Saturday, August 13, 2011

Bridging differences; or, what I learned from the London Riots

First, let me say that the London riots are deeply affecting to me personally. I’ve said many times that my first introduction to terrorism, and part of why I wrote Captive, was the impact of the IRA bombs scares during my childhood visits to London (en route to my grandparents farm in Wales). To see the city I love so rocked by needless violence upsets me.

I also still have pictures of the Los Angeles riots so many years ago. Our police chief at the time, Chief Bratton, is now advising those in London. Walking through the wreck in my home city (unwisely) years ago was likewise deeply upsetting.

The rioting is absolutely inexcusable. Unfortunately, so are some of the conditions which lead to the riots. The root causes of terrorism and riots are, in my opinion, not that different. I’m now starting to write that the age of genocide (the 20th century) is evolving into the age of riot and rebellion (the 21st century).

Global shifts are leaving too many people in both developed and developing nations behind. Unlike past inequities, the global nature of online media shows them that their lives are worse than some other people’s. And the entitlement systems inherent in developed societies have taken away the belief that the fix lies in them and in working harder. We wonder at the rage?

And, I’m no longer confident that everyone today has the option of working harder to improve their circumstances. Our educational systems are broken (thus many aren’t qualified for good jobs), jobs scarce and tax/regulatory systems burdensome. And that’s just in the United States; options are more limited elsewhere.

I wish I had a solution. But these issues are too complex for easy answers and why I continue to write about them. Only by discussing them honestly can we hope to find a solution. And, I do believe that violence must be condemned. But the greater issues can’t be couched in hiding behind a condemnation of those who committed the looting and rioting. Their actions, especially the cold blooded murder of individuals in the wrong place at the wrong time, are symptoms of deep societal wounds and should be honestly addressed.

Religions and ideologies don’t kill but people use them as and excuse for atrocities. Genocide is based on dehumanizing a group of “others”; the riots and revolutions are actually more frightening in that once violence becomes accepted by any group controlling the direction it takes is virtually impossible. As society crumbles (structures holding it in place disappear; food gets more scarce; safety unpredictable; etc) anyone’s guess as to the eventual society which develops to replace it is as good as anyone else’s. Or, in other words, it’s impossible to predict.

So let’s condemn violence; but not drop the debate there. How can we bridge differences? In Escape, the sequel to Captive that I’m about half done writing, I’ve taken the action to Cairo. One character tells another that what most people want is simple: a good and safe life for their family. We’re all so much the same in our core desires. Can’t we somehow bridge these differences?

Picture for San Francisco by Patrick Gengoux