Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Riot reading

Handy guide to the week's riot writing: eight explanations and eight excellent riot commentaries from the press/blogs. What am I missing?

Why the riots happened
This list has been looted from various articles in the UK press in the last week, the best of which are mentioned below:
1.       Absent fathers, gangs, knives, blacks, whites, chavs, Grand Theft Auto

2.       Compensation and entitlement, frustrated consumerism

3.       Unemployment, lack of opportunity, abandonment, austerity

4.       Breach of social contract by elites in finance, politics, media and police

5.       Market and social individualism, wealth inequality, Tories

6.       Multiculturalism, moral relativity, New Labour

7.       Decline of religion and morals, lack of responsibility

8.       Educational failure, indisciplined schools and homes, inability to articulate

Eight smashing riot commentaries

1. How did England's cities become engulfed in a Lord of the Flies nightmare? Toby Young, Telegraph 11 Aug 2011

Moral relativism is to blame, not gang culture

“the prevailing orthodoxy that’s taught in our schools and universities is that one set of substantive moral values is no better than any other and to claim otherwise is to risk appearing racist or sexist.

… as we witnessed in England’s cities earlier this week, moral relativism does not lead to peace, love and understanding but to a kind of Hobbesian nihilism…

Perhaps the root of the problem is the progressive Left’s conviction that mankind is essentially good. After all, if you think human beings are fundamentally benign and altruistic, then failing to teach them about right and wrong isn’t going to pose any major problems. They’ll just get along regardless. But the lesson of Lord of the Flies is that this is sentimental and naive.

Released from the bonds of civilisation, human beings will quickly descend into cruel, atavistic creatures who pursue their own selfish interests at the expense of everyone else’s.

They were just ordinary people who’ve been insufficiently socialised, members of all communities and none. What they lack isn’t material wealth or meaningful employment, but a moral framework that enables them to see that smashing shop windows and setting fire to cars – and stealing – is wrong

2. The moral decay of our society is as bad at the top as the bottom, Peter Oborne, Telegraph 11 Aug 2011

Blames elites in politics, media, police and business for setting a bad example. More than 4000 online comments so far

“ I believe that the criminality in our streets cannot be dissociated from the moral disintegration in the highest ranks of modern British society.  The last two decades have seen a terrifying decline in standards among the British governing elite. It has become acceptable for our politicians to lie and to cheat. An almost universal culture of selfishness and greed has grown up. It is not just the feral youth of Tottenham who have forgotten they have duties as well as rights. So have the feral rich of Chelsea and Kensington.

The rioters have this defence: they are just following the example set by senior and respected figures in society. The culture of greed and impunity we are witnessing on our TV screens stretches right up into corporate boardrooms and the Cabinet. It embraces the police and large parts of our media. It is not just its damaged youth, but Britain itself that needs a moral reformation.

3. Bankers and rioters share a common impulse, Michael Meacher Left Futures blog 15 Aug 2011.
Blames breach of social contract at all levels, profound changes needed

“The concept of a social contract and a moral responsibility to each other was discarded as old-fashioned, and replaced by dog-eats-dog mentality, a ruthless and uncaring individualism. The results, as we now see, were inevitable. That system is now facing terminal collapse at all levels. There will be no sustainable reform till the tensions and contradictions in the system as a whole are tackled.

That is the semi-revolutionary challenge for the decade ahead.

4.One law for the rich and another for the poor? Jon Snow, Chanel4 Snowblog 15 Aug 2011

Blames rising inequality in incomes and justice

“There is a sense in Britain too of a widening gap in both wealth and law – that there is a that there is one law for the elite and one for the poor. Take the MPs’ and Peers’ expenses scandal. A tiny handful of the expenses abusers have gone to jail. The vast majority have been allowed to pay stuff back or retreat to the political undergrowth. How many of the looters will be allowed to bring their plasma screens and running shoes back in return for their freedom?

No British banker is in jail for what happened in 2008.

