Tuesday, 9 August 2011

London Riots, J G Ballard and The Liberators

Croydon burns; people film
Like many, I spent most of last night huddled in front of the news, watching in curious horror as the violence and looting seemed to spread, like a disease, from one blameless borough to the next. It is a pity that J G Ballard is not alive to consider them: in his last novel, the ominously titled Kingdom Come , a shopping centre became the focus of violence; in High-Rise , memorably, residents became feral and savage.

But these riots are not Ballardian. His concern the middle classes – journalists, politicians, children's writers – who, unable to cope with the psychological pressures of modern life, revert to primaeval tendencies. They have some layer of civilisation which is removed. This is also what I discussed in my novel The Liberators , where the villainous Luther-Ross brothers offered a version of freedom – the removal of conscience – which resulted in murders, violence and rioting in Oxford Circus.

These riots have a deeper significance, though. They are much more frightening than J G Ballard's explorations of the psyche, because we always knew, when reading them, that in our reality our consciences would never allow those things to happen – crucially, though, whilst we remained civilised. What Ballard pointed up was just how thin that layer is. And it's a layer that is completely absent from these rioters.

Perhaps what was more disturbing was the reaction of many passers by – to record the action, as if they too were participants in making a cultural artefact in which violence is king. I imagine that most of the teenagers doing this believed that they were somehow heroic, people from music videos or other distorted and strange versions of reality. I imagine also that these looters and rioters will be eagerly watching each other on their mobile phones, convinced that what they have done is somehow fictionalised through its very recording.

The Luther-Ross brothers would have no trouble recruiting the rioters to their band of Liberators. They have no consciences to be removed in the first place. What we need to do is systemic, and it needs to be done from the roots up, and it needs to be done now. It has nothing to do with cuts, or even poverty. It is to do with generational psychological flaws: and the only way to solve this is to get in there and talk, and show that every action, mindless or not, has its equal and opposite reaction. We need to show unity, and show these children that their actions are not a form of freedom. Freedom comes from self-regulation, not self-abandonment. Their actions will only lead them into slavery: psychological, and real.

**** A tidied up version of this article appears on The Periscope Post****

**** Read Memphis Barker's account of the Clapham riots ****


  1. Hmmm .... graphic designer arrested for rioting.... not Ballardian?

  2. One swallow does not a summer make...