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posted by [personal profile] emperor at 12:09pm on 09/08/2011 under
There were rumours of disturbances in Coventry, but thankfully they seem to have been just rumours. Violence in Birmingham is a bit alarming, though. I hope all my friends in London (and elsewhere) are OK!

There's always a danger in commenting on ongoing events, that your comments end up a hostage to fortune. Still, much of what I've seen written so far has been rather unsatisfactory. In particular, it seems to me that whilst just dismissing the rioters as mindless thugs and suggesting the army should be called in is unsatisfactory, it also won't do to tell someone terrified by the violence that this is all about the uprising of a repressed underclass. I don't claim to be able to manage anything much more sophisticated here, but I think we need (regardless of our political persuasion) to resist narratives of these riots that suggest the cause is straightforward to explain[0].

I think it's fair to say that the causes of the rioting include: the shooting by police of Mark Duggan; the recently-exposed corruption in MPs, journalists, and the police; a feeling that the rich (bankers) caused the current economic woe and yet are escaping the hardships that result; a feeling that the government is systematically undermining the support for the poor; the enormous inequality in British society; herd behaviour; the feeling that the police are powerless to stop one looting shops; warm summer evenings; boredom.

If I'm even remotely correct, then we need to be able to both condemn the violence, and consider how some of the proximate causes of it might be addressed. Politicians will want to do what Maggie Thatcher did in the 80s, and dismiss the rioters as "simply criminal" and avoid looking hard at where society might be going wrong. They must rise above the easy rhetoric, but so too must those who would assign political motives to the rioters and ignore the unpleasant criminality that has been seen on the streets recently.

[0] I found myself, while writing this, continually trying to frame a theory of my own. Like many people, I want to make sense of what has happened. I want to talk about gross economic inequality and how we should address that; but I think that's for another post.
There are 27 comments on this entry. (Reply.)
ext_27570: Richard in tricorn hat (Default)
posted by [identity profile] sigisgrim.livejournal.com at 11:21am on 09/08/2011
Violence in Birmingham is a bit alarming

It certainly is. It kicked off here before I left work to go home last night. Thankfully I didn't know that at the time. I'm sitting here in central Birmingham feeling slightly scared, wanting to go home and unable to really concentrate on stuff.


Regarding the causes I feel that the criminal aspects have overwhelmed the genuine reasons of the initial uprising. From what I can tell (mostly BBC news reports and Twitter) it's descended into people looting shops for consumer goods, booze and money.

At the moment I think it'll happen again this evening, but probably fizzle out on Wednesday: it's due to rain then apparently.
 
posted by [identity profile] geekette8.livejournal.com at 11:39am on 09/08/2011
Excellent commentary. May I link to this elsewhere?
emperor: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] emperor at 11:41am on 09/08/2011
Certainly.
 
posted by [identity profile] kerrypolka.livejournal.com at 11:46am on 09/08/2011
I think we need (regardless of our political persuasion) to resist narratives of these riots that suggest the cause is straightforward to explain

I agree both with this and the footnote about economic inequality!
 
posted by [identity profile] mirrorshard.livejournal.com at 12:17pm on 09/08/2011
++!
 
posted by [identity profile] the-alchemist.livejournal.com at 12:02pm on 09/08/2011
I hope all my friends in London (and elsewhere) are OK!

Mostly OK so far, but not sleeping much. :( A fairly big crowd of rioters congregated on and around the steps to our house on Sunday night and banged on the door (or window? I wasn't watching, just heard the banging) and apparently made a lot of mess, but no permanent damage, and my nice neighbour cleared up the mess before we got up.


In particular, it seems to me that whilst just dismissing the rioters as mindless thugs and suggesting the army should be called in is unsatisfactory, it also won't do to tell someone terrified by the violence that this is all about the uprising of a repressed underclass.

Thank you so much for saying this. Not least because the members of the repressed underclass who haven't chosen violence are among the worst affected by the crimes of those who have; but also because victim blaming isn't OK even when the victims have more privilege than the people committing crimes against them/us. (And given that much of what I heard the rioters shouting was sexist abuse, I think it's fair to say that they were wielding privilege as well as expressing their reaction to non-privilege).

And it does feel like victim blaming when compassion for victims only comes as a footnote to blaming social factors that they/we have a part in (me more than most, I guess, but even so ...)

