Op-Ed: The riots – and the madness of crowds

Posted Aug 12, 2011 by Alexander Baron
Earlier this week, Chris Bambery of the Trotskyite Socialist Workers Party blamed the then nascent riots on police ‘racism’ and oppression. Not everyone who took part in them can hide behind that excuse.
Photographs of suspects wanted for questioning in the recent riots that hit the London and surroundi...
Photographs of suspects wanted for questioning in the recent riots that hit the London and surrounding areas.
Metropolitan Police Department
Shonola Smith is a 22 year old model from South Norwood, London. Stunningly attractive, she was hoping to follow in the footsteps of Naomi Campbell. That ambition has been fulfilled quicker than she expected, because like Campbell, who was born literally just up the road in Streatham, she has now been up before the beek. Last Tuesday, she, her sister and a friend were remanded in custody for looting ten packs of chewing gum from a Croydon store. There must be a joke there about making the charges stick, or an allusion to a famous novelty song, but she won’t be laughing for the next six months after her second court appearance.
Then there is 18 year old Chelsea Ives, an Olympic ambassador, no less; she has been charged with burglary and violent disorder. What else would you expect of a girl named after a football team? She was remanded in custody, having been handed in by her mother. Nice to see someone still espouses family values.
Dusky maid Natasha Reid is no homegirl either, a graduate and aspiring social worker (whoops, one-time aspiring social worker), the 24 year old has perplexed her mother, because she has a TV set in her bedroom, why would she want to steal another?
Finally, spoilt little white girl Laura Johnson, the 19 year old daughter of a rich daddy, has pleaded not guilty to five counts of burglary. Okay, Amanda Knox she ain’t, but it will be interesting to see the reaction of the SWP if she is acquitted, surely it could only be racism, in view of the number of young black who weren’t, even if they did plead guilty.
It is clear that the lame excuses of police oppression and brutality won’t wash this time as over a hundred police have been injured, and apart from Mark Duggan, whose failed arrest sparked off this madness, the only people who have been killed have been total innocents, including three young men run down by a car in Birmingham. It should also be pointed out that in Syria and other places, people are currently being shot for exercising their democratic rights, which fall far short of looting.
While newspaper and TV pundits are having a field day commenting on the perceived reasons for this madness with a (to date) refreshing lack of conspiracy mongering, one factor that seems to have been overlooked is what Charles Mackay called Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, the title of his 1841 book.
In this groundbreaking study, the author covers such subjects as the South Sea Bubble, and the orgy of speculation that ended in tears for many – but by no means all – of those who were carried along by it. Interestingly, he says of witchcraft: “It was a crime imputed with so much ease, and repelled with so much difficulty, that the powerful, whenever they wanted to ruin the weak, and could fix no other imputation upon them, had only to accuse them of witchcraft to ensure their destruction. Instances in which this crime was made the pretext for the most violent persecution, both of individuals and of communities, whose real offences were purely political or religious must be familiar to every reader."
Substitute racism for witchcraft, and you have the perfect cop out for any form of obnoxious behaviour directed against authority by any minority, and using the word minority in its most creative sense, this can mean practically anyone: women – who make up 51% of the population; the young; anarchists; “hoodies”; literally anyone.
It is though the madness of crowds that is the really interesting part. Once a crowd attains a certain size, the delusion takes on a force of its own; this is the reason so many people are, and continue to be deceived. Not this time though, the Socialist Workers Party and other comrades may continue to whine about racism and oppression, and will doubtless continue to preach to the converted in the leafy streets of Islington, but they won’t convince the black mother whose house was trashed by thugs who she said were roaming the streets with machetes and firearms. Nor will they convince the Birmingham Moslems as they bury three of their dead, young men struck down in their prime for no reason that has anything to do with suffering or oppression.