Wednesday, 10 August 2011

No reflection on the majority of people

One line that's been annoying me throughout the riots. "This violence is no reflection on the law-abiding majority of people" or  "the people of Hakney are appalled by the violence they see on the streets". This is wrong-headed on several levels.

Exactly what information is this trying to convey?

Is the speaker saying that I personally am a good person? If so I want to know why. I know how good a person I am, and I'm not so needy as to be benefited by the police saying I'm a good boy.

Is the speaker saying my neighbours are good people? As a rule I'm a better judge of that, I know what they're like. Unless you've actually done a rigorous survey you dont actually know what the people of Hackney are appalled by. And anyway, saying that they're good isn't going to help me deal with a riot.

Is the speaker saying that my immediate neighbours are good and that the riot is caused by a sinister "criminal element" from outside my neighbourhood? If so she's just plain wrong as a matter of fact. These riots are not the result of criminal gangs infiltrating entirely peaceful and law-abiding areas. The people who burnt Liverpool and Manchester were from Liverpool and Manchester, the people who burnt Hackney were from Hackney. To say otherwise is not reassuring, it's just pain unhelpful. If it were really the case that these things were caused by outside groups then shutting down public transport and sealing off roads would protect you. This would not work in fact however.

Who is the speaker trying to impress by saying this?

If it's me, by telling me I'm a good boy, then great, thankyou but I'm not 5, go away and come back when you have a strategy to stop looting.

If it's outside observers, I'm sorry, they're not stupid. You standing up and saying "this is no reflection on the good people of Manchester" is not going to fool people into thinking that Mancunians are not responsible for this.

If you're trying to impress me by the sophistication you show in blaming this on a small number of people rather than Scousers just being inherently like this, well done, you're not overtly prejudiced ... what, you want a fucking medal? Where's the strategy on stopping looting?

What, if anything, does the statement contribute to stopping the riot?

Here's a good reason to say it: People dont like to be in minorities, they like to conform, if you say that the majority of people in Birmingham are not violent then people will feel bad and stop being violent. ... Except of course that's bollocks. Looters *are* in a majority, the majority of their mates are doing it. The majority of the people they see every day are doing it, the majority of the people they're talking to are doing it. To try and convince them that the group they should care about is "all Mancunians" or "all Londoners" is just going to fail. They have a group, they're conforming to its norms.

Actually, wider point. Many will try to get people to think the group they should care about is this wide, City or borough level thing, under the name of "making them part of the community". This is bullshit. There is not now nor has there ever been any such thing as "the community" these people talk about. There is no sensible meaningful cultural unit that's the size of a city or district, it's just too big. You cant and dont feel connected to people the other side of a city, they're too remote. You can feel connected to all the flute players in that city, all the people on your road or in your housing block, you can feel connected to all the people in your class at school or in your office. You cant and you dont feel a tie that means anything to something that large. Even large football teams push it.

Communities are a false invented notion. Community leaders even more so. You want someone in charge of an area the size of Hackney? We have local councils and assemblies for that. To say that the head of the local youth organisation or some other self-appointed busy-body is a leader is to lead yourself into a trap. The trap is false accountability and false agreement. This was very clear in the student protests. The police were angry that the students had violated an agreement to march a specific way. The problem was the students had made no such agreement and most were not aware of any such assumption by the police. Why this colossal miscommunication? The police talked to Aaron fucking Porter and assumed from an agreement with him they had an agreement with every member of the community he represents. This is not true, never was, never will be. To get the "leaders of the local communities" together and agree there will be no rioting will do one half of fuck all. To talk to them at all is a colossal and total waste of time, and politicians should stop all together talking to "leaders of local communities" and do their job, which is actually leading those communities using the consent you got at the ballot box.

1 comment:

  1. The statement isn't about the riots per se. It's about the speaker affiliating with a set of beliefs, and allowing the viewer to affiliate with them. The set in question is something like:

    "The majority of the populace do not riot/disapprove of rioting"
    "The rioters are no longer in the in-group"

    Getting general acquiescence to these propositons (for example by offering them as "we all agree that..." during a crisis) has the peripheral benefit of building a political group around them. That has utility when you want to deflect criticism later.

    In the same vein, we have the somewhat summary justice, the benefits petition, and the government publically stating that water cannon and baton rounds are available whilst senior officers say they don't want them.


Feedback always welcome.