Monday, August 8, 2011

Queen's Peace

I used this picture to close the preceding post.Because it's rather a powerful image and let me explain why I think so.

The police officer has all the accoutrements of First World riot control circa 2011; helmet, facemask, radio, riot shield, baton, all in police blue, all very modern and urban down to her mascara.

But look at her.

Take the club out of her hand and shove a sword in it and she's 1211, not 2011, facing down Welsh rebels for King John. Or 711, fighting the Moors at Tours. Or 511BC, chasing helots out of Sparta. All our complex learning hasn't changed the simple understanding of one human standing ready to deal out brutal force against another.

For all our inventiveness, and gadgets, and indoor plumbing, for all our "civilization" and "wisdom" and "learning"...Constable Nameless with her club and shield reminds us that we haven't come all THAT far from when we were some damn pithecanthropus scratching our ass wondering whether that thing under that bush is something to eat or something that's going to eat us.


  1. I can easily see the analogy, Chief, but I think it is flawed.

    The whole point in 1211 would have been to deliver Constable Nameless to a particular place where she would cause maximum mayhem, take a nice goody home to the hubby, and then leave. Hopefully with all of her limbs intact.

    In 2011, she is attempting to protect property by physically putting herself in harms way. All of her equipment other than the baton is designed to keep her alive and mobile. Even the baton, which is being used much more sparingly than it would be in the US, is designed to leave a non-permanent mark and an uncomfortable memory instead of permanently crippling or killing the recipient.

    I'd say we've learned a few lessons in 800 years. You're just despairing of all the obvious lessons we haven't yet mastered, like treating your people is a well enough to avoid causing riots in the first place.

    My continual thought during the riots is to wonder how the US would treat a similar event. I doubt we will show nearly as much restraint and the shock of the event might finally throw us over the edge into announcing our change of government rather than just creeping into it.

  2. Chief,
    This all could've been avoided , if these people had been invited to the royal wedding.
    Maybe even if a few of them were toted around the world with them this all could've been avoided.
    The US and Britain are so similar in the distribution of wealth and good fortune.
    Fuck the Queen.

  3. I agree with Pluto.

    It *isn't* a sword in her hand.
    Progress, perhaps.

  4. Strange as it sounds, I'm not really despairing about this, but rather accepting that some things are fundamental to human nature. We are sometimes wolves, sometimes sheep, sometimes sheepdogs. People like this constable have been keeping the Queen's Peace since before there were queens and will continue to do so long after the last queen has been retired.

    What I think it does remind us is not to get too hoity about how "advanced" we are. I think that us lefties, especially, like to think that if we just improve this and tweak that that we can make people into "better" people, or at least less likely to let the old poop-flinging monkey out. But I think we underestimate the ol' bobo. It's still a powerful force, and when we're all living in those gleaming sky-towers and playing twelve-dimension chess Constable Nameless will STILL need to have her club and shield in her locker for those moments when we feel like scratching our ol' minkey ass...

  5. jim reminds us that there is more to social peace and cohesion than speaking the same language.

    As I discussed in the preceding post - everything I'm reading suggests that a LOT of the people doing this burning and looting are long-term unemployed yobbos in what the Brits call "estates" - what we'd call "the projects".

    There's nothing that "excuses" this sort of nonsense. But there are things that help "explain" it and can help us head it off. And one truth that has been self-evident from Babylonian times to yesterday is that young men are trouble. You can make them into constructive trouble by ensuring they have good hard work to do. And if you don't, then you might as well accept that you're going to spend X on the brute force - Constable Nameless with her club, or worse - keeping the Morlocks down.

    ISTM that figuring out a way to employ these jokers would be cheaper. But that would mean reversing the 21st Century trend to increase efficiency and do more with fewer people...

    Not sure how this plays out. But I am sure that if you construct a system that ends up with lots of unemployed yobs hanging around this sort of flare-up is going to happen as surely as the sunrise.

  6. jim:

    Strangely enough, the distribution of wealth in the United Kingdom is much more egalitarian than it is in the USA. The top 1% only controls about 20% of the nation's wealth (as opposed to about 35% in the USA)

  7. Referring to the riots in Britain-

    Had lunch with a friend who has commented on this blog in the past. I'm taking the liberty of pasting here something he wrote earlier today:

    "You may be surprised, but I can understand why they did it. They've been brought up (probably too positive a notion) to be part of a 'me first, me now' materialistic driven culture which excludes any concept of community. They share this view with well off kids as well but, because they don't have the wherewithall to actually indulge in 'me first, me now' totally, they are also quite outraged about it. Normally they just stab each other and rob each others houses, but it has spilled out onto the streets "for a bit of fun". Mindless scum, yes, but of our own making. We shouldn't be surprised."

