Join 3,516 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


"One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter,"
August 11, 2011 6:09 AM   Subscribe

What's in a name? The UK riots and language: 'rioter', 'protester' or 'scum'? [Guardian.co.uk] "The BBC drew a small storm of criticism for the word it initially used to describe the people taking part in this week's trouble."
posted by Fizz (146 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
I believe the official descriptor is "The Other"
posted by fullerine at 6:14 AM on August 11, 2011 [16 favorites]


Sure they're protesters. They're protesting against not having new tracksuits.
posted by wo is me at 6:19 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Want to go rioteering with me?
posted by ennui.bz at 6:21 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Want to go rioteering with me?

That's protesteering idiot!
posted by Fizz at 6:23 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are they insurging, or what?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:25 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes! What this country needs now is semantics.

Actually, the country could do with better spelling: the Government's new e-petition site has crashed under the efforts of people to sign up for making rioters "loose" their housing benefit.

Note to Bond villains: don't employ English goons or when you order them to "loose the dogs!", well, let's just say there'll be some sheepish expressions later on when you find out why your foe has made a clean escape and you have to buy some new Alsatians.
posted by alasdair at 6:27 AM on August 11, 2011 [22 favorites]


I'm amazed, reading the myriad knee-jerk, Murdoch-sounding, casually "othering" comments on this issue, how "context" has become a filthy, dirty word to so many people.

As if pictures and talking heads always tell the whole story.

As if asking why is the same as declaring unconditional support for (insert
Context-free, demonized-activity-du-jour here)
posted by mer2113 at 6:27 AM on August 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


Although he doesn't say so, from this eye witness's account, they correct term would seem to be "thieves."
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:30 AM on August 11, 2011


Yes! What this country needs now is semantics.

Well it is a bit more than semantics to describe the participants in English riots as "protestors" as this suggests that they are motivated by political considerations. The BBC, who are suffering cuts under Cameron's budget, would happily describe the rioters as such and this is why they have been criticized for so doing.

Calling them "English hooligans" is old news without any political value, but seemingly much closer to the truth.
posted by three blind mice at 6:35 AM on August 11, 2011


I've got a word for the vast majority of them, and it rhymes with the former Irish currency.
posted by The Ultimate Olympian at 6:38 AM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Well, as long as we're all already experts on the subject...
posted by saulgoodman at 6:39 AM on August 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


If I know anything it is that in a large group of people there are a myriad of motives and behaviours. The riots are probably made up of protesters, rioters and looters as well as the occasional passerby and a double decker bus load of tragedy tourists and reporters.
posted by srboisvert at 6:39 AM on August 11, 2011 [8 favorites]


If it's in the middle east is an "Arab Spring." If it's in London it's a "culture of fear."
posted by cjorgensen at 6:39 AM on August 11, 2011 [11 favorites]


"The rebels of Britain approach Liverpool in hit-and-run battles with Cameron's brigades and mercenaries from Ireland and Scotland. God is Greatest," said a breaking news caption on Libyan TV's morning program.

Different sources got different biases.
posted by klapaucius at 6:41 AM on August 11, 2011 [9 favorites]


srboisvert: How about mixed-motive urban adventurers?
posted by biffa at 6:46 AM on August 11, 2011 [18 favorites]


I like "extreme shoppers". It's the new planking!
posted by jaduncan at 6:52 AM on August 11, 2011 [16 favorites]


Well,yeah. "Riots," versus "this week's trouble," in the headlines are also loaded terms.

My ideal newspaper would not spend quite so many column inches reporting on this phenomenon. "Language scientists have discovered that different words mean different things!"
posted by longtime_lurker at 7:00 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Britain reaches out to the US for help in understanding.
posted by warbaby at 7:04 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


If it's in the middle east is an "Arab Spring." If it's in London it's a "culture of fear."

Yes, a largely peaceful sitting protest with clearly defined aims is totally what's going on in London this week.
posted by Etrigan at 7:06 AM on August 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'm fond of "feral rat.
posted by clavdivs at 7:13 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Got to love those largely peaceful sitting protests. Nothing like the protests we use to have when I was a kid.
posted by kithrater at 7:15 AM on August 11, 2011


Well, the other part of the debate is the term "UK Riots" itself. Scottish and Welsh authorities don't like it because it implies that the violence is there on a large scale, too, and apart from a few dust-ups, it's been isolated to England. The BBC has told their presenters to use the term "English Riots" instead.
posted by inturnaround at 7:16 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


This reminds me a bit of On the Media's reports back in the spring about whether the media should refer to people in Libya as protesters or rebels.

I'll admit, referring to the rioters in England as protesters seems a little off to me. That might not have been entirely clear on the first night, though.
posted by craichead at 7:29 AM on August 11, 2011


Ugh. Bad link. On the Media's coverage of the protester vs. rebel debate.
posted by craichead at 7:30 AM on August 11, 2011


I'm sure there are some people marching and protesting. I'm sure there are some people just trying to get iPads. and some motherfuckers who want to burn down homes and shops.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:30 AM on August 11, 2011


I'm fond of "feral rat.

That dehumanising attitude of yours has become clear over the last thread also. They may or may not be assholes (and I verge on yes here) but they are human, and deserve their rights and the dignity to be respected.
posted by jaduncan at 7:32 AM on August 11, 2011 [10 favorites]


So if they're just a bunch of assholes, we don't need to worry about what why this happened, and it becomes okay to use draconian violence to keep the population in line, right?
posted by Stagger Lee at 7:37 AM on August 11, 2011 [17 favorites]


I think it's a mistake to assume that conscious intent and/or a well-thought out and articulated political program is necessary for actions to rise to the level of political protest. I think it's clear that the people in the streets of England are reacting to a political situation, one which involves consistent oppression, alienation, humiliation and abuse by cops, hopelessness, etc. That gives their actions political content, even if it takes the form, and is articulated as, "I'm gonna smash shit and take things." It may not be the form one would want, it may end up being just destructive, counter-productive or whatever, but it's still a form of political protest.

And when Cameron, the head of the government which joyfully participated in the destruction of Iraq, says he's "not going to let phony concerns about human rights" restrict how he responds to the situation, people would do well to remember who is the real scum.
posted by williampratt at 7:38 AM on August 11, 2011 [28 favorites]


I've got a word for the vast majority of them, and it rhymes with the former Irish currency.

Potato?
posted by Senor Cardgage at 7:39 AM on August 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


If it's in the middle east is an "Arab Spring." If it's in London it's a "culture of fear."

They're probably angry about the time that Cameron's dad used artillery to shell Manchester.
posted by atrazine at 7:39 AM on August 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


And when Cameron, the head of the government which joyfully participated in the destruction of Iraq, says he's "not going to let phony concerns about human rights" restrict how he responds to the situation, people would do well to remember who is the real scum.

That was a previous government, but I suppose he did vote for the war.
posted by atrazine at 7:41 AM on August 11, 2011


> If it's in the middle east is an "Arab Spring." If it's in London it's a "culture of fear."

So Cameron is going to respond like Assad and the Syrian army? What's taking him so long?
posted by jfuller at 7:50 AM on August 11, 2011


I've got a word for the vast majority of them, and it rhymes with the former Irish currency.

Shamrock shakes?
posted by josher71 at 7:51 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


The government's solution seems to be increasing the police numbers. Beat them down until they stop being bad.

