On the Vancouver riots

Wow things got ugly here last night, and I don’t mean downtown. Critical thinking gave way to mass condemnation online as an arms race of criticism took over any actual analysis of the situation.

First, to get it out of the way, yes, the riots were bad. A lot of property was destroyed, people were injured, and someone fell off a bridge. Of course, it’s nothing compared to the devastation from ethnic/religious conflicts, including by our own military in Afghanistan and Libya.

But that’s my point. People are in uproar and my Facebook and Twitter feeds were filled with hundreds of comments decrying the “idiots” and “hooligans” in the streets, while real injustices persist around the world.

Ironically, yesterday StatsCanada released a report showing that child poverty has increased in BC in to 12.0% in 2009 from 10.4% the previous year – the highest in Canada. That’s something worth rioting over, or at very least complaining on Facebook.

Of course, the insults at the rioters didn’t even really touch on why anyone would riot.

It’s nice to act all high and moral and point fingers and call names at the crowd, but the psychology is much deeper than that, and worth looking at.

With no psychological training, my first thoughts were to draw parallels between these seemingly pointless riots over a hockey game and the recent riots for freedom in the Middle East. Both have a large mass of people who are mainly helpless to affect an outcome – one being the governance of their country, the other being a sports game. It’s an understandably frustrating experience, which when mixed with alcohol, a large crowd, and a spark, can easily combust.

A better analysis is presented here, which identifies the key aspects of crowd mentality that play into a riot like this. Key among them are a large group of poor/unemployed fans who’ve been continually disappointed by their team, being trapped in a congested downtown core with no means of escaping (buses stopped running and the train was heavily delayed), and mob psychology.

It’s easy to blame individuals, but it’s also denying what the research tells us happens. If we want to be good skeptics, then we should actually think and research how people work before condemning. Nothing is black and white.

Of course, the most absurd comment I saw last night tried to shift the blame to how violent hockey is and especially in this latest series, including last night’s game where the refs were content to “let them play” (in Don Cherry’s words).

I say absurd, because for this assertion to even be plausible we’d have to ignore anything else that has ever happened. At the very least we’d have to be ignorant of the hundreds of football (soccer) riots around the world. It’s akin to blaming violent video games and Marilyn Manson for Columbine. It’s scapegoating one’s own dislike for violence in the media onto correlated, but not causal events. Lots of people still like hockey, even the fights, but had no desire to take part in those riots.

Of course, I may be somewhat biased in this entire discussion, since I feel I have some natural tendency to be contrarian and dissent from nearly unanimous opinions, questioning the consensus rather than submitting to it. Although, I also think that perhaps this might be a virtue that, if wider held, would result in a more intelligent and critical world.

3 thoughts on “On the Vancouver riots”

  1. I agree with you that the discussion going on yesterday about the riots was pretty stupid. I also think that anyone who was surprised that there was some type of riot or violence last night is incredibly naive. Win or lose, I fully expected something bad to happen, and, to be honest, with the pictures of the streets of Vancouver being packed throughout the playoffs, I was amazed that nothing had happened sooner.

    I hope the people who were involved in the violence are found and prosecuted, but I also don’t really think this riot is the national embarrassment that some people claim. Riots over sporting events, sadly, happen all the time, all over the world. People are not going to look at what happened last night and change their opinion about Canada. They won’t even change their opinion about Vancouver, they will just think that Vancouver, like any other major city in the world, has its fair share of drunken idiots.

  2. I have to agree with Steven. Riots connected with the sports are quite common and people who say this one particular is going to change global opinion about Vancouver are really shortsighted. OK, whole looting and rioting was stupid and somehow absurd compared with the situation which are worth rioting for. But I think important is how Vancouver dealt with the situation afterwards and that’s important. Activism of citizens can be graded just A+ because organizing cleaning up of the city was unbelievably quick and effective.
    The only reason why is everybody still talking about it is because they don’t have anything better to discuss. Wait for few weeks, something more interesting will happen and this will fall to dust.

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