Reading violence: what’s political about the London riots(?)

9 Aug

To reiterate somewhat, there is a politics to these riots. Panicking, political leaders and many others, have queued up to deny this, labelling it “pure violence,” “criminality, pure and simple“, or “mindless violence“. Over and over again, the distance between the rioters and the ‘community’ or ‘Londoners’ has been set up and reinforced. This is not without some public backing. After all, many Londoners are, rightly, angry, frightened, upset, frustrated, shocked and saddened by the sight of homes and businesses not just smashed but burning voraciously into the night whilst looters showed off their new gear. We were a world away, it seemed, from the specific, dignified, coherent demands for justice being made by Mark Duggan’s family and their supporters. Many asked themselves: what do they want? The answer seemed to be: trainers. What could be political about stealing from Foot Locker?

First things first. This post is not about constructing a narrative of social apologia via moral determinism – i.e. the idea that people couldn’t help themselves, or were bound to do it by their economic status etc. Between this and the ‘mindless violence’ line of argument, there are plenty of fools (sadly many, powerful, wealthy, and in charge of your country) trading in pretty stupid accounts of human behaviour and social causation.

It seems impossible to publicly express concern for the rioters motivations without being attacked for defending arson, theft and assault. To understand is to forgive, it seems. Darcus Howe, for example, is not only accused of condoning riots but of being a historical participant in past riots (a false charge against him in 1970 of which he was acquitted) because the BBC anchorwoman apparently cannot abide his attempt to explain or understand the motivations of the angry young people razing London’s streets.

Despite the condemnations of police officers, politicians and the ‘man and/or woman on the street’, this is not ‘pure violence’ – the rioters are not a hurricane or a gang of psychopaths tearing apart London without purpose. Yet this identification of the destructive rabble as mindless, inhuman, destructive force is a defensive trope; just note how often and readily it is deployed. Our anxiety is telling and the denial of meaning, much less politics, arms us mentally and emotionally for the deployment of arms in the name of order.

Even when purposes are imputed to the rioters they must be base motives – wholly selfish, immoral and vicious. Upstanding citizens – brandishing brooms to clean up the broken glass, or calling for the fist of law and order to come down hard – are contrasted with the hoodies, hooligans and hoodlums irrationally looting their own neighborhoods, burning down people’s homes and showing a complete disregard for authority. They are criminals and criminals have no grievances; at best we can understand the structures that create criminals – though as we’ve seen even this is to give dangerous comfort to the forces of disorder.

The claim that the riots are not political, or as Boris Johnson suggests, that looking to the deeper political issues involved encourages more destruction, is in fact an overt act of de-politicisation. This is not to suggest that we can read ‘our’ politics onto the looters – they are not protesters; but it is to insist that we be clear that these attacks are directed, coordinated, purposeful and – for those able and willing to listen – meaningful. Yet it is at this point that prepared responses calling for a focus on social exclusion and poverty fall short. As important as these issues are they are not the demands of the rioters, whose politics are actually far more disturbing.

Knowingly or not, the rioters have imbibed the insights of Guy Debord: we live in a society of spectacles, in a politics of mediated performances. They have no scripts to express their rage, desire, humiliation and frustration, therefore they are unheard. They have only one role to play – silent, incomprehensible, villainous. To expect them to be upstanding citizens, peaceful protesters or even eloquent radicals is to demand transcendence. The political content, therefore, is the performance of the spectacle itself.

And what is the spectacle here? It is the deliberate, obscene transgression, the planned aggression, the fearless Fuck You, and above all, its enjoyment. It is the last bit which is the most indigestible and ugly, and therefore roundly ignored or bracketed, but also the most important in terms of what it means as a political statement: in short, we are not like you, we do not fear you, we have no stake in this place, we will take what we want, and we will enjoy it.

