It's been strange watching the riots in the UK from afar. Violence in the streets just seems so un-British but obviously that is more an indicator that I have been away from home for such a long time. My impressions of Britain are stuck in 1998.
I've been following the coverage on the news closely but the most interesting thing has been the variety of opinion from friends on Facebook and Twitter. I've seen the whole spectrum from condemnation to empathy to outright encouragement. This has puzzled me as everybody seems to have taken just one viewpoint, human beings are supposed to be more complex than that.
Firstly, the rioters are mostly wrong. I say "mostly" because there is no doubt that these kids have a rightful grievance. They have been forgotten about and abandoned to the whims of poverty and the establishment that is supposed to set an example has fallen apart completely.
One hand of the establishment tells the kids that being violent is wrong and the other hand bombs entire villages off the face of the planet.
One hand tells the kids there is no money for education, no money for community projects. no money for decent housing whilst the other hand uses massive amounts of public money to bail out private industry.
Add to this the anti-democratic corporate collusion that has been exposed by wikileaks and then the phone-hacking scandal and the idea of functioning government for anyone other than the rich is completely compromised.
Also add to this pyre the religious organisations that hide pedophiles, a "free" press that supports illegal wars and austerity plans imposed on people by unelected bureaucrats and the pillars of society look like they are all conspiring against you.
Except when they want to sell you something.
A lot has been made of these kids breaking into stores and stealing clothing and electronics, etc etc. These kids are bombarded with the temptations of consumer addiction all day long, what did you think they would do?
Advertising is everywhere. It's not just two commercial channels on TV like it was when I was growing up, now it is in video games, music, movies, magazines, radio, the clothes they wear. Even previously public funded projects are "Brought to you by Barclays Bank" or "Funded by the McDonald's Corporation".
I personally find it overwhelming, I can only imagine what it is like for someone who has never known anything else. Buy buy buy. You have to keep up with the kid next door. The economy depends on you. Oh by the way, it doesn't matter if you can't afford it we'll keep trying to sell it to you anyway....
The song "Talkin about a Revolution" by Tracy Chapman came on my ipod when I was on my way into work today. There is a line in the song that goes "Poor people gonna rise up and take what's theirs. Poor people gonna rise up and get their share". I'm sure Tracy didn't intend it this way but my first thought was that poor people are gonna rise up and take what they are told should be theirs. Maybe some new trainers or a nice new flat-screen TV or an Xbox. Revolution is probably just the name of a deodorant now.
But anyway, I am getting off topic here. Kind of.
These kids need direction from somewhere. A few pool tables in a community center certainly won't do that by itself but perhaps just the very idea that they can be fully functioning members of society should be fostered and promoted. Instead of politicians harping on about the evil "hoodies" they should be talking about "untapped potential". Just a very simple change of message can sometimes make the world of difference.
And as for the kids themselves, burning down homes and stores only drives people further into poverty. People need places to live and jobs to go to. The establishment will crack down harder and this will lead to more abuse.
The kids are all wrong. Just because you are angry doesn't mean you are right.