UK first Shopping Riot – the bleak sign of our emerging post-secular culture??

I am pleased to see that there have been a heathy number of reflections and discussion following the riots with comment by Kester Brewin, Ben Edson and others.

There is a reason behind why those in the riot targeted popular shops. Unlike some commentators I am convinced that it is not just about thugs and greed, but something deeper. For sometime a number of us have pointed out that we have been shifting from a post-modern culture to a post-secular culture as we have moved from being a mixed economy of social and private to a market society. In my writings ‘Emerging and Fresh Expressions of Church‘ and ‘the becoming of G-d‘ I have emphasised the thinking of a number of writers and researchers, that we have for the first time, shifted to a culture defined my consumer satisfaction and gratification. The scary thing about all of this, is that people now define themselves through consumer products – the labels we wear, the cars we drive, the clubs we go to, the networks we choose to belong to. Consumption has become the way that many many people define the self. Now this works very well who have access to credit and wages that can afford this – but immediately this excluded those on restricted or low incomes.

There is a reason that JD Sports and Foot locker have become the emblem of the shopping riots! It is because many people around Clapham Junction who live on the estates where I live use it to define who they are and which gang they belong to. We are using materialism to define who we are and who we belong to regarding community.

For sometime many observers have predicted some form of response to the exclusion of consumption of many – which begins with gang culture and petty crime nicking mobile phones and a like, and just occasionally, when economic recession kicks in – it is likely to raise a shopping riot. We have created our own West Side Story in South London – the have’s surrounded with materialism and consumptive power – and the gangs and the many people as the have-nots who desire to use consumptive gratification to define the self in the same way as the privileged. Both in South London live side by side – and the shops are often the dividing lines between these two sub groupings who co-exist but are definitively not one society.

Quoting The Guardian:

this is what happens when people don’t have anything, when they have their noses constantly rubbed in stuff they can’t afford, and they have no reason ever to believe that they will be able to afford it. Hiller takes up this idea: “Consumer society relies on your ability to participate in it. So what we recognise as a consumer now was born out of shorter hours, higher wages and the availability of credit. If you’re dealing with a lot of people who don’t have the last two, that contract doesn’t work. They seem to be targeting the stores selling goods they would normally consume. So perhaps they’re rebelling against the system that denies its bounty to them because they can’t afford it. The type of goods being looted seems peculiarly relevant: if they were going for bare necessities, I think one might incline towards sympathy. I could be wrong, but I don’t get the impression that we’re looking at people who are hungry. If they were going for more outlandish luxury, hitting Tiffany’s and Gucci, they might seem more political, and thereby more respectable. Their achilles heel was in going for things they demonstrably want.

I couldn’t agree more. For many who are spiritual seekers – they increasingly seek another way to define the self other than consumptive gratification which actually doesn’t really inform who you are – and actually leaves you at the surface of the self.  You are then left helplesss to your inner compulsions – struggling for self control….  consumption sets up another conceptual trap, again quoting from the Guardian:

A generation with a false sense of entitlement, created by the victim culture fostered and enhanced by our consumptive culture and overall leniency displayed, by the criminal justice system. It’s just a glorified mugging, in other words, conducted by people who ask not what they can do for themselves, but what other people should have done for them, and who may have mugged before, on a smaller scale, and found it to be without consequence.

Spiritual Seekers are not the majority of people at the moment.  Most appear to be thoroughly addicted to consumerism and in particular the short lived kick and stimulation of consumptive gratification.  I hope for some – these shopping riots my be a jolt about how wrong it is to define the self through consumption – and that spirituality offers another way.  My little flame of hope – is that contemplative forms of the more mystical christianity and some forms of the more sacramental and charismatic forms of Christian spirituality, enable people to experience real spiritual encounter with God – rather than the momentary kick of consumption.  This is our hope in the Moot community, in many emerging and fresh expressions of church, and there is some evidence that some in our culture are seeking the spiritual instead of the nihilistic and highly addictive route of consumption.  This is a choice about a spirituality that seeks to get beyond the ego rather than benign obsession with it – which will (and in an unrestrained market society this is all about the ego) hopefully help some to reach for something more life giving and which reconnects with God as the source of all existence, health and wellbeing.

In a market society we tend to reduce these issues to little more than market conditions where we loose our common humanity.  The amount of youth unemployment and neglect of the needs of teenagers and younger people is to me abhorrent.  The video below just opens this up as so many youth clubs and support services close. We cannot just put young people out of the front door and not expect repercussions:

The challenge then is for us in Moot and other new expressions of the Church including New Monastics, is then in how to build places for radical hospitality IN but NOT OF our consumptive culture to open up Christian Spirituality – this is what we seek to do in the Moot Lounge Project as one form of radical mission. The other – is to live out this important expression of the Christian faith in love and hope to and in the world. The challenge then is how we do this – but do it – in this current situation we must. This is the challenge for all those who seek the Kingdom of God and its expression in our world – in our Cities and in our neighbourhoods. This is what is means to follow Christ. The gospels speak right into our current context and contemporary culture. Following Christ into Christian spirituality is a hope and gift.


