Everyone seems to think they have an answer as to what the riots have been about. Everyone has different ideas as to the primary causes, be they social, economic, racial or what have you.
People tend to see their own political reality made flesh by these riots. Socialists think it is the bare bones of a class struggle, right-wingers think it is a result of excessive immigration, economists think it is a result of economic uncertainty and pompous intellectuals attribute pompous intellectual reasons for the riots.
I am frustrated by this trend of commentators imprinting their own political philosophies on a situation that does not neatly fit any philosophy or motivation
The riots have been about greed, about social division, about unemployment, about anger, about frustrated consumerism, about youthful vanity, about racial tension, about a lack of respect for society, about a lack of recognition from society, about police brutality, about disenfranchised adults with no path to the dreams they've been sold, about mindless copycats, about intelligent people who want to destroy a society that has rejected and abused them and about cuts to public spending.
With all of these motivations apparent in the actions and the back-stories of rioters, I feel comfortable in saying that there are as many different motivations for as people involved in these riots. So maybe we're asking the wrong question.
The idea my brother had was that sometimes "Because I can" is sufficient motivation for rioting. Variations on "...and because I can" can be placed after every motivation one can name. The real question to ask is not why people did riot, but why didn't they not riot?
What is it that makes "Because I can" a sufficient motivation to do this stuff?
I guess you could restate "Not believing in society" in such numerous ways with enough leeway in the interpretation that it could be seen as in some way fundamental to the answer.
You could boil down reactions to the question "Why did you riot?" to: I don't believe in society: I don't believe in consequences; I don't believe I can succeed; I don't believe in authority; I don't believe I will ever afford these trainers; I don't believe you will ever help me; I don't believe I can be stopped; I don't believe I am treated fairly; I don't believe in money, etc.
All of these are a part of saying "I don't believe in society".
Without that belief, society does not function effectively. If one lacks the belief in society, simply being able to riot becomes motivation enough because at least then someone will notice you. At least then society will prove that it exists in one form or another.
It's like taking a train at random: at the end of the trip maybe things will be better but, at the very least, things will be different. It's a symptom of hopelessness: jumping on a train just to land up somewhere else, the one and only certainty is the ride.(Picture by http://www.flickr.com/photos/madtea/)