My London Riot Hell

In blog post 391, I wrote: “London, this rancid trench, overflowing with sub-human excreta, should burn. This place, that’s done nothing for me; that’s cultivated my misery and mugged me for my smile, would benefit from an uprising – a leper insurgency. This wouldn’t be a good fight; it wouldn’t be any sort of movement, rather an indiscriminate, unfocused campaign of violence, spearheaded by the city’s restless underclass. It would destroy property, livelihoods, infrastructure, community cohesion and any sense of individual security. Widespread looting would ensue. I’d laugh and laugh and laugh.”

Of course I regret that paragraph now.

Those specific, prescient words, meant in jest, were supposed to be a throwaway remark. A quick one off the wrist, like “I wish so and so would just die” or “God, I wish a cabal of disaffected Muslims, committed to the notion of egoistic suicide, rationalised as virtue, would build some bombs, then detonate them on the tube during rush hour!” How could I have known?

As Londoners, and residents of other, less important places, return to the husks of their homes; the ruin of their material stockpiles; now is the time to reflect on what happened. Not one of us can afford complacency. It was possible for this to happen and it could happen again at any moment.

Let me declare my interest. I didn’t care about these people prior to this week and I don’t care about them now. I fear them and resent them. Fear, because I’m a lifelong conformist who’s obeyed the law, respected the intellectual and social argument for property and boundaries, and consequently felt terrified that so many hold no such fear and are free to do as they please. Resentment, because I’ve stuck to the rules and gained no sense of pride in doing so. I was expected to act this way and I did. I could live with that, I have, but on the condition that everyone else felt a similar sense of thought terminating obligation. Now I see hoards of junior criminals liberated from their enslavement and I hate them for it. I still feel obliged to respect the public, that obtuse, amorphous mass, and all I ask is that everyone does the same so that tyranny counts for something.

No, I don’t care about those rioters at all. I have some stake in society; I’ve fallen for the lie that the shackle of market forces carries with it the promise of personal satisfaction, the notion that one day I too could be a parody of success, joining the others who’ve wasted their lives in a similar way.

Because I believe that and because there is no alternative that anyone with a constitution as weak as mine could endure, I can’t empathise with the rioters. My inability to do so ensures they remain nothing more than an intellectual curio. I may, if I need the boost, allow myself to focus on them as a symbol of everything that I’m not. Some good does come from these situations. Then at least, I can feel good about the fucking awful choices I’ve made and my ruinous timidity. I can deal with the threat they represent to both my worldview and that self-regulating set of directives, drafted by an imbecile, that I adhere to without question; my so-called moral code.

The opportunity society

The riots have taught us a lot about ourselves and by a lot I mean nothing at all. This has been an opportunist orgy. The first few rioters hijacked a protest against the police, using their hatred of the man with his disdain for their kind, as an excuse. Their friends joined in, not out of solidarity you understand, they didn’t care what it was about, but because they understood that’s what everyone else was doing and chances are they’d be some looting. No one wanted to miss out. Just as they were getting bored, the police arrived, living symbols of regulation without consent, and this made it a little more dangerous, more exciting, so on they went.

Word spread on social networking sites. A real sense of community and camaraderie swept the cyber-sphere. Thousands were invited to participate in the violence. It was lawless but demonstrably successful and many saw what their friends were doing and were keen to be part of that success. Pockets of violence were now being turned out in many of the city’s ghettos. There was a palpable sense of achievement, similar to the kind you experience at work when you get an “exceeds expectations” rating on your appraisal.

Incensed that the web was being hijacked by thugs, conformists everywhere saw a chance at posturing and mutual masturbation. Self-righteous indignation, that is to say, sincere shock, swept the internet. Many were disgusted, incapable of working, unable to think about the pointless shit they’d usually be doing, and felt the need to say so. These big hearted, socially conscientious bastards, who’d wept at Diana’s funeral, though they couldn’t tell you why, and who took the day off work on September 12th 2001 because they needed to come to terms with the enormity of what had happened, though it didn’t affect them at all, realised, in a moment of beautiful clarity, that all their existing prejudices, hitherto hidden behind a veneer of tolerance, were correct.

