The riots that have ravaged urban England take root in phenomena that aren't exclusive to that country but are increasingly on the rise everywhere. Could the same thing happen in America? Of course it could. And here's why.
The acute social breakdown sparked by a single police killing of a perp who happened to be carrying a loaded gun wasn't unlike the rioting that took place in Vancouver, Canada, earlier this year when the Vancouver Canucks hockey team lost the Stanley Cup championship. Most people who have a life shouldn't really care about either. Bad guys carrying guns around in public are taking quite the gamble, and sometimes deservedly lose, just as hockey teams aren't guaranteed to win. Those are facts of life that rational, thinking people should be capable of relativizing.
Social unrest is sometimes more understandable, specifically in Arab dictatorships this spring, when a small spark catalyzed regime change. But there's quite a difference between rioting in a G8 democracy and overturning oppression. There is no moral equivalency between the two situations. As the identities of the London rioters are slowly trickling into the public domain, we're learning that among them were university students and trust-fund kids. And we're supposed to believe this to be the definition of hard up -- or at least hard up enough to start smashing and stealing things?
So what causes relatively well-off youth to act like hooligans without any legitimate impetus? What we're witnessing is a collective psychopathology not unlike that illustrated by the main character in Bret Easton Ellis' classically disturbing novel, "American Psycho." Everything is about them, and despite -- or maybe because of -- being given everything they need for a relatively comfortable worldly existence, either by their parents or by the state, they feel entitled to everything. The main character in Ellis' novel is a Wall Street player who has everything he could ever want. It is that feeling of empowerment and invincibility that leads him to push the boundaries of antisocial behavior, including horrific torture-murders. He does it simply because he feels like it. There is no rational social explanation behind it. If anything, his actions -- like those of the rioters -- are driven by entitlement.
People who have struggled or have had to work for something know the value of private property, usually in terms of the amount of productivity required to earn it. These people, I've noticed, tend to pick up dropped small change off the sidewalk, while I've seen entitled brats who will toss the same small change out of their pocket to lighten their load, in total disrespect of the fact that money represents work.