POLITICS CHATTER: Pondering the UK government’s quick response to the riots —  i.e. blame it all on social media
People & Places

POLITICS CHATTER: Pondering the UK government’s quick response to the riots — i.e. blame it all on social media

Contributing editor Mark Bourrie tries to make sense of the riots in Britain. And ponders the UK government’s quick response —  i.e. blame it all on social media.

A primer for readers under 40 — this is what an instamatic camera looks like

When I was a teenage juvenile delinquent, a story made the rounds of my friends about some hoodlums who had broken into a trailer in Collingwood, drank whatever booze was in the cupboards, stole everything valuable, then trashed the place.

They decided to record all the fun they were having, so they brought along an Instamatic. And when they left with their loot, they forgot the camera.

We thought the story was funny as hell. Today, with rioters posting their cell phone pictures on Facebook and video of their crimes on YouTube, kids don’t get the joke anymore.

The Collingwood thieves may well be respectable, rehabilitated members of society. If they are, they’re probably shaking their heads about those awful brats in England. Someone should do something about those thugs, people say.

And now something is being done. It shouldn’t be too long before the British government comes for the photocopiers and starts yanking out electricity poles. After all, they’ll have already targeted Blackberrys and Twitter.

That should solve the problem of youths rioting in the streets of the poorer parts of the country’s cities. After all, no one ever rioted without being told how to.

Indeed. Britain has a long tradition of ugly riots, insurrections, and outright revolution. Bad elements of British society killed two kings in “hunting accidents,” killed another one by thrusting a hot poker up his tush, stabbed two more, smothered one, and chopped the head off another. The Brits had a bad rep in the Middle Ages for being ungovernable regicides, despite the heads of traitors and rebels that were stuck on big sticks over the gates and bridges in most major towns.

In 1778, some 60,000 rioters caused mayhem in downtown London, burning homes, attacking embassies, and wrecking two prisons, Newgate and the Clink. The body count was more than 200 dead. The reason for the riot? A government plan to give more rights to Roman Catholics.

In the here and now, Britain has become a country with millions of unemployed and unemployable youths. The government schools are shameful and do not educate. Power and money still flow to people whose families can afford to send them to expensive private schools, which are the gatekeepers of the “Oxbridge” education that is the dividing line between the “haves” and the rest.

Now, it’s easier and more cost-effective to hire eager, tidy Polish immigrants for service jobs than to employ British youth, many of whom are proudly illiterate, xenophobic, and grossly tattooed. The old jobs that poor Brits used to settle for — textile factory work, mining, manual labor — are long gone, either exported to the Third World or replaced by machines. The poor — who are hardly Dickensian poor, but who are effectively barred from what we would consider a middle-class life — are effectively visitors in their own country.

So let’s blame the Blackberry. After all, Research In Motion’s got enough troubles already, and tagging the Canadian company with a few riots by yobs and gangstas will be marked in Waterloo as just another bunch of bummers in an already bad year. And who can’t help but blame Twitter? Maybe street thugs like it for the same reason I don’t: it’s the ultimate in vain self-promotion. Facebook seems to be off the hook, since the cops are probably relying on people to post evidence of their own crimes in their photo albums.

Britain joins a very interesting list of places that want to throttle the Internet and its hardware to prevent trouble in the streets. China, Iran, Mubarak’s Egypt, and Cuba share British prime minister David Cameron’s view that both the messenger and the message must be blamed. Closed circuit TVs on every corner and even along public beaches is not enough.

Taking Internet access from poor people should quell the fires of revolt. Soon, they’ll respect their betters. They won’t mind the bank bailouts, the crooked media that tapped people’s phones, the hard-wired class structure that cuts down people with the wrong family background, the wrong accent, the wrong education.

The British riots scare people throughout the developed world. There are critics of multiculturalism who say the riots show immigration doesn’t work, but seeing white, black, and brown people looting and burning together showed me diversity is working fine in some quarters. The real worries come from knowing that not only is there a large underclass that may never work, might never pay taxes, and will take whatever opportunities arise to grab an iPad and burn down the store that sells it. And realizing that this generation, raised in a post-literate, post-9/11 world of anti-terror laws, bailouts, recessions and the tightening of the screws of the state are the same people we’re expecting to cover our pensions.