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What Do Rioters Really Want?

these rioters do not seem to distinguish the act from doing as opposed from the act of fantasy about doing. "I want, therefore I steal." Joan Lachkar, PhD, Nancy Kobrin, PhD– Family Security Matters    [caption id="attachment_11381" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Bus Flames"]Bus FlamesBus Flames[/caption]   According to many recent reports including one from The Christian Science Monitor, Countering riots and looting in Britain by Heidi J. Snow, posted August 11, mob violence is not always sparked by economic concerns, poverty, financial deprivation, but by the desire for excitement. The British were shocked by inter iews from looters claiming that they just enjoyed being able to "get away with something."-- firebombing, looting. In psychological terms this is known as the mob or group mentality whereby the horde defies all superego mechanisms of morality and together in symbiosis (which is a fused state lacking individuality) can act or enact their most vicious aggression against humanity. Sigmund  Freud in his Analysis of the Group Ego and Psychology in Groups (1922) and his follower, Wilfred Bion, were among the first to analyze behaviors in groups, that is how people in groups will behave quite differently than individually. Bion's early training in group psychology happened on the ground during WWI where he became a decorated British Tank Commander. His War Memoir 1917-1919 brings new meaning to group dynamics. If a tank commander doesn't understand the dynamics of his group in such close quarters, who can? Similarly the recent brilliant and poignant Israeli movie Lebanon (2010) also dealt with terror inside a tank and its group dynamics portrayed by its filmmaker Samuel Maoz. Are not the riots which took place in the UK akin to urban warfare? Returning to Freud, he was one of the first to make mention of a group psychology, as he looked for the forces which bonds and binds people together. In studying a group of men who band together in the primal, he noted they constitute a prototype of social bonding. Wilfred Bion (1897 - 1979) made major contributions to group dynamics. In his seminal work Experiences in Groups (1961), Bion highlights two kinds of groups: (1) The work group is a rational-thinking group; members are task/reality oriented, and its primary concern is the achievement of goals; and (2) the basic assumption group is the regressed group whose members function on the basis of blame/shame, fight/flight, and parasitic bonds. In contrast work group members are acknowledged for their creativity, individuality, and rely more on thinking than dogma or group ideology.  The basic assumption group is the regressive group/dependent group dominated by the collective "group mind" inclined more toward primitive defenses (splitting projection, envy, control/domination, non-rational thinking and whose sole purpose is to enact out some group fantasy. "See we are no longer the little guys we can even outsmart the British police!" The fantasies of the mob, the Masse und Macht as Elie Canetti would name it, the crowds and power, is precisely predicated upon how a few come to charismatically hook the others in, in order to play out their sadistic fantasies of psychosexual rage. Rioters are fundamentally impotent because they must turn to bonding through violent destructive actions using hard objects and destroying. We shouldn't forget that Melanie Klein the founder of British Object Relations wrote the classic paper on children and criminality, pointing to early childhood experience as the time when future sociopathic behavior can be seen. Klein is the most brilliant theorist on the early underpinnings of such paranoid destructive rage. This brings us to our bewilderment. We feel that we are bringing "Coals to Newcastle." Where is the disconnect between the British psychoanalytic community and British law enforcement? David Cameron does not have turn to an American expert such as Bratton. Cameron already has under his nose a wealth of talented British Object Relation analysts and psychologists to help him understand the problem and dynamics of gangs, how they operate and their psychology. It is puzzling to us and by now we hope the British Analytic community is also baffled in that the problem is not economic deprivation. Not all poor children turn into rageful rioters. The problem is deeply rooted in early childhood emotional deprivation coupled with physical and probably sexual abuse. In no way do we condone and justify the rioters and their acts, but rather this is an opportunity to provide a critical tool to understand these kinds of outbursts -- the quality, duration and type of rage points to a history of childhood abuse. Above all we note that rioters have a shared mental illness, a cognitive deficit,  impaired thinking because they act on their rageful fantasies of getting away with looting and rampant destruction. In other words, these rioters do not seem to distinguish the act from doing as opposed from the act of fantasy about doing. "I want, therefore I steal." There seemingly is no distinction between the difference to fantasize about the desire to steal and the act of stealing. This is driven by the act and lack of impulse control powered by the influence of the destructive group. This kind of psychological input is crucial for police and law enforcement to understand how to deal with the problem. It is imperative that they consult with their neighboring colleagues, the psychological community to offer assistance in how to set limits, fend off rioters and to disengage. To conclude, what do rioters really want? As a couples therapist and political analyst, Lachkar has written extensively about primitive defenses. Couples may think their disputes are over sex, money, children, custody, but they are really about control, domination, envy, betrayal, abandonment. Just as in the Middle East disputes may appear to be over land, territory, religion but they are really over domination, control (especially women), revenge, jihad, retaliation. With the looters it is not about property, poverty, but more about getting away with something. So why is this important, one could say who cares about the why? Why not just accept they are looters and charge them for their criminality? These enactments need to be recognized by law enforcement, if they are to be effective in their primary task which is to assure law and order to protect its citizenry. This aberrant criminal behavior has to be screened as early as possible and the police need to know that the problem is early developmentally. Police interaction with preschoolers is key, for that is when they learn to respect authority. These looters/rioters are too far gone for help. The rioters are predisposed to recidivism and they will have to be monitored for a long time to come.   FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributor Dr. Nancy Kobrin, a psychoanalyst with a Ph.D. in romance and semitic languages, specializes in Aljamía and Old Spanish in Arabic script. She is an expert on the Minnesota Somali diaspora and a graduate of the Human Terrain System program at Leavenworth Kansas. Her new book is The Banality of Suicide Terrorism: The Naked Truth About the Psychology of Islamic Suicide Bombing.    FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributor Dr. Joanie Jutta Lachkar is a licensed Marriage and Family therapist in private practice in Brentwood and Tarzana, California, who teaches psychoanalysis and is the author of The Narcissistic/Borderline Couple: A Psychoanalytic Perspective on Marital Treatment (1992, The Many Faces of Abuse: Treating the Emotional Abuse of High -Functioning Women (1998), The V-Spot, How to Talk to a Narcissist, How to Talk to a Borderline and a recent  paper, “The Psychopathology of Terrorism”  presented at the Rand Corporation and  the International Psychohistorical Association. She is also an affiliate member of the New Center for Psychoanalysis.

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