Saturday, 13 August 2011

Should we have predicted a riot?

There is no easy fix and no easy answer as to why the recent riots in England kicked off the way they did.

The riots brought out the worst - and the best - in people. What is it, that makes an individual give up his or her social responsibility and respect for others? Why did people throw away all their moral scruples for a pair of designer trainers, a box of mobile phones or even a pack of mineral water?
Where lies the excitement in throwing missiles at police cars, smashing a shop window and setting the corner shop alight? The very same corner shop where you buy your fags & mags and chat with the owner?

Part of it is down to group mentality, like fish in a fish shoal. The dictionary says:
"Swarm behaviour, or swarming: A collective behaviour exhibited by animals of similar size which aggregate together, perhaps milling about the same spot or perhaps moving en masse or migrating in some direction."

That pretty much says it all. But at what point did people - of all races, sexes, ages and walks of life - let the swarm behaviour take over their social instincts and morals?

Sadly, the debate so far has been very polarised. You either blame the society, culture and/or the government and point at the underlying reasons as to why it happened. Or you blame the individual, their parents and ask for tougher sentences, rubber bullets and longer prison sentences. Adapt the former view and you are classed as a left-wing, liberal idealist with no sense of reality. Adapt the latter and you are a right-wing, conservative traditionalist who believes discipline and deterrence are the only ways forward. I believe there is no black and white analysis to be had. It is, indeed, complicated.

As much as I condemn the appalling actions committed by these individuals, I still believe everyone is a product of his or her society. We all started off as newborn babies, but for some, the environment was not as socially nourishing as it was for others. For some, the world consisted of things. Comforting things. 'Dummy' replacements. Toys. Bags of crisps and Play station. If all you have ever been offered by your parents are things, rather than their time and love, then 'things' will become important to you.
If you have never had a book read to you, never been taken on a visit to the museum, been offered help to explain that algebra homework or had a chance to go on holidays where you meet other people, experience different cultures - then the perception of the world is bound to be different. So yes, I do think a lot of the riot behavior stems from inequality. It is easy to blame the parents but - what were these parents offered by their parents? Also, it has to be said, the society we live in now is not the same as it was, say 30 years ago. On the other hand, not all the rioters were children. In fact, not everyone was even rioting as such. It all started off as a reaction to the shooting in Tottenham, but - somehow, that feels a long time ago now.

A question was raised during the recent BBC Question Time: "Why is it, these riots never happen in countries like Sweden and Norway?" Someone replied: "Equality. It's down to equality."

I feel that really IS one of the fundamental reasons. When part of a country's population has been bereft of the possibility to achieve what they want because of social and economic inequality, there will be consequences. Instead of aspiring to become something, to get out of life what they want, people will become fed up. Fuelled with low self esteem, bitterness and anger with just about everything and everyone, these individuals collectively make a dangerous mix.

If an opportunity arises to get that pair of designer jeans which has just suddenly become available in front of your eyes - with no police to catch you - then you grab them. In fact, you might as well grab the whole rack.

As much as I find the looting morally wrong, I can sort of understand the reasons for it. What I can't quite apprehend is the lack of respect for one's own community. How can you deliberately rob and set fire to someone's corner shop, risking the lives of everyone living in the flats above? If someone was angry with society as a whole, I would expect him or her to attack Westminster, not Hackney. That puzzles me. I can only assume it was that "swarm behaviour" taking over. No 'inner' moral barrier to stop , to say "Hang on, this is wrong."

I do not want to blow my own Swedish trumpet too much and we are far from perfect in Sweden either, but having lived in both countries I do feel there is a difference. The relevance in bringing the Swedish model up is the fact that we have yet to experience something like this in Sweden and I doubt very much we ever will. Undoubtedly, there is still a lot to be done to achieve increased equality in Sweden, but I dare say we have come a lot further than the UK in this respect - with regards to both class and gender.
We don't do titles. Uniforms, suits & ties are not that important. We have a relatively well working social 'rescue net' which catches vulnerable individuals before it's too late. Not always, mind you - but most of the time. We say parents - not 'mums'. A 'page 3' in our few tabloids would be stopped by our discrimination laws before it got a chance to cause public outrage. I could go on.

I firmly believe that the likelihood for riots to happen is relative to the degree of equality a country can show for herself. It takes generations to change and is sadly not a quick fix.