This is a solid, deep form of alienation built up not overnight, or over the last two years in response to cuts (shame on you Ken Livingstone) but one which is built into the fabric of the broad political settlement of the last decades and reflected in the city’s divisions between rich and poor, between black, brown and white, between young and old. Some, with talent, luck and hard work, manage to jump the barriers, although this is not evidence that barriers are not there.  The riots rest on a conviction not just that the barriers are there, but that they are solid walls, through which none will pass. The reactions to them as ‘mindless violence’ simply confirm this fact. It is not that people are rioting because they don’t have jobs, but because they must believe, ultimately, gloomily, grimly, that there is nothing for them in their future.

People have good reasons for distancing themselves from the politics of riots, of refusing to look them in the face.  It is a mirror that does not reflect how we see ourselves. How could we live with ourselves, if it were actually true that in a city boasting such wealth and luxury, that there were children who our political and social system had so comprehensively failed? If this failure had encompassed not only the state but the media, the public, the schools and the police? If, despite the best efforts of those working to change things and the mounting evidence of its effects, it was met with political tokenism and public apathy? It must not be true that this apparent orgy of violence reflects something real about our divided society.

-Meera and Joe

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26 Responses to “Reading violence: what’s political about the London riots(?)”

  1. Douglas Bulloch August 10, 2011 at 10:31 am #

    Surprisingly, I find myself in clear agreement with much of what you write here. However, I think there is an implication that is rather understated. You are right to criticise the vocabulary of depoliticisation that simply wants to reduce these events to “mere” criminality, but I think we live in a world where it is taken for granted that politics has its own independent sphere. Not everyone is a political theorist, and although nothing is without politics, it is going to take time to come up with a coherent political response comprehensible at a general level, partly because what has happened is so radically outside of conventional expectations.

    What I find myself uncomfortable with is the narrative that you tentatively develop at the end of the piece. Guy Debord is one thing, Thomas Hobbes another. What we are witnessing is – as you say – an expressive rejection of certain limits, but there is a sense in which you endorse that, whereas if you accept that there is a politics in the limits, then one must first question the legitimacy of those limits. You seem to take it for granted that those limits (solid walls) are part of the problem – indeed perhaps the whole problem – yet for all that they were erected as consequence of political negotiation. Thus to criticise the ‘depoliticisation’ is merely to criticise the rather clumsy defence that people make of the limits that distinguish political and criminal acts. Law is a political artefact, and establishes the conditions of possibility for crime. If people have yet to develop a political critique and defence of the existing settlement, it is because they are so rarely called upon to think about these things. However, given the initial reaction, I see plenty of people who would be quite capable of articulating a political defence of the social contract in respect of which these acts are described in terms of criminality, not politics.

    You take it for granted that those limits are indeed solid walls, something of which I am not persuaded, and imply that to impose limits is itself unjust, with which I disagree. There is no society without limits, without a settled conception of what constitutes legitimate protest and grievance, and what constitutes criminality.

    Accepting much of what you say, I see something different going on. I see decades of failing to negotiate and transmit a sense of what it means to be political subject, a failure to articulate a clear sense of what the social contract is, and a failure to defend it when it is transgressed. To be a subject, is to be a disciplined subject, to reject or to ignore the disciplining is to reject the concept of subjectivity. I would not go so far as to say that these looters and arsonists are the only symptoms of this wider malaise, and I would agree with the sense of your piece that understanding what has happened starts with some collective self-examination, but from what I can read out here in Shanghai, that process appears to have begun with a large amount of scales falling from a large amount of eyeballs.

    • Meera August 10, 2011 at 11:57 am #

      Douglas, I’ve missed you. Of course, we will differ on the below, but delighted that your exile has not kept you away.

      1. “I think we live in a world where it is taken for granted that politics has its own independent sphere”. The whole point is that people in society live in different worlds… and in my world anyway, perhaps my world (of the political theorist?), politics does not have an independent sphere of social life. For me politics is written into every interface of social interaction. We can have a separate, doubtlessly long discussion about this particular point.

