Back in 2008, my mom asked her right-wing best friend why she supported Sarah Palin. “I feel like she understands me, that she’s just like me,” my mom’s friend said. To which my mom replied: “What? But you’re an idiot! Why do you want to be ruled by someone just as stupid as you?”
Mom voted for Obama, who turned out to be far less clever than she imagined, but nevertheless she was making an interesting point. Now to conduct the discussion intelligently, we have to move it away from the sphere of psephology and into the science of class analysis; for if the average American were truly as dumb as the average American politician, I would rather espouse cannibalism than socialism (to paraphrase an old joke from Tony Cliff). The President of the United States is in fact the President of the Ruling Class of the United States, and likewise for the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Supreme Court, and so on. That’s true in any state. What’s curious about the state today–ie, the neoliberal state–is that its politicians and functionaries are an unusually faithful reproduction of the class it serves. This is worth thinking about.
The London (and beyond) riots seem to me completely comprehensible. Not in the sense that every or any particular act is comprehensible, but as a social phenomenon they are completely easy to understand–even overdetermined by youth unemployment, budget austerity, racism, police brutality (highlighted by a police murder), official corruption on open display, etc. Not two months ago, the Daily Mail (UK) ran a nifty piece on how the rich were loading up on private security; and if even rich people have noticed something, it’s scarcely clear how one could make it more obvious.
So I was not at all impressed with Jonathan Freedland’s argument that “[i]t’s striking that the targets have not been town halls or, say, Tory HQ – stormed by students last November – but branches of Dixons, Boots and Carphone Warehouse.” Well, a riot is a riot, not an insurrection or an organized mass action. In retrospect we’ll probably discover hidden patterns and subconscious “politics” in the gestalt of destruction; but in any event, is it awfully hard to dig why poor (or even not-so-poor) youngsters might want to abscond with pleasurable things that are ordinarily denied them? Is it really so difficult to think these things through?