This article “Potent mix of cuts, unemployment could fuel more UK riots” caught my attention yesterday and sparked a few thoughts.
First, I noticed some parallels between the riots in London and the so-called Arab Spring. (Now before everyone jumps down my throat and tries to explain to me exactly how the events are totally not the same, I would like to re-emphasize that I am only pointing out parallels, similarities. I am not trying to say that the two situations are the same, only that we could learn quite a bit by comparing the two.) Especially if you look at things from the rioters’ points of view.
To start with, these were both riots of youth sparked by the death of one person in conflict with the police. Some would argue that in Tunisia the rebellion was much more focused, while in England the police are saying that the rioters used the death as an excuse to perpetrate violence and crime. But let’s be fair; let’s take a look at some terminology. When you agree with a group of people’s cause, even if they resort to violence, you call them protesters. If you don’t agree with a group of people’s cause, and they resort to violence, you call them rioters. I highly doubt the Tunisian government referred to the people as protesters, as Western media did, but rather called them criminals and rioters. The same goes for Gadaffi. But, because the police and ministers in England speak with such charming, trust-building accents people in the States can’t help but believe them. If an important minister labels them criminals, then criminals they must be.
In addition, high unemployment and lack of hope for opportunity underscore unrest in both situations. In America we live under the illusion that if we work hard, try our best, and follow our dreams that we will rise above the boring day to day lives we usually live, that we will become rich and famous, that we will have “made it,” so to speak, and that we will never have another worry all the days of our lives. We see plenty of sports stars doing it, an occasional actor or actress, a few politicians, and we assume that if we only follow the right path or take the right steps or hit every right opportunity, that we too can join the ranks of the rich, famous, successful, and supposedly carefree. The few who do make it up there, however, are the exception not the rule, and only serve to further perpetuate the myth.
It is a lot easier to believe this myth in a democracy. It is a lot easier to believe this myth in a prosperous capitalist society. In a dictatorship it is a lot easier to see that it is a lie. To the youth partaking in the Arab Spring it was obvious that they could never “make it” in the society that existed. The obvious conclusion was to destroy that society and build something new.
Perhaps the youth and unemployed in Tottenham are also beginning to see the reality of how few opportunities they have. With no job to distract them and take up all their time, perhaps they have had the opportunity to take a look at the world around them. They are living a cruel irony. Can someone who has been neglected by society ever be called a criminal? Society has not given them anything, so how can they owe society anything, even obedience, in return? Society has failed them, so they in turn fail society. Is that a crime? Does the concept of crime apply to those outside of society? Can a person with no exterior identity commit a crime? (You can ponder these questions for a minute, but I still have a few points to make so I must move on).
Doing without changes people. Suddenly actions which may once have been inconceivable, such as looting and setting things on fire, lose their consequences. Suddenly, they are possibilities, and not long after that they are realities. Perhaps the youth in London did just need an excuse to act out, but I think that they are probably united more than they even know. Once they start getting out and actually talking to each other, face-to-face and one-on-one, that’s when things will start to get downright dangerous. Ideas that were once only on the edges of their minds, barely able to glimpse, are out in the open, being debate and discussed, earning respect and credibility.
What matters the most in these situations, however, are the factors which bring about such unrest: high unemployment and lack of jobs; lack of education; lack of community; cuts to services. But wait. Aren’t all of these things called for in the debt compromise? They want to cut government spending, which will reduce jobs. They want to cut unemployment benefits, which will only make life unemployed more difficult. They want to reduce federal funding for education, which will only leave poor youth even more disadvantaged. They want to cut services like Medicare and Medicaid, although I don’t see this as being too much of a practical problem for the future. Afterall, those who need the services are probably too weak and sick to take part in any sort of protest, riot, or revolution. They want to reduce services, like taking care of parks. They will have to reduce protective services like the police, firefighters, and EMS. All of these cuts lead to even greater social problems.
But you know what? I say go ahead. I dare you! Cut all those things and watch what happens. If you take out all the things that underpin this society, all those things that reinforce the false dream of working hard and succeeding, it will be like kicking out the foundation of a house. Go ahead, and watch society crumble all around you. Go ahead, because those at the top have the farthest to fall.