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Can rioting be a 'spiritual experience'?

11th July 2012

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london11 months ago, the public couldn’t quite believe what was happening on the streets of the UK. Feelings of outrage were felt towards the rioters but since then there has been no definitive answer as to why they rioted in the first place. But does calling it a ‘spiritual experience’ give it meaning?

These are the terms used by the Right Reverend Peter Price. A recent Church report blames the whole of society for last summer’s events, as an ever-increasing divide is separating the rich from the poor. Government spending cuts, inequality and family breakdowns are particularly thought to contribute to a gap which has left many feeling vulnerable and desperate. These are the people that many of us saw on our TV screens wreaking havoc on the high street, as they searched for an escape from their dead-end lives.  

Calling it a spiritual experience seems to be taking it a bit too far. That would bring God and religion into the matter and no-one’s claiming that the riots had anything to do with that. However Reverend Price also calls it an ‘ecstatic’ experience in which ‘something is released in the participants which takes them out of themselves as a kind of spiritual escape.’

Again I think the term ‘spiritual’ is misused, yet his other ideas make complete sense. For instance how many times did you hear those eager school kids chanting ’fight, fight, fight’ at the bottom of the field? I don’t even like fighting, but without fail I’d stroll over to see what was going on along with the rest of the school. I know fighting is wrong, but these thoughts left me when I felt obliged to follow the crowd and make something out of an otherwise mundane lunchtime.

Scuffles in the playground are worlds apart from wide-scale criminality but there are similarities. Both rebel against an institution, quickly capture people’s attention and offer an escape from ordinary life. When people hear that there is something massive happening in the city centre or on the school field, they are obviously going to react to it and these feelings are harder to control if you’ve got nothing better to do. 

Whilst the Church Report is not trying to excuse burglary, arson or any use of weapons, it does accept that there is more than one group in the wrong. In The Guardian ‘Reading the Riots’ study, rioters were asked to talk about their experiences and why they had participated. Someone claims that ‘people that had got nothing wanted to show that they had nothing,’ which seems like a pretty sad comment on today’s society. 

If you feel like that, you are going to be drawn into the excitement of the riots. They were spontaneous, exhilarating and gave people an opportunity to get what they wanted. Looting a TV or rampaging through the dark with a group of friends isn’t really my style but I can imagine why a rioter called the experience ‘one of the best buzzes personally I’ve had in my life.’ 

Going against the system is exciting and rioters undeniably got caught up in the thrill of it all. They just lost control and went too far.

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