August 11, 2011

London’s Burning: The Three Fires and the London Riots

This guest blog post comes our way from Alex Gooch, a language teacher and freelance writer. He has been practicing Vipassana and Zen meditation for 10 years. His article, "Being Somebody, Going Somewhere" appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of Tricycle. He lives in London.

“Bhikkhus, all is burning.” —Ādittapariyāya Sutta (The ‘Fire Sermon’)

On Tuesday morning, my flatmate L and I switched on the TV news over breakfast and were astonished by the scenes that took place across London on Monday night. For the third night running, mobs had taken control of whole districts all around the city. Film clip after film clip showed gangs of masked kids pushing back lines of riot police – or, more often, police were nowhere to be seen and the rioters were smashing storefront windows and entering shops with impunity, making off laden with stolen goods, while crowds of others looked on. In the north and south of the city, enormous fires were blazing uncontrolled. London looked like a war-zone.

The focus in the news reports has been very much on what is happening—and this is probably inevitable, as events are have been moving at such a speed, and many of us are directly concerned for the safety of ourselves and our neighbourhoods. However, as the Buddha never ceased reminding us, all things arise in dependence upon conditions—so it seems appropriate, from a Buddhist point of view at least, to be inquiring into the conditions which might lie behind this grim state of affairs. The dharma encourages us to ask why all this is happening, and suggests that from this why a wiser response might begin to emerge.

The initial trigger for the first bout of unrest, on Saturday night, was a protest outside a police station in north London, by the family and friends of a suspected gang member shot dead by the police, under dubious circumstances, on Thursday. However, this initial protest has been effectively forgotten in the surge of chaos that has swept through London since then.

Contrary to some reports in the international press, these riots in London and around Britain don’t have an explicitly racial character. Despite the running battles between the mobs and the riot squad, this isn’t it a coherent protest against the police either, or against the political status quo, or against any specific target whatsoever—there are reasons for all this, certainly, but there’s no evidence at all that anyone’s fighting for a cause. What is happening, all across London, is that predominantly young people from the city’s poorer areas are engaging in a campaign of looting—semi-organised robbery of shopping areas, orchestrated through online social media, with some gang involvement apparently, and some recreational arson and vandalism to spice things up.

One Russian newspaper described this as a “hunger mutiny”, but the motivation of the looters isn’t hunger, at least not in the literal sense of the word. It’s not supermarkets and grocery stores that are being targeted but clothes shops, sports shops and electrical goods stores. The looters aren’t stealing bread but cell-phones, plasma TVs and sneakers.

The killing of a suspect by police might have touched off the first night’s unrest, but it doesn’t give us anything like an adequate explanation of why thousands of young people in London and around Britain are suddenly smashing shop windows and helping themselves to consumer durables. There is a much bigger ‘why?’ to be asked here. And of course, there are many valid perspectives on the causality of the riots. Social exclusion, gang culture, tensions between London’s ethnic communities and the police, recent cuts in provision of services to inner-city neighbourhoods in the wake of the economic downturn, and the unpredicted social effects of new technology are all being explored by journalists and social commentators as contributing factors that have lead to this situation.

A Buddhist contribution to the question of what’s causing the London riots might usefully start with the ‘three poisons’—lobha, dosa and moha, or greed, hatred and delusion. As engaged Buddhist writers have been pointing out for years, these three poisons (also traditionally called the ‘three fires’) operate not only at the level of the individual psyche, but at the social level too. On the streets and in the shopping malls of London we’ve been seeing a horrifying illustration of the destructive power of lobha, greed. We’ve been shown greed in a very raw, unmediated form, greed broken free from the social conventions and restraints that normally contain it, and we’ve been shown the damage that greed can cause at a social level. There is hatred, too, in the clashes with police and the senseless burning of businesses and private homes, and there’s ignorance in the sheer heedlessness of consequences. But the strongest motivating force behind the riots seems very evidently to be greed—the unfettered, overwhelming desire to get hold of the glittering luxury items in the shop windows.

My flatmate L, who I mentioned earlier, is a professional art photographer—a member of that small and much-envied minority who have genuine, honest-to-goodness artistic talent, and also the focus and determination to make something out of it. She’s very good indeed; admittedly I’m biased, as she’s also a beloved friend, but it’s not just my opinion—her complex, haunting images have been exhibited around Europe and won all kinds of plaudits and awards.

