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I checked yesterday the movie The Purge: Election Year (American Nightmare in French, which does not make sense because the title is already in English but nevermind), and I found it to be a correct entertainment film. Nothing surprising about the acting or script, kinda predictable but OK as a middle-range movie in the spectrum of quality.

However, the behavior of the people there, in my opinion, cruelly lacks accuracy. I do not think people would behave as such if The Purge really existed. Roaming into the street with weapons, people beheading others, making noise, drinking and such, playing all mighty while being exposed to any gunshot ... Do you have any historic examples about something similar happening, being in the US or elsewhere? I'd like to know. My main question is:

How would the society behave, and what would it become, if this day really happened? Here I try to get some elements of answer about logical, technical reasons for it to evolve. In a good, or a bad way? What about economics? Racial clustering? View from the rest of the world?

As mentioned before in comments, to be not opinion-based, I'm trying to get logical, technical and/or historical accuracy about your answer. The Why does it behave / become the way you describe it.


To refresh your awesome memories, here are some hints about what the Purge is:

  • For 12 hours, counting down to sunset, every crime, including murder, are allowed and not punished. Steal, racism ...
  • Nothing is said about pedophilia, incest, or even rape, because it is a movie which must be watched by a maximum of people, but here we talk about it: it is allowed.
  • It lasts only 12 hours, and is set one precise day of the year.
  • For this episode, diplomatic immunity isn't allowed to the government members (essential for the plot of the film, not here.)
  • Basically everyone wants to shoot everyone else, if you believe the film.

To your keyboards, you have 12 hours.

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  • $\begingroup$ So... each one of us (readers) will post what we (from different backgrounds and culture) would have done given this scenario? Then screw the keyboards already! 12 hours remaining... $\endgroup$ – user6760 Oct 26 '16 at 7:45
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    $\begingroup$ I tried to rephrase it, hope it gets better ? $\endgroup$ – Yassine Badache Oct 26 '16 at 12:03
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    $\begingroup$ [SPOILERS ALERT] Well, the in-movie reason for the Purge was that the new government allowed this day in order to "let people externalize their own anger and sins", so the rest of the year would be more peaceful. Even if that worked, it was also an excuse to diminish the poor populations, because the richs had the means to be protected. So they would win both money and time by letting the poor killing themselves. And from their point of view, that's an awesome reason if you want to keep the power to the wealthiest men (I, personnally, don't think so of course XD). $\endgroup$ – Yassine Badache Oct 26 '16 at 15:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Durakken I do not want to be at your house on Christmas morning. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Oct 26 '16 at 17:13
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    $\begingroup$ @kingledion Neither do i, but that's another issue ^.^ This is history, not modern lol. Christmas was a horrible holiday 100+ years ago. $\endgroup$ – Durakken Oct 26 '16 at 18:03
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I believe most people would go on about their daily lives as they normally would, or depending on the outcome of previous years, possibly lock themselves up or hide in other ways.

I think it would also shift, or concentrate, the crimes that we already have today to around this date. Most crimes would most likely happen as they do today, but the closer to this date you come, more of them would happen on this date to play it safe. However, since a lot of crimes are not well thought through, it would probably only affect petty crimes slightly.

Also I think we would see a lot of large scale crimes be planned out through the year, only to execute on this date. Maybe a few "heists" but mainly bigger illegal corporate actions, fraud, hacks, organized crime and things that would normally lead to a huge lawsuits for companies.

To be honest though, in my opinion it's not a very plausible scenario since it would contradict so much of the system in other ways. Could you for example be charged for planning out a murder before that date, even though the execution is on that date?

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  • $\begingroup$ I wonder if you could be charged for such shenanigans, indeed. I guess you could, it is planning outside of the Purge, so it's still a crime, even if it is planned for the D Day. $\endgroup$ – Yassine Badache Oct 27 '16 at 7:03
  • $\begingroup$ @YassineBadache, I'm not sure it would be illegal to plan to do an action on a day on which it would be legal. Suppose it's currently illegal to buy/sell some drug, but next month a law will go into effect decriminalizing/legalizing it. I don't think it's illegal to get to work planning your business to sell the (soon to be legal) drug. Just don't get started on it until next month. $\endgroup$ – Deolater Oct 27 '16 at 16:04
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know, really. I guess it's an excellent question ! $\endgroup$ – Yassine Badache Oct 27 '16 at 16:49
  • $\begingroup$ youtube.com/watch?v=5TpY7ZjmFro hope this helps :p $\endgroup$ – Youstay Igo Oct 27 '16 at 17:40
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    $\begingroup$ "Illegal corporate actions, fraud." Me: "Big Bank CEO: hey, today's purge day. I like money. MINDY! Set everyone's account balance to zero and transfer all of those funds to me, you can have 5%." $\endgroup$ – Draco18s Jun 12 '17 at 20:40
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There would be two factions. Those who avoid trouble, and those who are looking for it.

