Saturday, 13 August 2011

Rant About The Riots

When I set up this blog I meant to keep it entirely on the lighthearted side of things, but I’m going to vent and theorise about society, politics and the relevance of class issues when it comes to the recent riots in England.

If you don’t want to read my getting all ranty then feel free to skip this post and wait until I get a scanner working when I will show you some more of my awesome toy robot designs.

There, that’s that bit out of the way.

Firstly, some background on me. I grew up in a council house. Through most of my childhood it was me, my mum who couldn’t work anymore and either one or both of my two older half brothers living in a house mostly made out of crooked plasterboard at the edge of a council estate.

My first job, was a weekend one working in a hell hole of a hospital kitchen, my second job was working in a convenience store that probably had almost as much stock shoplifted as bought by actual paying customers. As well as those I’ve had two jobs in supermarkets, neither of which I was (or am) physically fit to do, one of them was stocking shelves between 9pm at night and 1am in the morning. I used to have to walk home at 1 in the morning because the public transport was shut down for the night and I couldn’t afford the taxi fare after midnight.

It would take me an hour to get back to my one bedroom flat over a shop. It was covered in woodchip wallpaper. The front end was Victorian I think, the back end probably added sometime in the sixties. It was like something out of a Pulp song. The front was drafty and the back end was damp and suffered from subsidence. One night when it rained heavily the guttering fell off from over my bedroom window and lodged itself in the plastic roof of the extension attached to the shop below me. It stayed stuck in that roof until long after I moved out.

I was never really vey good at most of those jobs though and combined with my health problems I probably spent more time looking for work than in work. I think it’s fair to say I have some idea about what it’s like to live in a relatively poor neighbourhood then and not to have any money.

With all this in mind I would just like to say that these riots have next to nothing to do with class or income and it’s not about job availability. There are some major social issues behind this, but it’s not the ones that people like to drag out over and over.
It’s not about the internet and social networking. Twitter and the like have made it easier for people who want to help clean up, to organise donations and to inform the police of the identities of the criminals who have been wrecking the streets.

It’s not about class or income. There have been plenty of poorer, working class people helping clean the streets up and plenty of middle class idiots involved in the looting.

There does seem to be an issue thought with three ways of thinking that have been allowed to spread through society.

1) There’s nothing wrong with looking out for myself. Why should I care what happens to strangers?

This attitude is nothing new and it’s not going to go away. It’s not the majority attitude in this country though. We give huge amounts of money to charity and we offer our time to help out when things go horribly wrong. Things like the riot clean up crews make me feel really good about people, but there is also those who simply don’t care what happens to other people and I think that is the biggest factor in what’s caused the looting and arson attacks we’ve been seeing.

2) Nothing’s going to happen to me. I can get away with it.

The elements in society who couldn’t care less about the damage they do to other people’s lives are usually kept in check by one thing; the fear of punishment.

What happens when people decide that the potential punishment is either a) pretty minor in comparison to the benefits of committing a crime (mostly in this case theft) or b) so unlikely to occur that they think the chances of them having to deal with the fallout is negligible? They don’t hold back.

When a peaceful protest in Tottenham was hijacked by rioters (peaceful protesters don’t usually have bricks with them and I doubt they were just laying about) and the police failed miserably to deal with the situation it opened the floodgates. Add that to a general feeling that the law fails to deal with criminal behaviour properly when people are caught and you’ve got every reason for them to think they are beyond punishment for their actions, that they can get away with it.

3) Breaking stuff is fun.

Out of these three, this is the one that I personally understand the least. Take a look at the following MTV advert/ident.

Apparently partying = breaking the hosts stuff and throwing it in the pool. Not angrily, not drunkenly, just because destroying stuff is fun. When I think party and drums I remember being at someone’s house (I cannot for the life of me remember who) whilst one of the local bands played a lyrically dubious version of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” in the corner of the living room. If anybody had deliberately broken something they’d probably have found themselves forcibly ejected onto the street.

I can’t find a youtube upload of it, but Kerrang! has an ident in which two people blow a whole load of (obviously not their) stuff up. Not that music channels are the only culprits of this kind of thing, but that particular example has been bugging the hell out of me. Largely, because I only watch MTV Rocks and MTV Classic, which really don’t play that kind of music. Not a fan, sorry. Anyway, MTV’s determination to shove the same ads on all their stations is a subject for another blog maybe.

Many of the looters and firebugs showed no sign of anger, no sign that they were fighting against anything. They were laughing, joking, smiling, having a good time, because destruction is apparently an acceptable way of having fun.

Combine the lack of empathy for other human beings, the confidence that they’ll get away with it and this concept that has been pushed for decades (and has arguably been growing) that destruction is fun and what do you get? You get what we’ve seen on the streets of London and across other areas.

Class and income seems to have little to do with it outside of a basic cost/benefit analysis. The risk of arrest is always the same, but the potential gains to be made from looting shift with income. Someone who earns less than £14,000 can physically carry the same amount out of a Sony electrical store as someone who earns £22,000 a year. The value of the goods that they can steal only varies as a percentage of income and that’s why the cost/benefit thing comes in.

There are many, many people who have less disposable income than many of the rioters who would never consider doing what they have done. Many who instead of taking everything they can have given everything they can.

Some people want to treat criminals as victims, victims of their circumstances. They want to help them, to the detriment of others who have grown up in those same circumstances.

Here’s an example. I won’t use names, but there are two people from my school. One of them is a chronic asthmatic and suffers various allergies, which have had a negative effect on her ability to work over time. She had to sit on a long waiting list to get a flat. It was a housing association property with no carpets and a window that you couldn’t open in case the glass fell out and of course she had to pay for prescriptions for the medication she would probably have to be on for the rest of her life.

A recovering heroin addict with a criminal record got a larger place straight away, because they needed to be kept in a safe environment to allow them to recover and to stop them from getting in a situation where they would reoffend.

These people went to the same school, lived in the same area, came from the same economic band and had the same opportunities open to them. One suffered from unavoidable medical conditions and the other caused their condition to themselves and screwed people over in the process. Who deserves more help?

This isn’t about class. This isn’t about income. This isn’t about what jobs are available in what areas. This is about individuals and this is about society as a whole. Stop giving excuses for criminals when their neighbours, their classmates, their co-workers or the people standing behind them in the job centre queue have somehow managed to restrain themselves from smashing the hell out of things, stealing from strangers and getting addicted to hard drugs.

I grew up in a family on benefits, on a council estate, at a school where the people who were expelled from the neighbouring schools fit in perfectly and I didn’t become thug. Whilst some of my fellow students did, most didn’t.

When you use class, income or opportunities as an excuse for the behaviour shown by criminals and thugs you insult every other single one of us who have dealt with queuing up in the jobcentre, living in decrepit housing and counting the pennies in the supermarket because you only have a fiver left to last the rest of the week. We didn’t go mug people/set buildings on fire/joy ride/loot shops, so why the hell should they and why should they be excused for such things?

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