Me: “I’ve been reading in the newspaper about all the looting going on. It’s a disgrace!”
RWNJ: “Amen, brother. They need to put all those looters in jail!”
Me: “No, jail’s too good for them. We need to bring back the gallows and hang’em all! The nerve of those criminals, stealing people’s properties, destroying everything that people have worked for in their entire lives, taking every bit of money that people ever had!”
RWNJ: “Forget about hanging, that’s too easy for them! Let’s flog’em all, then hang them upside down from a cross until the crows peck their eyes out and they die!”
Me: “Yeah! That’ll teach those bankers!”
RWNJ: “Uhm… wha?”
All snark aside: There’s been a fair amount of discussion about the criminality of the current looting/rioting going on in Britain. But whenever you start talking about the causes of the looting, Brits go all Sgt. Shultz on you, “I hear nothing, I hear nothing, nothing!” and accuse you of making excuses for criminals.
Uhm, no. No more than I am making excuses for tornadoes when I describe why tornadoes happen. In both cases, if the conditions are correct, the tornado — or the rioting and looting — happens. That’s reality. You may whine about reality, you may wish for something different, but reality simply *is*.
And what is reality: Well, it has little to do with current austerity measures which are at best a spark laid into tinder that long predates it. The UK has long had a very stratified society, as you would expect of the only major European nation which still possesses an active royalty. The Thatcher administration pretty much fixed those stratifications in stone by destroying the labor unions and imposing strict classification schemes upon the schools, wherein children are filtered into different tracks early on in their school career based upon how middle class they are err excuse me “standardized tests” which just *coincidentally* measure things that only middle class kids would know. Combine this with the fact that the upper classes go to private (“public”) schools that provide a much different education from that provided by the government schools, and the end result is the UK has the worst social mobility of the 20 developed countries in the OECD. If you’re born poor in the UK, there’s over a 50% chance that you will die poor in the UK. And in certain neighborhoods it’s even worse than that. In heavily minority communities there is basically no hope, no future, nothing to lose. There is no respect for the law because there is no respect for them from the law — for example, over 300 people have died from police beatings over the past ten years without a single British police officer convicted of a crime, meaning that all they see of the law is that it beats them down and kills them. And when there is nothing to lose, when there is no respect for the law, all it takes is a spark, a single spark, and then all hell breaks loose.
At this point comes the tsk tsking, “no, it’s not so!” All I’ll point out is that these riots don’t occur in places like The Hamptons where people have a lot to lose if they riot. These riots occur in the roughest areas where there is nothing to lose. You don’t have to believe me. Use your own bloody eyes, for crying out loud. Do you see middle and upper class youths out on the streets looting and rioting? No? Exactly.
So what to do? For Britain to fix the issues that led to this rioting would require either a) a time machine to go back and un-elect Margaret Thatcher and her fixing of the class stratification in Britain into stone, or b) much hard work resolving those issues today, which would require Brits who are not of the lower classes to admit that class is a significant issue and that opportunity must be provided for all or the results will not be good. But in my experience talking with ordinary middle-class Brits about class, the typical reaction is “tosh, you know those lower classes simply lack the drive / intelligence / whatever to succeed.” Apparently the Netherlands, Norway, etc. have more intelligent lower classes? That’s all I can conclude based upon such comments.
Now, in the article above about OECD statistics regarding social mobility, look at who is 3rd from last on that list. Yeppers, the land of (little) opportunity, the United States, which isn’t much above Britain on the social mobility scale. Our elites have been doing their own bit of social stratification here in the USA, attempting to create an aristocracy of their own, and apparently feel that Americans are too timid, too cowardly, too… bought… for there to be unrest here like there is in Europe right now. But their current actions, such as the unwise application of the Austerity Fairy’s magic Wand of Proctology Job Creation that magically creates jobs out of application of said rough and jagged wand to anal regions of a most unwilling citizenry (or so the Austerians say, even though it has never happened), risk creating a large number of people who have no hope, no future, nothing to lose from rioting. And once that happens all it takes is a spark.
This post originally appeared at Badtux the Snarky Penguin.