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Class Warfare in London

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Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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226 Responses

  1. So if we’re picking teams does that mean I get to sign up with outstanding personalities like Ken Lay (RIP), Bernie Madoff and the executive leadership of Massey Energy? Sweet.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Elias Isquith says:

      No, you’re not playing it right. You get the rioters.

      But you’re damned either way with this collective guilt stuff, aren’t you? Which is why the game is so distasteful to me.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Elias Isquith says:

      Pick a side.

      Throw a brick through an immigrant’s window or you’re with Enron.

      If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jaybird says:

        This.Report

      • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to Jaybird says:

        OK; let me see if I can raise, or at least see, your snark:

        If only the teeming masses would learn that instead of burning down their neighborhood barbershop, they could simply demand the rescinding of all current licensing laws and — poof: equality!Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Elias Isquith says:

          It’s probably better just to drop the snark entirely. Any decent person who listens to that clip ought to be repulsed.

          Anyone who listens to it and says “libertarians are even worse” ought to have his head examined. Even the very worst ideas in the world surely aren’t worse than “hooray for looting and mayhem.” The worst possible accusation here is an equivalence, because I don’t see how things get much beyond that.

          And finally, here’s a clue to the people who still don’t get it. The “class” I’m claiming here isn’t defined by economic status. It’s defined by not looting. Whether on the street or in the boardroom.

          Why do these things have to be so difficult?Report

          • Avatar Rob in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            I think it was easy to read your initial comment (paired with the video) and conclude you meant “the rich” by “the one that isn’t looting people’s shops and houses”, as that was the class the kids in the video referred to.

            But as long as we’re talking “non-looters” vs. “looters”, and we get throw the financiers in with the looters (looting on the street is worse because of the physical violence; looting in the boardroom is worse because it is invisible, which means that the imperative to stop it is less), then I doubt you’ll find many people who consider that a difficult choice.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            Why do these things have to be so difficult?

            I guess I expect more from you than tautologies.Report

          • Avatar superluminar in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            The “class” I’m claiming here isn’t defined by economic status. It’s defined by not looting.

            ok, but you realise that this is a radically different definition of class from pretty much all the literature dealing with that subject, right?Report

          • Avatar JosephFM in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            Because that class is fairly small, and essentially, setting itself up for victimization. Because given the opportunity and emotional ammunition, a majority of people everywhere would be looters & rioters.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            Because “not looting” or “looting” are not classes, so you’re just dragging everyone through an exercise in pointless conceptual confusion.Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

              …this was in answer to Jason’s question, “Why do these things have to be so difficult?”, which I copied but forgot to paste.Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

              I kind of like the ring of what Jason’s come up with here, though, TBH. “The Looting Classes.” Maybe they rolled with that back two-to-three centuries ago and it just didn’t make it forward through the lexicon; perhaps it doesn’t sounds as snappy in French.Report

            • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Michael Drew says:

              It’s sort of like going with the absurd as we talk about class warfare — like saying ” if this is about classes, then I take the class that doesn’t loot” — being facetious — it’s not saying looting IS a class. If this riot was claimed to be caused by religious warfare, and I said, “Well, I choose the religion that doesn’t loot” — I’m not talking about a specific No-looting religion, but rather transcending the religious war and claiming a higher ground of at least not looting. It doesn’t mean I choose one religion over the other.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to MFarmer says:

                “The “class” I’m claiming here isn’t defined by economic status. It’s defined by not looting.”Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Michael Drew says:

                Surely you must recognize that when I place “class” in quotation marks in that passage that so excites you, it’s because I’m using the term at a slant.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Right, so why are we talking about about class at ll? What are we even talking about? Clearly you didn’t have to “choose a class,” even if someone said you did. But you did. And it remains unclear if in the post “the class that isn’t looting” is a real societal class that’s not looting which you are choosing over the one that is looting, or if you indeed are just saying, “Hey we can say that any one time some people are looting and some people aren’t and we can call those two groups, which could include all of Britain or all of humanity, ‘classes’ and it all becomes a big joke because the term ‘class’ can mean ‘social or economic caste’ or it can just mean ‘category,’ hahaha.”

                And yet, real societal class is not not part of this story, and/but one doesn’t have to hold that “everything boils down to class warfare” to be willing to deal honestly with that fact. Whatever these idiot looters have to say about what they’re doing.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Take Mike’s example: if this was religiously-driven, the equivalent statement would be, “I choose the religion that doesn’t loot,” except he doesn’t say this actually means he chooses that religion, if there is one, that isn’t looting. It’s just saying that looting is indefensible, in a baroque way. but it’s an evasive, unserious way to say something banal that everything agress with, because no observer does need to choose one of the religions in such a scenario — that would be an inappropriate way to choose a religion, and in any case, observing a society experiencing religiously-driven riots and looting, no one is called upon to choose one of the religions. And yet, to simply mock or look down at the social divisions that drive violent instability is a terribly unserious, unproductive way to approach a situation that really is a serious one. This is all the same when class drives such instability, or even if it may. The point of advancing the notion that class may in part drive these riots is not to call on people to choose a class. It’s just to try to understand what is going on.

                This is an unserious, unhelpful approach to what is a serious matter, and it isn’t up to your standards. The idea that you think class’ role in this situation is so peripheral as to be something that can be laughed away by an impertinent play on the concept (as if the point of a class analysis of this situation would be that people should choose up sides) is bizarre and disappointing. It is unfortunate that you feel the need to deflect what a serious question about this event merely because it is one that you are not comfortable with.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

                …I guess I should say that the idea that you may think class’ role in this situation is so peripheral as to be something that can be laughed away by an impertinent play on the concept (as if the point of a class analysis of this situation would be that people should choose up sides) is bizarre; while the idea that, contrariwise, you may in your heart of hearts think that class is a potentially important part of this story but that merely because some idiot looter spews some truly lawless nonsense but manages to get in an ignorant few words about his ideas of class, that you then feel you can deal with the issue of class in this story in the way you do here (described above) without losing face, and that you then do so perhaps because the concept makes you uncomfortable, is disappointing.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                (I figured if I was going to be described as having gotten “so excite[d]” by what you wrote, I might as well get my $$’s worth…)Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Elias Isquith says:

          The Pakis are gone!

          Poof! Equality!Report

  2. Avatar Jakecollins says:

    Libertarianism is a permanent war on the poor. But usually you murderous cretins like to mask your crimes in the mealy-mouthed rhetoric of freedom. Thanks for your moment of honesty.Report

  3. Avatar Jaybird says:

    The looters have an amazing health care system that is the envy of every thinking person in the US, an amazing education system that is the envy of every thinking person in the US… is it because Britain doesn’t have gay marriage?Report

  4. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Jason – I think that you’ve missed the mark here. Would it be so surprising if riots broke out after yet another police beating in the States? I follow Balko’s work enough to know that the police very often do bad things, and that a whole system built around mistrust and violence can quite easily become a tinderbox. Does this justify the violence or the riots? Absolutely not. They should be condemned. But we should also try to understand them. Not everything is about class warfare, true, but many things are about class, including how police treat people from one neighborhood to the next. Surely libertarians should be keenly aware of the violence of the state and how that can lead to violent reactions.

