Oh, that radical chic.
Poverty, social exclusion, poor education – these are just some of the theories put forward to explain the recent rioting.
Yet shockingly, among those in the dock accused of looting are a millionaire’s grammar school daughter, a ballet student and an organic chef.
A law student, university graduate, a musician and an opera steward also said to have taken part.
They are just some of the youngsters from comfortable middle-class backgrounds who have been charged with criminality.
Some of them were arrested at the scene, others handed themselves in after seeing their faces in photographs and on video.
Whatever the reasons for their alleged trouble-making, it is clear that their future dreams could be crushed by their moments of madness.
Or, maybe not. In any case, as Andrew Fox writes, “It’s J. G. Ballard’s World, We Just Live in It:”
Readers familiar with Ballard’s final quartet of novels, all of which feature middle class professionals either diving into or being pulled into revolutionary, nihilistic violence due to ennui, boredom, or a cancerlike consumerism which has replaced religion and patriotism at the center of their psyches, will certainly nod with recognition at this article from The Daily Mail, which reveals that arrested looters and rioters included a law student, a social worker, a ballerina in training, and the school-age daughter of a millionnaire.
Coincidence or karma? Ballard’s penultimate novel, Millennium People, published in the U.K. in 2003, was finally released in a U.S. edition just last month. It features middle class professionals in suburban London instigating terrorism and revolution in an effort to shock a sense of meaning back into their lives. Several reviews appeared in major U.S. newspapers, including The Washington Post and The Seattle Times, just a day or two before the London riots broke out. I’m sure the reviewers whacked their foreheads with their palms and wished their deadlines had been just a couple of days later so that they could have infused their articles with the weightiness of current world events. Here’s Ballard himself talking about what he was up to with Millennium People, plus a lengthy, insightful, but unfortunately undated review from Open Letters Monthly called, presciently, “On the Barricades with the Bourgeoisie.”
At the London Telegraph, Peter Oborne writes, “The moral decay of our society is as bad at the top as the bottom:”
These double standards from Downing Street are symptomatic of widespread double standards at the very top of our society. It should be stressed that most people (including, I know, Telegraph readers) continue to believe in honesty, decency, hard work, and putting back into society at least as much as they take out.
But there are those who do not. Certainly, the so-called feral youth seem oblivious to decency and morality. But so are the venal rich and powerful – too many of our bankers, footballers, wealthy businessmen and politicians.
Of course, most of them are smart and wealthy enough to make sure that they obey the law. That cannot be said of the sad young men and women, without hope or aspiration, who have caused such mayhem and chaos over the past few days. But the rioters have this defence: they are just following the example set by senior and respected figures in society. Let’s bear in mind that many of the youths in our inner cities have never been trained in decent values. All they have ever known is barbarism. Our politicians and bankers, in sharp contrast, tend to have been to good schools and universities and to have been given every opportunity in life.
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.
The culture of greed and impunity we are witnessing on our TV screens stretches right up into corporate boardrooms and the Cabinet. It embraces the police and large parts of our media. It is not just its damaged youth, but Britain itself that needs a moral reformation.
But as the Daily Mail headline reminds us, not everyone involved in the riots is quite on the bottom rung of society.