Here is the British Prime Minister on a cause of recent mayhem in Tottenham and elsewhere.
“At the heart of all the violence sits the issue of the street gangs. Territorial, hierarchical and incredibly violent, they are mostly composed of young boys, mainly from dysfunctional homes.
“They earn money through crime, particularly drugs and are bound together by an imposed loyalty to an authoritarian gang leader.
“They have blighted life on their estates with gang on gang murders and unprovoked attacks on innocent bystanders.
“In the last few days there is some evidence that they have been behind the coordination of the attacks on the Police and the looting that has followed.”
I expect Cameron is right about gangs as a cause of chaos. I also suspect that quite ordinary people got caught up in the event. And in this case the PM ought to be talking to Mark Earls.
It may be a two-stage kind of thing. Gangs ignite the occasion, supplying a license for unlicensed behavior and a tipping point. (See Bill Buford’s wonderful book Thugs on the first theme, and Malcolm Gladwell on the second.) That’s stage 1. Then comes stage 2, as “ordinary” people find that their moral tolerances and social understandings are suddenly “reset” by what the gangs have done.
I am using a machine metaphor (“reset”) rather than at a viral one (memes, contagion), etc. because the second group, ordinary people, are not in fact “infected.” Which is to say they are not taken by the virus.
They choose to follow the influence of the gang, to give themselves to the moment, and their willingness to follow and to give is itself shaped by social conditions, ideas, movements, in sum, the culture in place at the moment. And that means of course that the PM should be talking to Russell Davies.
Just so long as he knows we have trained professionals standing by.
Buford, Bill. 1991. Among the Thugs. London: Secker and Warburg.
Earls, Mark. 2009. Herd: How to Change Mass Behaviour by Harnessing Our True Nature. Wiley.
Gladwell, Malcolm. 2002. The Tipping Point. Back Bay Books.