    Not to mention that the entire thing was a result of the war on drugs.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to E.D. Kain says:

      I’ll sign onto this, but have you listened to that clip? There’s precious little to understand about it, beyond “they have stuff, and I want it, and I can take it.”Report

      • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Sure, I’ve written about this at Forbes. There are lots of criminals using the cover of legitimate anger to do horrible things. That’s how riots work. That’s why they’re a terrible means of protest. Soon it becomes more about the riot, the burning, the looting and stealing, than about the cause itself. Real indignation becomes little more than burning the world down. Lots and lots of thugs and criminals see an opportunity, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an underlying reason for the riot in the first place. It’s not as though a bunch of gangsters just decided to riot. That would never work. It requires kindling. It requires more than criminality, but criminality comes to it like moths to a flame.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        And the fact that this sentiment appears in the clip means it speaks for all these rioters? For an entire (solipsistically defined, as it turns out) class?

        Looting is indefensible, but happens in many riots. Anyone explaining their decision to loot is going to sound egregious, because their actions are egregious. Further conclusions really don’t need to be drawn, and if they are they’re likely to be forced at best if not simply fallacious. When looters speak about their looting, they speak as looters, not as representatives of a class of people driving the riots that create the context for the looting (if indeed one or more classes of people are, qua classes, driving them). Even if they say they speak as such representatives, they don’t. At best they speak for all those rioters who took the decision to loot, but likely they don’t even do that.Report

    • Avatar Art Deco in reply to E.D. Kain says:

      Would it be so surprising if riots broke out after yet another police beating in the States?

      Yes. The police have learned a thing or two since 1967 about how to handle riots, and have not yet forgotten (or been compelled to forget by politicians).Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Art Deco says:

        New York, Los Angeles, Cincinnati, Washington DC, and Miami would beg to differ, just off the top of my head.Report

        • The Liberty City riots in Miami occurred 31 years ago, the Los Angeles riots occured 19 years ago in a city whose police force is famously understaffed, and the Crown Heights riot in New York occurred twenty years ago under the administration of dithering David Dinkins. I am not sure which riots you are referring to in Washington, but Marion Barry made a point during 12 of his 16 years in office of sytematically gutting law enforcement.

          Police are components of local government, so there is obviously going to be variation in capabilities, institutional culture, and the political matrix. There were over 700 riots in the United States over the years running from 1964 through 1971, and only a scatter since.Report

          • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Art Deco says:

            Rioting is a complex enough sociopolitical occurrence that hanging it all on (or off) police capabilities seems rather silly.

            I mean, I can think of scads of things that were happening between 1964 and 1971 that don’t happen today, and I don’t attribute that stuff to “better police knowledge”.Report

            • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

              @Patrick, Use your superior google-fu and find our conversation from literally days ago where we fully PREDICTED this outcome. Realize, that was assuming meltdown (which we both know is coming) not just the pre-earthquake tremors we’re experiencing now.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to wardsmith says:

                I don’t know that this has as much to do with that as you’re equating here.

                Not that you’re necessarily wrong, but I haven’t studied the context of this particular event enough to draw that conclusion.Report

            • The incidence and severity of rioting, unlike the incidence of dancing the Frug, is crucially dependent on the vigor of law enforcement. Nothing silly about acknowledging that.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Art Deco says:

                Which would you call this? Sufficient or insufficient law enforcement? BTW I was there in 1999 and have very specific opinions on the subject.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to wardsmith says:

                Write a guest post.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Art Deco says:

                > … Crucially dependent on the vigor
                > of law enforcement. Nothing silly
                > about acknowledging that.

                Really?

                Why is it that crackdowns by police states have mixed results? Why is it that crackdowns by “liberal Western democracies” have mixed results?

                Compare Tienanmen Square, Los Angeles Watts Riots, Los Angeles Rodney King Riots, your particular choice of any of the extant Middle East imbroglios currently going on, and what’s currently going on in London.

                Explain why/how police action is “critically” linked to the outcome, in those varying scenarios.

                Because sometimes the cops beat on protestors, and the protest breaks up.

                Sometimes the cops beat on protestors, and a riot breaks out. Sometimes the riot leads to a full-bore revolution.

                Sometimes the cops don’t show up until the riot is in full swing, and it burns out quickly. Sometimes it doesn’t.

                I agree there’s correlations between police actions and civil unrest outcomes. But it’s hardly the only variable, and in many cases it might not even be the most important one.Report

              • You are conflating a mess of events which have some similar epiphenomena but differ in essence.
                Rioting in this country is not a political act and is not undertaken by an ordinary run of people.

                You have people in most any society which form a standing, latent riot. How common and how volitile they are depends on idiosyncratic circumstances difficult for policy-makers to manipulate. A riot can be set off by a certain combination of circumstances. That combination is less likely to come about if a society is vigorously policed, which is to say if its hoodlums are intimidated or incapacitated. A riot can be minor and forgotten or it can run on for nine days and result in the deaths of 42 people (Detroit, 1967). Crucial is how much force is self-confidently applied at crucial stages.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Art Deco says:

                > Crucial is how much force is self-
                > confidently applied at crucial stages.

                In practice, “force”, “self-confidence”, and “crucial stages” aren’t linked by any generalizability.

                In other words, sure, you’re right. But this is a useless framework, because how much force is applied, what “self-confidence” means, and what are the critical stages are all sort of integral to the singular event you’re looking at.

                Take a group of police in one scenario who acted a certain way and defused that particular scenario and then plop them, en masse, into a second scenario in a different context and if they do what they did the last time they will not experience similar results.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                No bet.

                Any counterexample I come up with, you’re going to just pull out that I’m “conflating a mess of events which have some similar epiphenomena but differ in essence.”

                And then we’ll go down the rabbit hole on essence. Bob will probably chime in with something about gnosticism.Report

              • The tendency within your remarks to date has been speak as if there was a random relationship between the vigor of law enforcement and results, so a single counter-example is not going to demonstrate your point.

                My argument (which you characterize maladroitly) is that the predominant reason people riot is that that is just how they roll and there are times and places where just the right mix of factors are present, the most salient contingent element being that law enforcement is caught off-guard, is undermanned, refrains from acting for some reason, or uses failing tactics. The most salient contingent element does not mean the only contingent element.

                As for what is and is not an appropriate taxonomy of civil disturbance: we had 700 riots in this country over a period of 7 years. Even the government of Detroit remained more or less intact at the end of it. It is difficult to comprehend what sort of political program might have altered the course of events in any of these loci at that time. I tend to think that means that these riots were qualitatively different than the civil disturbances in Iran in the fall and winter of 1978 or the Tienamen Square demonstrations in 1989.Report

      • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Art Deco says:

        I remember Kent State — there was a strange national silence afterwards. The professors were no longer ranting and the opposition to the protesters fell silent. There was silence, and then the whole era seemed to end at that point. It was strange.Report

    • Avatar superluminar in reply to E.D. Kain says:

      really this is wide of the mark, ED. Only the initial riots in tottenham on Sat. night were in any way connected to policing problems (in any case wildly overstated, as the police have made major progress in engaging that community over the past decade), and targeted police officers and vehicals. The subsequent looting in other parts of London and the UK was mostly just cynical opportunism.Report

      • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to superluminar says:

        superluminar – this is like looking at a wildfire and saying “Well the initial blaze was started when campers didn’t put out the fire, but the rest is just trees burning out of control.” Well yes, of course! Riots require sparks. What happens next is just conflagration. That’s why riots are almost always wrong. That doesn’t mean nothing sparked them. It’s also telling how quickly and ferociously these spread. There are reasons beyond simple explanations for that.Report

        • Avatar Trumwill in reply to E.D. Kain says:

          To what extent should society be geared towards not angering the few that are required to ignite the spark that can cause a wildfire?Report

          • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Trumwill says:

            To the extent that the actions the state takes are just or unjust.Report

            • Avatar Will Truman in reply to E.D. Kain says:

              Then the identifying issue is not so much the riots, but rather the justness or unjustness of the state’s actions, with or without riots?

