The man who, because of a lack of external enemies and opposition, was forced into an oppressive narrowness and regularity of custom impatiently tore himself apart, persecuted himself, gnawed away at himself, grew upset, and did himself damage—this animal which scraped itself raw against the bars of its cage, which people want to “tame,” this impoverished creature, consumed with longing for the wild, which had to create out of its own self an adventure, a torture chamber, an uncertain and dangerous wilderness—this fool, this yearning and puzzled prisoner, became the inventor of “bad conscience.”
-Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals
I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Is the recent UK violence engaged in as resistance to an oppressive state (oppressing by cutting welfare, charging more for access to university education, etc) – or are they in fact resistance to a vacuum within society itself? I ask whether they fight to ward off the predictions of Orwell, or Huxley.
The riots don’t make sense to me if it’s the former. I say this because it seems to be to be clear that the modern state absorbs mass protest pretty effortlessly. At least, no possible purpose beyond sussing out tactics of police states, and how to get messages into the media. In other words training in preparation for future war against an Orwellian state). And I don’t think these protests have reached that level of sophistication.
But if it’s about discovering and asserting an identity, discovering energy and violence and comradeship, turning cobblestones into missiles and in so doing, seeing the soil below – i.e. touching wilderness in a world which society and distraction have banished it – well then it makes more sense to me. In that light, rioting then has immediate dividends, in that it draws the mind out of numbness, and long term dividends, in that it is forging a liberal or socialist head of steam within society that will be a force in future politics.
If I could start again
A million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way
Johnny Cash cover
Lastly: I suppose the same question can be asked of the cyber-activist movement, Anonymous – possibly reaching a different answer.
See also: Bad Conscience: Reflections on a Riot