The Riots: A Blip In Civilization?

In Modernity and the Holocaust, Zygmunt Bauman argued against a long tradition of ‘civilization’ theory tending to suggest that the Nazis were a ‘blip’ in modern development, ‘evil’ in nature and that there was no need to consider wider sociopolitical connections in accordance with such a horrific event. Bauman critiqued this view, arguing that the Nazis were a product of what is known as ‘civilization’; that modernity and its connections to the development of a division of labour, technology, ‘reason’ and bureaucracy for instance were all key to the development of the Nazis and the Holocaust.

Such an analysis bears a lot of weight when considering David Cameron’s recent remarks and the response from many in the public realm regarding the riots; essentially the view that the riots had nothing to do with wider sociopolitical reasons and that, implying a ‘naturalistic’ 1900s viewpoint, the people involved were ‘barbaric’, ‘naturally’ ‘evil’ and just a mere ‘blip’ in civilization.

Whilst I wouldn’t argue that the Holocaust and the riots are in the same league of atrocities, the connection between people ignoring the wider sociopolitical causes and also the tendency to write it off as something most people would be incapable of doing is disturbing. This inability to try to understand is why events like this, and the human rights disasters around the world, occur and carry on. It’s why our arms trade deals with the Middle East goes up by 30% during the Arab Spring compared to the same time last year!

On the riots, David Cameron criticised the BBC arguing that:

I might say that when you listen to the BBC, there is a sort of danger… of trying to put all this into a great mush, and make that as an excuse for not acting. Some people almost say well until we deal with the problems of inequality in our society, there is nothing that you can do to deal with rioting.

This inability to connect the dots to see the bigger picture of how the riots relate to wider issues such as social justice, and are not just a product of ‘pure criminality’, is exactly why things such as the rioting happen in the first place. It is evidenced in how David Cameron argued that culture and poverty are distinct, again ignoring the intense connections these two areas have. Alongside probably often getting off on destroying people’s lives, well lives not judged as ‘livable’ (consult my blog on ‘livable’ and ‘unlivable’ lives), people such as Cameron have such a shallow view of society they fail to have any larger understanding or connection to the reality of the situation. Instead, they discount it as a mere ‘blip’, something that will go away, something that doesn’t require much thought – they blame symptoms of a wider problem (so families who often breakdown because of the sociopolitical climate) instead of tackling the cause (capitalism/neoliberalism).

Only when politicians start to see the bigger picture will we see fundamental change. Even groups such as the Taliban exist for reasons that need to be understood before they can be successfully challenged. Merely going in and bombing them without understanding that years of oppression can lead people into oppressive action is exactly why civil and political disasters continue to occur within the UK and around the world. We look at the way David Cameron is continuing to look at freedoms of expression such as the internet (a product of modernity, reason and technology) to control and oppress people, and cannot help but see that instead of being a ‘blip’ in civilization, it is a product of what we call modern-day ‘civilization’.


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