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 has been practising personal development—necessity being the Mother of invention—since he was about six years old. He’s been teaching and sharing what he’s learnt along the way for a couple of decades. His main thing is Heart of Tribe retreats—whose very purpose is to help you fall back in love with life, no less. Leading these retreats alongside his woman Kara-Leah Grant—also an elephant journal writer (that’s how they met!)—they combine a deep well of lineage-based yoga teaching experience, with expertise in healing trauma and various other methods of personal development. Ben also works with clients one-on-one via Skype, writes, makes videos from time to time, and is passionate about parenting. He lives in an intentional, tribal community in the hills of Croatia, where you might find him gardening barefoot and talking to the rocks. Connect with Ben on Facebook or YouTube or check out his website for more info.


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. Ben_Ralston says:

    Sure, let's focus on symptoms and forget about causes! 🙂

  3. 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.

  4. frankhark says:

    You have a valid point, but I believe the point of the post is that we will never find a solution without long term thinking.

  5. 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 : /

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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

  10. 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


  11. frankhark says:

    And I agree- although this is not a solution- we are still headed in the wrong direction. The start is here with each of us being connect through the internet and elephant journal. As stated in "the watchman's rattle", when faced with a complex problem mitigations not solutions are applied piecemeal as a faux-solution which just "hides" the problem until it return even bigger. A better way to face a complex problem is to 1) identify that a clear solution is not available, 2) apply every mitigation all at once, and 3) invest in researching a true solution. A lot of problem solve comes from trial and error- do not assume something is not going to work- (stop analysis paralysis) act and track results.

  12. 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?

  13. 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…

  14. 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!

  15. 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!

  16. Ben_Ralston says:

    Hi Carol, thanks for the comment.
    I don't think that the program (The Prince's Trust Team program) I worked on was trying to do too much. I was actually highly successful in so far as I could be without an assistant, and with the funding available. I helped many kids turn their lives around from drugs, crime, and unemployment. But it's certainly true that it was trying to do it with too little.
    And that's the problem in a nutshell. If you take the small sphere that I was involved in as a blueprint for the way we run our communities, then you have young people being abused, neglected, and ignored by those that are responsible for their education, nurturing and support. That is what is happening to our societies (USA and England and other Western countries). People with power don't care. They are greedy and corrupt and simply don't care.
    It explains why more and more young people are going on the rampage. They don't feel like they have any hope, and I understand where they are coming from personally.

  17. Ben_Ralston says:

    Any suggestions Kellie?

  18. 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!

  19. Jade Doherty says:

    You think they're right? You do realise that homes are being burnt down? That small

  20. 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.

  21. guest says:

    Agree the causes are complex. Would love to know how the word 'cunt' came to be associated with evil. If we were born naturally, we all came from one.

  22. 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.

  23. Ben_Ralston says:

    Hi Robbie, Yeah I saw this video already.
    While I agree with all you say generally, if I was going to be a bit fussy I'd say that actually, all the things you call causes are actually symptoms (albeit deep symptoms). I'd say that there is really one cause, and it's called abuse. We live in a society in which abuse is endemic, and accepted. Child abuse is the norm, and I believe it's the reason the attackers attack, and the politicians politick. This is my theory, and I know that even as I came to it, so many other people around the world are reaching the same conclusion. Just yesterday I heard of a new book titled: "Abuse: the cause of war" (something like that).
    It is heartbreaking, and it is disgusting, but when you know what causes it (and causes are usually simple rather than complex) then you can do something about it. That's what I'm doing with my work…

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. Ben_Ralston says:

    You might be right. But I'm not interested in right, I'm interested in solutions. What you say does nothing for anyone.
    Oh, and:

  27. Ben_Ralston says:

    Interesting… I'll look up Eisenhower's warning, thanks Bruce.

  28. Ben_Ralston says:

    I live in a country where the average wage is a quarter what it is in England, while the cost of living (and property) is about the same. Most people my age (37) live with their parents. Very, very few own their own homes.
    The crime rate is a fraction what it is in England… in fact, I hardly ever hear of crime here.

  29. robbiebow says:

    Slovenia has much better wealth equality, much lower immigration, lower population density, and no cities on the scale of Birmingham let alone London. It's also incredibly rich in terms of natural delights, and it's climate is much more reliable. Balance and equality are key to social harmony.

    By redistributing real wealth (housing) in the UK we will be one step closer to a more egalitarian society like Slovenia. Public spaces are a problem in the UK too, and town planners need to start to understand the need for public space too.

  30. 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?

  31. 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.

  32. 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!

  33. Ben_Ralston says:

    Hey Kurly,
    First off, please just let me say that I appreciate your tone – despite my article having made you angry / annoyed you manage to write a response articulately without resorting to personal attack. That's rare, and I thank you for it.
    I wasn't berating Nancy – just pointing out that her comment "little thugs pissed off … lazy-assed parents." does not help.
    I agree that the behavior of these people is thuggish. I don't believe that we should call them thugs. In my youth I also did some very stupid things. I don't believe I should be labelled because of that. And while I agree that parents have a lot to answer for, I don't think we can say that all the rioters' parents are responsible for their behavior.
    I don't think that any generation has been so betrayed as this one. They have been betrayed on all sides – at home, at school, by religious institutions, in government. Everyone that they have been told to trust has betrayed them. They are as a result apathetic, and feel totally hopeless. I understand why.
    That doesn't mean that I condone their behavior. (Or think that it's justified). I think it's appalling. But what I wrote was in reaction to the succession of politicians and police who are parading through the areas you talk about speaking about this massive riotous uprising as if it's just a bunch of kids behaving irresponsibly (clearly worried more about their approval ratings than the people who have lost homes and businesses overnight). Theresa May, Home Secretary, asked repeatedly the question: "why is this happening" could only keep saying: "I want to make it clear that we will not tolerate this 'criminality'"!
    And it's nationwide! There is more to it than just opportunism, or irresponsible behavior. We must start, as a society, to look at life a little more deeply, because the time is coming when it'll be too late.
    And if you feel good living in London, then please stay. I respect your decision to do that. I decided I'd rather live in the countryside – I feel much better here. I feel that my people are not only Londoners, but all earthlings.
    And finally, I *am* suggesting a solution. I am suggesting that we, as a society, begin to look at WHY things happen, rather than just blindly hoping that things will get better. Things are not getting better, they are getting much, much worse (as I know you know) and if we only look at the surface, as we've been doing for a long time already, they will continue to get worse.

  34. Ben_Ralston says:

    I think that any real and meaningful change is a long way off Dave, and that things will get much worse before they get better. But hey, what do I know?

  35. Ben_Ralston says:

    Sorry to rankle : /
    I replied above – let me know what you think.

  36. 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.

  37. 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!

  38. 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

  39. 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.

  40. 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.

  41. kurlykim says:

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

  42. matthew says:

    Here's some good insight about the Vancouver event:

  43. Ben_Ralston says:

    Hari Om KurlyKim!

    Thank you for this. It's beautiful (typos or no) in it's sincerity and passion. Yes, I believe we do agree. Probably the only difference is that you're there in the thick of it, and I'm on my hill in Slovenia.
    With love,Ben

  44. EcoHustler says:

    These riots are connected… (to everything else):

  45. Ben_Ralston says:

    Thanks Matthew.

  46. 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 ?