London riots: of course they are political

Posted on August 8, 2011 by | 74 Comments

The most surprising thing about these riots is that anyone is surprised. Here in Oxfordshire, youth workers have been predicting for months that things would kick off this summer. Of course there are riots. Of course there is looting. What else did they expect?

Some say that these are not political riots. What does that make them? Apathetic riots? This absurdity perhaps gets to the core of the misunderstood alienation of today’s young people better than I have ever seen. When young people sit at home and quietly don’t engage in democratic structures which they have never seen work for them, we are told that they are apathetic. And so when these same young people rip apart their communities and plunder the shops on their own streets, we are told that these are not political acts, that they are apathetic acts, a-political acts.

And that is absurd. I don’t know the intentions of each of the people taking part in the riots today. I don’t know for sure what the intentions of any of them are. But I do know this: every act is a political act. Whether it is intended to make a point about the government’s macro-economic policy or intended to allow a pair of trainers to be stolen, the smashing of a window is a clear demonstration of a refusal to buy into society as it stands. However an arsonist explains their flames, whether they burn a building for fun, or with the intention of bringing about revolution, they are saying this: “The world I find myself in is not one in which I have a stake. It is not one I was allowed to help build. It is one which I am happy to burn”.

I am sure that some of those who stole TVs did so because they wanted a new TV. I am also sure that there is widespread anger at the murder by the police of black teenagers, rage at the closing of youth centres, fear from the loss of the Education Maintenance Allowance. These things have ripped apart the lives of so many. But even those whose only expressed motivation was that they wanted a new TV were making a profoundly political point: they were saying that they have been so alienated from their own communities, and that they had so little to lose if they are caught, that they are willing to smash up their local shops and risk time in prison to add a few extra inches to the width of the machines which deliver their daily opiate.

Of course people feel they have nothing to lose. We have record youth unemployment. We have young people losing services on which they have relied for generations. We have seen almost as many deaths in police custody in the first half of 2011 as we saw in all of 2010.

And of course people are alienated. Power has systematically been removed from communities – handed from local councils to Parliament, from Parliament to government, and then privatised from the government to corporations. Those we elect no longer make decisions for us. We certainly have almost no role in making decisions for ourselves. People have stopped voting because they no longer feel that their vote makes a difference. And so of course people have started to shout in the ‘language of the unheard‘.

Of course, they haven’t only just started to shout. The student protests in November consisted largely of the same people we see on the streets of London today: inner city FE students, desperate with rage at the government and fear for their future. I will never forget the tone of terror in the riots I saw outside Whitehall on one of those days ‘They’ve taken away my EMA, how am I ever going to go to college’. If rioting is the language of the unheard, then their voices are loud and clear today. Whether they are protesting or plundering, they are saying the same thing: society is broken. Our communities are not ours. They are of the elite, by the elite, for the elite. It’s time to rebuild. It’s time to start again, and this time, all voices must be heard. Because riot is the language of the unheard, and no one is unheard forever.

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74 Responses to “London riots: of course they are political”

  1. Irina GlinskiNo Gravatar
    August 8th, 2011 @ 8:39 pm

    Hi Adam.

    I’ve been working with young people from East London for a while now. I work for a charity that works with people who are either ‘NEET’ (Not in Education, Employment or Training) or have been permanently excluded. We work without political, religious or ethnic constrait; put simply, we will work with any young person, regardless of what they have done in the past, and how many PRUs, schools or YOTs they have been excluded from.
    I have to disagree with your ‘political’ statement. To say that these acts are political is to say that any and every act is political, right down to the smallest choices we make each day. Of course, there’s an element of truth in this. However, I think that what we’re watching today isn’t ‘anger about youth centre closures’ as was purported by one vox pop on the BBC; the youths on the streets of Hackney right now never used to turn up to these youth centres (I know, I was in one).
    To label it political is (in my very humble opinion) to elevate it from what it is – demonstrable evidence that humans are indeed capable of mindless destruction for selfish ends.

    Anyway, that was my two cents worth! I hope you are well.


