Why aren’t we rioting?

As news of yet more economic and financial disasters makes its way to us, one of the questions that I keep on hearing asked is this one: Why isn’t Ireland rioting? Seriously, why aren’t we?

It’s a good question. It’s not a question with any easy answers. It’s not a question that I’m going to be able to answer in full, although I have a couple of ideas. First, though, I’d like to talk about what it definitely is not.

It’s not that we’re not angry. It’s not that we’re not upset. It’s not that we’re apathetic. I’m not even sure that it’s because we’re aware of the risks and have made a decision to solve our problems democratically, as Amanda wrote recently.

I think that it’s more to do with hope, with disappointment, and with our ingrained responses to each. It’s about whose hopes have been dashed, and whose hopes were never there to begin with.

Put simply: those of us who already could hope for something better can- and do- leave. Oh, how we leave. We leave because we can afford to, we leave because we have skills we want to put to good use somewhere that’ll have us. But we also leave because we grew up with leaving. We grew up with glamorous, exciting uncles, aunts and cousins visiting home for Christmas, for weddings and funerals and christenings. Telling us stories of faraway places, and, of course, bringing the best presents. Your dad is the boss? Peh, I had a cousin in America who was a private investigator and an uncle who worked in space. That kind of currency is gold when you’re a kid.

And everyone around us had the same, did the same. I don’t know if anyone I grew up with didn’t have family overseas. I doubt it.

So those of us with hope? Those of us who want something better for ourselves and our loved ones? Those of us with some education, or some money set aside, or even someone we can borrow something from? We know what to do when things are no longer hopeful here. We always knew what to do.

And that’s why we don’t riot. You see, to riot you have to have hope. You have to see that things are bad, you have to feel like you damn well deserve better and be willing to risk something. Either that, or you have to be completely hopeless, and feel like there’s no other possible escape.

Put bluntly, you either have to have a lot to lose and no other way out, or nothing to lose and no other way out.

But us, here in Ireland? We’ve always had another way out.

Why aren’t we rioting?

5 thoughts on “Why aren’t we rioting?

  1. Jen

    Essential proviso: I’m living in England so only have so much grasp of things where you are; the Ireland situation seems to be where the UK would be about now if Labour had carried on their trajectory for another year and the IMF duly had to step in or similar.

    There’s a refrain from some quarters over here of “we could never have seen this coming”. The Liberal finance guy, Vince Cable, got lots of media kudos for having predicted the collapse and the reasons underpinning it a long time beforehand, and duly had his public image transformed from “that idiot who keeps wailing about imaginary problems around the corner” to “the genius soothsayer with unique economic insights”.

    But you didn’t have to be Vince Cable to see it coming, or rather, he didn’t have to be particularly genius to see it. Collectively we lived in a society where loans and especially mortgages were cheap, even nonsense “120%” mortgages, on the promise that the economy would grow forever and house prices would keep shooting up and up forever. And the majority of us bought in to that idea, or went along with it on the grounds that we got cheaper loans to buy cars and lower interest rates on credit cards and whatever.

    But deep down, anyone with any sense could see it was a proverbial castle built on shifting sands. Individually and as a country we were living on tick and hoping no-one ever came to ask where the money was. But of course, eventually they did.

    And we know that some people did individually very well out of it all – but that we all, or practically all of us, did quite well out of it too. I never got a mortgage and never had a loan at the bank but I got lifts in cars of friends that they could afford because money was cheaper than it by rights should have been. I watched TV shows on big screens that were affordable for the same reason in the houses of friends who had taken out big fat mortgages that should have cost more than they did.

    And I kept my money in a nice big bank that was a multinational and as a result paid a bit more than the small local bank and had more cashpoints for me to get at my money when I wanted to go out on the tiles, while that bank carefully hid its profits away from the taxman through overseas tax havens.

    Rioting over stuff like this seems to me to demand two things: a sense of clear injustice in how the pain is meted out, and a sense of suffering for that which you didn’t do. e.g. When we had riots in England in the early 80s, in from what I can make out usually the less white areas one of the triggers was police using sus laws to stop and search people because of their skin colour, people who were guilty of nothing were getting targeted. But the big crash: we’re all guilty. We all let this happen. We all got a bit of cake even if someone else got a bigger bit. And the pain, well, we’re all getting it, those of us who started out with less are going to find it tougher but that was always like that even in the good times.

    Rioting won’t solve anything: a different government will still be in the same economic hole, there’ll just be more damaged buildings and people that need taking care of on top of our other problems.

    And on a related note: some of us have our eyes on the peak oil problem and figure that we can’t spend our way out of economic pain forever.

    1. 2.1

      We all got a bit of cake even if someone else got a bigger bit

      I’m not sure that we all got a bit of cake. I do think that those of us who didn’t get any cake were those who were already incredibly disenfranchised.
      Then again, for those who didn’t even get any cake in the good years- well, they were already screwed. Which isn’t to say that they’re not even more screwed now, but if you’re used to not expecting better, than getting nothing isn’t going to be a big surprise.

      Damn, I’ve gotten cynical in my old age.

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