The Riots – A Rational Approach to the “Why?” Question.

A personal viewpoint by Les Higgins, 12 Aug 2011

Before I begin this, let me make explicit that I have no POLITICAL agenda. I do have a political propensity, which is quite a different thing. The key thing here is that I have no intention to score political points in any one direction or another. In fact, I believe that what has been shown up by the riots is far, far deeper than mere politics.

I also want to make it clear that I am not an “apologist” for the people who have committed criminal acts. As I hope will become clear, I believe that it is our society’s “leaders” that are apologist.

The political dimension, however, must be addressed. Fundamentally, over the last 30 years, the entire universe of politics, globally, has been subsumed by the dual economic mantra of “The Market and Globalisation”. In saying that, I am suggesting that we should have zero expectation that our political classes, anywhere, have any interest in the minutiae of daily life (of the rest of us). Rather, they put their focus and their faith in macro-economic measures, mostly dreamed up by academics, whose primary interest is attracting more research funding for the departments they run. (Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that in a market driven economy). The very notion of “social inequality” has been gradually transformed into a justification of the view that there are people who are innately “winners” and people who are innately “losers” – nothing to do with circumstance, opportunity or any of those other apologist factors.

Long before the “financial crisis” started – one can argue whether that it was 2007 or 2008 – Cultural Dynamics was trying to help institutions of all kinds to understand that the kinds of people being considered as role models of “success” were amongst the greatest dangers to societal wellbeing. At street level, we were talking about ordinary people who were walking into banks and taking out loans to pay off loans, which were themselves paying off credit cards – but had big houses, fast cars, designer clothes, etc. And, the other side of that coin was that these people were being given these loans because the bank staff were being driven to meet targets that took no account of any social/societal consequential factors.

These “risk category” people were fairly easily characterised. They would be happy to say things like, “Bending the rules is OK, just don’t get caught”, usually coupled with, “I’m prepared to take a risk to make a lot of money”.

For decades, we have also been studying groups of people who, quite openly, will say, “Social disorder excites me”, and , “I would enjoy being involved in a street riot” – and these were often the same people as mentioned above. I don’t want to shock any politicians here – particularly old-school Tories – but, in our research, these are not the “lower” social classes or living in social/council housing or on benefits. Many of these are in the AB social classes. Admittedly, there are more men than women, but only to about 60/40.

We had hints as early as 2006 that British society was being driven onto a trend-bucking course, and we speculated that the financial industry was at the root of this – people beginning to lose belief that the whole system could be sustained. When we conducted our British Values Survey in 2008, the new course was all too clear – British society was veering culturally backwards (at that time, roughly to the 1980s). Lehmann’s collapsed just one month later.

In an article the other day (Golden Dreaners' Night Out in Tottenham), Pat Dade indicated the nest of attitudes and the values espoused by those most likely to have taken part in the looting (particularly). However, if you look at another of Pat’s pieces (The Ubuntu-BOTU Struggle), you will see that he is talking about the same orientation in a different context.

All the above is merely by way of introduction to the real meat of this piece. Here’s what I really want to ask and to say.

So, the magistrates’ courts ran night-shifts to deal with these rioters. They were variously accused of, what David Cameron characterised as, causing “businesses to be destroyed, livelihoods to be lost, people being made homeless and people losing their lives”.

Hang on a minute! Aren’t those EXACTLY many of the same outcomes that we see from the “banking crisis”? All right, one could argue that there was no physical “criminal damage” but, apart from that, what EXACTLY is the difference? Where were the Police then? Where were the politicians and the magistrates and the rest? How many “perps” ended up in gaol? (Answers: Yes, none, nowhere to be seen, ditto, none).

Ironically, I suppose there’s a kind of “social mobility” aspect to all this. According to the political rhetoric, most of these “thugs” are living on benefits – hence the calls for them to have their benefits taken away and to be thrown out of their social/council housing. By putting them in gaol, the government (actually, the taxpayer) is committed to “giving” each of them an annual “salary” of somewhere in the region of £50,000 (a guestimate of the cost of keeping someone in gaol). Wow! I know plenty of people who might join the queue for a pay rise like that – or, indeed, any pay rise at all. Obviously, it’s far more “progressive” than locking up an "entrepreneurial" banker and making him take a pay cut from £1,000,000+ to a derisory £50,000.

So, my thesis is that this week’s looters and yesteryear’s (financial) looters are one and the same animal, subject to different standards of retribution. I assert this because of their similar psychology and morality (or lack thereof), not on the basis of specific circumstances. Here’s a reminder of Maslow’s motivational theory (in diagrammatic form).

The people I’m talking about are similar because they each live at or around the orange/yellow boundary between the psychological NEED for Belonging and Esteem. These are the needs that dominate their lives, and their behaviours. These are the people that answer those “risk” questions in the positive.

In the case of our looters, it’s true that many are associated with “gangs”, who provide them with their sense of Safety, Security, Belonging and Esteem – sometimes, even their need for food and shelter. (There is a frightening similarity here with the popularity of the Taliban in certain areas of Afghanistan). Even those who are not gang members will have been “lifted” by the feeling of belonging to “something happening” and the esteem of being seen to be “in the thick of it”. Were they thinking of consequences and community, in the terms that outraged society defines them? No, of course not. They were far too busy satisfying their immediate needs, in the moment. The endorphins and the adrenalin were pumping. At those times, there is no future, there is no past.

And what of our “criminal bankers” (no apologies for that)? They got their sense of Safety, Security and Belonging by living in wealthy ghettoes – amongst “people like me”, away from the hoi-poloi – or behind huge gates with electronic, and other security devices (like status dogs, trained to bite) out to ying-yang. And they got their Esteem from making the “killer deal”. Were they thinking of consequences and community, in terms that outraged society defines them? No, of course not – and for the same reason as for our street looters.

The “punishment” they received for their “crimes” were, of course, very different. In the recent case, society apparently needs to draw a line in the sand and stand up to the “thugs”, lest the existence of society itself be threatened. In the bankers’ case, however, society (or, at least, the political elite) apparently doesn’t see the sand, lest it realises that its houses are built on it. Again, I suppose there’s also the public purse to be considered. £50,000,000 to gaol a thousand "yobs" for a year pales into insignificance compared to fighting a couple of bankers through the courts to their inevitable acquittal on some minor technicality, dreamed up by some highly paid barristers.

Ah well, comme çi comme ça.

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