  2. Jamie FairlieNo Gravatar
    August 8th, 2011 @ 8:44 pm


    I believe that Adam says he believes any and every act is a political act in this very article ;)

    “But I do know this: every act is a political act”

  3. Adam RamsayNo Gravatar
    August 8th, 2011 @ 8:44 pm

    Thanks Irina – my piint though is exactly that it doesn’t matter if these are about youth centres closing, or just that people feel so little connection with society that they are willing to nick some trainers. Either way, this is a political statement.

  4. IGNo Gravatar
    August 8th, 2011 @ 8:51 pm

    Ha, sorry, my terrible comprehension skills ironically caused by a long day at work.

    They have no respect for ‘society’ because ‘society’ has no respect for them. But they are burning the businesses and homes and property of their community, which contrary to popular belief is strong in these parts of London.

    It will have political ramifications but this I struggle to see the statement that is being made by people stealing trainers, and co-ordinating the logistics of doing so on a Blackberry. It certainly isn’t a financial motivation…

  5. AllieNo Gravatar
    August 8th, 2011 @ 8:54 pm

    I think that is a brilliant summing up of everything.

    @Irina I don’t think Adam is saying that these people are doing this to protest against youth centre closures, he is saying that it is happening because of the politics in this country and the fact they are doing this makes it political. I can’t say it as well as he can but I know what he means.

    I would say that everything is political. The chocolate bar you buy. Whether you walk, drive or get the bus. The clothes you wear. The school you go to. The job you do. I can’t think of anything that isn’t political. Maybe we don’t always think about it politically, its far too much effort to think about everything but its still political.

  6. Seb PowerNo Gravatar
    August 8th, 2011 @ 8:56 pm

    @Irina, even if they don’t consciously mean to make a political statement, their actions are saying “my life is so shit I’m willing to risk prison for a new pair of trainers”. And that for me raises the question, how come they do this and not someone from a posh suburb of London with much better opportunities in life?

  7. Seb PowerNo Gravatar
    August 8th, 2011 @ 8:57 pm

    And Adam, great article :)

  8. Una PurdieNo Gravatar
    August 8th, 2011 @ 9:30 pm

    As I watch small businesses seeing their livelihoods destroyed, people scared to leave their homes and lovely multi-cultured communities being ripped apart, (and as IG says, there really is strong community here) I struggle to sympathise with your analysis. It is, at the very least, insensitive. I know there is inequality and despair in Britain, but these riots are not so honourable and providing justification doesn’t help. Besides, now is really not the time for such an analysis while people continue to be hurt.

  9. EmmaNo Gravatar
    August 8th, 2011 @ 9:49 pm

    Hi Una,

    Adam isn’t saying the riots are honourable. He’s saying that in the current context, they can be understood.

    There’s a similar argument in this article:

    I agree with this analysis.

  10. lupinNo Gravatar
    August 8th, 2011 @ 11:22 pm

    Just one question Adam. The Bullingdon club sometimes behave like this as well – is that political? or just thuggish?

  11. HeccyBenNo Gravatar
    August 8th, 2011 @ 11:31 pm

    I’m sorry but
    “I am sure that some of those who stole TVs did so because they wanted a new TV. I am also sure that there is widespread anger at the murder by the police of black teenagers, rage at the closing of youth centres, fear from the loss of the Education Maintenance Allowance. These things have ripped apart the lives of so many”

    is a massive non-seqitur. Who are you to presume that you can interpret into good sense what people have intended to do? What evidence do you have that these disturbances are political in any way? Have you been out on the street and asked the people taking part? You are simply extrapolating a given event to fit with your own befuddled political paradigm.

  12. Seb PowerNo Gravatar
    August 9th, 2011 @ 1:53 am


    Yes, political.


    So why are people behaving like this? Were they born violent rioters? Or are they a product of their environment? If you think it’s the latter, the the riots aren’t a single event without context, but part of a much larger socio-economic-political picture. Their actions are, subconsciously, the product of political decisions over at least the last few decades.

  13. IndexMNSTRNo Gravatar
    August 9th, 2011 @ 2:38 am

    The riots – I would assume – are meant to get thinking, and talking.
    And you are.

