Rioting for Fun and Profit

by John T. Bennett (September 2011)

The immorality of ghetto culture combines with the false compassion of liberal elites to create lower class people with incredibly poor character.

A young man can sense meaninglessness in his own life. Even if he is materially comfortable, not poor in any true sense of the word, he will sometimes lash out in aimless violence when he has nothing better to do. The cause of such violence is not poverty; it is in part boredom, immorality, and gnawing restlessness which renders him violent.

In London, some children of middle class families rioted for fun, because they had spoiled and empty lives. The lower income rioters were looting mainly for fun and profit. It behooves us to notice the troubles in London, because the lower class there is in the advanced stages of a process of cultural decay that is going on here. 

Together with boredom and immorality, London’s riots arose from a mix of materialism, spiritual emptiness, a sense of entitlement, a sense of grievance, and a total disregard for the needs of others. It doesn’t help that some of the middle- and working-class young people of England glorify and emulate lower class ghetto culture, a bizarre and self-destructive phenomenon that we in America can recognize. With that toxic combination of cultural factors, poverty seems rather unconvincing as an explanation for riots. When the welfare state has given generations of Britons everything they need to subsist, economic deprivation can’t possibly play a significant role in these riots.

And just how dreadful are the people produced by the welfare state? The mother of a 13-year-old looter, who is one of her 11 children, blamed the government for the rioting. The mother is on welfare and does not live with the boy’s father. Her reasoning for her son’s behavior was “There is f*** all for them to do” which is an English colloquialism for “nothing to do.” Aside from her poisonous assumption that the government is supposed to provide “something to do” for young people, note that her reproductive proclivities virtually guaranteed that she would produce unsupervised children.

In fact, the welfare state has fostered a personality type that has no connection to the world of work or adult responsibility. Thus, dependants are freed to the aimless pursuit of dim-witted excitement and the often self-destructive search for “something to do.” At root, the London riots were a product of moral deprivation, just as Philadelphia’s Mayor Michael Nutter said of the flash mobs here in the U.S.

Of course, we here in the U.S. are no strangers to rioting feral youth either. There have at times been public leaders brave enough to speak honestly about them. In his masterpiece, “The Unheavenly City,” Harvard political scientist Edward Banfield offers a chapter entitled “Rioting Mainly for Fun and Profit.”

Banfield wrote about the race riots in America which exploded in urban areas during the 1960s. Even though they took place in an era of widespread racism and social tension, Banfield presented evidence that the riots of that period were often driven mainly by materialism, with no political motive whatsoever. His analysis was supported by copious evidence, and it matches with the reality that most of us live- as opposed to the ruminations of sheltered academics and comfortable liberals.

Even when so-called “poor” people explode in riots, as some did in London, their poverty is not necessarily the cause. Their poverty and their rioting are caused by a separate, original factor: culture. The terrible attitudes, slovenly habits, and impulsiveness of the lower class cause both their poverty and the rioting. If they are rioting “because” they are poor, it is a self-imposed poverty of their own devise. Besides, there are very few people who are objectively poor, in the sense that they lack life’s basic necessities. People are “poor” in the sense of relative deprivation, a dubious concept used to explain away the cycle of failure. Relative deprivation will exist as long as there are inequalities, so there is no conceivable way to eliminate it. In a society where the poorest people were millionaires, the existence of billionaires would make the millionaires relatively deprived.

The essence of relative depravation is jealousy; an attitude that says, “There are some people who have things that I don’t have, and that upsets me.” There are three options open to a person in that position: to obtain as much as one desires through legal effort, to desire less, or to obtain things illegally. In a culture that produces impulsive, immoral people, there will be more people willing to choose illegal behavior. Those groups with the strongest sense of grievance, real or imagined, are predictably the entrepreneurs of the mob, or riot.

Moreover, when punishments are slight, when the risk of penalty is smaller than the reward of crime, it is actually rational in many ways for a young person to choose crime, or rioting. In British juvenile detention centers, young people often have access to PlayStations or computer games. An English social worker has said that “In Britain we have no real punitive measures… There’s loads of carrot and absolutely no stick. You need a mix of both.” But Nanny State doesn’t use a stick. When Nanny State takes over the function of law enforcement, her offspring will predictably be out of control.

