☆ Responding to the Bling Riots

Cathedral of sand faces the tideFirst, let me say I think the inexplicable thuggery that’s going on in London (and elsewhere) is indefensible and the people doing it without respect for people or property are despicable. They deserve everything they have coming to them. But if we want to stop more of them emerging, we need to realise that a thug with no job and no hope of a job isn’t intimidated by the thought of a criminal record. A crackdown on crime and kids without a thought for the context will fail.

The context is the example these thugs are emulating. Consider a guy who sees the police treating him as a suspect by default because of his age or attitude, who is considered a lazy parasite because he’s never been able to get a real job.

  • The example from his parents has been to treat others with disrespect while demanding it for himself.
  • The example he saw at school was that qualifications matter more than common sense, yet people with qualifications still end up unemployed.
  • The example of those in authority is to exploit every loophole to get rich and to suck up to the powerful and ignore their abuse of power.
  • The example he’s absorbed from media stars is to want more, more, more and blame the little guy for “piracy” when it doesn’t happen.
  • The example he’s seen of the law is that people who destroy the economy and society get paid off while everyone else ends up in court if they’re caught.
  • The norm he’s heard constantly is that bling is best and getting it on credit you can’t afford is OK.

He’s no money to spare, he’s one of thousands, and he sees no consequences to his actions if he can stay in the crowd and avoid the cameras. And he probably can.

Given the context, it’s no surprise a guy like this would run along with a crowd he hardly knows and in which he can be safely anonymous, using up energy in acts of destructive defiance and maybe stealing stuff he can’t afford and can show off to his mates. He’ll get a special delight from the fact the police have no idea who he is or where the crowd is heading, and the more fuss they make the more he’ll do to annoy them. No surprise at all, no matter how despicable it is.

To stop it happening we don’t need more laws, or more reasons to fear authority, or more surveillance to dehumanise people, or more austerity measures that cut the quality of education and the availability of jobs. I am sure we will hear calls for all these things, especially from people who’ve already been demanding them and for whom this is just an opportunity to use a crisis to excuse profitable change. But the truth is, these things will just make the problem worse, and the inevitable calls for controls on social media won’t help either.

We can’t bludgeon this problem from society without losing our own freedom and identity in the process. More bad law combined with less privacy and respect just plunges us deeper into authoritarian servitude. It’s time for a change of direction.  Time to correct the examples we’re setting for the next generations. Time to dismantle the surveillance society, to invest in apprenticeship and job-based training, to sponsor community-focussed volunteering around properly-funded local initiatives, to spend effort visibly punishing the hedge fund traders and bankers who’ve spent decades leeching the economy, to ignore political parties who won’t work together and unions that forget society. Time to work locally with national backing.

The sub-human behaviour of these thugs can be the trigger for the change we really need. But only if we speak out against the other kind of change.

8 Responses

  1. […] This is also worth a read. Love this line: The context is the example these thugs are emulating. Consider a guy who sees the police treating him as a suspect by default because of his age or attitude, who is considered a lazy parasite because he’s never been able to get a real job. […]

  2. You are quite right that the problem cannot be solved by more laws, more surveillance or more authority – because it’s a problem of sinful human hearts. And, as you point out, it’s not just the hearts of those committing the violence – it’s the parents who demand ‘respect’ while giving none and who spend more time watching Sky than bringing up their children, the pop stars who promote sex, drugs and cars are the ultimate desirables, the financial institutions who offer to lend unsecured money to people to buy consumables, and the politicians who think that the state is God and can fix everyone’s problems if only they have more power and more control.

    But the basis of a solution is not a different political program. What this country needs is a return to a recognition of Jesus Christ as Lord of all. Without that, we are lost. “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD” – Psalm 33:12.

    • You know where I stand on that, Gerv. But before that message can be taken to these thugs, the church in Britain will need to win the right to be heard by them. They have grown up hearing about abusive priests, attitudes to sex that come from the Victorians, in-fighting about excluding women from ministry and much more. Individuals can and do win that right (Street Pastors FTW!) but the church as an institution is currently part of the problem, not part of the solution.

      • I agree that on occasions some parts of the church have had wrong attitudes to sex – the enforced celibacy which exacerbates the problem of sexually frustrated Roman Catholic priests is one example! But the church’s attitude to sex, when Biblical, is always going to be very different to the world’s, and the world is not going to like that. Scripture says “one man and one woman in marriage for life”, and the world says “be sure to use a condom”. They may well call such an attitude “Victorian” (or any number of other adjectives). The solution to this problem is not to abandon what God says in favour of what the world says.

        Regarding your second point, it doesn’t help if church members characterize and caricature the debate as “excluding women from ministry”. No mainstream Christian group wants to do that. No-one has a problem with (for example) female evangelists, Sunday school teachers, womens workers, prayer warriors or a hatful of other ministry positions. The question is, or should be, about what ministry roles Scripture says are appropriate for men and for women – keeping an open mind at least to the possibility that God may want to make a distinction (something feminism would dismiss as a foundational principle). And we should try very hard to correctly represent the boundaries of the debate, and also the position of those on the other side.

  3. As usual, Simon scratches the surface to expose deeper problems that have to be solved, not merely “addressed.” The system has been perfected to deal with putting offenders behind bars. They need a smarter protest if they want to be heard.

  4. Well said Simon.

    More “carrots” are needed and less “sticks” in order to give people hope and motivation. Sadly “sticks” have been the only tool that the recent nanny-state governments have been willing to use.

    From an economic point of view one of the biggest drivers behind people’s frustration has to be, in my opinion (and I think many others), the relentless increase in inequality. When the going is good only the rich minority seem to benefit (privatised gains); but, when the going is bad, everyone has to pay (public or shared losses). Witness on a global scale how bankers (private) have gained, but their greed-driven losses have been “nationalized” by governments and shared among their public.

    To make matters worse, the so-called “shared-losses”, in the form of austerity measures, increased cost of living, unemployment, etc, disproportionately impact the lower and middle classes.

    Having lived not far from places like Lewisham it was plain to see that many people were not benefiting very much from the economic boom periods, but they are no doubt being impacted by inflation, unemployment, and austerity measures.

    I find the current events in my former home of London and other cities disgraceful and inexcusable, but then it’s easy for me to say that being fortunate enough to be well-educated and relatively well off. However, there probably exists a threshold of despair/rage over which inequality pushes more and more people, a minority of whom, statistically, will turn to criminal acts such as we are seeing.

    • I should have read the Guardian article that you linked to before responding as it more or less repeats what I was saying but more eloquently and with references 🙂

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