London is burning—here’s why.

Via Ben Ralston
on Aug 9, 2011
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London is burning.

I spent 14 years living in London. I lived in Tottenham—North London—where this past weekend’s rioting started, and Hackney, where it continues. I didn’t live in Peckham, Lewisham, Croydon or Brixton—South London—where more rioting has since broken out.

The violence has not only been rife throughout London—on a 30 mile radius—but also throughout England. The cities and counties of Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol and Nottinghamshire have all seen hundreds of people rampaging through streets destroying property and looting.

There are reports of scores of injured police; many shops have been looted; bins, cars, buses, shops and residences have been set alight.

London is burning.

Photograph: Kerim Okten/EPA

When I moved out of London seven years ago, I worked for one year as a youth worker in Watford (a large town in the suburbs of London), and what I learnt in that year astounded me.

My job was to take a group of up to 15 young people (aged 16 – 25) and help them to turn their lives around. These were young people who had fallen through society’s ‘net’. I worked with drug addicts, prison leavers and pregnant teenage girls. I was alone with this group of 15. There was no funding for the assistant that I was supposed to have.

I could tell you some horror stories. But not now.

Now, all I want to say is this: look at what’s happening. The thin veneer of our ‘civilized’ society is torn back, and all the world is able to see what lurks beneath. Anarchy.

Why? Today’s youth have been betrayed.

The work I did that year was ridiculously under-funded. I once told my manager that I was reluctant to take a certain boy on a week-long field trip because I feared for the safety of the girls in the group (this boy had recently come out of prison: convicted of stabbing a man in the chest). My manager told me I had to take him. The reason: every ‘YP’ (young person) that I took meant extra funding for the course. We couldn’t survive without it.

My fears were later justified when I was forced to send him home early—he pulled a knife on me.

A few years previous to that, I had voted (along with most of the country) Tony Blair into power as Prime Minister. Why had I voted for him? These three words of his:

“Education, education, education”.

A few years later lack of funding in the education system almost cost me my life: the country had enough money to carry out an illegal, unnecessary and unwanted war in Iraq, but apparently not enough to take care of its own young.

On the news today I’ve seen various politicians talking about ‘criminality’ and ‘gratuitous violence‘. One police chief, when asked what was the cause of the rioting, said that it was just ‘kids looking for some excitement in the summer holidays’.

What hope is there for a better future when the people whose responsibility it is (and who have the power) for making these things better have absolutely no clue as to what is causing the problem in the first place? Or don’t care…

I believe that Western capitalist democracies are a disaster. I believe that what we’ve seen over this last weekend in England, and especially London, is the tip of the iceberg. I urge you to pay attention (most of your attention, not just some of it) to your children, and to the children in your communities. They are the future, plain and simple.

At the moment, the future is not bright.

Please leave a comment. What do you think is the cause of the explosion of violence we’ve witnessed in the UK this last weekend?

Please also share: Tweet, ‘like’, Stumble it up. Thank you.


About Ben Ralston

Ben Ralston is a therapist, healer, advanced Sivananda Yoga teacher, and writer. His writings have been read by millions of people and can be found on Elephant Journal, Rebelle Society, and various other portals online. He has been teaching Yoga for 16 years in hotels, ashrams, beaches, gyms and rooftops worldwide. And he runs a busy international therapeutic practice from his home in rural Croatia. Offering sessions in person or via Skype, his therapeutic work is based on healing trauma, and the tools he uses for this are varied – mainly RPT, Shamanism, and energy work. He has also developed some of his own methods, particularly in the area of abuse trauma; ‘resource state’ awareness; and boundary reconstruction. He regularly runs retreats combining Yoga and other energetic exercises with his therapy. He would love nothing more than to see you on one of these retreats, since he believes that this approach to personal development is really the only effective way of bringing love and peace to global human society. Connect with Ben on Facebook. Read more of his writing on his new website with integrated blog! Yes, he's excited about that :)


65 Responses to “London is burning—here’s why.”

  1. Scape goat says:

    Sure, the kids are innocent and should be rewarded for their actions! 🙂

  2. Frank Hark says:

    It is a sad state of affairs when our "blame first" society. I will also point out that we (in "first" world "democracies") eagerly enter wars but scoff at spending a 1/100th of the price for peace. The example I’ll give is from “Charlie Wilson’s War”. We happily spent a billion dollars a year to kill Soviets (stinger missiles at the time were ~$20,000 a piece) and after they left we (the west) had an opportunity to help rebuild Afghanistan, but could give anything.

