Tasmanian Times

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche


There is a context to London’s riots that can’t be ignored


Graphic pictures from the Daily Mail, Mail online: HERE

Those condemning the events in north London and elsewhere would do well to take a step back and consider the bigger picture

Since the coalition came to power just over a year ago, the country has seen multiple student protests, occupations of dozens of universities, several strikes, a half-a-million-strong trade union march and now unrest on the streets of the capital (preceded by clashes with Bristol police in Stokes Croft earlier in the year). Each of these events was sparked by a different cause, yet all take place against a backdrop of brutal cuts and enforced austerity measures. The government knows very well that it is taking a gamble, and that its policies run the risk of sparking mass unrest on a scale we haven’t seen since the early 1980s. With people taking to the streets of Tottenham, Edmonton, Brixton and elsewhere over the past few nights, we could be about to see the government enter a sustained and serious losing streak.

The policies of the past year may have clarified the division between the entitled and the dispossessed in extreme terms, but the context for social unrest cuts much deeper. The fatal shooting of Mark Duggan last Thursday, where it appears, contrary to initial accounts, that only police bullets were fired, is another tragic event in a longer history of the Metropolitan police’s treatment of ordinary Londoners, especially those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, and the singling out of specific areas and individuals for monitoring, stop and search and daily harassment.

One journalist wrote that he was surprised how many people in Tottenham knew of and were critical of the IPCC, but there should be nothing surprising about this. When you look at the figures for deaths in police custody (at least 333 since 1998 and not a single conviction of any police officer for any of them), then the IPCC and the courts are seen by many, quite reasonably, to be protecting the police rather than the people.

Combine understandable suspicion of and resentment towards the police based on experience and memory with high poverty and large unemployment and the reasons why people are taking to the streets become clear. (Haringey, the borough that includes Tottenham, has the fourth highest level of child poverty in London and an unemployment rate of 8.8%, double the national average, with one vacancy for every 54 seeking work in the borough.)

Those condemning the events of the past couple of nights in north London and elsewhere would do well to take a step back and consider the bigger picture: a country in which the richest 10% are now 100 times better off than the poorest, where consumerism predicated on personal debt has been pushed for years as the solution to a faltering economy, and where, according to the OECD, social mobility is worse than any other developed country.

As Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett point out in The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone, phenomena usually described as “social problems” (crime, ill-health, imprisonment rates, mental illness) are far more common in unequal societies than ones with better economic distribution and less gap between the richest and the poorest. Decades of individualism, competition and state-encouraged selfishness – combined with a systematic crushing of unions and the ever-increasing criminalisation of dissent – have made Britain one of the most unequal countries in the developed world.

Images of burning buildings, cars aflame and stripped-out shops may provide spectacular fodder for a restless media, ever hungry for new stories and fresh groups to demonise, but we will understand nothing of these events if we ignore the history and the context in which they occur.

The Guardian, HERE

Al-Jazeera: Why is London burning?

Author Credits: [show_post_categories parent="no" parentcategory="writers" show = "category" hyperlink="yes"]


  1. mike seabrook

    August 10, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    remember this soulful song in 1974

    Ralph McTell, Streets of London Lyrics
    Looking for Ralph McTell tabs and chords? Browse alphabet (above).

    Artist: McTell Ralph
    Song: Streets of London
    Album: Streets of London
    Ralph McTell Sheet Music
    Ralph McTell CDs

    Download RingtoneSend “Streets of London” Ringtone to Cell PhoneDownload Ringtone

    Have you seen the old man
    In the closed-down market
    Kicking up the paper,
    with his worn out shoes?
    In his eyes you see no pride
    And held loosely at his side
    Yesterday’s paper telling yesterday’s news

    So how can you tell me you’re lonely,
    And say for you that the sun don’t shine?
    Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London
    I’ll show you something to make you change your mind

    Have you seen the old girl
    Who walks the streets of London
    Dirt in her hair and her clothes in rags?
    She’s no time for talking,
    She just keeps right on walking
    Carrying her home in two carrier bags.


