Where do riots come from?

Last year I recognized the unmistakable signs of coming violence, and not only of the sort we are used to regarding as “political,” the surge in crime rates, drug addiction, sexual exploitation of children, and so-called deaths of despair. I for one do not understand how it is that people accustomed to talking about the very real consequences of unemployment, who take mental health seriously and understand the relationship between crime, education, poverty, and civil unrest, were able to wave away the cost of our lockdown measures.

We are still living with them. Every bit as much as the violence that began in Minneapolis in response to the death of George Floyd — that sublime moment when a hastily agreed-upon public health consensus about outdoor transmission of a virus exploded — the events of last week cannot be understood outside the context of lockdowns, of an illusory economic recovery whose main beneficiary has been Wall Street, of enforced isolation, and of all the already existing horrors that these things have exacerbated in the last year: social atomization, epistemic disjuncture, addiction, domestic violence, above all, perhaps, an inchoate feeling that something is very wrong and that ordinary means of addressing the crisis are insufficient or simply unavailable.