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?