  14. KeshavNo Gravatar
    August 9th, 2011 @ 2:49 am

    This might be slightly off topic, but anyway: in the next couple of days, some elements within government will be pressing for an increase in police powers in response to this crisis (water cannons, curfews, more stop and search powers, etc.). Those of us who oppose such an authoritarian response need to get our arguments ready as to why this wouldn’t work – wouldn’t address the structural reasons for the riots, discussed above – and if anything, would increase hostility to the police etc. Especially since we probably don’t have the public on our side at the moment – at least judging by Twitter, plenty of people would like to see the military brought in… And since the government might try to push something through quickly.


  15. abdussalamNo Gravatar
    August 9th, 2011 @ 7:16 am

    Well, its really a sad story, the time when I lived in england, it was much better, though tony Blair was in charge and he was criticised all the time…..well, this shows that the youth really care and won’t tolerate any act of injustice….now I live in nigeria, where our voted have never ever counted, where leaders will select their successors never mind what we are wanting, where ballot boxes will be stolen at the polling booth, where our youth are bribed with money that can’t fill their stomach for a day…..wish we could have this kinda youth! Our electricity is never stable, it never was, no good water for drinking, no furnished schools with trained teachers, no jobs, no nothing… the same time, our so-called leaders will fill them stomach, drink imported water, have good home, take their children abroad to study and steal away all our money!! With ur prayers, God will surely help us, thanks bye

  16. JeffreyNo Gravatar
    August 9th, 2011 @ 9:46 am

    “they are political”
    I dont see any signs, any banners or organized protests.

    I only see oppurtunist cowardly thugs.

    Stealing electrical goods, cash and breaking a strangers car window, setting shopfronts on fire… not politically motivated. If it was some ‘message’ perhaps its just so deep and brooding that the victims cant understand.

    If only I understood what they meant when they smashed my windows, maybe i would be on their side

  17. MarkNo Gravatar
    August 9th, 2011 @ 10:12 am

    Una said “now is really not the time for such an analysis while people continue to be hurt.”

    Jeffery said “Stealing electrical goods, cash and breaking a strangers car window, setting shopfronts on fire… not politically motivated.”

    Various Tory/Lib-dem/establishment figures will say that this was an outbreak of mass wickedness and irrational thuggery. We can either allow this to be set as the narrative – that it was an inexplicable disorder, akin to mass hysteria, or, as Adam has tried to do, we can challenge this narrative, and make it clear that however horrible and violent the rioting and looting is, it is a predictable and entirely explicable response to a set of political circumstances.

    Well done Adam for setting out the case so clearly.

  18. JoeNo Gravatar
    August 9th, 2011 @ 10:55 am

    Riots are NEVER an excuse for anything – innocent people and shop owners get hurt, while they are not the cause of anything. Rioters should be shot!

  19. Mike FerriganNo Gravatar
    August 9th, 2011 @ 11:00 am

    Well said,Adam.

  20. Adam RamsayNo Gravatar
    August 9th, 2011 @ 11:20 am

    Hello, thanks for the comments, I’ll just respond to a couple.

    Lupin: yes, and I think it’s an interesting parallel. People only trash the communities they live in if they don’t feel have a stake in them. This is true of what Neal Lawson calls the “feral elite” as much as it’s true of the kids trashing their streets. Of course one is an expression of a group who have had everything taken from them, the other is an expression of those who have done the taking. But both are what happens when inequality rips a society apart.

    To those who say that it’s not political coz their aren’t banners, did you even read what I wrote?

  21. GilbertNo Gravatar
    August 9th, 2011 @ 11:39 am

    Apart from motivations of rioters, the other reason this is political is the same reason Hurricane Katrina was political: properly set up societies are just not vulnerable in this way.

  22. lupinNo Gravatar
    August 9th, 2011 @ 12:17 pm

    Hmm … is Norway not a properly set up society then?

  23. Dave PearsonNo Gravatar
    August 9th, 2011 @ 12:33 pm

    Adam, I think you and some of your readers should consult a dictionary. ‘Politics’ is defined as: The activities of the government, members of law-making organizations or people who try to influence the way a country is governed.
    The mindless scum burning buildings and looting are doing so purely for their own amusement and benefit. These acts are not intended to send a message to anyone. They are not a critique of government policies past or present.
    To say that almost everything in our lives is in some way connected to politics (even if only by some obscure perspective) is to put it bluntly – stating the bleeding obvious. As is pointing out that as a consequence of these acts many serious political discussions will ensue.

