Thursday, 11 August 2011

The Dark Side of Consumer Culture

Post by IanWe have seen over this past week a horrendous display of violence on the streets of our cities. The most shocking element being that, unlike previous riots, this has not been targeted at government and police. Instead there has been a wave of looting and wanton destruction. This was not a political protest turned violent, this was a blatant display of criminal acquisitiveness. Burglary and criminal damage on a grand scale.

The spark has been stated as the shooting of Mark Duggan by police. A peaceful protest by family, friends and local people in Tottenham was hijacked at the end by a minority intent on violence. Since this outbreak, other waves of looting have swept London and, from there, the rest of the UK.

David Cameron has called this behaviour a symptom of a broken, or even sick, society. I must say that, to an extent, I agree with him. But it is more than that. This is a symptom of the consumer culture, forever reaching to grow the economy by enticing us to spend even more on things we are told we "need". This is a symptom of the greed and acquisitive material culture that the government, of whatever colour, supports. The reason? This culture underpins our economy and ensures that we can afford the government expenditure - which is based on an assumption of continued growth. Continued growth is unsustainable. It is a house of cards on which we build our economy and stake our futures (pensions). Eventually, we will reach a peak - if we are not there already.

The people who are looting, in the main, are young people. They have grown up in a culture which has told them that they have "the right" to a nice TV, nice clothes, designer trainers. They have grown up in a culture that enforces the right of individuals over the regard of others around them. They have grown up in a culture where it is acceptable to spend more than you have. There are older people in the mix as well, I would guess that they joined in with the same attitude.

The recent debt crisis has closed down access to cheap credit. This has affected the lower paid and those who are credit risks more than the higher paid and those with good credit ratings. I would hazard a guess the the majority of those looting were in the first two categories. Cut off from cheap credit, they saw an opportunity to grab "free stuff" that our culture has been whispering that they "need".

This is a possible explanation, but there is no excuse for this attitude to the property and livelihoods of others. The looters need to realise that, through their actions, the lives of ordinary people have been ruined. Even after the immediate effect of homelessness and loss of property has been sorted out, jobs will be lost and neighbourhoods blighted - not all of those shops looted will reopen.

Above all though, we must learn to live within our means. At the government level as well as at the level of the individual. As Dickens had Mr McCawber state: "Income £20, expenditure £19 19s 6d, result: happiness. Income £20, expenditure £20 6d, result: misery."

Yet, in the midst of this darkness, there is a light. In the days after the looting, people have been turning out with broom in hand. They came to help tidy up after the nights of violence and destruction. They came to help their community and neighbourhoods.

But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. ~ 1 Timothy 6:8-9


  1. Hard to disagree with this Ian. After the initial shock and response, we all need to realise that collectively we share in the responsibility, one way or another, for what happened-and therefore must contribute to the solution. As you suggest, our western value-systems may need re-dress.Integrity and compassion was certainly lacking in the instant, from those involved in the rioting;but are these characteristics something that we value highly enough in our society anyway ? Are they demonstrated day in day out by our `leaders`, do we have expectation of caring communities as oppposed to `care in the community` ?

    Change won`t happen overnight, nor will it occur through knee-jerk response.Moral courage and personal responsibility need to become just as valued as financial success.


  2. In times of social unrest, whenever it occurs, there is often a call for national service or aggressive punitive punishment; for a reversal of crumbling ethics and morals; for a return to the good old days, when youth had respect for their elders and property.

    The reason for the collapse of the tightly held boundaries that hold our society together is always linked to the structure of the society at that time, be it the economic model, despotism, bad parenting; the list goes on, not forgetting the evil of not being God fearing (whichever god you choose). There is always an ‘explainable’ departure from the right path that has lead youth to a bad end; an influence that is negative and wrong, which sways the innocent young mind to make the wrong choices.

    However, there is barely a time in history when youth has passed up the opportunity to riot and loot or indulge in equally despicable activities; there has never been a society that, given the opportunity, where youth has not gone amuck. There is not a society that could be built that would not at some point fall foul of raging youth if it did not provide an alternative outlet for destruction. The difference is always how it is tolerated (or not) in times past violent retribution would have been common.

    Even in old small tribal communities youths were separated out and went through tuff rites of passage in to manhood responsibility. Violence and aggression becomes a manageable commodity. Young warriors may target tribal enemies, raid neighbouring clans, become heroes.

    I’m not saying that there is nothing to be done, or that society cannot be made better or that it is inevitable. Just that it is a part of the natural state of being when youth breaks loose. Horrible, yes: justifiable, no: society has predictably failed. Moralising helps us to feel better about it, blame is illusionary. In times of war or in warring societies destructive youth is useful. When it happens in peace time or in societies not designed to accommodate such behaviour it’s rightly deplorable.

    If there are not adequate structures within any society that fits the needs of youth in a transitory state from supervised childhood to responsible adults, mayhem will largely happen. We have to deal with it. I agree that we all share responsibility and should be constantly questioning the adequacy of our social systems to police and deliver safe passage for all into adulthood.

  3. We are living in the post-industrial revolution era.
    Never again will there be enough jobs for everyone. Robotics and Automation will not go away.The Luddites found that out long ago.

    Aldous Huxley in his prophetic novel 'Brave New World'solved the problem by fencing off the unemployed, uneducated underclass in darkest South America.

    The rest of us were programmed from birth to follow the career chosen for us by the political elite.

    result? - a peaceful and orderly world for the chosen ones. The Devil take the rest.

  4. Oooh `eck....I`m off to South America then.