“There Is A Sense In Which The English Riots Of 2011 Mean Nothing At All”

From “Lost in the Supermarket,” David Mattin’s attempt to make sense of the recent London riots, published today at the Los Angeles Review of Books:

“Now, two weeks on, Britain is puzzling over what has happened. In the sound of the metropolitan British middle-class — the politicians, the columnists, the activists — trying to explain these riots to each other, there can be discerned a strange, schizophrenic mixture of anger and uncertainty, a frustrating inability to get much beyond first principles. What caused these riots? What do the people who participated in them want? What do they tell us about the country in which we live? What, in short, do the riots mean? 

Across the last two weeks, these questions have been the subject of much talk; they can accommodate so much talk because their answers are so elusive. Even the left’s best attempt to imbue the riots with a meaning — the argument that contends that they were an expression of inchoate anger at the current austerity, and the mismanagement that brought us to it — is, on close examination, not satisfactory. And that is because there is a sense in which the English riots of 2011 mean nothing at all. Nothing, at least, to the people who participated in them. Which is what makes them so uniquely frightening, and problematic. “