Thursday, August 11, 2011

Tottenham On The Yarra

ANYONE who has battled with a spouse knows there are moments when the other party’s most innocent remarks can be turned back as weapons, seized upon as excuses to pour out anger and grievance about matters that may have no pertinence whatsoever to the specific bone of contention that inspired the screaming of the moment. So it seems is the case also with riots. While England has been racked with mayhem, both left and right have rallied to the favourite themes, one side identifying problems about which something might be done if the will was there, the other fixating with truculent resentment only on the symptoms of those social maladies. As with domestic donnybrooks, it is a handy tactic to loathe not just the other side’s rhetoric but the sprouters of it. This helps spats veer off on ideological tangents, which in turn allows overpaid twerps like Jonathan Holmes to intuit racist sentiments (or denialist or sexist or whatever) where none exist.

Britain’s High Street bonfires have been a gold mine in this regard, as anyone who heard last night’s PM interview with former Guardian editor Will Hutton will be aware. It was all there in sympathetic ABC reporterette Emily Bourke’s introductory paraphrasing of the cliché compendium that sustains so many conferences of social workers and squanderers of other people’s money. (“…a failed capitalist model and unfairness that has engulfed British society. He says Britons need to return to core moral values, where fairness in rewards and punishments is the overarching principle.”) Nothing if not predictable, the interview was another of the ABC’s many early signals that its upcoming post-mortems on the riots – expect lots and lots of those -- will touch all the familiar bases, from class warfare to economic injustice and the shameful unfairness of kids from Knightsbridge getting around in flash sneakers.

Countering that, the sane side is once again banging on about causes – generations of welfare dependency, the mollycoddling of miscreants, schools making stupidity a core subject, abrasive and endemic vulgarity etc etc. It goes without saying, and certainly to most readers of this blog, that the so-called conservative perspective offers a better diagnosis, but it too omits mention of what is, when you get right down to it, the most basic and fundamental factor behind these riots and so many other eruptions. The human heart, regardless of the colour of the breast in which it beats, is and always will be a font of boundless evil.

Give people the opportunity to loot and bash and, regardless of race or background, a significant percentage will take up the opportunity and run with it, as hard to resist as making off with a plasma screen. The proof, while obvious at the moment in Britain, also can be found in many places, including the unlikely locale of Melbourne’s Bourke Street mall.

The next time you happen to visit, turn your back to Myer and observe the twin front windows of Dunklings The Jeweller directly across the street.* There is something special about those panes, which are the only glazier’s handiwork on the strip to have survived from the 19th century. The rest were smashed, and the stores behind them looted, during a series of wild nights and days in 1923, when the majority of this city’s police officers went on strike. Contemporary accounts tell of well-dressed, apparently respectable people joining the initial mob of larrikins to make off with everything and anything. Almost every window in Melbourne’s CBD was smashed, Dunklings being the notable exception.



According granduncle Cyril Bunyip, who shared with a youngster before his death in 1969 his memories of service as a volunteer Special Constable, Dunklings survived because the owner and his son sat for three days in their front windows, each with a shotgun resting in his lap. The Melbourne of back then certainly had its seedy element, but the city, like Australia as a whole, boasted one of the world’s highest standards of living. Comfortable, well fed and keen to kick up its heels at the Spring Racing Carnival, you could not have picked a less likely time or spot for well dressed women to be observed helping themselves to thousands of pounds worth of gems from jewelers less vigilant than the Dunklings.

It is in all of us to one extent or other, the rottenness at the core – even in Special Constable Cyril Bunyip, whose subsequent history of bad debts and financial scams left many relatively innocent souls a good poorer. He had to pay his Melbourne Club membership, after all, just as the kids in Tottenham must today have their Converse joggers.

Fix education by all means. Ginger up the wallopers and staunch the bleeding hearts on the benches in our courts. Even launch a government-funded subsidy to redress injustice by putting the youth of Tottenham and Birmingham – or Moe and Frankston for that matter -- in the runners of their preference. Do all those things, but never expect anything more than palliatives.

We’re a vicious, self-centred species. Get used to it.

*Do watch out for the Mall’s trams, which seem to kill at least one preoccupied tourist per year.

FOOTNOTE: Readers interested in the 1923 police strike will enjoy Days of Violence: The 1923 Police Strike in Melbourne by Gavin Brown and Robert Haldane. A sample can be found here.  

7 comments:

  1. "...where fairness in rewards and punishments is the overarching principle.."

    Do these people even think about what they are saying?

    Let me see... You have worked hard, here is some money so you can buy something nice for you and your family.

    Or maybe... You have been found guilty by your peers of acting like a complete anti social prick, here is a big stick we are going to beat you with until you learn to behave.

    Sounds a bit like how a 'failed' captialist system works really doesn't it?

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  2. "The human heart, regardless of the colour of the breast in which it beats, is and always will be a font of boundless evil."

    Exactly, someone else thinks exactly same thing. (Luke 18:19, Jer 17:9) Those who think otherwise are only deceiving themselves.

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  3. "Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made" (Kant)

    And Evelyn Waugh - written about 1938 - so prescient:

    "Barbarism is never finally defeated; given propitious circumstances, men and women who seem quite orderly will commit every conceivable atrocity. The danger does not come merely from habitual hooligans; we are all potential recruits for anarchy. Unremitting effort is needed to keep men living together at peace; there is only a margin of energy left over for experiment however beneficent. Once the prisons of the mind have been opened, the orgy is on. There is no more agreeable position than that of dissident from a stable society. Theirs are all the solid advantages of other people's creation and preservation, and all the fun of detecting hypocrisies and inconsistencies. There are times when dissidents are not only enviable but valuable. The work of preserving society is sometimes onerous, sometimes almost effortless. The more elaborate the society, the more vulnerable it is to attack, and the more complete its collapse in case of defeat. At a time like the present it is notably precarious. If it falls we shall see not merely the dissolution of a few joint-stock corporations, but of the spiritual and material achievements of our history."

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  4. Font of boudless evil? Nah, not me. I'm lovely. I vote green and watch the ABC.

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  5. Bunyip: "Give people the opportunity to loot and bash and, regardless of race or background, a significant percentage will take up the opportunity and run with it, as hard to resist as making off with a plasma screen."

    Just to be clear, you're arguing the above. Well, good luck with that view. Personally I don't find it an anymore intellectually satisfying than those proffered by the ABC, for example. It seems they're all wrong. And therein lies the intractable problem!
    Your view is a bit like the Liberal Party's opposition to the Carbon Tax. They're against the tax, but support the same reduction in CO2.

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  6. Your view is a bit like the Liberal Party's opposition to the Carbon Tax. They're against the tax, but support the same reduction in CO2.

    That's because (a) they're not blinded by the ideologically driven stupidity/necessity of having to claim that a Carbon Tax (and/or ETS) is the only way to achieve that reduction and (b) they can see what sort of damage it will do to the country (see "destroying the village in order to save it").

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  7. Kind of like seeing the economy looted when the banking regulators are having a snooze. Different shoes on those guys of course, but otherwise...

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