Monday, August 15, 2011

Recreational rioting

Pundits have scratched their heads to try to find a sensible explanation for the senseless violence in the streets of London and a few other English cities. Was it race, or poverty, or some other form of social exclusion that provoked the rioters? Was all that burning and looting a coded protest against something? Nothing seems to quite explain the nature and the extent of the brutality that was unleashed. Some commentators and bloggers have proposed a more plausible theory saying that the mayhem included a lot of “recreational rioting” – rioting mostly for the kick of it, plus some opportunistic looting.
A New York Times article similarly mentions that “the atmosphere in Hackney’s Pembury Road low-income housing projects was sometimes one of adrenaline-driven glee.” In fact, Anthony Burgess saw it all coming a century ago. Of course, the other major blow to bourgeois prudishness has been dealt by all those opportunistic “bankers” and “investors” who gambled billions and the prosperity of all in pursuit of private profit and the kick of big wins. It’s unlikely that what is left of the Protestant ethic can survive this pincer movement. Unless President George W. Bush was right, and any social or economic problems should be understood as the work of a few bad apples.