Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Evan Calder Williams on the UK Riots

There are many, many readable and necessary posts about the riots in the UK, but I am only going to link to Evan Calder Williams. I admit my crush on the man, but I think you should read his whole post. He has a gift of eloquence that I admire and envy (you will notice I haven't called it a dangerous gift).

But we are in Janus times, albeit ones where the two faces are wrenching their shred head apart in an attempt to spit in the face of the other.

Riots are the other side of democracy, when democracy means the capacity and legitimacy to vote into place measures that directly wound the very population they purport to represent.

Looting is the other side of credit, when credit entails the desperate scrambling of states and institutions to preserve a good line, cost to those who might borrow that credit be damned.


2. This isn't fair

This is a common rejoinder, and again, it is entirely true.  Folded into it is a fully legitimate recognition of the damage and trauma being done, primarily through loss of property, to many who clearly are nowhere near rich, who also scrape to get by, who build up a small life over many years.

And for those who would ask us, in hopes of mocking us, yeah, but what if it was your house?  Your car?  Your shop? we say:

We would be furious.  We would be devastated.  How could we not?


And we are in a time in which such a double condition, of that which cannot be measured and that which cannot be accidental, rules.  It rules in the breakdown of sides,  of the metric of fairness, in the upsurge in the midst of all that we thought could be clearly divided.  It is a scrambling of poles of identity. One doesn't defend a riot.  It is not "good" or "bad."  A riot is a scrambling of positions of belonging and of judgment.
Often, it is an internal dissolution of what might have appeared common lines of class.

It involves situations the likes of which we are sure to see more, the turning of the hopelessly poor against the poor-but-just-getting-by, between shop-owners and looters, between workers and rioters,  between those  breaking the windows and those who clean them,  and, internally, between individuals themselves, who cannot always be split into one or the other.

Update: Part two of ECW's post here.


Subashini said...

Oh my, me too. (crush)

Trivialities aside, though, his post is superb. A much-needed antidote to the overwhelming middle-class bile and sanctimony that's choking up the Twitter.

Space Bar said...

Subashini: I know, right?

(also that first comment, from MLK, at the end of that post).

JP said...

Haven't read him before, but his article is good and I shall probably man-crush on him in due course. You have seen this, right:

JP said...

Oh crap. Of course I know who Evan Calder Williams is.

Fëanor said...

I disagree - middle-class bile? Many of the people who fought against the looters were also poor and brown, and yet they didn't feel it necessary to ransack and pillage. Some poor and brown people can seek to better their circumstances in exactly the same milieus as these other poor and brown people go about their merry destruction. And after the orgy of arson, as the looting spread, what exactly was looted? Not food. Not everyday necessities. Not even books. iPods. Trainers. Booze.

(Of course, being British, they formed orderly queues.)

As far as polemic goes, I'm sorry to say, Williams' post on par with Arundhati Roy - well-written, but vacuous.

Space Bar said...

JP: I knew you knew who he was. :D

Feanor: It was Subashini who said 'middle class bile', and about responses on Twitter, which we have no way of judging, since we don't know precisely which tweets she is referring to (though if you generally check out #londonriots or #ukriots, you'll get a good idea).

At no point does ECW himself say anything about middle class bile; but not sure if you were responding to his post or to the comment?

And I think he does address the issue of many, many poor people who have been affected by the riots, people who have spent a lifetime getting their small lives together only to see it disappear in these four days. I have quoted one such passage.

I see how many people would find his post annoying (to which see his opening sentence) but not sure in what way a comparison with AR holds.

What perturbs me is people's expectation that there can and should be only one response to these riots, and that is unilateral condemnation. That is what that BBC woman sought of Darcus Howe.

Any attempt to raise questions about why these riots should happen now, should happen across so many cities unconnected with what happened in Tottenham; or in these specific ways (of looting consumer goods rather than food or what might make it possible for people to forgive)- are dismissed as bleeding heartiness or taken as attempts to condone what's been happening. Surely it's not so simple?

(Which is not to say that I think *you* are inclined to do any of these things. It's just my oblique take, perhaps, on 'middle class bile'.

I'm sure neighbourhoods and communities have suffered damage beyond the material and that it's going to take decades to rebuild them. Just not, perhaps, with rubber bullets and water cannons? )

Fëanor said...

SB: yup, sorry, inadvertently conflated Subashini's comment with the ECW post. I'd submit that the reason the pillaging happened now is in the aftermath of the torching of Tottenham, various elements around the city saw there was no police response to the looting they began in their neighbourhoods. The Tottenham riot may have begun against perceived police brutality, but the wider spread was opportunistic, and little to do with the business at Tottenham. In some cases, anarchists joined in - just as they did during the G7 protests. I'm not sure that there's any excusing this behaviour.

As an example of ECW's vacuity: he talks about the brutality of having to become a drug-dealer to put food in one's mouth - I find that quite bizarre. People don't become drug dealers because they can't feed themselves - they do so because they are not interested in lower paying and legit jobs. E.g. look at this. I could list other inconsistencies but I can't think offhand of any others :-)

km said...

Can't we all just agree that Twitter is easily the *worst* place to get news and opinion?

Space Bar said...

feanor: Yes, well. No less opportunistic, then, than the bankers, press empires, politician, et al. Nobody wanted to excuse them either, for what they did.

km: I dunno. It has to be better than some other social media I can think of. Think #riotcleanup, for instance. People actually turned up the following day to clean up their areas.