However, plaudits and awards don’t pay the bills. Like a lot of creatively talented people in all kinds of different art forms, L’s financial future hinges on the possibility that some art director of some advertising agency might come across her work and deem her style suitable for some upcoming campaign; advertising is where the money is, and L is forced by financial necessity to sell her services to the advertising world in order to fund her artwork, as well as paying the grocery bills.

Share with a Friend

Email to a Friend

Already a member? Log in to share this content.

You must be a Tricycle Community member to use this feature.

1. Join as a Basic Member

Signing up to Tricycle newsletters will enroll you as a free Tricycle Basic Member.You can opt out of our emails at any time from your account screen.

2. Enter Your Message Details

Enter multiple email addresses on separate lines or separate them with commas.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
gshifrin's picture

I'll throw in one more factor -- we tell our kids that anyone can be a celebrity, talented or not, and get huge rewards and be as extravagant and abusive as they like without any consequences. They grow up thinking they're entitled to be a pop star or a sports icon or a financial power without any realization that it takes a huge amount of work and incredible good luck.

At some point, they leave school and try to find a job and are shocked to see that the high-paying jobs are not there at all, and the low-paying ones may or may not even be available!

I don't know what the answer is but I'm not surprised that there's a lot of frustration that only takes a little incident to ignite into violence.

cyberprimate's picture

I agree with what jpmcgough says.

Religions tend to look at issues from the perspective of individual morality only and leave all the rest to the bin, and this article isn't very different. It's so much filled with abstract philosophical notions and so poor in human understanding. If one gives credit to the fundamental Buddhist notion of interdependance, the bad karma displayed by these English rioters wouldn't exist without the karmic context of modern society as a whole. These rioters are not just abstract individuals facing existential moral choices between good and evil, they are OUR kids leaving in OUR world, facing the consequences of OUR political preferences and general behaviour.

jpmcgough's picture

I found this article full of wide, unexamined judgments on the character and motivation of the London rioters. They are, it seems, unfortunate near-animals lacking in the control mechanisms "most of us" enjoy. As in "most of us, most of the time, are not consumed by this kind of ravenous, uncontrolled craving for stuff." (really? I see "most of us" as pretty ravenous in our own cravings. Some might not break windows, but that's probably because they have enough money to temporarily satisfy desire that way.)
Never is class, humiliation from poverty, and anger towards violence and discrimination from the police, state or elites ever mentioned. Consider that the riots might also be a protest (you might not find it an effective or safe one) against conditions perceived as intolerable. The author could also check their own educated class bias by considering recent studies show poor communities and societies displaying much more empathy, compassion, and human connectedness and generosity than well-off or rich segments of society.

el_goochio's picture

I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who's commented - and also to draw your attention to a British charity worker called Camila Batmanghelidjh and her wise and compassionate responses to the riots, which I've found very helpful. If Bodhisattvas truly walk the earth today, then I suspect she might be one of them.

You can read a piece she wrote in the Independent newspaper here:

...and there's an interview here:
(starting 12 minutes in).

- Alex G

moonaysl's picture

I also thought this was a phenomenal response.

BrownBrown's picture

“Those who want to see law and order restored must turn their attention to a menace that no amount of riot police will disperse; a social and political order that rewards vandalism and the looting of public property, so long as the perpetrators are sufficiently rich and powerful.”

moonaysl's picture

"But we know that the poorest in our societies are also likely to be those with the lowest levels of formal education. Thus, cruelly, those who are most easily persuaded to crave the latest cell-phones and sneakers and plasma TVs are also the least able to afford them."

I'd like to call the assumption here into question, especially since the Buddha said to question everything. I *think* the assumption is that lack of education leads to craving. I'm not sure that there is any evidence for this. If there is, it's certainly not presented here. And I don't think the Buddha ever suggested that education (whatever that is) is the equivalent of progress toward liberation.

