Chavs, scum or feral underclass: Who is your favourite scapegoat?

Chavs, pikeys, townies, scum. Single parents, pure criminals, drug-crazed gangs, disaffected youth.   Who do you blame for the riots, or the ‘slow motion’ moral decline of the nation? 

According to Ken Clarke, it is the ‘feral underclass.’  Michael Gove, apparently, prefers the ‘educational underclass.’

Meanwhile, others, with a more leftward leaning, have countered, by talking about a “feral elite” – wealthy bankers and tax avoiders, whose greed helped create the £80 billion hole in the public finances.  And even the not so left-leaning Spectator magazine has recently taken a pop at the ‘undeserving rich.’

This is strong – and deliberately emotive – language. Feral is normally used to describe wild beasts, but since the riots there has been growing talk of a “feral underclass whose thuggish behaviour and looting of shops was fuelled by opportunistic greed.” More generally, rioters are increasingly being described as part of ‘The Underclass’, even though there is no evidence that an ‘underclass’ actually exists.

Professor (now Baroness) Ruth Lister describes all of these processes as ‘Othering’.  Othering is a way in which politicians, journalists and, sadly, many of the rest of ‘us’ chose to talk about ‘them’ , as a way of setting ‘them’ apart as somehow different from ‘normal society.’  And because ‘they’ aren’t like the rest of ‘us’,’ we’ can feel free to exercise high moral judgement, absolved of any responsibility for our own attitudes or behavior.  So, the feral underclass – along with the chavs, single parents and ‘pure’ criminals (surely a contradiction in terms if there ever was one) become just the latest in a long line of scapegoats.

As Luke Bretherton has written, ‘in scapegoating particular groups, we seek to avoid taking responsibility. And this gets to the heart of the problem: the refusal of all involved – rioters, government, the police and society in general – to take responsibility.  This is a profound malaise at the heart of our body politic.’

So who is our neighbour?

As Christians, we can have no truck with the language of Othering.  In a Church committed to radical inclusivity, it can never be right to describe anyone – rich or poor – as ‘undeserving’, an ‘underclass’ and far less as ‘feral.’

Now, more than ever, there is a need to move beyond the blame game: to engage with those who feel at the margins and who feel that they have no stake in society.

Are we up to the task?  Are our Churches ready to welcome in the rioters and well as the rioted- against?  Are we really prepared to listen to those live at the margins of our communities? Are we prepared to open our doors to folk who are radically different from ourselves?

Don’t bother, if you think you already have all the answers….

Now is not a time to presume that ’we’ have the answers to all ‘their’ problems.  Far too many peoples’ life experience is already marred by being labelled as ‘the problem.’  Problem families, with problem parents, problem children and problem youth, living on problem estates. No one is a ‘problem’ for other people to solve.

But do bother, if you take hope seriously….

Now, more than anything, hope is needed:  In a post-riot, post-recession, post-industrial age of austerity, it is easy to lose hope.  Can we be bearers of hope? Not by offering cheap words; nor still by claiming that we as Christians somehow have exclusive ownership of the idea; but by working with others of good faith (and none) in engaging in specific, tangible – and costly – acts of hope, that engage with and mean something to those others would label as ‘hopeless.’

For the radical message of the Gospel is that ALL are made in God’s image, and that ALL are called to share life in all its fullness. In God’s eyes, there is no ‘us’ and ‘them’, there is only ‘us.’

This article first appeared in the October edition of Reform magazine.

2 thoughts on “Chavs, scum or feral underclass: Who is your favourite scapegoat?

  1. Thomas Hobbes describes mans chief joy as comparing himself to another – and his comment is not intended to encourage us to do so. Your blog is very apposite. True unity of heart and purpose can never be a result of theological endeavour alone but a commitment to see all others like ourselves.

  2. Among my deepest fears is that this Nation is sleep walking into becoming an indifferent country. A land where status defines whether you shall be heard or not. A nation where we are judged not by the content of our character, but by the wealth and status we possess.
    A nation that is led by the nose to label, categorise and dismiss all those who are not working as “Scroungers”, is a nation that is well on the way to accepting the unacceptable. Proud of our ignorance we simply choose to be indifferent to issues that do not impact on our lives, content with being disengaged we preem ourselves so wise in our own eyes – I mean, we would not be like them, or act like them… we are different! They are different they are ‘chavs’, ‘wasters’.’scroungers’ and our indifference finds succur in the ‘open-season’ on the vast majority of people who find themselves trapped by the very same system that supports the disengaged. Divide and rule. Our Nation… divided, sub-divided sinking into a spiral of decline that feeds on misinformation to maintain control – Our nation is becoming a land where a persons dignity simply ceases to matter is we fall ill, or are suffer from long-term illness, or becuase we do not have a job. The duty of care to all is interelated we are all part of the elaborate whole – what affects one section of the community affects every section of the community.
    I fear that a self-centred individual, community, nation, or world has become the ‘norm’ – a survival of the slickest. Divided, and so easy to manipulate. Open to the poison of totaliterianism, a system that does not arise with a clash of cymbols or scarlet and black. No, it is banal often cloaked in ‘responsibility’ or some false appeal to ‘common sense’. It will insidiously infect judgement and will seek to find scapegoats. Targetting the voiceless, the vulnerable, the poor… and carefully crafted stories will negatively reinforce distorted images and stories, and the first casualty is the truth. The crowd will be fed by the attack dogs of the media. Playing to the crowds ignorance and need to scapegoat, to blame someone! The propoganda machine will feed the crowd who feed off the lies that assist the prossess of scapegoating, identifying the enemy within – the immigrant, the poor, the unemployed person, anyone but the perpetrators.Deception, lies, and skilled manipulation adds to the misdirection of the crowd, the state! Over a period of, let us say, 3years (2008-2011, for example) we witness the greed of the elite explode in their faces and send the world into a depression that will descend, and spiral down, and down and down. We immediately enter a period of ‘finger pointing’; we NEED someone to BLAME, we NEED a SCAPEGOAT!
    The poor, the vulnerable, the least able or least likely to be able to defend themselves are identified and targetted. The machine grinds into action – scapegoating begins and accelerates. And over the nest two years we see £18billion cut from the poorest section of the nation. Meanwhile, gradually, slowly almost unnoticed the perpetrators of the crash, fade from the frame and ACTUALLY join the crowd that condemns the poor and the vulnerable. Lie completed. God help us.

    Adrian Wait.

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