Perhaps they should look at the root causes that make it possible for thousands of yobs to riot? Poverty, unemployment, lack of education, and so on?

In all seriousness, where are the 16,000 new met police coming from?
posted by blue_beetle at 7:53 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've got a word for the vast majority of them, and it rhymes with the former Irish currency.

Blarney... stones? I'm a moron.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:53 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've got a word for the vast majority of them, and it rhymes with the former Irish currency.

The punt Éireannach (Irish pound) is what's being referred to.

Ya bunch'a punters.
posted by Lemurrhea at 7:57 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


In all seriousness, where are the 16,000 new met police coming from?

Cancelling all leave, all non-urgent paper work, traffic enforcement and beat policing, but most of all, they keep them all on duty without anyone having a chance to sleep. Obviously they can't keep that up very long.
posted by atrazine at 7:57 AM on August 11, 2011


The government's solution seems to be increasing the police numbers. Beat them down until they stop being bad.

Perhaps they should look at the root causes that make it possible for thousands of yobs to riot? Poverty, unemployment, lack of education, and so on?


It sounds like you're presenting this as a false dilemma. I mean, there's rioting, and public order has to be maintained. And it's not like you can hire a pied piper of jobs to come in to the middle of the riot and lead them to full employment. I'm sure there are other organs in the government and non-profits that are tracking and studying this now too.
posted by FJT at 8:00 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


> As if asking why is the same as declaring unconditional support

Where have you been for the past decade? You clearly weren't with us; you must have been with the terrorists mixed-motive urban adventurers.
posted by Zozo at 8:02 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


The theory I like the best is people rioted because "Everyone else was rioting and they felt anonymous".

Of course, implying that the looting was caused by nothing more than natural human instincts to fit in with the herd isn't going to get you any nods from the people who want to attribute this to [Enter Thing You Are most afraid of in Space Provided].
posted by seanyboy at 8:02 AM on August 11, 2011


If it's in the middle east is an "Arab Spring." If it's in London it's a "culture of fear."
posted by cjorgensen


Spring time may be closer than you think.

"Speaking in the House of Commons, Cameron said, "Everyone watching these horrific actions will be struck by how they were, organised via social media.

Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill. So we are working with the police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality."

Read more: http://www.thinq.co.uk/2011/8/11/cameron-threatens-shut-down-uk-social-networks/#ixzz1UjUfigEo


If i recall correctly, this was Mubarak's last mistake, by shutting down facebook everyone had to get on the streets to even know what was going on, and that was that.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 8:03 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


They aren't getting 16,000 new Met Police, they drafted in police from 30 other forces nationally, they will all be going home post-riots, I would assume most have already gone. Cameron's plan for the Met, as with other forces is to reduce funding by 20%, which will inevitably mean reduced police numbers, though Cameron has just today tried to sell this with some bullshit attached to the tune that they are going to make cuts in such a way that it will free up 7000 officers frm back room tasks.
posted by biffa at 8:03 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cameron has just today tried to sell this with some bullshit attached to the tune that they are going to make cuts in such a way that it will free up 7000 officers frm back room tasks.

The News Of The World closed down didn't it?
posted by CautionToTheWind at 8:08 AM on August 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


The government's solution seems to be increasing the police numbers. Beat them down until they stop being bad.

Perhaps they should look at the root causes that make it possible for thousands of yobs to riot? Poverty, unemployment, lack of education, and so on?


You do realize that these two things are not mutually exclusive, right?

It annoys the crap out of me that, whenever something like this happens, we get one group of people who says "look at the subhuman scum, let's throw 'em in jail and put away the key!," and another who says "but they were oppressed! they were making a statement about their horrible oppression!"

Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, but I happen to believe that:

1) People do things, even horrible things, for complicated, often not-obvious reasons, and those reasons need to be understood and addressed.

2) Those reasons do not constitute a full excuse for doing horrible things, and people who do horrible things ought to be punished, because doing horrible things is Not OK.

As far as I'm concerned, if someone looted and vandalized and destroyed property, that person should be prosecuted to the full extend of the law. So, by all means, crack down. Then, once order is restored, consider the 'why,' and find ways to to provide more opportunity for the young and marginalized. A good start would be to realize that this growth-through-austerity policy that the Cameron government seems to be pursuing is shit and makes no sense.

(Of course I realize that, in this situation, the second part is unlikely to occur. But that's not my overall point.)
posted by breakin' the law at 8:08 AM on August 11, 2011 [23 favorites]


Data point: The mob of shit heads the busted up my neighbourhood on Monday night was made up of a mixture of ages and races. I live in Chalk Farm, and the mob came running down Haverstock Hill Rd from the direction of Hampstead, which is a very well-off neighbourhood. These weren't poor kids acting out of desperation. They were spoiled little shits who were looking for free stuff.

This may not be true of the other groups. I can only comment on what I saw.
posted by Optamystic at 8:08 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


The couldn't have been protesters because they didn't sit still to be kettled. They were far too effective at embarrassing the authorities to be protesting.
posted by fartron at 8:10 AM on August 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


"Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill. So we are working with the police, the intelligence services and industry to look at..."

I'm the last person to run around flailing my arms Kermit-the-Frog–style about censorship and fascism and 1984 and whatever, but this literally sent a chill up my spine.
posted by Zozo at 8:12 AM on August 11, 2011 [10 favorites]


Cameron's plan for the Met, as with other forces is to reduce funding by 20%, which will inevitably mean reduced police numbers, though Cameron has just today tried to sell this with some bullshit attached to the tune that they are going to make cuts in such a way that it will free up 7000 officers frm back room tasks.

Lessee here... cuts in back room tasks, eh? We can get rid of police reports. We're already paying an officer who was at the scene of the 'alleged beating', why double up on the info recording. Just ask him what happened! And with no more conflicting police reports needing to be dealt with, we can get rid of Internal Review. If a cop has done wrong, just ask him about it! He'll have to tell the truth, it's the LAW. So that saves a hefty chunk there.... might as well dump any sort of public relations and correspondence, too. An officer's job is much easier to take care of when there's no constant squawking from the public to deal with. Then they can just get down to what counts - good police work!
posted by FatherDagon at 8:14 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dance like an egyptian, Cameron.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 8:14 AM on August 11, 2011


Perhaps they should look at the root causes that make it possible for thousands of yobs to riot? Poverty, unemployment, lack of education, and so on?

You do realize that these two things are not mutually exclusive, right?


Yeah, but you do realise that you can do one without the other and all the talk at the moment is about writing people off? Like today's brilliant idea to stop people who have rioted get benefits; can you think of a better way to convert an opportunist thief into a full time criminal?
posted by biffa at 8:14 AM on August 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


While I don't like the Tories I can't quite work out why Labour is getting such a free pass. These communities didn't become dysfunctional and disadvantaged again the second the Tories took power. Nor is a surveillance society a Tory creation; Labour was pretty keen on it if I recall correctly...
posted by lesbiassparrow at 8:17 AM on August 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm not sure the last two days of this had anything to do with poverty, unemployment or the social underclass.
posted by seanyboy at 8:19 AM on August 11, 2011


It's that damm weather, I tell you!
posted by CautionToTheWind at 8:20 AM on August 11, 2011


One person breaks windows and starts fires, he's a thug. A throng of people do it and we ponder the complicated reasoning behind their actions.
posted by rahnefan at 8:21 AM on August 11, 2011


The English Riots are a brilliant example of everyone seizing on a new piece of information to justify their existing opinions.

