Title suggested by Gastro George.
Andrew Sparrow in the Guardian offers a round-up of the commentariat's reaction so far, including David Aaronovitch
The highest realistic estimate I've seen for rioters in one place was 200, and pictures of that event suggest that it was too high. It also seems that one must make a practical distinction (if not a moral one) between rioters and looters — people who entered shops already broken into to steal goods. There is some evidence of the same people moving from one location to another. With the number of arrests at about 500, I seriously wonder if many more than a few thousand people were involved in rioting.
This is important because it tells us two things. First, we are not dealing with a mass criminal insurrection. And second, that a remarkably small number of people, if they are mobile and use surprise, can cause mayhem out of all proportion to their numbers. I was told this by Tony Blair once, in the context of terrorism, and it's true.
I considered adding this in the comments to the last post, but it seems to merit its own to me. Though this
deserves to come under the "with exemplary timing" heading.
Why is Aaro so keen on playing down the numbers? He was doing it on Twitter
"@DeborahJaneOrr Quite possibly. How many then, roughly? 2, 3k [rioters]?"
I think his preference for low, rather than high, numbers is correct. But it's obvious that he's going too low. Mad Mel seems to think that the whole underclass is rising up, propelled by the Gramscian-liberal-Church-of-England nexus of evil.
What's the point of the Blair name-drop? It's a very obvious point, and hardly limited to modern terrorism. It's how the French resistance worked. It was the thinking behind the original SAS operations in WWII (IIRC, which I may not); it's in Herodotus, the Iliad, and, again IIRC, Gibbon. Dave studied history: I'm sure he knew more about this than Tony Blair. BTW, can circumstances really tell us something we already know? Because if they can't, that brings Dave's two things down to one. And I wasn't aware of anyone suggesting that we were "dealing with a mass criminal insurrection."
Also, thanks to the Cous Cous Kid in the last comment's, Dave's final para.
Because, yes, we have been here before, with a relatively small number of young men, high on violence and low on personal skills, finding a way to drive the rest of us mad. This analysis is both gloomy and hopeful. It suggests that, short of a world war to send them to, difficult and violent young men will always be with us. The numbers matter, of course, and we can and should whittle away at them with firmness. But we won't eradicate them altogether, and if improvement is always slow and adapting difficult, we can - of course - make things worse quickly, by reacting with impatience, prejudice and stupidity.
The last sentence is of course very sensible. I'm not sure about having world wars just to send "young men, high on violence and low on personal skills" off to. Armies aren't very keen on that sort really. Dave seems to envisage modern warfare as "The Dirty Dozen" on a more ambitious scale.
Am I overdoing the pacifist thing by suggesting that a sport like rugby is a better outlet for young men's tendency to difficulty and violence than, say, going to war with Germany again?