  24. Seb PowerNo Gravatar
    August 9th, 2011 @ 12:44 pm


    The word comes from Greek “of, for, or relating to citizens” and “is a process by which groups of people make collective decisions. The term is generally applied to the art or science of running governmental or state affairs. It also refers to behavior within civil governments. However, politics can be observed in other group interactions, including corporate, academic, and religious institutions. It consists of “social relations involving authority or power””

  25. sarcasmisNo Gravatar
    August 9th, 2011 @ 1:05 pm


    If hundreds of thousands of people in Norway went on killing sprees, in different towns and cities, THEN you might be justified in questioning the set-up of the society.

  26. PeterNo Gravatar
    August 9th, 2011 @ 1:47 pm

    I cannot go along with the argument that this is political. Several of the people who carried out these atrocities are of school age…..politics that you speak of would not affect them at that age….only influence from elders. Also, it has been said that the clothes that we wear, the way we travel, the job we do…is political. NO it is not. It is called choice, or lifestyle, not politics. These people are greedy, cowardly, uneducated, and not angry, politically motivated people.

  27. MattNo Gravatar
    August 9th, 2011 @ 2:06 pm

    My gut reaction this is no doubt similar to many people’s. F**king idiots. Inexcusable.

    After a deep breath, and thinking carefully, I still think it’s inexcusable, but can absolutely understand why it’s happened, as Adam, and Camila Batmanghelidjh ( and Stafford Scott ( have all said very well.

    Arguing over what ‘political’ means seems to me to be rather missing the point though. I think Keshaw’s comment above is the one we should debating.

    Keshaw, personally I think we need to form a very clear and consise argument about why the preventative solution (i.e. developing community cohesion and a sense of ownership and pride in people) is a far more likely to avoid this type of thing happening again, than by effectively widening the gap between the ‘establishment’ and people by firing water guns at them and creating an even greater sense of detatchment from any sense of social responsibility.

  28. MattNo Gravatar
    August 9th, 2011 @ 2:16 pm

    Sorry, forgot to add an important caveat to my point above:

    BUT… the message we send cannot be seen to be excusing the rioters of their behaviour, otherwise I can just imagine the response from the public: “F**king lefty do gooders and their ‘human rights'”. Or something similar…

  29. GilbertNo Gravatar
    August 9th, 2011 @ 2:19 pm

    Lupin: vulnerability is not the same as threat. In my analogy it’s not whether disaster strikes. It’s what resources society faces it with.

    Which leads me on to what I actually wanted to say. In accepting the riots as having roots in poverty, alienation, growing inequality, frustrated expectations and so on, please let’s not lose sight of the courage and solidarity of those (many of them Muslims, I gather) who united to stand up against the looting. Understanding what life experiences gave some this courage has, I suspect, a lot to tell us about why others have so little investment in society that they want to see it burn.

  30. BarnowlNo Gravatar
    August 9th, 2011 @ 2:19 pm

    I despair at the fact that so many commenters here have seemingly not read past the title. Adam is NOT saying that this was in any way justifiable, or that the rioters were in any way trying to make a political point. If you have read the article that really should be obvious. The point is that events like this are inevitable in an increasingly unequal society. Why are there no riots in prosperous areas? Is it because middle class kids are simply better than working class kids? No, we are a product of our surroundings. If so many people are messed up enough to burn their own neighbourhoods that tells you a lot about society.

  31. SimoneNo Gravatar
    August 9th, 2011 @ 5:47 pm

    How can you explain the video where those guy are trying to help a hurted guy and instead they are stealing in his bag, or wich is the point of revolution burning your neighbor’s house and car who has worked his entire life to buy it, why don’t they go to the parliament house or buckingham palace, this is just an obscene defence for those criminals

  32. NodariusNo Gravatar
    August 9th, 2011 @ 7:31 pm

    Though this is not directly relevant to the main point of discussion I can’t help but to point out that those who say that everything is somehow political cannot even begin to imagine how many lives were lost in XX century because of this very way of seeing life. Learn some XX century history, please, it does have certain lessons.

  33. SomeoneorotherNo Gravatar
    August 9th, 2011 @ 10:33 pm

    There is a clear difference between:

    (i) Their being a political explanation for (some aspects of) the causes of the riots, and

    (ii) The riots being political in nature.

