Sunday, June 5, 2016

In Defense of the Rationality of Riots


    George Ciccariello-Maher’s Planet of Slums, Age of Riots (2011) seeks to rationalize the growing prevalence of riot behavior around the world. Ciccariello-Maher’s thesis expresses his desire to address and refute the media’s idea that riots are “fundamentally irrational.” He supports his thesis with three numbered arguments and three additional subheadings, an organizational choice that contributes to the logos strength of the writing. Before the reader learns of Ciccariello-Maher’s argument, the title, Planet of Slums, Age of Riots, suggests that the writing will draw some parallels between slum-like cities and riots in those areas. This is done immediately with the opening, “Tottenham, Chile, Tunis…There are too many to count…We almost can’t keep the names straight.” Immediately the reader is faced with the claim’s first warrant: there is no difference between slums and the cities where riots take place. The sentiment is supported later with the statement, “This view [looting as a form of do-it-yourself consumerism] misses the far more complex role of the commodity during a riot, which was as evident in Oakland as in Venezuela.” Riots are portrayed as a result of rightful discontent among citizens around the world. 

Before launching into the numbered arguments, Ciccariello-Maher establishes framework explaining that although riots tend to occur amidst outrage surrounding social events such as the killing of Mark Duggan and Oscar Grant, riots are about more than the surface issues. Underlying issues include racial profiling at the hands of the police, poverty, capitalism, and more issues that arise as results of racial injustice and poverty. The turmoil between underprivileged citizen and government grows with every major and minor daily aggression. This section cites a number of injustices, focusing primarily on police violence:  “… just as 2008 Athens was about more than Alexandros Grigoropoulos, 1992 L.A. was about more than Rodney King, the 1965 Watts Rebellion about more than Marquette Frye, and so on.” The list of evidence suggests that injustice knows no geographical or temporal boundaries. Further, the connotation of the slur, “the mob” is explained; the media often refers to those rioting as mobs, implying that they are “undesirable” and thoughtless beings. Ciccariello-Maher determines that the elite uses the term “the mob” to “delegitimize and denigrate popular resistance, to empty it of all political content by drawing a line of rationality in the sand.” This definition leads to the article’s main aim, to refute ideas that rioting practices are fundamentally irrational.

    The first main argument outlines the rebel perspective that traditional methods of communication are often ineffective, and is titled “Nothing Else Has Worked, This Might.” As evidence, an ITV interview is referenced where the subject insists that rioting brings needed attention to the important issues. The fed-up rebels turn to rioting after exhausting the official and acceptable methods of expressing their discontent. Ciccariello-Maher expresses both his willingness to hear, and doubt that there will be an effective argument from the opposition when he offers, “If someone has an effective counterargument to this, I’m all ears.” The author qualifies his claim by noting that individual rebels have varied logic associated with their riot participation, but remains confident that logic is a crucial aspect of all riots.

    The second argument draws parallels between the kind of looting practiced by elites and the looting of the rebellious. The argument is titled, “The Rich Can Do It, Why Can’t We?” Ciccariello-Maher cites interviews published in the Guardian, the Sun, and a third from a London riot onlooker all that share the idea that the elites originated the practices of robbing and looting and that the actions of those rioting is not far removed from accepted elite actions. The argument suggests that wealth distribution practices and the praise of predatory bank behavior make the actions of the rich just as bad if not worse than the actions of rioters and looters. 

    The third outlined argument focuses on the location of the riots. Those rioting primarily fall into the category of poor, minority, or both. Media outlets use the location of riots as support for their notion that riots are poorly thought out, destroying all property except that of those that should be targeted. In response to the media’s use of a broken window at an African braid shop as an image of the irrationality of riots, Ciccariello-Maher writes about how even in poor minority communities, rarely anything is truly owned by the poor. This statement comes along with the warrant that those rioting truly did have a reason behind their destruction, as businesses such as an African braid shop actually represent the power that the elite still holds over the poor even in poor communities. Accepting this warrant helps the reader answer the media’s confusion about looting in more affluent areas. Ciccariello-Maher offers that the “destruction of luxuries and appropriation of necessities” involved with looting discredits the idea that the practice is simply a form of backward consumerism. The public is less focused on greed or luxury and more on the right to survival. 

    After the primary three arguments, Ciccariello-Maher more explicitly shares his feelings about the opposition, noting “British media… providing a seamless tapestry of denunciation that oscillates between the violently reactionary and the comically hysterical… was not without first making a serious error in judgment.” He supports the loaded language with a BBC interview where Darcus Howe renames riots “an insurrection of the masses of the people” before reinforcing the idea that riots are a worldwide occurrence happening everywhere injustices are happening. Ciccariello-Maher questions the opposition’s strength when he highlights the fact that the BBC correspondent had no intelligent or logically sound arguments against Howe’s statement. This questioning of the media logic serves as an attack on the opposition’s ethos.    

    Nearing his conclusion, Ciccariello-Maher discusses the widespread demographics of those that riot; making a pathos move that suggests that anyone reading can be included, as rioters span race, age, and geographical boundaries, and even families have been seen rioting together. Ciccariello-Maher speaks about a sense of unity associated with rioting communities, and strategically softens the stereotypical ideas of the practice. 


    To conclude his text, Ciccariello-Maher restates how effective he believes rioting can be when he says, “In some ways, these riots are far more radical and more effective than the left has proven itself to be,” reminding the reader of his first argument about how riots are effective where other methods are not. Lastly, he alludes to the youths’ need to lose “their chains,” calling the reader back to his second and third arguments about the restraints inflicted by the government and by the elite on vulnerable groups; bringing the article to an end with a metaphor. Ciccariello-Maher ends by forcing his reader to question whether one can logically argue that rioting is fundamentally irrational unless they support the people in question keeping these figurative chains. 

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