David Thompson


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March 13, 2012



The real judicial cruelty - not to the criminals but to their victims - was the leniency before the riots that gave the rioters a hitherto justified sense of impunity… Leniency toward criminals is not therefore a form of sympathy for the poor, but a failure to take either their lives or their property seriously.

Spot. On.



“…a failure to take either their lives or their property seriously.”

Well, a common line of thought, noted by Heather Mac Donald, does seem to imply that people who live in less glamorous parts of town shouldn’t expect – and have no claim to - a basic level of lawfulness. And as Dalrymple says, after recounting a typical incident of anti-social behaviour on a bus:

Miéville’s commentary on the above scene demonstrates an ability to avoid social reality common in a certain kind of educated fool… Surely only someone with a degree in anthropology (as Miéville has) could miss the most obvious purpose of the behaviour described: to mark out a territory and to intimidate others.

One afternoon, some years ago, two friends and I were walking back from the cinema through Nottingham city centre. As we turned a corner, a group of four slope-headed youths thought it would be amusing to start spitting at the feet and legs of passers-by. They seemed to enjoy the looks of disgust and air of intimidation. Luckily, they’d run out of spit before we were in range. And I’ve previously mentioned a train journey during which a group of teenagers dispersed among a carriage and then amused themselves by throwing trainers to each other, narrowly missing the heads of other passengers. The game was obviously to see how much they could get away with – and how closely they could skim the heads of other passengers. Presumably, Miéville, Power and Penny could devise some sympathetic political explanation for their behaviour, one that didn’t involve the perpetrators being obnoxious little shits.


"Indeed. 75% of the rioters and looters who appeared in court had previous convictions"

..with an average of 14 or so previous convictions, I believe. Looks like a decent indicator.

It's worth our being aware of the counterargument to this, that the high percentage may be due to police strategy. Supposedly the police ignored the extensive camera footage of the rioters (plenty was available online for all to see) and went out and rounded up the "usual suspects", ie people who already had convictions. This argument is beloved of the BBC, who invite 'experts' in sociology on to their programmes to make this same point.

Now even if the police had only done this - which there doesn't seem to be evidence for - just being one of the usual suspects doesn't always get you convicted, but having a stolen TV in your house (when the rozzers come to visit) could conceivably do so.

That's one thing to be clear about. Then - if we are aware of the limits of statistical evidence, we can see that it cuts both ways. We know little of those who weren't caught & convicted (nor indeed - alas - of the 25%, who had no previous convictions) It is worse than sloppy thinking to just call these 2 groups the 'dispossessed fighting against entitlement' (as the Guardian does) just because one likes the idea. They might well be anything but.

But that's the argument concocted by our liberal/progressive friends - who, as you say, seem to forget the scenes of crime and destruction to property and businesses that we all saw.



I’ve been trying to remember each personal experience of (or witnessing of) property crime and then trying to construe it as a demand for “social justice,” i.e., more socialism. It’s almost funny, in a twisted sort of way.

Years ago, I worked at a large recording studio, often through the night. The studio was in a converted factory in a fairly rough part of town. Every so often a local gang of youths would try to break in after dark when the offices in the building had closed, presumably unaware that we were still working. Their attempts to break in weren’t successful, but it’s not pleasant to hear the hammering of half a dozen youths armed with crowbars. We once saw the same gang from an office window. The younger members – aged 10 or so – rode bikes and scouted the area for potential witnesses before giving the all clear. Then the older members would attempt a spot of burglary. They weren’t victims of political injustice; they were very organised predators.

Thomas Ryan

"nor indeed - alas - of the 25%, who had no previous convictions"

It's interesting to consider, as I believe Theodore Dalrymple has pointed out, that most criminals (burglars\muggers) are not caught the first time they commit an offense. If I remember correctly, I believe they've generally committed at least 10 offenses on average before being caught for the first time. It's quite possible that a large portion of the 25% with no prior convictions had committed quite a few offenses between them but had been lucky enough not to have been caught before the riots.

The 'dispossessed fighting against entitlement' indeed.


You're all thinking like normal, rational human beings, and that's why you're not getting it.

To lefties, getting arrested and convicted PROVES one is virtuous. These crooks aren't good despite their long rap sheets, they're good BECAUSE of them.