              I am personally torn between two views. That on the one hand, riots are to be avoided. And if that’s the only way to get the public’s attention…

              But on the other, “Don’t firebomb anymore buildings, but now that you have firebombed buildings, you have our attention and we will take your concerns seriously” strikes me as dubious on its face.

              I mean, what if a good part of the issue fanning the flames here is, as some have suggested, multiculturalism and globalism? Should their response to this be to re-evaluate these issues?Report

              • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Will Truman says:

                You don’t overtly capitulate to this stuff. You reexamine things, of course, such as police tactics, transparency, the war on drugs, etc. But you don’t say “Hey you’ve got our attention!”Report

              • Avatar superluminar in reply to E.D. Kain says:

                E.D. ,my point is that “police tactics, transparency, the war on drugs” are not really motivating factors for this. There were some signs of this on sat (which mostly consisted of peaceful protests by members of the cops’ victim’s family – who have since condemned the violence), the rest is unrelated. Trumwill’s points are all good, though.Report

            • Avatar MFarmer in reply to E.D. Kain says:

              “To the extent that the actions the state takes are just or unjust.”

              Yes, there is justification for armed resistance to an unjust, tyrannical State. Britain hardly qualifies, but hopefully this types of senseless chaos won’t dampen true protest and citizen action against States, even against States like Britain who aren’t tyrannical in the historical sense of the word, but are statist enough to resist.Report

        • Avatar Art Deco in reply to E.D. Kain says:

          The tinder is a constant: there are people given to disorderly behavior in this society. They have their counterparts in any society, though they are a larger part of the whole in some than in others. There is variation among them in the where their flashpoint is. When the fire starts, put the fire out. Kick ass and take names.Report

  5. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Compared to the damage done by the “financial community”, the looters have shoplifted a candy bar.Report

  6. Avatar Murali says:

    an amazing education system that is the envy of every thinking person in the US

    The british education system is better. i.e. I would bet that the average british student can do better on american standardised tests than the average american student.

    The education systems in the top performing asian countries like Singapore and South Korea are closer to the british model than the american model.Report

    • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Murali says:

      But what ideas are being taught? A very good school teaching fascism would lead to awful results in society.Report

      • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to MFarmer says:

        It’s also, from what I understand, a much more tiered system.

        In America, we might wonder where our Pols went to College or got their professional degree, but in Britain they ask where that person went to high school as well.

        I could be wrong, but at least from one Prof I had to had studied at Oxford, Britain is riddled with classism in ways we Americans couldn’t even dream of.Report

  7. I’m sure I will be pummeled for this but my personal opinions is that riots/demonstrations in First World, Western countries are almost 100% about soothing one’s own anger than actually affecting change.Report

  8. Avatar North says:

    Look this is nonsensical. The rioters and looters aren’t leftists nor are the right wingers; they’re thugs and the various given individuals will scramble around in their little peanut brains and regurgitate any lame justification they think might offer a fig leaf when a microphone is thrust in their faces.
    Sullivan linked to a looter this morning who, when questioned, insisted that she was just getting her tax money back. Does that make the looters libertarians? Of course not!
    As far as I’ve seen the rioting in London appears to be a combination of anger over program cutbacks sparking the disturbance; police being held back initially, and then a lot of general criminal or no good opportunism occurring when the thugs realized that they could exploit a sudden gap in the societal fabric.
    I don’t think that this mess merits having much of any ideology or philosophy built on it nor is it worthy of pinning to any ideology that’s out there today. People can be buggers; this is known.
    But while the rioters may be behaving like animals can we please try and maintain our standards here in the Leagues commentariate? The level of discourse threatened to plunge several times so bad that I almost dropped my monocle in my tea.Report

    • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to North says:

      Agree with most of this as long as I can add the little side-point that very often there are criminal elements at work in any form of mass protest. That doesn’t mean this is more mass protest than simple anarchy, just that it’s never quite so black-and-white as we often think.

      Also too TAKE THE POWER BACKReport

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to North says:

      Sullivan linked to a looter this morning who, when questioned, insisted that she was just getting her tax money back. Does that make the looters libertarians?

      Of course it does. At least, by the same logic that makes “Taxman” a conservative rock song.Report

    • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to North says:

      Methinks the ‘looters’ are the result of the welfare state…the natural result of an inchoate socialism.Report

      • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

        Sure Bob. There were never riots before the welfare state. And we all lived in peace and harmony with full bellies and no sickness or greed. It was bloody Eden.Report

        • Avatar wardsmith in reply to E.D. Kain says:

          E.D. You substituted “riots” for “looters” in Bob’s post. I still point back to New Orleans. There are those who stayed /just/ to loot after the hurricane. They simply were unaware of how bad things were going to get because of the scale and infrastructure breakdown. The “looting” was good for awhile, lots of big screen tv’s, high priced basketball shoes, jewelry, the usual things one needs after a major disaster. The thin veneer of civilization is there to protect us from those among us who simply want to steal everything we’ve got.

          Pinkerton did a study which was highlighted in a statistics class I took in college because it had lasted so long and had such a massive sampling size. Basically they proved that 40% of the population would steal if they were certain they wouldn’t get caught, another 30% would steal if they /might/ get caught and 30% never stole, no matter the circumstance. IIRC they kept doing the same study for over 50 years and kept getting the same result, meaning it wasn’t a generational thing.Report

        • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to E.D. Kain says:

          E.D., as I think you know, there are a myriad of reasons for ‘riots’, revolutions, and social upheavals in history.
          In this instant case, I think you’re looking at the entitlement/socialist culture reaching denouement. These people believe they are entitled to more than food, housing, education, healthcare, etc. and they, apparently, intend to take it.
          The same phenomenon appears to be happening here in the United States, in Philadelphia and a few days ago in Wisconsin.
          The question is, what will we do about it?

          , brought about, as you know, by (in this case) the failed policies of the Labor party.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

        Looting and riots predate welfare by a considerable degree Bob.Report

        • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to North says:

          Hello NOrthie!……see above. What’s with yous guys, my ‘comment’ was not discussing the ecumenic revolutions. Hell, other than the obvious critique of another example of the failed socialist ideology, I’m not even sure whose winkie I’m stepping on? Wait ’til we get to what we should do about this!Report

          • Avatar North in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

            I think what E.D. and I both object to is, as I stated in my initial post here, you trying to glean meaning out of what is in essence meaningless opportunism.Report

            • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to North says:

