Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Take on the English Riots

By Dennis Matanda

To describe it simply, we are all reductionists. Because we do not have complete answers to the things we see around us, we are wont to approach complex things by simplifying them or fundamentally narrowing them down to concepts our puny minds can understand. When we see a child behaving in a particular way, we ask: Where are the parents? If we catch a glimpse of a man holding hands with another man, the primal instinct is to think: Homosexual! And this is probably what we do when we deal with all things that seemingly have a tinge of ethnicity. The recent riots in the United Kingdom are being reduced to racial relations. The meme is that there are black people rioting and looting and basically destroying the English decorum – and the police needs to do something about it or else, Right Wing groups are going to step in and put people of color in their place.

But we need to take a few steps back. Is it fair to try to understand the riots for what they represent? Probably. Of course, if you are one of those traders who have lost their property to the looting; or one who cannot get to work because of the crippled transport systems, this site feels your pain. Many of us are anxious for family members in the midst of the chaos. And our hearts go out to those who have lost their lives – including the young man whose death sparked the current crisis in the UK. However, how does all this factor into our understanding of the phenomena? Why are the riots spreading? How does this fervor spread through social media and other forms? How do we explain spontaneity in this age of the multivariate?

This is where reductionism comes in to save the day. We could keep it simple and say that because of the subliminal racial tensions, the underdog – people of color – are coming out in their hordes to claim what is their own. But is this is a case of one race against the other, or is there a chance that people will seek justice and balance in whatever form? Could the riots be a glitch in the matrix; a need to right what has gone wrong? Again, for those who have lost their lives and their property and everything they have worked for, this could be a slap in the face – an over intellectualization of a catastrophe. But think about it: There have been riots in Tunisia and in Egypt and in Bahrain and in Syria. People are dying each day. People of the same race are doing things to each other – things so barbaric and unspeakable.

What do these rioters – all of them – want? Do they want to just plunder or do they feel a sense of entitlement? Without necessarily linking the rioters to the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, both parties felt a sense of entitlement. They felt, in their hearts, that they were doing what was right. There was an under current of resentment; and justified or not, the genocide and the riots happened. And just like that, we are back at the beginning of reductionism. In the end, the riots could be about justice. CNN’s Fareed Zakaria has much to say on the topic. If this is not reductionism at its finest, I do not know what else is.