The simple way to comprehend leftist thought: pick any idea that a normal, sane, healthy adult would agree with, then try to come up with the most bizarre inversion of it. That's the leftist position.

"It is wrong to steal things" when run through the leftist brain becomes "those thieves are heroes!"

"Crime should be punished" becomes "those trials are oppression!"

This is an infallible method and has greatly increased my ability to talk to liberals.


The 'dispossessed fighting against entitlement' indeed.

"17-year-old Darrell Desuze is facing jail today after he admitted killing a 'riot hero' with a single punch as the Ealing pensioner tried to put out fires started by gangs of yobs. As Mr Mannington Bowes remonstrated with the group and tried to stamp out a fire in a bin Desuze punched him in the face and he fell smashing his head on the pavement… Wearing a "robbers and villains" jumper Desuze had already been on a looting spree when he encountered Mr Mannington Bowes who was trying to quell the flames being set by rioters. Desuze, of Hounslow, has also admitted a charge of violent disorder and four burglaries at Tesco, Fatboys Thai Restaurant, Blockbusters and William Hill Bookmakers during his rampage."


Marxist philosopher Nina Power could not be reached for comment.

sackcloth and ashes

China Mieville is a member of the so-called Socialist Workers Party.

Nothing more need be said.


we should not be surprised to find the left concentrated in institutions where ideas do not have to work in order to survive.

China Mieville "teaches creative writing at Warwick University".


This may amuse.


China Mieville is a reasonably good novelist, IMHO. His works, however, are inhuman and inhumane. He has the most jaundiced, cynical, vile view of humanity I've ever read in fiction (I have not read Louis-Ferdinand Céline).


The so-called struggle for the rights of the oppressed always sits well with the socialists when they perceive their power is diminished, However would we hear the same cries in support for the criminal classes when Labour sits happily in Downing Street? Just as we always have whenever Labour gets to power. Indeed 13 years of harmony, understanding and social equality was overturned for some reason a couple of years ago.

Or does the left have to insist only the most extreme of socialist dictatorships, in the style of Pol Pot and Mao, can bring harmony and justice?

In which case I suspect the likes of China Miéville and Laurie Penny might have the sort of awakening they would really, really hate.

Mustapha Mond

Long-time reader, resident of Ottawa, lawyer, blah blah blah.

While Howson is undoubtedly daft, responsibility for this particular contortion of provincial human rights legislation should be attributed to the City of Ottawa, whose paternalistic bureaucrats have declared Howson's neighbourhood a heritage district and prevented her from building a car pad in her front yard like anyone who owned property in fee simple would expect to be able to.

Does her house look like an example of architecture that needs to be preserved? Is it of any historical significance whatsoever, seeing as it is a semi-detached built in the 1930s and continually occupied by members of the upper middle class ever since?

Various elderly boomer citizens, all with impeccable leftist credentials, have taken it upon themselves to inhibit further densification of their neighbourhoods -- infill development -- under the aegis of "heritage." This is what Howson is dealing with. Although I doubt she did so consciously, I applaud her for setting two different apparatuses of the interventionist state against each other. For my part, I will stand by the sidelines and hope that everyone loses, both human rights apparatchiks and heritage-conservation elitists. Neither has any respect for the rights of property.


"China Mieville is a member of the so-called Socialist Workers Party."


"China Mieville's...works...are inhuman and inhumane."

That certainly explains why progressive SF writers like him so much.


""It is wrong to steal things" when run through the leftist brain becomes "those thieves are heroes!""

Until it strikes just that little bit too close to home, that is.

John Holland


My first thought on hearing about the Ottawa parking kerfuffle:

"Howson is being careless; she might accidentally enshrine a right to property."

I mean, the irony, having spent a career in the "human rights" racket, slowly stripping landlords and businesses of their property rights ...

sackcloth and ashes

@ watcher

Funnily enough, Mieville cites Celine as an example of an individual whose writing he admires, but whose politics he loathes.

I did try reading 'Perdido Street Station' but didn't get into it. I will however concede that he's a rare example of a swuppie who can actually construct a sentence correctly, and whose writings are not designed to render the reader comatose.


99% of the Socialist Workers Party are students or lecturers. Like the GDR, the name bears no relation to the reality.



"I will however concede that he's a rare example of a swuppie who can actually construct a sentence correctly"


"Eyes roll with the duh" is, however, one of his sentences (paragraphs actually) from the Mieville piece Dalrymple is savaging. Not one of his best efforts.