The multifaceted immorality of ghetto culture combines with the false compassion of liberal elites to create lower class people with incredibly poor character. Nathan Glazer, one of our nation’s most well-respected sociologists, wrote that in the 1960s, “one could hear from young delinquents the very explanations and excuses that social psychologists and sociologists were making for behavior that damaged society- and themselves.” Those excuses are now at the core of our educational and welfare bureaucracy, and our popular culture.

Of course, few liberals will admit to making “excuses.” No, they explore root causes and take into account social conditions. But the effect is the same as an excuse: moral condemnation is withheld, and a cloud of corrupting permissiveness seeps into the world view of vulnerable young people. Nathan Glazer was a former radical turned sociologist, who recognized that liberal social policy was hurting people. For many liberals, and I used to count myself as one, good policy was measured by good intentions. This is, of course, false compassion.

Liberals desperately want to believe that rioting has a sacred essence, reflecting righteous indignation and well-deserving poverty. There is an alternative interpretation: Rioting is the ultimate expression of selfishness on the part of pathetic people who lack material things because they’re too lazy or ignorant to work for them. It follows from that interpretation that rioters should be morally condemned and punished with no sympathy.

Several observers have noted that the British are responding to the riots with contempt rather than sympathy. The reason for this response is simple: Ordinary, law-abiding British, many of whom have their own hardships, have come to see that the mobs were rioting mainly for fun and profit. Instead of using new technologies to advance knowledge or be productive, the mobs used social media to steal and destroy. In a brilliant article, the Financial Times’ Gautam Malkani notes that this generation’s “digitally reduced attention spans have also contributed to a culture of superficial ‘bling.’” The bling culture, combined with impulsiveness and entitlement, produces a feral instinct for robbery.

Interestingly, liberals suddenly begin to take the opinions of the rabble seriously, when the rabble riot. When the rabble are condemning the lower class, they are ignored or vilified, like the Tea Party. It was Richard Sennett of the London School of Economic who found a way to blame the Tea Party, or at least its ideology, for the London riots. When England cut back on government handouts, this “led to the neglect and exclusion of many vulnerable, disaffected young people who are acting out violently and irresponsibly.” What Sennett fails to realize is that those young people reject the mainstream values of self-control and hard work. They’re not being excluded by anyone or any social system; they’re refusing to be included.

Just because someone lacks material things doesn’t mean they’ve been deprived. The notion of deprivation implies that there is an external force making the decision to deprive groups of people. It would be more accurate to say that the rioters were self-deprived. They lack material things because they won’t work, and they won’t work because they have poor character.

Even if the austerity programs could be said to somehow be a cause of the riots, that cause-and-effect relationship would only serve as further reason to condemn the rioters. The austerity measures simply told people that money doesn’t grow on trees, that the government can’t pay for everything, and that the economy will be in shambles if government keeps spending as it has. If people respond to that reality by rioting, then they are imbeciles. What the left needs to realize is that the sense of entitlement is toxic. The sense of entitlement ruins the individuals and groups who adopt it, and ordinary, hard-working people can smell the fumes a mile away. Hence the less-than-sympathetic response to the riots in London.

Young men from all backgrounds will raise a ruckus, as they have always done. The only question is what they will break and whether anyone will be hurt in the process. The answer to those questions has everything to do with culture, and almost nothing to do with poverty or inequality. On that point, if you want a vivid illustration of the power of culture, contrast the Japanese response to the tsunami with the reaction to Hurricane Katrina and the London riots.

If the London rioters – or flash mobs in the U.S. - were rioting because they were poor, then they would have been stealing food. But they don’t need to steal food because the government pays for them to eat. Instead, the rioters were stealing nice clothes and electronic devices. The rioters looted for fun and profit, and they did so because of their corrupt culture and defective character.


Nathan Glazer, The Limits of Social Policy 15 (1988)

Edward C. Banfield, The Unheavenly City Revisited (1974)

John Bennett (MA, University of Chicago, MAPSS '07) is a veteran, writer, and law student at Emory University living in Atlanta, GA. His writing appears at American Thinker, World Net Daily, and


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