To your list of causes I would add: "people wanting stuff". To dismiss anyone or any act as "simply criminal" is a mistake, I think. It's always good to look at what wider society can do to prevent people from desiring to commit crime.
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posted by [identity profile] bluesbell.livejournal.com at 12:21pm on 09/08/2011
Oh no, how scary! :( I hope there will be no more rioters outside your door.
 
posted by [identity profile] kerrypolka.livejournal.com at 01:20pm on 09/08/2011
the members of the repressed underclass who haven't chosen violence are among the worst affected by the crimes of those who have; but also because victim blaming isn't OK even when the victims have more privilege than the people committing crimes against them/us.

Very well put, thank you.
 
posted by [identity profile] atreic.livejournal.com at 06:45pm on 09/08/2011
That sounds horrible. You're in my thoughts and prayers. I'm sure you have lots of options, but if you do end up wanting to get out of the city and stay with us you'd be very welcome.
 
posted by [identity profile] queex.livejournal.com at 12:13pm on 09/08/2011
There've been riots before, there'll be riots again. It's one of those things.

One thing I've noticed about the commentary is that there's a trend to assume the rioters are one homogeneous crowd, rather than recognising that there are probably plenty of subcategories including 'I want nice things', 'They killed one of ours', 'Hell yeah violence', 'Why should we put up with this from those with power' and 'I'm angry and ignored'.

The rhetoric, particularly from Cameron et al, appears to be trying to bury the fact that there are genuine grievances in there somewhere, however badly they are acted on.

But, as someone wiser than me once said, 'Tories gonna Tory'.
 
posted by [identity profile] robert-jones.livejournal.com at 12:26pm on 09/08/2011
I think it's one of the unfortunate effects of rioting that any genuine grievances underlying it tend to get lost in the public outrage.
rmc28: Rachel smiling against background of trees, with newly-cut short hair (Default)
posted by [personal profile] rmc28 at 12:14pm on 09/08/2011
Thank you for writing this; it is what I think only expressed better :-)

I have been cheered by the #riotcleanup activity on Twitter today.
 
posted by [identity profile] ilanin.livejournal.com at 01:33pm on 09/08/2011
People wishing to blame rioting on economic inequality would need to formulate a theory which explains why riots usually happen during recessions, when inequality is at a minimum for that economic cycle (it's during the boom when the rich grow richer the fastest).

It's a theory that I'd be interested in, because it makes an intuitively large amount of sense that rioters (especially of the looting type as currently in London) would be motivated by some sense of envy or injustice. But that probably means it has more to do with the perception of inequality (which is probably greater during recessions due to the fact that I'd imagine it tracks unemployment pretty closely) than actual inequality as such.
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posted by [personal profile] aldabra at 02:19pm on 09/08/2011
During expansions you can tell people that trickle-down works and everything is getting better for everybody and they just have to wait. During recessions there's no promise of a better tomorrow and waiting makes things worse.
 
posted by [identity profile] kaberett.livejournal.com at 05:04pm on 09/08/2011
In the States over the last few years it's been the case that the poor have been getting poorer dramatically faster than the rich have (see here and here).
 
posted by [identity profile] ilanin.livejournal.com at 05:26pm on 09/08/2011
And in the States there hasn't been an increase in the amount of violent disorder, as far as I'm aware.

The data for the US isn't surprising, though - due to Clinton-era policies aimed at encouraging a growth in home ownership amongst what politicians call "working Americans", a much larger proportion of low-income people would have been hit by the house price crash than usual, and, additionally of course, would be unlikely to have had as much in the way of savings since they had been encouraged to invest in equity.

Additionally, continuing problems with the under-regulated and not terribly competitive US healthcare market are driving up a fairly essential cost for sections of the working poor.

From this we establish that governments both interfering and not interfering with markets both manage to create inequality more or less no matter what the original intention was.
 
posted by [identity profile] didiusjulianus.livejournal.com at 09:09pm on 09/08/2011
I think this is a good post ilanin but I don't feel that inequality is currently 'at a minimum' at the moment. Possibly because it has been growing so even if it has now crunched a bit it doesn't feel that way because those who were/are at the sharp end of it all along are now being crunched as well so having felt a relative bite they are now getting an actual bite as well (if that makes sense, I'm tired).