    We need to realize that we truly are inconnected and there are simple but difficult solutions to our complex problems. I don't know what the future will bring, but I am hopeful after things I read here and people I meet that things are changing for the better and better every day.

    Thanks for the post.

    • Ben_Ralston says:

      Thank you Frank for the comment.
      I believe that we were happy to help Afghanistan fight the Soviets not because of any altruistic motive (as I thought at the time), but simply because 'my enemies enemy is my friend'. When Afghanistan ceased to be at war with Russia, they ceased to be our friends. It's the perfect example (thank you) of how selfish and greedy politicians and those with power tend to be – as you say, how focused on self (independence) as opposed to globally (interdependent).
      You'd like to think that they'd learn – here we go again in Afghanistan, and it could all have been averted if we'd just helped rebuild in the first place (as you say)…
      Are things getting better every day? In some ways for sure. In other ways they're getting worse. I'm beginning to think that they have to get a whole lot worse before they can be substantially better. We'll see : /

  3. frankhark says:

    No, I have to believe things will get better. We have no control over external events only our internal reactions. I am a firm believe in what you focus on is way will grow (a la "secret"). So stay positive!!! I recommend "hoodwinked" as a book that will first depress and then enforce a positive spirit about the future. It is the follow up to "confessions of an economic hitman" author John Perkins. Next, I will mention this focus exercise.

    Look around the area in and notice all the red objects. Spend a minute doing this. Now close your eyes and keep the closed. Now try and recall all the blue objects around you—it is a lot harder because you were focused on the red objects. Stay focused on the positive. You will find what you expect to find. Now I do not mean to ignore warnings or as an excuse for dangerous behavior. Actually, that is a part of my hark’s rule #1. Know when you have a belief versus the truth so when you do get contradictory information you are open to adjusting your belief.

  4. frankhark says:

    This is awful, so skip this paragraph if you want. I read one book that details an experiment using Puppies to see how experience affects attitude. Unfortunately I cannot remember the details, but two groups of puppies were formed and then each puppy was put in one of two water tanks. Group one had a water tank that had a platform in the corner that the puppy could eventual find and save itself. Group two had a water tank with no platform and the puppy had to swim until it went under and had to be rescued. One group of puppies was conditioned to be “hopeless” and another group of puppies to be “hopeful”. Then the puppies were placed a second time in a water tank with no platform and no means of escape. The puppies that had a platform the first time lasted significantly longer than the group that was “conditioned” to swim until rescue.

    • frankhark says:

      So my conclusion is given the choice I have to believe that while things are changing faster than ever before and our problems seem out of control we now have the faculty and technology to overcome the complex problems in the near future. There will be difficult changes and we must persevere, but in the end it will be better for everyone. I do not want to go to far out there but I believe we will enter a new “golden age” of humankind.

      • Ben_Ralston says:

        I agree Frank, but the truth (I believe) is that it's going to get worse before it gets better.
        You are right – what is important is what is within. We must cultivate peace in our hearts (all of us) in order to manifest peace in the world. Only then…

        • frankhark says:

          Yes, it will get as bad as it has to. Until we actually start making changes for real solutions. I also feel the next 10 years will be very difficult for humankind.

        • missbernklau says:

          Thank you for this post, I hate to say that I actually agree that things will get worse before it gets better (I wish just being hopeful and doing our "work" would change others and therefore the course of the future so we can avoid catastrophic results). I think the only way people will come together fundamentally, spiritually, is with a great tragedy. The best we can do in the meantime is continue to spread positivity and help to change minds and attitudes of everyone we meet to be more compassionate.

  5. Eckart Löhr says:

    Dear Mr. Ralston,

    thank you for your comment. I think this is just the beginning of a world wide revolution of the youth. And they are right!

    kind regards from Germany
    Eckart Löhr

    • Jade Doherty says:

      You think they're right? You do realise that homes are being burnt down? That small, family run shops are being looted and destroyed, leaving people's lives in tatters?

      Obviously the anger and hate that people feel comes from somewhere, but in what way are their actions right?

    • Ben_Ralston says:

      Thank you Eckart. I don't know if the youth are right – but they certainly have the right.

      Best wishes from Slovenia!

  6. chicadelcanon says:

    As someone who believes that the oligarchies that run the UK and US have been purposefully dumbing the people down for decades … it is inevitable (hopefully), that the peoples will rise up and demand an end to the blatant inequality that pervades our culture.

