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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The primitive reptilian part of our brain

Jane Galt suggests a possible reason for the riots in France:
Muslim youth are rioting in France because breaking windows and setting cars on fire is fun.

Everyone who has ever taken their .22 out to the back forty and shot up a line of old bug spray cans knows this. Seeing things break, disintegrate, or explode, at absolutely no personal risk to yourself, lights up some primitive reptilian part of our brain with searing glee. I've often thought there would be big money for the firm that figured out how to build an adult recreation center where frustrated Americans could go to have a beer, take a sledgehammer to a used computer, and throw some glassware at the walls.

Of course, normally we don't go around torching automobiles, because the owners of those automobiles would be angry, and we would be arrested, and our friends would look at us funny. But take a group of people who have relatively little to lose from an arrest, since they're never going to get jobs anyway, and who are, not without reason, permanently angry at the people who own those cars, and thus have very little of the social control that comes from feeling you are in a mutual social contract that protects you as well as the car owners, and add a minor provocation . . . voila! With a peer group giving us permission to bust stuff up, I bet a substantial number of us would go on a rampage too.
I know just what she means. When I was going through my torn-jeans, bad-attitude grunge phase in college, more than a decade ago, I and a friend, who is eminently respectable today, spent a couple of nights going around our college campus and breaking the tubelights that lit it up. It was like a sporting challenge: the tubelights were high up, our projectiles were of varying sizes and weights, which had to be judged precisely, and the payoff was spectacular -- have you ever seen a tubelight explode?

Needless to say, I cringe at those memories, and am a completely different person today. And let me add that explanation is not exculpation, before you go off and start attacking Galt or me as if we're justifying any of that violence. All violence that runs counter to the Harm Principle is wrong.

What enables such violence, though, is mentioned in the extract I just quoted, in the words "since they're never going to get jobs anyway." What is it about France's economic system that makes such a conclusion inevitable? Do read Theodore Dalrymple's excellent essay in the Wall Street Journal, "Bonfire of the Vanities," for more on that. Also, his earlier pieces on the subject: 1, 2, 3.

(Galt link via Marginal Revolution.)

Update: The Indian Express sums it up well.
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