Thursday, August 11, 2011

Riots and rumours

listening to the morning radio news, politicians making absurd statements, crowned by Clegg (deputy PM, Liberal of the kind the word 'wet' was invented for) saying that the priority was more police, trials and sentencing, and (ugly, new cliché) "in the weeks and months to come" we could "have the sociological debate".

The same day, reflection on the story about the Taliban assault on US troops at the weekend, with a US diplomat having to defend opening talks with the rebels

The people who might be able to help, humanities and social scholars who work on the idea of value, are excluded, because the doctrine in the UK is STEM (sci-tech-engineering-medecine) subjects in schools and universities, and focused funding in the research councils. Vast sums of money for arms development. No sums of money for political scientists, or cultural analysts. Spend your money and effort blasting the bejesus out of the looters, then send in a couple of counsellors . . . . and then deride them as do-gooders, and say they failed.

The UK has the highest proportion of population in prison in western europe. Doesn't seem to have made it a nicer spot (the extreme incarceration policy of the US has likewise proved an abject failure). Five minutes observing such "sociological debates" might save years of destruction (and, to put in terms the politicians might understand, expense).

But most of all you can blame the politicians (hurrah!). Why do angry young people not join the Labour Party? Because it doesn't stand for anything. It doesn't organise anger, it doesn't articulate their demands. It doesn't provide a poetical education. It is a visionless machine for getting into power. Why don't they engage in politics? Because the only value any politician talks about is money. There is NO political life in electoral politics after the third way: its all consensus (hence the marketing techniques, focus groups etc). As Mouffe says, if you don't have arguments, the repressed demands come back as violence. In this case expressed in the only terms understandable to kids who were 8 or 10 or 12 in 2008 when the depression began. The only values society has ever preached to them are consumerist. Their only economic function – in a society exclusively devoted to economics – is consumption.

There have been some intelligent observations, notably that blaming parents who were scarcely adolescent when they gave birth is not helpful. Ignorance is socially produced: and for those made ignorant by carefully restricted social policies the last knowledge is carnal. They don't own anything both in the sense of being poor, and in that the few things they do possess are so cheap and disposable it makes you weep.

So for their ignorance we will undoubtedly blame "the media" - this time round social media. But the mediation that links their lives with the rest of the world are far more obvious and material than that. Media specialists need to be far more specific than tabloid journalists. In this case,the media we can blame are environmental. Blame the urban planners and the architects, people who design Kwiksave stores like rat-runs. banks like Judge Dredd's bunker. And then blame the food industry for the deracinated chemical goo that substitutes for eating, the individuated packets that militate against the medium of shared meals. Look at the chemistry of the food targeted at the age-range at the heart of the matter. Then you might have a handle on why getting a rush is an embedded addiction among young people: they were weaned on sugar and caffeine. What shows on a screen is a great deal less persuasive than the environment you inhabit or the food you eat.

Then blame the schools. For decades the combination of plummeting wages and status of teachers, and universities profiting from the cursory, contentless degrees now served up in the schools of Ed they took over since the 1960s make teaching a really crap profession. Politicians taking over the curriculum is a crisis response that became dogma. Education has crashed in the inner cities. Kids can't wait to leave. The political parties have not provided any alternative education (mine cam through Socialist Worker; where are the greens in this?). The only place you get to learn how things work is in the gangs. They are the schools of the poor here as they have been in the states since the 1930s. And as Brecht already knew, there's little difference between the conduct of gangs and the conduct of political parties – except the latter have abandoned any attempt to be political, educational or socially relevant.

As Black Audio had it in Handsworth Songs, "There are no stories in the riots, only the ghosts of other stories'

I want to blame the consumerist capital and dead political culture, but blame is only the beginning of comprehension. The event sof the last few nights were not the same as 1981, as everyone says. Nor are they exclusively 'criminal', 'sick' and the other vile epithets of the politicians. There was real anger, which is political because it is not about the personal ethics and legal standing that the politicians want to finger: It is about the pubic spaces handed over to retail chains dangling their cheap goods in front of the poor. It is about refusing the grotesque policies that promote zero growth in the interests of paying off bankers. Of course this is not articulated: the means for articulating it have been meticulously denied to the angry poor. Those who might be able to articulate have been equally meticulously marginalised and ridiculed.

This is why this is NOT the time for action. Now is the time for talk.

On the positive side, great to see the youth out on the streets on bicycles