Saturday, 13 August 2011

My thoughts on the different types of rioters re London Riots.

So as per my previous post, I'm currently entrenched in Riot research, in part because the decisions made after this are going to say a lot about Britain today and what we are going to become, and in part, ahem, to figure what I am going to do with my script.

As part of the research I've found myself involved in some discussions about the rioters, and even though I don't want to turn emotions into arguments I wanted to write something about my own bias in the argument. The context follows, largely about my childhood. If I had gotten around to building an appropriate blog just for all my personal crap and rants I would, but this interrupted it! Migration of film blog will happen soon. But let's get to why I have a bias against treating the people involved in the riots like one mindless mass.

Now, to the point - I'm from Cardiff. I grew up in a dangerous place, in fact so dangerous that several years ago a series of those exploitative documentaries that pretend to be a somber analysis about Britain was actually just an excuse to take one known case of craziness after another and use them for Springeresqe fun started the series about someone in my town. The documentary was generally about the decline and delinquency of today's youth, and the first episode specifically about a teenage girl who had started smoking when she was about 6, started Horse when she was about 12, and was on the game by the time she was 13. She lived around the corner from me; my mother played bingo with her mother.

My mother was agoraphobic. She did an excellent job but inherently she wasn't able to bring us up as happily and safely as she would have wanted. By 'was agoraphobic' I don't mean she was cured. There is no inspirational story of someone in the media or social field coming into her life to give her some help that has magically improved her life. She tends to say her problem is a fear of the fear, and the decades of dealing with it mean she has a system she can handle so she can leave the house a couple of times a week. She's been this way all this time because when she first tried to get help about 30 years ago she was told to 'pull herself together'. My father is an idiot who wasn't around; at one point in my childhood the goverment started this initiative that if single mothers wouldn't name the man responsible to make him pay money for the kid so they could lessen her child support, they would cut child support anyway to punish her for not being helpful - she named him, he borrowed clothes so shabby he looked like a tramp, pretended he had no money in court and the court decided to make him pay - wait for it - 1 PENNY.

My mother was on benefits because she couldn't go out without the accompanying panic attacks, something she wasn't happy about - before she got sick she had worked every viable day since she was 14 to get away from her abusive father and help her mother. We lived in a small cul-de-sac until I was ten, and the person I was shaping up to be was very different from the person I was after we moved. In those ten years my mother had guns pointed at her every week, I had attack dogs set on me, the neighbours smashed our front windows every week, put tampons in our letterbox, occasionally alcohol and lit matches, the kids stole all my toys, I was bullied, the one night none of us slept in the house we were robbed by our next door neighbours who the police didn't prosecute even though they told my mother they agreed it was them, because once they knew she had insurance they told her it was pointless. We managed to swap houses with a family that were more than happy to admit they were a big enough family and tough enough they weren't scared of moving into that sort of crowd.

I was sick alot for half a year in school when you learn to read, and despite the fact there was no miscommunication over the circumstances of me being behind the other kids, the teacher responsible for our class put me in the school's special class where I stayed until my mother found out (years later) that they never taught me to read, she taught me over a summer with dahl books. Might I add, you learn nothing in special class - I was kept busy because I was good at art (a skill that can naturally improve exponentially when you have nothing else like enjoying novels or doing math to distract you) so the teachers thought it would be a good idea to exploit me by making me do pretty cards and banners for any event or retiring teacher/maternity leave/sick child or to win art competitions. And the stigma follows you to high school - I was put into the stupid tier for all high school classes until one teacher realised in creative writing I understood narrative and got me into the top english group, where I was accused initially in front of the rest of the class of getting another family member to write my my first essay which was about An Inspector Calls. That kind of dampened the experience... there's nothing quite like being accused of fraud to ruin the revelatory experience of learning something exciting and provoking in a class that exercises your mind for the first time. Eventually I got A*/A/A on my english gcses' despite the suspicion amongst some of the faculty that I had somehow scammed them.

At the beginning of high school my mother found a lump in her breast. Our GP told her (I'm not joking) that the mobile van for detection was in another part of cardiff (which would amount to 6 miles away) and wouldn't be placed in Ely for about a year, she would have to wait. He was too lazy to get a referral regardless of how much we pointed out we could bus it. Eventually he only sent her to the hospital because I and some friends threatened his reception staff that we would call Cardiff's newspaper and picket outside his surgery. From then on it no longer seemed strange that each and every year one of my mother's friends had been diagnosed with a hard to find cancer too late and they were going to die.

Oh, and one time around about the age of 13 or 14, my brother got accused of raping me. The first discussion about this was me, my mother, a teacher, the headteacher and 3 cops telling us that's what they thought and it would be best to admit it now for everyone's sake. And that was over a totally reasonable picture I drew that indicated nothing other than the fact I knew at that age that rape is bad, police look for rapists, and they often attack in dark alleys and are violent, and it also indicated I didn't have the slightest idea what male genitalia looks like. My mother took the position that she would rather I knew what abusive contact by a stranger is than not, especially in the area we have where one particular thoroughfare had been so neglected for over a decade it was widely known as Rape Alley and everyone was so acclimatised to calling it that you almost forget the connotation and thought of it as just an appropriate nickname. I think her lack of fear and eloquence in the face of the intimidation was what resolved the issue so quickly but it scarred me for years - I thought I was a freakishly naughty girl for not being as naive as my fellow classmates. It took me years to realise it was insanity that the Police would interrogate my mother in front of me when not a word had been spoken to me about why my picture could mean anything other than my mother had taught me not to let people touch me. My massively bitter prejudice says that such a frigtheningly negative and tactless meeting wouldn't be the first contact for an upper class kid who draws alot and is illustrating nothing more than a sensible knowledge that sexual abuse is bad. 