    You are confusing the two, and then accusing your opponents of absurdity because they refuse to share this confusion.

    The same distinction applies to act. If I steal a TV because I want a TV, I am *not* making a political point. You seem to accept this, in claiming their is no such ‘expressed motivation’. But you then go on to attribute a political statement/intention to the act. When all you are doing is confusing the political explanation of the conditions which give rise to such actions with the intention for which the act is performed.

    This just muddies the debate. You can make most of the points you wish too about the root causes without this silliness. But you would have to give up on the eye-catching headline.

  34. lupinNo Gravatar
    August 9th, 2011 @ 11:18 pm

    I heard an Asian shopkeeper in tears on the Radio. He had seen the business that he had spent his life building up destroyed. It was reported that he was very community minded and well liked. He could not understand what had happened to him. And then I heard a kid describing the kicks they had got out of rioting – how they had proved to the police that they could do what the hell they liked. For kids to be so cruel – so disconnected from humanity – and to need to defy the police that much – there is a political problem. Whether the kids know it or not we the observers must not fail to recognise it. We must condemn the terrible things that have happened utterly, and then we must do all we can to create a society in which large numbers of kids are just not this alienated from the rest of the human race in the first place. In which kids don’t feel the need to prove to the police that they can express themselves with impunity. What kind of childhood have they had to feel like this? These riots need a political response that goes well beyond the punishment of the individual concerned.

  35. MollyNo Gravatar
    August 9th, 2011 @ 11:29 pm

    Hmm, I’ve studied a fair bit of history for centuries of several values of X, and I can’t say I’ve ever read anything indicating that political consciousness causes violence (as opposed to, say, reactions to systematic material and social exploitation, or those old chestnuts religion and nationhood). Citations please?

  36. Amanda GrimmNo Gravatar
    August 9th, 2011 @ 11:42 pm

    Wow Adam, this is such a well written, clear and intelligent article. Great job. Nice change from all the other crap out there. Why can’t people understand that there’s a difference between condoning/excusing violence, and trying to explain why that violence is happening and making sure that something changes, so that we don’t give it an ‘excuse’ to keep happening?!

  37. Selena JNo Gravatar
    August 9th, 2011 @ 11:59 pm

    If these acts were truly political, the rioters would have made for the police stations and town halls, not local businesses and residents’ houses.

  38. James KNo Gravatar
    August 10th, 2011 @ 2:41 am

    Good to see an alternative point of view on this difficult subject. While (I think) I understand your point about how the kids are disenfranchised with modern society, I still think it is deplorable how they are going about it.

    Yes they may be frustrated and feeling trapped, but surely there is some place for them in the local communities that they are tearing apart.

    Direct attacks against government buildings would be understandable, even tearing down corporate retail – but there are so many cases where they are ripping apart the lives hard working members of their communities have built over years (or in the case of House of Reeves in Croydon, generations).

    I have to say that I am torn how I think the situation should be handled. The army while a tempting option is clearly overkill, and harsher riot control methods have the potential to worsen the problem over the longer term… Equally though I see little progress that has been made with attempts to help this disenfranchised generation. It seems to me that many are caught in a generation trap, lacking proper role models to inspire them to contribute to society in anything but a negative way.

  39. NodariusNo Gravatar
    August 10th, 2011 @ 6:50 am

    To lupin:
    “create a society in which large numbers of kids don’t feel the need to prove to the police that they can express themselves with impunity.” — kids always and everywhere feel the need to prove themselves to the world, not just the police, it’s just an integral part of growing up. There might be various opinions as to why they choose this particular way of testing themselves and the world around them, but, all in all, this is rather a cultural, not a political problem and should be addressed as such.

    To Molly:
    How about, say, the “objective imputation” as it was used (or even invented) by Soviet justice system in 1930s? Someone could be guilty just because he/she “objectively” helped people’s enemies by, say, critisising this or that decision or accidentally breaking a piece of equipment etc. — even if it couldn’t be proved that the deed had been intentional. There was even a marvellous expression which — very roughly and literally — could be translated as “to pour water on an enemy’s mill-wheel”, i.e. to play into enemy’s hand. Objectively, of course, as there are no neutral acts and words and thoughts — everything is political and thus judged with this idea in mind. I don’t even want to go to the history of the Russian Civil war, but the problem of “total politicalness”, so to speak, was already there.