      2. “You seem to take it for granted that those limits (solid walls) are part of the problem – indeed perhaps the whole problem – yet for all that they were erected as consequence of political negotiation.” The point is that this process of ‘political negotiation’, if that is how we characterise our British democracy, is systematically and strongly conditioned by the inequality that it reproduces. Why do ‘elite’ schools such as Eton consistently have alumni in the Cabinet? Why do financiers get massive economic and political protection? Why does Haringey close its youth clubs without a whisper? It is because concentrations of power can constantly protect themselves, organise themselves and represent themselves against the interests of others. Law is a political artefact, as you say, but of a politics that is fundamentally unequal. Its institutional processing only expresses these inequalities in legal form.

      3. “You take it for granted that those limits are indeed solid walls, something of which I am not persuaded, and imply that to impose limits is itself unjust, with which I disagree. There is no society without limits, without a settled conception of what constitutes legitimate protest and grievance, and what constitutes criminality.” I did not say that these limits were solid walls – I said something quite different, which was that they were barriers which could be transcended by talent, hard work and luck. Fundamentally, we must talk about whether limits on social mobility are just or unjust. I simply point out that one’s views on the matter are likely to depend on one’s relationship to those barriers.

      http://www2.lse.ac.uk/newsAndMedia/news/archives/2007/SocialMobilityDec07.aspx

      4. “To be a subject, is to be a disciplined subject, to reject or to ignore the disciplining is to reject the concept of subjectivity.” Respectfully, what rubbish. By analogy, as a woman, I do not accept the disciplining gaze of permanent sexual objectification – I reject, resist and ignore it, and I create my own subjectivity that speaks to my own experiences and aspirations, and through this I become disalienated. This is not a permanent disalienation but one which must be perpetually renewed. This is what political struggle over subjectivity is about.

      • Douglas Bulloch August 10, 2011 at 12:36 pm #

        Shanghai is fascinating.

        1. I agree. I just think most people don’t approach the problem at this level. I do not take for granted the separation. Politics and the political are central to all aspects of life

        2. I don’t deny the existence of inequalities, and these are points for further discussion. But in brief, I think trans-generationally about them, and do not accept that the existence of inequality is necessarily unjust.

        3. I accept that, but I cannot – and neither can you – have no view about the limits placed on others. These limits are likely to inform the manner in which all of us internalise a notion of political subjectivity, but this is why the debate on what constitutes the difference between politics and criminality matter, because they construct the terms of engagement, and the possibility of politics.

        4. Respectfully, your own subjectivity is meaningless without a social and political context. I don’t think you escape objectification – as a woman or a man – merely by rejecting or ignoring it. I believe what you are talking about is something different. You are a disciplined subject, the extent to which you participate in negotiating the broader social mechanisms that work to discipline all of us is part of the political process, but you don’t stand outside of it, I don’t think. (Wo)man is either a social animal, with a socially constituted subjectivity, or a wolf (or as Wittgenstein might say, a lion).

      • Pablo K August 10, 2011 at 12:53 pm #

        Welcome back Douglas.

        On subjectivity, you’re clearly right that it’s social, but your earlier comments suggesting something much more forceful, namely that any subjectivity is only so in subservience to a particular disciplining, which in this case is the singular social contract. Now, Meera’s point, which I concur with completely (assuming I’ve read it right), is that there is a relation to a particular disciplining, but that it isn’t either/or or zero-sum. We remake subjectivity in our own image (that’s what makes it subjectivity) which requires a negotiation of the existent symbolic order, but does not involve the idea that rejecting the role assigned to you by the order means you have no subjectivity. Resisting a certain disciplining symbolism is therefore one way to be a subject (I assume some of the ambiguity arises from the difference between your use of ‘reject/ignore’ and Meera’s stress on ‘resistance/struggle’, the latter of course being a kind of recognition, but not a consent or acting out of).

