Saturday, August 13, 2011

Broken Society

The dramatic events in England are a symptom of a growing malaise in our societies. The revolt of youngsters living in suburban areas is the product of the fracture between the haves and the have-nots. There is an analogy with the explosion of anger in the French banlieues, led by young French born with a clear ethnical identity (sons of Maghrebian immigrants). But the backdrop in which the riots exploded (in Tottenham, a suburban area with high poverty and unemployment) is characterized by a deep economic crisis, severe cuts in public spending and growing uncertainty on future prospects.

Z.Bauman* argues that the revolts are caused by young people deprived from access to consumer goods. His point is that these are not bread riots like in Arabic countries although there is some commonality in being equally humiliated. He writes: " For defective consumers, those contemporary have-nots, non-shopping is the jarring and festering stigma of a life un-fulfilled – and of own nonentity and good-for-nothingness. Not just the absence of pleasure: absence of human dignity. Of life meaning. Ultimately, of humanity and any other ground for self-respect and respect of the others around".

It is sad to see these young people without an ideology, guided by consumerism. Their fathers used to protest for justice and liberty. As Z.Bauman puts it " Supermarkets may be temples of worship for the members of the congregation. For the anathemised, found wanting and banished by the Church of Consumers, they are the outposts of the enemy erected on the land of their exile. Those heavily guarded ramparts bar access to the goods which protect others from a similar fate".

It would be wrong to affirm that the young people from the poor suburban areas are just criminals or 'casseurs'. These problems exist in many cities of the world but it is difficult to predict when a small flame turns into a social chaos. Over the last decades, societies have undergone a process of disintegration, becoming less cohesive and more vulnerable. D.Cameron, the British PM, put forward a year ago his project of Big Society, meaning a devolution of State prerogatives to individuals as well as charities to reconcile the British society. In fact, it is just a revisited project of M.Thatcher's extremist ideology which considered that society does not exist, but just individuals. The consequence of this pure folly is a broken society, that is a society with intolerable injustice, with middle classes disoriented by the austerity measures introduced by the right wing government.

Social inequality has become a major political problem in today societies and it often underestimated by political leaders. We need an Ethical revolution to give human dignity to all, not just give access to material or symbolic objects such as sophisticated cell phones.
This is a long, difficult endeavour.

*The London Riots – On Consumerism coming Home to Roost, published in Social Europe Journal, August 2011

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