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Do the ongoing riots in Great Britain have a coherent purpose? No, says John Lloyd of Reuters, arguing that :

They do not articulate a cause because they cannot. [The] anger, the violence and the destruction are pure activity, a bid to make a spectacle in a society which is organized round spectacles [ . . . ] The silence of the rioters; their ability to appear suddenly in an area, swarm over it, burn and loot and terrify it, then disappear; their hooded appearance; their sheer anonymity makes them into a ghostly force, swooping upon a London grown used to relative peace and plenty, wholly unnerved by the phenomenon.

Lloyd runs through several proposed explanations which, to his credit, he casts doubt upon for being too neat: that these outbursts represent old-fashioned racial tension (not likely because the rioters are multi-racial and multi-ethnic); that they are a reaction to government spending cuts (improbable because the rioters skew very young, and do not rely on the social services being trimmed); or that they are an outburst of class consciousness and economic warfare (suspect because much of the damage has been inflicted on the low-income neighborhoods in which the rioters live).

Yet the riots may not be “nothing.” In a way, they may be a harbinger of the future—-not because they are fomented on social media websites but because the rioters seem to express a curious nihilism in their very public action. The rioters present no public face, have no desire to talk with journalists (even confidentially), and have not presented any sort of demand to the society they rend. The disorder seems to be driven by young people who have simply discovered the “joy of being able to loot with impunity,” as if they were on a trip to a shopping mall.

But selfishness aside, perhaps, in their own way, these listless young citizens are reacting to much broader forces, which events like the financial crisis and political corruption have brought to a head: social disconnectedness, and an utter lack of stability in their own familial and cultural existence. Without a liturgy to fall back on in difficult times, people have been driven to invent their own.

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