Media   |   Research & Advisory

Riots, consumerism, hyper-communication and a moral compass

Jonathan A. J. Wilson | August 13, 2011 | 2 Comments
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In my last post, when I wrote that some people were unhappy in London and were looking forward to further consumerism, little did I know how far they would go! England has been hit by a terrible spate of riots and my fear is that this is an evolutionary form of behavior, which is the new sports hooliganism. Will fluid flashmob groups form and be egged on by partisan and territorial rivalry?

Source: Flickr Creative Common by StuartBannocks

The more information that emerges, the more it appears that establishing causalities remains problematic. My position on the riots is that whilst the outcomes are apparent, the root causes are non-reducible. In short, this is all very complicated. Instead, it’s perhaps easier to understand the causes as coming from a large series of factors, under ‘drop-down menus’ – which when put together then lead to the same endgame. However, these choices are dynamic, time specific and perishable. Unfortunately, I think it’s also safe to say that as it has happened now, it can happen again.

These events also reminded me of the novel, manga and one of my favourite movies, Battle Royale. The prologue to the Japanese movie, released in 2000, reads as follows:

“At the dawn of the millennium, the nation collapsed. At fifteen percent unemployment, ten million were out of work. 800,000 students boycotted school. The adults lost confidence and, fearing the youth, eventually passed the Millennium Educational Reform Act, AKA the BR Act…”

Battle Royale (Movie, 2000)

The most obvious conclusion from recent events, is that with this phenomenon and others like the Arab Spring, hyper-communication and social media has two effects. Firstly, the great levelling of the digital revolution gifts access to knowledge capital. This information is consumed by more and more ‘collective individuals’ and is available in a format where ranking is less about quality and more about conspicuousness. Qualifiers are often based upon notoriety and number of hits. Therefore: ‘whose view is right?’ and ‘is there something to be said for being able to consume information in a real, rather than a virtual context?’ are being processed in more self-regulated ways. Secondly, social media shows that its stakeholders react quickly and spread information amongst their networks. As I watched the news stories unfold on my television, I reached for my phone to check on Twitter, in order to see how close to my area the riots were and where they would spread next. Twitter gave me a faster response that rolling news teams.

As a side issue, I can’t help thinking that concerns over hoodies and face-covering may indirectly lead to courses of action which have a knock-on effect on Muslim women, who wear the hijab or niqab. I didn’t see any hijabis or niqabis looting in various pieces of news footage, but as with debates concerning terrorism, there always appears to be calls to tighten definitions of freedom – using a blend of soft and hard power. For rioting and terrorism, tenuous links to dress codes have already been made. Will England lose faith and go down the same route that France has, in passing laws to ban additional items of clothing in public places?

Will England lose faith and go down the same route that France has, in passing laws to ban additional items of clothing in public places?

Will marketers driving consumerism have to shoulder some accountability?

Will role of religion in society be seen as positive?

At some stage I am sure that some will point the finger at marketers driving consumerism and therefore having to shoulder some accountability. The usual suspects violent video games and rap music have already been brought into question. However, for a change religion is in the spotlight for a different reason. The media has run numerous pieces showing religious groups rallying to heal wounds. Many former gang members featured have also reported that, religion and the support of religious institutions have been instrumental in their rehabilitation.

Therefore, is this a good time to re-open the debate about the role of religion in society, in a positive way? Can religion provide the necessary moral compass, which helps individuals to:  become self disciplined, forgive, trust that justice will prevail, and believe in recompense beyond temporal human existence? A few days ago during the Birmingham riots, Tariq Jahan saw his son Haroon die in his arms, after he was mown down by a car – whilst Harroon attempted to protect businesses and the local mosque. Tariq asserted that he was a Muslim, he called for a calm amidst racial tensions, and that his faith teaches him to accept that everyone’s time to go is fixed by God. My condolences and utmost respect go out to the family.

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Comments (2)

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  1. Ali AlMakrami says:

    You know! while people here talking about family and social breakdown, I always remember what was my first observation when I first came to this country Aug2008; on what basis they categorise societies into 1st, 2nd, 3rd world? if it is anything about children/youth behaviour, I think the UK is in the bottom!
    And.. if religion is the super solver, shouldn’t be said in this country only…

  2. Jonathan A. J. Wilson Jonathan A. J. Wilson says:

    Thanks for those observations Ali.

    I’m someone who was born and educated in Manchester and now lives in East London. As both of these areas were hit badly by the riots and as a former youngster, I think that I should put some of those experiences to good use. The truth is that you don’t tend to notice model citizens, as they’re busy working behind the scenes and trying their best not to infringe upon others’ rights. Also, many of us Brits have 1st, 2nd and 3rd World heritage running through our veins. In comparison to previous Cold War foreign policies, I think that the term 3rd World is often used now by more developed nations, especially charities, when looking to appeal to a compassionate population. More specifically with Muslims about half of their population are classified as young and Muslims in the UK are cited as being one of the biggest donators. So I suppose I come back to my original point that these riots raise a lot of questions, but it still seems too early to be able to deliver full answers.

    I’d hate to think that British society starts to loose faith completely. Because I think that things like the tolerance of freedom of expression in religion, employment law, the university system and the creative arts are pretty cool here. I also think that the challenge for a Megacity like London, is how a culturally diverse population, with a large floating population of economic migrants, who are largely free to live as they want, can be galvanized into following a unifying set of values, which encapsulate the subtleties and positives of British culture.

    As this column mainly focuses on marketing, you could argue that from the riots here is a test case which demonstrates that: (1) those who are hooked into social media are open to peer review and likely to act upon it (2) social media disciples befriend and converse, across race, religion, class, education and vocation (3) flashmobs tap into some deep emotive tribal desires that we have

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