Reflection on the London/UK rioting
I’m still processing the events of the past week. I have close attachments to the UK and London in particular, which adds a layer of confusion in trying to understand why I came to certain right/wrong judgements about the rioting. In any case, this piece is intended to help me understand my own thought processes, as much as it is to try to explain them to other LGF readers.
I should begin by saying that the deaths that occurred as a result of the rioting are are terrible, terrible thing. The ones that I’m specifically aware of are the three British Asian men killed (maliciously, it seems) by a car as they were peacefully congregating, and the 68-year-old man attacked as he tried to put out a fire. These cases obviously need to be prosecuted as murder. Violence against the police I also condemn, and although the few apparent cases of the police responding with unnecessary violence are disappointing, it needs to be said that, overall, the police seem to have behaved in the way that we hope they would, with admirable restraint in the face of extensive provocation. Democratic society depends on a continuous balancing act between law enforcement and personal liberty, and the police seem to have done well here.
The damage to physical property is … disheartening. That’s the best word I can come up with: it’s just depressing that human beings come to the point where they smash things up. This is especially the case where the damage is to people’s homes and local businesses. In multiple ways it represents a step back for the communities where this happened. I’d like to come back to what should be done from a prosecution point of view later in this piece.
Before I do that, I’d like to apologize unreservedly to LGF posters who I quarreled with when they expressed views that the rioters should be punished harshly. I understand that this comes from a desire to preserve society, and though I will always defend my opinion, I hope that I can do so effectively without causing offense in the future.
My opinion remains that, moral questions of right or wrong aside, the rioting is an inevitable consequence of a societal system that denies opportunity to a large underclass. The recent round of cuts to social services in the UK need to be seen in the context of the erosion, over the past 30 years or so, of the post-war (or perhaps more accurately post-depression) notion that, if the playing field is not artificially leveled, it will just as artificially be distorted by the accumulation of wealth. Therefore, society faces a choice: either continually repress the growing underclass and deal with the consequences (which is arguably what is going on in the Middle East), or move back towards a system of supporting and developing people who do not have the advantage of inherited wealth, accepting that a (hopefully small) portion of this support will go to waste.
This brings us back to the physical damage. Fundamentally, I believe that “things are just things, but people are people”. It’s true that, when one’s survival becomes dependent on one’s property, the difference between the two can be blurred. However I see this increased dependency as another regression of society, as it places yet another burden on the least fortunate. So both practically and ideally, though it is depressing, I see the property damage as a much less serious offense than the violence against people.
And I honestly don’t know how it should be prosecuted, because I’m not close enough to the communities in which the violence occurred. I think ideally those communities should have significant input into the prosecution, and more generally that their voice should be heard on the circumstances surrounding the violence. The prosecution of the rioters is ongoing and I do not have a problem with that, but equally I don’t take any great satisfaction from it, only the hope that it will lead to a better situation.
Finally, when I think about all this, my mind inevitably comes back to the ratings agency executive who was quoted as saying that he knew what he was doing was wrong, but that he did it in order not to lose out on business. This is admirable honesty, but the fact that someone in that situation feels comfortable in admitting having done wrong for personal gain is a stark reminder that he faces a vanishingly small chance of prosecution for, essentially, defrauding society at large. To me, that is fundamentally the injustice from which the riots arise, and any talk of prosecution or punishment of the rioters is both futile and cynical until that injustice is addressed.