el_goochio's picture

Hi moonaysl - and thanks for your comment. Yes, I did make an assertion about the relationship between education and greed in this blog, and I didn't offer any evidence to back this assertion up, and you're quite right to call me to account for it. I wouldn't exactly want to say that "lack of education leads to craving" - I certainly wouldn't want to say that the educated have less craving than the uneducated. That doesn't seem to me to be the case at all. My claim is smaller than that - I'm just claiming that there are forces in our society which try to promote our greed in order to manipulate us, through advertising etc., and that education helps us to defend ourselves against this kind of manipulation.
What I have in mind when I say 'education' is critical thinking, in particular. To choose one little example from thousands, on British TV we often see shampoo adverts which say things like "now enriched with scienceanol!" - I'm sure shampoo ads all over the world use the same trick. of claiming to contain chemicals with impressive-sounding names, and thus co-opting the authority of science. Presumable, potential customers are supposed to think, "well, it must be good for my hair, if it's got scienceanol in it!". On the other hand, if a potential customer knows a little about the way discourse and argumentation works, they might spot the fact that no relationship between scienceanol and healthy-looking hair has been established. And if the potential customer knows a little about chemistry, they might realise that 'scienceanol' sounds extremely dubious as a chemical name, and probably doesn't appear in too many peer-reviewed journals. I wouldn't want to claim that education is required to see through ads in this way - only that education if it's done right shoud help equip people to do so.
If this claim is true, then there should be a demonstrable inverse relationship between levels of eduction and susceptibility to advertising. Unfortunately I'm nowhere near enough of a sociologist to know whether this is true, or to know where to find reliable data on a question like this, if such data even exists. All I can say is that my hunch is that there might well be such a relationship.
You're right also to note that my claim about the relationship between education and greed isn't a Buddhist claim per se, and some schools of Buddhism would see too much abstract thinking as a barrier to proper practice (for example, this attitude is quite prevalent in Zen, which is where my own particular committment lies). On the other hand, I'm by no means an expert on Tibetan Buddhism but I believe there are at least some elements of the Tibetan monastic tradition which put a great deal of emphasis on education in critical thought, rational analysis, intellectual debate and so on.
Once again, thanks moonaysl - your comment was spot-on.
- Alex G

moonaysl's picture

I also think that we make a mistake if we don't believe that the rioters have applied their own critical thinking to their actions. Part of a practice of mindfulness (I believe) is a practice of empathy and compassion, and that means trying to see things from someone else's point of view. We can't do that if we assume that there's little to it.

Here is what I wrote, elsewhere, in response to what happened. It is entitled Scenes From a Recession:

After driving nearly 600 miles, you'd be exhausted too! I said this to a lot of people yesterday, including the Washington, D.C. police, GEICO insurance, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center security, NASA IT security, and NASA's astrophysics IT. Why? Because after driving 570 miles on Wednesday, I went to my boyfriend's house, took a bag that I thought contained my NASA-issued laptop out of the car, fully intending to come down and get everything else, went upstairs and after eating, fell asleep. The next morning, when I got in my car at 7 AM, I discovered my rear passenger side window had been smashed and my 5 month old red backpack was missing.

What happened after discovering the broken window surprised me. Yes, I sounded slightly panicky on my call to 911. But overall, I was calm. I was mindful. I was aware that I was safe. And I was aware that I would be okay. Physically and financially. The place where my car was broken into is a fairly busy urban area, and this meant that someone had felt desperate enough to risk arrest to steal a backpack. I didn't feel that desperate, so my life was, relatively speaking, pretty good. I slowly pieced together that the bag I had taken upstairs actually had my personal machine in it, and my backpack, containing my federally-owned computer, my personal iPad, and all of my teaching and research notes from the last two weeks, was gone. And that it was okay that it was gone. I would be okay.

The problem of course is that this incident didn't just involve me and my sense of security. It involves someone else and their sense of security -- the person who broke my car window and stole my stuff. I try to think about it from hir perspective: here's a nice 2007 Honda Civic, in very nice condition, and the back is full of stuff. It's parked near the U Street Corridor, which was once a Black community, but has recently been gentrified primarily by white yuppies who couldn't care less about the myriad of Black homeless people who literally live right outside their condo's front door. In my mind, the thief sees a bunch of people who don't care about hir (and it's not hard to imagine because I feel that most of them probably don't), so why should ze respect their stuff? Do the people in the U street corridor pay attention to what happened to the poor Black people who were forced out when they decided to move in?