“99% of the Socialist Workers Party are students or lecturers. Like the GDR, the name bears no relation to the reality.”

Well, as Thomas Sowell notes, doctrinaire leftism tends to prevail in parts of the culture that are to some extent shielded from reality and where ideas can survive without being functional, realistic or honest – the disreputable parts of academia being an obvious example. It’s often struck me as amusing that – in my experience at least - the students who vehemently profess some version of Marxist politics have rarely arrived at their worldview themselves as a result of lived experience or trial and error. It’s often – very often - a matter of regurgitating wholesale what they told by lecturers at an impressionable age.

And gosh, how radical is that?



What about the trade-union leftism that is traditionally associated with manual workers?



Well, yes. But outside of a few demented ideologues (Len McCluskey, Arthur Scargill, etc), the rank-and-file union membership of, say, British Airways isn’t usually that big on ‘critical theory’ or the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. A person’s membership of a trades union doesn’t in itself denote a leftist worldview. Union membership in the UK is about, what, 7 million and has been falling for 30 years or so. Even Len McCluskey’s union has been shrinking steadily. (The exception being academia and education, where membership has been increasing slightly and remains at its most dogmatic and overtly theoretical.)

[ Added: ]

In the clip linked above (see here), the air of psychodrama is quite striking. It’s all very emotional and enormously self-flattering. The first speaker, Sarah Knopp, wants to peddle the “enlightenment” of communism to the children in her care. When they believe as she does – and only as she does – then they’ll be “critical thinkers.” Then they’ll be “emancipated.” Just like her - a tearful, dogmatic wreck of a woman. The second speaker, Megan Behrent, merely intends to subvert the proprieties of the classroom in order to propagate her own communist politics at someone else’s expense. The preferences of parents, students and those who her pay her salary are to be circumvented in the name of “social justice.” Again, the students in her care will be “thinking for themselves” when they think and act “radically,” i.e., just like her.

These are not, I think, the views of a run-of-the-mill union member outside of academia.


"These are not, I think, the views of a run-of-the-mill union member outside of academia."

You ain't kidding :-)


I agree with what you're saying, but there is a large element in the UK that is leftist and manifestly not middle-class, and without wanting to stereotype it would be hard to accuse these people of being in an ivory tower. Think of the large Labour-voting population of the North of England. I guess mentioning trade unions might have been going off track.

I'm thinking in particular of my communist father in law, who was brought up in Tottenham and worked as a postman all his life. Whil I happen to think his embrace of marxism is nothing short of blind silliness, I suspect he represents a large factor that I think of, wrongly or rightly, as the "old left", as compared to the "new left" that you're so justly castigating here!



“You ain’t kidding :-)”

It usually takes a very pampered, insulated and unrealistic environment for that kind of psychodrama to flourish. Typically, an environment in which one’s salary and status are unrelated to realism, accuracy or practical implication. (Hence, for instance, the laughable educator Nina Power, who on the one hand tells us that she and her peers must be spared any cuts in public funding - for the sake of civilisation itself - and on the other hand tells us that she and peers no longer need to be knowledgeable or competent in any conventional sense.)

“I guess mentioning trade unions might have been going off track.”

I suppose what I’m getting at is that union membership at, say, BA may occasionally entail demands regarding pay, pensions, whatever – i.e., self-interest – demands that may or may not be just in any given instance and that may collide with the real world at some point or other. But they aren’t generally framed by the bulk of the membership as matters of radicalism and grand social theory, or of socialism as such. We were, after all, talking about ‘swuppies’ and other peddlers of revolutionary pseudo-radical bunkum, whose numbers are now generally confined to the arse-end of academia and a few publicly-subsidised arts and media organisations.

[ Added: ]

The ‘swuppies’ and their ilk prey on grievance (whether legitimate or not) and attach themselves to protests like ideological barnacles – almost any protest will do. And so their absurd communist slogans get seen by a larger audience, granting them an illusion of influence, as if they represented a much larger movement – and not just a handful of megalomaniacal misfits.


David, where's the Thomas Sowell quote from (which essay)?



It’s from this 1997 article The Survival of the Left, which appeared in Forbes and is republished in The Thomas Sowell Reader, linked above. (The essay Marx the Man is particularly good and worth the price of the book.)


Thanks, David!



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