Today what appears to be the final battle to overthrow Colonel Muammar Gadhafi’s regime in Libya is rightly dominating the news – as it probably will for several days, as stories of valour, celebration, desperation and atrocity are told from the streets of Tripoli. There will also be much speculation about what kind of Libya will emerge from the civil war – even whether the rebels can hold off splintering into their own warring factions. And, inevitably, since the West invested so much in the NATO bombs that so potently aided the rebel victory, there will be speculation as to what the West can do to help build a new Libya that is friendly to the West and accepting of its interests in North Africa and the Middle East.
In and amidst this focus on Libya, we also need continue the debate about what brought violent rioters and looters onto the streets of London and other cities just a fortnight back and what we should do about these issues.
Both David Cameron and Tony Blair had key articles in this weekend’s Sunday newspapers, setting out their positions.
Moral decline, moral panic and folk devils
As you might expect for a piece in the Sunday Express, Cameron was aiming squarely at the traditional grass roots Tories who make up a substantial element of the Express’ readership. In a piece so right wing, he’s almost certainly not comfortable with it, Cameron wrote: “…a social fightback means instilling in our children and young people the decency, discipline and sense of duty that make good citizens.
The first place people learn these values is in the home. That is why I make no apology for talking about the importance of family and marriage. Every government policy must pass what I call the family test: does this make life better for families or worse? Does this make it easier to bring up well-behaved children or harder? Family is back at the top of the agenda.
Children also learn values in schools. Every school should be a place where children learn manners and morals but that is only possible when there is order in the classroom. So we are taking action to restore authority and boundaries, with teachers able to discipline pupils as they see fit and heads having the freedom to set uniform and behaviour policies and enforce them.
But I believe we can and should do more. When we see events as shocking as the riots and so many young people whose lives have no shape beyond the shape of their gang, no purpose beyond the next time they get smashed on drink or drugs, it is clear that the need to restore values calls for something new. That is why this Government is establishing National Citizen Service.”
Though he doesn’t actually use the term ‘moral decline’ in the Express, the tone of the piece is about reversing it and the term is being widely attributed to him and other senior Tory ministers, particularly Iain Duncan Smith. Attributing the term to Cameron and Duncan Smith in the context of blame for the riots fits with the ‘broken Britain’ theme which the likes of Cameron and Duncan Smith have been playing since at least 2007.
With their emphasis on broken – even ‘sick’ – Britain, Cameron and Duncan Smith are playing the old ‘moral panic’ card, first named by Stanley Cohen (1973) in his famous study of media reaction to events like the mods-‘n’-rockers beach fights in the early 1960s. And when Duncan Smith goes on about gangs and gang culture, he’s making them into what Cohen terms ‘folk devils’.
Cohen identifies the process as the media whip themselves up into a frenzy, creating a moral panic and exaggerating the menace of the folk devils so everyone is terrified o them – and this forces the police, local authorities, central government, etc , etc, into strong action to tame the folk devils and quiet the moral panic. (See SocioPsychological logical Factors in Crime in the Society section for more on the processes involved in moral panics.)
Which is not to say that there hasn’t been a change in morality and attitudes towards “decency, discipline and sense of duty”. As I pointed out in the Blog post, Is Britain really broken?, in January last year there have been considerable changes in public morality and consequent behaviour over the past 50 years, with the result that many institutions of society – especially the family and education – have changed considerably. Behaviours that were once relatively rare – eg: taking recreational drugs, men and women cohabiting as an alternative to marriage, young women having children outside of marriage, people conducting same sex relationships openly – are now fairly common and some of these changed behaviours are now so accepted they have become the norm.
Nor is this to deny that there is a problem in a number of areas with gang culture. Much of London’s rise in gun crime over the past 5 years has been unequivocally linked to gangs. Clearly there were organised gangs at work carrying out some of the looting during the riots.
Nor is this to belittle any of what went on during the riots. A handful of people died, many more were injured – some very seriously – and many, many more were traumatised by their experiences. Property was damaged and, in some cases, destroyed; and livelihoods were wiped out.
But were the riots really just the result of a changed public morality? If so, why hasn’t the whole country descended into arson and looting anarchy?
Blair and the Underclass
Writing in The Observer allowed Blair to present a more reasonable and reasoned argument to the so-called ‘chattering classes’. His article, ‘Blaming a Moral Decline for the Riots makes Good Headlines but Bad Policy’, is clearly aimed at presenting the Cameron-Duncan Smith approach as over-simplistic. He writes: “The big cause is the group of alienated, disaffected youth who are outside the social mainstream and who live in a culture at odds with any canons of proper behaviour. And here’s where I simply don’t agree with much of the commentary. In my experience they are an absolutely specific problem that requires a deeply specific solution.
