Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Feral Society

Britain has one of the highest violent crime rates in the European Union. For the media, reports of bad behaviour, assaults, stabbings, teenage drinking, attacks on the elderly and the like are daily fare. Violence against the aged, alcohol- and drug-induced violence and muggings have become unsavoury aspects of social concern. Socialists have to examine the causes of that behaviour against the background of the present way of life and to show that they are part of the myriad problems for which capitalism has no answer and another reason for considering the rational socialist alternative to the way we live.

Roughly 18 percent of youths between 16 and 24 are jobless, and nearly half of all black youths are out of work. Nobody would have thought that the isolated incident of the killing of Mark Duggan by police last Saturday, would plunge the country into total chaos. The killing only gave a reason to a marginalised youth to register their anger against the government and the world. Young people tend to become politicised when their feelings of hopelessness rise. In Greece, groups revolted against a government that was trying to change things. In Egypt, groups revolted against a government that refused to change things.

Britain is divided on the reasons behind the riots (even within the Socialist Party). Some observers blame the unrest on opportunistic criminality, while others say economic policies and government spending cuts have deepened inequalities in the country’s most deprived areas. Some people think the riots is a response to the reality of poverty where the smart terraces inhabited by wealthy young professionals sit so close to run-down tower blocks. The riots ravaged communities in and around London and there appears to be no sole root cause linking them.

“There’s a fundamental disconnect with a particular section of young Britain and sections of the political establishment,’’ said Matthew Goodwin, a politics professor at University of Nottingham. “The argument that this doesn’t have anything to do with expenditure cuts or economics doesn’t stand up to the evidence. If that’s true, then what we have here are hundreds of young, crazed kids simply acting irrationally. I don’t think that’s the case.’’

The demonstrations appear far more multi-layered in terms of potential triggers, being expressed about "taking this back" and "tired of being walked over." When you get a very marginalised group and you get a very young group, it really is kind of one of the only ways they can express themselves politically. It seems to be very rebellious, anti-system. Such outbreaks of rioting are not a viable answer. But the attention such actions receive reinforces and perpetuates the behaviour."If you want social change this is how you should respond and react" The violence is what kind of draws everybody's attention and becomes very glamourised.

Most of us – if we take to the streets at all – will do so in a civilised way. Last month 10,000 people turned out in a peaceful march to save jobs at the local Derby Bombardier train factory. Last spring, tens of thousands marched in London against spending cuts. No one listened to those protesters either. It is a big step from protest marches to smashing the shop windows and looting but when those at the top of a society seem to be above the law and to get massive rewards for activities that throw the world economy into turmoil and cause massive job losses and spending cuts, anger is bound to grow.

The rioters aren't acting this way for organised political reasons or to be nihilistic, but rather because they feel there's been long-term disregard for many of them. "They've basically been left out of society and those people are frustrated and angry and want all the same things that they see everybody else getting, and it is about things," said Murakami Wood, Canada Research Chair in Surveillance Studies. "It's a consumerist riot in many ways, with the state of riots around getting what they can get, getting any stuff they can," he added. "And it's not surprising that people are sort of in the situation where they believe that's what they should do. It's political in that sense, but it doesn't mean it's political in a big 'P' organized sense."

"Many of the people involved are likely to have been from low-income, high-unemployment estates, and many, if not most, do not have much of a legitimate future," said criminologist and youth culture expert Professor John Pitts. "Those things that normally constrain people are not there. Much of this was opportunism but in the middle of it there is a social question to be asked about young people with nothing to lose...They feel they can rationalise it by targeting big corporations. There is a sense that the companies have lots of money, while they have very little. Where we used to be defined by what we did, now we are defined by what we buy. These big stores are in the business of tempting the consumer..."

Dr Paul Bagguley, a sociologist at the University of Leeds, said looting was a common feature of most riots but a mixture of practical reasons could have increased its extent. Rising unemployment was important not only as a catalyst of unrest, but because it meant more people were unoccupied on the streets leading to "biographical availability". "It's a straightforward argument, but powerful. Without jobs people are more likely to be hanging around the streets. Also there are simply more desirable, portable consumer goods to steal than ever before."

Many of the youths themselves struggle to find any plausible answer, but one thing is widespread, and that is the sense of alienation. “Nobody is doing nothing for us - not the politicians, not the cops, no one,’’ said a 19-year-old who lives near Tottenham.

Wars go on somewhere every day; so does the competitive brutality of the marketplace, its money shuffling, and corporate swindling and corruption. The disgusting self-interest of leading politicians and public figures, the swingeing poverty of social services and the routine application of ASBOs to the problem of errant youth, visionless and disillusioned. Jobless youths and greedy bankers represent the two extremes. One group ignores the rules, avoids paying taxes if it can and gets stinking rich while imposing enormous costs on the rest of us. If the bankers get away with all this, and are still treated with respectful attention by government, is it any surprise that some disaffected young people draw the appropriate lessons that we live in a society where feral young roam because only the most savage survive.

1 comment:

ajohnstone said...

The Marxist academic posted this which makes interesting reading.