    • Douglas Bulloch August 11, 2011 at 3:36 pm #

      I don’t think we’re that far apart (apart from being very far apart otherwise) on this question. I don’t think subjectivity is non-negotiable, nor do I think that it is entirely imposed or singular. But I do think that subjectivity is socially negotiated, and thus itself subject to a kind of social prioritisation. Paul you call it subservience, which is not quite the word I would use, but yes, there is inevitably a hierarchy implied in the idea of political subjectivity insofar as it can be collectively meaningful. Certain forms of political subjectivity become dominant, and this legitimises the distinction between what counts as political, and what counts as criminal. It may be that elites construct this difference (not a point I agree with) but even so, not many people (as is evident from the response I have seen so far) would willingly abandon the difference, however much we place it under the microscope. So we must consider the perlocutionary aspects of the distinction between politics and criminality as a quasi-self-conscious aspect of the utterance, not depoliticisation at all. Subjectivity has parameters, it is not (and never could be) free floating, thus even to participate in the negotiation of subjectivity obliges working within certain socially negotiated limits. I don’t know how many more iterations of social negotiation my point can sustain, save to say that David Cameron is also negotiating those limits, and is likely to reinscribe them in a way that wins broad acceptance and legitimacy. And this is a point that the accusation of ‘depoliticisation’ does not acknowledge. To reinscribe limits – even if you disagree with them – is not an act of depoliticisation but an act or repoliticisation. I can perfectly accept that many people will be unhappy about this, but I don’t see that shifting the center of collective opinion very far, not at the moment anyway. Ordinary people may not understand that they are being political, they may even deny it, but they are being political, and perhaps deep down they are content with that. All societies have an underlying and unstated prejudice, without which they are incoherent (this sounds like I pulled it out of my back pocket, but it’s Gadamer, I promise), if that prejudice is oriented around a collective notion of what counts as criminal, then I – for one – am content with that. I suspect I’ll be in a minority here, but I think only here, perhaps.

  2. CLCZ August 10, 2011 at 11:14 am #

    You acknowledge that these walls are scalable through “talent, luck, and hard work.” I might live in a very nice part of London, but it was talent, luck, and hard work that got me here. Nothing was handed to me. And I had walls too (based on my nationality, gender, age, and socioeconomic starting point). Certainly I could have given up or lashed out because the system might sometimes favour Oxbridge-type men. But I didn’t. I just focused on scaling the walls. It was a lot of work. Perhaps it is more work than the rioters care to do and they would prefer that things are just handed to them (and, if they are not, they feel entitled to take those things from their neighbors’ shops). But I reiterate that things were not handed to me and I never expected them to be. Most Londoners living in decent areas have worked very hard for what they have and many of us have scaled our own walls. We are not all privileged, indifferent, conspiratorial elites. We are people who focused on bettering ourselves and earning what we wanted instead of lashing out at society because life is hard. Meanwhile, many of the young rioters haven’t even started their working lives yet – they might believe there are no options for them, but their young age alone suggests that they have not spent sufficient time trying to surmount the obstacles that many, many people start life facing. So I am a bit tired of the continued implication that everything has been handed to people who live in certain postcodes when the reality seems to be that the rioters are youths who are disappointed that things will not be handed to them. Yes, there are underlying socioeconomic tensions, but the primary factor seems to be the warped, entitled mindsets of the young rioters and it is not a mindset that their hardworking neighbors are willing to indulge. The media continues to push the socioeconomic/political explanations, but I think the population in general sees things as I do and that’s why the conversation that you want to have keeps dying on the vine.

    • Meera August 10, 2011 at 12:05 pm #

      Hi CLCZ, thanks for the comment. I would be interested to know what you make of the relationship between the ‘underlying socioeconomic tensions’ and the riots. They are clearly linked, but not, as indicated in the post and as you say very clearly, deterministic of behaviour. If we start on this common basis, how exactly are we to understand the link? What follows in terms of an appropriate political response?