Maybe we should try to think about what think we've learned? I'll go first.

The Metropolitan Police, although they can't resist lying to cover up their activities, is not unreasonable in their understanding that large groups of people cannot be controlled if they decide to riot. I'll be more sympathetic next time they police a demonstration. I'll be equally unsympathetic when they're caught lying once again, however, and I strongly suspect their tactics have been formed on the assumption that they'll be handing demonstration, not a riot. So I'm more pro-Police, but only because of the apparent alternative.

The way that non-white Britons have been speaking from both traditionally left- and right-wing viewpoints has educated me in the growing diversity of experiences and of success of my fellow subjects who happen not to be white. And yes, that is both patronising and stupid of me.

The use of modern telecommunications by the "underclass" and their violence demonstrates first, a level of initiative, and second, a degree of physical courage that belies my previous opinion of modern youth. Clearly some of them are perfectly able to organise large groups of people, have a degree of get-up-and-go that would be useful if we were still raiding Spanish convoys, and haven't paid attention to the attempts to make everything in school safe and fluffy and health-and-safety conscious.

Cohesive non-assimilated immigrant communities seem to be more functional than indigenous ones: the Sikhs in Birmingham in particular come to mind. That one hurts a bit, to be honest.
posted by alasdair at 8:22 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


One person breaks windows and starts fires, he's a thug. A throng of people do it and we ponder the complicated reasoning behind their actions.

One cow in your farm trips and falls, and it's sad. All the cows in your farm trip and fall and we ponder the complicated reasoning behind their actions.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 8:26 AM on August 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


Nobody is saying race, yet: Darcus Howe speaking with BBC reporter. Fallout.
posted by HLD at 8:39 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's worth repeating: - Remember this distinction: When protesters loot some stores in London, that is wanton criminality. When American bankers loot the entire economy, that is just normal business.
posted by adamvasco at 8:44 AM on August 11, 2011 [13 favorites]


You know kithrater, all those modern protest you cite are mostly violent because the police push them into violence and the political structures are extremely repressive.

I donno much about the current British riots, presumably the thugs are having a field day, but ..

I know that British cops explicitly try to induce violence in non-violent protest by kettling them, which apparently works pretty well for putting down non-violent hippies. I'd therefore hazard a guess that police started these riots by using their violent anti-hippy tactics on people with significantly more violence in their daily lives than average collage kids.

All these riots will ultimately benefit Britian if, for example, police are forced to switch to non-violent crowd control tactics, and they start prosecuting police misconduct more aggressively, starting with the officers who commuted the assassination that started this mess.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:44 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Youth's trouser problem.
posted by veedubya at 8:45 AM on August 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Freedom fighters? Not sure but let me relate my experience here.

We live in The East End and Monday evening, around 11PM and long after dinner / red wine / melatonin, the smell of smoke, near constant sirens and multiple police helicopters overhead stirred me out of bed and the house for some recon. Mrs Mutant wasn't thrilled but as I told her its better to know if they're coming to our block than to suddenly have the door busted in.

I was wearing my seriously filthy and rasty biker clothes so the assholes largely left me alone as I wandered amongst them. I saw nothing but looters and vandals, an equal opportunity group of ages and colours who collectively and individually exhibited selfishness, depravity and indifference. Most of the asses I saw when I was out and about in the middle of it wouldn't last ten seconds in a fight. In over two hours of being in the thick of it here in The East End I only saw a handful that I thought could comprise a physical threat; the greater majority were unimpressive and only capable of damage when operating in a mob.

Twice in a two hour period I saw what clearly were organised gangs striding purposely through London streets, all tooled up for a night of shit with chains and bats. I kept my distance and didn't follow, but I lived in New York's Lower East Side in the early 80's when gangs ran the streets, and its pretty obvious to me those boys were taking advantage of the chaos to drop in on folks and settle some beefs.

The highlight of the evening for me took place outside the huge East London Mosque on Whitechapel Road. Maybe four dozen assholes were heading east, smashing car and shop windows while they moved. They tried to enter the Islamic Bank across the road when maybe a hundred Bengalis roared out of the Mosque and engaged. Even though carrying clubs the looters clearly didn't have the stomach for a fight of any kind and dispersed, most heading into the side streets with white clad Begalis in pursuit.

Commenting on the confrontation, our local MP Rushanara Ali said “The worshippers must have been very frightened.". Nope. Not from what I saw. They were incredibly fierce protecting their mosque and neighbourhood and we need more folks like them here in The East End. Righteous. They are probably why areas south of Whitehcapel were largely untouched - I saw groups of Bengalis keeping an eye on people and things, usually chattering away on a mobile.

So were these guys freedom fighters? Expressing their political views? Not by any stretch of the imagination. I saw terrorists, nothing more than terrorists, and of the domestic variety.
posted by Mutant at 8:48 AM on August 11, 2011 [67 favorites]


One person breaks windows and starts fires, he's a thug. A throng of people do it and we ponder the complicated reasoning behind their actions.

And why not? Sociologists might be able to tell us how to prevent such things going forward, maybe giving police better strategies for dealing with a volatile situation.

It doesn't mean the looters aren't criminals and thugs, but it is out of the ordinary. So why not ponder the reasons?
posted by inturnaround at 8:53 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd therefore hazard a guess that police started these riots by using their violent anti-hippy tactics on people with significantly more violence in their daily lives than average collage kids.

One of the things that struck me watching the footage of events on Clarence Road in Hackney was how little the police did. No kettling at all. They lined up at one end of a road and watched people burn cars and loot shops. They made very little effort to contain anything. They had the occasional wander down the road, then fell back.

And everything I've read about the looting in Clapham Junction suggests there were hardly any police around for a couple of hours. Seems it was a free for all.
posted by ComfySofa at 8:53 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


jeffburdges, I was amused at the thought of hardline authoritative MENA regimes being overthrown by groups of civic-minded people with clear aims and will to conduct some peaceful sitting.

I know that British cops explicitly try to induce violence in non-violent protest by kettling them, which apparently works pretty well for putting down non-violent hippies. I'd therefore hazard a guess that police started these riots by using their violent anti-hippy tactics on people with significantly more violence in their daily lives than average collage kids.

My theory is, the police got caught unawares. At least in my brief experience, most student protests get advertised to everyone, including the police, well in advance. It's good for the student cause if you can get some footage of the police beating on some photogenic uni students. It's also good for the elderly law-and-order-loving voters if you can get some footage of the unwashed student ferals being held at bay by the police.

Perhaps the participants in these English Riots didn't have the necessary revolutionary experience to know about these niceties and instead just wanted to steal, loot, burn, protest, riot, complain, etc.
posted by kithrater at 8:53 AM on August 11, 2011


Interesting and enlightening account, mutant. One quibble-- don't terrorists operate under some political banner? The people you describe sound more like opportunistic criminals to me. They seem have no cause other than destruction and thievery. That isn't to say there aren't complex reasons behind their behavior, but terrorists seems to be the wrong word.
posted by chaz at 8:53 AM on August 11, 2011


I have no problem with punishing those who commit crimes. I have several friends and family that have had their homes robbed in the UK. But it seems like the solution the British government always prefers is to get more authoritarian and Orwellian. There are serious problems that need to be solved that are being ignored.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:55 AM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


My my are our ties getting tight around our necks heh?

