Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Trying to make sense of mob violence

Listening to the media in these last few days, I have been swamped by the plethora of opinions seeking to explain the recent rioting in London and elsewhere.

It is pointless refusing to try and understand why these events are occurring because they will inevitably re-occur, and we shall not have leaned any lessons from the experience.

Much of the explanation, I believe, lies in the cultural mind-set of the groups of people who are committing much of this violence. It is a mind-set moulded by failing social background, role-model absence, educational rejection, all leading to a recognition that access to the traditional status of success in the eyes of the community from which they come, is denied to them. If they cannot achieve ownership of the trappings which designate success by lawful means, they will do so by criminal means.

Emile Durkheim defined this kind of conduct as 'Anomie'.

According to Durkheim, anomie is a breakdown of social norms and it is a condition where norms no longer control the activities of members in society. Individuals cannot find their place in society because they either have no clear rules to help guide them, or they have rejected those standards. Rapidly changing social conditions as well as a need to adjust to widening disparities in wealth, work and aspirations, leads to dissatisfaction, conflict, and deviance.

For Robert Merton in 1938, the term anomie, meant a discontinuity between cultural goals and the legitimate means available for reaching them. Applied to Western cultures, the emphasis on the goal of monetary success but without the corresponding emphasis on the legitimate avenues to march toward this goal, stimulates a huge sense of normlessness. In other words, many people in a society may aspire to be viewed as 'success' models, flaunting the badges of such success, but the ways in which people go about obtaining those success symbols are not the same, because not everyone has the same opportunities and advantages as the next person. This leads almost inevitably, to deviance.

Such deviance is not contained to the underclass however. Other members of other social groupings will also commit crimes to achieve success (Insider Dealing, Market Manipulation, Money Laundering, etc) but in this article we are looking at the riot and looting impulse, which is largely, but not exclusively an underclass phenomenon.

A significant amount of the violence and looting appears to have been generated by a type of individual, who when interviewed by media representatives, gives dis-jointed explanations for his conduct. What does come across most clearly is that they appear to have no concern for the likely consequences, if they were to be arrested. It is almost as if they view the likelihood of a custodial sentence as an inevitability in their life, indeed, many of them may already have experienced such a phenomenon. So the first observation is that they do not appear to have any fear of even the most severe social interventions. These are young people with nothing to lose, so through looting, they have everything to gain! It is another form of terrorism, where ordinary people are put in fear, where extreme violence is routinely used, but the ambition is greed.

Another observation is that they all aspire to the very trappings of success which are denied to them by their rejection of the education process, thus exacerbating their inability to get jobs. They target shops selling expensive training shoes, gold and jewellery, electrical goods, mobile phones and computers, all the detritus of the 'celebrity' status which they so earnestly crave.

They loot shops because they can, and when there are enough of them, acting in concert, there is very little to stop them. These actions are fluid, they differ from ordinary political riots where the aim is to confront authority, these are more like hit and run tactics, always moving, thus making them much, much harder to Police and control.

Government must begin to address the very real problem of social inequality. Just providing more hard-pressed tax-payers money in the form of welfare benefits is not the answer. The welfare states which for the last 60 years have provided our social environment with cradle-to-grave protections in terms of health, education and social welfare are now facing insolvency. Putting it at its simplest, they are running out of money, while at the same time, they are having to face up to the likelihood of a future in which fewer individuals will be either willing, or indeed available to provide the necessary degree of funding to continue to maintain those benefits at even contemporary standards.

Politicians must begin to recognise that in many areas of our country there are communities with no possible likelihood of work, no real care for the future, and whose many unplanned children are born into social dysfunctionality which no amount of intervention will prevent. These feral communities have no fear of authority, they are inured from their earliest days to consider all forms of social control as something to be rejected and they will continue to provide the means for further riots and looting in the future, as they begin to realise what they can achieve by these actions.

When we begin to recognise that a new form of terrorist warfare is being developed, then we can begin to define ways of dealing with these individuals!

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