Riots which spread across London last weekend have sparked off hot debate on media, in government and society why it happened, who to blame, who is responsible for this, what the punishment should be, if police is good enough/ well prepared and equipped to deal with such cases, what should be government’s and society’s response to this etc.
While on community level impressive unity and solidarity can be observed through collective efforts to help the ones who lost their businesses or dwellings or whose loved ones have been killed or injured in result of the riots, there have also been efforts to redefine ‚us‘ and ‚they‘ thus potentially disclosing ‚hidden elephants in the room‘ (those who we all know but don’t talk about).
Though it was quite surprising for me to see the series of riots around London on such a scale, I did not feel shocked by the fact as such. I think it was like a ticking time bomb, an ‚eye-opener‘, and just an exposure of real, make-up free London/ UK. It could have been predicted.
I don’t defend rioters and looters, I am compassionate with those who died or have been injured and whose businesses or homes have been destroyed. But I will not support the ongoing blaming of rioters who, in essence, I believe, are simply the victims of the (failed?) system we live in. I believe it is a system which eventually should take the responsibility for these riots and their ultimate consequences, and, more importantly, it should take full responsibility to address the causes. However, I doubt about the ability of this system to take a true introspective look and go beyond blaming of its own victims.
We live in a system whose value system is based almost solely on money and wealth. Nowadays success means money, a lot of money. The more the better. One’s life and opportunities are directly dependent on what and how much one owns, have or have access to. Nowadays the single most important goal of all governments is to promote economic growth. At the end of the day their ultimate goal is trying to increase GDP via promotion of spending (we don’t question if we really need all that stuff we buy, but by having it we are made to feel better and fit in/for the system as well as make the economy running), borrowing (so that we can spend even more), competing (and in name of this the average member of this system should be ready to be low paid in order to keep the costs down and country/ company can be competitive), taxes (taxing poorer people proportionally more than richer people, of course), investments and financial innovations (think of all that banking, investment funds, tax dodging, speculations with currencies, food, oil prices etc). This is so called conservatism or form of neoliberalism which believes that economic growth is an answer to all the needs and problems and can make people happy. UK being one of the richest countries in the world (meaning – having one of the highest GDP) has been thus trying to give an impression internally and externally that this high-growth status is the true sign of success and power. Eventually, this „spend more, own more, compete more, buy more, have more money“ mentality nurtured by guards of this system has spread across all groups of society and has taken now deep roots into people’s perceptions about what a proper life means. If you have money, you are in, if not – you are out. Money is our measure how good life we are living.
Moreover, money means not only success but also power therefore essentially those in power and maintaining the system represent those who has money rather than those who don’t. Money is your ticket not only to success but also to one’s political participation and representation.
Some time ago Mr Cameron sort of surprised me in a positive sense (which is very unusual) by taking into account some of the critique about the current system (it might have been though just a pre-election tactics) and suggested to consider introduction of a new indicator – happiness index – which could possibly eventually replace GDP as the main criteria for government’s policies (he tried to be innovative, a bit revolutionary which was needed in fight with Labor party). Unfortunately, since then I have not heard anything about the development of this idea. My suspicion is that he realized how dangerous the usage of this indicator could be to the system he is part of and should defend as it would discover too nasty things and would just complicate matters.
Current political and economic conjuncture (actually it has been like that since 1980s) is mostly interested in economic growth agenda which serves the mainstream conservative wing and big businesses. In essence, current politics is more dependent on and therefore accountable to business which is financially supporting political parties, rather than citizens, disregarding if they vote or not. Therefore, there is little interest from the system’s side to serve people and put their wellbeing and happiness as the ultimate goal of all policies. System prefers to think that good economy automatically means good life disregarding if you have or dont have any stake in it.
But unfortunately, quality of life has a weak link with economic growth. Good GDP level does not automatically mean that people feel satisfied with their lives. My belief, thus is that ignorance of this fact and therefore the riots last weekend is a price which the system is paying. System can hide for a while behind good-looking statistics and high -growth rates, but sooner or later masks fall.
Now, if we look at these riots,
- How we can expect people – who feel abandoned by the system, who have failed to fit in the system, who feel they have no stake in this society, who feel under-represented politically – to tolerate the system?
- How one can expect marginalized, segregated, alienated groups to obey the system which instead of giving a helpful hand has criminalized these groups and their failure to fit in the system? By criminalization of poverty this system has excluded tens and hundreds of thousands of people who have been thus forced to find alternative survival strategies; how can you punish one for trying to survive?
- How can we blame people who feel they have nothing to lose by getting involved in riots? Would you envy one for having nothing to lose?
- Why we are so shocked about rioters looting trainers, plazma TVs and booze, if greed, consumption, materialism rules the system and consumption is our number one spare time hobby? How can we blame the looters for being so shallowly materialistic if shops have become Meccas of modern society in large?
- How can we expect somebody not to use a chance of looting a pair of trainers, a pack of chewing gum or a D&G shirt, if, for example, the ‚fat‘ end of the system is based on looting billions but in a more refined, sophisticated manner? Isnt it terribly hypocritical to jail one for stealing a bicycle meanwhile rewarding banks for losing control over their greed? Can you see here fairness and justice?
- If a damage to economy (estimations are around 100mil maximum) is more important than hundreds of thousands of people being hopeless, dissatisfied, entrapped by the vicious circle of poverty and with lack of opportunities and perspectives for better future?
- Do these systemic discrepancies and sad side effects really justify the economic growth as an ultimate goal and the system as such?
- Is it democratic to criminalize the opposition? Can you solve a problem by jailing the dissatisfied and shutting their mouth by limiting their access to social media? Does the system actually care what is the root problem of these riots?
Some very simplified analysis of this case have disclosed ‚sleeping‘ racism in this society which insults black community, shames white community and thus increases a risk of creating new walls between them. However, I think, this time in essence this is not so much about race, but more about class and poverty.
It is about this materialized culture, where family and human values have lost their place in the value system.
Instead of equipping police with better resources and methods to deal with gangs, I would want the system to ask why we have gangs? If a system has a problem having gangs, it is system’s failure to find its own deficiencies and deal with them. Society’s behavior is very much a reaction to the system, its positive and negative sides, therefore the root of the problem should be found in the system rather than the reaction of the society.
Instead of discussing how to better support single mothers who are apparently nurturing most of the ‚trouble makers‘, I would want to ask – but what about fathers, where they are and why they are not taking their responsibility to raise their children? What is wrong with the concept of ‚family‘ and why it has become so unpopular? Why there is a such an immense lack of love in society and within families which drive youngsters to look on streets for alternative sources for attention, support, inclusion, appreciation and role models?
If the system is designed around the idea that only those who are successful (read – have money) and belong to certain class can have a stake in it and gain from it, it will never earn respect and approval from the all parts of society. Existence of the current system can be justified and maintained only as long as the majority benefits from it. However, ignorance of those, who can, if lucky, only serve the system but not necessarily gain from it, can lead to a stage when unrealized levels of dissatisfaction and numbers of losers may become a too harmful tumor to save the system.