Mutant, you of all people can understand the scale of economic injustice that has already been inflicted on the lower classes of many western countries.

You of all people should know that we can't even have an economy if a dozen people have literally all the money.

The rich didn't earn it. Otherwise they wouldn't need to corrupt, rewrite laws in their favour, and outright steal.

You call them terrorists?

I say that the crime that has been done by the rich kind of criminals is worse than a crime against mankind. It is a crime against mankind's future, and it may cost us our civilization. You know economics. In what shape will we be when oil price skyrockets when depletion nears?

You are a smart man. Don't close your eyes. We have serious trouble to attend to, if/when we fix this self-imposed unrest.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 8:57 AM on August 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


It was more of "tragedy vs. statistic" reference, not a criticism. Triple university fees is BS, I'd be pissed too.
posted by rahnefan at 9:00 AM on August 11, 2011


The new nobility (currently represented, but not headed by, Cameron) pulled up most of the social mobility ladders, like the blue-blooded asshat he is.

The poor decided to burn, pillage, loot, and destroy. Have any of you ever tried organizing a collection of poor to moderately education rioters to accomplish a specific political end through overwhelming violence? I feel confident that 'herding cats' is quite the understatement.

Easier than that, message all your friends that the Woolsworth down the road is pretty close to the riot. You'll get a new riot-bud pretty fast as people who haven't been able to buy new underwear and socks for two years suddenly get the golden opportunity.

If only there was a Costco next to the Parliament building...
posted by Slackermagee at 9:06 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Holy Moly, I shouldn't try to write in one tone/voice/tense right after waking up.
posted by Slackermagee at 9:07 AM on August 11, 2011


That dehumanising attitude of yours has become clear over the last thread also. They may or may not be assholes (and I verge on yes here) but they are human, and deserve their rights and the dignity to be respected.
posted by jaduncan

I did forget my link.
Households warned feral street rats make ‘lousy pets’

Yes they are human, they deserve the right to be stopped and the dignity of an appropiate sentence.
posted by clavdivs at 9:11 AM on August 11, 2011


Sorry jaduncan, you can defend these people on the rampage, I will defend those defending thier homes and property and places of worship.
posted by clavdivs at 9:17 AM on August 11, 2011


I think the core problem here is that the lexicon of contemporary plutocracy can be pretty complicated if you haven't had the proper training, which is offered in week-long intensives in Davos, Dubai, and other select locations.

Anyway, some clarifications:

-- breaking the global economy and looting trillions from the public purse to pay for it = "bailout" after a "market correction" by "job creators"

-- smashing a window and snatching a few pairs of new shoes = "looting" by "subhuman scum" whose only aim is "to destroy civil society" through their "base criminality"

-- when investment bankers, traders and market analysts decieve regulators and the public, squander the life savings of millions and ruin the livelihoods of millions more, this is "business as usual" conducted by "rational actors" in the "free market"

-- when opportunistic youth with no sense of investment in a society that has shown them little but contempt and an inchoate sense that law exists primarily as the hazy justification for police harassment take advantage of a sudden absence of authority with an orgy of petty crime that might indicate a catastrophic level of alienation from that society's institutions, this is a "failure of personal responsibility" on the part of "mobs" and "gangs" lacking in "sufficient respect" for "law and order" (and there should be no effort made to parse the logical inconsistency of "mobs" lacking in "personal responsibility," because that way lies "socialist" "nonsense")

-- this mock lexicon should be understood as a "handwavy rationalization" of "terrorism" by a "bleeding heart" deluded by a "blame-the-victim mentality" that would "coddle" criminals and "imprison" "law-abiding citizens" in their homes; although at no point was it suggested herein that what happened in urban England was anything but "criminal," the only real takeaway should be that "some people" will go to "any length" to "justify" breaking the law
posted by gompa at 9:19 AM on August 11, 2011 [52 favorites]


Umm, terrorists is the least appropriate work to describe the rioters, Mutant. Restaurant goers, cucumber sandwich munchers, ballerinas, etc. all more accurately describe them. Rioting thugs or looters would be the most reasonable terms of course, although extreme shoppers has a nice ring too. Terrorist is right out though.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:24 AM on August 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


your equivocating.
posted by clavdivs at 9:24 AM on August 11, 2011


The problem is primarily one of mobility. Burn down your own neighborhood and you are fucked in the long term, despite your new ipad/tracksuit/whatever. The rich people have much better stuff to steal, and then your own area isn't burned down. I imagine that organizing mass transit for rioting mobs would be a real logistical challenge though.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:24 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


gompa that is.
I would not use terrorist. This is a crime problem rooted in economics.
posted by clavdivs at 9:25 AM on August 11, 2011


I think it's one of those weird tense things. I am a righteous freedom fighter, you are a misguided protester, he or she is filthy rioting rabble.

On preview, see gompa.
posted by Garm at 9:25 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Jeez, gompa, save some scare quotes for the rest of us. I have to be sarcastic later and now I'm going to have to fall back on my «emergency» stash of guillemets.
posted by Zozo at 9:27 AM on August 11, 2011 [10 favorites]


I think a distinction probably should be made between the trigger for these riots and the surge of participants who subsequently join in for the fun of it. Listening to the BBC coverage all week about these riots has been disturbing. The other day they interviewed a group of vapid teenage girls who had looted stores the night before. When asked why, they just giggled and said it was "fun" and that they hoped it would happen again that evening. It was clear they had no connection to any possible trigger and their total lack of empathy was profoundly disturbing.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 9:34 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Holy crap, Mutant, that's some reportage.

And yay Bengalis.
posted by spitbull at 9:35 AM on August 11, 2011


gompa's quotes are not scare quotes. He is quoting.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 9:43 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is a crime problem rooted in economics.

I'll agree wholeheartedly if I'm to gather from this that you're conceding that while the acts themselves might be illegal, the preceding ten years, during which social and economic inequalities rose to their highest levels in nearly a century in much of the West, had some significant role in creating the social conditions that catalyzed these riots. And that there's now a sliding scale of "personal responsibility" from rich to poor, self-servingly established by the plutocracy, that has all but obliterated the original meaning of the phrase.

(Or, put another way, if I had just one Interpol unit at my disposal and I had a choice between sending them after Lloyd Blankfein or the two drunk thrillseekers Seymour's referring to - man, that clip went some kinda viral - I know where I'd be sending them.)
posted by gompa at 9:44 AM on August 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


gompa's quotes are not scare quotes. He is quoting.

