Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Writing About the Riots

After watching the brief but spectacular outburst of violence and thievery that broke out first in London and then across the country last week, and in common with most people on the Internet, I had a strong urge to write about it. Initially I fired off some thoughts on twitter, and I still stand by those as a gut reaction to the information available at the time, but a blog post (or at least a Things I Failed to Do blog post) requires a more measured look at the totality of the information. Additionally, a TIFTD post requires the ability to turn any given situation or subject into a long and rambling self-directed diatribe.

The tack I was thinking of taking was based on the fact that what actually turned out to be a fairly minor riot in the grand scheme of things, although still enough to have been shocking on it's own merit, happened in Lewisham, which is where I grew up. I was planning on writing about how Lewisham is the kind of place that brutalises people, and how I was glad that I'd made it out, both physically and mentally - talking about opportunities and Socialism and Buddhism as I went. Except that I have already talked about opportunity and Socialism in a roundabout way, and Buddhism is something I want to write about in detail at a later date.

Quite apart from the dubious and insensitive solipsism involved in turning a discussion on something I wasn't a part of into a paean to my own failures (or even worse, a sort of backhanded crowing about my successes) there is the fact that I, in common with most people on the Internet, don't really know sod all about the causes that led to these riots, or indeed rioting and looting in general. In fact, I have found myself more and more surprised, and my assumptions thougroughly challenged, as the various blogs I read that are written by experts in their own field shed light on all sorts of aspects I wouldn't even have begun to consider.

But, as you can probably already tell if you have read anything else on this blog, dangerous and insensitive solipsism is not an insurmountable obstacle, nor is not knowing anything about a subject (although I do try to temper both of those with recognition of the problem as well as a dose of humour - I leave how well I succeed in that to the reader). The real killer on the idea was that if I wrote about how much Lewisham sucks, and how much I used to suck for living there, then I would finally have become the person I hated most.

It's already pretty bad that I have a comfortable middle class lifestyle, which the teenage me would have both resented and been incredibly jealous of, but what exercised me most was that I should have been pitied. I expressly cannot talk for anyone else, but I knew that I was part of a segment of society that was not mainstream, and not entirely valued and that made me angry. (I also know that I am now a part of a segment of society that is mainstream and is valued.) What I wanted is for the rest of the world to accept me as valid and present, not as absent, hidden or at best a vessel for ideology. And even though my life has got better and I have a better understanding of the world to that which I had then, I don't ever want to lose the understanding of who I was then and what I felt, because that would be not accepting myself-back-then as valid and present, and then I would have lost.

So, in conclusion, I have decided not to write about something I don't know anything about, to avoid turning it into a piece of naval gazing. I have, apparently failed miserably. Although at least I haven't claimed to have all the answers or even know what I'm talking about, so hooray for slight victories.

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