A friend of mine pointed me in the direction of this piece by Žižek on the London Riots. First he calls the financial collapse of 2008 (and now 2011) what it is: systemic failure. But it is Žižek’s deconstruction of the failure of most mainstream commentators to see the core of what went on in London and other British cities:
Zygmunt Bauman characterised the riots as acts of ‘defective and disqualified consumers’: more than anything else, they were a manifestation of a consumerist desire violently enacted when unable to realise itself in the ‘proper’ way – by shopping. As such, they also contain a moment of genuine protest, in the form of an ironic response to consumerist ideology: ‘You call on us to consume while simultaneously depriving us of the means to do it properly – so here we are doing it the only way we can!’
He also notes that of course the rioters and the shop owners, are from the same class. The riots remained localized to very specific communities – those with the least. The difference is that the small merchants succeeded in adapting to the system and the rioters have nothing left.
Critically important to Žižek is the utter absence of something to fill the void. What now?
What is the point of our celebrated freedom of choice when the only choice is between playing by the rules and (self-)destructive violence?
The poverty of or liberal-democratic options is perhaps worse than the poverty of those engaged in the rioting. Why worse? Because the rioters at least have the good sense to say nothing, whereas the rest of us have fooled ourselves into believing that there is “a choice.”
Choice in Croydon is between survival and its opposite. With such a stark option, what would you do?