The left says they’re victims of social deprivation, the right says they need to take personal responsibility for their actions; both just miss the point. A conventional social programme won’t help them; neither – on its own – will tougher penalties.
The key is to understand that they aren’t symptomatic of society at large. Failure to get this leads to a completely muddle-headed analysis of what has gone wrong. Britain as a whole is not in the grip of some general ‘moral decline’…
This is a hard thing to say, and I am of course aware that this too is generalisation. But the truth is that many of these people are from families that are profoundly dysfunctional, operating on completely different terms from the rest of society, either middle class or poor.”
Though he never actually uses the term, Blair is clearly referring to the ‘Underclass’ – those of (usually petty) criminal attitudes and behaviour, living beyond the fringes of society. Benefit cheats, prostitutes, small-time drug dealers, burglars, etc, etc, – the kind of characters you see on Shameless – are the kind of people who fit Charles Murray’s (1989) criteria for the Underclass.
The fact that the looting was largely of luxury goods, not basic essentials, indicates that those looters were not the desperately poor; they already had the basics of life sorted – perhaps through fraudulent benefits claims and/or ‘black market’ jobs and/or petty criminal activity. These looters were people who wanted more and had no hesitation in using serious criminal means to get it.
So far so good for Blair’s theory of the Underclass being a large element in the rioting: the profiles fit.
That is, until you start looking at the statistics on the occupations of those who were processed through the courts in the week after the riots. The most common occupation cited was ‘student’. Despite the best efforts of Lib Dem Deputy Leader Simon Hughes to point out that there are some benefits in the way university tuition fees are to be funded from 2012, undoubtedly the next tranche of potential university students do feel pretty aggrieved. But what excuse do the current ‘students’ have for causing such mayhem? Other occupations noted included soldier, scaffolder, chef, lifeguard, postman, hairdresser, forklift driver, electrician, journalist and an Olympic ambassador. There was even the 19-year-old daughter of millionaire parents in the dock!
An estimated 1 in 5 of the rioters were under the age of 17.
Sorry, Tony! While there can be little doubt a sizeable percentage of the rioters were from the Underclass, there were many who weren’t.
Andrew Gilligan, in the previous week’s Observer, wrote: “There were broadly three groups of rioters – organised career criminals targeting specific high value merchandise; semi-organised youths wanting ‘pure terror’ and whatever they could lay their hands on; and those who got carried away in the excitement. Many of those turned out to be very far from the stereotype of the hopeless underclass.”
A context for the riots
To explore the issues of who and how further, let’s do a bit of scene setting – because, as Gilligan illustrates, it’s a hugely complex issue which neither Cameron’s article nor Blair’s get to grips with successfully.
The country is still struggling to emerge from recession. Public sector cuts are beginning to bite deeply, with hundreds of thousands having either lost their jobs already, about to lose them or worrying they are likely to. The private sector, which was meant to pick up the slack of the unemployed from the public sector, is largely not doing this. The rate of business liquidation is still high and tens, if not hundreds, of thousands are being wiped off the stock markets virtually each day. Some ministers, like business secretary Vince Cable and justice secretary Ken Clarke are warning this misery could go on for years and years.
Everybody it seems who understands anything of finance and economics – except Ed Balls! – agrees the cuts are necessary. It’s just the details – how far, how fast – on which most of the major politicians quibble. David Cameron (and Nick Clegg), when first announcing the cuts, promised that everyone would feel the pain equally – that we were all in this together. Except now it seems the bankers who are widely perceived to have precipitated the whole crisis in the first place. They’re back to getting enormous bonuses…even when their banks are mostly-owned by the taxpayer! And then what about the ‘super rich’ – including the multi-six-figure salary civil servants? (Especially those who buy their groceries on their department credit cards!?) There aren’t many stories of 16-bedroom mansions being repossessed or Ferraris and Bentleys being returned to the showrooms because their owners can’t keep up the repayments….
And George Osborne talks of reducing the top rate of tax from 50p in £1 to 45p?!? Has the man no common sense at all? Osborne may well be right when he says that, in the grand scheme of things, the amount recovered by the Exchequer in that 5p difference has little real effect on the country’s finances but that it does scare off many top wealth generators to other more tax-friendly countries…but, George, it’s a matter of perception! While the common folk suffer, the Tories are seen to look after their rich pals and the Lib Dems are seen as weak wimps unable to restrain the Tory greed.
