UK Riots: the Totalitarian Aftermath

London-riotsWhen the London riots broke out last August, I was particularly interested. You see, three days prior to the violence I had been staying in Hackney, one of the areas of London affected by the social unrest. So severe had the violence become in that area the subway station I had been using to travel to and from graduate school had to be shut down until the police got control of the situation.

As I kept up on the news, I confess my heart sank to see the lame reaction on the part of both the police and the British government. The pinnacle of this half-hearted response was when members of the coalition government criticised the number of lengthy jail terms given by the courts to the perpetrators of burglary, disorder and theft.

But my heart sank even more when I realized that, in all likelihood, the real legacy of the August riots would be the quiet and little-noticed legislative reaction which would move Britain one step closer to being totalitarian police state. I hoped that this wouldn’t happen, but as I observed in 2009, power-hungry governments are all too willing to use national emergencies as a cloak for introducing draconian laws. They know the public are all too willing to give up any number of freedoms if they can be persuaded that it is in the interest of public safety.

The fact that the BBC insisted on calling the thugs who were perpetrating the violence ‘protesters’ (thus subtlety turning a criminal issue into a political issue) made me suspect that the legislative response might be aimed at silencing political protestors. In a letter to a friend at the time I wrote

Mark my words because any social crisis or disaster ALWAYS results in more laws restricting freedom rather than what is needed which is simply better enforcement of current laws. What is needed is not more CCTV cameras, more laws about things you can’t do, greater government powers in response to an ‘emergency’, but a proper enforcement of current laws as well as citizens being allowed to organize to protect their communities when the police do not.

OK, I hate it when journalists say ‘I told you so,’ but . . .

At least it did not take me by surprise when I began reading in the papers that government was proposing to introduce new draconian measures ranging everywhere from the introduction of curfews to taking control of the internet. Consider the following:

  • On 11 August, reported that the Prime Minister was considering clamping down on Blackberry messaging service, Twitter, and other social networking websites used to coordinate rioting activity.
  • On 23rd August, Children and Young People Now reported that government was considering legislation that “could be used against innocent groups of children who are perceived as being part of a gang.”
  • On 27 August, the Telegraph reported that Eric Schmidt, the head of Google, was concerned by David Cameron’s comments about government interfering with the internet to try to stop violence from being plotted.
  • On 13th October, the Belfast Telegraph reported that Home Secretary will be considering giving UK police the power to impose curfews, while the Guardian reported that she is suggesting the police should be able to impose specific curfews on select individuals.
  • On 14th October, the Independent reported that Theresa May, the Home Secretary, provoked protests from civil liberties groups because of a planned increase in police powers.

The basic problem here is nothing new. Classical Greece and Rome had a tradition of appointing a dictator during times of national emergency. After the crisis finished, the dictator would step down so that government could return to normal, usually to some form republic or oligarchy. Following this tradition, modern leaders frequently appeal to times of real or alleged ‘crisis’ to persuade the populace to entrust them with enormous new powers. However, there is a crucial difference. During times of national crisis the ancients would be ruled by a person, whereas we are ruled by laws rather than people. The consequence of this is that the augmented power required by a crisis has to first be legitimized by legislation. And here’s the rub: the legislation does not step down after the crisis is over like the classical dictator did. In this way, an entire slough of totalitarian legislation can be built up over the years, like barnacles clinging to a ship, gradually changing the face of society from one of freedom to one of enslavement.

Portions of this article will be appearing in the monthly magazine of Christian Voice, a UK ministry whose website is The article is printed here with permission of Christian Voice.

Further Reading

The police don’t need more powers – they need a new approach

Totalitarian Creep

Robin's Readings and Reflections

Francis Schaeffer expert offers the facts on Michele Bachman, Francis Schaeffer, and “Dominionism.”

At Patheos (August 26, 2011), religion scholar Douglas Groothuis writes, in “Michele Bachmann and Dominionism Paranoia: Once again the popular media demonstrate how woefully poor is their understanding of American evangelicals”:

In the August 15 issue of The New Yorker, Ryan Lizza asserts that Bachmann has been ideologically shaped by "exotic" thinkers of the dominionist stripe who pose a threat to our secular political institutions. The piece—and much of the subsequent media reaction—is a calamity of confusion, conflation, and obfuscation.

