Violence We Can See

Flaming cars, smashed windows, as well as towering infernos have filled our living rooms as we watch the chaos of UK neighborhoods aflame during this late summer of discontent. It’s not as if this wasn’t all predicted, stodgy reports and even well written essays warned us that unparalleled social inequity was not stable, but until this week much of that remained in the realm of conjecture and hand wringing.

I confess to an ambiguity in my soul over this mayhem. I know that the targets are haphazard and small tragedies occur in the births of such things. Few have clearly articulated political philosophies who are involved in such matters, but that is the way of rage. It never speaks in words, it just screams.

We have very little shock over the violence necessary to maintain Western Business as Usual. It’s formulated by trade agreements and lorded over by those wearing suits. No fire is generally involved, so on the surface it looks clean. But make no mistake, there is violence in it all. A company that produces gadgets for Apple in China doesn’t need to put up nets to catch suicidal workers if a form of violence is not there.

All this passes while the drones continue to smash into threats, real and perceived. Our only footage (if any is available) is that of a video game. It’s not real, at least not as real as a Sony distribution center’s flames. Our newspapers actually get chastised and harassed if they show the reality of outsourced violence. I suppose that is why these images shock us so. It’s happening to people “like us” and it doesn’t look like any video game on the market! To think that we are generally shuddering over property damage-imagine if we had the body count that the far flung “unimportant” regions see.

How are we to process this raw expression from those age groups that have been written off and consigned to the worst of the leftovers? They weren’t supposed to get angry about that.

I don’t profess to know the motivations for each and every person taking part in the riots. When I see that copies of encouragement and advice are being handed out to participants, it makes this look a little deeper than just a smash and grab, not to say that isn’t a large part of it. But it will be pretty difficult to clearly figure it out when the media continues its usual full on assault against clarity as well as cause.

A particularly heinous example of this journalistic race from truth was exhibited in an interview between a BBC reporter and West Indian writer/broadcaster Darcus Howe. He attempted to discuss the tinder keg that existed for the poor of the country. In his words, he wasn’t condoning riots, but trying to discuss the very real issue that something was “seriously wrong in this country.”The dignified elder began to discuss the problems inherent to these neighborhoods and was promptly cut off as he obviously strayed from the allowed talking points. In high irony, the man indicated that the voices weren’t being listened to just as the BBC reporter cut him off. This is when I realized that if you don’t allow the voices to be heard, then you will hear the sizzle of fire and the breaking of glass, ultimately. It’s as simple as that. That interview was incredibly telling. Mr. Howe was shut down and chastised to the point that he said “have some respect for an old West Indian negro”. It was obvious that there will be an attempt to snuff out the riots not by looking to causes in an attempt to make this never happen again, but to simply turn it all into a good versus evil, scorched earth policy in the same manner as “The War on Terror”.

The footage of this interview is making the rounds on the internet; I encourage a search and a viewing of it.

The loudest howl from the media is… but, but—they are looting. Yes. They are looting.

I don’t know the fullness of the UK’s response to terror attacks, such as what they experienced on 7/7/7, but here in the US we were told to shop our way out of 9/11. Is it any wonder that consumer goods would assume a ridiculous significance in societies which worship them? Yeah, the kids are smashing and stealing things. Taking the things that they have been told over and over matter. It’s the sign that you are a worthy person-you have stuff. These are items they won’t be getting in any other way, and they’ve been indoctrinated that plastic crap matters. It is a skewed set of values born of a consumer culture. It’s as if Victor Frankenstein is now dismayed at the table manners of his creation.

We Americans can watch over all of this with interest, as we should. Our versions of the same are undoubtedly coming, and will have the added mayhem of firearms. All this in a land with perhaps even more class hatred and fewer safety nets. But lots of Blackberries. You do the math.

This is what occurs when you don’t care about large swaths of the society for many, many years. It’s not an intellectual exercise any longer to consider what class polarization will create. Here it is.

Amazing that the trickle down wealth isn’t enough to put out the fires.

Kathleen Wallace Peine welcomes reader response. She can be reached at: Read other articles by Kathleen.