Of course, it’s not that simple; but that’s the kind of message that takes hold not just in the real Underclass but among both those who are genuinely disadvantaged by the cuts and those who aren’t but perceive the way the Government is handling things to be grossly unfair. In Zygmunt Bauman’s (1988) terms, the club of the ‘Seduced’ is becoming more and more exclusive while more and more of us, even those who don’t sink completely into the Underclass, join the ranks of the excluded ‘Repressed’, no longer able to afford a foreign holiday or buy the kid the latest PlayStation. While we suffer, through the likes of OK! and Hello! and various TV shows about celebrities and the wealthy, we can wind ourselves up with seething jealousy of those whose opulent lifestyles are not in the slightest compromised by the cuts.
Everyone sharing the pain equally…? I don’t think so, Dave!
In vMEMETIC terms, BLUE is disillusioned because people who pay their taxes, conform to the best nuclear family tradition, try to bring their children up ‘decently’ and vote Conservative – in other words, they do everything they’re meant to – only to lose their job through no fault of their own. That destabilises PURPLE, with money worries and a lack of purpose for the newly unemployed putting immense pressure on family life.
And, as anyone who has studied the Gravesian approach knows, when BLUE order falls apart, the RED vMEME comes roaring through which means power, not order, determines what happens.
An explosion of RED
So now locate yourself, reader, in the late afternoon of Saturday 6 August outside Tottenham police station as the peaceful protest over the police shooting of Mark Duggan turns nasty, just as it seemed to be petering out. Undoubtedly there was real anger at the shooting of Duggan – rumours were flying around that he had been effectively executed! – and at the police being unable to give the protesters the information they wanted about the investigation into the shooting. From reports about him, Duggan’s profile would fit ‘Underclass gang member’ and the protestors could probably be categorised as a mix of Underclass and community/political activists.
It’s not yet been revealed who it was set the 2 police cars on fire; but, as soon as the police failed to deal with those incidents, they signalled the weakness of BLUE. What followed over the next 3 nights in London was an orgy of RED destruction, self-indulgence and wilful criminality. The more the police failed to control it, the more RED felt free from BLUE’s shackles and able to do exactly what it wanted.
With the ORANGE instant and mostly monitoring-proof technology of Blackberry Messenger (BBM), rioters and looters were able to organise incredibly quickly, easily outstretching those police units that did deploy. Other units failed to deploy properly, watching impotently from hundreds of yards away as rioters and looters tore apart and burned shops.
Through BBM, the Internet and TV news, the ineffectiveness of BLUE to contain RED was flashed around the country. By the third night, there were copycat riots in various other parts of England – although in Birmingham and Manchester, there appeared to be little burning – more, it was just outright smashing and looting.
Where the BLUE vMEME appeared strongest in some of the London riots was not in the police attempting to maintain order but in the meticulous planning with which some of the looting was carried out.
In the week afterwards the Metropolitan Police came in for considerable criticism. Clearly the Met were caught out by the scale of the violence and there was confusion in their command – journalists David Barrett & Patrick Hennessy claim they were told by some frontline officers that they were instructed not to advance on rioters. Barrett & Hennessy also offer evidence that some officers were reluctant to battle the rioters without assurance that they would be immune from prosecution and/or being sued if rioters were seriously injured in the confrontations. That assurance was not forthcoming apparently. The bizarre situation where police officers were reluctant to do their job through fear of being suspended or sued by violent lawbreakers is the work of the GREEN vMEME, with its positive discrimination to protect the rights of all, including lawbreakers.
The short-term fix: stopping the violence
If we want to make sure nothing like the Tottenham riot of 6 August escalating into a series of riots and looting sprees over 4 days ever happens again, then policing needs to be much more robust. For a start, that means intelligence on those in both the Underclass and the professional criminal networks of whom there is serious reason to believe would jump at the chance of exploiting a riot to loot high value goods. As soon as something like the protest of the 6 August starts, they need to be picked up and held in cells until the protest is over
Then the police response to violent protests must be able to curtail them. Standing back while shops and homes are looted and burned is not an option. As soon as they do that, they signal BLUE has failed and liberate RED to do whatever it wants. If water cannon and rubber bullets are needed, they must be used. In the extreme, when the lives of innocent people are clearly at risk, then the police must be authorised to use live ammunition. If the police cannot curtail the violence, then the army should be brought in.
BLUE must not be perceived to have failed. If it has, then not only does it liberate RED to commit wanton mayhem – but those who are threatened by the mayhem are given the de facto right to take the law into their own hands to protect their families and their property. Vigilantism. When BLUE fails to protect, RED can also dominate in those who seek to fight off the lawbreakers – even though they may trash the law themselves in the way they defend themselves. (See the Society feature When BLUE fails, call for Clint! ) We saw proto-vigilantism in the Turkish men who defended their shops with baseball bats and knives and in the Sikhs who rushed to defend their temple from rioters and looters. If not for the calming appeal of the magnificent Tariq Jahan, father of one of the 3 young men killed by a rioter’s car in Birmingham, vigilantism may well have led to some very ugly reprisals and further escalation of the violence.
