London Ramblings

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.



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11 responses to “London Ramblings

  1. Hear hear. Absolutely.

    Incidentally, I’m scraping the tweets for the hashtag #londonriots at the moment, as fast as my little internet connection can manage. It’s well over 62,000 now.

    I don’t want to condone rioting. Terrifying stuff and I have friends living terrified in the affected areas, but I’m getting really pissed off with the universal treatment of this as mindless thugery with no motivation whatsoever. This should be prompting politicians and pundits to speculate how it got the this point – how people got so angry, and what can be changed to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Instead they talk about increasing the powers of the police.

  2. The thing is, you could understand their anger at the beginning, perhaps. But it’s gone so, so far now, and these people are smashing and burning and destroying their own communities.

    Small business owners with no business, people made unemployed because their place of work was looted or burned, people’s homes destroyed. This has gone beyond anger into madness.

  3. Dickie

    Well as i understand it, initially it was a response to the police shooting someone; so not really anything to do with politics per se. And to be honest, it’s probably difficult to work out why there are still riots. Not sure I’d agree that it’s down to anything this particular government has done, rather than just sheer opportunism. But I suppose it’s an easy narrative to fit to the situation, should one want to do that.

    I very much agree though with your comments about politicians (and related industries, media and such) being out of touch. That we have “career” politicians, people who know nothing other than politics, is pretty bloody remarkable.

  4. Lucy

    Absolutely. And in a way, it makes me all the more angry that these opportunistic thugs are giving the press and the journalists and the idiots like my boss (who has just uttered the words “Thank god for Maggie Thatcher”) the excuse to get all self-righteous while completely and utterly missing the point – that people in these communities are absolutely desperate.

  5. Lucy

    Bodega has been smashed up 😦

  6. ukmikel

    Jenny, I agree that there are always multiple sides to any argument or dispute but I’m afraid that there are no excuses whatsoever for the behaviour being demonstrated by the people involved in the riots. I also do not think you were condioning in any way what is happening for the record 🙂
    There isn’t an argument I can concieve of that could even remotely justify what is going on out there. They are using the shooting of that guy in N. London as the excuse or the catalyst but I’m afraid I just do not believe that at all. The demonstration around that issues was a peaceful demonstration, not a riot. It seems it was only after that dispersed the trouble erupted.
    It is, or seems to be, opportunistic thuggery in the main. Do people do things like this for the adrenalin rush or the 42″ plasma tv. I don’t know I certainly wouldn’t but then you have people that will kill people just because they live in a different street, different gang area than they do. Why do these people do that, deprivation? I doubt it. Adrenalin rush and kudos – Yup probably about right. I think the same thing applies here. People see what’s happened as an excuse to “get involved” and a little bonus is the new trainers, clothes, alcohol or whatever.
    Sorry A bit of a rant there but it really is inexcusable.
    As for it being a reaction against the government or government policies – If they dont like what the government is doing then make sure they dont get in again next time round. Like it or lump it the composition of the government was set up by the eloctorate, that is what they voted for. It just happens this particular configuration was the first to come up with an agreement to work together, It is not everyones cup of tea but sorry these people were voted in perfectly legitimately so live with it. You get another chance in a couple of years or so to change it again if you dont like it. That is democracy. Protest all you like – peacefully but rioting achieves nothing, nothing whatsoever. Tottenham is one of the more deprived and poor areas of north London. Do you think there is a remote chance the burned out stores will rebuild and reopen – Do you think the riots will entice new business into the area? I doubt it very much. So what have they achieved, nothing much I’d say other than to ensure there will be even less businesses and jobs in the area, a good result?

    argh not only ranty also disjointed! Sorry it seems that turned out to be a “dump” from the chest so if nothing else I do feel a little better now.

  7. Pingback: The London Thing | A Year Full of Books

  8. Lucy

    @ukmikel: What would you advocate as a way forward to try and ensure that it doesn’t happen again?

    • ukmikel

      that’s the $64,000 question isn’t it and to be honest – I rant and I think but I can’t come up with a solution to be honest. Knowing what the problem/issue may be is a whole lot easier than knowing what the solution will/should be.
      There are certainly plenty of people advocating a lot of alternatives from corporal punishment to shooting them (heard on the local radio station this morning) or less radical educate the offenders to make them realise the harm they are causing to the communities they live in.
      They are all very well and I suspect the real solution lies somewhere in between, education I fear will not work because for education to be effective you need to want to be educated and in no way do I believe the majority of the people involved either want or beleive they need educating. Shooting is a bit radical even for me 🙂
      I dont know – one idea that was discussed at home last night was perhaps a variation on water cannon – where the “rioters/looters” are sprayed and thoroughly soaked in some form of indelible dye that is designed to last for weeks without fading. That will allow them to be easily identifed and if they stray onto the streets risk being picked up and asked to account for the reason they are “marked” or alternatively they dont venture outside until the dye wears off in a number of weeks – keeps them out of trouble that way. A long way of saying I dont know 🙂

  9. ukmikel

    What I should also have added is that I don’t beleive that it can be blamed on the gov’t either. This gov’t and its policies have only been in place for just over a year. The peopele involved in the disturbances may try to use that as an excuse but the majority of their life experience to make them the people they are has been with the previous government – so should we be blaming Mr Blair and Mr Brown? People don’t change their attitudes and decide to become basically criminals overnight. If the gov’t and society are to blame then we need to look at inherent character traits in these people that have been instilled into them through their life experiences (over a nmber of years) then it goes back a lot further than 1 year. Perhaps none of the politicians regardless of political colour are in a position to start throwing stones here, it’s a very big glass house they are in.

    Jenny – well done you’ve started another fascinating thread 🙂

    • Lucy

      FWIW, I don’t think that anyone is specifically blaming the current government (apart from the Labour party) or even the previous one (apart from the Tories and the Lib Dems, naturally). I think it is the long-term, collective lack of positive action which is being blamed.

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