London in a Weetbix packet - Tactical Ninja
Aug. 12th, 2011
09:36 am - London in a Weetbix packet
DISCLAIMER: I live in New Zealand. In my lifetime, the closest thing to rioting that I've been aware of in my home country is the violence associated with the 1981 Springbok tour. While I was born in England and brought up by English parents, I've never lived there (that I can remember). I have no knowledge, no experience, and no right to speculate on what's going on there right now.
But this morning, I read this Daily Mail 'article' in which the rioting is blamed on The Liberals. A quote:
"The married two-parent family , educational meritocracy, punishment of criminals, national identity, enforcement of the drugs laws and many more fundamental conventions were all smashed by a liberal intelligentsia hell-bent on a revolutionary transformation of society."
OK I might have added some commentary in there. *cough*
Another quote: "And the single most crucial factor behind all this mayhem is the willed removal of the most important thing that socialises children and turns them from feral savages into civilised citizens: a father who is a fully committed member of the family unit."
I've been trying to avoid reading too much about it because I know it'll cause me to start drawing conclusions and *loop back to my disclaimer*
But then I realised something.
I've spent the last 4 years studying this shit. Social Policy and Criminology are my majors. That doesn't make me any kind of expert, but it does give me a theoretical framework to look at this thing through, and maybe I do have some claim to know a little bit about what's going on.
(aside: I am surrounded by incredibly smart people with PhDs amongst whom I often feel undereducated and not very clever. Objectively I know this isn't true but it takes effort for me to recognise my own knowledge and brains at times)
Anyway, I learned a bunch of theories in first year criminology - theories of why crime happens - and I'm gonna run you through some of them quickly.
A long time ago in a galaxy not so far away, folks believed criminality was a basic part of human nature, that crime is the product of people making rational decisions based on free will, and that crime could be stamped out by effective use of punishment and deterrents. This is known as the classical school. NB prior to this punishment had little to do with crime and more to do with what the royalty wanted to happen. *cough* often involved boiling oil and forcing the peasantry to watch, and was known as the Bloody Code -it ended with the enlightenment and the advent of the classical school.
Weirdly enough, crime didn't stop when classical criminologists were at the leading edge. Then along came Lombroso, who believed that criminality was inherited and could be predicted based on physical characteristics. He measured various parts of convicted criminals and from this extrapolated that if your measurements were similar, you were probably some kind of subhuman 'born criminal'. This was known as Italian Positivism. Essentially, he was on the same track as the classicalists in that criminality was something that resided within the individual. Only later did he acknowledge that there may be external influences on people's criminal behaviour. His theories were very popular for a very long time, and are at least partially to blame for the eugenics movement and the idea that some races are more criminal than others. Also, he was a cock.
OK so much for history. It was eventually realised that external factors were likely influential in the development of criminality. Two theories that may be relevant here are anomie and strain theories. Anomie is a term coined by Durkheim (who plagues anyone who studies humanities with his dry dissertations on pretty much everything but was a pretty influential theorist). It describes the cognitive dissonance that occurs when social norms of a group are not stable and do not match those of wider society. He posited that this happens in transitional neighbourhoods, where there's a high population turnover as people come and go - gentrification is an example of a situation that may cause anomie. Another example is housing estates, where nobody stays for long if they can, where people are often forced to live through poverty or through being in transit (perhaps as immigrants looking for work in their field of expertise but only able to find work driving taxis). Or the changes in poor inner city neighbourhoods as those with money move to the suburbs, leving the poorest behind. These communities don't develop a strong set of 'rules' and therefore the likelihood for criminality to be limited by solid external social norms is removed. Rather than loyalty to community, people are just trying to leave. Or, in the case of gentrification, being forced to.
Related to this is strain theory, which describes the situation that arises when legitimate means are not available to achieve common social goals. This picture from Sao Paolo shows the sort of situation that might cause strain:
On a more common level, we have the television, the ads on public transport, magazines, all telling us what lifestyle we could/should have. The big house, the flash car, the widescreen TV (which seems to be the item that's been chosen by media to represent the looting oddly enough). Fact is, only some people can actually get these things through the means that the TV tells us we should use - through work, saving, being a good citizen. For many people, being a good citizen brings no advantage and work only pays for a one-room flat and a 14"crt, you know? And the gap between what you're told you can have and what you actually do have creates strain. For a blackly humorous look at this, watch Charlie Brooker's series How TV Ruined Your Life. Don't say it didn't - it did.
Anyway, proponents of strain theory reckon that this strain (read: tension) causes people without legitimate means for achieving expected goals to turn to illegitimate means to relieve it.
The final theory I reckon is relevant here is social contract theory, which simply describes a relationship between people and government, in which there's a tacit agreement of the people to abide by a series of rules to protect themselves and one another from harm. So, like how we all drive on the left. It's a rule that we agree to so that we don't have collisions. Mostly it works. Or, how we call the police when there's a problem and they come and sort it out because we allow them to tell us what to do, in order for them to be able to protect us from harm.
Only, when the police don't hold up their end of the bargain, when instead of being people to turn to they are people to run away from because they will assume you are a criminal and treat you like shit even if you're just walking down the street - someone's not honouring the contract. And if the social contract becomes void by one or another party not abiding by it, all bets are off. Withdrawal of consent from social contracts is easier if you have power and money. If you don't have these things, what are your options for saying "Oi, what about your end? What about how I'm supposed to have a job but there aren't enough and there's supposed to be a safety net but the government just took it away and I have absolutely no control over this situation any more, here's my contract but nobody's honouring it."
 Or, as Happy points out below, when those in power are observed to be not honouring the social contract and getting away with it.
Here's a map of the rioting, superimposed over disadvantaged areas of London, with level of disadvantage in a handy dandy scale. You'll note that in most of the poorest areas, rioting's not happening. Most of it is in the in-between areas - where people of disadvantage live near to places where more advantaged living is not far away. Funny that.
And here's where I go into pure speculation based on my experience of growing up in an English family. The English are more reserved than Kiwis. Showing emotion or that you are affected by something is not the norm. Stiff upper lip and all that. In my household, more was communicated by what wasn't said than what was, and the ability to maintain equilibrium and endure whatever happens without losing the plot is an admirable trait.
Until you can't any more, and then the resulting meltdown can be quite the wee storm in a teacup, what?
I don't know if my family is representative of British culture or not, but I've seen plenty of media and read plenty of books and observed plenty of other English folks that would suggest that maybe there is a cultural factor in the extremity of the meltdown when it comes.
I'm not going to try to tell you what you should think. What I've done here is present some accepted theories of criminality which might help provide a framework for further thought about it. But if you've read all this and have the mind to, it would probably be interesting to go back to the Daily Mail article and read it with this stuff in mind. Makes it look a whole lot different, you know?
In other news, I'm off to Martinborough this weekend. I love the Rapper. Promise not to get eaten by a grue.