Do the kind of tactics I am advocating impinge upon the human rights of individuals? Most certainly…but the protection of the community has to be of greater importance than several hours inconvenience for a handful of individuals. Would the kind of tactics I am advocating require additional legislation? Most certainly…then get on with it!
Do police officers still need to be accountable for their actions in what might effectively be a pitched battle? Of course…but, in the heat of battle, you need RED daring much more than BLUE caution. And it must be remembered that the rioters and looters deliberately put themselves in harm’s way. Police officers committing abuses on prisoners after a battle would need to be prosecuted in the usual way.
Would such tactics cost extra money? Of course; but as London mayor Boris Johnson has pointed out to David Cameron, he urgently needs to rethink the Coalition’s policy on cuts to the police forces.
BLUE order must be maintained.
The longer-term: healing sick Britain
Firstly, David Cameron has got to get his head around image management. As was illustrated last May-June by 10 Downing Street hiring a personal photographer for Cameron in the same week he first talked about just how savage the cuts were going to be, he doesn’t always think about how his behaviour may be meta-stated by others.
Allowing Osborne to propose lowering the top rate of tax in the same week as the riots was a public relations blunder of epic proportions!
People in general are much more likely to ‘grin and bear it’ if they really do think everyone is feeling the pain equally. Bankers’ bonuses and ‘fat cat’ public sector salaries being seen to be protected or even championed by government ministers is to invite dissent!
Secondly, as discussed in Underclass: the Excreta of Capitalism, we need to develop 2nd Tier perspectives on how Capitalism operates in the Western world because ORANGES’s combination of drive for profits and labour-reducing technology is putting more and more people out of work or into low-paid menial jobs – with some of those people sinking into the Underclass and swelling its numbers. The ever-widening gap between rich and poor is a recipe for violent disorder. As Gadhafi’s regime enters its death throes, it’s worth remembering that the ‘Arab Spring’ revolutions were initially ignited by poverty and economic hopelessness. Allowing that gap to widen ever further could well lead to more and more violence in the UK.
We need a country where reward in life is related fairly to contribution to society, where there are opportunities for everybody to contribute and where there are clear routes for social mobility. The Underclass then should be small in size, despised by the vast majority of citizens and relatively manageable.
Using the 4Q/8L model, we can see that addresses the lower right quadrant but we also need to address the left quadrants, focusing on culture and individual responsibility.
It’s not possible to turn the clock back to the 1950s and restore those values but we can – indeed, we must – restore the strength of the BLUE vMEME at a cultural level so that it is perceived as a good thing to take responsibility and to support the structures of society. That support should not be unquestioning but, if we are working towards a fair society, then questioning and drive for change should possible from within. As Don Beck & Chris Cowan (1996) point out, when discussing spiral wizardry, in managing any kind of institution, you need to scan constantly for change – because change is inevitable. Therefore, you need to have strategies to accommodate and incorporate change, rather than suppress it.
In the UK we have a mixed message culture – typified by The Sun regularly engaging in moral panics and calling for draconian measures to deal with the folk devils (RED/BLUE zealotry) while also showing topless girls on Page 3 and female celebrities flashing their knickers in the Entertainment section (ORANGE unashamedly milking RED’s thirst for ‘naughtiness’ and excitement). If we are to change people’s values, then we need to be crystal clear in the messages that are sent out. If the mindset of many is governed by RED, then we can’t demand it instantly change it to BLUE. Clare W Graves showed years ago that changes in motivation don’t work that way. But there are things we can do to encourage vMEMETIC change. Eg:-
- Reward those who marry – Cameron’s idea of tax breaks for people who marry is one way of doing it
- Show in simple, layman’s terms the psychological science which demonstrates time and time again that, generally speaking and exceptions apart, people in long-term relationships with a partner are happier (overall), usually healthier and often live longer – and their children tend to do better emotionally, socially and academically
- Make it cool to conform to ‘family values’ by getting the media to focus on public figures and big name celebrities who do exactly that – thus, making them role models for younger people
Designing the future of the United Kingdom – which is what we’re really talking about – is, however, a remit way beyond this Blog. That’s for the , the academics and the various think tanks, using a MeshWORK process. But what is needed is a common understanding of the sociopsychological forces which have brought us to this present state of being.
In their key articles in the Sunday newspapers, David Cameron and Tony Blair each saw some of the problems; they didn’t see the complete picture. Consequently they could only offer partial solutions which may not work much, or even at all, because the problems are all so interconnected. As Ken Wilber (1996) says, we must ‘transcend and include’ the partial views and solutions to create the full picture of what is going on. Only then can we create sustainable long-term solutions.