Violence is the purest way to split the left and the right. It sidesteps the cloudy, dreary political waffle and cuts directly to the chase: what causes people to do bad things.
Both left and right see the London riots as the flashing illumination of a dark malaise. Those of a leftish disposition tend toward structural explanations: that disenfranchised youth, frustrated by the closed doors of opportunity and poor housing, have finally revolted. Some misguided opportunists, such as Ken Livingstone, have tried to link it to government cuts - even though they've barely begun.
By contrast, anyone of a rightish disposition considers the riots the signal failure of a decadent culture, where young people are no longer taught personal responsibility or respect for authority, and parents have relinquished any kind of moral duty over their children's behaviour. We ran a quick content analysis of right-wing and left-leaning blogs (another blog will follow shortly with the results). Words like 'unemployment', 'political' and 'economic' are more talked about on the left; words like 'order', 'authority' and 'property' feature more heavily on the right.
One word didn't appear on either side but should have: fun. Uncomfortable as it sounds, for some people, smashing a window in with your boot, flinging rocks at police officers, and running off with a PS3 is a blast if you're 18 and hanging about with other bored mates. Albert Camus was on to something when he wrote that the sinister "excites". Violence is powerful, and it is especially powerful if you feel yourself a loser in the game of life, and is directed against those you believe have rigged the rules against you.
The term 'recreational violence' is associated with annual disturbances in North Belfast in recent years. One 2005 report by the Institute of Conflict Research speculated that much of the recurrent interface violence is provides a means of entertainment, or more simply of 'something to do' - an antidote to the boredom of the summer holidays. Father Gary Donegan said in 2010 of one night of rioting, 'it was a bit like a Euro Disney theme park for rioting. It was ludicrous.' There is a striking similarity to what has taken place in London. More and more stories are emerging of bragging rights, of boastful escapades, of the revelry that was had.
This does not negate entirely the left's and right's concern with politics/economics or individual responsibility, but they are likely clinging to the coattails of adrenalin. As ever, what will follow is a period of reflection and duelling anecdotes in the media about causes and responses. That must include serious consideration of what to do with our army of bored, restless young men for whom the toxic mix of glamorous violence and disdain for authority is an intransigent part of the sub-culture. If we don't entertain them, they will entertain themselves.Suggest a correction