Watch the World Die

The Boston Bruins were crowned Stanley Cup champions last night for the first time in nearly four decades, and the Vancouver Canucks capped an epic collapse to their nearly perfect season with a 4-0 loss in game 7. It’s a disappointing end to the 2010-2011 hockey season for fans of the Canucks, and fans of Canadian hockey in general, made all the more disappointing by the looting and rioting that took plce in Vancouver after the game ended. This is hardly the first time that riots have broken out following a Stanley Cup series, won or lost; Montreal and Calgary have seen their share of riots, and this is actually the second such occassion for the city of Vancouver.

And, while many will voice their surprise that this kind of stupidity could erupt in a tranquil place like Vancouver, and more yet will level the blame at drunken and angry hockey fans, it’s neither surprising or the fault of Vancouver fans at all. The reality is this kind of human lunacy can take place in any city, regardless of its character, and has as little to do with hockey as does with the full moon that rose over the city last night.

We like to think of ourselves as much more than we are.

It’s a human failing; we ascribe a greater level of humanity to things than they sometimes deserve, ignoring the base reality that underlies the world. The best example is how we attribute personality and human-like characteristics to pets, and then wonder why Fido bit the mailman. He did it because he’s a dog. Dog’s are animal, with primitive animal instincts and psychology, and you can never forget that an animal is an animal.

We insist on forgetting that humans are animals too.

Humans have a pack mentality, the same as some predatory animals. We feed off of the validation, inspiration and example of those around us. We dilute our feelings of responsibility by expecting the human beside us to provide the example or to take the reins. The more people that are involved in an action, the more likely we are to follow suit. And, in many cases, it takes just one person in a pack to set things in motion and it will spread through the rest of the group in seconds.

Humans, beneath it all, are still dirty little primates ruled by lizard brains.

No, not always. But, it has been tested and observed and written about that a group of people watching a woman get beaten and raped will be asked afterwards why they didn’t intervene or do something to stop it, and the overwhelming result is that the observers all thought that someone else surely would take the lead and intercede. Since everyone thinks someone else will do it, nobody does. Soldiers asked why they took part in atrocities can’t give any real answer, other than that they got caught up in what the group was doing. They felt momentarily justified in their actions because their pack mates were acting the same way. None of it is really a psychosis, even momentary, because that would imply that it was some sort of defect of the human machine. It’s not a defect, it’s the byproduct of how we’re engineered as animals.

What’s more disgusting is how we have evolved as a species to understand how to turn this animal mentality into a tool to suit our purposes. What do you think military indoctrination is? The goal is to break the individuality of each soldier down, to push their individuality aside in favour of forming a collective that faithfully follows the orders of their leaders. They are taught to act as a group according to reflexes and training, and to not question their orders. They are taught not to think as a person, but as a group. Because, creating a group of individuals without individuality is to create an organized mob that can be directed to do what those that retain their individuality want them to do. It’s a hell of a lot easier to kill and carpet bomb when you are leveraging the pack mentality that lives in all of us.

The riots in Vancouver had nothing to do with hockey fans. There were riots a while back in Montreal as well, as there have been in the past, and hockey fans were blamed then as well. The only blame that can be levelled at hockey fans is for gathering as a group to cheer on their team, providing a pack to be turned loose. Essentially, hockey fans provide a ripe breeding ground for anarchy just by getting together in a crowd.

As in Montreal, and as it was in Toronto during the G8, the people who incite the riots do so very wittingly, and not because of anything related to the original gathering of the crowd. In Toronto, G8 protesters were blamed for the violence and stupidity that erupted, when it was actually a very militant minority that orchestrated the mess in a deliberate, intentional manner. In Montreal, a similar element that had no relationship to the hockey fans set out to deliberately stir up a riot. Like officers in the military, they came out with the plan and they set it in motion and very knowingly used the platoon of gathered people, already primed with emotion and alcohol, to accomplish an objective.

They appealed to their animal mentality.

The fact that there was such a mix of emotion, from anger to disappointment and frustration to elation, infused with alcohol, just makes it so much easier for the animal in us to come to the surface. When we’re not emotional or under the influence of a drug, we can keep our base instincts in check with reason and logic. This is why sports fans gathering in groups are so much more likely to riot than other groups. It’s also why other groups have been incited to riot in the past by deliberate agitators, agents provocateurs. The RCMP was well known in the past to put officers in plain clothes in otherwise peaceful protest groups to provoke violence and create a riot that could then be quelled and used as an example of why such protest gatherings should be dealt with more harshly or outlawed entirely.

It’s unfortunate that it happened in Vancouver, and it would be scary as hell to be in a city during a riot. I wish it hadn’t happened, though I was expecting it to, and the police presence in the city belies the fact that they expected it as well. It’s predictable. And, there’s no way of saying whether one crowd will riot or not, when another might do the opposite. It depends on those officers, those generals among the thousands of people gathered together for an innocuous purpose.

To betray my geekiness to the two people who sometimes read this blog and gratuitously quote “The Dark Knight,” “Because [they] thought it was good sport. Because some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

The good news is that when morning comes our reason and logic bundle the inner animal back away in the corners inside us that we cage it in, and we clean up the mess and move on. The mistake would be in thinking that it won’t, or can’t happen again. Or in blaming the wrong things and ignoring the right ones.

Or, in thinking you or I are any better.

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