The riots in London are a demand for that mindfulness, for that attention. What happens when people feel locked out? No, I'm not arguing that burning things down and devastating whole communities is the "right" thing to do. But the question I am asking is whether "right" matters anymore when people's sense of hope has been devastated. Sure, some of the rioters were spoiled middle- and upper-class kids who were just trying to get free stuff for kicks. But, as we Angelenos were forced to recognize in 1992, when a community has been told over and over that it doesn't matter, when the youth are told they will never amount to anything, it's hard for them to have self-respect. And when self-respect disappears, so does respect for one's community. In that light, it's hardly surprising that people might burn down their own ghetto. All of us who grew up poor want to get out.

I was lucky that I was a good test taker, that my parents knew how to ensure I got a good education, that I had the right combination of things going for me to get out. But I know that not everyone can be that way. That some people will live with undiagnosed learning disabilities, geniuses who get left behind by a narrow point of view on intelligence. That some people won't be as light skinned as I am and will be subjected to even more overt and unconscious biases. The list of challenges goes on.

So, when someone broke into my car and stole things that while useful to me were hardly precious to anyone, I realized that I was okay, and then I started to worry about the person on the other side of it. Are they a drug addict? How long will they spend in jail for drug possession? Will they ever get the needed treatment? Here in D.C., almost all young Black men will go through the mass incarceration system at some point. I worried that because they stole a government-owned laptop that the jail time will be harsher if they get caught.

I don't believe the thief thought that what they were doing was okay. So I have to ask, why did ze do it anyway? Poverty is a maddening experience. It's hard to be mindful of your intentions or to even carry them out when hopelessness eats at your entire world. The amazing thing is that poverty doesn't do this to everyone; but it shouldn't be surprising that it does it to many, especially since the system is constructed to lock out felons and their families.

I feel that this experience has helped me reset my intention to challenge the poverty that relegates people to nothingness, to never think that my iPad is more important than the person who stole it from me, to try to recognize that ze is probably more of a victim in this narrative than I am. That's not always easy to do. It's easy to get attached to things. It's easy to want security. But, my intention is to respond with compassion, not materialism. I hope I can do it. I hope others will join me in this practice.

moonaysl's picture

Hi Alex,

Thanks for your response. As an ivy league educated academic from working class roots, though, I have to disagree with your assessment that education is a proxy for the type of critical thinking that leads to resistance of materialist impulses. I spent 4 years as the working class kid amongst people getting a so-called "world class" education in critical thought, and they were some of the most atrocious materialists one will ever meet. And unfortunately, a lot of them are now in positions of political power that help guide the direction of our culture.

On a smaller scale, the accumulation of knowledge is a kind of materialism -- I think akin to the Spiritual Materialism that Chogyam Trungpa tried to warn us about. I think the kind of education that we often tout is about the accumulation of knowledge or ideas.

In my opinion, real critical thinking is often not at all a part of education, and I suspect that those outside of the confines of traditions are the ones most likely to be able to do critical thinking with clarity. Einstein is a famous example of that. Every anonymous dyslexic artist who couldn't make it in a traditional classroom is an example of that. Education can be and often is an institution, binding our critical freedom in the same way that materialism does.

wtompepper's picture

Unfortunately, education rarely serves to promote critical thinking. More and more, even higher education is focused on job training, teaching technical skills, trying to produce workers who can adapt to new technology quickly (the new definition of "intelligence") but don't think too seriously or deeply.

There are many Buddhist traditions which encourage critical thought. Shinran often used the practice of questioning the terms in which a problem is posed, in order to escape the trap of blind passions. (See Dennis Hirota's book "Asura's Harp," on the use of language and thought in Shin). Unfortunately, This kind of radical thought is often discouraged in many mainstream Buddhist schools. Shin was once a radical Buddhism for the lower classes, but became a very conservative ideological support for imperialism--and the element of critical thought was abandoned.

Maybe the best practice for Buddhist in this kind of situation is to return to these radical roots--get off the cushion and help teach people to examine the causes and conditions, the constructed nature, of the terms in which these problems are debated. We can't settle for Margaret Thatcher's "There is no alternative" response.

BrownBrown's picture

Yes- just imagine, for example, trying to maintain a meditation practice in conditions of deprivation. It's one thing to choose asceticism, quite another to have it forced on you by those more powerful. Perhaps we need to reorganize our societies in such a way that people can best practice, and stop making practice merely an individualized response to the stresses of contemporary capitalist society.

moonaysl's picture

You reminded me here of the various meditation in prison programs.