    "I would like to talk about something that everybody knows, but that, so it seems, no one has the boldness to say. That is, that the time for indignation is over. Those who get indignant are already starting to bore us. Increasingly, they seem to us like the last guardians of a rotten system, a system without dignity, sustainability or credibility. We don't have to get indignant anymore, we have to revolt." – Franco Berardi Bifo


    • frankhark says:

      A lot of the problems now are that they are so overwhelming you must ask what can one person do. As cheesy as it sounds, we must start somewhere- every journey starts with a single foot step. For years I did not vote for that reason- what good is one vote. I now vote in every election- usually for third party candidates. The other impact every indiviual has in our current system is where we spend our money. Every dollar counts!

    • Ben_Ralston says:

      Any suggestions Kellie?

  7. misa derhy says:

    Dear Ben,
    thanks for sharing and bringing up a lot of questions. First of all, I would try not to be pessimistic regarding the future, because I believe, maybe with a lot of naivety, that if we think positive, we will bring positive!
    Now, you are absolutely right that the young generation is our future and sometimes it looks desperate…but to educate them, we have to give them the good example ourselves. Do we really do it?

    I don t know from where this anger and frustration is coming, but there is a lot of repression and not enough genuine interest for those young people…I don t have any recipe for miracle, but I want to keep HOPE.
    Looking for more sharing about your education experiences!

    • Ben_Ralston says:

      Hi Misa,
      Being positive is one thing – thinking positive is another. I promise you that 'positive thinking' is practically worthless. (Positive) Thought, feeling, and action is required for any meaningful change, and even then it's going to take a lot of people (Being Positive) to make a real difference in the world.
      But I don't think that means that there is no hope! Whatever is going on around us, there is always the possibility to feel peace, joy, and love inside us. And to my mind that's the only worthwhile thing in this life anyway. Sit back, watch the world going faster and crazier, and enjoy the ride.
      I believe peace on earth is possible, but I also believe that it won't happen for many, many generations to come. So in the meantime I just take it all as a challenge, and try to hone my being. I also try to be the best Father I can be, and hope that in my son's lifetime what I did now will have some positive impact.

  8. Bruce says:

    While one can never really defend anarchy, these riots are the result, as this essay delineates, of the Military-Industrial complex that President (and General) Eisenhower warned us about.

  9. nancy says:

    little thugs pissed off about not getting enough government handouts, have NEVER worked a day in their life. either have their lazy-assed parents.

  10. DaveTelf says:

    The future is not bright for the Powers-That-Be. Indeed, perhaps it is appropriate now to name them the Powers-That-Were. Those "leaders" who have been at best spitefully ignoring, and at worst actively undermining the best interests of the masses no longer have any place on this planet.

    Unfortunately, the immediate tolls taken by this form of insurrection are on local shops etc, and this is no more proper than the murder that set it off. However, this is clearly part of a larger movement. In case no one has noticed, this is happening all over the Earth, as the downtrodden refuse the conditions imposed on them and act to upset the status quo in whatever way they can.

    Like the quote in this article (, there Have Been many peaceful marches and protests, and the corporate media paid them no mind. If this is what it takes to get people wake up and take notice that the vast majority of the world population lives under the dark thumb of oppressive rulers — whether they know it or not —then I'm sure we can arrange just compensation for the shop owners once the ruling elite have been sequestered and we can begin sharing the abundance of our planet with equanimity.

    Train is comin… best to get off the tracks. Got your ticket ready?

  11. Del says:

    Making excuses for a bunch of amoral degenerates that should have been shot as they looted. You [Mr. Ralston] are a fool. When they sift through the ashes and find human remains do you think these animals will care? I guarantee they will mourn the loss of thier stolen loot more than the loss of a neighbor. Would you dare to defend them if you or yours were one of their victims? These feral subhumans rioted because the opportunity was there and they know no better. They are not the victims. Quit doing such bizarre yoga positions Mr Ralston as it seems your head has become lodged in your ass.

  12. kurlykim says:

    And I just want to add have no desire to be confrontational ( I do real generally like what you post) but as a Londoner in the middle of this at the moment the pointing finger commentary right now is not helpful and rankles me Ben!

  13. Ben_Ralston says:

    This is a comment from facebook that I think brilliantly articulates what I am trying to express in the above article:

    Nancy Orlikow: I wonder if these nihilstic tendencies that we're observing in London and closer to home for me here in Vancouver in a recent riot after a hockey game, a riot that I am convinced would have occurred regardless of the outcome of the game, just as the riots in London appear to have been catalyzed by an event that is no longer at the heart of what's really happening – It makes me wonder if these are a "zeitgeist" that is hitting this young generation in a way that we've never quite seen before…it all coincides with so many other chaos inducing world events in the economic spheres, political spheres, and the overall balances of power or more aptly the imbalances of power and resource allocation in the world (which are of course all inter-connected). Just thoughts, but they make me curious as they seem connected.

