August 10, 2011 § 1 Comment
I’ve been reading up on the riots in England. Despite all the coverage, I had to dig around for a while to find any assessment of what is happening on a human level. I only found a few small assessments, including one reference to the riots as the “consumer society riots.” I did some of my own thinking about it and thought I would post it here.
What upsets me most in the representation of the rioters as countercultural. Descriptions seem to cast them as outliers, completely random and terrifying to the status quo – the idea that someone would do violence without empathy and do so specifically to get at consumer goods as unprecedented and shocking. Yet corporations, advertisers, and a large majority of everyday people do exactly that within a carefully structured ideology. Through a careful balance of compartmentalization, they show every sign of these allegedly shocking, psychotic tendencies as they lack empathy for the suffering caused by their lifestyles and actions for the sake of monetary gain, that is, to get at “stuff.”
Wendell Berry has pointed out that there is no true distinction now between peacetime and wartime, as the ecological catastrophes and suffering that mark times of war are now everyday norms. In that same vein, there is no true distinction between good citizens and looters. They’re not opposites – the blatant and disorderly violence and robbery taking place should mark flashpoint of increased consciousness for how thinly our coat of morality paints modern society. I see the major thing that distinguishes the rioters from other people is that being held off from an unethical society’s rewards has built up enough rage in them to push past the overarching mentality of fear that is the thread holding the fabric of our supposedly moral societies together.
I don’t think it’s really genuine to condemn, or to honor, the rioters as countercultural. They aren’t breaking down the system by emulating its mentality in a less controlled way. A lot people with the will to do violence, the willingness to kill will never change the way things are. What we need is a lot of people with the will not to do violence and to die, the rebirth of a narrative of cultural critique entwined with a vision of an authentically alternative society forged by a love ethic and for this to be spoken by people all over the place. I think the riots should come as no surprise, and urge us onwards towards self-awareness, to look at the value systems underlying our everyday actions and whether they are authentic and satisfying to us, and to teach ourselves and one another to have the creativity to imagine new ways of being and the boldness to make them manifested in the world.