              I do have to confess that I’m only aware of the ‘rioting’ from a few msm reports, and who trusts NBC these days? With that said, I agree that there are those who are taking advantage of an opportunity, but the question is who are these people? Are they not a part of the feral community, that community established over decades by librul policies conjured by a confused and deranged, leftwing professoriate, state apparatchiks, atheist do-gooders, and statists of every stripe? I think they are, I think there’s a great deal of evidence that this is the fruit of the failed progressivist ideologies, a hundred years in the making.
              I don’t think these ‘riots’ are ‘meaningless’. I think they represent a social breakdown, an excellent example of a mass psychosis, the result of living a life that is essentially and existentially meaningless. A life they freely chose when they signed up for the dole where you are so incompetent the state gives you your sustanence, your shelter, healthcare, education, etc. You are so useless that you, your parents(?), and their parents have been on the dole now for three generations, unable to survive in a moden society without being carried by the producers, the taxpayers. Does this scenerio result in a generation of feral people sharing a vulgar and violent mass psycho-pathology?
              These people are the result of the policies, at least some of them, that you (my friend), E.D., and many of our fellow interlocutors embrace with a certain passion. Not only have these policies failed, they’ve created a vampire sub-culture that feeds on the producers, and yet is so stupid, so grossly ingnorant, that they have marked for extinction the very people that keep them alive in their pathetic zombie state.
              What’s scary, is that I’m pretty sure these people haven’t had to put up with a reduction in their ‘welfare’ checks…at least not yet. And, when the time comes, and it’s surely coming, that these ‘handouts’ have to be reduced because as the beloved Maggie said, we’re running out of other people’s money, what then, are they going to do…what are we going to do?Report

  9. Avatar Plinko says:

    Freddie’s post today works as a strong rejoinder to this post, IMHO.
    http://lhote.blogspot.com/2011/08/revolution-is-name-you-give-riots-you.html

    It’s very self-soothing that we allow whatever criminality occurs alongside protests and riots to become the entire narrative when we’re troubled by the content of the unrest.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Plinko says:

      Freddie writes
      if the protests in London were happening in Iran, everybody’s blog would be covered in green ribbons. The question is, why the difference?

      Because, dear reader, many of the self-same people who have such considerable solidarity for the Iranians don’t see Persians as fully human.

      Which is odious, tyranny-enabling nonsense.

      The reason we cheer for similar events in Iran is because there is a world of moral difference between the Iranian government and the British. And there is no difference between the two peoples that can justify it.Report

      • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        This I agree with (though I do think the knee-jerk reaction that it is all just criminality with no underlying cause is wrong, too). There is most certainly a world of difference between the British and Iranian/Syrian/Libyan governments. It cannot be ignored.Report

        • You’re both proving Freddie’s point with the blasé way you assert the vast moral superiority of the UK to Iran. (I agree with you two, btw, although I think it’s much less relevant than Jason does; but still.)

          In any event you can either tut tut and finger wag and gripe about how much morally superior you are to the rioters or you can ask what needs to be done to keep this kind of thing from happening. One response is easier, certainly.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Elias Isquith says:

            I know.

            When Margaret Thatcher starts shooting rioters, we can bomb them like Libya.

            Has anyone ever won two Nobel Peace Prizes?

            It looks like we’re going to find out.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Elias Isquith says:

            In any event you can either tut tut and finger wag and gripe about how much morally superior you are to the rioters or you can ask what needs to be done to keep this kind of thing from happening. One response is easier, certainly.

            And the other response — presumably the challenging one — is tantamount to giving up on the idea of civilization. What do they want? It doesn’t matter; whatever it is, they can have it, as long as they burn enough shops along the way.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Elias Isquith says:

            what needs to be done to keep this kind of thing from happening

            A welfare state?
            Universal Health Care?
            Universal education?Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

              Are these riots a manifestation of different ‘cultures, Jaybird? Is the problem with our culture, or the rioters culture? And who decides?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                Can we really judge someone who burns a library?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                But let’s get back to the bigger point here: do you think ‘society’ has the right to coercively impose it’s views and practices on a subgroup? And if so, based on what justification?Report

              • Avatar Art Deco in reply to Stillwater says:

                There is an inherent tension between liberty and community or society. You only have uniform views and practices when you have just one sentient person. There has to be someone adjudicating.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Art Deco says:

                In order: Yes, yes, and no. Often people can agree to disagree. Can’t they?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Art Deco says:

                Often people can agree to disagree. Can’t they?

                Like, about slavery?Report

              • 1: “I think that the political and economic systems of this country as presently constituted deny me the ability to attempt to achieve what are considered the standard dreams in our society — a good job, comfortable living, health, and education — and therefore must be changed.”

                2: “I don’t think any of that is true. Agree to disagree?”Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Art Deco says:

                It’s sort of incredible, really.

                I assert “some P are not-Q.” That is, some problems aren’t problems that require collective, socially uniform solutions.

                Immediately I am answered with “some P are Q.” Not once, but twice. And by people who in most contexts probably think themselves rational thinkers.

                Check your biases, gentlemen. These comments ought to embarrass you.Report

              • I can’t find you saying, “That is, some problems aren’t problems that require collective, socially uniform solutions.”

                I found you saying that people who do bad things are bad, and that to respond to something like this with something more substantive than disapprobation is tantamount to giving up on civilization itself.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Art Deco says:

                Comment 104, I wrote: “Often people can agree to disagree. Can’t they?”

                That is, the other one you mocked.Report

              • I don’t think it’s reasonable to blame others for your not being clear, but OK. My apologies for jumping to an unflattering assumption.

                ETA: Oh I understand what happened better now, I think. I’ve always had trouble determining the line of communication when these comment threads get especially long and unwieldy.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Art Deco says:

                Jason, your response here really lacking. Here’s the context. In answer to the question

                There has to be someone adjudicating.

                you answered ‘no’, implying that no adjudication is necessary.

                I wrote: what about slavery?

                You wrote

                I assert “some P are not-Q.” That is, some problems aren’t problems that require collective, socially uniform solutions.

                But you didn’t write that. You simply said ‘no’: that no adjudication is required. How is it, then, that we’re the ones who are in error here?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                But let’s get back to the bigger point here: do you think ‘society’ has the right to coercively impose it’s views and practices on a subgroup?

                Society has no rights.
                Only individuals have rights.

                Society does, however, have power.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                So, on your view then, is society legitimately empowered, in the form of democratic government, to coercively impose institutional structures that promote/protect individuals rights?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                If there is anything at all that would legitimate the empowerment of coercive imposition via institutional structure, it would be the promotion/protection of individual rights.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                Jaybird, so who decides where what right’ protections are legitimate? Who decides what the limits of government intervention on protecting those right consists of?

                Aren’t these determined, for the most part, by cultural identity?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                Mobs certainly do that, Stillwater.

                You nailed that right on the head.

                (Out of curiosity, having established that, do you still believe that “society has no opinion on food stamps being used for cigarettes”?)Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                Ahhh, Jaybird. No, you misinterpreted the question. Completely. Of course power can get it’s way. The question was about rational justification. I know you know the difference – we’ve talked about these things before.

                Your argument is that imposing value judgments on people is not only a violation of their rights, but leads to cultural backlash. Your premise is that ‘society’ has no authority to impose restrictions on others that go beyond basic rights. And you maintain this premise even after admitting my crucial point in a months old argument: that ‘society’ is a euphemism for dominant power structures. But here we are now, in England, where unemployed and marginalized people are expressing their discontent by stealing flat screen tvs and designer ice cream.

                Does ‘society’ have a role to play here in curtailing this behavior. But if so, how is this not an example of ‘society’ using coercive measures against a subculture?Report

              • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Stillwater says:

                Can a society with (dissenting) subgroups exist without coercively imposing at least some of its views and practices on the subgroup?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Trumwill says:

                That’s the question I’m trying to get Jaybird to answer.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Trumwill says:

                This depends upon what characteristics make them a dissenting subgroup and what you mean by “coercively imposing”Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Trumwill says:

                How would you answer the question, understanding those words as they’re used in normal English?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Trumwill says:

                Given enough real estate, I suspect that a decent crack could be made… assuming enough real estate between occupied portions of real estate.Report

              • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Trumwill says:

                The characteristics (or relevance thereof) of the subgroup, and what qualifies as coercive, are pretty subjective in nature.

