While we’re on the subject of hacks using the London riots as a handy rhetorical tool, we’ve got the handily rhetorical David Penberthy’s effort from the weekend The Punch where he attempted to tell the poor in the first world to shut up and cop it so long as they’ve got it better than the poor in the third world:

Why are we seeing violence and vandalism on the streets of London, where an entire government bureaucracy has been built up around giving money to the poor, but not on the streets of Mogadishu, where there is no government assistance at all, barely a government, and whatever aid is provided by other countries is often pilfered by unscrupulous local officials?

I don’t know, Dave. Maybe because
(a) there’s nothing to loot
(b) they’d be shot
(c) they’re starving and don’t even have the energy to riot.

And, of course, it’s not like Somalia has militias…

Still, I doubt Penbo’s seriously suggesting that we apply those Somali “solutions” in the UK. At least, I really hope not. (Some of his commenters might be, though.)

Here’s another question. Why are we seeing more panic and hysteria on the floors of the western world’s stock exchanges and among investors than we are in the Somalian camps, where according to the latest figures one in every 10 children under the age of five will be dead by November?

Why is it that we turn on the television in Australia to see affluent baby boomers angrily bemoaning the fact that their superannuation nest egg is now worth 20 per cent less than it was at the end of the last financial year? Yet in Africa, where mothers are sitting in the dirt holding their emaciated, dying kids, we see people behaving with stoicism and dignity as they confront the most harrowing hardship imaginable?

Why do we see Australian politicians pretending that a carbon price will destroy the country? Why do we hear Australian shock jocks telling us people arriving on boats will “swamp” us?

Funnily enough, David left those examples out of his comparison.

The terrific thing about being on or below the poverty line in countries such as Britain and Australia is that you get to eat. Indeed the government gives you money so that you can buy food. It’s a policy which reflects our community conviction that we don’t want to see people dropping dead on the streets.

Again, you’d think that’s a good thing. Is David suggesting we shouldn’t have a safety net?

If he is, it seems the muppets in Westminster have unfortunately heard the cry (in advance using experimental Penbo predictive technology). If a poor person participated in the riots, the UK conservatives are determined to kick them (and their parents) out of their home and cut off welfare. So… nobody’s quite sure how they’re meant to live. The Tories say they “could get a job“, as if the fact that they can’t wasn’t a large part of the problem. They might as well have told them to eat cake…

Let’s finish with the most revolting undercurrent of Penbo’s little rant: the smarmy rhetoric of the defenders of the most privileged in the first world, playing off the poor in their own countries against the poor in others. Just as they do with the refugees, come to think of it – pretending that we must treat refugee A badly on behalf of refugee B, rather than treating both humanely (at the expense of the privileged). Here’s Dave conflating the poor rioters and the greedy looters with starving Africans:

Given the fact that starvation is not a likely prospect for those on welfare in countries such as Britain and Australia, the preferred rationalisation of those in the excuse-making business is that the mayhem in London can instead be explained by a sense of alienation…

Again, we should return to Africa, where people who have absolutely nothing material, nothing at all, can still maintain their composure and resist the urge to act like beasts… What is happening in Africa should give all of us a clearer sense of context.

Comforted, privileged Australians and English people? It’s nothing you’re doing. The poor should be grateful that they’re not starving in Mogadishu. All this complaining about your policies to cut services to their children so you can maintain your privilege – completely illegitimate. THINK OF THE STARVING PEOPLE IN AFRICA, you can say to anyone calling for a fairer society.

Incidentally, you can also play the poor off each other in the opposite direction, if someone calls for greater spending on foreign aid, for example. “We’ve got plenty of poor people closer to home”, you can say. “We can’t help these foreigners until we’ve looked after our own countrymen”.

Then you can do neither.

UPDATE (16/8): See? As if on request, here’s the Herald Sun today playing the poor off against each other the other way, with help for refugees unfavourably contrasted with the plight of our own poor.

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