    • Pablo K August 10, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

      You move from the claim that not everyone who has a hard start in life is a rioter to a claim that the real cause is “warped, entitled mindsets”. Since no one disputes the first point, I’m slightly confused about how you arrived at the conclusion. Claims about how social conditions shape behaviour are always probabilistic. The fact of Alan Sugar does not change the statistics on social mobility in this country since the 1960s. Your ability to mobilise hard work and personal ethics to achieve a better life is not incompatible with a general condition in which early poverty makes it much harder for other people to get there. Unless the idea is that there is no link between someone’s current class/social status and the class/social status they started life with, then we are straight-forwardly dealing with patterns and influences of early deprivation on later life.

      Your reaction also seems to me to be a classic case of pushing the question back. It is said that the rioters are ‘mindless’ or ‘sheer criminals’ as if that constitutes an answer. Let’s accept your characterisation for a moment. Why are some people mindless or criminal? And why are are such attributes clustered in certain parts of town? Apparently it’s not socio-economy to any powerful extent, so what other causal factors does that leave? Opposing an account based on criminality to one based on socio-economic deprivation is no help here because: a) criminality and socio-economic deprivation are not opposed explanations; and b) it ends up positing crime and violence themselves as things which spring from nowhere, as if by random. There are other candidates of course, and we are beginning to hear their familiar refrain. Lone mothers, culture, consumerism. I find each of these suspect explanations, but they all again beg the further question: OK, well what is it that concentrates lone mothers in particular parts of town? Or which makes some young people willing to turn consumerist desire into violent acquisition? If someone has an answer to that which doesn’t involve socio-economy, it’d be useful if they actually articulated it, rather than relying on implicit ideas of some spontaneously feral youth.

      Finally, perhaps we watch different media. Doubtless we apply our respective political filter and biases in our outrage over coverage. But watching BBC News 24 in the background yesterday, I saw Patrick Mercer MP and senior former police officers complaining that ‘political correctness’ was stopping the police from doing their job. They were not pushed to expand on this point. It was assumed that everyone knew what they meant (but maybe some things still shouldn’t be said out loud). This trope was later recycled by Emily Maitliss. At several points presenters editorialised strongly, starting their questions:”Of course the violence is nothing but criminal…”. The backgrounds of those charged was seized upon with glee, as if one graduate, one architect and one wannabe-soldier among hundreds of arrestees proved something. Newsnight invited on renowned wit and expert on these matters Kelvin MacKenzie to promote the use of the army and live rounds. Today’s polling suggests that the British public already understand the socio-economic background enough to think live rounds should be used.

      Yes, there were contrasting viewpoints. Indeed, it’s interesting in itself to note that the aftermath of riots is one of the few times you’ll get access to articulate voices from black people and community activists. But they were without exception immediately brought into the ridiculous cycle of doyoucondemn-ism. The very idea that you could give an account without starting with the obvious ‘I don’t agree that burning homes is the way to go’! The Mayor of London also thinks that we’ve had quite enough of all this analysis of background conditions. Time to move on! Move on to what exactly? Non-analysis? Convictions and harsh sentencing to make an example? The further withdrawal of services from these areas to punish the sea in which the fish swim?

      • CLCZ August 10, 2011 at 3:17 pm #

        I do come from a country with much greater social mobility than the UK and agree that it is a huge issue for this country. It is worthy to discuss this for as long as it persists. But how pertinent is this discussion to understanding the recent riots? I am arguing that it is not key, and that the riots have much more in common with an opportunistic crime wave than, say, the situations in Syria or LA. There was looting and crime during those riots as well, but the major motive was political/social and most of the rioters would readily explain that to anyone who asked. If there was any ideological cohesion between the London rioters at all, it was generalised antipathy toward those who have more than them, and most appear to have just come along for the ride. We can ascribe motives to the rioters on online forums, and community leaders can talk about how people are “angry”, but we risk projecting our own values and concerns onto people who are actually perfectly capable of expressing themselves. (If you don’t believe that they are, then that’s probably a difference in opinion that we won’t be able to resolve.) If they had a nobler motive than theft and general mayhem, they could have taken advantage of global media attention to share that. But instead they all hid their faces from the cameras because they were in the process of committing crimes against their neighbours and communities.

