Civil disorder in London

The ancient Athenians were well aware of the notion of civil disorder. I’m often one not to comment on social issues (normally because I feel some things are too soon to make decent judgments about) but this issue has befallen my doorstep, and I don’t mean that in only a figurative manner. It’s very scary in London right now. Where I am living in SW London, things are an attempt at ‘business as usual’, but the smell of smoke getting into my home, and the smell of burning that resides in the streets is menacing.

My first thoughts are with my family, and my friends in London. My second thoughts are about gathering as much intel as possible. This gets in the way of the job I’m currently working (as it’s based in the City, and involves travelling through Clapham), and I am also worried about the implications of this event. This is a terrible event going on, and I just hope that it doesn’t get worse. From my observations, there have been a variety of opinions on this issue:

  • The police are simply not present in certain areas (Croydon, for instance)
  • The reaction to the police activity is not enough (ie. they want more forceful measures against the looters – tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons)
  • There is a growing acceptance that a military intervention is justified – this is acknowledged by the Met Police and Home Office as (at present) not a viable option
  • Some facebook friends and twitter users take the consensus that VIGILANTE counter-violence is legitimate against looters.
  • There is a distinct sense of disgust at the mob mentality, some of the videos shown show the complete lack of sympathy on part of these looters
  • Some people are apologetic about their disgust, as they afraid to say many of the looters they have seen are predominantly black and minority ethnic groups in the areas they have seen, many of them are afraid to say that they want the police to be hard on these people. This kind of apology reflects the potential sea change in the political consensus, namely, to right-wing issues of how police are held back by administrative tasks and ‘political correctness’ instead of upholding public order,]
  • Similar to the above notion, this is seen as ‘chav’ mentality, and an oppurtunity to demean the perceived working class archetype. The notion of a chav is spurious anyway, but that’s another topic. Working class scapegoating doesn’t necessarily explain the violence in Ealing.
  • This is seen as a reaction to the overly strong austerity measures of the UK government. This is what you expect from youth unemployment and the lack of oppurtunities and social mobility.

My view is this: reactionary vigilante counter-violence is just as bad as the looting. The police will not acknowledge a difference between targeted deliberated aggressive violence against looters from the public, and the looters themselves. Morally speaking, they are both as as both bad: two wrongs don’t make a right. The implications of this event will be worse than what is going on right now, and right now: it’s really bad. Demonising so-called ‘chavs’ doesn’t really do anything, and this aggrivates social tensions between communities. Perhaps the most telling thing about this event is that these looters acted to appease their consumerist fantasies: items such as televisions, clothes and jewelery are aspirational. This is material aspiration’s sick conclusion. In addition, this event is opportunism, the looters should not be seen as the ‘other’, they are everyday people who join in the oppurtunity for a free lunch, or television as it happens. They say in liberal discourses that security is not worth the coin of liberty. Liberty is not worth the price of a pair of trainers from JD sports; voiding security is not worth a ‘free’ iPhone.