And the bankers etc. DID get away with far too much (and far too much money).
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posted by [identity profile] megamole.livejournal.com at 01:38pm on 09/08/2011
Excellent post.
 
posted by [identity profile] mister-jack.livejournal.com at 01:43pm on 09/08/2011
Coventry would appear to have not been entirely unscathed, but nothing you could pass off as a riot.
 
posted by [identity profile] teithiwr.livejournal.com at 06:38pm on 09/08/2011
Very well written! I'm finding it extremely hard to be objective because it's just so upsetting, but it's good that some of us are capable of some analysis even now.
hooloovoo_42: (Liberal egg head)
posted by [personal profile] hooloovoo_42 at 06:38pm on 09/08/2011

I think it's fair to say that the causes of the rioting include: the shooting by police of Mark Duggan; the recently-exposed corruption in MPs, journalists, and the police; a feeling that the rich (bankers) caused the current economic woe and yet are escaping the hardships that result; a feeling that the government is systematically undermining the support for the poor; the enormous inequality in British society; herd behaviour; the feeling that the police are powerless to stop one looting shops; warm summer evenings; boredom.


Fine, except I wouldn't call anything that happened after Saturday night a riot. The people who were out on Sunday, last night, and if reports are to be believed, this afternoon in Salford and other places, are not rioters, they are kids who are copying what they've seen on the interwebz.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-14467588
Groups of younger teenagers don't knock over a bottle shop because they are bothered about bankers or MP's expenses or whatever. They do it because they think they're hard. They do it because they think it's cool. They do it because they have no concept of the consequences, either to their own criminal record or someone else's livelihood.

Continuing to call this behaviour rioting is to bestow on it some kind of legitimacy when there is none.

I'm pissed off with the bankers and the MPs and the constant lambasting of public sector workers as being overpaid and having wonderful pensions. I'm sick to the back teeth of being unable to do my job properly because of continuing cuts in public sector spending while the politicians change the goalposts relating to my direct job on an almost weekly basis. But I paid for my new phone and my new telly and can't afford all the other things I want. I know there are jobs for young people who want them because I've put up a dozen vacancies in the last month. I'm constantly giving excuses to employers about why they aren't getting any applicants for these jobs.

So, yes, some people had a right to be hacked off with the police on Saturday, but since then, the people who have been causing willful destruction of property and danger to others are just thugs, whatever their motivation.
 
posted by [identity profile] emarkienna.livejournal.com at 09:51pm on 09/08/2011
I can understand that argument with not calling it a protest - but I've never seen "riot" as a word that's generally used with positive connotations. What word should be used instead? (That there's a lot of copying may be true, but that's not a word to replace the word "riot".)
 
posted by [identity profile] didiusjulianus.livejournal.com at 09:10pm on 09/08/2011
Very interesting post, thanks emperor.
 
posted by (anonymous) at 11:35pm on 10/08/2011
Oh, for goodness' sake, it's not the end of the world or the collapse of civilisation; it's just a bit of summer recreational rioting.

It's not even very good recreational rioting. Not a single bus has been set alight. (The carpet warehouse was quite impressive as it went up, though).

It's nothing to get excited about. It will all blow over soon.

S.
 
posted by (anonymous) at 11:08am on 11/08/2011
Which, to be clear, isn't to say that it isn't horrible for those who have been caught up in the disturbances, or that those responsible shouldn't have every book in the Bodleian hurled at them. Just that it's not such a huge world-shattering thing as it seems to be being made out to be. It's not the collapse of civilisation or a massive breakdown in law and order, and nobody not actually threatened should be getting upset or anxious.

S.
 
posted by [identity profile] jacquic.livejournal.com at 09:19am on 13/08/2011
Very delayed response because I didn't have anything to add, but I do now.

I was just chatting to my step-dad and he said that he'd heard someone on the telly being interviewed (I think he said it was someone Scottish but I have no further clues) who was explaining a way of considering mass violence like the riots as a disease, which would spread like an epidemic. I thought you'd be interested in that idea.
emperor: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] emperor at 02:07pm on 15/08/2011
Yeah, I think I have encountered the idea; there's quite a bit of overlap in the modelling of contagion of diseases and contagion of new ideas through social networks (e.g. how do you get new Best Practice out to all GPs?).

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