As ever, there is some truth to both accounts. But the riot debate, which is certain to continue unabated even as the riots themselves die down, crystallizes starkly distinct visions of the future of British society. Pundits tend to decry polarization, but this is perhaps the one good thing that could emerge from this whole unhappy occasion: Britain needs healthy debate.
There is one important discussion point that did not appear on either list, however: “fun.” Kicking a window in with your boot, flinging rocks at the police, and escaping with a PlayStation 3 is a blast if you’re 18 and hanging about with other bored mates over the hot summer holiday. Violence is intoxicating, especially if you feel yourself a loser in the game of life and it is directed against those you believe have rigged the rules against you. More and more stories are emerging of bragging rights, of boastful escapades, of the revelry that was had by those involved. One smart rioter posted a picture on Facebook of himself grinning, in front of his looted treasure. “It was good fun … showing the police we can do what we want,” said another, drinking wine at 9:30 in the morning.