For the past week, I’ve been following fairly shocking news of rioting in Stockholm, and also various other areas in Sweden. It’s shocking because Sweden has a particular reputation for being a peaceful, largely equal country. In retrospect I don’t think the 2005 riots in Paris and the 2011 riots across England were hugely surprising, though I don’t know nearly enough about Sweden to comment here.
What saddens me is that the riots are reported to have occurred in areas where immigrants make a majority. I know there will always be cultural difficulties and conflicts with first-generation immigrants, especially when they arrive on a large scale, but it’s tragic that it results in such violence. This will just give credence to the policies of growing right-wing, anti-immigrant nationalist parties across the continent – the New Democracy party in Sweden, or UKIP in the UK, National Front in France, Golden Dawn in Greece, etc…
I personally cannot understand the psychology behind rioting. The smashing of public or private property, of setting cars alight, of attacking police, is not something people would do on their own, yet there seems to be a sense of safety and anonymity in numbers during riots. Yet, do riots really allow people to exercise a normally hidden desire for violence? I find that hard to believe. There is the theory of ‘mob mentality’, which argues that people can become caught up with the mood of the group and conform to its expectations, following this uncontrolled force like sheep. I accept this to be true – it’s the same force which powers most aspects of human society – but I cannot personally understand it. I’ve never been in a situation such as this, but would I suddenly get involved if a riot would break out? I just cannot imagine it. Of course, I’m also a generally privileged White male who’s had access to a decent education and healthcare for his whole life. I have a stake in society, and see no reason to riot, within or without a mob. So is inequality a major factor? Both inequality and the mob mentality combined? It’s an intriguing question.