The ones who avoid trouble will stay at home, arm themselves, barricade their homes and invest in defences, form communities sworn to help each other on the day, move to safer areas, take lengths to ensure their safety. Some might not go to the necessary lengths, underestimating the trouble or overestimating their measures. The measures taken depends on the severity of the gangs.

In a good case, if the people didn't overthrow the government and stop the stupid law, they would set up their own sub government that would operate on the purge day, ensuring their safety with military discipline. This may lead to the purge being less dangerous than football season in Poland, with a declaration of martial law, but not too many murders that aren't found out. You may see systems like, if you murder someone during the purge, you're marked for death when the next one rolls in.

If things go well, you get a positive influence every year, the danger of the purge decreasing. Realistically, it would not go as well as this.


The gangs, the group looking for trouble, their activities will also vary. If they're strong enough... it won't be one day of the year, the gangs will turn the place into Mexico every day of the year, forming their drug syndicates and increasing their influence over the city. If there isn't a strong criminal element in the city, things will be far milder.

Loads of murders will be focused on that one day, as gangsters openly go to each others' houses (and gangsters will be the main targets) and kill each other in broad daylight, feeling free to boast about it later. People will break open shops and steal stuff, some might try to rob banks or the like. Each successive year, the criminal would get bolder, unless resistance to them got bolder in turn.

Whether things were bad to start with, or whether they got worse, you'd start to see murderous gangs attacking random people just for the heck of it, or going into houses and slaughtering everyone just for the heck of it. These would be far from a majority, but even 1% of the population doing this will make things pretty hellish for any stragglers.

As severe crime gets worse, petty criminals will decline, hiding at home or joining a gang and becoming more extreme. A lot of petty crimes will still be committed on top of the atrocities, but those will be the least of the problems.

I'm not sure what it's like in the film, but things would start to get very bloody. The gangs would also survive past the 12 hour mark, not openly killing people on the streets, but forming more violent drug syndicates and the like. Eventually, this spiral of lack of control will lead to (if it didn't immediately) the city being ran by gangs who will abolish the silly law (as you can kill people whenever you want... if the Don permits it).

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    $\begingroup$ I love the idea of clustering gangs which will, in the long term, survive even through the Purge. The "bad scenario" with a city ran by gangs makes me nostalgic about GTA: San Andreas :(. $\endgroup$ – Yassine Badache Oct 27 '16 at 6:56
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Our first instincts about what could happen are typically based on what we believe humans are like. However, if this Purge has been going on for a long time, the way humans approach their world will adapt to the existence of the Purge. It is actually no implausible that this could lead to the rampaging crazyness that we see.

For justification of my claims, consider sports fans. There is a subset of sports fans who are willing to set fire to buildings and flip cars when their team loses... or when their team wins (strangely, it seems to happen more when their team wins). Why do they do it? I'm certain you wont get a complete answer from any one of them, but it does occur in our world. It occurs in response to sports games. If it can happen in our world for such an apparently frivolous reason, why would it be surprising if it could happen in response to an event dedicated to causing such behaviors?

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  • $\begingroup$ Good explainations about, kind of "meta-behavior". I like it ! $\endgroup$ – Yassine Badache Oct 27 '16 at 7:00
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IF society really did embrace a day of Purging, the changes would be steady and swift.

We know what happens when Authority tells a person to kill another person from the experiments at Yale by Stanley Milgram.

From the Stanford experiments we know what the group will do.

65% of people will follow Authority to commit homicide and the majority of the group will become aligned to the conditions created by Authority. The testing of the strength of the fabric of society will begin.

Maybe it can take 12 hours annually of Purging but most likely it is a catalyst for significant prolonged confrontations. The unrest inherent in society and the pressure of conformity the government has to impose upon it would be removed and reset each year.

The empowerment of individuals with the idea to 'make a few changes' would be a concern. How could authority stop this? Take advantage of the window of opportunity itself.

It would be a slippery slope. Soon the pensions would be removed with sanctioned hits as would the people still receiving any sort of government assistance past a set duration. Prisons would empty of those on death row but progressively move onto shorter sentences as savings are considered profits. Dissenters of the practice would only voice it a year at a time. Any journalist would likewise be dealt with.

How did it come to this? Its legal. The government allows it.

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    $\begingroup$ Was waiting the Milgram reference. Excellent answer, I'll wait a few more (and writing myself) before choosing a best answer :p. $\endgroup$ – Yassine Badache Oct 27 '16 at 11:56
  • $\begingroup$ You do realize in the Milgram experiment it was actually incredibly hard to get the people to "harm" others, they had to be continually reassured by the experimenter and required a large amount of coaxing, even then more than a third disobeyed. It is actually very difficult to get people to kill on orders alone.The common understanding of the experiment is completely wrong. $\endgroup$ – John Jun 13 '17 at 15:04
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I will try to post my own answer, as it really questionned me on this topic. Note that I will take some elements from other answers, and will try to add some of my own imagination and deduction spirit.


