Friday, August 12, 2011

A Reason to Riot

People are asking what is driving the London riots.  A point contrary to the notion that it is mainly mainly about poverty, is that apparently many of the looters were middle or upper class.

But what percentage are we talking about here? Certainly the location of the riots puts them squarely in working class neighborhoods.

I don’t want to jump to conclusions either, but riots in the US have been about race with a strong helping of class. I work with poor, troubled teens and there is nothing many of them would enjoy more than getting in on the action of a riot. As it stands, one of their main entertainments is getting drunk/high and looking for trouble out in the streets. Why is this?

Roughly, many of them have poor role models at home, for a variety of reasons. Single parents struggling to maintain control. Parents whose work hours leave them unattended for much of the day. No hobbies – no sense of purposeful behavior. Substance abuse and anger management problems in the family. Little education among parents and a sense of frustration at perceived life-options available. Nihilism about their role in larger society and its institutions.

This is a lot to untangle. Every case is different, yet themes emerge. But I’ve been incredibly frustrated by the language that some in the conservative British government have used to frame the riots.

David Cameron: “if you are old enough to commit these crimes you are old enough to face the punishment.”
Home Secretary Theresa May: “This is sheer criminality, and let’s make no bones about it.”
London Mayor Boris Johnson: “It is time that people who are engaged in looting and violence stopped hearing economic and social justification for what happened.”

I understand the frustration, and the need to reiterate the rule of law. But “sheer criminality” is not an explanation; pretending it is one is an excuse to not do the reflection that social problems require. We don’t need to pretend we know the exact cause of the problem. But we do need to discuss it. We need to form hypotheses and debate their validity. When we resort to explanations that are nothing more than descriptions of behavior, we learn nothing about ourselves and our society, and we miss an opportunity to avoid such problems in the future.

No comments:

Post a Comment