08.31.11

Too happy or too tired to riot

Posted in Society at 12:56 by RjZ

A few years ago there was rioting in Paris. At that time disenfranchised youths primarily drove the rioting, that I claimed could have been traced to the treatment of immigrants. Now there has been rioting in London; was it the same inevitable policy decisions that drove young Londoner to break windows and steal televisions?

The riots in London have much more in common with the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles in 1992. In London as in Los Angeles, people were angry at an unjust police violence. Of course, they didn’t respond by firebombing police stations, directing their anger where it might have seemed at least partly logical.

There is one thing that many riots have in common: the general wealth of the region. People rarely riot when they already have most everything they want and don’t feel much poorer than anyone around them. Similarly, they don’t revolt when their energy is better spent scraping a subsistence living out of the ground.

There may be an observation bias at work here. We don’t classify political revolts as riots when the poor attempt to rise up against oppression in very poor nations. There are few televisions and computers to steal in those situations and they are either put down or turn to civil war.

Almost every riot will have an economic element at its root cause. The rioters either feel disenfranchised or cheated by a corrupt government, or are angry at an unjust system, but the rich and the very poor both remain unlikely to riot in response to these factors. They’ve either already got an HDTV, or no place to plug one in either way.

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