Conversation With A Progressive: The British Riots

Nigel Shocking, just shocking these riots. Wouldn’t you agree?

David No. I’d say rather that they were expected.

Nigel Too right they were. These youth were disaffected. Nothing but products of a society which has given up hope on them. The only surprising thing is that the riots didn’t happen sooner and last longer.

British RiotsDavid Hang on a minute. You’re saying that it was society’s fault that these people broke the law?

Nigel Of course. The evidence is everywhere. We have a society in which “bankers’ bonuses, MPs cheating on their expenses, unemployment, government spending cuts, poverty, social inequality” are routine. Society itself is to blame.

David Let us be clear. Do you claim that it was society that caused these people to steal trainers, iPhones, and televisions? To loot and destroy? To set fire to private property and to attack the police?

Nigel That is so.

David And that if it was society that was the cause of all this, the rioters themselves were not to be blamed? That although they perpetrated these criminal acts, they were justified in doing so?

Nigel A brutal truth and unpalatable. But one which is the case. As the Daily Telegraph said, it is our “culture of greed and impunity” that drove these unfortunates to violence.

David Very well. Let us accept your premise as true—that society caused these people to act in criminal fashion—and see where it leads us.

Nigel No tricks, now.

David Heaven forfend! But you would agree, I hope, that society—since it is society which we are investigating—is composed of people who, more or less, share a common culture or at least a culture which is in parts different than other cultures?

Nigel That is so.

David The culture itself is shaped by its members, by those people who live within certain geographic bounds. Its members interact with one another in ways too complex to track completely, but can we agree that it is these interactions that, so to speak, create the culture? And that culture and society mean much the same thing?

Nigel Of course.

David “Society”, then, is all the people living in some defined place. Society is comprised of all its members, and you say that society is to blame for the riots. Therefore, the rioters, since they are part of society, are to blame for their acts? Isn’t that opposite of what we assumed?

Nigel You don’t understand. When I say society is to blame, I do not mean all of society, but a part of it.

David Which part?

Nigel The part which controls the money and power.

David Do not these rioters control some money and some power?

Nigel They do, but only a fraction. It is money-hungry businesses and power-seeking corporations that control most.

David So it the business owners themselves that were responsible for their shops being vandalized and looted?

Nigel In a roundabout manner of speaking, yes.

David Would you agree that some among those business owners and corporate board members themselves commit crimes? That rioters don’t have a monopoly on lawlessness?

Nigel I more than agree.

David The class of businesses and corporations is not uniform. Some businessmen and some corporations are richer than others.

Nigel This is true.

David Then, according to your hypothesis, those lower in the hierarchy must have been driven to crime by those higher up. Something caused some businessmen to break the law. And the only explanation you have offered is that crimes are committed by unbearable urges caused by being members of the lower classes. It must then be that all crime is caused by person or small group of persons who sit atop the hierarchy.

Nigel I said nothing about unbearable urges.

David Did you not say, after amendments, that merely being a member of a lower class was what “drove” people to crime? And is not “being driven” another way of saying creating an irresistible urge?

Nigel Whether it does or not is not interesting. I protest your bending of words to suit your own meanings. It was clear that by businesses and corporations I meant an entirely different class of people, one who are wholly apart from those under them.

David So businessmen are not part of the same society? Then, since “society” caused the riots, it must be that either these businessmen or the rioters played the role of foreign invader.

Nigel You’re in the realm of the fanciful. Anyway, we would not be the first to arrive at the conclusion of class warfare for social justice.

David I would remind you that it was Cicero who said that an unjust peace is better than a just war.


  1. Rich

    If I accept your definition of “society” then I am forced to conclude that “multicultural society” is an oxymoron.

  2. ken

    THAT was a tailored version of the “Otter Defense” — made originally in the movie Animal House:

    It didn’t work then, in the movie, but of course times have changed…likely rendering the ineffectualness of that defense completely obsolete before we know it….

  3. Doug M

    Your arguement has a big hole. It is not illigitemate to say “society is to blame.”

    It is perfectly possible to have a two tiered society, in which the “upper class” dominates the “lower class.” Where there may be “one society” but the divisions between the classes is so stark that there is not one culture. Apartheid South Africa would be a notable example.

    Not that England has anything close to that sort of a class divide. All of the commentary that makes it here suggests that this was more about cellibrating misbehavior and capitalizing on the opportunity to nick some new stuff.

  4. Ray

    The old excuse was the devil made me do it and the new excuse is society made me do it. You must admire the forceful response of the British police. They were arresting people trying to protect their businesses from looters. In the UK it is illegal to protect your person or property from criminals. You must flee from the criminals.

  5. Bruce

    I think the rioters have as much right to loot iPods as the wind turbine builders/operators have to loot subsidy money from the average UK citizen.

  6. Briggs


    Even if we grant that—which I don’t: can we say that the blacks had no influence on the behavior of the whites in South Africa?—the burden would then be on Nigel to show how the rioters were such a class. Clearly they are not, nor even close to it.

  7. Brian

    You seem to be pushing farther and farther away from the original topic. These citizens of British society have been lead to believe they are owed something which is now being denied to them, thus giving them the right to loot and take what they are owed. The question is has “society” shaped their belief system to expect gifts which were not earned. If so, how can the moral compass be reset? These are tricky questions at best.

  8. Rich

    Brian, you said, “These citizens of British society have been lead to believe they are owed something which is now being denied to them”

    Can you point me to any examples of this leading taking place? I haven’t live in Britain all my life yet but so far I haven’t seen any of it.

  9. Bruce

    Rich, don’t you think most citizens of the UK were led to believe that their would be affordable energy and that they wouldn’t have to choose between eating and heating their homes in the winter? Because of Al Gore and his disciples more people will freeze to death in the UK or die in the winter than necessary.

  10. Luis Dias

    Let’s all hail the status quo and do nothing about it!

  11. Luis Dias

    And it takes several special places to now learn that the paltry mess of Apartheid was a product of those nasty negros attitude. If only they were more white!

  12. Bruce

    Luis, at first I thought that those rioters should be punished severely. After thinking about if for a few days I realize that I was incorrect.

    I now wish people in the UK were blowing up wind farms.

    I am not advocating that of course.

    I just think it would be fitting since every wind farm blown up would lessen green subsidies and lower each persons power bill.

  13. Rich

    If I’m following you Bruce – not a given – you’re suggesting that people rioted and looted in the Summer because they weren’t going to be able to afford their electricity bills in the coming Winter? It appeared to me that there was a predominance of non-bill-paying teenagers in the crowds so how would that work?

  14. Bruce

    Rick, I’m saying their are minor league looters in the UK and major league looter.

    The minor league looters are under a stress partly because of the big green scam that has raised their power bills by a significant amount and more in the future.

    The major league looters are the politicians/environmentalists/power companies who are stealing billions all in the name of AGW.

    I think way too much attention is being paid to the minor league looters. I just wish the courts had mobile justice vans for the major league looters.

    In the absence of real justice, I wish they minor league looters had decided to attack the major league looters source of income. (not recommending such action in any way).

  15. Rich

    OK, Bruce, you’ve dropped the “led to believe” motif which is good. And in support of your last post I recall a young woman interviewed on the street saying, “We’re doing this to show the rich we can do what we like” though I suspect the rich were somewhat bemused that the burning down of a corner shop was a message to them.

    But I can only agree with your final point. It does seem that those most vocal about Britain’s “moral decay” are those most responsible for it.

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