SamHill's picture

this is certainly true, and absolutely crucial I think. But it is very difficult when your society and place of living does not nourish this kind of community. I also think that although the blame game can quickly become a place of conflict It is important for solving problems. Simply letting it be does not work. Also not that you are implying this, communities do rise up in this kind of action all over the world. Egypt, Oakland, London, Greece, etc, etc.

Richard Fidler's picture

If the looters were truly integrated members of a community, a community consisting of all generations interacting, a community that cares about each person, a community that cares about the education of youth, then they would never have done what they did in London this week. Forget the blame aspect and ask how we can form a strong community. That is what we should be working towards.

SamHill's picture

Please. Lets open our eyes. The 3 Poisons are vast and subtle. We must not be bound. We must not be exploited or cheated. I think it is good to look at these matters like you have never heard of them before. Instead of instantly opening our dharma dictionary lets take a look at the inner working of the human being. What is violence? Inequality, social and economic repression are just two of the over looked violent aspects of this society. Violence takes many forms and In my deep view this is among the most degrading, dehumanizing, and truly menacing of all. These people are struggling because of the greed of others 'above' them and now they are free for a day, and hour, a minute, whatever. This looting must not be looked at as greed alone. I want to make no assumptions as to the social and economic conditions of the above posters, but lets please take a look from the flip side. writing letters to politicians, having book talks, petitioning, group discussions, conversation, quitting your job. These may be some actions the opressed might take during there daily struggle for change. But look around we no longer have the basic human right to truly live the life we would hope for. Maybe throwing molotov cocktails at police, and shattering windows is the absolute nessary step for these people to take. They have a feeling of freedom and liberation. Although this is not complete freedom or liberation as we know, this is a step I feel that these people need to take. Obviously change must take place, the people must have there life and not the sorry excuse for life that many have been so carefully dropped into. Expecting complete order and organization within a what you may view as peaceful revolution or movement is completely unrealistic today, I know this. Please lets reconsider what it means to embody compassion, what it means to embody action, wisdom, discipline. To the person that said there parents are to blame all I can do is laugh. You clearly have not examined these matters closely.

Heres a different take.


Tharpa Pema's picture

It would be interesting to hear what some of the looters have to say about why they did it. There may be--indeed, I expect there are--conditions at work of which we commentators are unaware. I find it so easy to project my beliefs about causes onto others that I sometimes forget to listen.

el_goochio's picture

Yes, absolutely - I wish we'd heard more from the rioters themselves about why they were doing it. Unfortunately, while the riots were going on, very few journalists were able to get rioters to talk to them (for obvious reasons), but a few interviews with rioters were aired. When the journalists asked them why they were doig it, the rioters seemed to give variations on three responses: firstly, to get free stuff; secondly, to show the police / business-owners / society at large that they could do what they want; and thirdly, because it was fun.
I focused on the first of these reasons in my blog, as it's related to greed, and greed is something that Buddhism has a great deal to say about. It seems less easy to come up with a Buddhist take on the assertion of authority, or on 'fun', but I'd be very interested to hear anyone's ideas about how we could do this...
Anyway, thanks for your comment, Tharpa.
- Alex G

BrownBrown's picture

Reuters: London rioters point to poverty and prejudice

"It's us versus them, the police, the system," said an unemployed man of Kurdish origin in his early 20s, sitting at the entrance to a Hackney housing estate with four Afro-Caribbean friends who nodded in agreement.

"They call it looting and criminality. It's not that. There's a real hatred against the system," he added, listing what he saw as the police prejudice, discrimination and lack of opportunity that led him and his friends to loot shops, torch bins and hurl missiles at police Monday.

"There's two worlds in this borough. More and more middle classes are coming and we're being pushed out. The shops are pricing stuff like it's the West End, we can't afford the rents. We're the outcasts, we're not wanted any more. There's nothing for us."

Britain's coalition government has made deep spending cuts since coming into power last year to tackle a big budget deficit. The poor say they have been hit hardest, with people in Hackney pointing to the closure of many services.

"The only way we can get out of this is education, and we're not entitled to it, because of the cuts. Even for bricklaying you need a qualification and a waiting list for a course. I signed up in November, and still haven't heard back," the Kurdish man said.

The government has also raised university tuition fees since coming into power, putting a higher education further out of the reach of youths from places like Hackney.

