I don’t recognise the British towns and cities being beamed into my living room on rolling TV news bulletins and websites. As I type, the violence and criminality sweeping densely-populated parts of England is continuing this evening. It’s deeply saddening to see parts of our small island being torn apart by mindless thugs. Technology, most notably Twitter and BlackBerry Messager (BBM), has been widely criticised as having helped fuel the riots. That technology acts as a facilitator is not in doubt, but it is wrong to label these tools as the cause of the continued unrest.
What started out as a peaceful protest about the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham has rapidly morphed into a wholly different problem, coordinated by disaffected youths engaging in the communal release of the anger and resentment they feel at their life circumstances. Our consumerist society lies at the heart of the problem; when there’s always something bigger, better, and shinier, some find it difficult to find contentment in the here-and-now. Today’s Guardian newspaper captures the root problem succinctly:
The riots are a product of the lives which the rioters choose or feel constrained to live. Blaming the riots on individual wickedness, conspiracies or on government spending cuts is too glib for such complex issues, though they cannot be dismissed altogether even so. Both conspiracy and deprivation are part of the complex and grim story, as is the cult of violence, especially guns, and a rage against exclusion from consumerist fulfilment.
There’s so much more to life than simply chasing your next material possession. We live in an extraordinary world, with knowledge and opportunities that our forefathers couldn’t even have imagined. Our natural world is filled with enough wonders and riches to fill a lifetime of curiosity. While I sit and ponder this evening why so many Brits have chosen to express themselves through violence and criminality, I hope that all of us who deplore their actions will also take a moment to be thankful for the remarkable world in which we live and contented in the knowledge that there’s more to life than consumerist fulfilment.