Riots, Behaviourism and Neo Liberalism

Life in the in the UK feels much more vulnerable than it did 72 hours ago.

We have had three nights of riots in London, and trouble on a lesser scale in other cities.

The response of rioters, while undesirable for the public good, is entirely predictable if considered through the eyes of behaviourism within systems.

Behaviourism tells us that people, companies and institutions act in ways that is not detached, but in ways that reflect the system they are involved with. Each system creates its own ‘rewards’ and ‘punishments’. Often these can be unintended by the system creators, but human behaviour will normally find a way to get the most from doing least. For example, anyone who has tried to re-engineer processes in the workplace very soon discovers that people very quickly adapt what they were trained to do into new ad-hoc methods using shortcuts. These shortcuts can create new problems not envisaged in the beginning.

The actions of rioters and looters have been rightfully condemned, and on a moral basis that is correct. However, humans don’t usually have a strong moral code that always over-rides everything else. Looking at the riots in ways other than a pure moral dimension is much more helpful at finding a solution.

We are firmly wedded to a Neo Liberal economy in the UK. The principles of the free market are expected to deliver fairness and social justice, as much as the brand of baked beans you put on your toast. We are told the markets should be left to their own devices, and they will deliver.

What has really happened is that an elite class has evolved, or ‘new money’. They spend their money on private education and the tutoring for their children. This results in a massive percentage of places in the top universities being offered to pupils from a handful of private schools. The path of their children is eased post-university into the best careers. Professions such a Law and Medicine have significant barriers to entry to those without wealthy parents or some patronage.

This elite holds a major sway over politics too. The House of Commons is dominated by people from this class. For example, if the UK’s growth remains poor, it has been touted that the top rate of tax should be cut. Clearly this has most benefit for the most wealthy. It will do nothing to help those on benefits or ordinary wages. No doubt we will be told this reduction in tax burden will ‘trickle down’.

After 30 years of this approach, the bottom tier of society has been totally cast adrift. If they try to play by the rules, then they always lose, as the hand they have to play is always bad. They are playing poker with one card, while the elite send their offspring to the game with half a dozen spares aces tucked up their sleeve.

Understanding behaviourism tells you that at some point, they will throw the rules away and do something else. This is what has been happening in London, Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool. If playing by the rules doesn’t earn any reward but incurs punishments, humans will eventually break them. They have nothing to lose.

Neo Liberalism has fractured our society because it is systematically flawed. It has empowered one part of society grossly, and disempowered others. This imbalance has been locked in, and humans will only be trod on and excluded for so long before they do something violent and destructive as that is the only weapon they have.

2 thoughts on “Riots, Behaviourism and Neo Liberalism

  1. We all know that Neo Liberal economics will never deliver social justice, and as those in power are the ones to benefit, why should they choose to change anything?
    We need a complete political and social change, our politicians commit fraud by stealing tens of thousands of pounds of tax payers money and get away with it, but a poor woman wearing a stolen t-shirt will go to prison!


  2. Pingback: Mutation or Mutiny? | Think Left

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