7th September 2011

I’ve had a really hectic period of work and haven’t had time to update my blog as much as I would like. As a result, the London Riots came and went without comment from me. However, this doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about the whys and wherefores. Especially as my old stomping ground (Clapham Junction) was one of the riot flashpoints. Anyway, seeing as most of the post riot analysis was halted when the news folks found more interesting things (Libya…double dip recession….New York hurricanes) to discuss, I’m going to give the old social analysis a bash here.

A few posts back (The Mystery of Motivation) I talked a bit about what gives people’s lives meaning. And I believe it is this quest for, or subsequent lack of meaning, that underpinned the riots. Many people were shocked and outraged that the rioters actions were politically unmotivated, that they seemed materialistic and senseless. The words ‘senseless thuggery’ were bandied about quite a bit. However, if you look at the values of our society, the rioter’s actions don’t appear senseless at all. In a society that values material objects, wealth and work that leads to wealth in order to buy said objects, is it any wonder that the rioters were after TVs and trainers?

When you ask people what gives their lives meaning, they’ll often respond with; my work, my family, my education, my friends and, although they might be woe to admit it, my stuff. In the absence of strong relationships, education, meaningful work or a clear sense of self, ‘objects’ become the markers of identity and belonging. Hence the question we should really be asking ourselves after the London riots is; Why do we value ‘stuff’ so much, and community and relationships so little?

I’ve spent the last year travelling. Consequently, all of my worldly possessions have been in storage, and other than a few practical things, I haven’t missed my stuff at all. In the face of magazines and TV telling us we need the latest gadget, the coolest shoes, the hottest handbag, perhaps it’s good to stop and ask ourselves whether our identities are so tied to things, that we would be willing to loot them if we thought we could get away with it?

I acknowledge that there’s nothing new here, people have been bemoaning the materialistic nature of our society for years. What the riots should be is a potent reminder of the possible consequences of society built around the successful or unsuccessful acquisition of wealth. As we point our fingers in outrage at the rioters and pack them off to prison (paid for by the tax payers incidentally, and costing more than education…), perhaps we should take a look at the glass houses we’ve been busy building since the second world war and consider encouraging young people to find something other than Pumas and Prison to build their lives around.