The madness of last week’s London riots appears to be mostly contained, but the many issues that provoked it are unlikely to be resolved soon (if ever). Some of the rioting was simple criminal opportunism, but a lot of it was a venting of frustration from people who have few prospects and no say in their society. Is overpopulation one of the contributing factors? I would argue, yes – in my 18/7/2009 entry I said that crowding thousands of people together leads to more stress and thus violence, as humans are not evolutionarily adapted to live this way. This was the opinion given in the article “London’s a rat hole” (21/1/2009 entry).
It is hardly surprising that many rioters seem to live in the ugly, inhuman, modernist housing projects that afflict London like the plague.
– David Thomson, St Kilda, 16/8
A counter-argument might be that countries such as Japan are even more overcrowded and their populations do not riot, but their pathologies merely are expressed in different ways. Their culture insists on extreme self-control, necessary for living so closely, but the suicide rate has long been one of the highest in the world, and the hikikomori phenomenon amongst mostly young people – extreme withdrawal for years on end – is well-known. Anger is turned inward rather than outward.
Many of the rioters are unemployed, and there are little in the way of jobs for them. It is simply impossible to provide meaningful jobs for everyone in a growing population, especially as many businesses and industries are “downsizing” to become more efficient, and outsourcing a lot of work to cheap (slave) labor in developing countries. Such frustrations were also a factor in the “Arab spring” uprisings earlier this year (which are still ongoing), and the Israeli housing protests over the rising cost of living (Israel is very overcrowded). Too many people competing for dwindling resources, living space and jobs.
An article in Business Week from earlier this year, “The Youth Unemployment Bomb”, looks at the social consequences of having a large, unemployed and educated youth population, and the inevitable disorder this creates. The article, though, somewhat unhelpfully suggests that the solution is to create entrepreneurs – start one’s own company. But not all people have the aptitude for that (I don’t), and there are only so many products and services that can be created; the market is arguably saturated with “stuff”. The article does not address the basic issue: that there is simply a massive overpopulation of young people (who will one day become old).
So that’s the situation in this year of 7 billion – how much worse will things get if and when the population reaches 8, then 9 billion?