I could go on but clearly this makes me look a little mad as it is so I'll stop. I'm trying to get to one point anyway so lets get to it.

Poverty, and the lack of options and equal rights that often go with it, IS about violence, an awareness of the inequality that some people in society who are comfortable have no idea what it is like to be able to closely tie their lack of financial comfort and flexibility to terrible things that shouldn't happen just because you are poor. Having and having not is about violence. Live with that quality of life for long enough and it won't be long before thinking of everyone else who doesn't know what a drain that is as the other. Live with knowing that your choice everyday to not rob, not attack, not impede on anyone else's liberties, to not cause any trouble in the community, not hamper anyone else's life with no respite to the troubles in your own life, and you will start considering that if society wants to pretend that the danger you face, the losses you experience all the time is not morally important to everyone in society (in fact has nothing to do with the rest of society) it won't be long before they take the position that the opposite applies too.

My mother tells me after the breast lump incident I became obsessed with wanting to be rich because of the simple connection to power. That I became mindfully obsessed with getting rich so that anyone I cared about never had to wait for treatment again, never had to live in an area that might kill them again, would never be viewed as social scum who could be treated anyway other people felt like because their voice and mind didn't matter. And that was back in a time when, as far as my memory serves, the barometer amongst the poor for differing levels of wealth and equality was more reasonable. One family had a car (any car) one. Another had to bus everywhere. One family could pay all their bills and bye their kids trainers when their current ones look like they are about to get holes. Another family might have decide to forgo any luxuries flu remedies the week they really need to replace their kids trainers because they're falling apart and they can only just afford them. Those parts of my community, though inequal, still empathise with each other for seeing how closely 'there but for the grace of god' they really were, and many inequalities still applied. Today the gulf between different types of poor is different, that is a fact, and the lack of empathy between those groups (not to mention the middle classes) IS dangerous. It isn't measured, it isn't reasonable, it is reactionary. The people calling for all rioters to have their benefits cut, or worse still - calling them animals and scum who should be shot - are willfully ignoring the need to find out how making these people want to responsible members of society who contribute instead of destroy can be achieved. Anyone who can't see that if they are alienated EVEN MORE from this moment on it doesn't make this less likely to happen again, it makes it a lot more likely to happen worse. You cannot tell people they nothing but animals with no human rights and expect them to care more about your rights and empathise more with your humanity.

People want to look at the riots and say that the riots are entirely without reason BECAUSE they targeted shops instead of the town hall, because they didn't know to direct their anger only towards the council, or government, or other public service bodies who had failed them. This also is a giant elephant in the room. Of the many of the people saying the riots meant nothing because a lot of them targeted pointless goods, how many can say that the way they live their own life is that whenever they wish to buy an item they don't need, or go on a holiday, or spend to much on one day out of fun, they ponder asking their friends and neighbours and co-workers whether they NEED money to pay for something that has just a knock on effect their life will become bad if they don't pay?  I believe with no shame that it is unreasonable for so many to want so much they don't need and then act like these people are mindless for thinking such items hold esteem. And that applies to all of us, including me. I'm poor, I have to put off getting a dental appointment because we have no money, I stay in the house for days or weeks the times we can't even afford bus passes and sometimes I have to ask my GP for 3 months of pills because my budget says I can't afford the 7 odd quid it costs if I pay once a month for a view months coming. But we try to go to the cinema once a week even if that's the only time we go out, and we might get a half price voucher a couple of times a month and go to a restaurant even though that we could just go to the shop and cook in the house.

Yes, wanting to look rich takes on a vacuous consumer edge, but subconsciously a hell of a lot of it is knowing that there is a violence to other people being able to complain that their holiday wasn't very good when you and your friends are stigmatised with being stupid when they're not, with getting a paranoid sense (sometimes justified sometimes not) that in health, mobility, rights alot of society doesn't care that you wish you only had spending your student grant too quickly, not liking your shitty boss, wishing you could get an ipad because the macbook you got is more white than sparkling white now, society doesn't care if you live or die. Knowing that at the most you'll end up being a statistic about the underclass is a horrible knowledge to have. Back when I was young and full of rage at the glass between me and a lot of the people in better circumstances than me it was at least tempered with the knowledge that it was more reasonable - my friends' parents could apply for a mortgage and not get escorted out of the building, wow!

My comments above will only apply to some of the rioters. I am biased towards wanting rational treatment for those who haven't committed a serious crime and who do experience similar hardships. Many other types of people were there, worse and better, from teachers to people like my neighbours who learned to point guns before they learned to walk. We have systems for dealing with criminals and calls for cutting benefits is only to the benefit of those who want to cut our rights - I wonder how many who call for the petition and all sorts of other horrible things would feel the same if it applied to future protests of job protection or student fees that became aggressive. And we have systems for those who have been a part of social unrest but not criminal. But many out there aren't even admitting their bias and are calling to treat everyone the same, as if every rioter was the same even if they only did similar to what happen in the studen protects and the like. This is hypocritical since many signing the petition and calling for 'marshall law' would be the first to expect to have their lives and actions treated on it's specific merits, to have their individuality recognised.

Being angry at these people is a natural reaction, wanting them to face punishment for ruining some many peoples' lives is the most logical response in the world. But claiming they can not be understood when many of us feel the same way about the limitations placed on our lives but social expectations mixed with limited resources, support and options to improve our lives just on a more stable level is madness.


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