“Hundreds of interviews with people who took part in the disturbances that spread across England in August revealed deep-seated and sometimes visceral antipathy towards police.… Just under half of those interviewed in the study were students. Of those who were not in education and were of working age, 59 per cent were unemployed. Although half of those interviewed were black, people who took part did not consider these ”race riots”. Rioters identified a range of political grievances, but at the heart of their complaints was a pervasive sense of injustice”. ( Brisbane Times, 6 December 2011).
All the big struggles in life are about body chemistry. Suffer a serotonin drought, then even a lottery win can have Masters of the Universe jumping from skyscrapers, and wan Goth girls slashing their wrists. Stoked on testosterone the male human will build an empire, or senselessly beat his wife unconscious. Ah, so that’s why we have bogans. Love, sex and trust surf a wave of dopamine and oxytocin, but seemingly it works to snuff memory and learning too. No wonder the moggles get to peak literacy at 14, then drown in a babble of baby-talk pop as sex announces its arrival – IloveyouIoveyouIloveyou… Project these silly molecules into a crowd and you have marriage, politics, ambition and the social death wish called war. Ah, what fun. But now we are hooked, need more and more chemical boosts. Will it be whiskey or crack, or the most potent bang of all, “power” over others? For such games we need a big mirror, our miserable insignificance magnified by some illusion of being a “member” and therefore in imagination, the co-owner of a nation, a company, a gang, or some “chosen-people”. Well, hope soars, reality crashes to earth. It turns out that not everyone can be god; someone has to wash the dishes. Look over the battalions of the excluded, and there you’ll find some potent chemistry at work. A sense of fairness, it turns out, is also tuned up or down by brain levels of serotonin and oxytocin (together with heaven knows what other cocktails). Those are the brain switches in all of us waiting to be switched. But what is fair or unfair in the big movie of life is critically coloured by learned expectations. The mail order bride in an arranged marriage may expect little and put up with hell. Feudal peasants, slaves or the religiously programmed may shrug and accept “their lot in life”. But the siren songs of consumer capitalism (for example) stoke vast expectations. When those expectations can never be met, the chemistry of a billion brains becomes a high octane mix. Toss a spark into that lot and the future is anyone’s guess.