London Burning, Governments Cutting, Wall Street Plunging

August 14, 2011 Michael Kaufman

The riots in London were not a political protest. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t have a meaning.

They were, of course, a miserable business. They further destroyed downtrodden communities. They traumatized children. In addition to chain stores, looters trashed small businesses sweated over by families, often immigrants.

To figure out what these riots were about, you’ve got to ask yourself: what would it take for someone to burn their own community? The answer? When the community doesn’t really feel like yours. Where you feel expendable. Where you’re being left behind.

That’s what happens when you feel you’ll never escape urban poverty, terrible housing, marginal jobs or no work altogether. That’s what racism does. That’s what the ever-growing gap of rich and poor does. That’s what drastic government cuts signal to you. (In but one example, in part of Tottenham where the riots started, 8 or 13 youth clubs and after-school programmes had been shut down.)

As The Nation’s Maria Margaronis, writes:

It’s taken years to brew the toxic mix of hopelessness, frustration and disenfranchisement, envy, anger and boredom, greed and selfishness, humiliation and recklessness that’s erupted in Britain this week–years in which the gap between rich and poor grew wider, racism was allowed to fester, consumerism and celebrity culture replaced community.

And, in an echo of the infamous (and apocryphal) “Let them eat cake” from 200 years ago, these riots were, of course, a shopping and looting riot by those who have grown up tantalised with the cake of consumer culture only to have it barely available.

The Guardian’s, Zoe Williams, writes:

this is what happens when people…have their noses constantly rubbed in stuff they can’t afford, and they have no reason ever to believe that they will be able to afford it.

But it’s not only their noses being rubbed in all those running shoes and electronics. It’s that consumer society attaches so much value to them. From childhood, we learn that owning such things makes us worthwhile. And so if society says you’re worthless? Acquiring these goodies, by any means, is a way of acquiring a chimera of self-worth.

Chimeras might be foolish fantasies, but they are also monsters – in the Greek tales, fire-breathing ones. This is known all-too well by the Muslim, Sikh and Hindu citizens of the Dudley Road area which was invaded by cars of hooded men who came to loot stores and, in the process, ran over and killed three young men. Here, however, dignified pleas from the father of Haroon Jahan helped avert riots. Here, the response was one of despair and dismay.

Government Cuts

Meanwhile in Washington (and Paris, London, Ottawa, and on and on), governments continue to cut social programmes, education, and health care.

I’d never argue that any society can indefinitely spend money it doesn’t have. The point, though, is that many of our societies have the resources. The problem is how they get shared.

The policies of successive federal, state, and local governments in, say, the United States, (whether of the right-wing loonies of the Republican Party or in the more measured tones of Obama or Clinton Democrats), is the de-facto encouragement of corporate and individual greed that results in an ever-growing gap of rich and poor. Think what Obama did the moment he was elected: bring Wall Street power brokers in to run his administration.

Theirs are policies that, in holding out the promise of untouchable wealth for the few, actually take away hope, strip away dreams, and wipe out possibilities for the many.

Wall Street Plunges

These decades of ever-increasing avarice are simply not sustainable. I don’t mean in environmental terms (for, of course, there is little about our economies that is environmentally sustainable.)  I mean economically sustainable.

To watch from afar as one corner burns actually doesn’t give me any pleasure for burning does not carry a vision of change nor how we will achieve social equality. Remember, burning is a chimera.

Sadly, it’s hard to imagine that more flames don’t lie ahead.

In my own home town of Toronto, the (currently) right-wing city council is talking about closing libraries. Gee, might as well toss the extra books onto the next bonfire.

1 Comment on “London Burning, Governments Cutting, Wall Street Plunging

  1. I loved this! in India the gap is too wide so we have the likes of Anna hazare who sparks the yuppies who are now unable to afford designer wear to come out as corruption eats into everyone’s pocket to get even richer u need to pay up to the richest..hence the malaise is like cancer..India its deep rooted so what do the poorest of the poor do?? consumerism is global and its causing havoc to the human being and the eco has to return to balance or the earth and we sure are in for extinction. The planet will regenerate but where would all the human beings be??? turned to flowers i hope everyone not plastic:0

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