Malko: Summer Sales

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]ost comments on London’s events can be placed between strong condemnations of vandalism or the wildness of the immigrant mob and kind deliberations about the hard lot of excluded ones. From the left to the right commentators take overused tones explaining that even if those events may seem to be beyond what we know, in fact they are nothing new.

Fire spread through districts and lighted cities, and the forces sent to put it out were twice as numerous as those keeping peace in Afghanistan, yet what we read was that these were just hooligan games; unless someone has the heart on the left side, then we read about the excluded victims of recent budget cuts calling for help. We could see disarray through our windows, but we already knew what was going on and why. We, civilised, cultural and included ones, were sitting calmly waiting for five o’clock, when everything will be as usual.

The British riots will become more interesting only when we stop diagnosing them, analysing and segregating from over a cup of tea, when we drop our attempts to understand them from the angle of living rooms and instead we try to look at our living rooms through the lens of burning streets. Of course we can always take all of that just as excess, a marginal incident, separating us with a bright line from those who did not make it to our cream tea. However, wouldn’t it be wiser to recognise in the picture of these burning and looted cities, not only unfortunate by-products of consumer capitalism, but consumerism par excellence?

What is the difference between the British looting and our everyday scratching the world? Both are equally spectacular and conspicuous. The violence of London’s streets today just stands out slightly more, yet our common order is nothing less than a function of hidden violence, thus this difference is only on the surface. Looting is more destructive? On a daily basis the devastating potential of consumerism is realised in a scattered form and without publicity. Exported to peryphery countries in the form of extreme exploitation. Released to the atmosphere with carbon dioxide from factory chimneys. Demolishing ecosystems, tree after tree, species after species. Butchering values, relations and institutions at the altar of economic growth. Changing our lives, day after day, into a mere means of life.

So maybe, the British riots show us, just in a more brutal way by putting embers under our noses, the everyday destruction, which has always been connected with consumerism. Therefore, what we should learn from these events is not just a way of returning to our everyday lives and avoiding these kinds of excesses in the future, but rather the conclusion that our everyday reality is enormous excess itself. In this sense, British commentators are right repeating their mantra: ‘we have seen this before’. In the end this was only a summer sale.


Translated by Magdalena Chojnowska


Krytyka Polityczna
Krytyka Polityczna (Political Critique) is the largest Eastern European liberal network of institutions and activists. It consists of the online daily Dziennik Opinii, a quarterly magazine, publishing house, cultural centres in Warsaw, Łódź, Gdańsk and Cieszyn, activist clubs in a dozen cities in Poland (and also in Kiev and Berlin), as well as a research centre: the Institute for Advanced Study in Warsaw.