It makes no difference whether the riots spreading across urban Britain are comprised of mindless crowds delighting in destruction and focused on carrying off large-screen TVs. This is not a political movement that will be damaged by the ugly aspects of the chaos, the targeting of random passers-by, the Clockwork Orange violence and the cruel mockery of shop-owners losing their livelihoods in an evening’s burst of Molotov cocktails. It is an explosion.
But why should we expect the marginalized lumpen at the extreme bottom of Britain’s underclass to behave any differently from the bankers at the extreme top? When the ruling elite burns down the economy and giggles over its ongoing looting of the nation’s accounts, why shouldn’t idle youth who will never have a real job torch a furniture store and laugh while it turns to ashes? Why should they care about anything except the money they might illicitly obtain or feel any responsibility toward ‘society’, which as Margaret Thatcher reminded them decades ago, doesn’t exist?
For over a generation the unemployed and unneeded have been told by Thatcher and New Labour (and her counterparts here, the neolibs, the Reaganites, the Clintonian triangulators and now the Teabagger faction) that nothing counts except making it, that you’re a winner or a loser, and losers can go piss off up a rope because the winners owe you nothing and will make sure the state is powerless to do anything about it. Winners will tool about on yachts and shop at Louis Vuitton; the rest of you can sell drugs and spend your down time in for-profit prisons.
It’s no accident that the trigger for the riots was yet another shooting of a non-white citizen by the disgraced Metropolitan police force and that the family learned about his death from the telly. The top cops, too busy earning cash from the Murdoch tabloid empire to focus on actual police work, still haven’t cleaned up their racist act after decades of commissions, inquiries and scandals. Anyone surprised at the result should get out more. And for New Yorkers, the references in the British press to the smoldering resentment of black teens over the constant police practice of stopping and frisking them for ‘suspicion’ rings ominously familiar.
As our own Masters of the Universe continue to insist that banks must be made whole while people may crumble into dust, the British riots provide useful information about where the country’s current idiocy is taking us. With one fifth of the working-age population struggling, the cloud-cuckoo Congress wants to slash unemployment benefits and cut taxes on the rich. Time to refill the fire extinguishers!
[Update] I see the Financial Times agrees with me. Albert Edwards writes, ‘While I hear the UK politicians denounce the looters as common criminals (which of course they are), I can’t help but think that Louis XVI in 1789 and Tsar Nicolas II in 1917 might have said the same thing’.