Sunday, August 14, 2011

Panic on the Streets of London (with apologies to The Smiths)

"But there's Panic on the streets of Carlisle,
Dublin, Dundee, Humberside.
I wonder to myself.

Burn down the disco
Hang the blessed DJ
Because the music that they constantly play

(Lyrics quoted from the song, "Panic", by The Smiths, Copyright 1986)

Recently, the news has been full of images and reports about the rioting in the UK, supposedly triggered by the shooting of a black man by police.

David Cameron, the English PM, and other assorted authority figures are quick to address the press and denounce the rioters as common criminals, but something rings hollow about their pronouncements.

I have been amongst a riot in the past, the famous "Queens Street riot" of 1984, so I'm not naive about these situations. They often start from some genuine point of grievance, but are later joined and fuelled by opportunists and "chancers" whose motives are less pure.

Certainly, a criminal element has surfaced in the UK riots as witnessed by the looting and violence. But Cameron lays the blame squarely at the feet of idle, unemployed, lower class youth. That is like painting over rotting floorboards. You can pretend they are fine because they look nice, but underneath they are still rotting.

Why are these youth idle and unemployed, frustrated, bored and full of anger looking for an outlet through which to be vented?

This is not a rant about political and economic systems, a comparison or even a vaunting of one system over another. All human social systems are flawed.

But in the social unrest spreading through the Middle East, Europe and South America, are we seeing (not to be overly dramatic) the death throes of Capitalism?

In South America, youth are protesting about their education, claiming the government denies the poorer students the quality of education it provides for richer students. In Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Syria, people are chafing under repressive regimes that have been able to remain in power because of Western support because the West needs their allegiance and their oil. In many European countries, people are marching to protest against austerity measures forced on them by governments who acquired massive debts and for whom the chickens have come home to roost since the sub-prime mortgage debacle in the USA triggered a global financial crisis. Ordinary, working people are struggling to survive and they see all the Wall Street criminals rewarded for their reckless greed and it makes them MIGHTY ANGRY!

It is a time when that old saying, "The rich get richer and the poor get poorer", has never seemed more pertinent. Wealth is increasingly concentrating into fewer and fewer hands and the vast bulk of the economic underclass that capitalism requires to generate that wealth have had enough.

Where is that famous "Third Way" that Tony Blair trumpeted about when he first got into power with "New Labour"? England soon found that "New Labour" were really just Old Tories with trendier clothes and hipper friends.

When the Soviet Union imploded, Reagan et al hailed that as the triumph of Capitalism. But it was really that they were both tired, but Capitalism was the only one left standing. Communism was ideal in theory. After all, it was probably Jesus' idea before Engels and Marx expanded on it. But we are not all as noble and selfless as Jesus, Gautama Buddha, Mohammed, Moses, Abraham, Bahá’u’lláh and all their prophet mates. Communism was corrupted by flawed human nature, its descent from noble cause into brutal totalitarianism brilliantly captured by George Orwell in his book, Animal Farm.

So, some of us had a go at Communism with not great success. The rest of us have been "doing" Capitalism for longer than we can remember. And then we get China trying to be some weird hybrid of Free Market and Totalitarian Regime. How's it workin' out for you, boys and girls?

So can there be a real and genuine alternative, a true Third Way? I don't honestly know, but, at present, Capitalism is not working too well for a whole lot of folks and they want to see change. They want a world where the air is clean, the water is drinkable, the animals aren't disappearing at an alarming rate and their children can have a decent, healthy, humane future. Is that so much to ask? I don't think so, do you?

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