POSTED 14.08.11 BY: ianmobsby | Comments (7)

7 Responses to “UK first Shopping Riot – the bleak sign of our emerging post-secular culture??”

  1. On August 14th, 2011 at 11:45 am Concetta at Glittering Shards said:

    Good analyis Ian. I Agree – there is a void and it has been filled by ‘stuff’ – wanting it or getting it by fair means or foul. Actually, its just the act of getting it that many people care about (one kid nicked a dustbin for goodness sake!) Makes me question, what has created the void. Was spirituality pushed out by materialism, is more personal from personal psychology rooted in disconnection in infancy / early childhood, alienation from a tribe? The lack of policy response focussing on the key role of the youth service sector is astonoshing. I know how many deeply spiritual conversations I used to have when I was a youth worker and probation officer (initiated by kids themselves). Here’s hoping…

  2. On August 14th, 2011 at 12:39 pm steve collins said:

    good post ian. the one thing that i’d add is that traditional structures of family and employment [especially skilled employment] offer an identity and a place in the world that is not constructed by consumption or the creation of surfaces. these structures are now missing for many in our society, so wearing the right shoes becomes a necessity for social existence rather than a mere pleasure. i am literally nothing if i do not have the right clothes or gadgets.

    the rioters were young, and young people are particularly susceptible to this because they are at the point of pulling away from their families to forge their own identities, but have not yet found a stable new place, and meanwhile being respected and considered attractive by their peers is a huge pressure.

  3. On August 14th, 2011 at 1:33 pm ianmobsby said:

    Hi Steve – thanks – you are absolutely right. The linking between fashion labels, the right gadgets and social existence for the poor is crucial as a form of tribalism that operates in the absence of any other social construction. Which again points to the lack of opportunities and choices available to disadvantaged younger people set up to fail in a society running to the values of the competitive market. This then is a challenge to the church to engage with this culture in love and to challenge politicians and protest that we have created such a mess! I would say that is not about pleasure anymore for either the rich or the poor – as pleasure assumes a strong sense of identity that makes choices. Where people do not know who they are – rich and poor – then consumerism as identity making – becomes a dangerous addiction – and hence all the new addictions today associated with our consumptive society. Thanks Steve – you are right to point out just how this is not really about choice and pleasure anymore.

  4. On August 14th, 2011 at 1:48 pm What the shopping riots show us about the UK’s post-secular culture | Ian Mobsby said:

  5. On August 14th, 2011 at 8:22 pm artbizness said:

    I would agree with the analysis here absolutely.

    However, I do think that sometimes this conversation lacks some of the “Both/And” that we so desperately need. I come back to the idea that we need to take action, not just to align ourselves with correct thinking – to comfort, offer hope and lament, rather than just talking about doing so. To talk to people and offer an opportunity to pray, to give of our time to helping people rebuild, and – dare I say it – to get involved with some of the existing very good projects that have had their funding cut out of existence.

    I believe in what we are doing with moot is essential in terms of trying to build a lounge project and a spiritual community, but I would also say that the events in London of the past few days could and should impact on our orthopraxis. I’m just a little concerned that we don’t fall into the trap of thinking that because we’ve pointed out the true causes that somehow our work is done.

    It’s worth reading this article by @dougald who is a really interesting character. Although writing from a different starting place, he’s getting close to my thoughts and feelings on where we’re at, and where to go next:

  6. On August 18th, 2011 at 1:49 pm motherm said:

    Why not build radical places of hospitality in the housing developments themselves … set up a moot community in the midst of the community you most want to reach?

  7. On August 21st, 2011 at 8:49 pm Con Carroll said:

    Ian I agree, after the obscene murder of people in Norway. a representative of English Defence league, appeared on bbc2 Newsnight. warning people that the same could happen in England, if the Government didn’t do something about immigration. he was challeneged by the presenter.

    we stand in solidarity with the families whos loved ones were murdered in England. no excuse what so ever, can be justified for the rioting in local comunitties.
    the political analysis of David Cameroon, Therese May, have left many people asking questions about the political economic society in England.

    in our repected Christianity which is white, have we become to complacent arrogant, self satisfied.
    the Gospel call, as I understand demands that we take a stand against political economic, social injustice.
    we can call those people who engaged in rioting in the community all the names under the sun. unless we seriously political address the areas, of social economic alienation. we will see a repeat. the Guardian/independent, last Thursday 18 August. carried out analysis of those children aldults who were arrested, brought before the courts and charged, was scary,

    do we who call ourselves Christians, have something to offer? yes, it means becomeing willing to face our fears, taking the cotton wool from our ears, putting it into our mouths

    listen to the views of Brian Paddock ex metropolitian police. now liberal candidate mayor of London. Thursday 11 August, question time bbc1.

    we need to take a look, at the Lord of The Streets, Episcopal Church, America. if we put our fears behind us, with hope respect. we can become places of hospitality resistance. by peaceful means. in areas in which people live, who are alienated. do we have the courage.

    Jon Sobrino. Liberation Theologian says, when it comes to political solidarity, social justice. alot of us like to sit with our arms folded and pray.