I was trying to ignore the riots. I really was. But then my parents had the news on the radio over dinner this evening, and after half an hour of listening to it, I burst into tears. Proper, gut-wrenching sobbing.
I don't really know why. Obviously, I'm angry (hence the title - for which, in this one case, I make no apology). Angry at my countrymen, at my generation, at the politicians who are supposed to represent me and particularly at the sneering, vapid, tedious media. I'm also afraid; much more afraid than I'd realised. On Tuesday night I looked at a live map of the rioting that someone had put together, and one of the events marked was a fire at a shop I've walked past a few times, about two miles from where I live. Very much nearer to where some friends of mine live.
Ultimately, though, I think I cried out of internal conflict. Before I explain that, let me make one thing clear: I in no way condone or support the rioters. These riots are unconscionable events, the more so now that murder has started to be part of it.
I despise violence in all instances (particularly the rare occasions where my temper gets the better of me and I lash out, usually at Mariokart). I have endeavoured to live my life according to Salvor Hardin's aphorism 'Violence is the last resort of the incompetent.' ('Foundation' by Isaac Asimov, as if you needed to know), and to treat those who resort to violence as incompetent - i.e. to hold them in contempt unless it can be demonstrated that their incompetence is not their fault. So, I hold these rioters in contempt.
And yet, as several people have pointed out, the young people doing the rioting have no hope for the future and nothing to lose; there are not now, nor are there ever likely to be, jobs for them, because Britain simply cannot support enough jobs to go round and they will never have the money to go abroad for work. And since the government and the establishment of this country seem to take long-term joblessness as irrefutable evidence of failure as a human being, that means that the gates of society are closed to these people.
So, does that make them incompetent to refrain from violence? The obvious answer - that violence is a choice that can be discarded - though true hides a subtle and desperately important psychological question about the human basic need to be part of a community. I take it as fundamental to my understanding of human nature and thus to my writing that human beings are social animals; one cannot be fully human unless one exists in a society, and to be trapped in scorn and exclusion is, basically, a psychological injury.
Are we, then, talking about diminished responsibility due to a kind of insanity? I refuse to go that far. Particularly after hearing some of the rioters trotting out the usual, tedious and disgraceful argument that immigrants (Polish people seemed to be the preferred objects of hate) have taken all the jobs.
No, to make sense of things I'm going to have to embrace a paradox and say that for any action, it is possible for two separate people to be wholly responsible for that action. So on the one hand, the rioters are completely responsible for the riots, but so is the society that created the anger, disillusionment, exclusion and greed that drives them.
The riots are an indictment not just of the rioters but of the entirety of UK society (which itself is a part of global society, but we'll leave that aside for not). That's a society of which I am - however reluctantly - a member. As such, let me be among the first (and I certainly haven't heard many others yet) to apologise for my part in what's happened.
For every time I looked nervously at a hoodie on the bus. For every time I sneered at a news story. For every time I didn't sweat blood over an opportunity to change the system, or the political landscape, or just brighten someone else's day. For every time I assumed it wouldn't be so bad, or it would get better before it got too bad (and for every time I spouted a platitude like this sentence).
But all any of that would have done would be to clear my conscience. I guess I'm crying because I feel like I could have done more, but I'm also crying because I don't believe it would have made any difference if I had - which was probably my justification for not doing more in the first place.
If nothing else, I understand the feeling of powerlessness that must be subconsciously driving a lot of this unrest. I have a degree and a master's, I'm on my way to a PhD, and I'm still not guaranteed a job in the current climate, and if I do get one it will be a miserable thing. Writing and music give me hope, but the basis of my writing and music is my parents' relative wealth that meant they could provide me an education which created those loves in me. Take those away from me and I'd probably get violent too.
This is getting trite. I'm not trying to write an essay on how we should all sympathise with the disenfranchised youth.
What I'm saying is that we shouldn't let the politicians, the media, the smug neo-liberal intellectuals and most especially the business tycoons who really run things off the hook just because we have a whole bunch of proles to sneer at and lock up.
Here's the thing that really worries me; our Prime Minister, earlier today, used the phrase 'phoney concerns about human rights' (referring to obstacles to getting rioters convicted). Now, I have no doubt that any concern Mr. Cameron might express for human rights would indeed be phoney. But I worry that the riots will be used as an excuse for a whole lot of really damaging governmental behaviour and take too much attention away from where it really belongs - on the prominent and powerful who have shaped the society that has made these events close to inevitable.
Yes, the rioters could have decided not to riot, but only by accepting that there is nothing else they could do. And the society that condemns these kids for not doing anything needs to realise that many of them are doing the only thing they can - congratulations, you got what you wanted. They did something.
Lock up the rioters. But fix the society while they're inside.