Thanks, Caution. I am indeed the Zagat's of media criticism.
posted by gompa at 9:45 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


So were these guys freedom fighters? Expressing their political views? Not by any stretch of the imagination. I saw terrorists, nothing more than terrorists

Most definitions of terrorism I've seen include something to the effect that their actions have a political or ideological aim. From your description, I would have to agree with jeffburdges that they are not terrorists, but opportunistic thugs or something similar. Like the ones we have here in Vancouver!
posted by Hoopo at 9:48 AM on August 11, 2011


So one line of reasoning is that corrupt and greedy politicians, bankers, and CEOs set an example of amorality and rip off their fellow citizens with impunity. Seeing this, the supposed underclass says "everyone does it and if they get away with it why shouldn't I"? That being the case, it is illogical to condemn the former and excuse the latter. As far as I'm concerned, high street looters and dodgy bank managers have the same characteristics. I'm on the side of those who say it is a question of culture and values, not lack of privilege or opportunities. A plague on all their houses. As to terminology, they all come under the heading of "anti-social."
posted by binturong at 9:52 AM on August 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Actually, the country could do with better spelling: the Government's new e-petition site has crashed under the efforts of people to sign up for making rioters "loose" their housing benefit.

I'm looking forward to the arrival of this Marshall Law. Lots of people on Facebook seems to think he's able to sort the situation out - maybe he's the new head of the Met!
posted by mippy at 9:56 AM on August 11, 2011


Seeing this, the supposed underclass says "everyone does it and if they get away with it why shouldn't I"? That being the case, it is illogical to condemn the former and excuse the latter. As far as I'm concerned, high street looters and dodgy bank managers have the same characteristics.

Once the 'former' and the 'latter' are arrested and jailed with the same frequency, I will agree with you.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 10:12 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Didn't any of your mothers tell you it's rude to talk behind someone's back?
posted by fullerine at 10:22 AM on August 11, 2011


a few suggestions:

Put every single senior financial institution executive that has *anything* to do with this ongoing financial debacle - and its continuing impact on world culture - in jail for 7 years, and strip them of *every* asset they own. No mercy.

Put every single person under 21 who rioted and looted their way through London and surrounding cities in special confinement for 3 years, with a training program to teach social and work skills. That program would require assessments (to prove they learned something). If they fail to learn, keep them another 2 years. Exceptions: anyone over 21, and any rioter with a prior conviction goes in for 4 years, with similar re-schooling. Hardened, multiple repeat (more than 3) serious offenders get put away. The government is required to pay special attention to the latter's living offspring, and prove that they are doing so, with mandated audits of progress.

Nationalize the banks.

Outlaw commodity trading on essential earth minerals and foodstuffs.

Break up monopolies.

Start a government investment program for local business startups.

Change local patent law.

Many other good ideas can be added to this list.
posted by Vibrissae at 10:34 AM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


So now that we've established that it's angels with dirty faces smashing and stealing stuff, and that it's not at all their fault, can we assign responsibility for the riots to Obama? As a liberal, I'd feel remiss if I couldn't blame Obama for all this.
posted by happyroach at 10:35 AM on August 11, 2011


The irony of David Cameron's riot condemnation: The British prime minister was a member of a student club famed for smashing windows -- but in the name of elitism
posted by homunculus at 10:36 AM on August 11, 2011 [9 favorites]


Sounds ideologically consistent to me.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:39 AM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Today's London Metro had the non-London rioters down as "Copycat Cretins", which I thought was rather nice.

Anyway, you be the judge.
posted by Decani at 10:42 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Looks like things might be getting dicier.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 10:46 AM on August 11, 2011 [10 favorites]


I think anyone who thinks these situations are not directly a product of the corruption at the heart of the police, the news media, the government and the financial sector is utterly delusional.

"You wealthy elites can do what you want, with no risk or repercussion? Well, so can we.".

I don't endorse the theft and vandalism. I do resent that the banking sector just handed out a few billion in bonuses for bringing down the global economy, that Blair is retiring on leading the nation into an expensive, fraudulent war, that Murdoch can bend the law round his finger and act as kingmaker, that Gove can personally defraud the taxpayer on one hand and lecture on morality on the other.
posted by davemee at 11:37 AM on August 11, 2011 [13 favorites]


Austerity and Social Protest
posted by homunculus at 12:48 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


If wealthy elites and looters alike can disregard rules then where does that leave someone who abides by laws and takes responsibility for their own actions?
posted by longbaugh at 12:54 PM on August 11, 2011


The riots make more sense if you look at them not as a coherent movement, but as a natural reaction which can be explained by the conditions in which the poor live and have nothing to lose, as well as by the general group psychology of riots.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:04 PM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Vibrissae, none of those things have any chance of being done in a democracy and if you want to do away with that little nuisance then we're heading the way of collective farms etc.

The lever to pull to make everyone happier is reduction of income inequality.
posted by dickasso at 1:04 PM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Some honesty commentary about what is happening on the ground (profanity warning): link
posted by wuwei at 1:06 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


From homunculus' link:

The prime minister has never applied such strong words to condemn the actions of his former club. The Bullingdon Club -- a members' only dining society in the university preserved for the most privileged of (male only) students -- is known for breaking the plates, glasses and windows of local restaurants and drinking establishments and destroying college property in Oxford. (The U.K. newspaper, The Independent, described it as a club "whose raison d'être has for more than 150 years been to afford tailcoat-clad aristocrats a termly opportunity to behave very badly indeed.”) New recruits are secretly elected and informed of this by having their college bedroom invaded and "trashed".

Any chance we can get Mutant calling the Prime Minister of England a terrorist? Bueller?... Bueller?... Bueller?
posted by CautionToTheWind at 2:08 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the reportage mutant. And props for going to check it out. Most of us in London are frenetically trying to guess who these people were and why they were doing it without going anywhere near them.

As I said in the other thread, we're pretty used to 'clamp down on them' vs 'look at the causes' debates here in the UK. So the idea that these people are pissed off and angry because their lives seem hopeless - and how recent political/economic developments might have shaped that - are pretty familiar to all of us. David Cameron himself was widely mocked for his so-called 'hug a hoodie' speech a few years ago. But it showed that most of the political spectrum here now have a better understanding of the social causes of crime than they did 20 years ago.

The media and politicians here have been in a ping-pong feedback loop of 'clamp down' vs 'look at the causes' for days now. I'm left with the feeling that both the right and left are trundling out their usual arguments without really waiting to see whats really going on. As a guy with a broom said, "Everyone wants you as a turnip in their dominion."

Here's a few things I've seen that seem a bit more insightful:
* this piece unsane quoted, about the 13-20% of kids who leave school with no qualifications and little literacy - a problem thats been going on for generations and that successive governments have failed to tackle.
* "In all the hours and pages of reportage since rioting returned to our cities last weekend, not one commentator seems to have touched upon the sole unifying factor that fuels and drives such unrest – excitement, fun, teenage kicks...."
* Motown's blog: "I've heard a lot of people speculate on the reasons for people getting involved in the looting and there are lots of them, many very complex, (although none come close to justify what is happening) but to me there is one reason that is key and more important than anything else and that's that people thought/think they can get away with it."
* Guardian infodump on the profile of the looters that have appeared in court so far. A lot of unemployed young men, but also surprises like a primary school teaching assistant, graduate soon-to-be social worker, millionaire's daughter. A quick analysis of the Guardian's spreadsheet gives (of 156 people): 81% unemployed, 12% employed, 7% students (presumably degree level or equivalent).
posted by memebake at 3:44 PM on August 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Oh and a good blog post from Kenan Malik that just got posted in the other thread
The polarisation between the claim that ‘the riots are a response to unemployment and wasted lives’ and the insistence ‘the violence constitutes mere criminality’ makes little sense. There is clearly more to the riots than simple random hooliganism. But that does not mean that the riots, as many have claimed, are protests against disenfranchisement, social exclusion and wasted lives. In fact, it’s precisely because of disenfranchisement, social exclusion and wasted lives that these are not ‘protests’ in any meaningful sense, but a mixture of incoherent rage, gang thuggery and teenage mayhem. Disengaged not just from the political process (largely because politicians, especially those on the left, have disengaged from them), but also from a sense of the community or the collective, there is a generation (in fact more than a generation) with no focus for their anger and resentment, no sense that they can change society and no reason to feel responsible for the consequences of their actions. That is very different from suggesting that the riots were caused by, a response to, or a protest against, unemployment, austerity and the cuts.
posted by memebake at 3:50 PM on August 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Amoral society produces amoral citizens.
posted by mek at 4:15 PM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


