Richard Doust

Today Compass has released a special statement in response to events of the past week, read it below, then comment and join the debate on our website at, for instant updates follow us on Twitter at

Anatomy of a riot

When society feels like it is falling apart it is our job to find ways of binding people back together, to express solidarity over selfishness and hope over fear.

Therefore our first reaction to the frightening extent of looting and disorder that has swept our cities must be to reaffirm our common humanity. Those on the streets, in their houses, the police, the politicians, all of us should recognise that we share the same essential hopes of security, freedom, love and creativity. But we are separated by largely one thing, the accident of birth. As social mobility dwindles and the inequality gap widens, the brute luck of who our parents are dominates our lives. Some come to the debate from Eton via Tuscany, others have never left the streets that now burn. We go our separate ways but this common humanity inevitably keeps breaking through.

So, second we should recognise how much these events show we have in common. What some have unhelpfully labeled a ‘feral underclass’ is simply the mirror image of a now feral elite – the further a few rise beyond society the further many have to fall below it. But both feel compelled to cheat to get what they want. The bankers bend the rules, take reckless risks with other people’s money and asset strip companies and therefore communities; politicians lie and fiddle their expenses for moats; the media eves-drop on the lives of the stricken and the police are on the take. And the ones in hoods who have no opportunity take it when they see it and have nothing to lose and so little to fear. No not all who are poor are looting but when every police cell in London is full something deep and more profound is happening. So who has the moral high ground? The rich and powerful who cheat for the trappings of super success; or the poor, powerless and humiliated who want so little but see the behaviour of those ‘at the top’. We don’t have to condone the lawlessness (and we shouldn’t) to understand it – so that it’s less likely to happen again.

The similarities don’t end there. The zombie rioters mirror us too, the zombie shoppers who spend every weekend walking through the front doors of the shops rather than through a smashed window after dark. We all want ‘what’s in store for us’. How could it be otherwise when today ‘being normal’ is defined by our ability to keep up as consumers? We all see the same 3000 selling images everyday, relentlessly imposing a single vision of success and we want it. We just differ on how.

Catherine Holmes, a resident in Hackney emailed the BBC in the early hours of Tuesday morning to say “we spoke to looters trying to get home, the only explanation they gave for their behaviour was that they had no money today. It is sad to think that these people are thinking of only the next moment”.

What seemed achingly sad, along with the sight of small shopkeepers losing their livelihoods, were the trophies of lawlessness. It was not transformative power or a different world the rioters sought but almost pathetically just a new pair of trainers. Their ambition, like the wider culture, is only to own.

Ironically perhaps, even the police and the rioters have something in common. The failed consumers, the looters, who take what they can’t buy are used to police us. Systematically they are deployed to create the dark sense of the ‘other’ who we desperately try not to be like. It is in part the fear of their wretched lives that keep the rest of us on the exhausting treadmill of earning and owning. No other option for life is presented or allowed. This is our prison.

Thirty years ago, the last time our cities burned, the shopping revolution, and the rampant individualism it spawned, was just under way – this time it has a stranglehold on all of us.

Finally, we might not know exactly how or why but we all know that the current world order is breaking down. We stand on the precipice of another global meltdown with no resources this time to clear up the mess. And we all know too that the planet is burning beyond our ability to control it. Events are on fast-forward as we stumble from crisis to crisis with no chance to catch our breath. The neo-liberal hegemony of the last three decades is over. Even Charles Moore of the Daily Telegraph recognizes the game is up for the right. But in this interregnum morbid symptoms appear. While we still think we are a fair, prosperous and contented nation, events tell us otherwise. The poor get poorer and the planet burns, creating a third crisis of democracy itself. To which there will always be a reaction.

The sky is darkening not just with the dense smoke of burnt out buildings, but the sight of chickens coming home to roost; a social recession that long predated the economic recession, the rise of a feral elite with no responsibility to anyone but themselves, the loss of the public realm and any sense of public interest, the cuts which hit the poorest hardest and the monotonous creation of a consumer monoculture culture – that has now been taken away.

If we tell young people that their worth is to be measured in terms of how much they own or how close they get to Oxbridge, while pursuing an economic programme predicated on ever-widening inequality, and a political agenda that increasingly alienates the majority from all centres of real decision-making, when our democracy fails to hear their voices, then how in all honesty do we think the ones left at the bottom are going to react? You don’t have to be a police chief let alone a Kaiser Chief to predict a riot.

