Riots as revenge

Chris Dillow has a really good post up on ‘the revenge effect’, taking as its hook the discovery of the CIA/MI6’s torture outsourcing to specialist firm Gadaffi Inc.:

An apparently humanitarian policy by the west has, therefore,  exposed its earlier lack of humanitarianism. Pessimists might add that this could mean that in supporting the overthrow of Gaddafi, the west has helped install a regime which has a grudge against us. These are examples of what Edward Tenner called the revenge effect – how our actions can rebound to bite us on the arse.

Chris gives us several other examples of arse-biting policy decisons, with his main focus on economic policy, but he left out the most salient recent example.

Back in the 19650s and 1960s, both Conservative and Labour governments, in collaboration with willing councils, pursued overtly racist housing, employment and education policies towards the people then immigrating from South Asia and the West Indies.

At the time, a sociologist who did have the “cognitive resources” needed to “anticipate revenge effects” (which Chris says policy makers lack), said:

We have just about ten years to break down our ghettoes and to see to it that all men have the same opportunities in education and employment…The difficulties we face do not arise from our ignorance about how the problem should be tackled.  They arise from a lack of will or from opportunist electoral fear.  Yet trying to placate the electorate with semi-racialist policies, or keeping quite in the hope that you won’t be called a nigger-lover hasn’t paid off, while a deliberate assault on the ghettoes with a view to clearing them would eliminate one of the most important of all the secondary causes of racialism….. 

If we can now deal with those problems which are the secondary causes of racialism we may still be able to go on to create an unprejudiced generation”.

That didn’t happen, and 10 years later the same sociologist said:

[T]here are clear difference of life-chances between them and the white British…….Such differences of life-chances, if they were sustained over a period, would undoubtedly mean that consciousness of a common identity, common exploitation and oppression, and a common conflict with the host society would emerge and find expression in some kind of ethnic-class-for-itself.

But if this is true for the immigrant generation it is much more true for its children……Not merely is it the case, therefore, that immigrant class-consciousness will be reinforced with time by the mere repetition of the same experiences, but it will also be related to the consciousness which emerges amongst the young who have rising expectations not shared by their parents, and who are likely to be more fiercely frustrated by the experiences of discrimination.

That was in 1979. In 1981 these frustrations led to the summer riots.  30 years later, the frustrations were expressed differently both by grandchildren of immigrants and by a newer set of young people who have been at the receiving end of systematic discrimination.

None of this will be a surprise to John Rex, the sociologist who told us what would happen.  However belatedly, Cameron and (more likely) Miliband would do well to read Rex’s work and then address the real root causes of the recent “pure criminality”.


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