Having stayed away from the news for a few days, you can imagine my surprise when I heard about the riots in North London. By the time I got to it, the death of Mark Duggan had become lost to the more widespread rioting and the open looting of stores. I then watched how the fight had spread to other areas. A quick search of Twitter showed some of these fools openly posing with their swag.
Odd that this should come so shortly after my recent post in which I pondered various questions about the outcomes of the economic downturn that seems to have taken hold of the western world. For those who haven't read it, my observation was that various bloggers were alluding to quite a significant outcome without actually going into detail about what it might mean for society. There were some tentative observations that this might lead to some kind of collapse, but like many they had stopped themselves from suggesting that it would lead to a total collapse and quite rightly so because it isn't clear.
This weekends events worry me though. Unfortunately it didn't take much to get us to the events in North London (and no I don't mean that the shooting of a young man is nothing). Time will tell what really happened but on the face of it we have gone from what appears to have been a relatively small protest outside of a police station to a full on riot shortly afterwards, which in turn morphed into looting. This in turn sparked copycat rioting in areas totally unconnected to the initial incident.
Then there seems to be the looting itself. According to the reports I've been able to see it seems that the must have items in a societal breakdown are lifestyle items, such as mobile phones, 42 inch flatscreen TVs, expensive trainers, bodyshop stuff and blue ray DVDs.
I can't be the only one who thinks that the looting isn't scavenging out of necessity to feed starving relatives, but an act naked greed by people who think they are entitled to take what they want. This isn't about the outrage at the shooting of a young man. It is about as far removed from that as it is possible to get. It is about individuals who think that somehow they are owed a certain level of comfort and lifestyle, not from the fruits of their labour but from the ability to go out and take it. They've used the shooting as an excuse, not as a reason, to follow their base desires. They weren't desperate - just riddled with a sense of entitlement
All it took was an event that in reality they weren't connected to and didn't impact them to bring this streak out. That for me is worrying.
Well coming back to our economic problem, I see that the Asian markets are expressing their first reactions to the US downgrade and it isn't positive. Where this will ultimately go it seems is unclear to everyone but much of the direction of travel at the moment is downhill and in reality everyone seems to be clutching at straws to try and arrest the slide towards an economic collapse.
Should a collapse come, the impact of what it will do to a society is not totally clear. In all likelihood though some things we take for granted will be interrupted to a certain degree, be it money, food prices, fuel prices, interest payments, delivery schedules of essentials or availability of certain things if private enterprises in related industries go bust.
The impact of those problems on our society will in part depend on our ability to remain civil and maintain those invisible bonds that hold the fabric of our society together through the unwritten contract in which we all (or at least the majority) rightly agree to abide by the law and to live our life according to both rights and responsibilities. In hard times of yesteryear, the vast majority seemed to possess an unwritten code of conduct in which they tried to whether the storm through a combination of self reliance, cutting back and for the most part staying within the bounds of acceptable behaviour. It was this that would have prevented a descent into mass lawlessness.
Were we to have a similar significant downturn, would the same code of conduct be applicable? Well it would certainly be necessary but the weekends events demonstrate some worrying signs. I worry that the events of the weekend suggest that society is more easily triggered towards lawlessness than in depressions of years gone by, partly because what it considers hardship is now measured in the size of your flatscreen TV or how many DVD players you own. How small an economic downturn will it take before these people decide their entitlement to a perfect life isn't being met? Once they decide, how many (and how quickly) will others take the behaviour of these people as their trigger to follow suit.
I also worry that the weekends events suggest that in any form of collapse, that people will not look within themselves to ride out the downturn but will simply look to those who are and decide (through their sense of entitlement) that it is up to others to provide for them and simply take from them.
And if that happens, we'll be in totally uncharted territory.