I arrived back in the US just one week ago and so have not witnessed the riots that have spread to Nottingham and touch on the neighborhoods I used to live. Still, as it seems everyone I follow on twitter is doing, I’ve been following the events as closely as I can. Glued to my phone reading updates as I was looking at apartments in Chicago (surely due for a riot or two) and meeting up with old friends. A few things have struck me about the riots, first I think people have missed their true cause and character and secondly the reaction by liberals to the riots belies a common mistake of following a media logic of the importance of “having an opinion”.
Some liberals on twitter and their blogs have shown their true colors as they talk about the “oiks” and “chavs” “destroying their own neighbourhoods”. The truth is that these riots are an expression of rage by the British underclass against a system that has instilled desires in them that they can’t materially gain. The liberals join with the conservatives here saying that these are not the “true poor” and denigrating them for their culture with its garish track suits and varied attempts to look hard by adapting, to ill effect, American hip hop culture. All of this piles on to the true cause of these riots, hatred of the poor in the UK. People, especially young people, have been angry for a long time. With the non-election of the Tory government just over a year ago you saw people begin to express that anger in a number of protests. Those protests, which weren’t violent in any real sense, achieved nothing. The government went forward with plans to essentially privatize higher education, cut welfare programs for the worst off in society, rage class war by cutting working class city councils more than the more affluent southern councils, and so on. And who has been helping that government the whole time? The police. So, of course when that same police executed an unarmed man a community already distrustful and angry with the police turned violent.
The middle class of the UK wants the police there to protect them from the poor. Even the liberals who may read Zizek on the weekends and make pithy remarks about the revolution of Bartlby have come out on twitter and their blogs to essentially call for the police to start breaking some poor bodies. And why are they coming out to make these demands? To join in the demonization of the poor and young people in the UK? I can only guess that their undying desire to have an opinion that others can read and disagree or agree with pushes them towards simplistic responses to actual political acts. But why do you need to have an opinion about looters? Why do you need to either condemn or support them? I thought you wanted a third pill…
This is not a revolution (though it may be part of a revolutionary sequence) and I’m fairly certain no one has suggested it is. It is a heterogeneous expression of rage. At the police, at the cuts, at the lack of being able to be heard, at a culture that instils a consumer desire they can’t match, and yes that rage spills over into self-destructive acts. But it is always the poor who liberals berate for being self-destructive even as they too drink suicidally. It’s always the poor who have to be the angels, who in their political act have to be pure, while liberals can have their political consciousness and ironic guilt about shopping from Tesco or spending too much of their money on Fairtrade shoes. (That’s been a particularly disgusting element of comments made by liberals during these events. The disgust at the “consumerism” of the rioters.) Of course firebombing a local pub is an idiotic thing to do, but so is maintaining the status quo.
If you want to not hate the poor refuse to have a single opinion about what is happening. These riots, which the UK deserves, are not one thing. There are many different forms of politics taking place and I refuse to condemn the rioters and looters (as if you don’t care about what you wear, you just have money) just as I refuse to condemn the Sikhs and Muslims for defending their communities. The space of the excluded is infinite and requires an infinite affirmation of multiple acts. So you either stand with people crying out violence against their situation, which would require actual engagement and argument with those people however idiotic some may get at times, or you stand with the white rich girls calling them scum.