Perhaps I feel a little apart because for a number of years I’ve felt that there are different types of people. When I lived in the North East I had ethnic gypsies living on either side of me. They caused me and my non-gypsy neighbours a lot of distress. They trespassed my property, intimidated me and stole from me. Their behaviour lacked not only civility but any aspect of self reflection. It often seemed that they were driven purely by instinct and existed without the facility to evaluate options.
I had some wonderful support through my local council where someone came to talk through how to cope with living with gypsies. This individual’s sole responsibility was to talk to non-gypsies and help them understand the motivations of the gypsies. While being very politically correct, the session nevertheless had connotations of understanding animal behaviour. A dog will bare its teeth from fear, as a defensive move but this may wrongly be interpreted as aggression. Similarly, the gypsy children that scaled my fence and ran amok in my garden did not intend intimidation but simply lacked the recognition of what non-gypsies perceive as boundaries (the door to the proverbial caravan is sacrosanct but beyond that, all outside is communal).
While the benefits were that I was better able to live in an area with a large population of this “other” I nevertheless created a category in my mind to excuse the behaviour of those people. It was somehow less personal if I didn’t view them as people like me but instead saw them as an inferior or primitive group that knew no better and ought to have my sympathies for their lives that lacked the richness of my own with its literacy and freedoms.
It helped a little but the solution was ultimately to move. No matter how I framed it, I was surrounded by a people that were feral. Their ignorance was threatening by merit of the pride they took in it.
So when I say I’m not new to the idea of labelling sub-class* people animals, I’m really not. I’ve been there for an extended period. I’ve felt the frustrated bile of helplessness as while faintly apologetic, your local police and government can do nothing to help you. Those not directly affected try to be understanding but either roll their eyes or get uncomfortable when you mutter that they should be sterilised or rounded up like vermin.
It’s not so much a desire to harm those people as a passionate urge for them to leave you alone and a fury that they won’t. You know you are being absurd and unreasonable yourself but they just keep on being so “other.”
Logic dictates that empathy is the only way to manage your feelings. Aside from moving, it was the only thing that helped me. That isn’t to say I think we should be soft on the rioters. Quite the opposite but the people that really matter are those that didn’t riot.
My gypsy neighbours infected me with some of their hate (truly, they were bitter and miserable beings) and I have a long way to go before I fully let go of that. Their lives are low and lacking value (the two boys I saw grow up in the house next door are currently serving jail sentences) and mine needn’t be. If I let my life be blighted then I give them a power that is wholly undeserved.
Those that have hit the streets to clean up the devastation have thrilled me. The message they give out is exactly what I’m in favour of. Not to reduce the criminality but there’s a sense of sweeping away the garbage. I hope the rioters are one by one identified and punished but equally that those affected are able to see the guilty as being so much beneath them and not worthy of their hate.
I’ve no interest in trying to understand the rioters. They do not understand themselves, lacking as they do any clear objectives. Just as I leave the psychopaths to the experts to worry about, neither do I wish to concern myself with those whose minds are flawed in the way of someone who destroys homes and businesses. Aside from the need for them to be held accountable, my concerns are for the victims (and I do not see the guilty as being victims of circumstance).
I hope that what emerges is the Big Society of Cameron’s dreams. I hope that the affected communities become defined by their coming together to rebuild their lives and not by those so low that creating fire and mayhem is the only way they can create something. I hope that people can move on and recover and hold onto that which makes them different and better that the scum that steal and burn.
That’s all I have right now. Hope.
* I use the term sub-class as to group them with the working class seems deeply offensive to decent working class people.