Walking through London streets this week a plywood magnate must cautiously smile. Though certainly not with pleasure. Jogging the 6 miles from Fitzrovia to our temporary home in Chiswick Tuesday, the night after wide-spread violence, streets were vacant but for police officers and crews boarding up shops with fresh plywood.
From the small independent shops who form social fabric to the corporate behemoth Universal records who form culture - scale and ownership structures didn't matter for rioters looking to steal and destroy. Up went the defensive plywood on shops big and small.
The pundits, academics and politicians are promptly stating grand theories and reasoning while jockeying for air time and headlines. Sensational videos aside, the stories from average people in the wrong place at the wrong time are compelling for the insightful balance of terror and calm. Mixed with the odd voice of reason from surprising places, such as Russell Brand in The Guardian, enlighten the truth and complexity behind what the riots are symptomatic of.
As with most things increasingly are these days, the causes and fixes are too complex for a snappy headline, overly crafted slogan or simplistic reductionistic PowerPoint slide. And while theories are of necessity one must recognise we are in an age of learning new social behaviours. Hundreds of kids filmed knowingly by CCTV camera, hovering police helicopters, roving news helicopters and their friend's Facebook Feeds partake in criminal behaviour leaving a trail of unprecedented evidence.
While every nation has its ills, England in all truth is on a relative basis a comfortable place to live. As the rioters wearing 100£ trainers transmitted photos and plans to each other on their smart phones the layers of cognitive dissonance stack high.
It is a great time to park theorisation of the events and observe evolving behaviours at a broader level.
- When friend's iPhone photos become evidence in court leading to a conviction does it induce more law abiding behaviour or make image capturing events socially unacceptable?
- Does the public shaming of 'thieves' on the front pages form a more effective deterrence and form of justice or an enticement for fame?
- As social media becomes an easy pariah for governments to attack, what ways of communication will inevitably fill the void if restrictions are put in place?
- Does the mix of class and race rioting shoulder to shoulder (and today line up one after another in courts) reinfice and tear apart multi-cultural unity?
Brands, who love to talk about how much they are loved must wonder what they have done. Are the really loved? Is it love if someone goes to the extent of breaking the law to get their hands on a product for free or the greatest disrespect when one will go to great length to not part with their own money in exchange for it?
Well, it will take a while to figure it all out.