                Some subculture marries it’s girls off at 12. That characteristic could be considered creepy, monstrous, or just different. Disallowing marriage of anyone under the age of 16 can be seen as coercive. Or not.

                With the exception of very narrow definitions of subculture acceptability, or narrow definitions of coercion, I don’t see how a society with dissenting subcultures is doable.

                Either you have precious little behavioral variance, or the degree of acceptable variance is enforced either by the government or by ruthless social enforcement.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Trumwill says:

                Part of my problem is that where a lot of people see “society”, I see “a group of individuals with entrenched privilege”.

                So when people ask about coercive imposition of views and practices, that is more likely to bring to mind examples such as “slavery” or “child marriage” rather than “emancipation” or “womens’ rights”.

                If the foundation of “Rights” is seen as the individual, there are a lot of things that cannot (but many that can) be done when it comes to coercive imposition of views/practices.

                If the foundation of “Rights” is seen as “Society”, you’re stuck in a weird situation where The Confederacy was fighting for the right to keep slaves against another culture that wanted to impose its views/practices upon it against its will.

                Where are Rights seated?

                The answer to that question makes Trumwill’s question change from “Yes, but” to “No, except” (or vice-versa).Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Trumwill says:

                > How would you answer the
                > question, understanding those
                > words as they’re used in
                > normal English?

                Catholics and Lutherans are dissenting subgroups of Christians.

                They still can get married in each others’ churches. In fact, they can get married in each others’ churches with very little “coercive imposition” going on. Pretty much if you both have been baptized (ie, you’re actual members of the respective church) and you agree to raise the children in accordance with “God’s teachings” (which one would think would follow if you’re asking to get married in the eyes of God), then you’re gravy.

                So, certainly, society can exist with dissenting subgroups without coercively imposing at least some of its views and practices on the subgroup.

                Oh, but wait, black people under Jim Crow. I guess not.

                Normal English apparently won’t suffice.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Trumwill says:

                Patrick, the degree of variance between Catholics and Lutherans is pretty marginal. Even within Christianity, Lutherans are closer to Catholics than most. There’s also the matter that one of the main reasons for the relative harmony is that there are bigger, badder subgroups out there. In a nation of only Lutherans and Catholics, intermarriage would be far less common.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Trumwill says:

                I guess what I’m trying to say, Will, is that I can’t get from here:

                > The characteristics (or relevance
                > thereof) of the subgroup, and
                > what qualifies as coercive, are
                > pretty subjective in nature.

                To here:

                > Either you have precious little
                > behavioral variance, or the
                > degree of acceptable variance
                > is enforced either by the
                > government or by ruthless
                > social enforcement.

                I think there’s plenty of behavioral variance in the U.S. (more than most countries), and the degree of “what is acceptable” is much higher than a lot of other places (also more than most countries).

                Yes, taking into account our regional bigotry or prejudices. Overall. Americans are a pretty tolerant lot. Even my bigoted (actually bona-fide bigoted) relatives, for example, aren’t ruthlessly enforcing their bigotry either by the mechanism of the state or by social enforcement. They just occasionally blurt out that it’s all the fault of the (group that isn’t white middle class America).Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Trumwill says:

                But Patrick, you didn’t answer the question. You simple refrained from answering it until semantical issues are made clear. I think you can do that yourself. We all can.

                But, more to the point, by my reading you actually agree with Trumwill. That is, this

                So, certainly, society can exist with dissenting subgroups without coercively imposing at least some of its views and practices on the subgroup.

                is an admission that some coercive measure are not only justified but necessary.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Trumwill says:

                Can a society with (dissenting) subgroups exist without coercively imposing at least some of its views and practices on the subgroup?

                Depends on what the dissent is about. If it is dissent about the ground rules upon which all other cooperative endeavours and communities are to be launched, then by definition, some people’s preferences about the appropriate ground rules will not be satisfied.

                That said, the mere fact that it is justified to coercively administer some types of ground rules does not mean that it is permissible to coerce others into following some concrete conception of the good.Report

              • Avatar dexter in reply to Jaybird says:

                Yes, I am very angry at the Romans for burning the library at Alexandria.Report

            • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to Jaybird says:

              Do you think rhetorical questions for the purposes of insinuating the vast superiority of doctrinaire libertarianism represent a useful contribution to any discussion besides “what are some examples of rhetorical questions that insinuate the vast superiority of doctrinaire libertarianism?”Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Elias Isquith says:

                If you’ve arguments how these riots demonstrate a need for stronger teacher’s unions, I’d be interested in reading them.Report

              • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to Jaybird says:

                Do you think that anything anyone’s said in this thread thus far has had anything to do with teacher’s unions or do you just find paper-maché caricatures of people who disagree with you more satisfying to “debate” than any number of us in the sprawling diaspora of Those Who Just Don’t Get It?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Elias Isquith says:

                I thought we were taking turns with the paper-mache’ caricatures of each other.

                I mean, there are looters who have come out and said that they’re taking their taxes back.

                And the stereotypical libertarians are screaming about the looters are wrong and the stereotypical liberals are hemming and hawing about how they certainly don’t condone the burning and looting but they don’t want to condemn it for the wrong reasons.

                (There was also a comparison to an attempted and quashed revolution in Iran so specious that I suspect an extra chromosome must have been involved.)Report

              • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to Jaybird says:

                I mean, there are looters who have come out and said that they’re taking their taxes back.

                Kids say the damnedest things.

                The more useful analog to this is likely the LA riots of the early 90s, not those in Iran or Syria or Libya, which were more revolutionary in nature than this one. But no mass action on this scale can be simply reduced to being defined by one sub-group or another. I don’t think it’s accurate or wise to say “the London riots is a bunch of no-goodnik looters looting and no-goodniking,” though that is undoubteldy a significant (or even dominant) part of what’s happening here. What’s also happening here, however, is a bunch of young, angry, not particularly well-off or occupied people whose relationship with the police and the state more generally has deteriorated to such a point that they want to throw an enormously destructive tantrum. I think it might be useful for the people and authorities of the UK to ask themselves why it is that this is happening and what can be done in the future to mitigate the chances of its happening again.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                I think it might be useful for the people and authorities of the UK to ask themselves why it is that this is happening and what can be done in the future to mitigate the chances of its happening again.

                Do you think that this could be helped with:

                A more robust welfare state?
                Universal Health Care?
                Universal education?Report

              • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to Jaybird says:

                Did you think this would somehow be less a waste of our time the second go-round than it was the first?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                I think it might be useful for the people and authorities of the UK to ask themselves why it is that this is happening and what can be done in the future to mitigate the chances of its happening again.

                Was it only 2 1/2 weeks ago that we were discussing the shootings in Norway?

                Here’s what I (*FACETIOUSLY!!!!*) wrote then:

                I’m wondering what you and yours have done to engender this kind of hatred. Is there anything you can do to atone? What do they want? I’m not suggesting we negotiate, of course, but I do wonder if maybe they have a point that we could have addressed earlier and saved these lives.

                Or do you think that you’re blameless and all of the fault is in the heads of these “others”?

                Do you think that war is inevitable? How do you think it ought to best be fought? Is the organization of these folks something that can be destroyed or do they swim in a sea of the people?

