UK riots: The looter lacks technical and political expertise

There’s a danger that focusing on certain sections of society as feral from another possibly more holistic explanation – that the sickness permeates our political system too.

When Sky viewers were polled as to whether greed or protest was the reason for the riots 83% said greed. Politicians and bankers didn’t join in the riots, but the very same accusation – that they’re inspired by greed – has been leveled at them in recent years.

Responsibility has been a constant theme in the analysis and response to this lasts weeks events: “rioters should be made to pay ” etc. Parallels can be drawn here too. Commentators and ordinary folk alike have been criticising bankers for skirting their responsibility for the financial crisis in paying out bonuses despite their failures. Their failures meant that the burden was passed onto the tax payer, the debt to the next generation.

So what’s the difference? Answer: The looter lacks the technical and political expertise to take advantage of our political and banking systems; he’s unable to translate his selfishness and greed into legal terms. There’s been a lot of talk about poverty as the cause of the riots but there’s a different type of disenfranchisement at play here, a type of political and technical one.

There’s no hard and fast answer to what occurred even though most (as per Martin Kettle) are quick to jump to these, levelling accusations at the franchised (politicians and bankers) as much as the looter then is not to join in with searching for a silver bullet. Technocratic designation of certain segments of our society in the aftermath of the riots is a requisite but politicians like Hazal Blears, who called for retribution in Parliament yesterday, should be last to go about this job considering her own frivolous expenses claims on three separate properties.

There’s another negative interpretation of events that has sprung up in various quarters – the riots are being recognised as a youth issue despite the fact that only 20% of those that have appeared in magistrate court were between the ages of 11 – 17. Case studies often prove that gang culture often has a hierarchy with the “youngens” at the bottom of it. Not to stretch Charles Tilly’s analogy between government and organised crime too far but it’s high time that we start asking firmer questions about role models for youth before we can legitimately ask questions of the youth themselves. The sharp criminality represented by the image of a looter smashing a shop window is but a different expression of the looting in the “higher echelons” of society. We can’t and shouldn’t divorce these issues.

The view touted about underclasses seeks to divorce the loots / rioters from the political establishment; its in someway a re-assertion of authority by blame. The person on the street clashing with police and looting a store is using the same political terminology as the political classes. Terms such as “cuts”, “poverty”, “banking crisis”, have all put forward as reasons by those that have taken to the streets. These terms are burrowed from both the government and the opposition. Seeing this connection between the two elements also saves us from a strictly positivist view of power and opens the possibility that the troubles has some connotations of political protest.

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