  40. Ivan BohatierNo Gravatar
    August 10th, 2011 @ 7:01 am

    Now the anger in society is reaching new levels and the traditional Labour movement has less purchase on the forms of resistance than it has had for a generation. Riot is one result. It is always a blunt political instrument. Some consciously riot for political reasons. Some are impelled to riot for economic and political reasons which are only partly present in their consciousness. Others join in for very different reasons. But riots never just happen. Neither are they the product of some sudden and mysterious decision by criminals to organize a mass society wide excuse to rob Debenhams.

    The riot always has social and economic roots and it is always a protest by the excluded and the poor against the conditions forced on them by the rich and powerful.

  41. lupinNo Gravatar
    August 10th, 2011 @ 9:47 am

    To Nodarius – My, admittedly quite privileged kids never showed any signs of wanting to loot shops or burn down people’s flats. Throughout history this behaviour is not the norm and it didn’t happen in better off parts of the country. I don’t accept that it is “just an integral part of growing up”. Being a bit naughty and pushing at the boundaries is – but not this. Historically this kind of behaviour is the exception not the rule. I agree it is cultural, but politics has a part to play in the formation and destruction of cultures.

  42. MatthewNo Gravatar
    August 10th, 2011 @ 9:54 am

    It seems to be less about rioting yesterday (especially in Manchester) and more about organised looting. The BBC (who are usually brilliant) and Theresa May are using the term ‘wanton destruction’. It seems to be more about wanton ‘distraction’ i.e. 20/30 gang members set fire to a dustbin and taunt the police in one street and 3 or 4 other gang members loot in another.
    But I suppose Adam would argue that criminal logistics and strategy is just another form of political expression ??
    Also, there is a huge difference between an arsonist and a pyromaniac. The latter is someone who burns for gratification .. a sort of fetish. Pyromaniacs are infamous for scouting around for opportunities to excuse their impulses / desires. (They’ve been known to travel great distances to relenquish their urges)
    I think Adam’s point should be that there is always a cause and effect for everything (not very revelatory really) and in this case the cause is an opportunity for anarchy and the ‘effect’ – organised looting and anarchy for (mostly) fun, gratification and free consumerism.

    So I’d go along with Occam’s razor and suggest that the young teenagers involved aren’t subconsciously driven by a sociopolitical push but rather just want some fun and excitement..

  43. Gary RichardsNo Gravatar
    August 10th, 2011 @ 9:56 am

    Adam, you’ve simply created a theoretrical piece to help you yourself to understand the actions of the rioters.

    People create arguments to consolidate and justify their own thinking. We like to reinforce our ego. And, you’ve demonstrated this here.

    Yes, our ‘young underclass’ has been able to assert themselves in the last few days. But, importantly, rioting has occured, not because the perpetrators have nothing to lose and are willing to risk prison, it is because this is the first time for them, that it appears they will not be risking prison.

    For them, the world has been turned upside down. They have been used to adults in authority telling them they cannot do this or this will happen. Then they do it and nothing happens.

    Most of these young people will simply find your piece ridiculously embarassing.

  44. NodariusNo Gravatar
    August 10th, 2011 @ 10:23 am

    To lupin:
    I agree that “politics has a part to play in the formation and destruction of cultures”. But it works the other way round as well and I am not entirely sure that politics comes first.
    How one tells “pushing the boundaries” from pure violence and looting? The point is that we all live in our own small worlds, and my world could be in a galaxy far, far away in relation to the world of a guy living a few miles from my place. And so could the boundaries we might want to push.

  45. ParsnipsNo Gravatar
    August 10th, 2011 @ 2:55 pm

    So many arguments and counter arguments are being waged over the riots; ‘this is a political act because’ to ‘this is not a political act because’ to ‘there’s no need to complexify and explain wanton destruction’ and ‘without understanding and correcting it, it’ll happen again’, and so on.