(Just realised that mutant ends his account with the label 'terrorists' because he is answering the question posed in the thread title: terrorist or freedom fighter? ... I see that a few other people were trying to figure out why he chose that word. I'm now reading it as a rhetorical flourish to respond to the thread title, rather than an attempt at taxonomy)
posted by memebake at 4:55 PM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why the London Riots Mean That We Must Support My Politics

And Vibrissae calls for the suspension of rule of law, democracy, private property, and the court system in response to rioting. Such freedom you bring.
posted by zabuni at 4:57 PM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


One man's robot is another man's prime minister.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:36 PM on August 11, 2011


I think it's a mistake to assume that conscious intent and/or a well-thought out and articulated political program is necessary for actions to rise to the level of political protest. I think it's clear that the people in the streets of England are reacting to a political situation, one which involves consistent oppression, alienation, humiliation and abuse by cops, hopelessness, etc. That gives their actions political content, even if it takes the form, and is articulated as, "I'm gonna smash shit and take things." It may not be the form one would want, it may end up being just destructive, counter-productive or whatever, but it's still a form of political protest.

And when Cameron, the head of the government which joyfully participated in the destruction of Iraq, says he's "not going to let phony concerns about human rights" restrict how he responds to the situation, people would do well to remember who is the real scum.


If this had been posted on a different, more politically moderate website it would be taken as a subtle satire. But this being MetaFilter, I suspect that the above is sincere.

Wow.

So, when some "oppressed victim of society" stops a stranger who may very well be similarly "oppressed", and makes them strip naked in the street to take their every possession, he is actually engaging in a form of political protest.

That's quite creative.

Personal responsibility and accountability must be kryptonite to you.

"I think it's clear that the people in the streets of England are reacting to a political situation"

LOL

Yes, they are unconsciously reacting to a political situation, that situation being the socialist policies of England. This nauseating display of the looters' shameless sense of entitlement and predatory opportunism is a political lesson for us all.

-----

Outlaw commodity trading on essential earth minerals and foodstuffs.

That's an astoundingly bad idea. Open markets in valuable commodities is how we best determine the prices of those commodities. That price is the critical piece of information used to determine not only who should get those commodities and in what quantities but also how much of the world's resources should go towards further discovery and production of the commodities in question. If the government was to take away the freedom to make markets in those commodities, the government would then have to set the price, which is the same as them allocating other people's resources to their political allies at the preferred price of those allies. In one stroke, local knowledge of conditions and feedback from the people in the form of market demand is ignored, and a powerful motive is created for a corrupt alliance between favored businesses and bureaucrats. It's difficult to imagine a single more damaging policy.

Besides, if commodity trading has a role in the market for certain commodities, why wouldn't it perform that same role for all the commodities? Why does the importance of a commodity make it inappropriate for trade? Who decides when that commodity should no longer be openly traded? Might the person making that decision have a vested interest? And what could ever motivate a bureaucrat who sets the price in some "essential" commodity to recognize when the conditions were right for allowing a market to be made in that commodity? Wouldn't making that decision go against his own self interests?

But I suppose it's only the self interest of the traders that we have to worry about. The bureaucrat? We can trust in his disinterested expertise and altruism.
posted by BigSky at 8:10 PM on August 11, 2011


This nauseating display of the looters' shameless sense of entitlement and predatory opportunism is a political lesson for us all.

Yep, it's a lesson all right. It's teaching you that the policies of the current English government have created a climate where mass rioting is not only possible, but difficult to contain. An individualized account of bad behaviour cannot explain that away.
posted by mek at 9:20 PM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I'm going with "scum", as is 95% of the British population.
posted by joannemullen at 11:27 PM on August 11, 2011


Peter Oborne, Telegraph chief political commentator tells it as it is:
The moral decay of our society is as bad at the top as the bottom.
Something has gone horribly wrong in Britain. If we are ever to confront the problems which have been exposed in the past week, it is essential to bear in mind that they do not only exist in inner-city housing estates.
And I crosspost from the other thread
"You cannot rouse the animal in man then expect it to be put aside at a moment's notice."
Russell Brand concluding
Why am I surprised that these young people behave destructively, "mindlessly", motivated only by self-interest? How should we describe the actions of the city bankers who brought our economy to its knees in 2010? Altruistic? Mindful? Kind? But then again, they do wear suits, so they deserve to be bailed out, perhaps that's why not one of them has been imprisoned. And they got away with a lot more than a few fucking pairs of trainers.
It should be reflected on maybe that it was Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington referring to his soldiers who had defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, called them the Scum of the Earth.
posted by adamvasco at 12:46 AM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


It is not just the feral youth of Tottenham who have forgotten they have duties as well as rights. So have the feral rich of Chelsea and Kensington
I've said before but it's worth repeating, Peter Oborne is the exception to the Bevan rule and if all Tories were like him I would vote for them in a heartbeat. It's a rare man who believes in fairness even for his own side.

can anyone smell brimstone?
posted by fullerine at 2:18 AM on August 12, 2011


What I find worrying in the fallout from this mess is how Cameron and local councillors in Birmingham are moving towards the notion that any involvement in these acts can be punished by removal of council houses or a fine against the property where you live if it is privately owned (essentially adding to what is left on the mortgage repayment.) The implications of the brothers and sisters of someone who committed criminal offences being disenfranchised to such an extent - and, furthermore, the government's belief that this sort of action will not perpetuate problems in deprived areas terrifies me.
posted by multivalent at 3:04 AM on August 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


Thugs.
posted by armage at 3:09 AM on August 12, 2011


Who’s to blame for riots? Play the right-wing bingo!
posted by veedubya at 5:19 AM on August 12, 2011


"Yeah, I'm going with "scum", as is 95% of the British population."

No they aren't. Unless you're only reading kneejerk Facebook groups.
posted by mippy at 5:22 AM on August 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


There's too little reporting on the people showing up in court to be able to make any generalization other than most of the simplistic monocausal generalities are as wrong as they usually are.

I suspect the arrest profiles may suffer from sampling bias, since the police were not doing sweeps, but mostly just grabbing those who fell into their hands. So the arrestees may not be representative of who was on the streets. It is peculiar that that idiot Cameron doesn't have any arrest stats to back up his bizarre criminal masterminds conspiracy theory.

There are three distinct stages to the disorder:

1) the protest over the Duggan shooting. It appears the police contributed significantly to the violence there. So there were protesters and they don't appear to have been very much in the wrong.