If nothing else, the riots made a lot of people stop and think. We opened up and shared information to support each other. It made communities stick together and stand strong, offer amazing help and support, building new bonds which, I am sure, will last forever. There are so many aspects to discuss, too many for one single blog post. I feel another one coming on...
One which will talk about the role of Social Media in the riots.


  1. They didn't give up their social responsibility and respect for others because they have NONE. They care for no one, they have been told constantly by the Left that they should be pissed off and now they can use that as an excuse to fulfill their greed of entitlement because let's face it someone else is paying! they can simply demand more and more until they are the better off ones with working slaves.

    Damn seems we arrived their already :P

  2. Interesting article Britt - just a few thoughts on this from my perspective...

    I went to Sweden several years ago as an immigrant, and foud it pretty inhospitable and closed - many of the other foreigners I knew there had left within a couple of months of arriving.

    To compare this with London (if not the rest of the UK) it is definitely more open to foreigners, and doesn't care about you being 'from that place' in a way there seemed no way of getting around in Sweden.

    On a trip to the country outside of Gothenburg, a friend pointed out to me a large building - 'that is where the man lives who trains the far right/neo-nazi youth' he said - I couldn't believe my ears.

    This, I hope understand why, was the first thing that came to mind when I heard about the recent terrible events in Norway...

    You might as well write an article on how something so atrocious happened in Scandinavia, and what that particularly says about this corner of Europe, as here for the 'riots' and the UK.

    Just my 2 cents ... No offence meant, but I felt it had to be said...

  3. Well, just the other week we learnt that News International pay the police, I´m sure they could easily pay others to get Murdoch of the front pages with some rioting.

  4. My work has taken me into some of the most 'impoverished' homes; those families who have existed for more than one generation on state benefits. I say 'impoverished' because a fairly large proportion of them have many of the items which the rest of us save for or buy on credit... or simply do without.

    They have the large plasma tv, the range of gaming systems and often much more. Yes, they live on run down estates, but many of them still have enough cash to buy cannabis and often harder drugs.

    I have lived in similar circumstances; I know what it feels like to go to bed hungry as I only had enough food to feed my children. However, I always knew there were other ways of making changes than involvement in criminal activites.

    Education was my way out; I went to college (which cost me nothing) and eventually found myself with enough qualifications to get a job I really wanted. It wasn't easy, at times I juggled 2 part time low paid jobs and was studying well into the night. Much of the time I relied on benefits; but hated that.

    I guess what I am saying is there are different choices and paths to be taken. I could have sat at home feeling let down and growing resentment towards others and using alcohol and drugs to ease the pain I felt ( they were there and I was offered) I chose a different path; for myself and my children. I've never regretted it.

  5. Of course there are underlying reasons for the discontent and the resultant rioting and looting are but symptoms of that but inequality and injustice are to be found worldwide. London just happens to be the latest manifestation of it. Cameron calls it a sick society but the best medical advice always is to treat the underlying cause, not the symptom.

  6. 'Polarisation' strikes me as a stand-out term here. Too many political agendas to be served. Too much jingoism. Too many one club golfers pontificating.

    The biggest individual satement? Tariq Jihan. By a very long way.

  7. ":I went to college (which cost me nothing) "

    I think that's the point: going to college is now no longer possible for many young people.

    I'm tired of reading opinions that the key to solving this inequality-driven problem is with more inequity. Poster #1 rightly points out that many working people are trapped by debt and low wages into a situation approaching slavery, but the way to solve that problem is not by attacking those less well off than you. That's how divide and conquer works.

  8. My reference to college was not meant to cover Universities; 'college' is still free for young people although Universities are not; there are many educational opportunities out there which cost nothing. I work with many young people who are unable to find work but spend their time actively engaged in learning and doing voluntary work; which in turn increases their chances of employment.
    There are things out there for young people; unfortunately many young people have opted out of education long before they reach school leaving age.
    There have been a number of times I have helped young people to find work, only to discover that within the first couple of weeks they have been sacked for repeatedly not turning up or using drugs in their workplace, despite all the preparation work undertaken with them.
    There are some great young people out there, but there are also some who are unwilling to change their destructive lifestyles and are not willing to expend any
    effort, despite a great deal of support.
    They are disengaging at a much younger age when any problems in getting work are many years ahead. They often experience few, if any boundaries at home, a lack of consistent parenting, and have attachment issues. In other words they experience significant neglect right into and during their teens and the damage can be irreversible.