Having stayed up watching the riots and the consequent responses to the three day looting by young people and ‘opportunists’ it struck me that one of the factors behind this outburst is the concept of identity.
I watched an interview with four of the looters and when asked “Why did you do it?” they all spoke about getting the things they need which they cannot afford. This did not surprise me; of course they think they need trainers, clothes, plasma TVs, because that is what they perceive their culture’s demanding of them to have. Many commentators have talked about the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ and it’s sad that there is so much truth in that. Zygmunt Bauman wrote,
These are not hunger or bread riots. These are riots of defective and disqualified consumers.
I would disagree with Bauman. These are our culture’s hunger riot because these consumable products have become our basic needs. Maslow’s hierarchy is collapsing and the second level of his pyramid, which states security of body, employment, resources, morality, family, health and property are all secondary needs to breathing, food, water, etc., is now perceived as the first.
The saddest part of watching the riots and the thing that is making most of us feel upset is the fact we have been forced to stare into a mirror. Our society does place material possession as equally necessary to the basic need of food. We can all pretend that this is mindless violence and greed but in actual fact this is predictable and is as valid as bread rioting.
Before I get misquoted I want to state I don’t think looting a plasma TV is acceptable but what I am suggesting is that for the looters society is communicating that material possession is our basic need; if you do not have these things then you are ill. (It is interesting that David Cameron said he thought parts of our society is ‘ill’) It follows that our society has bred a generation of people who believe that the ability to possess a certain commodity is on the same level as food and water; if they cannot consume then they are starving. In short, if they don’t have these things then they will die.
The riots are not about individual criminals, they are about consequence of a system. The riots are predictable because society has led my generation to believe that in order to discover who you are you must consume, if you cannot then you will die. Think of advertisements stating no less; ‘You need.’ ‘You deserve.’
The destination of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is ‘self actualization’. Here is the issue; we are all seeking identity, to know who we are, what we are for, our purpose. The riots and looting were about grasping for the perceived building blocks of self identity. We have successfully built a social system which believes that our identity and purpose revolves around consuming certain products. Add to this implicit message the belief, that one can know ones self, with the statement, ‘To thine own self be true’ and we begin to see the twisted path we’re on.
The very fact that the purpose for which we need food, love, etc. is to find out about ourselves is dubious to say the least. Is self actualization and self identity really the benchmark for mental health? is this really the purpose of our lives? What I read in Scripture is very different.
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves…” (Mk 8:34, Lk 14:27)
You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self… and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph 4:22-24)
Do not lie to to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self…according to the image of its creator. (Col 3:9-10)
Without heading into a whole chapter of my book (you’ll have to continue to wait for that!) I believe to be ‘Christian’ is to allow all our self to perish in order that we can be more like Christ. My view of Christ is informed very much by Paul’s letter to the Philippians,
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death- even death on a cross. (Phil 2:5-8)
What Christ modeled in his death was the total emptying of ‘self’, selfish ambition, desires, basic needs, ‘self’. As a follower of Christ we must become like Christ, emptying ourselves and putting on Christ.
That’ll do for now…
Come back for (part II) for further exploration. Until then find some time to listen to some of the political rhetoric flying around and reflect on what people are trying to achieve. Pray for our society lost in a matrix of problems revolving around self identity and purpose.