        That doesn’t change the fact that there still are problems and it is no coincidence that these problems are particularly visible in most of the affected communities. One thing that I have found especially lamentable is what you point out: that the aftermath of the riots is one of the few times when black community leaders and activists have a national platform in the UK. This situation has opened my eyes to the fact that the race situation in this country is even worse than I thought it was. I’m not particularly qualified to comment on that situation because I am not from this country and it is a complex issue that will take me more time to fully understand. It makes me angry and sad, though. I firmly believe that you should not judge anyone on the basis of something that he or she cannot help. That includes race, home country or town, gender, the members and socioeconomic status of one’s family, certain features of physicality and sexuality, etc. If everyone else firmly believed and practiced this as well, I believe that a lot of issues would be resolved – not all, but it certainly would grease the mechanisms of social mobility. The flip side is that I do judge people by their voluntarily actions, especially when those actions include senseless violence and destruction. Hence my disgust with the actions of these young people who I continue to believe were acting apolitically, antisocially and opportunistically. I value discussions such as the one we’re having, but I understand why the mainsteam media has quickly labelled the rioters as criminals. I, like most Londoners, believe that they are. Any discussion about social inequality, etc. right now risks implying that there are mitigating factors to the crime and I am not willing to excuse the behavior of criminals who were threatening to attack my community. (Thankfully they did not.) Anyway, I know that is not what you are trying to do, but the post is about the lack of analysis of the riots and I think my mindset might help explain why that is.

      • Joe August 10, 2011 at 4:50 pm #

        A big part of what we’re trying to get at is that we should not deny the political content of the riots (as a collective act) or the politicla justifications offered by those few rioters given a chance to make (and interested in offering) a public statement simply because we find them objectionable – it’s a political statement to defy the police and loot cities in coordinated groups, and in the few public and private statements I’ve heard from rioters they’re pretty clear that they see this as an opportunity to get theirs from a society that they have no stake in. It’s not a politics I find at all comforting or could support, but it’s not mindless violence or bare criminality.

        I share the hope with many others that the anger, alienation and energy of these young people can be put to some more productive purpose – but there’s no hope of that happening if we can’t understand the depth and severity of the divide between the looters and “upstanding London”.

      • Pablo K August 10, 2011 at 5:17 pm #

        No one is denied a voice because Meera and Joe wrote a post. If forced to place them on a continuum, every statement I have seen or heard from people involved directly in the riots, people involved in the local context before the riots, or people who work with these issues daily points to an analysis which has to take into account the issues raised in the post. The only exception to that was Shaun Bailey, an ex-Parliamentary Candidate for the Conservative party, who was most concerned with denying a link between the policies of his party and deprivation.

        On the other hand, the strongest voices in favour of the ‘mindless criminals’ and ‘apolitical’ theses have been those furthest from that context. Very often, they seem to have absolutely no interest in doing any listening or understanding whatsoever.

        So, no, I don’t accept that defining riots as some ‘pure’ apolitical criminality is just common-sense observation. And I don’t accept that interrogating contexts of marginalisation and inequality is the ‘projection’ of my values or concerns onto others.

  3. ben varney August 10, 2011 at 5:19 pm #

    That the rioting is political seems incontrovertible… that there are many motivations for rioting seems obvious. Each area has had different targets and presumably each group has disparate aims.

