A few weeks ago while driving up to Seattle, Cameron stated quite authoritatively that steeply rising gas prices would likely set off widespread civil unrest throughout the United States, and there was nothing Bush nor anyone could do about it.
Following my normal tact of calling anything that I don’t fully understand totally crazy, I told him he was totally crazy. He insisted that steeply rising fuel prices were a catalyst of lots of bad things that could happen so rapidly, by the time we knew what hit us, starving middle Americans would be throwing trash cans through the windows of Wal-Marts to get diapers for their kids.
So I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I lived near the LA riots when they broke out, and an entire city basically went nuts over a, arguably, smaller tipping point. If you recall, when the riots broke out, the economy wasn’t so hot. We were at war with Iraq (Bush Sr. dropped bombs in 1991, the riots broke out in 1992) and in the beginning of a recession, and gas broke the $1.00 barrier. I think Whitney Houston was big then too, as were Hyper Color T-Shirts.
There were entire families, kids and all, throwing heavy things through windows and marching in to steal Pampers and Keds. And I’m not at all exaggerating – if you were there, you saw it too. There was widespread news coverage of people who on any other day you would never peg as looters, yet there they were, mobs of kids and adults with ear to ear smiles as they held up pairs of Air Jordan’s while carting home massive quantities of toilet paper.
Compare that to today. Not much support for the war (certainly no where near as much as for Desert Storm). Bush Jr. has made record breaking low approval ratings. I’d say a huge amount of conspiracy buffs/people who like to go nuts in America think we’re fighting Iraq to take their oil (and yet, prices still go up). Pampers are expensive enough as it is as prices of gas rise past $3.00 a gallon, and experts predict they’ll hit $4.00 in no time. Natural disasters are threatening domestic supplies, speculation on the oil market isn’t going well, and prices for consumer goods are already rising.
How long before Wal-Mart needs to start raising prices on goods that lower income families rely on? Or shut down because shipping costs and rising overhead costs threaten their profit margin? How big are the populations bearing similar demographic and social traits to those that went nuts in LA when the riots broke out then compared to today? Think of all the corrupt police reports out of the Rampart district in LA alone, and think of how many local variations exist across the nation – police and the lower middle class to impoverished haven’t exactly been happy with each other for the past several years.
Maybe I’m freaking out, but it seems to me that those who will instigate things like rioting and looting and the traditional sorts of going nuts don’t need much of an excuse. They’ll do it when the LA Lakers win, or every July 4th in the town where I grew up*. But once those guys get started, those who are feeling oppressed in some way tend to think that what the crazies are up to isn’t such a bad idea, and all it takes is for a few of the non crazies to join in, and then everyone decides that it’s socially acceptable and begins rationalizing their behavior. (In my best redneck accent: “Wal shoot Nigel, ah reckon.How is ah supposed t’be able t’buy diapers fo’ mah kids when ah cain’t even put gas in mah Chevy. Lets hoof it chase thet mob on over thar an’ bust into th’ Wal Mart so li’l Ho’tence will stop poopin’ on th’ po’ch!”)
- I’m only half surprised I can’t find much news coverage of Huntington Beach riots. There was the big one at the OP Pro Surf contest in 1986 (burning police cars, massive mayhem on the beach) but also there has been a tradition of riots and destruction each July 4th, or there was when I grew up there. HB police are notorious for restricting press coverage, as I’m sure my brother can attest to.