We noticed. Say on.

Among other things, Rousas Rushdoony, the founder of the Reconstructionists (later called “Dominionists”) was not a theocrat. He aimed at convincing the public to replace current legal structure with Biblical law. Odd, yes. Violent, no. Groothuis estimates that Rushdoony fans are an “infinitesimal fraction” of Christian conservatives, which sounds about right to journalists who wrote for the Christian media in the 1990s, when the idea first surfaced.

More scandalously, Lizza claimed in his hit piece that apologist Francis Schaeffer, – a genuine influence on Bachman, along with philosopher Nancy Pearcey – argued for the violent overthrow of the government if Roe vs. Wade isn't reversed," in A Christian Manifesto (1981)." Actually, Schaeffer, like Rushdoony, never advocated violence.

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Religion and disease: Epidemics play role in changing religion?

In "Religion and Disease: Deadly epidemics can have a profound impact on people’s choice of religion" (The Scientist , August 25, 2011), Cristina Luiggi reports on a study of the role of religion in epidemics:

In an attempt to study this in a modern setting, Hughes and colleagues surveyed religious attitudes among the people of Malawi, where AIDS has become the leading cause of death among adults. They found that 30 percent of people who described themselves as Christians visited the sick, in contrast to 7 percent of Muslims They also found that in the last 5 years, about 400 of the 3000 respondents changed religions, mostly to Christianity, “where the promise of receiving care is greater and the stigma of having AIDS is less,” Hughes explained to ScienceNOW. The researchers presented their data at the 13th Congress of the European Society for Evolutionary Biology earlier this week.

Of course, there's always the influence of Jesus's judgement on the saved:

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Mindfulness in medicine a problem? – PZ Myers thinks so

Some have begun to question the role of mindfulness in health maintenance, with even PZ Myers getting in on the act:

I've read some of these studies, and am unimpressed. Most of them assess subjective phenomena ("chronic pain" is notoriously amenable to suggestion, for instance), …

Yes, precisely, PZ. Thanks for making the point. Mindfulness can improve the effectiveness of pain relief without increases in harmful drugs, which may be in conflict with other medically necessary drugs. Here are some studies on the subject.

In “Mindful medical practice: just another fad?” (Canadian Family Physician, 2009 August), Tom A. Hutchinson and Patricia L. Dobkin tackled the problems, observing the following:

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Study: Spirituality pays a key role in fighting depression

In “Can Religion or Spirituality Help Ward Off Depression?” (World of Psychology August 25, 2011), a somewhat skeptical John M. Grohol reports,

The new longitudinal research out of Columbia University wanted to followup on previous research demonstrating this correlation between spirituality or religiosity and a reduced risk for depression.

The researchers continued to followup on a set of subjects they had used in the previous study, following them from the 10-year mark (when the older research had ended) to the 20-year mark. The subjects in the study were 114 adult offspring of both depressed parents and parents who had no depression.

At the 20-year mark, had there been an episode of major depression? Only one quarter of the people who said religion or spirituality was important had experienced major depression. Time spent at religious services didn’t affect this outcome.

The really interesting find was that

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Women and markets

At Mercatornet (August 23, 2011), we are invited to consider whether getting more women involved in floor trading would prevent future collapses. Trouble is,

So now we come to the key question: Is the floor trade world a natural outcome of human behaviour, into which some men and a much smaller proportion of women fit? Yes, probably.

My financial advisor tells me that the market is run by two principle human motives: Greed and fear. Bubbles and their subsequent collapses happen when greed overrides fear. Later, fear restores order and the market starts to recover. Which is to say that crazy markets and their corrections are caused by human nature. It’s hard to change the fundamental reality that a stock market is about people making decisions, wise or foolish.

An Italian proverb puts it like this: Three women and a goose make a market. All the rest follows.

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