  14. Joe frazey says:

    Although in some parts I agree with the increased investment in education let’s not forget that this was organised. Parking cars a few roads away to move onto the next target as soon as they have built enough momentum.

    I believe in democracy but it’s clear a culture built on excess and material well being cannot carry any political system. The promise of education delivering finical wealth has publicly broken. Due to education for all we created a generation financially ruined before they even have a job.

    This was done for two reasons:

    1) Reduced unemployed numbers as the 18+ are all in education.

    2) It’s a great idea.

    The riots are not about a message this is criminal minds engaging our youth and doing it freely. Sadly only big advertising is spending the required resources to talk to our youth. Which continues the youngs sense of loss and defeat as they can never keep up with all the new product ranges. Still they are bombarded with messages informing them of what they can’t be with out the latest product.

    In short were fucked!

    • Ben_Ralston says:

      'only big advertising is spending the required resources to talk to our youth'
      But as you say, it's really not about money or funding or resources. Actually, it is. The resource that matters is attention / love / time. Kids don't get it, and that's the crux of our problems.

  15. Brendan says:

    Far too soon for snap answers like this. So you were a youth worker for a year? Hardly an authority on what happened, then. I'm sick of people jumping to answers that you had worked out before any of this happened. It's happening on both left and right. Simplistic and unhelpful

    • Ben_Ralston says:

      This is a comment from facebook that I think brilliantly articulates what I am trying to express in the above article:

      Nancy Orlikow: I wonder if these nihilstic tendencies that we're observing in London and closer to home for me here in Vancouver in a recent riot after a hockey game, a riot that I am convinced would have occurred regardless of the outcome of the game, just as the riots in London appear to have been catalyzed by an event that is no longer at the heart of what's really happening – It makes me wonder if these are a "zeitgeist" that is hitting this young generation in a way that we've never quite seen before…it all coincides with so many other chaos inducing world events in the economic spheres, political spheres, and the overall balances of power or more aptly the imbalances of power and resource allocation in the world (which are of course all inter-connected). Just thoughts, but they make me curious as they seem connected.

  16. kurlykim says:

    differing opinions WITHOUT subjecting each other to abuse!! (See? tired.)

  17. EcoHustler says:

    These riots are connected… (to everything else):

  18. Shirley Kilner says:

    Hmmm, very interesting times, ? abdication of personal responsibility, culture of entitlement, failure on the parental generation ( me / us – baby boomers )…. CHANGE a coming ?

  19. Jamie says:

    a reply from a friend of mine when i asked for thoughts on the respect video (she's from London, only in Canada a couple of years):

    "Mark Duggan was carrying an illegal firearm. All grandparents think their kids are angels. There is a massive class divide in the UK, there is a loss of a sense of responsibility and community amongst the lower classes. These people have no direction, and no hope given the continued cuts. It must be frustrating to be so young and have no real outlook, and watch other people their age have almost everything they could want. We were born with brains, parents who taught morality, who taught us that we can be anything we want to be, who have the guts and the work ethic to sacrifice what ever is needed to be successful and to show us what it takes to be successful. These kids are missing generations of teachings and lessons and this is an issue that will take generations to unwind. It's complicated and no amount of money will fix it."

    • Ben_Ralston says:

      Agree with your friend Jamie. But also think that while money is not the answer, the lack of it being directed to those that need it is a symptom of what is wrong with our society.
      Banks are corrupt, inept, unsustainable? Prop em up with tax money drawn from austerity measure some of which comes from closing down youth centers…

  20. brdvghn says:

    I think this article is kinda reductionist (education? srsly?) – to imagine that the cause of the riots is any of the "social issues" within the existing order suggests that something can be done to "fix" our civilization – this or that change of politician or policy, this or that allocation of funds. I think the rioting speaks for itself – why the need to ascribe a "why" to it? To control it – to direct it to some political end. Fuck it. London is burning because people want to see it on fire. I don't think that's unreasonable in the slightest.

  21. […] a time when there is so much talk about debt, and the ecomony of so many nations seems to be crashing, while other nations watch nervously like hungry ghosts, it is valuable to consider what is genuine […]

  22. […] read Ben Ralston’s article, and the comments, and felt compelled to write this in order to tell you, as a Londoner, what’s […]

  23. Anonymous says:

    […] wife told me to edit this (too graphic). I didn’t – read at your own discretion. (75)London is burning—here’s why. (72)Are supporters of excess heat & sweat in yoga class just full of hot air? ~ Dan Pitko […]

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