    Passing judgement on the actions of a group of people who have left others without a place to sleep, destroyed their businesses & burning down parts of the neighbourhood, is easy – of course it is wrong & vicious. Is the only reason this does not happen everyday because we have a police force? The criminal masses have been held back up to now by what?

    A state of material poverty entails states of being: politically impotent; denied good, healthy food; restricted in transport & education; vulnerable to abuse (criminal, psychological, sexual, physical); culturally patronised; constantly told to passively accept the worse situations / conditions; prone to mental health problems / physical health problems; inundated with scare tactics from media; labelled monstrous – regarded as inconsequential – nothing but statistics for ticking boxes; exposed to any number of forms of racism / prejudice, within & without; impotent in the work place (if working). Any more for any more?

    [N.B. Not all poor people are in these situations - poverty just makes it more likely for a majority.]

    This is cause and effect; demonstrate that force is the only really effective means for acquisition; base an economy & value system on the right to accumulate – a duty to accumulate; protect those at the top from the consequences of their (extraordinarily damaging) criminal activities (MPs, bankers, speculators, media tycoons, coppers…). Was anyone seriously going to prosecute Tony Blair for war crimes? What were the outcome of the expense scandals and how many people have we had killed, homes destroyed, etc… in the pursuit of business interests? Who will benefit from the Olympics? Who suffered when the credit bubble burst & who reaped the rewards of the governments method of rescuing the ‘country’… sorry this could go on too long…

    Violence will happen – you can condemn it & lock people up. But it is the only political action some will turn to – it is desperation. Not right or even sensible – horrific & inexcusable but inevitable. The circumstances are perfect for mob mentality.

    Finding anyone who has subsumed to a state of abject nihilism who will articulate a purpose is impossible – especially, I would argue, in England. The English have traditionally refused on principle to articulate their motivations.

    Provide as many statistics for social mobility as you like – it’s irrelevant to the majority of people.

    Sorry I hope this is relevant to your article – I got carried away by my own response to the rioting.

  4. workinghog August 10, 2011 at 6:22 pm #

    Great piece.

  5. Robbie Shilliam August 10, 2011 at 10:35 pm #

    Immediate cause = black young man being shot dead by Trident and 16 year old black girl wanting questions answered by police and being set upon brutally. backdrop is YEARS of low intensity warfare against black youth by police.

    spontaneously kicks off looting, robbing etc based almost overwhelmingly in areas of high deprevation.backdrop is YEARS of cutting amenities, services, prospects.

    Insurrections are not happy things. And usually those who kick it off suffer most – them and their immediate families and communities.

    These youth work in ciphers. WHO has tried to figure that out? you think you can just go ask a youth like that what his/her politics are? Seriously. The cipher is so tight because the discrimination and the deprevation is so tightly circling them. Even in the hallowed french revolution young people got a super buzz out of it. until the guillotines.

    Hermes was the messenger of the gods, who also was the agency that allowed travellers to pass over borders. A serious hermeneutic effort is required to even START understanding how and why this is political. But the left are as fuking bad as the right. All want cardboard cut-out subjects. But not the hard work of piece-by-piece engagement.

  6. Brendan August 10, 2011 at 11:47 pm #

    At this time we on the left should be listening to what the terrorised, looted, burnt communities (mainly w/c, BME, not well-off) are saying and not getting off on how clevr we are because we read some theory once. It comes over as arrogant and opportunistic. Not much different to the way that the right are rubbing their hands over how this is a blow to multiculturalism.

    • Pablo K August 11, 2011 at 2:04 pm #

      There’s a strange line doing the rounds which goes something like this: it’s too early (or too inappropriate) to apply theory, or analysis, or political questioning, to the London riots.

      It’s sometimes put more strongly, as in: theory is an inherently middle class/bourgeois enterprise, and its categories reflect primarily the desire of alienated white intellectuals to impose meaning, either on events of a complexity that they can’t grasp from their armchairs, or because there is a more existential betrayal in interpreting someone else’s experience for them.

