Sunday, 12 August 2012

Riots, Revolution and 'The Dark Knight Rises'

Image created by artandwords on

Like many cinema-goers this summer, I loved this film for what it is: another fantastically entertaining instalment in the Batman series. "The Dark Knight Rises" arguably combines the best of the first and second films, with both intricate back-story and adrenaline-pumping action.

But it has stayed with me on another level. A few poignant lines from the film (also featured in the trailer) have struck a chord with me on the anniversary of last August's riots:
"You think this can last?
There's a storm coming, Mr Wayne.
You and your friends better batten down the hatches
because when it hits you're going to wonder 
how you ever thought you could live so large
and leave so little for the rest of us." 

The rioting seemed to come out of nowhere. A protest march in Tottenham, London, following the death of local man Mark Duggan at the hands of the police erupted into violence when large numbers of officers were dispatched to break up the demonstration. The subsequent violence that ricocheted across multiple London boroughs and other English city centres was characterised by looting, arson and youth unrest.

I remember watching it all unfold in utter disbelief. I remember the helicopters overhead at night, the precautionary evacuation from work and the stories of friends barricaded in their homes while their cars burned. There were a few weeks where various politicians, community leaders and academics clamoured to dissect the cocktail of devastating factors that triggered the rioting, but it wasn't too long before the story drifted out of the headlines. 

It seemed to come out of nowhere but I've been wondering recently whether that's true. Perhaps it came out of the social values that we've unthinkingly accumulated: rampant consumerism, individualistic entitlement, instant gratification and institutionalised disdain for compassion.

I can't help but wonder whether, one year on, anything has changed. I don't shop in the Tesco store that was the central focus of local aggression in my current city's riot experience, but beyond that I certainly haven't adjusted my lifestyle very much. Although I don't intend to beat myself up for not personally bridging the yawning chasm of inequality that we can probably all agree was a factor in the riots, I also want to heed the warning: this cannot last. 

So what next? If there's an environmental and social storm coming as a consequence of relatively small numbers of people (myself included) living largely at the expense of others - what to do in response? I don't know. On a personal level, I guess I have a responsibility to choose and promote values that counteract more selfish or destructive priorities: I can buy wisely, I can bend my mindset into a more community-oriented frame, give more to other people's opportunities as well as my own. 

But that's no revolution. So I'm also reading, thinking, praying about some bigger ideas that are floating around out there: new building blocks for a different way of being a society. One of my starting points is Jeremy Williams' resources 'Beyond Growth' and 'Make Wealth History', exploring economic theories that don't demand bigger, better and more all the time, as well as the practical application of those ideas. Even though the sites are well written, they make for slow reading - there's a lot to think about. I recommend at least a look.

Is it enough - reading, thinking, praying? No. But it's a start.

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