Monday, 15 August 2011

Understanding the British riots and the decay they symbolise

Ross Douthat, a commentator I have had links to for some time but have not seriously read until now, has recently provided a devastating critique of the welfare state culture that has swamped almost all of the Enriched World over the past ninety-five years.

He argues quite strangely but not unrealistically that even those who see the riots as a logical response to government austerity programmes à la Green Left Weekly or Socialist Worker: they are not defending government programmes, but are arguing instead by rioting that they fear that the specialty goods they seem desire greatly to symbolise their individualism may not be available if the government cuts welfare spending.

The quote:
“A street of shuttered shops, locked playgrounds and closed clinics, a street patrolled by citizens armed with knives and bats, is not a place to build a life”
tells exactly the same story as Richard Nisbett does about culture of honour in the inner city. As I have emphasised before, an industrial Britain has the key pre-requisites for a culture of honour if government is absent:
  1. glaciation of most of Britain has deprived it of the essential mineral resources
    • fossil laterites in glaciated areas suggest strongly that before the ice sheets came northern Europe had essential industrial minerals but soils akin to the infertile soils of Australia and Southern Africa today
  2. mineral resources (or at least their products like cars and so many technological gadgets) tend to be portable so that theft is not difficult. This is especially true of the electronics and boutique clothing that angry masses tend to target as Victor Davis Hanson shows.
  3. without government or with the police ineffective the masses would have to regulate law themselves, and with scarcity of resources prevalent the prevailing means of doing so is by force
Both these viewpoints suggest that they key issue is that the masses of Britons really care about little more than having the most fashionable goods - a tale on instant gratification gone beserk that explains why long-term stability has been confined to the isolated suburbs of Australia and to a decreasing extent Red America where the influences of the radical individualism preached by businessmen is least.


Arthur Zastruga said...

I agree about the rampant consumerism displayed by the rioters. I saw this for myself riding my bike around north London on the morning after - practically the only shops which had been attacked were selling laptops, mobiles and sportswear. As many have pointed out, bookshops remained untouched...

Here's a bit of perspective from the London historian Peter Ackroyd that you may not have seen.

I think the response of immigrant communities such as the Turkish and Kurdish shopkeers near my flat who successfully beat back the looters, and Muslim and Sikh shopkeepers in Birmingham who defended themselves - leaves me thinking there may indeed be some kind of serious existential crisis going on in the indigenous population.

But one issue that I haven't heard discussed anywhere is the kind of employment on offer in modern Britain to people at the lower end of educational achievement. It's said that the majority of new unskilled positions in London are filled by non-British applicants. I don't think one can simply deduce from this that immigrants are more hard working and too many working-age Brits have been demotivated by the benefits system (although both statements may be true).

Much derision is poured on the choices of young people in education here to study media courses and harbour ambitions to be television presenters or human rights workers etc. But might it not be that there is such a distinct lack of choice in the labour market in Britain compared to previous generations? I simply don't think that a career in the service industries or civil service administration - pretty much the only stuff on offer if you don't make it as a TV star - provide the dignity of labour that manufacturing and engineering jobs, or even mining and agricultural work - gave to earlier generations of Brits.

Arthur Zastruga said...

PS - Excellent video linked from a comment on National Review on the topic of purposeful work, I think you'll like it.