    Very much agree with this perspective. There's also something of the violent tendencies one witnesses in Britain. Go out in any large city on Friday or Saturday night and simply walk around the downtown, the alcohol and the tension are everywhere. One gets the impression all it would need is a spark.

    I would also be interested in the ethnic breakdown of those arrested. . . how many of South Asian background, assuming that their family ties are much stronger. Watching TV one got the impression that this group found the riots terrible, as well as being something of a target.


    I think it basically comes down to community and unfortunately we, both in the UK, and the US, are going in the opposite direction.

  9. I think the initial outburst was in the English black community, but once things go going it was a free-for-all.

    Although I'm guessing because the Pakistani- and Indian-expat communities have so many of the small stores near the "estates" that you're likely right that they were hammered well out of proportion to their number.

  10. Ael: My understanding, though, is that the ABSOLUTE difference between richest and poorest in the UK is wider than the US. Not sure if that really has anything to do with this, tho. It just seems like a natural consequence of having a critical mass of people without work, without every having HAD much work, and without ever having a real hope of work and a place at the table. Why NOT tear shit up? In jail at least there's three hots and a cot and no worries about scrabbling for small change to eat.

  11. Chief:
    I am not sure that I believe that the absolute difference is greater in the UK than the USA. Certainly, the USA has more billionaires and given that America has warmer places than the UK, you can get by with less in the USA (In January, being homeless in San Diego is less of a hardship than being homeless in Swansea).

    Finally, I think that the UK has better social/health programs. Therefore, I would guess that the absolute difference is greater in the USA, but I really don't know. It may depend on how you do the numbers.

    On a different note, Gwynne Dyer agrees that young bored males are a recurring problem.

  12. FDChief-

    As usual you cut to the chase well . . .

    "if you construct a system that ends up with lots of unemployed yobs hanging around this sort of flare-up is going to happen as surely as the sunrise. "

    Agree, but the US situation is different. Different urban landscape, not so easy to mass and exactly who masses? The groups exercising effective moral cohesion . . . Probably gangs in the urban US. Once they see it as in their interest to use such violence, we're lost, should that ever come about. Says something about the social urban landscape we have allowed to develop.

    Best deal would be to sell the reestablishment/rejuvenation of "Mother Earth", but really how likely is that to trigger the type of effect we need?

    Unlikely, except given the right conditions, essentially the best choice of the lot.

    We seem to be coming to that.

  13. I lived for three years in the UK in the late 1990's and this doesn't really surprise me. I was pretty shocked at the racism in the UK (in most of Europe actually) and the ease with which British youth (and it seems to be mainly the brits and not so much the Welsh or Scots) go to violence. An Air Force guy at my unit was put in the hospital by a bunch of thugs with bricks in a nice little village not far from the base. He was black and the motivation was race along with the "lads" having a little fun after pub closing. Then there's the soccer violence.

    Not sure how all this translates to the US.

  14. seydlitz: I'm not sure that this is a "gang" issue. Many in the UK are trying to make it that, or trying to pass it off as individual criminality. But I think there's also an factor of having lots of young guys with nothing to do and no reason to care whether they loot a store or hang out and smoke some weed. Right now we don't have many of these kinds of people - our long-term unemployed are largely urban and black and know perfectly well what's gonna happen if they get "out of line" - the coppers will beat and shoot their asses. But if we have a Japanese style "lost decade"...I dunno, but we might see some changes, and we might not like them.

    Andy: One thing I think that is different - and that we here need to think hard about - is that in many parts of the UK there really is a "dole culture"; people in many parts of many villages, towns, and cities have been unemployed or spottily employed for years, some of them have had fathers on the dole as well. The European labor market generally does a pretty good job of protecting your job if you have a job. But if you don't, well...

    So bunches of young guys end up just hanging out. And working class guys have got to be hard; it's a badge of honor, the last vestige of self-respect. No job, no prospect of a job, but come on and 'ave a go if you think you're 'ard enough, eh?

    The football hoolies are just these same guys, using the clubs as a way to get stuck in to somebody else for no real reason, just the sheer joy of fighting.

    Back in the great days of Brittania they'd be in a red coat and off to work off that energy against Maoris, Zulus, or Afghans, and if they ended up with six feet of colonial dirt, well, that's the spirit that won the Empire, what?

