Friday 26 August 2011

England's Riots: Anarchy in the U.K.

Like a lot of people, I sat dumbstruck before my television set watching the video clips of the riots in England. Quick, let me double check the channel. Am I actually watching a Middle Eastern country in the throes of a democratic awakening during the Arab Spring? It was positively stunning to watch Great Britain, bastion of all that is civilised and polite, reduced to the most primitive and animalistic. Is it true? Is our civilisation merely a thin veneer which is easily scrapped off to show that at the heart of it, it's an every-man-for-himself, might-is-right mentality?

On August 4, 2011, Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old man, was shot and killed by police when they tried to arrest him in Tottenham. On August 6, Duggan's relatives and local residents marched to Tottenham Police Station to demand information about the circumstances of Duggan's death. During discussions with police, a few people in the waiting crowd set a couple of police cars on fire. From there, things degenerated into a riot with the police reportedly saying that the violence was started by certain elements not involved with the original group. In the subsequent days, rioting spread to several London boroughs and districts and eventually to other areas of England.

As of August 15, reports list the following results: 3,100 people arrested, 1,000 charged, 3,443 crimes, five dead, 16 injured and an estimated £200 million worth of property damage ($325 million U.S. dollars). Standing back at a distance, newspapers, government officials and various experts have analysed the events which spanned several days in an attempt to arrive at some sort of conclusion about the cause or causes of what turned out to be the worst riots England has experienced in decades. While the police shooting of Mark Duggan may have been the spark, it in no way explains how this single event mushroomed into an all out crime spree of enormous proportions.

In contrast, look what happened after the Japanese disaster. In general, the population of this country conducted itself in a sociably acceptable manner and pulled together for the common good. In general there was no widespread looting despite the fact there were many opportunities for individuals to take advantage of this natural disaster. (Japan: Why no looting after the disaster? Oye! Times - Apr 24/2011) Analysts point to a dramatic difference in culture as the explanation for why the Japanese appeared so honest throughout the catastrophe.

The Bank Vault
Here's my scenario. I put you in front of an open bank vault and tell you that you are free and clear to take any amount you want; it is guaranteed that no one will ever know and that you will never get caught. The question now is not whether you'll be punished; the question is merely whether you can overcome any moral compunction which would prevent you from taking the money. Yes, you could choose to not take the money but this would in no way benefit anybody or hurt anybody. The only aspect of this is that the money isn't yours. You would be taking money that wouldn't belong to you.

What would you do? I'm betting you'd take it. Why? Well, why not? Leaving the money benefits absolutely nobody on Earth; it would only benefit your conscience.

Apparently, back in the late 50's, a postal worker in San Francisco found a bag full of unmarked bills (unmarked = the bills could not have been traced) which had apparently fallen off a Brink's truck. - How does a bag of money "fall off" a truck? - The worker turned the bag in. When the story broke, the postal worker supposedly received letters from all over the United States telling him he was an idiot; he should have kept the money. Ha! I'd say those people wouldn't think twice about cleaning out the vault in my devised scenario above!

This curious word used by psychologists refers to what happens when social norms are withdrawn because identities are concealed. The classic experiment demonstrating this phenomenon (Diener, Fraser, Beaman, and Kelem: 1976) involved setting out a bowl of candy for children at Halloween. Children came individually or in groups and some were questioned about their parents, where they lived, etc. while others were just left alone. The adult would first tell them to take one piece of candy then get up saying she had to do something in the kitchen leaving them alone with the bowl of candy. Those who were not questioned, who were "anonymous" showed a greater tendency to take more than one piece of candy. In fact, some took the entire bowl.

The point was that when we are anonymous, we no longer have any of the constraints we would normally feel with other people: no morality, no decency, and no rules at all. At that point, it is merely our own moral compass which guides us as to whether we do something or not.

The Threat of Punishment
Looking at the bank vault scenario and the idea of deindividuation, I see in the English riots that the threat of punishment was effectively removed by increasing the anonymity of an individual. How much does the threat of punishment stop us from doing stuff like stealing or vandalizing? How much does being in a group give us a greater sense of anonymity which lessens the threat of punishment?

The G-20 Summit, Toronto, June 25-27, 2010
At the time of this international meeting, I lived in downtown Toronto. I didn't watch what happened on TV; I was actually there, out in the street taking pictures and video of what was going down. As a result of the protest, 1,118 people were arrested, the largest mass arrest in Canadian history; 40 shops were damaged and vandalized to a total cost of $750,000; four police cruisers were set on fire and numerous windows were smashed in the downtown core.

Canada is a peaceful country. I was utterly shocked to see this happen right in my front yard. I watched the Black Bloc, hundreds of people totally dressed in black wearing ski masks and balaclavas, sweep through the streets destroying stuff. A local TV cameraman shot a young man with a bandana to hide his identity using a hammer to break the video terminal of an ATM at a bank not one block from where I was living.

I kept asking myself over and over again, "Why?" This was totally senseless destruction which served absolutely no practical purpose whatsoever. I was pissed to see these thugs in my own neighbourhood wrecking stuff. It wasn't like I was watching this on TV, images of some far off place. No, this was my city, my neighbourhood, heck it was my street! What the F are you bastards doing? How would you like it if I showed up at your house and tossed a brick through your front window? Protesting my ass. This was organised mayhem. This was an opportunity for a bunch of idiot weekend warriors to have a funtime rampage at the expense of those who came to legitimately protest the policies of the G-20 countries.

Final Word
Take away the threat of punishment and would anybody not take the money from the bank vault? Take away the threat of punishment and would anybody go nuts looting and vandalizing? While I watched people set a police car on fire in Toronto, I had the idea that we all seem to have a huge disconnect from our surroundings. It's not my car, so burn it. It's not my window, so smash it. It's not my store, so rob it. It's not my city; it's not my neighbourhood; it's not my street. Who cares?