                Is there anything that we can do to protect our children from this menace?

                It seems to me that to ask these questions following the shooting was somewhat monstrous. Well, to ask them seriously, anyway. (Asking them facetiously demonstrated, I thought, some interesting dynamics. Monstrous ones.)

                How different are the dynamics behind asking these questions under these circumstances?

                Additionally, I think we’re in agreement that GB has a fairly robust welfare state, fairly robust universal healthcare, and fairly robust educational support. (It does not, however, have gay marriage.)

                A fun question might be to ask what more we would need to give these little tea partiers given that all of the above are not enough.

                Another fun question might be to ask whether the riots are indicative of an iatrogenic disorder.Report

              • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to Jaybird says:

                You’re comparing a killing spree with genocidal overtones to a riot among the poor that was initiated by police brutality.

                So I guess I’m to assume you think that a lone gunman trying to kill off the entire next generation of center-left leadership in a country is an event that occurs with generally the same frequency as does riots amongst the poor.

                ETA: Of course, even if I were able to grant these rather absurd equivalencies, your framework tries to take the existence of the welfare state in service of your argument while completely ignoring the fact that, to at least some degree, the current government’s much-derided austerity measures — targeting the very institutions and programs you’re insisting are robust — are part of the political context in which this riot is occuring.

                I think this is one of those agree to disagree moments.

                Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Jaybird says:

                Please take my word for it when I say that this question is not meant to be as rhetorical or snarky as it may sound, but…

                If such killings (or, more realistically, large numbers of hate crimes and crimes against left-leaning organizations) start to occur more often, do we start to take nativist European concerns over Muslim immigration more seriously?Report

              • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to Jaybird says:

                Well, mass killing =/= hate crime. Throwing bricks through a synagogue window is not equivalent towards killing a bunch of children.

                What’s more, if that indeed were to occur, it would be grounds to wonder how public policy is either causing or might reduce the frequency of such events, yes. That’s not the same thing as “take their demands/complaints seriously” and I never said it was.

                (Don’t mean to sound snippy here.)Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                You’re comparing a killing spree with genocidal overtones to a riot among the poor that was initiated by police brutality.

                A riot that has a body count.

                What “overtones” does the riot have?

                It seems to me that the overtones from Day 1 are not the overtones from Day 3.

                I reckon the overtones from Day 5 will be different again.

                That’s not the same thing as “take their demands/complaints seriously” and I never said it was.

                Does the “overtone” of the riot hinge on their demands?

                What are their demands, do you think?Report

              • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to Jaybird says:

                Do you think because a dog has fur and a cat has fur that means a dog is a cat?

                Am I obliged to answer questions that assume things I never consented to — like that the riot has overtones?

                Am I also obliged to answer for Will why he thinks the rioters have demands?

                Will you share with me the overtones you perceive for each day thus far, respectively?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                So you *DON’T* think that there are overtones to the riot?

                Or is this a schroedinger’s riot for you that both has and does not have overtones and, as such, you are uncomfortable commenting on the overtones that may or may not exist depending on how the waveform collapses?

                What are the demands of the rioters, do you think?

                (Day 1 seemed to me to be about the police brutality… Day 3 seemed to me to be about license to create mayhem.)Report

              • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to Jaybird says:

                Jay-baby, the sum total of my initial point was that beyond acknowledging that this is awful and inexcusable, the next step mature people who give a damn should advocate is determining whether or not there was indeed at least at one point a political or policy-related impetus, and determining what can be done to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

                For reasons unknown we suddenly were (yawn) once again “debating” whether or not the welfare state is a good idea, before traveling down countless other ?-shaped rabbit holes.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                So let’s look at it!

                What are the demands of the rioters, do you think?Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Jaybird says:

                There was also a comparison to an attempted and quashed revolution in Iran so specious that I suspect an extra chromosome must have been involved.

                No, I’m fine with the comparison to Iran. All that means is that we should re-evaluate our support for the various revolutions in Iran, Egypt and Libya.Report

              • Instead of demands I’d want to look at potential causes. If the thing started as a reaction to perceived police brutality, which seems to be the consensus thus far, then the first thing to be done is to determine how the relationship between (at least certain members of) the community and the police became so toxic, and then try to come up with ways, with representatives from each group involved, to avoid this happening again. Whether that involves a kind of mandated form of routine communication between the two, or a better ways in which citizens can voice complaints about specific police officers, or some combination, etc. etc. etc., I don’t know because I don’t know much about the issue in the specific.Report

            • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Jaybird says:

              Those were just starters. Now, one must have the best sneakers and an IPadII. Another list is forthcoming.Report

            • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird says:

              Fining households for the criminal behavior of their children.Report

            • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird says:

              $1000 per criminal charge?Report

          • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Elias Isquith says:

            Elias – this is almost incoherent. The UK is vastly superior to Iran morally and otherwise. They do not hang their gays, for one.

            I’ve actually spilled lots of ink on “what can be done” so your reverse tut-tutting here is pretty lame.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to E.D. Kain says:

              You’re missing his point. Entirely. From out pov, of course the West is Best! From Iran’s pov, the reverse is true. What decides the issue? Surely not some stipulation of moral superiority.

              Rioting perpetrated by opponents of ‘morally depraved’ governments of the ME are lauded (those actions aren’t called ‘riots’, btw, they’re called ‘protests’). Why doesn’t that same standard apply to the UK protesters? Why such a quick dismissal based on a priori moral sentiments? Doesn’t evidence have a role to play here?Report

              • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Stillwater says:

                When have I quickly dismissed anything at all? I can at once say that A) riots are wrong and B) they still have legitimate issues fueling them and C) the UK is a superior society than Iran where they hang gay people.

                Oh sure, the Iranians can say they are superior, but they hang gay people. The Taliban can claim moral superiority, but they stone adulterers (and rape victims). Not everything is simply perspective. We have to sometimes stand our ground. Just like you will say that your progressive vision for America is superior than the conservatives’ vision for America.

                I have written three posts at Forbes about these riots. In none of them do I glibly dismiss the riots, but I do condemn violence. I think non-violent protests are morally and practically superior. I think many of the non-violent protests in the Middle East were actually much less destructive and full of looting than the ones in the UK. Do you disagree?

                Indeed, in the ME I don’t think violence began until the state started cracking down. Am I wrong?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to E.D. Kain says:

                Ahh, good. Maybe we’re not disagreeing so much after all. My point was meta. I agree with you, completely, that peaceful protests are a better, and lead to longer-lasting solutions. And wrt your specific point about ME protests, I agree (from what I know of the issue) they were peaceful until the government crackdown began.

                But to get back to the meta point: I think it’s an open question whether spontaneous social unrest of whatever form is legitimate, and on what grounds it is deemed legitimate. I don’t think this can be decided a priori by imposing moral or political first principles. And that was my only point: insofar as there is evidence that the UK protesters are rioting against what they view as an ‘oppressive regime’ (even if we, from the outside, completely disagree), Freddie’s point – or the general question asked – stands. And maybe you agree with that after all – that it’s an empirical issue and certainly not one to be glossed over – and are specifically condemning the looting. For my part, I’m certainly not advocating the looting, more that I’m reluctant to condemn it on the grounds Jason has put forward.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Stillwater says:

                Stipulate an equal ratio of peaceful protest to violent riot in Iran and the UK, although I don’t think this was the case.

                Who is more in the right? The Iranian people are. Because their government is brutal, because it tortures and rapes even peaceful protesters, because it sponsors terrorism, because it relentlessly cracks down on even peaceful dissent.