      I sympathise. I’m exhausted by the various wars of position being waged around this, a heady combination of necessary analysis, radical posture, weird disavowals and ritualised denunciation.

      But it also strikes me that this is the academic version of the line peddled by the Tories: this is no time for politics! That’s clearly a tactical move on their part to shore up a reactionary common-sense, but I’m rather baffled when others use it. I’ve seen it in other cases too, and it seems the reaction of people who only play at theory, who consider it a stimulating distraction in the classroom, but an obscene irrelevance in any moment of crisis. A kind of theoretical self-hate.

      • Bryan L Jones August 12, 2011 at 12:52 am #

        “this is the academic version of the line peddled by the Tories: this is no time for politics! That’s clearly a tactical move on their part to shore up a reactionary common-sense, but I’m rather baffled when others use it. I’ve seen it in other cases too, and it seems the reaction of people who only play at theory, who consider it a stimulating distraction in the classroom, but an obscene irrelevance in any moment of crisis. A kind of theoretical self-hate.”

        Well said.

  7. Joe August 11, 2011 at 12:31 am #

    Great point, Robbie. Strikes me that there’s two tasks at hand: 1) how to prepare our own minds (some of us are further along than others on this) to understand a cipher that we not only confront over a chasm of difference but who is not seeking out dialogue; and 2) where to find a social/political space where engagement can even begin without fears, resentments, anger and mistrust from both sides making constructive communication possible.

    I haven’t thought through it enough yet but the calls to hold individuals responsible are key here – it’s fundamentally a demand that the rioters be accountable and responsible political subjects (on pain of severe punishment) who respond not to those they’ve terrorised but to the political elite, represented by courts, police and the endless string of blowhards on the tele.

  8. Jamal Waitakarie August 13, 2011 at 7:47 pm #

    Fuck the Police!

  9. teageegeepea August 18, 2011 at 4:02 am #

    If London has failed these people, who has succeeded?

  10. Juliette April 8, 2012 at 9:35 pm #

    Not for the first time you appear to be slhlitgy confused, Duffers old chap, could I suggest you ease off on the cooking sherry. The only thing the finger print evidence demonstrates was that it was much easier for the police to lift’ those people who already had a criminal record because they would be the people they had on file. Therefore, it follows it was more difficult for them to identify those without criminal records, hence the skewed figures about the percentage of repeat offenders rioting. It’s not rocket science you dozy old sod.As for the rest of your rant, I’m afraid I have no idea what you are talking about, which I suppose puts me in the same position as you because you don’t appear to either.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Subtext of London’s Burning « ce. - August 11, 2011

    [...] to say nothing, but of course, everything says something. A couple days ago, my buddy Matt shared this great blog post about the riots in London that helps me put words to this unsettling: Knowingly or not, the rioters have imbibed the insights [...]

  2. Part rejection, part reflection : Nick Anstead - August 11, 2011

    [...] for a friend linking to it on Facebook, I was able to find the best article I have read on the London riots so far on the blog The Disorder of Things, authored by Meera and [...]

  3. Looking At The London Riots - August 26, 2011

    [...] than the ruling class and Parliament would like to think about.  As pointed out by writers at The Disorder of Things; “The destructive rabble as mindless, inhuman, destructive force is a defensive trope; just note [...]

  4. On the Riots and the Need for a New Commons » Counterpunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names - August 29, 2011

    [...] it is there that the essence of this social distance is to be found. As The Disorder of Things blog surmised: “It is the deliberate, obscene transgression, the planned aggression, the fearless Fuck You, [...]

  5. On the Riots and the Need for a New Commons | The World Around You - August 30, 2011

    [...] is there that the essence of this social distance is to be found. As The Disorder of Thingsblog surmised: “It is the deliberate, obscene transgression, the planned aggression, the fearless Fuck You, [...]

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