Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “mob mentality”

Why Riot?

I’m still away from home – down in inland southern California where it’s about 110 degrees (you may think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not). Right now, I’m hiding from the heat, indoors with the air-conditioning going strong.

It’s a good time to think about when and why people seem to put themselves in a less-than-comfortable situation such as a protest or even a riot. Recently, riots have erupted all around the world – London, the middle-east, France, and right here in the USA (although not TOO out of hand for the most part). Let’s, for now, overlook the criminal behavior that oftentimes erupts from these events so that we can concentrate on the reasons the events happen in the first place. I certainly don’t intend to do some sort of exhaustive, academic treatise on the subject, but just to explore a couple of thoughts.

I’ve written about this a bit before, but let’s take it a little further. People protest when they feel that “the system” isn’t working for them. They riot when they feel helpless – as if the only thing they can do is to lash out – often against whatever target is handy – even if it’s wildly inappropriate or even counterproductive. These often savage actions arise when a crowd has decided, some individually and some only because they go along, that there is nothing else to do.

In the past, many of these uprisings have led to bloody revolutions – or at least attempts at such. In the past, insulated, uncaring governments (monarchies, dictatorships, oligarchies, etc.) have concentrated power and wealth more and more until the lower classes saw such a dismal future that they felt they had to act. What else was there to do? Vote?!?

So now we, at least in the so-called western world, have the power to vote. But what has changed? Well, some important things, to be sure. But our democracy has been around long enough to have been finessed, schmoozed, and finally taken over by the most powerful. This is true not only of the U.S., but many European democracies as well.

Many feel themselves back in the same-old situation – oppression by the powerful. And they have voted, but the options in the elections are basically red corporate dominance… or blue corporate dominance.

So what’s left? Futile acts of mob violence, directed (or misdirected) at almost random, meaningless targets. I’m not defending this, nor in any way supporting it, but this is what happens.

Again I find myself wanting to call for unified, LEGAL action. We the oppressed cannot simply strike out blindly. Instead, we have to identify the lies that have got us here – such as, “With lower taxes, corporations will create jobs,” and then get this information out to the people. Then we must, as a people (in whatever country you reside) REJECT any politician who forwards these lies.

It’s time for economic as well as social myths to be shattered. This won’t bring an end to violence, but it will surely diminish. We don’t have to be helpless.

-Tom Rossi


Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com


Riots… In Canada?

I’ve been on a vicarious high this week. The Boston Bruins, last Wednesday night, won their first Stanley Cup since 1972 – the days of the legendary Bobby Orr.

Of course since I’m a fan of the Bruins, their winning makes me a winner, right? OK, I’ve already pointed out how stupid that is. But I’m still happy. And I have to admit I have cheated a little. Because of my complex hockey history, I’m a fan of three teams, the Boston Bruins, the L.A. Kings, and the Colorado Avalanche (formerly the Quebec Nordiques). But I’m much more a fan of the game than any team.

Relax, this hasn’t changed to a sports column. What happened after the Bruins glorious victory provides quite an insight into human nature.

Hockey is perceived as a violent game. For those of you unfamiliar, the game is full of what is called, “checking”, where the player is run into, sometimes VERY hard, by a player on the opposing team. This is generally completely within the rules and not a big deal until someone goes beyond good sportsmanship and just tries to hurt the other player.

It’s also true that you see a lot of fights on the ice in hockey, but outside of the pros, the rest of us usually end up having a beer afterwards and saying things like, “You got me pretty good with that one punch, there.”

Up until now, I have had two views of Canadians. Since I was once a part of the world of hockey (at a relatively low level) I have known a lot of Canadians and I have heard a lot of their stories of fights. I also knew a guy from way out in the farm-land boondocks of Saskatchewan who had worked at a bar where there were some very serious fights.

But my view of the typical Canadian was exemplified the other night by a guy I bumped into – who happened to be from Vancouver. It was the night after Boston’s game 7 victory and I was proudly wearing my Bruins Jersey while hanging out in San Francisco. He spotted me and he smiled and said something like, “I’ll bet you’re pretty happy!” I said, “You bet! Great series, eh?” Funny that I’m the one who said, “eh.”

Anyway, he told me that he was from Vancouver and I immediately said that his team had played really well and nobody should be ashamed about it. He agreed and we talked for a while about the riots that erupted in the streets of Vancouver after their loss. He was certainly ashamed about that. I said, “That’s not at all my image of Canada.” He said, “Mine neither.” I said that this wouldn’t have happened in Montreal because people would be afraid of messing up their suits and ties. He laughed. Montreal fans used to dress up for the games.

Even while the riots had started, inside the rink the real Canucks fans were cheering for their great team – even though they had lost:

That’s class.

So how does a riot happen when there’s really no great injustice as motivation? The answer (if it is an answer) is “mob mentality.” People in a crowd, especially when they are already emotionally worked up about something (and even more if they’ve been drinking), can all of a sudden start to follow and imitate the crowd’s most rebellious and active members. They can participate in or accept others’ criminal behavior. They can act in ways that they would never act on their own.

It’s just a theory of mine, but I think that these situations are opportunities for our imprisoned, inner-selves to finally cry out – even if it’s in completely inappropriate ways. The life of the modern human being is essentially an all-too-well-defined cage, even when it seems a pleasant cage. Many books, TV shows, and movies have explored the idea that humans value freedom above all else. But modern life is about stability, predictability, indebtedness, and strict rules of behavior for thousands of situations. Any release from this cage, no matter how stupid, unproductive, or even harmful can sometimes be welcomed.

Uh oh. It seems I’ve bitten off a huge bite to chew again. Maybe I’ll have to come back to this in a future post.

-Tom Rossi


Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com


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