No Future, No Fear

“London calling to the faraway towns

Now that war is declared-and battle come down

London calling to the underworld

Come out of the cupboard, all you boys and girls”

You could do worse – for many reasons – than listen to the Clash’s back catalogue but it is remarkable just how pertinent many of the band’s songs, written for a very different time, are right now.  London does indeed appear to be calling.

The scenes of rioting and unrest in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol and other towns across England have been utterly shocking and terrifying.  The last time I can recall seeing such a level of violence and disregard for the rule of law and the safety of others was in the 1980s when Thatcher was Prime Minister.  It was a period of mass social dislocation which has distinct echoes in current times.  When young people are prepared to stand in front of national television and state “We do it because we can”, we should all be alarmed.

Not just because that statement carries portents of future unrest but also because of what it says about the state of our society and how young people have come to feel about their role in it.

What motivates young people to behave in such a way?  The reasons are multifarious and complex.  There is no doubt an element of copycat behaviour, of the mob gathering momentum, of opportunistic criminals taking advantage.  But to blame the young people who did this entirely for their own actions, as is currently going on, is to miss the point entirely.  We are all to blame for the scenes of destruction and depravity witnessed across England in recent days.

The response of politicians, once they could be bothered to return from their expensive foreign holidays, and the authorities, caught napping, is disappointing in the extreme.  The language is loaded, along with the guns, and only serves to reaffirm these young people’s sense of dislocation and distance from society.

Already the official narrative is being written to suit the adults – children out of control of their parents (when the vast majority of participants are clearly over 16, if not 18);  rioters predominantly black (not on my TV screen they weren’t);  a criminal underclass terrorising decent law-abiding communities (yet those communities now demonstrating commendable qualities of partnership and solidarity have generally crossed their own streets to avoid their young people); riots driven by greed and criminality not underlying highly political concerns (when every aspect of their young lives has so far been directed by political decision-making, whether their school is well-funded, the powers the police have, the lack of routes to work, training and education, the money they have in their pocket, the poverty in which many have been raised).

Such elements were present in the riots of yesteryear but we appear to have learned nothing in the intervening period.  We think we can treat young people with contempt, demand respect when it has not been earned, consign them to a lifetime of poverty, disregard their need for education and nurture, cut their services first and hardest and cast them on to the scrapheap of life in order to preserve our own cosy lifestyles.

We have left them with precious few choices and a whole heap of problems.  Who do we think will pay the price of our collective indebtedness and the measures being applied to fix it, measures which commentators estimate will take a generation to work fully?

Consequently, young people are rioting because they can, because it is all they can do.  Hope is an unfamiliar companion, the idea of generational justice is laughable and nihilism is the order of the day. They have no fear because they have no future.  We should all take a long hard look in the mirror in trying to understand how it has come to this, particularly if we want to avoid London coming calling to our town.

This post originally appeared on the Herald online where I also blog, along with several others.  Who are all fabulous and fabulously different.  Please do check them out!  And take a regular peek as more bloggers are arriving weekly.




11 thoughts on “No Future, No Fear

  1. Pingback: Is youth to blame for the problems in society? « Kidwarrior's Blog – My view of the big world

  2. Broadly agree with this.

    I think there is some important work to do at street level with some damaged communities.

    But a lot of the rioting was about Neds stealing free stuff!

  3. rioters predominantly black (not on my TV screen they weren’t)

    I heard one of my acquaintances also suggesting that immigration was somehow behind all of this. The one thing that I noticed from the pictures I saw, was that blacks, whites, asians were all quite happily looting together, side-by-side. Quite the picture of racial harmony!!

  4. Don’t know if my comment will post okay but I broadly agree with this.

    There are problems of alienation and conflict with the police. There are big problems with gang culture. A lot of the solutions must surely come with getting hands dirty with street level outreach work.

    Having said this much of the rioting was just neds getting free stuff!!

    Here is my take

  5. Pingback: United Kingdom of nulls and voids « Aaron Asphar: philosophy, critical theory, Western negativity + the body

  6. Hi Burd

    Just in case you come across a post by myself which has remarkable similarities to your own – kicking off with four lines from a Clash song, and about the riots – please note that although my piece was written a few hours after your own I hadn’t read yours before penning it.

    But there the similarities end, so just in case anyone thinks I’m having an indirect dig at you, it’s probably more a case of great minds thinking alike, albeit that our conclusions are perhaps a bit different. Oh, and I didn’t bother with a video either, because I thought a visual representation of ‘White Riot’ might scare the horses too much.

    I see that Ideas of Civilisation has also published a piece with a ‘London’s burning’ headline which concentrates on the same aspect of the debate as myself – albeit not nearly so rambling and long-winded – but I suspect it has nothing to do with the Clash’s track of the same name!

    But indeed there’s plenty more Clash material that could be used in this regard, so to that extent I suppose we’re both being a bit obvious ;0)

    Oh and perhaps you could suggest that the Herald has some sort of blog feed direct to its comments page so that updates to the various blogs can be seen without clicking through various pages only to discover that the blogger in question hasn’t posted anything new for a couple of weeks!!

    • No worries Stuart – I think it is a good thing if we think alike sometimes. Will look at your post later though and enjoy disagreeing with you on this!

      And yes we have all been a bit obvious re the Clash but it’s too good an opportunity not to plug good music!!

      Will pass your comments along to the Herald – I only write the stuff….

  7. Sorry but I agree with the original post. Happinessvirus says “There is no excuse for this in a democracy”, but this isn’t a democracy, it’s a plutocratic republic with democratic pretensions. Those that riot, whether they know it or not, do it to express their dissatisfaction with the status quo. Whether they are young enough to be beyond prosecution or not, those who do it feel that anything that can be done to them in retaliation doesn’t matter to them. They are punished already. To say “They they [sic] have put back their chances of education, jobs, homes, good communities, and a future back leap years”, is to look down from a fuzzy bourgeois cloud, and think they had a chance of any of these things in the first place. Walk around a housing estate. Talk to some people outside the Job Centre waiting for their Giro. Work with problem children, as my friend does, who feel that jail is an opportunity – to get off drugs, to get job training, to get square meals. People are imprisoned in their own communities, and you think they have something to work towards when jail is a solution for them? Sorry, you need to wake up and smell modern Britain.

  8. Brilliant post – I completely agree. When people have nothing to lose they can do crazy things. It is a sign of the times and it doesnt help by demonising these people and driving them further away. Hate breeds hate and love can turn it all around. Man. 😉

  9. Sadly, I disagree with your view that we have left them with no choice, Kate. People always have a choice; kids always have a choice – for every child rioting and looting there are five who have chosen not to. I totally accept that we must deal with the deep social issues, the cuts, the lack of support. What this demonstrates is what we are doing is not working; we need radical change & initiatives with long term funding. But that is not to excuse their conduct. There is no excuse for this in a democracy. They they have put back their chances of education, jobs, homes, good communities, and a future back leap years – as well as putting many out of jobs so other families are affected. Let’s accept there are issues, let’s not excuse such behaviour…

    • Don’t be “sadly” – disagreement is fine by me!
      I hope I don’t come across as excusing the behaviour – I don’t condone it at all and would agree that what we are doing is not working and that we need radical change. But I do think we need to try to understand why in order to make that change.

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