The Guardian published an article about two young men sent to jail for trying to incite rioting by posting "riot events" on Facebook. Why did they do it? What if rioters had smashed their houses? Would they better "get it"? Would they better see that wasn't an appropriate thing to do?

I talked about the thin veneer of civilisation we seem to have. Wipe it off and you have the makings of the next post-apocalyptic Mad Max movie. It's unfortunate because it's our city. It's our country. In fact, it's our world. One comment I read in a paper summed it up nicely:

Young people have no right to riot, but they have a right to be angry.


Wikipedia: 2011 England riots
Between 6 and 10 August 2011, many London districts and some other cities and towns in England suffered widespread rioting, looting and arson.

Following a peaceful march on 6 August 2011 in relation to the police response to the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan by Metropolitan Police Service firearms officers on 4 August 2011, a riot began in Tottenham, North London. In the following days, rioting spread to several London boroughs and districts and eventually to some other areas of England, with the most severe disturbances outside London occurring in Bristol and cities in the Midlands and North West of England. Localised events connected to the major riots also took place in many smaller towns and cities in England.

Wikipedia: Death of Mark Duggan
Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old man, was shot on 4 August 2011 by police attempting to arrest him in Tottenham, London, England, following a surveillance operation, on suspicion of a planned revenge attack following the fatal stabbing of his cousin. He died from a gunshot wound to the chest. The reaction of some people to the apparent circumstances of his death, a public demonstration and an attack on police vehicles, were contributory factors to a riot in Tottenham, which escalated into widespread riots, looting and arson in London and in some major English cities.

Wikipedia: 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami
The 2011 earthquake off the Pacific coast of Tohoku, also known as the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake or the Great East Japan Earthquake, was a magnitude 9.0 (Mw) undersea megathrust earthquake off the coast of Japan that occurred at 14:46 JST (05:46 UTC) on Friday, 11 March 2011, with the epicenter approximately 70 kilometres (43 mi) east of the Oshika Peninsula of Tōhoku and the hypocenter at an underwater depth of approximately 32 km (20 mi). It was the most powerful known earthquake to have hit Japan, and one of the five most powerful earthquakes in the world overall since modern record-keeping began in 1900.

The earthquake triggered extremely destructive tsunami waves of up to 40.5 metres (133 ft) in Miyako, Iwate, Tōhoku. In some cases traveling up to 10 km (6 mi) inland.

The Japanese National Police Agency has confirmed 15,729 deaths, 5,719 injured, and 4,539 people missing across eighteen prefectures, as well as over 125,000 buildings damaged or destroyed. The overall cost could exceed US$300 billion, making it the most expensive natural disaster on record.

Wikipedia: 2010 G-20 Toronto summit protests
The 2010 G-20 Toronto summit protests began one week ahead of the summit of the leaders of the G-20 on June 26 and 27 in Toronto. Protests included demonstrations, rallies, marches, as well as a destructive riot that broke out on June 26 which caused vandalism to several businesses in Downtown Toronto. A reported 1118 people were arrested in relation to the protests, the largest mass arrests in Canadian history.

My Complete Photos and Videos of the OMG-20

my blog - Friday, June 25, 2010
Day 1: The G20 Summit in Toronto: I'll show you!

my blog - Saturday, June 26, 2010
Day 2: The G20 Summit in Toronto: I'm shocked. Here?

my blog - Sunday, June 27, 2010
Day 3: The G20 Summit in Toronto: Thank God It's Over!

my blog - Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Aftermath and Afterthoughts

The Guardian - Aug 16/2011
Facebook riot calls earn men four-year jail terms amid sentencing outcry
Two men who posted messages on Facebook inciting other people to riot in their home towns have both been sentenced to four years in prison by a judge at Chester crown court.

Jordan Blackshaw, 20, set up an "event" called Smash Down in Northwich Town for the night of 8 August on the social networking site but no one apart from the police, who were monitoring the page, turned up at the pre-arranged meeting point outside a McDonalds restaurant. Blackshaw was promptly arrested.

Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, of Latchford, Warrington, used his Facebook account in the early hours of 9 August to design a web page entitled The Warrington Riots. The court was told it caused a wave of panic in the town. When he woke up the following morning with a hangover, he removed the page and apologised, saying it had been a joke. His message was distributed to 400 Facebook contacts, but no rioting broke out as a result.

Uploaded by theclashVEVO on Oct 3, 2009
The Clash - London Calling
Okay, it was a toss-up between this by The Clash and Anarchy in the U.K. by the Sex Pistols.

London calling to the faraway towns
Now war is declared, and battle come down
London calling to the underworld
Come out of the cupboard, you boys and girls
London calling, now don't look to us
Phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust
London calling, see we ain't got no swing
'Cept for the ring of that truncheon thing

[Chorus 1:]
The ice age is coming, the sun's zooming in
Meltdown expected, the wheat is growing thin
Engines stop running, but I have no fear
'Cause London is drowning, and I live by the river

London calling to the imitation zone
Forget it, brother, you can go it alone
London calling to the zombies of death
Quit holding out, and draw another breath
London calling, and I don't wanna shout
But while we were talking, I saw you nodding out
London calling, see we ain't got no high
Except for that one with the yellowy eyes

[Chorus 2: x2]
The ice age is coming, the sun's zooming in
Engines stop running, the wheat is growing thin
A nuclear error, but I have no fear
'Cause London is drowning, and I live by the river

Now get this

London calling, yes, I was there, too
An' you know what they said? Well, some of it was true!
London calling at the top of the dial
After all this, won't you give me a smile?
London calling

I never felt so much alike [fading] alike alike alike


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