Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Monday 8 August 2011

We're gonna rock down 2 Electric Avenue...

...and then round the corner into Atlantic Street...

"It's not rioting, it's shopping."

That was the opinion of one Brixton shopowner whose business, looted during the 1995 disturbances, survived last night intact. Others were not so fortunate, according to the BBC:

On Atlantic Street, one jewellery shop stood with its broken glass front next to shops, takeaways and cafes that had been untouched.

Residents said the choice of targets - clothes, sports goods, jewellery shops - suggested that the intention of the people who hit the streets after violence spilled over from Tottenham and Enfield was not motivated by any political cause.

Around 200 people descended on Brixton last night with the clear intention of causing trouble and helping themselves to whatever they could grab. A group that large, and at a time when tensions are running high, can only have been assembled with the help of modern communication technology.

That is, of course, nothing new. One September night in 1985, an elderly member of Clan Macheath was among a coachload of venerable ladies who, retunring from a day's outing, unexpectedly found themselves being driven through the periphery of the Brixton riots. Over a restorative cup of tea, our aged aunt later described seeing shadowy figures directing the mob with 'those new mobile telephone receivers".

Mobile phones were then the latest thing in technology and beyond the means of all but the wealthiest city types - the first UK network went live in January of that year - but it appears they were already being harnessed by the forces of disorder. A quarter of a century later, their modern counterparts are providing a secure means of communication to coordinate riots and looting:

'Away from Twitter's very visible feeds, there are perhaps more credible reports that rioters were using private communication systems to encourage others to join the disorder.

Following Saturday's trouble in Tottenham, a number of BlackBerry users reported receiving instant messages that suggested future riot locations.'

And, presumably, future locations for looting. There seems to be no shortage of the latest technology among those criminally inclined, perhaps because it's likely to have been acquired via a smashed window or a dodgy deal in a pub.

Just as the development of speech made early man into a formidable predator, so this communication network allows his descendants to pillage en masse and even to pose for pictures along with their ill-gotten gains.

To be honest, I'm not sure that really counts as evolutionary progress.


  1. Hamstringing our police certainly doesn't count as evolutionary progress either....

  2. I agree with JuliaM. It's all about risk and reward and for the rioters, the risk was seen as worth the reward.

  3. It's not only the police that are hamstrung; children and teenagers arw well aware that parents, teachers and youth workers are all vulnerable to accusations of brutality or abuse if they try to enforce any rules.

    AKHaart, you doubtless saw the interview with a rioter who casually dismissed any possibility of an individual being caught if he - or she - is part of a large mob - another behaviour manifested further down the evolutionary scale in vast herds of wildebeest or shoals of fish.


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