12 August 2011

This, it appears, is not a time for the Left

Emily Maitlis, posting on Twitter earlier, utterly nailed the problem with so much of the current fumbling efforts to explain this week's English riots:
'Riots have become political chameleon: whatever you felt was problem before, you just repeat LOUDER and reference riots.'
It's deeply disheartening to watch some blaming the riots on cuts they've long opposed, on others blaming them on what they've long regarded as a sloth-engendering welfare state, other sneering at the police and claiming that elected police chiefs or even -- for the madder pundits -- privatised police forces would never have allowed the riots to happen, others taking this as an opportunity to call for a British right to bear arms.  

At this point my instincts are such that I'm really only inclined to take seriously commentary that accepts some share of blame for what's happened; a Guardian piece, for instance, that admits that social liberalism has made it harder for parents to raise their children, or Telegraph ones that recognises the criminality in Britain's streets cannot be disassociated from the moral corruption of the British establishment, or that point out that rioters are often just like us, and certainly aren't just 'other people'.

One really annoying aspect of so much commentary at the moment is the tendency towards finger-pointing, something which has been more pronounced from the right than the left. That's not to say that people on the left haven't drawn connections between the riots and cuts, but I think most realise that argument isn't very convincing. In the main people on the left have restricted themselves to -- aside from condemning the rioters themselves -- pointing out that we shouldn't be throwing our legal principles out the window, and saying that whatever the solution is it probably won't involve bringing back the death penalty, reintroducing national service, or evicting families because of the behaviour of one child. Liberal handwringing has been the understandable order of the day from most of those on the left.

A very good friend of mine wrote to me the other day, expressing this paralysis:
'Earlier this week I was admonished by a co-worker for daring to suggest that not all rioters had the same motivation - that many will have been lulled into the idea of causing as much damage as possible to see how far they could go, but others may have felt genuinely angry at what they see as being ignored by Society; that unless we seek out explanations for the actions of a vast number of disparate individuals, we can never hope to address the root causes.

Explanations like "they're all twats" don't cut it for me, but right now it seems I am in a tiny minority against a howling and aggrieved majority who would probably elect Sir Fred Goodwin to high office if he promised to bash the convicteds' heads in with bricks.

I am not an apologist.  I am not particularly defending the rights of rioters, other than that they should be treated according to the criminal law.  I am utterly ashamed of what my people have done to our country.  Their behaviour has been wholly thoughtless, naive and repugnant.

But we must breathe.  We must keep our perspective, punish those that should be punished, continue to help those that need helping, and above all get to the bottom of the root causes of this trouble so that we can actually make progress and ensure this never happens again.

I'll give you a hint - the solution won't involve cutting benefits back to the point where the jobless must find work or starve.

But this, it appears, is not a time for the Left.'
Part of the problem, as my friend pointed out, is that people are looking for simple explanations, ones which smoothe out the texture of the problem, that gloss over the facts that different rioters will have had different motivations, and that individual rioters may have had mixed motivations. Occam's Razor's an important principle, but sometimes it can be used too eagerly; it requires us to refrain from multiplying matters beyond necessity when considering problems, but it does not by any means say we should stop short of multiplying them to the necessary point. Indeed, it would be wrong to do so. Some issues are very complex.  

Making matters more difficult is the fact that people are so horrified and frightened by what's happened that attempts to understand what fuelled these riots are too easily perceived as attempts to excuse the rioters. Although 'hate the sin, love the sinner' is always a good principle, I don't even think that's what's going on here. Common sense dictates that riots have both immediate and underlying causes, and unless the underlying causes are identified, they can't be tackled properly. Identifying these causes, of course, requires asking the right questions and asking them of the right people. Fraser Nelson, on the Spectator blog, at least recognises the importance of doing this, and though I think he misses  important questions he at least raises some questions we should be considering. One that I'm really intrigued about concerns why all the riots were confined to England.*

As I've said, there are those on the left who are trying -- not very convincingly -- to link the riots with government cuts. But what of the right? Well, I'm come to that tomorrow. There's something especially disingenuous going on there.

* And what on earth was the Daily Mail playing at accusing the BBC of political correctness for pointing this out? If the BBC was guilty of anything in this regard, it was guilty only of factual correctness, or 'accuracy' as we used to call it.


Tom said...

Because the only time BBC News ever seems to talk about the English is when they have a negative connotation to attach. "English riots", "English Defence League"...

The Thirsty Gargoyle said...

I think you'll find that's just a matter of perception. After all, in the last week or so there have been stories about English Heritage, English cricket, English football, English rugby, English men, English universities, the English National sheepdog trials, English citizens taking up brooms against the mess left after the riots, English cathedrals, English writers, English allotments...