Jerame Davis

Comment of the Week: Paige Listerud on UK Riots

Filed By Jerame Davis | August 14, 2011 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Adam Polaski, Paige Listerud, UK riots

Earlier this week, Adam Polaski wrote a piece to discuss the riots in the U.K. and what they could mean for the U.S. and the LGBT community. Some folks seemed to think Adam was endorsing riots as something we should be doing here, but he later explained in a comment that he was simply trying to say he saw the riots as a warning to the U.S. because the same underlying sentiments were boiling here as well.

After some lively discussion, Paige Listrud left this comment (quoting Emma Goldman and Hannibal Lecter) that sums up the U.K. riots nearly perfectly:

I think Emma Goldman said it best:

"I know that in the past every great political and social change, necessitated violence... Yet it is one thing to employ violence in combat as a means of defence. It is quiet another thing to make a principle of terrorism, to institutionalise it to assign it the most vital place in the social struggle. Such terrorism begets counter-revolution and in turn itself becomes counter-revolutionary."

Not that most of the youths on the streets of Tottenham, Birmingham, Liverpool, etc., are familiar with Emma Goldman. Their actions are more understandable than justifiable. But I fear they have really only sowed seeds for a backlash, a backlash they won't understand any more than they currently realize that immolating businesses in their own neighborhoods, owned by petty bourgeois who are barely making it in this economy, themselves, and who are not in control of the policy-makers in government, would not effectively change the conditions of their lives.

At best, their moment expression of rage might only provide temporary emotional relief against a lifetime of powerlessness.

Instead, I turn to another, darker source for the psychological basis for the attack on their own neighborhoods, Hannibal Lecter:

"He covets. That is his nature. And how do we begin to covet, Clarice? Do we seek out things to covet? . . . No. We begin by coveting what we see every day."

Hence, the looting of jeans and sneakers, iPods and wedding dresses--things that they see every day and have no legitimate means to acquire. Mind you, I'm not making any moralistic judgement on the rioting youth of London. They don't covet any more than the rest of us. We all covet--and our consumeristic culture encourages our covetousness through advertising. But if we're white, middle class and employed, we've got the means to acquire the things we see every day. Plus, our middle class status gives us a modicum of respect from the police and the more money you make, the more property you own, the more respect the police show you and the more willing they are to protect you.

I'm really not sure what it means when Emma Goldman and Hannibal Lecter are the two pieces of wisdom used to describe the situation - but it sure fits.

What do you think? Did our covetous ways lead the rioters astray? Is this the beginning of a "Western Spring"? Or just some random unrest that will go away when the next season of UK Idol starts?


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Robert Merton's classic strain theory is applicable here. When legitimate means of acquisition are stymied because of lack of education and jobs, illegitimate means will be employed. Then more and more police and military are necessary to maintain order. Eventually social order breaks down and there is rebellion or revolution.

As a UK resident,I have no doubt at all that excessive covetousness is a major part of the problem - but not all.

This is a society that glorifies material consumption, with a major part of newspaper and television coverage devoted to expensive homes, holidays,fashion and food - and to the lives of the top people in finance, sport and entertainment who earn (and spend) obscene amounts of money.

At the same time, there is a substantial underclass who are effectively excluded from this acquisition hunt: people for whom, as Dr Weiss correctly points out, there seems to be only one way to participate, and that is by helping themselves.

But this is not a simple struggle of the impoverished: it's been claimed that much of the social networking of the mobs has been facilitated by Blackberries - not exactly an emblem of poverty - and some of those who have appeared in court have come from distinctly privileged homes.

Probably a major cause of the looting is the gulf between the very rich and the financially challenged, but some of it is no more than simple greed: the idea that no matter who much we have, more is always better.

Since I arrived here eight years ago, I have been fascinated by the preoccupation with "ethical" shopping and with green energy. But these terms carry an implicit contradiction. When shopping becomes an end in itself, and not just a means to satisfying basic needs, it is more accurately described as consumption - which is at the heart of the global environmental crisis. It's not too far a stretch to suggest that the only truly ethical shopping is minimal shopping. Similarly with energy consumption. Just about every energy source, including renewables, has some environmental costs, and so the only truly green energy is minimal energy.

David Cameron has announced his determination to tackle the moral collapse in British society. I wonder if he has the balls to really follow through, and tackle the heart of the moral collapse - simple greed?

I think the quotes Paige chose are right on. (Hannible Lector!?) I was around during the African-American Riots in the 60's and certainly saw the act of acquiring by looting what couldn't be acquired legally. The base cause of the rioting is not dissimilar. Actually, it is worth noting while perhaps the element of the population doing the rioting is different (or not) it is cautionary that nothing has changed in Western Capitalist Society in the ensuing 50years. In fact, conditions and the feeling of rage and dissenchantment have spread to the whole Western World. It is perhaps more ominous today because we are all aware that there is an economic crisis. In the 60's, that was not the case. More and more people are suffering at the lower half of the economic scale, and there is less hope of relief in the traditional electoral process. The "Fat Cats", lobbyists, and politicians that do their bidding obviously do not have any answers. I am not sanctioning, or calling for rebellion and rioting, I am only saying it is understandable and I see it spreading. England, Greece, Spain all ready. Look at Wisconsin,While there hasn't been rioting or violent confrontation, Wisc. is emblematic of this Worldwide enocomic breakdown. People are just fed up, and the Govt. is taking away from workers and Middleclass people that are already hardpressed instead of where the surplus is, the C.E.O.'s and upper 10% of the population. David Cameron is after the "moral" collapse in U.K. The collapse is not moral, far from it! The collapse is economic and Worldwide. There will be a lot more suffering before the politicians realize that.

Seeing as the wealth gap between the rich and poor is far greater in the US, than any other developed nation; I think that similar riots are very likely to happen in the US.