    In the all night cafe
    At a quarter past eleven,
    Same old man is sitting there on his own
    Looking at the world
    Over the rim of his tea-cup,
    Each tea last an hour
    Then he wanders home alone


    And have you seen the old man
    Outside the seaman’s mission
    Memory fading with
    The medal ribbons that he wears.
    In our winter city,
    The rain cries a little pity
    For one more forgotten hero
    And a world that doesn’t care


    [ More McTell Ralph Lyrics ]

    Download RingtoneSend “Streets of London” Ringtone to Cell PhoneDownload Ringtone

  2. kim carsons

    August 10, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    Peter Smith comments reduce the problems down to the familial structures, while rejecting the systemic socio-structures that enforces these codes. It’s the dominating oedipal forces at work again!
    INteresting he points to a toxic mixture of parents and consumer culture, but entirely fails to include how this culture is filtered down thru to lowest rungs of society, and how this very structure creates the flows of production/consummation and enforces the enequities of capital. In Herve Kempf’s book how the rich are destroying the earth he looks at the economist Thorstein Veblen, who says the rich are destroying the earth, not principally thru inequality, but by the fact that they and their vast material wealth becomes symbols for how one should “be” in society. This symbol is driven in to the familial home thru adverising, it is viral, it bounces around the shopping isles, it shapes itself in the school yard, the workplace, the dancehalls, the streets we walk down. It is this symbolic status, that drives the vast swathes of production and consumption – If one cannot “be” like those movie stars one can try to wear what they wear, or at least some pale imitation of it.
    Someone like Paris Hilton comes to mind, a person who sole objective is to shop and be seen, to turn herself into the absolute product. And she is a massive symbol of this culture of pure appearance, who is nothing but a vessel to encourage young girls to enter into the flow of production/consumption.

    To divide the debate along parental/societal lines is a false division. We must resist this oedipal structures, as this mindset actually perpetuates the underclass on the plane of how one “is” in the world.
    This is not to deny the fundamental importance of the family, but lay them blame here squarely is clearly absurd.
    Just look at the situation with Fred Nile holding court on ethics classes in schools. As those secular humanists are responsible for the evils of the world! And the politiians capitulating to this nascent form of control. If you, Peter, want to see the rise of a new adjusted class of peoples, then education MUST, come from a Socialized from of education that does not perpetuate class lines of thinking, as the current tiered system of education currently enforces. And if this is to occour, then the austerity measures must be reversed – Taxing the wealthy – not so poor kids can buy the lastest clothing, but to educate them that there are higher goals one can have in life. To do that the elites, will have to give up some of their own paternal powers and hand out some empancipatory education, courtesy of the state.
    I can’t see it happening anytime soon

  3. Tim Thorne

    August 10, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    You’re right, Peter (#20), the poor have always been screwed by the rich and there has always been some police brutality, but these haven’t always resulted in arson and looting. This is about something else.

    If the attitude of the looters is to be summed up glibly, then the closest cliché would be “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.” If it’s good enough for bankers, politicians and cops to flout the law, it’s good enough for teenagers and their parents. Multiple wrongs, of course, don’t make a right, but they can engender even more wrongs.

    Interestingly, many of those engaged in criminal activity have not bothered to hide their identity. Could it be that they think prison no worse than their present circumstances?

    If it’s a solution you’re looking for, I can only repeat what I wrote in comment #13.

  4. Peter Smith

    August 10, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    Let’s get real, these looters are not the lumpenproletariat. This article (and photographs) about the first looters to be charged reveal and interesting cross section of society: A primary school worker, postman, a young dad, a boy aged 11…


    Let’s not pretend that this is about the poor being screwed by the rich or police brutality.

  5. joblow

    August 10, 2011 at 2:07 am

    Sydney and Melbourne are ripe for exactly the same thing. There’s also scope in Tasmania – so many poor people being squeezed dry. Eventually you just want to hit back however you can.

  6. Steve

    August 10, 2011 at 1:54 am

    #15; Simple, but so very true!

  7. John Alford

    August 10, 2011 at 12:05 am

    #12 As a child in the 1960s, I recall the promise that automation of the workplace would lead to greater leisure time for the masses with the wealth to enjoy this leisure. The automation has happened, but the resulting wealth has largely been transferred upwards with the rest of us working harder and harder to maintain a reasonable standard of living. For some, there is no sharing in this wealth at all and no prospect of ever sharing in it.

  8. Mike Adams

    August 9, 2011 at 11:55 pm

    Simplistically, it has dawned on many youngsters, that if you steal on your own, or with one or two companions, the chances of being arrested are high. If, however, you steal in a group of hundreds your chances of arrest, especially if wearing facial disguise, are minimal.
    As for excuses, there are many, as listed in the comments above.

  9. Trevor K

    August 9, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    Just by the way there were violent riots in the 1930’s Depression in Australian cities.

