The scenes across our major cities have been quite distressing. There is also an ongoing battle in the media with our politicians and commentators attempting to win the argument for the narrative of the riots. What are the causes of this social underclass and ensuing violence? Some options have been:
Too much welfare state
Not enough welfare state
Lack of opportunity
Bad education/poor discipline in schools
Just mindless violence
Social networks (Twitter)
The battle for the narrative of the riots is important as it gives our society its self understanding and politicans and leaders authority to take various actions. The reason, I believe, is complex and requires more thought than sticking to political ideologies which delight in either/or positions (e.g the Right: Beef up law enforcement and keep up the deterrent – decrying lack of parenting/education/morals/feral youths or Left: Government cuts damaging the poor in society – need more tolerance/increase spending to social programs). When listening to all the media commentary we must not make rash judgements that reinforce our already established political leanings but rather reflect and ask the difficult questions these riots present us: What is it about our society and culture that provides an environment for acts like these to take place? Why are our children demonstrating such behaviours? Is our capitalist system part of the problem and to what extent are we complicit in it?
Controversial Philosopher Slavoj Žižek argues that his role as a public thinker ‘is not to propose solutions, but to reformulate the problem itself, to shift the ideological framework within which we hitherto perceived the problem.’ In other words to help us think differently and with fresh insight about the issues without lazily resorting to tired old frameworks which have the potential to exacerbate the problem further. A potential insight from Žižek into the recent riots is a phrased by Michael Withey is his review of Violence (2008): ‘this violence cannot be seen as mere contingent disruptions of the otherwise idyllic world of liberal capitalism – rather, we must see the all-too visible violence of terrorism, rioting and repression, as a reflection of the greater violence inherent to the system itself.’ Therefore, according to this view, the very violence perpetrated and inherent in our capitalist system (as evidenced by extreme inequality) is reflected in the riots and mindless destruction in our cities today.
Whether we agree or disagree with Žižek is not important. What is important however, is that we discuss and debate with openness and honesty the recent problems trying to see beyond our own prejudices and agendas to the root of the issue.