Tim Nicholas on the UK riots

My friend Tim Nicholas pointed out something about the situation with the UK riots I hadn’t really thought of, thinking in terms of the political context:

[E]ven though I might label a lot of the activity as nihilistic and selfish (I’m talking specifically about stuff like looting small businesses and burning down apartment buildings), it makes perfect sense to me why nihilism and selfishness would seem like the only proper or even possible response to being in that situation. If you’re an 18 year old minority kid living in the slums and you’ve got cops who are ready to murder you and you’re in the middle an “economic crisis” and you’re looking at massive cuts in education funding, 70% cuts to youth services, etc – what the fuck reason do you have to believe that there’s a worthwhile future possible for you?
What I see when I look at the riots, though, is a country whose government was just two weeks ago in the midst of a massive crisis of legitimacy – a staggeringly huge web of corruption connecting one of the country’s largest media companies, the heads of Scotland Yard, and the cabinet of the Prime Minister himself – and this all happening amidst a massive, and massively unpopular, austerity plan being implemented, essentially a massive wealth grab to add to an ever-widening wealth gap… and then on top of all that you have these murders at the hands of the cops, which prior to the rioting, seemed to galvanize an entire community in opposition to the police force. So I look at all that and I see basically the largest potential for radicalization in the UK in maybe over 40 years.
But now, after the rioting, I look and I see communities that are completely divided against themselves, and I see people actually cheering fucking cop cars as they pass by in the street. And that’s utterly depressing to me. I’m pretty sure that Cameron’s administration sees these riots as a gift – a distraction from the huge mess they’re in right now and a way to both gain support and to demonize, divide, and depoliticize all opposition.

4 thoughts on “Tim Nicholas on the UK riots”

  1. Similarly, the Watts riots of ’65 served as justification for a brutal police crackdown that radicalized neighborhoods, shattered the social structure, and sped the arrival of urban blight.

  2. I would say it’s one of those things where there’s not a simple “if A then B.” When I researched the history of anarchist regicide, for example, I found the long-term results to be mixed between resulting in greater and lesser freedom: sometimes the regicide resulted in heavy-handed repression and popular revolt, sometimes it just led to heavy-handed repression or even more popular support for conservative social values. I suppose that’s why, at least with regicide, I consider it less of a strategic question and more of an ethical one.

    1. The question becomes where the tipping point is? What are the mitigating factors? In the Watts riots, I think the fact that it was a minority group contained to a police-state ghetto in a country with a history of racism allowed the incident to be painted as ‘misbehaving children’ rather than ‘aggrieved adults’. This let on-the-fence people ignore and discount them without seeming to be unfair.

  3. I believe in this case the media has already labelled this incident as the work of “misbehaving children”.

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