Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Kick In Kipling's Teeth

You know, I have to admit that I've been a bit in the dark regarding world news lately. I've been backed up with a mountain of papers to grade, although that will shortly end. So I might be forgiven for not knowing until today that there have been riots in “Great” Britain.

The riots were caused by the same sort of thing that often causes riots in the U.S.: London police thugs shot an unarmed black man and tried to say that it was because he was carrying a weapon that he fired at them. Their case looks like it's unraveling (the bullet that the man allegedly fired was proven to be from a police gun). People – disaffected, oppressed, persecuted, marginalized black people got angry. Now parts of England are on fire.

A few observations are in order. First, the British police have a long history of racist treatment of ethnic minorities. They're also building an impressive history of oppressing their own people, as the death of Ian Tomlinson shows. The British police are the servants of the British elite class in their subjugation and exploitation of the entire country.

Secondly, in the case of the present riots, the British press has uniformly supported this subjugation and exploitation. This has been somewhat true even of the Guardian and the Independent, which earlier helped blow the whistle on the police brutality surrounding Ian Tomlinson's death and the police harassment of nonviolent protest groups. Seems that maybe these newspapers aren't so “progressive” after all. The British press has almost without exception portrayed the riots as the acts of crazed, criminal youth disconnected from “civilization.” Very little effort has been expended in trying to explain why youth from certain ethnic backgrounds might be angry at constant discrimination and harassment while living in a society which has the lowest level of social mobility in the “developed” world.

However, the causes underlying the riots have somehow managed to leak out to the larger world. With just a few mouse clicks I learned today that in the weeks preceding the riots, there had been a very large peaceful protest march by London's black community to protest the death of a British reggae singer under suspicious circumstances during a search of the singer's home by police. That march was not reported by British media. But people are finding out about it now. Also, England has experienced more than a few riots over the last two decades.

Third, the entrenched holders of concentrated wealth and power in Britain have not been willing to admit the role their policies played in the eruption of the riots. Instead, they have mixed stern-faced “law and order” threats with appeals to British “civility.” The tactic is not working, because the people on whom it is supposed to work are people whose future has been taken away and who thus have nothing left to lose. This is an illustration of a point I made in my blog post, “The (Worldwide?) Peak Of Human Resources”: “...it stands to reason that there is a limit to the maximal sustainable rate of exploitation of human beings...Breaching this limit would cause the breakdown of an industrial society even if that society was well-supplied with all other production inputs. Moreover, there would be increasingly severe symptoms of breakdown as the society was driven further and further beyond sustainable rates of exploitation of its members. Finally, it would not be surprising to see the elites at the head of such a society rationalize and refuse to acknowledge the true meaning of these signs and symptoms.”

Maybe we're beginning to see the breakdown of England. The funny thing is that although the breakdown may well be starting with the black community, there are plenty of other places where it could have started just as well. It is true that much of the history of England has been a history of thuggish exploitation of other peoples, other lands, other cultures, in order to secure an elevated standard of living for Anglo people. (Indeed, there is so much blood on the hands of the British nation that one wonders how they can call themselves “civilized.”)

But now the exponential growth of the appetites of the British elite has resulted in the transformation of almost all the rest of the nation into an underclass – including many, many Anglos, and many youth from every background. Income inequality in Britain is at an all-time high. The Tories have only made it worse. It's not just black youth rioting in England now.

This brings up something else. Some Britons, and some U.S. citizens observing the British riots, might be tempted to retreat into the imagined safety of racism, saying that the people who are being oppressed somehow “deserve” to be oppressed. But it's important to note that societies which create underclasses always need an underclass in order to function. There will always be an underclass in such societies, even if the members of the original underclass are wiped out. Once again, the history of England bears this out. A survey of writings from authors such as Charles Darwin, G.K. Chesterton and Rudyard Kipling shows how, even in the absence of ethnic minorities from outside Europe, the British ruling classes sought to define themselves as the only truly human and “civilized” people. They despised anyone who was outside their circle, including the Welsh, the Irish, the Scots, the French, the Germans, the Poles, the Jews, the Italians, the Greeks, and the Russians. Even within England, they had their gradations of British “whiteness,” with disparagement and discrimination against Cockneys, Midland English, and others whose blood was not sufficiently blue. Amazing to think that these people all looked more or less like each other, yet they found the smallest of excuses for choosing off and fighting each other.

That is why I said in my post, The Polyculture of Resilient Neighborhoods, that the most resilient neighborhoods in the United States will turn out to be composed of a number of heterogeneous cultures whose members maintain certain key cultural distinctions while learning from members of differing cultures. The members of the component cultures of such neighborhoods will engage in reaching out to members of differing cultures within their neighborhoods, forming a common, somewhat weakly binding meta-culture of common courtesy and customs within which the component cultures exist as distinct entities. Within the over-arching meta-culture, there will be opportunities for cross-pollination between the members of the component cultures, with results that are hopefully beneficial to all. On the other hand, neighborhoods (and larger entities such as cities, counties and states) which are predominantly monocultural will probably tend to be less resilient.

A polycultural (or multicultural) neighborhood, region or nation that functions along these lines will tend to be a more pleasant place to live, because its members will be treated with mutual respect. It will also be more stable. (Singapore comes to mind as an example.) On the other hand, a neighborhood, region or nation that attempts to create ethnic underclasses dominated by a ruling majority will be a dangerous place to live, even for those who are in the majority. For if, over time, the members of the original underclasses are removed from such a society, the masters of that society will seek to create a new underclass from some of the remaining members of society. It will be like a game of musical chairs where the chairs keep getting taken away until almost no one has any place to sit down. The only person who wins such a game is the person who owns the chairs.