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This is not a riot.

August 10, 2011

This isn’t a riot. Riot’s are born of public anger, of dissent, of a desire for change, a
feeling that there is nowhere else to turn – no other way for your voice to be
heard.  Neither is this anything to do with the tragic, as-yet unexplained death of a young man in London.  Our country has just witnessed the largest ‘smash & grab’ robbery in its history – nothing more.

Look at the footage on the news.  These are not angry, desperate people who feel they have no other way to get their voice heard.  These are laughing, giggling children who think they’re playing a game with no consequences.  On the radio yesterday, a young girl was recorded talking about the recent rioting and, to me, summed it up:

“We’re just showing the police we can do what we want” she said, clutching a bottle of wine recently looted from a nearby shop: “it’s their fault, isn’t it?  Those politicians and
their cuts, and all those rich shop owners with their businesses it’s their fault isn’t, it?  We’re just taking what we deserve”.

This is pack mentality given unprecedented range and strength by new media.  Packs and gangs find strength in numbers, in anonymity, in affirmation of their behaviour by peers egging them on.  Think about flocks of birds – huge numbers increase the  survival chances of individuals, and create a massive instinctual compulsion to go in the same direction, to keep together, to copy what the person next to you is doing.

The only difference is that now, packs and gangs don’t even have to be close, or even see each other, to join a movement, to feel a sense of belonging, to connect with others of a similar mindset.  Twitter, Facebook an Blackberry Messenger create wider networks than have ever been possible before; individuals can identify with a larger movement, plan and strategise with strangers on the other side of a city; incite violence and theft in all corners of our country.

People gain strength from having their behaviour acknowledged and affirmed.  Through
modern technology a nasty, opportunistic little oik can find others of his kind, even if there are none nearby, and find affirmation of his world view.  Lots of oiks can find each other, drift together, cause carnage and drift apart again in a fluid manner, like shoals
of fish dissolving around attacking sharks.

The police were chasing one group smashing in to a shop only to see the group vanish in front of them and rematerialize at the trashed shop the police had just left. – filling large sacks with material goods, flies flying round the wave of a hand and finding again the rotten food they so enjoy.

To call what has been happening a riot is to attribute too much purpose to it – to give the perpetrators a political or social justifucation for their actions that they do not deserve.

A comment doing the rounds on Twitter at the moment: “We peacefully toppled murderous regimes, you steal DVD players”.  For shame; these will be known as the great nihilist riots of the 21st Century. For nothing.  No beliefs, no protests, no social unrest, no politics, no purpose, no point.

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