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Thursday, 8 September 2011

'Why oh why oh why oh why....'

Endemic anti-social behaviour among the [feral] proletariat; moral decline; race; and poverty are a selection of justifications used to ‘explain’ the August riots in England.
For the political elites and the BBC the debate mostly focusses on the idea of moral decline – as if crises within liberal democracy hadn’t always brought forth examples of immorality .
Racists have chipped with a strained line of doublethink that presupposes the culpability of black culture whilst concurrently transmogrifying skin colour… or failing that, blaming Jews.
Another commentator takes a narrowly discursive approach in arguing that the riotous underclass can barely talk nevermind develop a coherent set of reasons to justify their rioting.
Meanwhile, when it’s not whipping up vigilantism among the petit bourgeoise of Green Lanes, or mobilising fascists in Eltham, parts of the media draw subtle distinctions between ‘anarchist’ student riots (‘articulate, but silly’) and ‘mindless’ underlcass riots (‘just mindless’).
Zizek puts the riots’ lack of a political message within the context of the Badouist notion of ‘worldessness’. From this perspective we can understand the rioters’ political inarticulacy as the product of a neoliberal world that has transcended politics and become ‘non-ideological’.  A world in which technical ‘solutions’ for social ills are distilled into instrumental soundbites such as ‘what works is what’s best’.  A world in which, rather than encouraging political dispute, we are told that ‘ideology is dead’:  itself a statement with ideological meaning.
So, in response to the disturbances, all the mainstream political parties stick to a broadly similar narrative. It’s a narrative that reinforces the idea that there is nothing, even narrowly, political to be discussed about it.  It’s a world in which even a commonsense attempt to publicly think through what’s going on is drowned out by the performative/simulated rage of people like Michael Gove. Still, in his eye-bulging rant about  plasma screens and Boxfresh trainiers, Gove did at least name check an object that transcended most of the distubances: the commodity.
The media focussed on two types of riotous act that were, although not exclusive, almost universal across the disturbances in Tottenham, Peckham, Manchester and Solihull. These acts consisted of:
1 – the unlawful appropriation of commodities; and
2 – their destruction.
The commodity was a material witness to these riots, an always looming embodiment of human labour power, so why not summon it as part of this post mortem? Along Marxist lines, I wonder if the commodity, the genetic building block of capitalist society, might be a worthwhile object of study in these disturbances and I am not talking here about an Adbusters-style condemnation of ‘consumerism’.
I’m thinking about socially necessary labour and its ‘phantom-like’ existence in the:

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