    We've been lucky here that we have never really had an economy that was able to do without large numbers of military-age males. But...we might be looking at one soon. And we need to think about this and see if it might be transatlantic, how it might translate into, say, a Boston with 20% unemployment for five years, or a decade...

  15. FDChief-

    I'm not saying it is a "gang issue" in the UK, but that would provide the moral cohesion in the US should we get to that point. I think the YOBs much more cohesive in the UK, much more able to communicate and mass on short notice, more than our atomized pulp which considers itself "middle class" and are a bunch of loners. Look at the violence we have in the US compared to what is going on in the UK. How often does mass violence in the US come down to one very angry and disturbed guy with guns?

  16. seydlitz: What makes a difference, I think, is that here in the U.S. we consciously reject the notion of "class" and in the UK and most of the rest of the world it's an accepted part of reality.

    So in Manchester, say, if you talk a certain way and dress a certain way and hang out at certain places you have an immediate connection with the other guys that do that...and an immediate hate on for those that don't, whether they're some toffee-nosed git from a public school or some Yank Air Force darkie out on the town. Makes mobilizing the guys a lot easier and quicker; though they have "Gangs" in our sense, I'll bet their gangs feel a class-hate against their government and toffs that ours have a hard time finding.

    But what I am a little concerned about is that if we have a "lost decade" - and one without any visible attempt to find something for these guys to do, that they might FIND that class-solidarity, and that by 2021 it might have gelled into a real hardcore dole/estate/hard boys attitude that could be very hard to break.

  17. Just a point about gang culture in the UK ... I can't tell how different it is from gang culture anywhere else, but I am concerned about Cameron and his gang (Eton, Bullingdon Club etc) seem to be making an issue of this as a focus for parliamentary discussion about the recent riots. It seems to me that this is a convenient shift away from focussing on where the root of the problems lie - which are manifold and complex and cross boundaries of 'left' or 'right' analysis. There is a structural weakness in British society - as in most Western Societies - that give status to possession. Where does this leave the dispossessed? The most shocking revelation to come from all this, for me, has been the demonstration of a total lack of identity with any sense of common culture: there is no community; there is no moral compass; we're all in it for ourselves.

    It hurts.

  18. Just so ya'll know Fitch is the guy I quoted above . . .

  19. Fitch-

    "There is a structural weakness in British society - as in most Western Societies - that give status to possession. Where does this leave the dispossessed?"

    That's it in a nutshell, isn't it? What I possess is who I am. If I don't like who I am, I buy - or steal - some new stuff, and I'm somebody else . . . or a more improved version of my own ideal, but all focused on the individual, community never comes into it . . .

    When violence like this comes to the US, it will be from the Radical Right and it will be organized. More the nature of pogroms . . . ?

  20. Wages of Dole:
    Wages of Sin:

    £34.60 a week for single people aged 16-17
    £45.50 a week for single people aged 18-24 (including some 16-17 year olds)
    £57.45 a week for single people aged 25 or over.

    Single parents can expect to receive:

    £34.60 a week for people aged under 18
    £45.50 a week for people aged under 18 in certain circumstances
    £57.45 a week for people aged 18 or over.

    Couples can expect to receive:

    A maximum of £68.65 a week if both people are aged under 18
    A maximum of £90.10 a week if both people are aged 18 or over.

    These numbers are three years old.
    Enough to quaff a few pints.

    If the repubs do away with unemployment here, the Sheeple will cry. Maybe the Blacks will burn downtown instead of their own hoods. If you didn't get to see it the first time around....May you live in interesting times.

  21. To all,
    Why are riots in Arab towns called ARAB SPRING etc.. but in England they're simply riots?

  22. fasteddiez's figures display the minimum cost of survival in Britain at the moment - that's how the figures are calculated: nothing extra, nothing spare. Let's hope you don't need to buy clothes more than once a year, or the winter isn't too cold or, heaven forbid, you want a decent education. Better than nothing when all is said and done, but nothing is not an option for a civilised country, is it?

  23. fasteddiez again. Not sure why the Repubs would want to do away with unemployment. It's the crux of the whole system, having a surplus of supply. Perhaps you mean unemployment benefit.

  24. Fitchoc:

    Yes Benefits, indeed. Do it slowly, as if boiling a lobster. Turn 99er's to 49er's to 9er's to None-er's. Kill aid to dependent mothers, social security disability, federal small business loans, VA home loans for vets, Pell Grants, etc.. Others can suggest other such programs.

  25. sheesh, I should not post while I drink. I should tie my drink to a hitching post.

    Should read: Kill aid to mothers with dependent children.....Well, I could have said Aid to kill mothers and dependent children