                Are these particularly western complaints? But it’s the Iranians themselves who make them.Report

              • I don’t think the main complaint of the Green Movement was the state’s brutality, though that was certainly an understandably important one.

                Some complained about economic stagnation. Some complained about an insufficient adherence to “real” Koranic principles. Some complained because their neighbor with connections got promotions for his family members more easily than they did. Some complained simply because they liked Moussavi and hated Ahmadinejad.

                One can’t reduce it to: they wanted liberal democracy conforming to western standards of the proper scope of state-sanctioned violence.Report

              • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Stillwater says:

                The same standard does not apply because the context is different. Of course we view governments more like ours to be better than governments antithetical to ours. It’s not a strictly east-west thing, because our reaction to riots in Japan (if we noticed) would be more similar to the UK instead of the ME or even China.

                A lot of rioters in Iran are bad dudes. It’s worth pointing that out. But for the ones that are not bad dudes, however, there aren’t good official channels that I could argue that they should go through. In the UK you have democratic elections, a free press, and a measure of freedom of speech without violence and destruction.

                Beyond that, though, rioting represents a breakdown of the system. So the natural question becomes, is this a system worth defending? I don’t mean the narrow avenue of the complaints (police violence, etc.), but the society as a whole? Because the rioters did not just fight back against what they specifically had a problem with, they fought back against the society as a whole.

                So is British society worth defending, in the totality, with warts and all? Well, there may be better societies out there and even better ones possible. But looking at societies and governments, past and present, the British one is closer to the best than the middle, much less the worse*. Burning down this village under the hopes that what replaces it will be better is, at best, reckless.

                Yes, yes, my assertion that the UK is closer to the best than the middle is a subjective value judgment. Of course it is. But our values are the way we see the world. Pointing out “Well. Your values are subjective. So what do you know?”

                As though making value judgments about good and bad, better and worse, is some sort of failing or dubious presumption? Without it, you’re not just giving the rioters in the UK a pass. You’re giving the government of Iran a pass. And the government of the UK, of course.

                So who decides the issue? We do, individually. It’s not a bad thing to question these judgments, of course. But it would need to be in the form of arguments based on the relative virtues of Iranian government and culture compared to that of the UK, or the similarity between the cultures. Not in the form of saying, in effect, “You’re looking at these two different situations differently!”Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Trumwill says:

                Beyond that, though, rioting represents a breakdown of the system. So the natural question becomes, is this a system worth defending?

                This is the issue in a nutshell, no? Surely judgments made from thousands of miles away based on a priori first principles doesn’t contribute much to determining an answer to this question.

                my assertion that the UK is closer to the best than the middle is a subjective value judgment. Of course it is. But our values are the way we see the world. Pointing out “Well. Your values are subjective. So what do you know?”

                My complaint isn’t that values are subjective: it’s that looking more deeply at the justifications for those values focuses the lens we view the UK riots thru. Or the protests in Iran. Quick and casual dismissals/acceptance of other people’s behavior based on our subjective values is counterproductive. And often confused. Presumably, our subjective values are objectively justified: by evidence and argument. All I’m saying is that we apply the same (imperfect) standard’s of justificationto both cases rather than base our judgment on a one-sive-fits-all application of the principle itself. So, no, I’m not apologizing for Iran, and I’m not letting anyone off the hook.Report

              • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Stillwater says:

                There seems to be the assumption that standards of justification are not being applied. I mean, surely in some cases they are not (Screw Iran! God Bless the Queen!), but there seems to me (wrongly?) that there is an operating assumption underlying Freddie’s suggestion that nationalistic “Screw Iran” and “God Bless The Queen” is the real motivation, if you’re inclined to condemn the rioters. Not, say, the difference in contextual difference between breaking down a relatively free democracy and a regime that does not fit that criteria.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Trumwill says:

                “Pushing an old lady in the path of a bus… pushing an old lady out of the path of a bus… at the end of the day, it’s about pushing little old ladies around.”Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Stillwater says:

                Stillwater — moral relativity at it’s finest. How anyone with the ability to reason can ask these questions is a mystery.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to MFarmer says:

                Except it is, in essence, moral relativism that Stillwater is pointing out.

                I think there’s a fairly clear dividing line between stealing shit from stores and violent protest. In London and elsewhere in England, what may have started as a protest turned violent became stealing shit from stores. If you walk away from a political protest with half a dozen big screen TVs and a bunch of iPads, you’re doing it wrong. That’s not to say that some of the looters don’t feel that they’re still protesting (the two protesters in the recording seemed to think that they are), but they’re no longer doing so in a way that extends beyond blind thuggery. I’m pretty sure in Iran, throwing shit at the police didn’t net many protesters a brand new HP touch screen with Beats by Dr Dre.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris says:

                Chris, you wrote

                Except it is, in essence, moral relativism that Stillwater is pointing out.

                Thanks for pointing that out. I think you were the only one who got that.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Stillwater says:

                “Thanks for pointing that out. I think you were the only one who got that.”

                Uh-uh.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                MF, stipulating that a moral principle is objective and fully general is a form of moral relativism. And so is stipulating that one culture is morally superior to another. Consider how the truth value of those statements changes between contexts and cultures. Isn’t that a demonstration that the truth value of those stipulations changes between contexts, persons and cultures?

                The only way those judgments can be sustained as objective – and therefore not a form of cultural or individual relativism – is by the argument that justifies the judgment.

                And that’s all I’m saying in the above comment (the one you responded to). That consideration of the available evidence is a necessary feature to make the a moral judgment in complex cases. And I also think that once relevant evidence is introduced, first-principles-based judgments that try to reduce complex social issues to a single moral criterion will be exposed as inaccurate and incomplete.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Stillwater says:

                Stillwater, in this case, the actions of the government, not the culture, are being judged as morally inferior. To stipulate, say, that genocide is morally unacceptable, and make the claim (let’s say the claim is made by an international committee) that with regards to genocide, a government which prohibits genocide is morally superior with respect to the act of prohibtion (the act of prohibiting genocide is a morally superior act) than a government which practices genocide with respect to the act of genocide (the practice of genocide is morally inferior)?Report

            • I know it’s superior, E.D. I agree. But our standards of what’s moral and what isn’t are to some degree determined extraneously and that’s inevitably woven into our political and economic system. I’m not saying that that makes one right or one wrong — it just is.

              I wasn’t accusing you of tut-tutting, though. Jason’s doing that, but since the only other response, apparently, is to forgo the idea of civilization itself, I guess it’s understandable.Report

          • Avatar Chris in reply to Elias Isquith says:

            Some degree of upward mobility would probably help, since it’s pretty much completely absent in the UK.Report

  10. Avatar Tom Cairns says:

    What you’re really asking is for people to choose between the drunken ramblings of a couple of drunk teenagers, showing off for a journalist, and nice people who don’t burn down shops. Tricky.Report

  11. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    There were the Greek riots and then the English Defense League mob scenes and now there are large riots in London (with the EDL using the occasion to unleash some violence of their own). I keep wondering if mob violence is on the rise and, if so, what the political implications of that will be. Is it unfair to note that the political reprecussions of a sinking world economy and mob violence in the streets have not always been pleasant in Europe?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Rufus F. says:

      I keep waiting for Germany to point out that they have achieved some measure of stability and that it’s time for everybody else to straighten up and fly right.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Jaybird says:

        Well, Italy, Spain, Argentina… All I’m saying is that democracy might suck sometimes, but it’s better than mobocracy. Replacing the marketplace of ideas with the marketplace of violence tends to only make things better for whoever’s willing to use the most of it.Report

  12. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    We need to see this same backlash in education.