Chavs, scum, morons, cunts – whatever the wrongheaded label of choice, here they were reverting to type. They were everything these people were not and it was vital that at this glorious moment, on the day that stereotyping gained a little respectability, that this hoard of responsible citizens, though subjects technically, told each other how angry they were. They pretended to address their comments to people who’d never read them, but in truth they were marking themselves down as right minded, law abiding moral champions in the eyes of their peers. Those reading the messages saw the opportunity to associate themselves with the remarks and a profound sense of unity and purpose, similar to that felt by the rioters, engulfed the educated part of the web.

It got better. On the streets, groups that had always hated the underclass saw the opportunity to attack them with the full support of their communities. In Eltham, a racist town in South East London, a union of fascists, comprising of English Defence League gold card holders and fans of Millwall football club, left their Mock Tudor domiciles and granite shacks, and congregated outside The Rising Sun public house, to be protected at all costs, salivating at the prospect of legitimately beating blacks to save sheets of glass, pound shop stock and women’s magazines in WH Smith.

In Enfield, wife beaters and alcoholics, outraged at the indiscriminate nature of this senseless violence, which to their mind should always be targeted and confined to the home, marched in unison, ready to assault any child seen stealing a laptop computer. “We’re here to help the police” they told reporters. The internet swelled with pride.

In politics, those that had always loathed the Tories saw the opportunity to blame them for what had happened. These kids, outraged at the forthcoming cut of the education maintenance allowance, or EMA, though most knew nothing about it, had no plans to enter education so would never claim it, and had no political knowledge of any kind, felt a deep sense of grievance, cultivated in the last year or so, prior to which they were prosperous and content, and took to the streets to vent their frustration.

Some commentators, though nothing more than right wing apologists, bleated that the blue touch paper had been lit over an isolated death, enflaming long standing and deep seeded tensions between black communities and the police, and that the copycat rioting that ensued could, theoretically, have taken place under any government. However, rioting had last occurred under the Tories, and you couldn’t just write that off as a coincidence, even if the character of these riots was completely different.

Oddly, and inexplicably, the only group not to take advantage was that thought to have ignited the spark that destroyed a city. The police, who’d shot dead Mark Duggan the previous Thursday, for no other reason than he aimed a firearm at officers, though he was a good boy really, were criticised. Why hadn’t they abused their power during this crisis? Why, when faced with wayward youths, hadn’t they smashed their skulls with batons, run over children in squad cars and forced their horses to penetrate the ringleaders? No one could understand why they’d tried to contain the violence rather than inflame it. Their decision to retreat when faced with volleys of bricks and petrol bombs, left many cold.

It’s all good

It would be wrong to suggest that this week of terror has been just a negative experience. The riots have radically accelerated equal opportunities representation on the BBC. At a stroke, people that the corporation would normally have no interest in speaking to; black community leaders, black opinion formers, the young; became ubiquitous. What did they think about poverty, what did they think about successive government’s attitudes toward the underclass, what did they think? We found out for the first time. Kelvin Mackenzie tried to interrupt.

Wales and Scotland, two countries with just a handful of non-white residents, saw their success in being non-wealth creating dependencies that failed to attract large numbers of immigrants due to the perceived lack of opportunity, vindicated. This wasn’t a time to gloat, but a time to gloat. Thousands went deaf in Cardiff, in Glasgow, as the sound of collective back slapping shattered ear drums. The youth of both countries had failed to rise up. Lethargy and drug induced comas, once seen as social diseases in both places, finally proved their worth.

The Tuscan waitress, whom David Cameron hadn’t tipped, saw the PM forced to cut short his family holiday and return home. Justice was done.

This has been a very difficult time for Londoners, and some residents of other places, but we’ve come through it. I’ve come through it. Alright, nothing happened to me and had I not watched the news I wouldn’t have known a single thing was going on, but I’ve managed to stay strong. I don’t care about the rioters and I don’t care why they did it, I wasn’t affected. However, if you do, why not think about why this happened and ask yourself what you’re going to do about it? If nothing, perhaps you should just keep quiet.

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Published in: on August 11, 2011 at 12:50  Leave a Comment  
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