"They're screwing the system so only white middle-class kids can get an education," said another man, who declined to be named. He said politicians were the real criminals, and pointed to a 2009 expenses scandal in which several lawmakers were revealed to have cheated the taxpayer out of thousands of pounds.

"The politicians say that we loot and rob. They are the original gangsters. They talk about copycat crimes. They're the ones that's looting, they're the originals," he said.

One of the Kurdish man's friends pointed to alleged payments made to the police by journalists, claims currently under investigation as part of a wider phone-hacking scandal centred on the now defunct News of the World newspaper, part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp media conglomerate.

"Everyone's heard about the police taking bribes, the members of parliament stealing thousands with their expenses. They set the example. It's time to loot," the youth said.


How does Buddhism address such systemic injustice?

paul6316's picture

I don't think the old, reliable, not-even-worth-parodying-anymore "they're depraved on accounta they're deprived" argument is going to fly here, considering the very privileged backgrounds of some of the rioters:

BrownBrown's picture

Surely you don't think a majority of the rioters were upper class? Are the examples you gave any more representative of the class composition of the rioters than the mother of two given 4 months for accepting stolen clothing for her children? The homeless men denied bail for stealing biscuits from a bakery? The more dangerous group of looters with very privileged backgrounds are Cameron and his gang.'s picture

The Middle Way? I don't know what that is anymore. From no-thing to some thing useful... but not politically based or consensus reality based or desire based or...or...or...? Be In The World But Not Of It? Given the amazing visibility of our present day expansive communication channels, and given our humaness, what's a person to do? Discipline? Maybe. Prastic? Realistic? Belief? Maybe? Anything beyond Rumi's "field", the creative field that holds out the potentiality of what could be/can be/is/may be/might/yes/words/what? More questions than answers for sure for sure for sure.

james.wilson's picture

Here is another probable cause: The Western governments have broken the "rule of law" by refusing to indict the financiers who continue to fraudulently plunder our societies. The ruling class first broke the social contract and passed the costs on to everyone else through bailouts, Depression, austerity, and inflation. Just the other day, the Federal Reserve Board said it would continue to loan taxpayer money at no interest to powerful banks, which will then loan those trillions to the same taxpayers for over twenty per cent interest on their greed-inspiring credit cards. Although it may not be a very Buddhist thing to say, all looters need to spend some time in jail. To paraphrase the refrain from the chilling song by Stealers Wheel:

Gangsters to the left of me,
Banksters to the right, here I am,
Stuck in the middle with you.

I concede that this missive violates The Buddha's injunction against harsh speech. It also recommends violence (throwing criminals in jail). But even if this particular energy field often prefers to deviate from the Eight-Fold-Path, I am grateful for the increased amount of hope and compassion that the practice has created.

Chris Q's picture

Miscommunication, that's probably one of the reasons why this is happening. Well, what more can I say, I just wish, this will stop sooner or later. Riots have been busting out in London, synchronized mainly with the use of social networking. Scotland Yard is cautioning people to stop such activities or deal with the consequences. Riots broke out in London after police shot and killed a man that several Londoners believe to have been murdered without cause. Article source: Weekend of London riots leaves city devastated by looting.

jeaton's picture

"We’ve put the London rioters in a double bind: we’ve taught them to organise their lives around desires that we haven’t given them any legitimate means to satisfy. "

God, that's a great line. Spot on.

BrownBrown's picture

Yes, and this one too:

"We’ve organised our society in such a way that the talents of our most creative, artistically gifted people are turned towards the perpetuation of greed."

Sad but true.

wtompepper's picture

This is true, but it reifies "society." What if those talented and creative people just stopped doing this? What if they stopped being motivated by the chance to make lots of money without any heavy lifting? They could always abandon the easy excuse that "society" is set up that way, and use their creative talents to eliminate delusion instead of make an easy buck.

BrownBrown's picture

But unless we're independently wealthy, we're *forced* to sell our labor power. The author makes clear that people have organized society in this way, so presumably we could organize it in another way- one that wouldn't require us to sell our labor power under threat, ultimately, of starvation:

"In Croydon, James Best and Sean Havens pleaded guilty to stealing cakes and biscuits from a bakery. Both are homeless. They were denied bail."

wtompepper's picture

We are "forced" to "freely choose" to sell our labor power, or starve or go to prison. This is true in the current system. But we are not forced to sell our labor power in ways that help produce delusion.