    I think the simplest way you can look at this is to ask the question, ‘has this ever happened before?’ and by that I mean rioting and looting driven not by rage at the poll tax, not the injustice of sus laws, nor by a definable civil rights issue, but instead by motives that are either nebulous (“we wanna show the rich we can do what we want”) or fallacious (“we did it for Mark Duggan”) or simply with no motives at all (“we are the mindless underclass”). I think the answer to the question, ‘has this ever happened, on this scale’, in this country at least, is no.

    If you believe the answer is no then you have to ask the question ‘why has it happened?’, and if you do that, you can’t avoid discussion of politics. Therefore this is a political issue, and the riots were a political act.

  46. IainNo Gravatar
    August 10th, 2011 @ 3:24 pm

    The Great Unwashed and Our Struggle with Preventative Medicine.

    I do not wish to present justification for the riotous assemblies in and around London and other areas of the UK, or condone the looting, violence and vandalism seen in many local communities in Great Britain over the last 4 days; I would like to make this very clear before I continue.

    We are presented with a narrative by the media and the government of ‘mindless violence without justification’ and ‘unprecedented levels of criminality’ which is ‘inexcusable’, ‘intolerable’ and that ‘those involved should and will be brought to justice’. I do not disagree with these statements as they are the facts based upon the sentiment under which our communities are founded and the law under which they are regulated. It occurs to me however that no matter how stupid or mindless the ‘youths’ that have perpetrated these acts are, they probably already knew these facts to be true on some level… yet they committed the crimes anyway. This suggests to me that they do not feel engaged, nourished or effective in the society they have attacked.

    I appreciate that I do not live in London and that my local shop has not recently been destroyed; there are no burning cars or shop windows in the street I walk down to get to work. I have seen that the shops targeted were not specifically ‘big business’, ‘banks’ or even premises that are political in nature, and from this I don’t believe these events to be a coordinated political statement. From the limited footage and recordings of statements of justification from the young people out looting and rioting I have gleaned nothing more than a motivation of feeling dissatisfaction with being poor and not being able to have the things they want, blaming everyone from the government through to a nameless and faceless ‘rich’. I am not about to elevate the actions of these people into the realms of an intellectual debate about their motivations and political intention, although I do see that if this culture of young people is part of the society we live in it is undeniable that there is serious decay within the socio-economic structure of our society. It paints a picture that there is a culture within SOME young people in Britain that has culminated in a disaffection with society so strong, coupled with an interpretation of that society so skewed that they are willing to include small local business as persons responsible for their impoverishment. It is impossible to ignore that these people are stealing all manner of goods; this speaks both about the greed and materialism within our society and of the lack of aspiration these people have; but should probably not be considered without also considering the idea that there will be other members of their communities who are managing to responsibly react to the difficult financial and political times we live in and see no point in this destruction.

    ‘It’s the rich innit’: the language of the unheard.

    Mindless violence does exist; everyone is capable of it just as everyone is capable of random acts of kindness. This cannot be accentuated more by the juxtaposition of the mindless violent vandals and the other people of those same communities self-organising to clean up and protect the streets within hours of the onslaught. The psychology of a mob is that one becomes anonymous and unaccountable for their actions, there is also a thrill of being part of something with so much physical presence and capability. This intoxication does not excuse criminal or antisocial acts just as being under the influence of alcohol doesn’t excuse your actions – however in both cases the intoxication does give us some depth in understanding how people feel they are capable of committing the actions. I would like to reiterate that I am not trying to justify the acts; I am not interested in glorifying them or aligning them with any political statement, why would I be when it is painfully clear to see that this is nothing more than a product of our society.

    My point is that whether this is the mindless violence of a culture of idiotic, uneducated, unemployed yobs or the unknowing and ill-informed reaction of a generation of impoverished persons to disenfranchisement and inequality (or option C – both.) this is incredibly worrying. As I mentioned before I feel that the narrative we have been provided with is built on statements of ‘inexcusable’ and ‘unprecedented criminality’ that is ‘mindless’ and ‘without justification’ which, let’s be honest, is all a government or police commissioner can say at a time like this before deciding whether to go towards the route of martial law and anti-terror-like measures, or affect an immediate change in the lives of these young people. I am in no two minds about what the media coverage I have seen leads me to anticipate.

