I wanted to write about all of my thoughts on the London riots, but find my thoughts too jumbled for a really coherent post, so here is what you get. If it turns out coherent at the end, I’ll be as surprised as you!
It’s interesting what comes into your head when you read the news, and when discussion is about current events, and the connections that people make between the two. This morning I saw a really interesting post someone made about the connection between the “rules” of society (which we all feel compelled, as rule-followers, to obey) and the “new rules” in London (which center around violence and looting). If I can find the post I’ll link it, but trust me when I say it was interesting, and I apologize if I retread it a little as I think my way through it.
At any rate, I started thinking about 1984 and how brilliant George Orwell was and how many things happen in connection with the concepts in that book. In 1984, Big Brother is always watching. “He” can see through the TV screens, he can see you through all of the security cameras, he can see you through the eyes of his police force, and because Big Brother is always watching, people are always following the rules. As people, we have a need to find some sort of order, and will live by rules (even arbitrary ones we make ourselves) in an effort to “fit” with our society, real or perceived. In the book it was dangerous to be a misfit, and to most of us it is a little scary and possibly dangerous to be a misfit in the real world as well; if we don’t “fit” then we can’t get jobs, make friends, even function in many basic ways. We set up governments and rules and then we abide by them, while at the same time complaining about the very thing we put in place from the start. Human nature? Probably. But it is this idea that we are being watched that makes all the difference: most people wouldn’t break the rules because they might be seen, and therefore judged and possibly punished (by the justice system or just by society).
From the time we’re little and our parents have “eyes in the back of their heads” we feel that we are being watched. People of faith would point out that we are always watched by God, but I would guess that a great many people don’t think about that a whole lot. No, they are more concerned with society watching. What will people think of me? How will they punish me? Which brings us back to Big Brother. The thing about Big Brother is that Big Brother’s eyes were everywhere, because Big Brother was everyone. All of society around you, watching you constantly and waiting to catch you falling out of step by just a hair. People stay in step because it is safe and they are afraid to break rank.
So what happens when people realize Big Brother is just a poster on the wall and can’t really see them? Chaos. People in London turned to violence over the weekend and the violence has snowballed and spread and over the last four days, people have just been… out of step. Society doesn’t approve of arson, looting, shootings, etc.
But remember that people have a need for structure. A need for rules. What if this new behavior is a temporary society these people have created with its own set of rules and its own language and currency? Sure, it might not last, but there are a whole lot of people following the rules of rioting right now instead of the rules of England. Big Brother has changed hats.
So when they realize they are being watched still, will it stop? Having 16,000 police on the ground in London tonight seems to have helped. Big Brother is still watching. People fall back into rank. London will dust herself off and move forward.
On a tangentially related note, I was talking with some people today and we were discussing if riots like that could happen here. I hope not. But then again, the disgruntled attitude in England is seemingly caused by things like a bad economy, high unemployment, and frustration with the folks in positions of political power. Hmm.