The finger can be pointed across the spectrum, from right to left. No political party has done the right thing. Cameron once talked about recapitalizing not just the banks but the poor. New Labour said it would be tough on the causes of crime. But it goes wider through every major civil society organisation – the churches, the unions, the big NGOs right down to all of us and all our lives. We take too much and give too little. We deal with symptoms of the rot and never the causes.

Hope can only come from what we have in common. This is the building block of a good society in which no one gets so far ahead that some get left so far behind. People need hope and the belief that we are all in this together. It cannot be austerity for many and riotous prosperity for so few. It is a society in which democracy decides to build parks, playgrounds and youth centres not more, prisons, penthouses and shopping centres. We must commit to rebuilding lives and hopes with apprenticeships and good jobs, with support for meaningful education for all and for communities with services and public spaces in which society itself can be nourished. Right now we need strong local government and localised police forces accountable to the community they serve and through which all are made equal before the law. We need to renew a social contract and revive the notion of the public interest by examining the way in which unaccountable elites now dominate our world.

And we need a good society in which earning and owning comes second to the time to love, care and be truly free not just as individuals but crucially by working together to shape and mould the big things in our lives.

Our common humanity came shining through again as people volunteered to help clear up the mess, as the broom suddenly became a powerful metaphor for collective action, it was evident in the community leaders trying to bind back together their broken neighbourhoods, it can be seen in the good cops and the brave firefighters who understand the idea of a public service ethos. Our common humanity is all we have.

Let this week be a wake up call. There is more to clean up than broken shop windows. We have much to clean out and then an economy and society to rebuild. Only together can we make that happen.


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As Marvin Minsky, intelligence is also about what you do not do, about which modules in your brain you do not switch on when faced with a certain situation. And of course, this process is harder to talk about, to feel, and to think about than the modules you DO switch on. If something is behind the screen how do you see it ?
For second language learning, there is a real question to be posed about what parts of the first language module get switched off, need to be switched off, for the second language module to have any chance of ‘growing’. It seems that for the moment we all talk about interference from the mother tongue etc, but that we have no real model to explain this, or to visualise it.
My suggestion is to think of this process as a double one. The new second language based information must of course develop and be fed. At the same time, a certain process must go on in the first language module, and that is, the separation of, very roughly, information about the world (including one’s own thoughts) and the whole melodic-syntactic-semantic first language generation module. For some people these two things are easier to separate than for others. Most notably, as soon as one speaks a second language Really well, they will have been separated. This explains why learning a third and fourth language is always easier than the second one. In staunchly monolingual individuals, I presume that these two masses of information are in some way more tightly bound. A book really just is in some way ‘ a book ‘, and curiosity, anger, and questioning each ‘are’ in some way the prosodic shapes that typify them in the first language. The same goes for the sounds of course. The vowel ‘a’ just is the ‘a-sound’ for that language, and any attempt to change it, is a kind of artificial game that will not last, that will not hold up under real life conditions.
So second language learning should be recast as ‘separation of world knowledge from first language knowledge’. Insofar as this process can be successfully carried out, then we can start to create and build our second language syntax, semantic and prosodic module. The question is : do we know of any way to carry out this separation which does not just involve replacing the links to the world with the new second language information ?
It seems in any case, that recognition of this first task in language teaching might give some new ideas and approaches to *reallly good* second language learning.

the don’t worry company

interactive multilingual theatre based on director, giving instructions to actors, through headphones, text is shown to public

choose impro-actors.

time just goes on and on. And we must, can only make the way forward. Simply going forward. Into each second. Let yourself weigh down, into each second, lean into it. And then into the next. Lean into the seconds one at a time.

Maybe there’s a kind of ticking energy that comes from a clock, reminding you every second like tefillin, of the danger, of the task. Ticking clock, ticking brain, ticking body. Time to see how it could be done. The way for it to become.

But let the writing flow. Just let the writing flow. That’s the way it should be. If you go beyond your planned time, then after that, write as you want. But up till then, whether it’s 15 minutes or an hour, let it flow. Do not have to write any way, self-imposed or not.


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