    When kids riot, loot, and set fires, they get called thugs and criminals. But when they don’t try hard in school, cause disruptions for their classmates, and waste teacher time and taxpayer money, we say the system’s broken, not the kids.

    I’m not claiming to know anything about the riots, their underlying causes, or the people committing these acts.

    The only thing I find strange is how ready people are to be outraged as if this is a strongly intentioned evil breaking lose and trying to harm innocent people.

    For some reason, maybe it’s because I too am young, this stuff doesn’t evoke feelings of disgust on my part, more an urgent concern to figure out, what went wrong that bad events x, y, and z happened.

    It’s like when my dog shits on the rug, chews up my shoes, and pisses on the couche. Am I disgusted? No, I usually try to figure out what can be done to stop X from happening.

    The very fact that these are all very young people, highly uneducated, and who themselves have no way to reason through their intentions or actions when asked by any number of BBC reporters, makes me surprised at the level of moral indignation voiced by Britain’s pols.Report

    • Avatar MFarmer in reply to E.C. Gach says:

      I grew up in poverty — Cabbage Town — and in doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t understand the difference between right and wrong or stealing and working to get out of poverty. Most of the kids I grew up with knew between right and wrong. Many got in trouble committing crimes, but they knew they were doing wrong. Book ignorance doesn’t translate to stupid — there were a lot of smart guys and gals in the neighborhood, and property rights were respected, especially your property and your right to keep it.

      Property rights aren’t suspended because kids in poverty get pissed off. There’s probably all kinds of political, social and psychological reasons for what’s happening, but to steal and destroy is wrong and has to be punished, or the whole game is wide open to the meanest SOBs around. It just goes to show that even the best of welfare states doesn’t deal with the fundamental problems of poverty, and perhaps makes the problems of poverty worse. Growing up, the old saying was when someone came to neighborhood who looked like an official and wanted to help — run.Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to MFarmer says:

        Yes, because pointing to one of the few Western nations with less class mobility than the US is proof the welfare state doesn’t work!Report

      • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to MFarmer says:

        Did you read what I wrote Farmer?

        Do whatever’s necessary to reinstate law and order and so on, but the level of moral indignation is surprising.

        What they’re doing is wrong. Easy enough. But the desire to punish and so on, retributively, is what’s weird.

        Please don’t read into what I wrote some liberal apologism, cause it ain’t there.Report

        • Avatar MFarmer in reply to E.C. Gach says:

          I wasn’t — it just triggered some thoughts. All of this brings me back to the 60s. I understand the impulse to chaos — it’s liberating and empowering, until you think about it for awhile. The problem with some us back then was we didn’t think about it enough. When emotions trump intellect, there are problems following, but when the emotions reside, most people still know the difference between right and wrong, and that’s the hopeful part. If we do see a generation that no longer knows or cares, then it’s probably close to the end.Report

    • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to E.C. Gach says:

      …rub the dog’s nose in his shit, he’ll quit!Report

  13. Patrick,

    I think there’s plenty of behavioral variance in the U.S. (more than most countries), and the degree of “what is acceptable” is much higher than a lot of other places (also more than most countries).

    Fair enough. The correlation is inexact. On the racial front, there is a lot that I could write, but I’m going to set it aside for what I consider to be a better example: Home-Owner Associations.

    When I have lived in relatively white-bread, rural places where the cultural diversity is between Mormons, Catholics, and protestants, they tend not to exist. Even in the nicer neighborhoods. There is little reason for them to exist since the behavioral and class variances tend to be much smaller than elsewhere. So here, the enforcement can be made with less or no coercion. Periodically calling the police about barking dogs, for instance, but mostly cultural coercion (people giving us a hard time about not watering our lawn).

    Move to a more urban+suburban area, though, and that changes. Zoning ordinances (even in sprawling suburbs) at the least, HOAs dictating everything from where your cars must be parked overnight to which of the four shades of teal you can paint your house. People getting very uptight because if you give an inch, they’ll take a mile. And property values, of course, but often as a function of differentiating yourself from the trashy neighborhoods brought to you by people who behave differently.

    The relationship is inexact. Some cultures are more freewheeling than others by their nature. And it’s true (I think) that the United States is moreso than most. But even here, we regulate a lot of personal behavior in large part to keep different people from different backgrounds in line.

    (I’m moving this to a new thread for greater maneuverability.)Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Will Truman says:

      > But even here, we regulate a lot of personal
      > behavior in large part to keep different people
      > from different backgrounds in line.

      I dunno, Will, I still think you’re taking it too far.

      Home-Owner Associations was your example, right? Okay, how much activity executed by HOAs is to keep different people from different backgrounds “in line”, and how much of it is to keep different people of any background from breaking a relatively small set of rules?

      We have a neighborhood association (I live in a historical district). They do “keep everybody in line” in the sense that the board members will generally report you if you try and tear down your house and build a condo there. But nobody moves into this neighborhood without knowing ahead of time that you can’t tear down your house and build a condo there. And (at least currently) there is no subtext or hidden agenda of getting “those people” out of the neighborhood.

      Sure, occasionally there are dust-ups when someone wants to do something that’s on the edge cases of the rules, but that’s not quite the same thing as saying that all aggregated power structures are always going to turn to the Dark Side in the long run, which seems to be your implication.

      Can it happen? Sure. Is it inevitable? I don’t think so. It’s certainly not the case that when organizations/greater society begin taking themselves off the rails that it always results in totalitarianism.

      On the other hand, I’ll agree with a weaker version of your statement, and say that societies with several dissenting subgroups are highly correlated with coercively imposing at least some of its views and practices on the subgroups. I’ll further agree that organizations with large, broad agendas are more subject to power capture than ones with smaller, more specific agendas.Report

      • Oh, I’m not talking about totalitarianism, unless one equates nanny-statism and the regulation of behavior with the T-word. Whether a society makes the leap from well-regulated to totalitarianism involves all sorts of other factors.

        My main point is the “weaker version.” I could go on about HOAs or retread back to race, but I’m not sure we’re in that great of disagreement here. I will clarify one point:

        “Backgrounds” was not a great word choice on my part. I was thinking a conglomeration of background, lifestyle choices, and aesthetic preferences. That some people would paint their houses firehouse red, that they see nothing wrong with a car with cinder blocks on the front lawn, that they might be a handful of post-grads looking for a place to live where they can split rent, encourage rules against these things in communities where these are considered bad things. So that people who don’t like these rules are kept out (a form of enforcing cultural preferences) or are kept in line if they move on.

        I will express disagreement here, though:

        I’ll further agree that organizations with large, broad agendas are more subject to power capture than ones with smaller, more specific agendas.

        This is only true insofar as people are paying attention to the organizations with smaller, more specific agendas. Otherwise, the decisions are made by those who show up, which are often those with either (a) very strong ideas or (b) vested interest.Report

  14. Avatar MFarmer says:

    Protest, and even class warfare, can be positive if it’s intelligent. There’s a huge difference between a number of individuals who have thought out their complaints and who address the State with smart resistance and a mindless mob led by the emotions of the moment.Report

  15. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    OK, I give up. What the hell is the “t-word?”

    (I am so hoping it’s testes.)Report

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