Monday, August 15, 2011

UK Riots and Povery

The Guardian posted a map that compares the riot locations with the level of poverty which is pretty interesting.

I guess the riots are old news now (they happened last week! Who cares if anything's going on still?? What are the celebrities doing???), but there some interesting conversations going on about what the riots meant. It seemed like most people were happy to dismiss the event as a random kind of thing and dismiss the rioters as hooligans and ne'er-do-wells. People made comments about how these rioters were lacking moral fibre, were greedy, and just wanted to steal a new pair of Nikes. I disagree.

I'm not the only person who sees a connection between these riots and the background levels of poverty, and recent "austerity measures". The same kind of thing is happening across Europe, and will probably go on for a while, at least while the global economy tries to get its feet back under itself. Science suggests that there is a connection between cutbacks and increased violence, but even with all of this there's a disconnect going on between what we say is happening and what is actually happening.

I'm against violence. But as a friend of mine recently said, you can be against violence and still want to know the cause of it and to look for underlying issues. I'd agrue that if you are -really- against violence, looking for the reasons isn't just an option, it's a requirement. How can we fix something if we don't know what's wrong?

I think that this is probably a case of fundamental attribution error writ large. It's easy for us to assume that the rioters are acting like they are because of some flaw in their personality rather than because of factors that have shaped their lives that are outside of their control. I've had lengthy debates with people who genuinely believe that the poor are poor because they are lazy or have the wrong attitude. It seems to be really, really difficult for us to look past these prejudices, and I think that so long as we are stuck thinking like this, we can look forward to more riots and violence in the future.

Living as I do in a place where there's a good chance of right-wing governments on all 3 major levels (municipal, provincial, and federal), I wonder what we might see here in Toronto in the next 2 or 3 years. I don't think it will be pretty.

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