    Out of work returned soldiers from WW1 discovered that the appellation hero is merely something the politicians roll out whenever it’s convenient or useful – for them.

    So why would we think we’re immune? Ignore history at your peril …

    Disregarded, deprived and denigrated people can get angry and violent. It just takes a spark.

  10. Tim Thorne

    August 9, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    A very obvious and observable fact is that there is a large body of people, mostly young, who do not see themselves as part of any community. There is also a somewhat smaller group of people, mostly middle-aged and older, who do not see themselves as part of a community either.

    The first group might not be, by global standards, very poor, but the second group is excessively rich.

    The issue is how do we create a world in which both these groups (and everybody else) can see themselves as part of a community, working co-operatively towards the betterment of the planet and all its inhabitants.

    If we don’t create such a world, we are doomed, because the present economic, political and social structures are failing, and the natural environment is no good at compromises.

  11. Kim Peart

    August 9, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    Much global wealth is now generated by automation, driving workers out of the work force and reducing the flow of funds into society that were once gained through employment. Those who can ride high, do so and feel no inclination to ensure that all citizens share in the bounty of society.

    This increasing level of inequity between those in control of the wealth and those who must be controlled, is driving an alarming level of dishonesty on the one hand and a caldron of resentment on the other that can unleash in an instant, like the spring from a giant clock wound too tight.

    People with any pride will keep the lid on simmering humiliated for only so long, as the Tunisian and Egyptian governments discovered.

    Behind the mechanical march of automation is a darker reality that is slowing rising like walls of night around our society, with a ballooning bubble economy growing ever larger by the use of fossil fuel. This is a bubble that will burst, if no alternative way forward is found and when it does, the riots of London will be as nothing by comparison.

    Anyone with the courage to gaze into the evidence can find that humanity was in a position to make the transition from a house-of-cards carbon economy in the 1970s, by building solar power stations in space to access the unlimited energy-well of our star.

    Instead, we chose wars on Earth and burning ever more carbon fuel. Now we face the price of increasingly unsustainable demands on a finite planet, where our world is getting smaller and we have no place to hide.

    We can stagger on like a latter day Roman Empire, swaying about with its immense weight on legs to weak to hold it, until the riots spread too far too fast and the whole house comes crashing down. Or, we could find the courage to consider what our world would be like if we did decide to invest in space at a serious level.

    If we fail to act, the next giant mountain from space will seal our fate; but if we act, the positive environment generated by expansion beyond Earth will create hope, employment and opportunity, where now we watch riots and wonder when desperation may strike our local street.

    To generate the level of hope needed on Earth at present and to get ahead of our many problems, will require a really big dream and building a confident survival presence beyond Earth may be the only way to avoid a total catastrophe for human society on this planet.

    Kim Peart

  12. Steve

    August 9, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    The simple reason as to why they are doing it is because they can. More looters than police equals a free for all.
    I heard someone on the 7.30 report last night listing all this recent political stuff as a cause. I doubt most of these kids know who the prime minister is or what party’s in power or even what a political party is. Not because they’re stupid, it’s just not relevant to their life.
    It’s interesting that in other parts of the world they riot and steal food. In Britain they steal TV screens and co-ordinate via Blackberries.
    What’s surprised me more about these riots is how flat footed the authorities seem to have been caught. I would have thought they would have had an emergency plan prepared for this type of event.

  13. Peter Smith

    August 9, 2011 at 11:33 am

    While riots are yet to hit Australia, we can learn from them. The easy solution is to blame conservative governments and the rich.
    However, there need to be some hard questions and uncomfortable truths for parents and families and politicians.

    The cause of the looting and destruction is a toxic mixture of dysfunctional parenting and a consumer and celebrity culture which tells youngsters they should have whatever they want.

    Too many children have never had any boundaries in their home lives – where there has never been a sense of right and wrong.
    It’s desperately important that children have a sense of right and wrong.

    While the `right’ can be criticised for allowing inequity, the ‘left’ too much shoulder some the blame. The creation of a culture of dependency, the attack on traditional social structures and a consequence free upbringing where blame is shifted elsewhere and individual responsibility is absolved, needs to be considered too if we are to seriously examine this social catastrophe.

  14. Tim Thorne

    August 9, 2011 at 3:25 am

    A number of questions need answering. Why is this happening? Why are the British authorities unable adequately to protect people and property? If Cameron is correct, and this is just “criminality, pure and simple”, then why has it erupted now, and on such a scale?

