The Berkeley riot was a scene from Lord of the Flies, not a political event

Summary: By now the true nature of the Berkeley protests should be obvious. But it’s not, obscured by lies from both sides and the usual flood of hysterical commentary from the media. This post gives the short version. But the future is more important. What the Berkeley riot lacked shows a path to a better future for America.

Political protests in America: Left and Right fighting to control a trash can.

Berkeley protest: fighting over a garbage container
Pointless fighting at Berkeley riot on 15 April 2017. By Stephen Lam, Reuters.

Different camera angles on the Berkeley riot

Raw ABC News video of the 15 April riot in Berkeley.  See another video at the end of the post.

Another perspective on this riot, showing the Left and Right in a street protests.

Lord of the Flies
Available at Amazon.

Another perspective on this event

On the streets of Berkeley we saw children acting out, acting with the purposeless violence of young men lacking adult supervision. It’s Lord of the Flies.

Of course, that is only the first stage of the process. The Berkeley street riot was not between two gangs, like the Jets and Sharks, the Crips and the Bloods. It was two inchoate groups.

The likely next step is their coalescence into real and antagonistic gangs — capable of more serious violence. Young men do this automatically, as Muzafer Sherif showed in his famous — and disturbing — “Robbers Cave experiment (see the book).

All this can produce is political violence, not political solutions.

What is happening?

The people at Berkeley pretend to be doing politics. Just like people chanting “Hitler Hitler Hitler” to Bush Jr. And those chanting “Hitler Hitler Hitler” to Obama (“Obamacare is really I think the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.“). And chanting “Hitler Hitler Hitler” to Trump. Neither are serious political actors. Both are have fun and expressing themselves.

The Berkeley riot was — like the Ferguson riot and the 1992 LA riot, and the countless ones before that — a typical peasants’ protest. People organized to pursue rational political goals, with leaders and plans, do not do these. These protests occur when people — mostly young men — are frustrated with their lives (usually for good reasons) and alienated from society’s political machinery.

Peasants’ protests are welcomed by a society’s ruling elites as a means of releasing accumulated stress — as a safety value vents steam from a boiler. Properly managed — with police knowing how far to let them run — they act to stabilize the existing order. The young men have fun. Their leaders can be identified at an early stage and dealt with. The violence boosts support for the regime.

CIvil Rights March in Summer 1963
CIvil Rights March in Summer 1963.

What would worry our ruling elites?

America’s young people and oppressed minorities lack the two factors that would make them effective forces for political change. First, a vision of what they want done. Not just “better”, but what specifically they want change. They need to see an alternative.

Second, they need to want leaders. Occupy, the Tea Party, Antifa, Black Bloc — groups today reflect the desires of their members: they do not want leaders. Leaders are no fun. They create organizations and hierarchies which limit individuals’ ability to express themselves. Our rulers will fear them when these people value political effectiveness more than fun.

Until these changes occur in the minds and hearts of protestors, these riots will generate income for the news media and joy for the 1% — and little else.

Leadership Compass

Other posts about the Berkeley riot

For More Information

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Another video of the Lord of the Flies protest at Berkeley on April 15

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4 thoughts on “The Berkeley riot was a scene from Lord of the Flies, not a political event

  1. Yet another great post, FM, you’ve really been on a roll this year.

    Part of the challenge for the ruling elites is to ensure that they avoid leaving any obvious rallying points for would-be leaders. What would have happened to Martin Luther King Jr. if the authorities in Selma had given in on some of his demands at the beginning of the Selma bus strike and then had not evenly enforced the agreement? It would have left the blacks confused about what they had won and what steps to take next, especially if the white leaders had cast the uneven enforcement as “change is hard, just give us more time.”

    The white leaders rigid and unified refusal to even negotiate with their black counterparts combined with their unleashing violent young white men (both in and out of uniform) to enforce the current system was what fueled MLK’s drive to the national scene. It also gave him an easy way to identify himself as the good guy by using very disciplined nonviolent protest.

    Conclusion of the above statements: Being a successful ruling elite requires a lot more flexibility than it first appears. The US ruling elites are doing much better than it appears and the US is much farther away from falling into chaos than it appears (unless you have the misfortune of living near one of the flashpoints of a peasant rebellions such as Berkeley or Ferguson).

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  2. Fabius and Pluto99, great post, excellent comment. If we who frequent this site were to organize a demonstration it would be modeled after MLK. What could be our focus?

    Watching Venezuela is also instructive as they are further up the road in the violence department.

    The analogy of Lord of the Flies is good. My analogy is a nut house, demonstrators and disruptors are the nuts and the cops are the Staff, shrinks and psyche techs.

    It’s all good if kept calm.

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    1. Follow in MLK (and Gandhi’s) footsteps. Choose a local goal that affects a lot of people and where there is already a lot of frustration. The goal MUST be simple to understand and to measure success. Spell out what success looks like before you start.

      Next step is to start making a lot of noise in the media about this issue and try to attract leaders of key groups (churches, civil groups, etc.). You need to show that you are not alone on this issue. The elites may start trying to negotiate a separate peace with you at this point, do not give in to temptation. Make sure your fellow leaders know what is happening and how you have responded.

      Assuming media pressure does not work, arrange protest marches and sit-ins. Fill out all of the proper paperwork ahead of time. Organize as many forms of media as possible. Make sure that your fellow leaders communicate the following to their followers:
      – Appearance: Be clean, dress well, don’t wear uniforms. You want the public to view you as one of them
      – Do not deviate from the route
      – Carry signs that support your message, don’t include profanity, and, if possible, are funny. Do not allow signs that do not support your message or communicate hostility. You are here to communicate a message for positive change, not to make threats
      – This is the hard part, if any of your followers make trouble, eject them from the march. Call the police on them immediately
      – If opposition shows up and starts taunting your followers, you need to make sure that your followers DO NOT RESPOND IN KIND. Break up the protest march if discipline fails.
      – If opposition uses violence, DO NOT RESPOND IN KIND! You need to be seen as the law-abiding victim
      – If the police tell you to disperse and they have cause (you forgot to fill out a form), do so without protest or anger. Then immediately organize another march and make sure you do not make the same mistake twice. If they do not have cause, make a lot of noise and then disperse.
      – Do not intentionally put your followers in a position where getting arrested for valid reasons is the most likely outcome. Make a lot of fuss if they get arrested for supporting you (but show a lot of support for the law if they are arrested for committing a crime) and show positive support (we believe in him, we’ll pay the lawyer fees, etc.), DO NOT MAKE THREATS, DO NOT MATCH THE VIOLENCE. You win or lose by the number of people you can convince about the righteousness and validity of your cause. You want to be seen as trying to change society for the better, not tearing it down.

      You need to hold your group together through thick and thin, increasing your numbers and drawing in as many supporters who were originally neutral as possible. Do not expand your demands, add them to your next cause instead.

      Smart ruling elites will flex to meet your demands. Dumb ones will turn on you with dogs and water cannons. The dumb ones are a lot easier to decisively beat but the body count is going to be a lot higher. Either way, be prepared for a long struggle and make sure that the goal you have selected is worth the pain your followers will suffer.

      The above is hard work and Malcolm X said that MLK demanded too much from his followers. I tend to agree with Malcolm X on this one but you can’t argue with the results.

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