Update: this article from the Guardian says most of the things I want to say, pretty much, in a way that’s probably a bit less rambly or potentially anger-inducing.
I’ve been thinking, a thought which I’ve half been having for a very long time but only really put into words, at least in my head, with reference to the riots ongoing in London and also in Birmingham. This is not to say at all that I agree with the rioters’ actions, that I think looting is good or that riots are really a reasonable response to a political situation. Of course I don’t. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be living in the areas where these riots are happening and I can’t imagine how scary that must be. I don’t think what’s going on is sensible or good. In fact I think it’s utterly terrible – people are being made homeless, people are getting injured, I worry it’s only a matter of time before we see people getting killed. No bones about it, this is utterly grim.
But if you look around at the popular reaction (that of the populace at large I mean) and in a lot of the media, the general consensus is that the people rioting are ‘thick as a ditch’ as one Irish commenter said – or in the words of a random Twitter user, ‘The Youth of the Middle East rise up for basic freedoms.The Youth of London rise up for a HD ready 42″ Plasma TV’. The feeling seems to be that people are doing this for an adrenaline rush and a new pair of trainers from G Star. (I’m basically getting all this from #LondonRiots on Twitter (for those of you not familiar with Twitter, a) what are you actually doing on the internet, and how did you get here, congratulations, and also, that’s a hashtag, not a Twitter Account. Oh, never mind)).
If that’s why they were doing it, then that’s what they’d do all the time. Of course I suppose it probably is kind of exciting and that those reasons do hold water, at least in part, but if you ask me, it’s partly mass dissatisfaction with a country, and a government, that completely overlooks the poor, the minorities, the marginalised, etc etc. I’m sure you can all guess my sentiments as regards our government and it’s attitude to, well, those who didn’t go to Eton. (That sentence definitely wasn’t dripping with adolescent sarcasm… Urgh, that’s an unfortunate turn of phrase).
Wow, I am so not cut out for current-affairs blogging. I swear I used to be able to follow arguments through in my writing without getting side-tracked by my own internal monologue.
The point I am very circumloquatiously trying to make (I so just made that word up, isn’t it awesome? Also I’m totally blaming my brilliant new shorts, and Hello Giggles, for my apparent inability to talk like a grown-up rather than an American teen). Oh dear. The problem is that I keep looking at Twitter, the Beeb and the Guardian as I write.
Simply this. I really do not understand people. I really do not understand how so many people can quite simply say Gosh What Awful People, Really They’re Such Sods without stopping to consider for a second that the rioters are not dumb animals, that there are motives and reasons here – it’s terrible and very grim and shocking and terrifying but I believe that whatever happens in this world, whatever people are doing, you cannot possibly try to comment on it unless you try to work out what people are feeling, why they’re doing what they’re doing. If you can’t step into someone’s shoes and attempt to have some empathy with them then what you’re doing is a bit like attempting to make moral judgments about the habits of bees, or glaciers, or asteroids (‘oh, what an utter lout, just crashing into that planet like that, utterly disgusting’). I’m not saying we shouldn’t make moral judgements about others full stop, simply that we should try to understand both sides of the story before we do.
Worse still, it’s not just ordinary people that do this on twitter, it’s journalists too (oh, just look around the internet) and even worse, politicians (no-one’s commented about the riots yet, they’re all away on holiday, blah blah) – there seems to be this attitude in general in which whole sections of society are effectively reduced to the crimes they may or may not have committed and how many babies they had before they were of school-leaving age, and it’s not just things like that, it’s just this basic question of empathy. How can you possibly seek to govern a country if you really have no way of understanding the lives of your electorate? In some ways, it’s not the fault of politicians. If you leave university and go straight into being a runner and researcher within parliament and spend the next few decades working your way up, you’ve simply never seen what life can be like and the choices that some people have to take. But maybe you should be made to see. At the very least you should try to logic it out. No-one sets fire to whole streets, risks injury, takes on crowds of policemen, and so on, simply because they want a flat screen television. If you’re unhappy and you’re frustrated and you’ve effectively got no real future, and then someone lights the touchpaper, that’s when you riot. And then maybe you get a new TV out of it. But you’re not going to go to those lengths just to get a television which you’re then going to have to sell on a street corner anyway for £20 because you can’t be caught with it.
I’m not defending the riots at all. Not for a second. I’m merely pointing out that all of us have a duty to try and understand everyone else before we pass judgement. And yes, I know I’ve taken 900 words to say that. Judge me if you like for that…! I should simply have said – those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.