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.