    Last time I checked, too, Peter (#6), Britain was a representative democracy (although the government was certainly not, as you claimed, “elected by all its people”, not even by half of them.) This behaviour, then, is something that happens in a representative democracy. Syria, as you point out, has a repressive, authoritarian government, so it is easier to see why people are disaffected. One just has to look harder in the British case.

    There have been no riots in the streets of Sydney or Melbourne. Is our system of government so different from that of the UK? Of course not. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, is just as repressive as Syria, but their streets are peaceful.

    Glib phrases such as “mob rule” do not help, hence my response to comment #1. What, in my opinion, would help, is a massive shift in government priorities and in the structure of the economy. There’s very little chance of that happening, so we can expect more of the same, and as Simon (#8) suggests, it is likely that eventually it “will happen here” and throughout the Western world.

  15. Simon Warriner

    August 9, 2011 at 1:54 am

    We foresaw this coming in 94 and elected to move well away from it. Its why I live well out of the way, am well stocked up, and am doing what I can to engender some semblance of intelligence in our elected leadership. Sadly foresight seems to have eluded our present leadership. This will happen here, it is just a matter of time. Hopefully it will be late on the curve, and saner heads will prevail, but hope is not what wins bets. And sadly, the more our governments try to do to prevent it happening, the more they ignore the real causes and make it more likely. A problem is never solved by the same minds that created it.

  16. salamander

    August 9, 2011 at 12:14 am

    of course there is no justification for mob rule: but it is a good idea to work out why it has happened. How else can it be prevented from happening again?

  17. Peter Smith

    August 8, 2011 at 11:41 pm

    Tim, the lesson in etymology is irrelevant. Besides, Greek democracy excluded the majority: slaves, women and barbarians. The last time I checked, Britain was a democracy whose government was elected by all its people.

    The people of Syria are resisting political oppression. The kids of London, who trash warehouses in search of PlayStations have nothing in common with the people of Syria. But maybe with the barbarians.

    Perhaps you might put your argument to the people of London; the victims of this mindless violence. The voice Tottenham Labour MP David Lammy might enlighten:

  18. John Alford

    August 8, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    Growing social inequality has been a part of western society for over 30 years now. Britain, as Adam Curtis observed in his excellent BBC series, The Trap, had levels of social inequality in the middle of this decade unrivalled since the nineteenth century. Women born in poorer suburbs in Britain can expect to live on average up to 16 years less than women born in wealthier suburbs.

    Deliberate political and economic policies over these years have created this situation. Poor youth, without hope or the prospect of employment and sometimes victimised by the police don’t need much of a spark for them to take out there frustration and hatred of a system which has offered them nothing but despair. This is not a justification for what has happened, simply a partial explanation.

    We ignore social inequality out our peril. As Tim Jackson demonstrates in his book, Prosperity Without Growth, social inequality affects the health and wellbeing of everyone, both rich and poor. Their are lessons for us in this here in Australia; we choose to ignore the vast inequalities in wealth that have been steadily growing here for years. Our so-called ‘two speed economy’ may be creating the conditions for our own episodes of social discontent.

  19. Tim Thorne

    August 8, 2011 at 7:42 pm

    Peter (#1), Democracy, from the Greek, ‘demos’ = ‘the mob’. Perhaps we should be ruled instead by the bosses, the politicians, the police, the army, the church?

    What do you propose for Syria? What do you propose for the prevention of such scenes anywhere in the world?

    We could, of course, just sit back in front of our TV screens and say ‘tut-tut’.

  20. Tim Thorne

    August 8, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    What is it with London bobbies? Years ago Lindford Christie was arrested while on a training run and charged with theft because he was wearing expensive runners – way beyond what the cops thought a black man could afford.

    Then there was Jean-Charles Menezes, the Brazilian electrician who made the fatal mistake of being late for his train, shot 16 times at ultra-close range while being held down. And the innocent passer-by who was killed on the off chance that he might have been a protester.

    I don’t know anything about Mark Duggan, but I do know that you’re innocent until proved guilty, and that, even if you are guilty, there’s no death penalty.

  21. Westy

    August 8, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    The same message as the message from Paul Tapp’s superb retrospective:


    … you ignore history at your peril. you ignore social exclusion at your peril …

  22. Peter Smith

    August 8, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    Any attempt to justify mob rule is an incitement. There is no excuse. These kids are on a high.

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