Disconnect is the order of our massively interconnected day. Condemning and jailing the looters is one thing. Trying to identify the nature of their disconnect is another. Damning and punishing the faceless hoody comes a lot easier than seriously challenging the faceless banker who broke our economy, or the politician who thieved in our own Houses of Parliament.

5.London’s Rioters Are Thatcher’s Grandchildren: Pankaj Mishra Bloomberg 12 August 2011

Blames market individualism

The illusion that the nation could be saved only through immersion in a self-stabilizing market economy hardened into a revolutionary ideology, embraced by both major parties, that has shaped today’s Britain. If Tony Blair and David Cameron are “sons of Thatcher,” the rioters of today are the grandchildren…

Margaret Thatcher, who famously proclaimed“there is no such thing as society,” rapidly privatized state-held assets. She decimated many public services that tended to the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people in Britain. More importantly, Thatcher abandoned the idea of full employment -- a precondition of the welfare state.

The enduring effects of this radical socioeconomic engineering are now visible in the U.K., not least in some of the world’s highest levels of inequality.

as the riots revealed, the police cannot perform their Hobbesian task of staving off the brutish state of nature if there are not enough informal keepers of public order such as intact families, not to mention bus conductors, park keepers and truant officers.

British conservatives today speak a lot of the Big Society. But they remain blind to how a culture devoted to social and economic individualism undermines the traditional institutions that they pay ritual obeisance to, such as marriage.

 6. Britain's liberal intelligentsia has smashed virtually every social value, Melanie Phillips, Daily Mail 11 Aug 2011
Blames liberal policies, rise of single parent families, woolly education theory and multiculturalism, victim culture, lack of religious codes.  

“David Cameron is commendably talking tough: but will he have the stomach for tough action?

Will he, for example, remove the incentives to girls and women to have babies outside marriage? Will he dismantle the concept of entitlement from the Welfare State? Will he vigorously enforce the drug laws? Will he end the kid-glove treatment of ‘victim groups’, and hold them to account for their behaviour in exactly the same way as everyone else?

Repairing this terrible damage also means, dare I say it, a return to the energetic transmission of Biblical morality.”

7. Big Brother isn’t watching you, Russell Brand, Guardian 12 Aug 2011

Young people have no privileges or opportunities and politicians do not represent them. We should care for them more.

I found those protests exciting, yes, because I was young and a bit of a twerp but also, I suppose, because there was a void in me. A lack of direction, a sense that I was not invested in the dominant culture, that government existed not to look after the interests of the people it was elected to represent but the big businesses that they were in bed with.

Amidst the bleakness of this social landscape, squinting all the while in the glare of a culture that radiates ultraviolet consumerism and infrared celebrity.

I remember Cameron saying "hug a hoodie" but I haven't seen him doing it. Why would he? Hoodies don't vote

If we don't want our young people to tear apart our communities then don't let people in power tear apart the values that hold our communities together.

8. London Riots Were Bonfire of Consumers’ Vanities: A.A. Gill Bloomberg 12 Aug 2011

Blames the lack of other bad news.  Superficial but entertainingly, poetically written.

“We were lulled and gulled and played for fools, beginning to think we could be winners”,

“Capitalism had flaunted a crass and insistent consumerism in front of this generation, while ensuring they could never be part of it. The answer to this was apparently more opportunities, more jobs and more investment. So the cause was filthy capitalism, and the answer was more filthy capitalism.”

FT letters 12 Aug 2011 Reflection of a dysfunctional society

Sir, We woke up on Monday morning to hear on the one hand that there were riots and looting in London, and on the other that the average pension of a company director was as much as 29 times that of employees. As we see horrific images of smiling rioters with looted television sets under their arms, we may imagine that, for a time at least, they are as happy as those contemplating six-figure pensions. Might we hope that the happiness of both groups is tinged with a feeling that their position is a reflection of a dysfunctional, not to say amoral, society?

And finally, the Economist puts it in perspective with a retrospective of English riots since 1600, courtesy of Geoffrey Pearson's 1982 book "Hooligan: A History of Respectable Fears".

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