2) Once the police had lost/destroyed control of the protest disorder, there was a violent protest (riot) against the police contiguous with the Duggan protest. I'll hazard a guess that a detailed examination of police communication logs will show that command realized the police had initiated the violence and then couldn't control it. This led to orders to "stand and hold" and not to pursue arrests. So there were rioters. It's backed up by some early graffiti reading "Fuck the Police." This was a rare instance of slogans associated with the riot.

3) After the police had immobilized themselves, looters joined in at random locations. Some among them were opportunistic criminals, some were kids out on a lark, some bystanders who became looters.

So you had protesters, rioters and looters. And police. Don't forget that the police played a very critical role creating the disorder and removing control from the streets.

The transition from protest (political action) to rioting (fighting the police and property destruction) to looting (theft in the absence of the police) often occurs when police attempt unsuccessful use of force to restore order / suppress protest and then withdraw.

That certainly was when the fecal matter got into the air-moving equipment at the WTO: the cops attempted large scale use of gas and it didn't work, then they withdrew. This would have been about 11am - 1pm on the first day. The media reported it as the "black bloc" going on a rampage.

Kudos to the cops in London for not having a police riot when they got the reinforcements on the third day. At the time, I misunderstood on day 2 that they weren't bringing in reinforcements. I thought they had run out of troops. In the US, the police rarely show this much restraint.
posted by warbaby at 8:16 AM on August 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


A stop & search.
posted by veedubya at 8:39 AM on August 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


warbaby: Do you have a source for (1)? I know that the shooting of Duggan led to the protest, but I havent heard anything about police treatment of the protest leading to the riot.
posted by memebake at 10:13 AM on August 12, 2011


Contining my 'most of the political spectrum in the UK are smart enough to look at the causes of crime' point, here's a really interesting ad-hoc interview with Boris Johnson (Conservative Mayor of London) today:
... And on that, let me just say...well, I don't want to say much more about it now, but it will become clear that I do not think that this is a simple issue, and I do not think we can simply ascribe it to wanton criminality or simply ascribe it to 'Tory cuts,' or whatever, you know ...

... I want to be more considered about this so please take this as a sort of first, you know. I think London is a wonderful city, and it works brilliantly and it brings people together in the most amazing way. [But] there are huge gaps, inequalities, there are problems of aspiration, of achievement, all sorts of [things] that lead people to behave in absolutely despicable ways. And, you know, I don't want to get into the whole background field of causation, cos it is very, very various...

... But what it has exposed is things to do with society over a long time. I don't want try to sum it up in a groping way with you now, but what I certainly think is true is that it has exposed issues, and what I really want this to do is to allow us to tackle gang crime, to get a grip on it.
This gives me some hope that all of the 'this is simple criminalty' bluster from the politicians was basically PR to try and get the riots stopped, and over the mid to longer term there might be some more reasoned analysis of all this.
posted by memebake at 10:22 AM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wrote the previous post before I went to work, so I'm pressed for time now.

Check the main riot thread for the description of the police refusing to engage with the protest and then beating a 16 year-old girl as the trigger to the riot. There is YouTube of the alleged attack on the girl linked in that thread.
posted by warbaby at 10:45 AM on August 12, 2011


If wealthy elites and looters alike can disregard rules then where does that leave someone who abides by laws and takes responsibility for their own actions?

The middle class?
posted by MuffinMan at 12:11 PM on August 12, 2011


The welfare state isn't an unnecessary expenditure, it's riot insurance.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 2:40 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


An Explanation is NOT An Excuse: London cabbie calls out bullshit
posted by homunculus at 5:35 PM on August 12, 2011


Ideally, you'd want the meritocratic welfare state, thsmchnekllsfascists, meaning people who actually do something get significantly more. In short, every vaguely local startup business, every funny standup comic, every reasonable musician, etc. gets minimum wage, and basic benefits, plus whatever they can scrape in. Anyone choosing to live a worthless life gets simply the bare necessities plus ongoing offers for free job training.

In Praise of Idleness by Bertrand Russell.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:17 PM on August 12, 2011


Ideally, you'd want the meritocratic welfare state, thsmchnekllsfascists, meaning people who actually do something get significantly more. In short, every vaguely local startup business, every funny standup comic, every reasonable musician, etc. gets minimum wage, and basic benefits, plus whatever they can scrape in.

Wait a second, only the funny standup comedians get minimum wage and basic benefits? I'm guessing the funny ones are the ones where the common consensus is that they're funny and people want to go see them, right? So, like the market decides? What's up with that? If anyone is in need of a minimum (but steady!) wage and basic benefits it's the unfunny comedians. Where's the compassion?

What if 25% of the population can play music at a reasonable level (whatever that might mean, perhaps it's according to the ears of some expert), and enjoys doing so? Does that mean the rest of us have to pay minimum wage (which I suspect is not all that minimal) and basic benefits to all those musicians? Where are they all going to find an audience? If a musician is performing and no one is around to hear them, did they make any music? Or to use your terms, did they actually do something? And if you only pay the ones who attract an audience, that is win the competition to supply the demand for musicians, wouldn't that just be a free market by another name?
posted by BigSky at 10:17 PM on August 12, 2011


What if 25% of the population can play music at a reasonable level (whatever that might mean, perhaps it's according to the ears of some expert), and enjoys doing so? Does that mean the rest of us have to pay minimum wage (which I suspect is not all that minimal) and basic benefits to all those musicians?

Yes, the basic idea is that in a post-scarcity society, everyone deserves to make a minimum (living) wage regardless of labour output, because the general benefits to society (reduced crime, increased health, etc) outweigh the immediate financial costs. Unintuitive, but entirely rational.
posted by mek at 10:27 PM on August 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes, the basic idea is that in a post-scarcity society...

"Post-scarcity."

What a curious notion.

Can we start now?
posted by BigSky at 10:52 PM on August 12, 2011


What a curious notion.

Try again. Though props for the crude attempt at emotional manipulation - stay classy! But, surely you understand that the very real distribution problems causing the starvation you cite, indict the same economic systems you seek to defend?
posted by mek at 11:26 PM on August 12, 2011


But, surely you understand that the very real distribution problems causing the starvation you cite, indict the same economic systems you seek to defend?

No, I don't understand that at all. Countless consumer goods are wasted or partially used every day. So what? Lots of people order drinks in a bar they don't finish or walk out of movies early. Those too, are wasted resources. Who cares?

You want to claim that there are some sort of distribution problems connecting the waste of food in the First World and the malnutrition in the Third World. However, the article you linked to does not make that argument, it simply talks about waste in general and how it differs between the First and Third World.

Perhaps you've noticed hunger does not occur in democracies? Take a look at this link on hunger and harmful economic systems, notice the countries they're talking about.

By the way, I didn't link to the photo of the child to give any kind of an argument in shorthand, only to express how ludicrous I find the idea of a post-scarcity world. Even more so, the idea that we can, or should (!), pay out salaries to people who are literally doing nothing, as in my example of musicians playing without an audience. But I suppose if you think that scarcity is some sort of temporary condition, then incentives aren't all that important either...
posted by BigSky at 12:26 AM on August 13, 2011


Perhaps you've noticed hunger does not occur in democracies?

