Who are the real thieves?

The recent riots have shocked, surprised and angered many, especially those whose immediate neighbourhoods were targeted/affected. Experts and pundits have been ‘airing’ all sorts of reasons for the riots – from welfare dependence to social media/networking. Looking at a full parliament called backed into session over a discussion (PM’s question time) on the riots, I could at times sense an immense gap between our erudite politicians (quite a few tanned from their recent interrupted holidays) and the world of the rioters, largely younger people. Many of the responses suggested to me, people who are out of touch and in a dream world of politics! I must say that it did nothing much for my confidence on the political will and wisdom to grapple with key systemic issues, that will engender transformation. It was lots of politics and collective rhetoric, to give the impression that our politicians are in control. They are not: and the ordinary person in the streets may agree with me!

I do not condone any form of rioting, wilful destruction of people’s property or stealing from anyone. I would not, however, agree with the ways some of the media and some public voices represented the rioters – as savages, feral, cretins, uncivilised etc. I do agree with the Prime Minister’s that something has gone terribly wrong in our society and that there are parts that are sick. The challenge is how to determine what parts are sick, what are the underlying causes to the sickness, whether the healthy parts have contributed to the sickness of the parts being represented as sick, and who or what determines what is healthy?

In events such as the riots, it is always tempting to take a high moral ground and consider all else (but ourselves) as part of the problem. In the naming of the rioting as thuggery and blatant stealing, the thought crossed my mind as whether these rioters are the only ones who have stolen from us over the last year or two. I then proceeded to ask myself the question: what is the difference between the actions of those who rioted, damaged property and stolel/looted and that of bankers, financial CEO’s and corpocrats who have messed up our economic lives and stolen through their lies and impunity, reckless investment and gambling away of unimaginable amounts of money/stocks of people and nations? Is it that one group robs by force, thuggery and violence, while the group steal by guile, stealth, deception? Yet, we will not refer to the former by descriptors such as feral, cretin, savages, barbaric or heartless.

Why is it that the former group, the more sophisticated one that steals with stealth may be the group we tend to be more comfortable with or more patient with? Is it that the stealth and sophistication afford an ideal opportunity to employ the skill of designed unawareness, covering up our own weaknesses? Are we more hostile towards those that steal by force, because it mirrors something in us we have not wrestled with (our hypocrisies) and maybe nearer to the truth about what we could all easily revert to, had it not been for so many checks and balances in place? What I am aware of is that those who steal by guile, stealth and through sophisticated means (whether individuals, business or financial institutions) are the ones who always have power and knows how to use it, hence much more difficult to get caught and be imprisoned! Try a quick mental check: how many have been jailed or are serving sentences or are paying back for the millions they have gambled away? Have we ever set up overnight courts to pull them before the law? Instead, we (members of the public) have to pay for the greed that is associated with the economic system that they advocate and worship: and they even have the audacity to treat us as idiots!

I agree with Steve Thorngate (writing in the context of the USA) of the need “for true populist reform”, but not something based on an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ division. “It should be based on a narrative that lifts up the many while naming the villain: not the rich themselves but a broken and sinful system that has long favoured their interests over everyone else’s.”  Would that day ever dawn, if it is always the privileged who will determine what part of society is sick and out of sync?

To ensure that riots such as we have experience recently never happen again we need, as one of my colleagues puts it:  a “conversion from the delusion that our well-being consists in the abundance of our possessions to the fullness of life which Jesus offers in a life of love and service to others. This quality of life “will never be realised by the fear, anger and calls for retribution which many are now demanding”.

 copyright © August 1, 201

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