Blog #18: James Baldwin and the London riots.

London is burning. The tragedy of the riots scarring London hijacks today’s blog. It is hard not to connect the massive mob vandalism errupting there with the ugliness of our own brief Vancouver riot. There is the same perverse delight in exercising destructive power, the same feral excitement at the breakdown in social order.

Like Vancouver, this is violence watched over by voyeurs, a live video game in which the onlookers seem to revel. This is a carnival of destruction in which the participants—passive or active—are intoxicated by the raw power of mindless smashing, looting, and violence.

This is spectacle on a Roman scale, spectacle which television and newspaper reporters, for all their professed revulsion, exacerbate by the lurid details and the excited grimness of their reporting. Facebook, Twitter, and Blackberry Messenger spread the fever more directly. Already there are signs that the infection is spreading to other cities, to Leeds, to Birmingham and beyond. It isn’t hard, even, to see this particular Walpurgisnacht leaping or flying over the Atlantic to North America.

Eventually the riots will die down. Eventually there will be an outpouring of public grief. Eventually there will be post mortems, recriminations and soul searching. Authorities and citizens will play complicated blame games. Rightly, they will also talk about a breakdown of law and order. They will lament about a lack of social constraint. They will pontificate about adrenalin-fuelled euphoria and young people with nothing to lose.

They will do all of that and more, and in the end, perhaps, they will connect the mindless looting with mindless consumerism. In the end, perhaps, our societies will take a small step towards constructing a world in which the satisfactions of sharing and caring are valued higher than those of consumption and self-indulgence. Perhaps.

But “perhaps” is too pat, too cynical. Ignore the perhaps. Instead, read Baldwin’s “Notes of A Native Son.” Reflect on “the unbelievable streets” and the “wilderness of smashed plate glass.” Think about the unbearable choice between gangrene and amputation. Finally, most importantly, think about accepting life as it is, and men as they are, and think about fighting injustice and building civility.

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One Comment

  1. Yes. Thank you, Andre.

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