While the Government tries to make you fear riots over delaying brexit for a third time, there is almost zero chance of riots happening. Here’s why…
Fear of Consequence
Riots are rare for a reason. Rioting is a criminal act and comes with severe consequences for those caught. Indeed nowadays those not caught in the act are often rounded up afterwards thanks to modern communications technology.
So rioting is a risky thing for an individual to do and as a result fear of consequence is a huge motivator of behaviour against rioting.
That means for a riot to happen something needs to diminish the fear of consequences – and that makes the idea of brexit-delay riots highly unlikely for reasons of geography and demographics.
Fear of Consequence is why almost all rioting is in big cities. That’s not a cultural thing however, it’s a mathematical one. In large cities crowds can grow big enough to create the (often false) impresion of anonymity within the crowd – thus diminishing fear of consequence.
To understand why this matters, keep in mind that a riot will generally draw fewer than 0.1% of the population into violent activity. That means the following:
- London: 8,800 rioters
- Birmingham: 1,100 rioters
- Stoke: 260 rioters
- Grimsby: 88 rioters
- Kings Lynn: 43 rioters
The good news in terms of riots is that big cities tend to have largely remain-supporting populations or more evenly split populations. Strongly leave areas where anger will be strongest (like Stoke and Grimsby) tend to be too small to generate the critical mass for a riot.
Demographics Matter Too
Rioting is a “young man’s game” because young people are less afraid of consequences than old people. This means they can be more easilly swayed to set aside fear of consequence by crowd anonymity. Exactly why the young are less afraid than the old is a fiercely contested field of study spanning biology, sociology and psychology, but what that matters is they are.
This further diminishes the risk of brexit-delay riots because “leave” is mostly supported by old people not young people. As such, the population that a riot would be drawn from is a more risk averse population than the typical riot crowd, and thus far less able to create a critical mass for a riot.
For context, imagine old people are just twice as afraid of consequences as young people. That might mean they would need twice as much mitigation (twice the size of crowd?) to overcome their fear of consequence and start a riot.
That’s a huge reduction in riot risk, and riots are already rare enough even among young people with a lower fear of consequence.
Geography and Demography Combined
Perhaps most reasuring aspect for those who fear brexit-delay riots is the the fact that age and geography so neatly combine into a sort of double-lock against brexit-delay riots.
Not only is the relative old age of leavers a diminishing factor on the risk of riots, but old people tend to live in small towns, villages or the countryside where a large enough crowd is implausible.
This odd geographic-demographic coincidence makes brexit-delay riots particularly unlikely. It could be overcome by a very powerful flashpoint like a hospital turning away patients or a supermarket running out of food – things that cause both emotional distress and a crowd at the same time.
But the very nature of delaying brexit is that nothing like that happens. Everything stays the same.
The talk of brexit-delay riots should not scare people. Even if the above analysis were not reasurring, the fact brexit was delayed twice before with no riots should be.
But that means the government, its ministers, its press-pals, and its supporters are all talking up something that they must know is silly.
We will discuss why in another article. I promise. *Here is that promised article.
Meanwhile, if brexit happens on “no deal”, other flashpoints may occur.