Alex Hudson

Thoughts on Technology, Product, & Strategy

Short thoughts on the riots.

Last night, we decided to order pizza – we don’t do it often, it’s lazy but sort of a treat. However, out of the three local well-known places, only one was open: the other two had shut down early. Now, we don’t live in London per se, but Croydon (where there were major fires and a member of the public was shot just a night ago) is only a few miles east, and Clapham a few miles north. Sutton, the local town, had some windows broken by youths, but to be honest this isn’t exactly exceptional behaviour in Sutton.

What happened when the pizza came was slightly surreal. The delivery guy was very nice, but asked me to wait at the door until he left. Why? Because there was a group of three kids just down the road, and basically, he was afraid of them. Just to be clear, most people buy using their cards these days, so this guy wouldn’t be carrying much money and didn’t have any other pizza on his bike. He wanted to make sure that if something did happen, there would be someone watching. After he left, I did begin to wonder whether this pizza chain really did make the right decision to stay open. I don’t think he was actually in much danger, but to work in an environment where you believe yourself to be in danger is probably just as bad.

So what’s going on here? I think this has been a long time coming, if we’re very honest. Anti-social behaviour has been a significant political issue for the last fifteen years, and you only need to look back to the student fees marches just last year to see people rioting in London in pretty much the same way. The difference, of course, was that under the flag of another cause, people assumed that this wasn’t a more general problem.

No-one really knows why this is happening. This isn’t a sudden thing, this has been years in the making, and the cause or causes are probably no longer determinable. My personal favourite reason is education: I don’t think this country has ever had an education system which hasn’t failed a significant minority of the young, but in years gone by those failed by the system have been able to get jobs in factories and other places which had a wage that could support a family. Those jobs don’t exist in the same way any more, and they certainly don’t pay a living wage.

What is disturbing, though, is what comes out of the mouths of these people when you listen to them being interviewed. I’ve heard a variety of interviews with people across the country who’ve been rioting, and the message is basically the same no matter who they are. They hate the police (the “Feds”), but this is just a proxy for authority of any sort. They don’t care who gets hurt, they don’t identify with any particular societal structure except for maybe their own gang, and they see an easy opportunity to gain at low risk of getting caught.

This actually reminds me of various pieces of stories from Jon Ronson’s “The Psychopath Test”. I’m certainly not diagnosing these people with antisocial personality disorder, but good lord they certainly display many of the traits. You just need to look down Hare’s list and they tick practically every box at least once over – the main thing that they’re not doing that a real psychopath would do is the lying and manipulation to cover their tracks. Right now, many of these kids don’t feel the need to even cover their faces from the cameras which they know are there.

The radio told me this morning that three men had been run over, attempting to protect their neighbourhood. Many people have come out on the streets, the anti-rioters, the wonderful Riot Wombles, and it’s tremendously sad that rioters are not just attacking buildings and cars but also now their fellow man. I expect a number of commentators to draw immediate parallels with Grand Theft Auto, which had already been linked to these troubles by people who believe games influence real life. I think all it demonstrates is the lack of imagination the rioters have. They’re like a kind of Commercial Zombie, roaming the streets for TVs instead of brains, destroying everything in their way. They don’t know how to deal with people personally, all they can do is imitate and emulate others, whether it’s video game characters, movie characters, hip-hop stars, whoever. I don’t wish to dehumanise them, but they just seem to be incapable of rational thought, they just play out TV stories because they don’t seem to know any other way.

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  1. The same thing happens in Chile, but with students

  2. Wilson

    In America we wouldn’t have some of the problems experienced in the U.K. If any of the idiots you described came to my house I would just shoot them. Fortunately for us we are allowed to own weapons for self-defense.

  3. Alex

    It’s a nice theory, Wilson, but it fails to take into account that a. self-defence is allowed over here too, b. so are guns. What’s not allowed is exacting punishment on those on your property, so shooting someone in the back with an unlicensed weapon (for example) would be illegal. Shooting someone with a legally held weapon when they attacked you would be legal, though.

    Somehow I really don’t think ‘moar guns!’ is quite the answer to this problem, however.

  4. Jonathan

    Especially if the rioters had guns as well – then things would get even more scary.

  5. jue

    I thinks its a symptom of the breakdown of the family unit, lack of moral/value upbringing, and the welfare state. Socialistic welfare states are going away, they just simply can not be maintained, but the family and moral issue is harder to address. That may not get better.

  6. Alex

    @Jonathan: in fact some of the rioters did have guns; one person was shot and killed by a rioter simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And, of course, the riots kicked off when the Police shot a man who was in possession of a firearm (although it seems he wasn’t threatening to use it at the time). Additionally a gun shop in Coulsdon (not far from me) was raided during the riots, and whoever it was made off with 15+ firearms (albeit air-powered, I believe).

    I find it amusing that people think there are no guns in this country, only a proportion of guns are illegal.

    @jue: I’m not sure it’s the welfare state that is specifically the problem. In this country, many people have become dependent on it, but it’s as much a problem of the availability of jobs and people having the right skills. Many of these people are essentially unemployable.

  7. The riots throughout England could have been predicted after the first day. The television showed rioting and looting, with the police just watching. The police looked scared. So a million young people got the message that all they needed to do was to collect in gangs, and the police would not dare stop them stealing everything they wanted. So they did just that: came out in gangs and looted. Actually I found your blog by accident, while searching for something else on Google. All the same, I stayed to read more because I found your posts interesting, and (most of all) well written. Perhaps I should introduce myself and explain that last remark! My name is Goodwin A I Manson, and I am a retired schoolteacher. So I am rather fussy about proper spelling and grammar. When I was marking school homework, I always looked for innovative thoughts, credible information, and clear accurate facts. If you had been one of my students, I would have been pleased with your efforts! You obviously enjoy writing, and I hope that you will appreciate a quick comment saying that I liked your blog. Keep up the good work. Wishing you all the best, Kindest regards, Goodwin A I Manson.

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