. I don’t have any solutions and can’t pretend to really have any understanding of the people involved. My life is fairly comfortable and is as removed in social terms, if not geography, as it is possible to be.

I think the thing that really prompted me to and get my thoughts together on this was the reaction of Michael Gove on the radio, on Wednesday morning. I can’t remember the exact words as I was having a shower at the time but in short he said we shouldn’t seek to understand recent events as they were purely a manifestation of good vs evil. I added the word manifestation as this is what he really meant, he said something else that didn’t work as well.

I thought about that for quite a while.

It’s obviously idiocy of the highest order but there was something that resonated with me. As with much of the coalition Government narrative, it is a complex event boiled down to a simple explanation. The reductionism of this is so effective that the words essentially have no meaning. This is dismissing events as though it was little more than a Batman comic.

It operates on the same simplistic level that appears to have convinced the mainstream media that macro economic policy works in the same way as a credit card.

This has been coupled with the constant refrain from the Government, that to seek answers is to justify criminality. This is the attitude of someone trying to hide something. The rules of cause and effect don’t have a moral component. I believe that boiling water turns it into steam, this doesn’t mean I’m justifying it .

What I think I can safely say is that many thousands of people did not spontaneously, and suddenly, all reach the same conclusion, that wanton criminality was the way forward. This inclination had to be latent and needed to be triggered.

The causes of all of this are likely to be complex, though not ignoring that personal choice is probably the overarching factor. I don’t think we can ignore the role of politics within this, and I don’t mean this is something caused by the Conservatives alone. All parties have a similar responsibility for the change in moral norms that has clearly happened over generations.

We are living in an age where it is most likely that young people will not achieve levels of prosperity that their parents have. This isn’t an issue of poverty be it absolute or relative, it is an issue of hope and aspiration. I don’t mean that civil disturbance is influenced by settling for a smaller telly than your Mum and Dad. I mean that we are living through a time where the entire tempo of our lives is a regression on what has gone before. It is only moral boundaries that stop us seizing at quick and easy routes to comfortable living. Be that a moral objection to auditioning for X Factor or an implicit understanding that we shouldn’t rob banks.

This makes it all the more important that we ensure that everyone has got something invested in our society, something that they don’t want to lose. Without that we have no real form of censure.

The world wide recession has clearly impacted every strata of our society but this has been coupled with an ideological experiment to remove the state from our lives. This isn’t as simplistic as the reduction of budgets, it is also the message that is given to us by the Government that we must take responsibility for our lives back from the state.

This message is couched in the economically bankrupt imperative of deficit reduction but the reality is an ideological reduction of the state.

I imagine that this message was intended to develop the flawed concept of the Big Society as we all embraced our personal responsibility. The reality is that we see that many young people have recognised that it is their responsibility to generate their own wealth and simply decided to take it.

If you consider this article in the Telegraph you can see why such a reaction has come about. Any young person shaping their values in our society can see from the example of our political, media and financial classes that illegality is a technical barrier. If this notion isn’t redressed through family then I’m not exactly sure where people get their lead from.

Of course that doesn’t justify the decisions that young people have taken.

It does leave us with a problem, how do we stop this happening again? We can maintain a massive police presence for a few more days but then we run out of money. At some point we will need to reduce this and I’m not convinced that we have managed to change the minds of many of the people that decided that Sunday was a good time to set everything on fire.

Yeah, I don’t have an answer to that.

We need long term solutions and a fair bit of that will only come through setting examples. That will mean getting rid of politicians that we know are corrupt. Regulating the media and regulating the financial sector. Anything less will only fuel an erroneous perception of injustice.

It is fine for the Government to experiment with removing the state from our lives, in the hope that the private sector will fill the void. As with any experiment we need to be prepared for what happens if we get results we don’t expect. In this case criminality has filled the gap left by a shrinking state and lethargic private sector.

We have seen some efforts to fill this gap by society itself. We’ve seen vigilante mobs on the streets and we’ve seen spontaneous civic cleaning. Whilst I understand that, in some forms both of these are needed to make us feel good about ourselves they divert attention away from what really helps us out in the short term. The last few days have seen Council workers out first thing in the morning doing the real cleaning before any fo us get up. Throughout the night we have seen the Justice Service, that has been decimated by the Government trying to send an immediate message out to communities.

We need to recognise that we can experiment all we like but when it goes wrong we need at least a semblance of a safety net, in the form of the state, to pick up the pieces.


Posted in Media, Politics | Comments (4)

4 Responses to “Pick Up The Pieces”

  1. Riot Reads II | FYPA.NET Says:

    […] Pick Up The Pieces by Daz Wright […]

  2. Tom Gibara Says:

    Great post.

    I had one specific comment concerning your call for greater regulation. It’s been shown (consistently now I think) in psychological studies that greater regulation generally leads to ‘worse’ behaviour. Individuals use rules (consciously or not) to absolve themselves of personal judgements, including moral ones.

    This observation was one of the motivations behind the shared spaces experiment in Germany where all speed limits and road signs were removed in the town of Bohmte resulting in fewer road accidents. In the absence of rules drivers were called on to make their own judgements about the safe way to drive.

    I think the recent scandal of MPs expenses provides an example of this problem. If one rejects the argument that the majority of MPs are self-serving defrauders (which I do, though not everyone would) then the only conclusion must be that the MPs were blinded to the immorality of their behaviour, and it strikes me that at least part of the explanation is that the rules for allowances came to be regarded as a ‘game’ to be played, that claiming expenses on a technicality became legitimized because that’s what the regulations permitted.

    Ultimately, I think that acting morality is something that requires practise and that diminishing the opportunities for individuals to engage morally with situations by erecting ever more laws, rules and regulations is ultimately self defeating. One of the personal conclusions I have drawn from the rioting, both from the breadth of people who engaged in it and the breadth of responses in the press, is that many people have not had enough of this ‘moral practice’.

  3. Daz Says:

    I can see what you mean but I think there is a difference between explicit regulation and implicit regulation. I doubt anyone would claim that the problems we can see in the press come from too much regulation. Regulations are an arbitrary boundary and if we see them as the limits of morality then we are storing problems for ourselves. I do wonder if this is problem that it is implicit in the western model of parenting. Set firm boundaries that kids then push to see what they can get away with. We seemingly spend little time guiding kids to define their own boundaries within their own determined moral framework.

    Though what do I know, I rarely talk to kids and have absolutely no concept of parenting.

    Thanks for the comment.

  4. Kim Says:

    I agree that to some extent the shrinkage in the state has given some room for these events to happen, but only to a small degree. Services that benefit society in the long term have only been withdrawn over the last four years (ish) and we have yet to see what impact that will have. Probably much the same as last time round (under Thatcher). I think that the double mugging of Asruyf (sorry for spelling) can tell us a lot about these riots. An incident led to an opportunity. When people see other people behaving in a certain way, it gives them permission to act similarly or worse. It’s Lord of the Flies but in microcosm. And every time I saw a “rioter” being asked what they were doing they had no idea. They mumbled about the Police and rich people but ultimately they were just doing what their friends or neighbours were doing.

Leave a Reply