Hahahahahaha...hahaha....oh god.....rofl.. wow, you're not even kidding, are you? That's unfortunate.
posted by mek at 12:33 AM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


how ludicrous I find the idea of a post-scarcity world. Even more so, the idea that we can, or should (!), pay out salaries to people who are literally doing nothing
Why is it "ludicrous" to pay those who do not wish to work a living wage? The cost to you is minuscule and the benefits massively outweigh them.

Do you have an idealogical aversion to people getting "something for nothing"? Do you feel personally cheated if someone gets a living wage without working for it? You know you could do it, the barriers for entry to the underclass are not insurmountable.

We live in a post-scarcity world.

The resources to clothe, feed and house the human race already exist and are already being consumed. Sure, the idea that we as a species have the mental capacity to enact such a distribution of resources is indeed ludicrous. The problem is, your second point is the reason for your first.
posted by fullerine at 2:01 AM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


The resources to clothe, feed and house the human race already exist and are already being consumed.
Unsustainably.
posted by dickasso at 2:06 AM on August 13, 2011


Looters queuing up (via a3rn.co.uk and thedailyshow.com)
posted by jeffburdges at 5:57 AM on August 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hahahahahaha...hahaha....oh god.....rofl.. wow, you're not even kidding, are you? That's unfortunate.

While there is room for a detailed discussion on the subject there is certainly no cause to engage in one with you. Your easy dismissal of this claim of Amartya Sen clearly displays your ignorance. In closing here is a quote from Sen on ending hunger; note the overlap with the content of the link in my previous post.

"There is no 'magic bullet' to deal with the entrenched problem of hunger in the world. It requires political leadership in encouraging democratic governments in the world, including support for multiparty elections, open public discussions, elimination of press censorship, and also economic support for independent news media and rapid dissemination of information and analysis. It also requires visionary economic policies which both encourage trade (especially allowing exports from poorer countries into the markets of the rich), but also reforms (involving patent laws, technology transfer etc.) to dramatically reduce deprivation in the poorer countries."

-----

Why is it "ludicrous" to pay those who do not wish to work a living wage? The cost to you is minuscule and the benefits massively outweigh them.

Do you have an idealogical aversion to people getting "something for nothing"?


The definition of "wage" is compensation for labor - that is what makes it ludicrous. Your use of the term "wage" is rhetorical sleight of hand. What you are advocating is state sponsored charity for everyone.

Yes, I do have an aversion to people getting something for nothing. Where is the incentive to work? I do not see any great benefits from these handouts outweighing their cost. The return from these policies is a growing underclass of ingrates. And this ingratitude, the refusal to acknowledge that they owe something, at the very least - loyalty, in exchange for their housing and dole, results from having rights (and we're talking here about moving beyond such "rights" as the "right to healthcare" to now having a "right to a stipend") without responsibilities.
posted by BigSky at 8:56 AM on August 13, 2011


Perhaps you've noticed hunger does not occur in democracies?
What?

For what it's worth, I don't think that Sen claims that hunger doesn't occur in democracies. That would be a little ludicrous, especially for someone who comes from India. He claims that famine doesn't occur in democracies but has noted publicly that Indian democracy has not been able to address the ongoing problem of widespread hunger and malnutrition.
posted by craichead at 9:16 AM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Perhaps you've noticed hunger does not occur in democracies?
I think you need a reality check right fucking now. In 2010 one in eight Americans relied on Feeding America for food and groceries.
Either that or you are saying America is not a Democracy.
posted by adamvasco at 9:19 AM on August 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


For what it's worth, I don't think that Sen claims that hunger doesn't occur in democracies. That would be a little ludicrous, especially for someone who comes from India. He claims that famine doesn't occur in democracies but has noted publicly that Indian democracy has not been able to address the ongoing problem of widespread hunger and malnutrition.

You are of course correct. I was thinking of famine and my saying hunger instead was wrong and misleading. Sen did use the word famine.
posted by BigSky at 1:10 PM on August 13, 2011


I think you owe me an apology for my "easy dismissal" of your claim which was, in fact, utterly false.
posted by mek at 1:15 PM on August 13, 2011


I botched the link to In Praise of Idleness by Bertrand Russell, a short piece that everyone should read.

I'd agree we all benefit when more people are well motivated, but survival need not be that motivator. All western countries could easily ensure that any citizen has food, clothing, shelter, and health care, ideally decreasing benefits for people who have too many children. Conversely, there isn't much evidence to suggest that people who don't work should be terribly comfortable. Scandinavians handle really enormous benefits well, but Saudis don't.

A meritocratic welfare system would exist to beneficially distort economic costs, i.e. encourage music, discourage ice cream sales, etc., not ensure survival. All western nations engage in massive cost distortions, but we commonly subsidize stupid shit like corn and oil, while not subsidizing beneficial products like vegetables.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:42 PM on August 13, 2011


I think you owe me an apology for my "easy dismissal" of your claim which was, in fact, utterly false.

Go whistle for it.

I acknowledge that statement, in isolation is incorrect, and also hold that you could have figured out my intended meaning pretty easy. It was made in response to a comment about starvation, and the link in the next sentence I wrote gave a number of examples of the kinds of countries I was referring to and the conditions that I clumsily referred to as "hunger".

So, no I don't think you're owed an apology, I just think you're a stingy reader.
posted by BigSky at 2:46 PM on August 13, 2011


Wow, this is easily the most impressive derail I've ever accidentally caused. Sorry everybody.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 4:03 PM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


BigSky, the suggestion that starvation is a problem only "democracy" (by which you actually mean, capitalism) can solve stands in outright denial of 4 billion years of natural history. It's also a total inversion of Sen's work! All of his work has observed that contemporary famine is always a distribution problem. There is enough food for everyone.
posted by mek at 6:03 PM on August 14, 2011


It's also a total inversion of Sen's work! All of his work has observed that contemporary famine is always a distribution problem.

A total inversion of his work? The argument of the article I quoted earlier is that famine, and hunger in the broader sense of under nourishment, is "primarily related to poverty". One of his recommendations for reducing world hunger is encouraging free trade, particularly in the form of wealthier countries removing tariffs in the hopes that widening the market for the poorer countries' goods will build their economies and create jobs for the poor. The poor need the opportunity to increase their purchasing power, that is make money, to secure food.

When you phrase it as a distribution problem which capitalism is ill-equipped to handle, the implication is that some central authority should be distributing food to all the needy. That implication is all the stronger given your earlier comment, "But, surely you understand that the very real distribution problems causing the starvation you cite, indict the same economic systems you seek to defend?"

But that implication isn't present in what he wrote. If he does use the phrase "distribution problem" it is likely that he does so to clarify that the problem is not one of production.

You claim that the extreme deprivation underlying world hunger indicts capitalism. Where is the argument for that? It's interesting that Sen writes "redistributive policies which provide employment" instead of "redistributive policies which provide income".
posted by BigSky at 7:09 PM on August 14, 2011


When you phrase it as a distribution problem which capitalism is ill-equipped to handle, the implication is that some central authority should be distributing food to all the needy.

No, I don't mean to say that at all. In criticizing contemporary global capitalism and "austerity measures" and the general attack on the social safety net, I am not automatically advocating a return to Soviet Russia. There are a lot more options on the table.
posted by mek at 7:42 PM on August 14, 2011


« Older MIT scientist Dr. Todd Rider has developed a viral...  |  "Running Alphabet... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments