I can understand them.


I can understand them.

I shouldn’t have to couch this in apologies about not condoning of course. But I will.

Because there is a difference. I wouldn’t do it. But I can understand it.

Because actually I think the most important thing is trying to understand it, and the reason this is happening is because people don’t or can’t try to understand people; they’re just ‘mindless’ ‘scum’ ‘youths’ ‘black’ ‘pigs’ ‘anarchists’ ‘protestors’ ‘chavs’ ‘lazy’ ‘stupid’ ‘fuzz’ or one of any number of words that means ‘them not us’.

Every day in many ways you are told about what you should have. What you should wear, the kind of phone, the brand of trainers, the size of TV. But not you. You don’t have the money. We’ll give you the aspiration. The one for the stuff, mind, not skills or education, we don’t want you thinking about it. And we don’t tell you that it’s an empty addiction, that it’s never enough. And every now and then we flash a golden ticket in front of your eyes, a game show, a talent contest, a lottery. Take a chance, they say, life is just a game of snakes and ladders and you may just hit the ladder that takes you all the way to the top.

Brands aren’t people. They’re massive. There are no real people behind that.

And there are whispers of people getting something for nothing

And then it’s a corner shop, not a chain, it’s someone’s livelihood. But after you’ve broken one window, why not another, what’s stopping you? And it feels so good, it makes you feel strong, you’re having an effect. Mostly people look down on you, you can see it in their eyes. Now they’re afraid of you. Scared. You’re on the news. On TV, it’s reality tv where you dictate the camera angles.

You don’t hear or feel the fear of the people in the houses, not out on the streets.

You just feel the pounding of the blood and ringing of the alarms in your ears and your body feels like it’s vibrating. You feel strong. You feel like you could do anything. So you do.

‘you’re just trashing your own community’, so what? No one else gives a fuck about it, why should you. (Ever heard of self harm?)

Looting is an act of aggression against the rules of capitalism. A rejection of the label ‘have not’.

You might not phrase it like that

“I’m hungry, I come and I ask for food, I say please. Every day. I come and I see you’ve got lots of it, more than you need. Days, years, decades I come by. Keep on saying please. Year’s we’ve been asking the government. One day I’m just going to take it.” (paraphrasing an interview from the streets of Hackney http://boo.fm/b433800)

People will get hurt. Houses and goods and livelihoods will be broken. People will be jailed, mothers will lose their sons and police officers’ families won’t sleep, wondering if they’ll take another brick or bottle to the face.

And a thousand more horrible things I couldn’t possibly really understand.

But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try.

A broken society is built on the failure of imagination of both government and people.

Stay safe.

Edit, this has got a bit of attention, glad it struck a nerve, even if it was just my half murmured thoughts about a small aspect of it (the looting). If you want to do something (and in general for a good ‘there is such thing as community’ feeling) check out the #riotcleanup hashtag on Twitter. @Artistsmakers is trying to organise community led cleanups.

Share if you like:


55 Responses to “I can understand them.”

  1. rkramer August 13, 2011 at 7:30 am #

    Interesting opinion and interesting collection of comments.

    In spite of your future stony silence, i need to add only 1 word to this part of your last comment:
    “…The mob is mindless, sure. But the people are not stupid. They’re angry, or empty, or jealous, or frightened, or elated, or powerless, or disenfranchised, or desperate, or any mix of those things and more…”

    [People are] greedy

  2. Dave S August 18, 2011 at 2:08 am #

    @rkramer: What would cause someone to be “greedy”?

    My guess: scarcity.

    Why be greedy when you can always go back for more because there is enough for everyone to have a share?

    It’s artifical scarcity (this pyramid scheme called “capitalism” we find ourselves living in), and deliberately engineered consumer desire (because that’s profitable) which has lead to “greed”. Nothing happens in a vacuum.

    Therefore, the “greed” you point at is merely a reaction to the circumstances people find themselves in.

    People are people, and given certain circumstances, everybody will act “greedy” – you, me, politicians, police, journalists, rioters, judges, doctors, beggars and millionaires alike.

    Greed is not something you are – it is something you do in the face of scarcity.

    Incidentally, while we’re on the subject of artificial scarcity, I’d like to mention something which there can be no scarcity of: love. Since love comes for free from inside us, we can create it by the truckload and share it around until everyone is sated. There is nothing stopping us but fear, yet creating a society based on love will be the most expedient way to sort out all these other artificially created scarcities which lead to things like greed and rioting. So, what are we waiting for?


  1. Twitted by ClareOBrien - August 12, 2011

    […] This post was Twitted by ClareOBrien […]

  2. Reflection on the London Riots | Protest Camps - July 11, 2013

    […] into looting, arguing that in the current failing economy, it can be seen as a rational decision. Hannah Nicklin offers a different take, writing a passionate piece about how the contemporary state of branded […]

  3. Reflection on the London Riots | communication and social change - August 16, 2013

    […] into looting, arguing that in the current failing economy, it can be seen as a rational decision. Hannah Nicklin offers a different take, writing a passionate piece about how the contemporary state of branded […]

Leave a Reply