    This gets to the route of what I really wanted to say about the events in Britain over the last 4 days, whilst I do not wish to directly challenge the idea that this violence is inexcusable (because these acts are not acceptable within the society I wish to live in), perhaps we should include in the narrative of these events a social understanding of the situation before we decide what measures we take to prevent it occurring again. Simply arresting and charging a large gang of youths in the UK is not going to prevent this from happening again. I am also not sure how curative water canons, curfews and/or a military presence will be; and cannot ignore the additional ramifications of these measures being part of our social control.

    We live in tremulous times, to put it dramatically, with civil unrest in various parts of the globe, corrupt governments in the first, second and third world; not to mention a recession which apparently is double dipping as I type. People are being affected and influenced by these times and there have been ever increasing sizes of protests, riots and dissent around the globe even just within the last 10 years. So we can either start to vilify those challenging our society, our governments, and our economics; whether they are ill-informed and upset youths or an activist who read politics at Cambridge University; or we can endeavour to understand where the decay exists and attempt to tackle it – unless of course you think that a socially disenfranchised, unemployed and uneducated underclass of youths, gangs and yobs is an unavoidable part of any society and they just need to be arrested and imprisoned once they have done something prosecutable.

    I would like to finish by saying that I personally feel that protests have had little or no affect in most of their manifestations during my lifetime, and that there is a political and corporate elite in the UK and other countries whom have more influence over governments than the people electing them; even when those people choose to express their dissatisfaction through peaceful demonstration or political/legal channels.

    ‘Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.’ – John F. Kennedy

  47. Toban BlackNo Gravatar
    August 10th, 2011 @ 8:28 pm

    The rioting is, indeed, always going to be political, but not necessarily as a form of resistance to the status quo. There always will political causes and effects, but there will not always be political intentions and messages. such participation in politics is not as privatistic as looting can be. The private motives that can be behind looting (e.g. the plans to sell the DVD player later on) don’t necessarily take into account the political implications of doing that, and they don’t necessarily take into account the politics and economics connected with such private egoism, or a private focus on the family household. (Such private priorities are cultivated through advertisements, etc). Those private priorities do entail a certain level of apathy about wider societal effects and causes. The author says, “I am sure that some of those who stole TVs did so because they wanted a new TV”, but then they claim that this is always some sort of political statement. Instead, that theft sometimes can be downright sociopathic, with no regard for other people. If there is a statement, it sometimes is along the lines of ‘I don’t give a damn about any of you, and I’m not interested in your lives’ … so, as a said, the political intentions and messages aren’t necessarily there, even when the political implications are.

  48. Toban BlackNo Gravatar
    August 10th, 2011 @ 8:31 pm

    (I meant to end that with –
    so, as I said, the political intentions and messages aren’t necessarily there, even when the political implications are.)

  49. Toban BlackNo Gravatar
    August 10th, 2011 @ 8:33 pm

    Part of what I’m saying is that private priorities are part of the status quo. Just watch some advertisements. Stealing electronic products and what not is a way to get the consumer products that the ads promote. Part of the basic difference is that the law is broken when there is theft, but breaking the law isn’t necessarily a form of resistance; if it is, then every act of murder or assault would be resistance as well.

  50. Adam RamsayNo Gravatar
    August 12th, 2011 @ 5:39 pm

    Toban – yeah, sure. Stealing stuff is just privitising it to yourself. I am not saying that is a form of resistance necessarily. But propping up the status quo is as political as challenging it. That people commit sociopathic acts shows how little they care for society. Given that different societies have more or fewer sociopathics acts, we can assume that people aren’t just born like that. So society has made them like that. What is it about society that has made these people behave in this way?

  51. pukadagirlNo Gravatar
    September 7th, 2011 @ 4:17 pm

    I believe its political! Even if those young people couldnt express them self to sound political.You just have to take a look who are the people that are in the street. Look at their Social class, background, ethnics…
    Capitalism and consumerism is in everybody face and as an young person it takes a lot(of personality) to turn your back to material things (especially if you dont have any perspective in life) I have to have a plasma TV, an I phone, a cool runners…You are imposed, brain washed and pretty much programed from the time that you wake up to the time that you go to bed that you have to have all sort of devises and technology.YOU HAVE TO CONSUME! You have to fit!
    I have to mention that its pretty shit to sack and burn small family store and private houses tho. Other than that it was a valid form to show than you are angry and that you dont conform with the present situating.

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