Right livelihood is almost impossible in a capitalist society, but we can at least avoid the worst offenses. Personally, I would place advertising on par with selling intoxicating substances--one of those occupations that are always considered wrong livelihood.

adrianhale's picture

I found this the most helpful response to the events of this last week that I have read. Most responses I have read have been trying to fan the flames of the three fires within us as we confront the rioters in our own minds. Thank you for helping to ground me in my values.

This may be going of at a tangent, but I was reading Jack Kornfield's 'A path with a heart' on the bus this morning and came upon this quote from Martin Luther King Jr, which was a response to his church being bombed (I have slightly adapted it):
We will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with Soul [read 'Heart'] Force. We will not hate you ... But we will soon wear you down with our capacity to suffer. And in winning our freedom we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win yours in the process.

wtompepper's picture

" this is the way things are set up in the society we live in, and there’s no other viable way"

This assumption is the whole problem. Making excuses to live in the ream of high culture and contribute to oppressing people because "there's nothing I can do about the way 'society' is." The Bodhisattva path would be to change the way things are set up.

Riots like these are never just the result of "wanting shiny things": much more fundamentally, they stem from having no means to develop and use our human potential within "the way things are set up." The first step is to try to show these people that this is really what they are angry about! Their anger is real, justified, and useful--just misdirected because of the overwhelming power of the media (including advertisers) to produce delusion.

Danny's picture

I agree with this--and beautifully stated.

moonaysl's picture


BrownBrown's picture

Can we have true peace (inner or outer) without justice?

Can we (claim to) be nonviolent when the system we are all inextricably entangled in is itself violent?

Dharma Sanctuary's picture

I think you hit the nail on the head. Our western societies have a disease, and this is consumerism as the holy grail. There is so much that needs to be changed in our attitudes, but we have a terribly broken system. We are promoting greed, as you say. We've got it all backwards. The dysfunction is so systemic, it feels like the edifice needs to come crashing down before it can ever change. I feel for those negatively impacted by the violence. No one is immune from the changes going on.

sara_marlow's picture

Great to read your article Alex. I absolutely agree with what you say, very thought provoking. I think the parents are very much 'to blame' ... some of that stems from education, but instilling basic values should be happening, and it's not. Or not enough. Advertising, the media .. yes, it drives me crazy!!! Too much of everything!!!! But surely the parents, or guardians, have to guide their children to think about what is real and what is not? I don't know, and I think there is no simple solution of course, but more discipline -in schools and at home- more guidance, community support and zero tolerance from the police all need to be addressed. And now. Peace and love ;>

hilaryjt's picture

Hi Sara,
whilst I agree with you that parents have a role in providing guidance and values, they are not parenting in isolation. They say 'it takes a village to raise a child' and unfortunately if your 'village' is a council estate where everyone is dealing with the consequences of generations of deprivation there may be limits to a parent's influence versus the influences of the world the children are growing up in.
People who are attempting to raise children in such adverse circumstances need all the support they can get.

el_goochio's picture

The issue of parenting is a tricky one... traditionally in Britain, and I guess in the States and elsewhere too, the idea of 'inadequate parenting' or a 'breakdown in parenting' has been the territory of the right wing, and liberals and left-wingers (like me and the majority of my fellow Western Buddhists I think) have resisted this kind of talk. On the other hand, several of my friends are teachers in school in deprived areas of inner-city London, and all of them without exception say that the kids aren't getting what they need from their parents in the way of family structure, positive role-models, transmission of values, etc. This doesn't necessarily mean that we should blame the parents, though - as other commenters have pointed out, we don't help the situation by just sitting around blaming people. And if the children's actions can be understood as consequences of the parents' actions, then the parents' actions can surely be understood as consequences of other causes and conditions, and so on. Our esteemed former Prime Minister John Major once said "we should condemn a little more and understand a little less" - not a position I'd endorse, obviously, but I agree with the premise that when we have an understanding of someone's actions in terms of the causes and conditions that give rise to them, then it's easier to avoid demonising that person.
hilary.home - your comment put me in mind of some of the things Camila Batmanghelidjh has been saying; I'll post something at the bottom of the page about her.
- Alex G