Tuesday, August 9, 2011


This morning, my friend Hugh Hancock made a comment on Facebook.

Rioting is, obviously, Not Good. However, working on the assumption that the sole reason it's happening is because the people involved are idiots / "animals" / chavs / etc may not be the most viable long-term strategy. We've had idiots for a while now, and they ain't always a-rioting.

This led me to a rather long reply, which several people have asked if they could repost. So I figured I'd repost it myself somewhere more prominent than half-way down a thread on Hugh's FB feed.
What we're seeing is anger leavened with a large dollop of dontgiveafuck.

If you have a kid, and spend their entire life telling them that they're worthless and lazy, telling them to shut up, not giving them pocket money but expecting them to help out around the house, promising them stuff but not delivering it, dangling your shiny toys in front of them, and meanwhile constantly ramming down their throat that the only measure of success is wealth, expect them to be resentful and surly instead of grateful and happy.

One day, if they don't top themselves in a fit of depression, they will snap. They'll lose their heads and go crazy. It will be over some trivial, pointless thing, like the colour of your tie. If you try to figure out what was wrong with your tie, you're totally missing the point. It ain't about the fucking tie. It's not even a protest. It's not rational. It's just an explosion of pent-up emotion and aggression.

So what do you do? Yell at them? Lock them in their room while you carry on partying? Take away the little they do have in order to pay for your smashed porcelain that's worth more than they can ever hope to repay? Beat them for being uppity?

Or maybe you should try talking to them and figure out what's actually wrong. In fact, if you go to a neutral person, they'll probably tell you to start treating the kid differently. The kid doesn't have control over his circumstances. You do. So it's up to you to make the changes.

I'm not in any way condoning the riots. But if we want to stop them happening again and again, we need to understand why they're happening, and address the circumstances that lead to people feeling this way. Yes, some of them, maybe most, are idiots along for the ride, but the mood in the country is so discontented that it's not surprising that they've turned to looting shops en masse instead of scratching cars in parking lots and spraying graffiti on the walls.

Give people decent jobs with a living wage. Give them hope for a better life. Help them get out of debt instead of bailing out the bankers. Reduce the gap between rich and poor. Lock up corrupt politicians and businessmen instead of people who just want to smoke a bit of weed. Educate people instead of closing schools.

Then the idiots will be the crazy outcasts once again, not role models for thousands of pissed off people who've had enough of feeling that they might as well kick the shit out of something.
By way of explanation for those who don't know me, I'm a social anthropologist by training. Understanding social phenomena does not imply approval of the behaviour involved. Understanding is, however, necessary to engaging with members of that society in a meaningful way, especially if you wish to change that behaviour.

Please feel free to repost.


Casper said...


-karen. said...

Well said.

anaglyph said...

Yup. That's about it.

ophelia_complex said...

Understanding social phenomenon is as lonely as being Cassandra: you see what other don't but few realise or listen. It's frustrating.

Anonymous said...

a rant..... but a very well constructed, positive and pro active rant..