Last night I set out for Rusholme for a drink and a curry with a mate. When we met at the pub we were turned away. The venue was shutting down in anticipation that the riots were moving in our direction. I felt profoundly disturbed. We found another pub that was remaining open. There were very few customers, but I did talk to one man who had been caught in the city centre violence unable to escape for three hours. I had heard enough. I walked home to the scene of emergency vehicles roaming the streets, lights flashing, and busloads of police officers being driven around the city.
Of course my experience is not unusual. The riots that have swept the country have caught millions in their repercussions. There is a palpable sense of unease running throughout our urban centres. The fact that government and the police are themselves behind the curve simply feeds our insecurity. We looked to authority to give a lead, and our helplessness is compounded when we see them reduced, like ourselves, to bystanders.
How should we make sense of our feelings? One way of looking at this is to understand that we construct a social world in which there is a “normal natural order”. Through our life’s experience, we form a view of how the world works. This is not just a description of the social world, it is also a moral prescription. We expect the world to work in a certain way, and hold the world morally accountable if it does not conform to our expectations.
The normal natural order permeates everything that we do. For example we expect that people die at the end of their natural lives. When an individual dies tragically young, we feel aggrieved, and struggle to make sense of the death. The death of a young person challenges the normal natural order. It is a moral dislocation of our social compass.
When it comes to rioting, I would suggest, we also have a normal natural order. Civil disorder ensues when there is political anger, and that anger is projected onto our symbols of authority, not least the police. The race riots of the 1980s, the poll tax riots, and the G8 riots all fall into this category. So does the civil unrest that is sweeping the Moslem world. Such civil unrest may be distressing for those caught up in it, but it doesn’t threaten our understanding of the kind of world we live in.
What we have experienced in feral Britain over the last few days breaks with the normal natural order. We have seen a different kind of riot. It is rioting for the sake of criminality. The rioters are focused on looting and dodge, rather than confront the authorities. It is little wonder police tactics are behind the curve.
In challenging the normal natural order, feral Britain is also deeply and profoundly disturbing. Like a young death, we are left trying to make sense of what is going on. Why do so many of our fellow citizens feel that this is an acceptable way to behave? For how long can we expect this new form of civil unrest to go on? What does this mean for the future of our society?
Disjuncts to the normal natural order are deeply unsettling. Until a new consensus emerges that makes sense of the events we are living through, we can expect to remain unsettled. But that new consensus will emerge, and when it does, our faith in the predictability of the social order will be restored. With it, our sense of security will also return. But it will take time.
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