First and foremost, I think it would become a worldwide event, followed around the world. Knowing our current society, I think it would become the event to follow every year. Televisions and media would send journalists and special reporters to cover the event. More gruesome, we would even have people sent there in order to make TV ratings. Just imagine the show:

16 people, from around Europe, will be sent in the almighty USA ... During the PURGE! There can only be one survivor, who will it be? Vote for your favorite contestant, and througout the show, they will be helped by our team!

As Eristyk mentionned, with his great reference about the Milgran Experiment (Wiki and SimplyPsychology), a lot of poor people would die if any authority was about to tell them to kill. Here, the Purge allows them to kill without sanction, but doesn't tell them to do so. They are just free to do it. The answer provided by J. Doe makes here an interesting note about gangs roaming larger and larger. A human, before anything else, can recognize his own good in either isolation or clustering, and I think gangs may become more and more organized, not only to survive the Purge, but also to take advantage of it. The government would have to take a course of action about either collaborating with them (obviously not) or destroying them (obvious).

The aftermath of the Purge would be, from the answer from Cort Ammon, an acceptance of the Purge. People would think it is normal. Social media would cover the event, but as the fact that some rich people own more than half the world together, it would become normal to watch it. Violence would be less censored and I will make a future question about how society would evolve if extreme violence was really that basic.

The world itself would be split in half: governments that allow the Purge and support it, and governments that are against. And I think we here have a pretty good reason to start a global war: people from my country are dying in yours, and you are allowing it! You'll pay for it! In the very long term, we'll be in a real movie: evil VS good, pro-purge against anti-purge, allowing people to clean themselves from their fury and exterminating poor people or protecting them by letting them come during the massacre ... What will you chose?


About the film, it makes this way too much of a fuss. First, people roaming free and shooting at each other without consequences. In the street, no one would be fool enough to run freely, armed or not, without cover or proper preparation. Streets, I think, would be waaaaay quieter, with some gunshots from time to time. You would not go out, and door-to-door crime would be the prime objective here: take a car, drive fast, stop at a door, knock it out, rob, steal, rape, etc. ... And go away as fast as possible. The problem is, people defending, too, have the right to defend themselves. Hard choice. Better come prepared.

And I won't talk about free roaming of masked people, public beheading by small groups or other demonstration shows. Even if humanity was driven crazy by the annual Purge, it would not seem this ... 'American'.

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Security officers & Cops, during the Purge, would be paid boatloads of money to protect places, people, and items from the Purge.

If indeed the world went crazy during the Purge, there would be places that want to "opt out" of the insanity. And, if they had enough money and such, those folks would guard their area with snipers that they pay.

The thing about the Purge is that in real life, there's going to be plenty of people this does not work for--and they will find ways to "fight" it--those ways might be violent.

There could be companies whose sole purpose is to shoot anyone who comes into your neighborhood after a certain time during the Purge.

While there might not be legal consequences for your protectors turning on you, their reputation as to how they protect those they are paid to during the Purge would matter.

Notice that people wear masks. If it's all allowed and legal, why do they do that? Is it because they fear what might happen to them the next Purge--and because legal doesn't mean consequence-free. If you kill your wife during the Purge, what then? If everyone knows, that is?

I do very much think there would grow up "Protectors" who will put themselves front and center against those who would destroy, kill, and rape--for pay or not. The fact that the purge allows them to protect and defend with extreme prejudice is just a bonus. One single sniper and a good spotter could likely clear out an entire street. Then you put up a sign "Sniper on duty. Put a brick through a window at your own risk. Walk down this street at your own risk. Please show the prearranged signal if you belong."

I can see cheaper "safe house" places that have paid guards with a wall, where families of lower incomes huddle for the time. Yes, there's a purge, but no one inside wants any part of it. And if someone does, the guards are paid to take care of that.

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What would happen if the purge was a really thing? Well... Probably the same things​ that usually happens when the authorities temporarily lose control. Rioting, looting, vandalism, and arson... The occasional assault, but probably comparatively little serious violent crime.

These scenarios play out fairly often in the real world in the wake of natural disasters and political upheaval, but it isn't as though people go completely feral at the first sign that they can get away with it. They're still human, and most humans have some level of empathy, respect for human life, and dignity. There's also the awareness that this is a temporary state of affairs, in 12 hours you're going to have to live peacefully with these people again, probably best not to attack the neighbors.

So... I'm thinking that you're likely to see a lot of property crimes, mostly directed at larger businesses​, so that people feel like they're committing "victimless crimes."

On the other hand, you're always going to have a few "bad apples," the sort of people who would have committed horrific crimes with or without a purge... But I strongly suspect that this sort of person is the sort of person who wouldn't be capable or careful enough to wait for a purge, and given that they're a really small portion of the general population, they'll probably get wiped out pretty quickly by an outraged majority.

Over time the purge may even devolve into another Halloween like holiday where people throw wild parties and engage in silly mischief and pranks. Most people really don't have the stomach for real world violence...

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