We think we know what causes mob violence. We're probably wrong.
I express myself through non-verbal physical expression, you protest, and he riots.
From what I’ve seen, it seems that when police are spread too thin, you’ll see crowds get out of control. More police presence generally has a calming effect.
Remember the Id Monster from that classic of SF cinema, "Forbidden Planet"? There you have the mover and author of Riot.
When you look at it straight on, purging your mind of conventional wisdom and social-science claptrap, it becomes obvious that the murder of some hapless petty criminal like George Floyd is not the cause of riotous behavior. The victim, in France as in America, is merely the sacrificial offering that the mob needs to justify its Dionysian bacchanal.
It may well be true that France needs police reform. But would police reform really make a difference? I think not. You can reform the cops, but not the alienated populations with whom the cops would still have to deal. America has not quite so existential a policing problem. Even here, however, police reform doesn't live up to the claims made on its behalf. Cities like Baltimore and Chicago have minority/majority police departments, yet relations between the cops and minority communities are abysmal. On the bottom line, it seems, BIPOC police officers are not black, brown, or yellow, but blue.
I absolutely do not believe that social science metrics tell us anything useful about riots. Whatever their original justification, riots quickly devolve into atavistic, barbarian, smash-and-grab street festivals. Our understanding of them should begin and end with an admittance that human nature is treacherous and not to be trusted. If this were not so, we wouldn't need the police at all.
Rioting is cultural and specific to activist sub-group. During the second half of the 1980’s, I was fearful that nuclear war would destroy everyone and everything on the planet. Yet, we anti-nuclear activists did not riot. Maybe in 50 years, the social justice activists will be peaceful and the anti-nuclear activists riotous. Who knows?
During 2020 USA George Floyd/Defund riots (and looting and arson), activist leaders announced that the public (aka-activists) were fed with up with racist oppression. That is true. Activists were fed up with the sentences they read in activist papers/books. The vast majority of activists neither experienced racist oppression, nor eye-witnessed others experiencing racist oppression. Activists are instructed by activist organizers to be calm or riotous.
If American activists read the APHA website during 2019-2020; APHA anti-police propaganda basically instructed readers to become hysterical over a phantom “Law Enforcement Violence” crisis. During 2018, American institutions participated in the ‘hysteria about police’ project. So did 100 cities and 25 states. Has that also occurred in France?
Hmmm. Sometimes what we call a riot is actually state terrorism. In 1968 Chicago, during the Democratic National Convention, the "riot" was police assaulting protesters - Mayor Daley ruled the city with an iron hand.
On the other hand, we have Fox calling the January 6 insurrection a riot.
After the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr in 1968, there were riots. After the Rodney King verdict in 1992, there were riots. These were clearly angry people who had had enough, though I'm sure the usual crew of criminal opportunists joined in. Learning from these, Black Lives Matter was entirely pacific, but it got away from them, various stripes of anarchist joined in, and the usual crew of opportunistic criminals, as well as white supremacists trying to act as provocatuers. Then there was a brutal police response.
None of which, I think, has much relevance to the French situation. I'll be waiting for your further remarks.
I think it is worth noting that most of the rioters that I've seen (limited to those on video) are young.
Is it easier for the under 25 brain to be swept up in a riot?
I've seen many of protests with older people, but riots appear to be dominated by the young. That maybe part of the dynamic that makes riots go.
This essay is very interesting and combined with Claire’s other comments on the French riots it provides a unique perspective on the riots that I haven’t seen anywhere else.
Almost everyone commenting on the riots argues that the inability of France to assimilate its North African immigrants (and their children and grandchildren) is the proximate cause of the riots. Claire’s view is iconoclastic. If I’m reading her right, she suggesting that the riots prove that the North African immigrants have become fully assimilated citizens of France. They’re now rioting with the same gusto and for the same nondescript reasons that everyone else in France has rioted periodically for decades.
As far as I know, nobody other than Claire has suggested that the recent riots actually prove how French the North African immigrants have become.
It’s a very provocative idea.
Thank you for the remarkably thought-provoking series! I'll wait to comment until the conclusion.
Meanwhile, thank you also for providing a link to your father's essay! He is incredible - for those who have not availed themselves of the pleasure of reading some of the most droll, profound, and erudite writing ever, here are a few teaser bon mots:
"Men go to war when they think that they can get away with murder."
"Gurr’s essay has by now become that rarest of things in historical scholarship: it is its own best source."
"It is an argument that cannot be faulted, if only because it is without interest. "
"the attractive position of being able to recall one lover while being fondled by another."
"The Russian military, as shortsighted as it was overconfident, began to preen itself in the glow of its imagined victories."
There too many more to list... please read for yourselves!
Rioting can also be a good reason to get out of the house, especially when there’s a lockdown underway
Fascinating Claire. Indeed we need to stop asking why people are rioting and sticking onto it some retrospective cause, made up in the post-delirium of the event, and then reporting housing or whatever caused it. No. Social media is causing it. The video of George Floyd getting killed made injustice highly visible, then it became an excuse for lefties to indulge their narcissism as they paraded through the streets with their phones out putting their attendance on public display for the consumption by one's followers, and like a Puritan because wokeness is religious, to feel oneself earning God's grace cleansed of sin by participation in a reckoning. It degenerated into the license to loot, because injustice made looting justified as revenge. The Jan 6 insurrection on the other hand was one of those purposive riots--Stop the steal--undertaken to stop Biden becoming president, although it was pretty symbolic in its own right with all those MAGA people standing around for hours taking pictures of themselves doing something epic before finally storming in. The riots in France are just the French being French, but the rioting Frenchness is worsening, as it is abetted by social media-induced incentives. The "networking" and "emergent" explain how they take place and prescribe a way to deal with them. What I think we need to do is train a new era of policeman to track and prevent a new species of rioter rioting in greater frequency. Why they riot is immaterial. You said in the beginning sometimes it come from a deprivation suggesting one's needs are exceeding one's ability to satisfy them in the prevailing environment. Why people riot in greater frequency now, we may as well just attribute to narcissism. Who goes spontaneously to do something like this in a first world country, who doesn't have an outsize sense of their own importance and a desperate need for validation. If the internet promulgates it, then suppose the internet and how it has degraded man is also the primary cause. Now I'm only talking about riots in the first world. Where Iran was convulsed with protests for example was a different story, or Ukraine's Maidan uprising or the protests to the judicial reforms in Israel. These are less riots actually than protests and if the internet aids them, then that's good for democracy and freedom. The internet should empower people to revolt in Iran, but where it happens in a first world country, where people are torching cars because of pensions modified by two years or because Trump told you to stop the steal is ridiculous, novel, and radical. Riots are abhorrent orgies of petty victimhood and entitlement.