I watched video of the London riots today—some kids breaking into an electronics shop and, in another clip, a beauty boutique. What struck me about seeing the people of London steal things en masse is that I could relate. I’m not a looter (as far as you know) but writers need to be able to extrapolate from their own feelings and psychologies and I can understand the motivation behind stealing $500 worth of Bumble and Bumble products for the simple reason that I want things too, especially things I can’t afford. The less simple reason is I want things because I’ve been trained to want them by my late capitalist society. The system of capitalism is fueled by desire: every consumable object (as our training tells us, the training that begins in infancy) is more than an object. It’s a world. In this object-world you are better than you are IRL. You are cooler and more beautiful and therefore more people want to have sex with you or love you or you are smarter and more interesting or more laid back and funnier, etc. The world of each object is dictated by a combination of the object itself and the particular fantasties of the beholder, which, in turn, are created by the same capitalist system, ad infinitum.
What we have in this looting situation in London, I think, is the paradox of capitalism: People want things so badly that their desire outstrips their resources and they go outside of the system, against the codes and laws that are in place to keep the system running, in order to fulfill those desires created by the system itself. Capitalism that works like capitalism is supposed to work—that is, a system that swells consumer desire as far as it will go on one end, and displaces the worker as much as it can on the other end—eats itself. There’s no way for working classes to take back the mode of production—it’s been absented, literally to China—so they take the product instead, thereby shortcircuiting the entire system that tells them: What you are put on earth to do is to be educated and trained so that you can do a job which allows you to earn money which in turn allows you to spend that money. In fact you’re supposed to! Our presidents tell us to. It doesn’t even matter if you actually have the money, as long as you are working inside the system to produce for it, we’ll lend the money to you.
“Yoink,” say the youth of London in response. “We’ll just take the shit and leave the rest behind.” In the capitalist promise/premise of labor-for-goods, working and lower classes can provide the labor but in general, they still can’t afford the goods. Consumption as a lifestyle choice should be theirs—it has been promised—but it’s not.
This looting then, it’s kind of a revolutionary act, even if/when it’s unconsciously so. I’m not condoning it at all, but it does feel rather…inevitable doesn’t it? (Firefox tabs open on my desktop right now: Madewell, Urban Outfitters, Modcloth and Anthropologie. Yeah. Any day now.)