Violent men only have eyes for each other. On a street full of bystanders, they see only their enemies. In a room full of reasonable people, the violent ones seek each other out and do their damnedest to drag others into the fray. It’s an odd dance, one which enemies do together, and when they do it right, they lure the rest of us into the performance. None of this is new. Violent men and women, only have eyes for each other.
There is a lot of violence to celebrate today, or to decry. And how often does the one turn into the other? A condemnation of violence can easily be a clarion call to strike back, and it can be answered in the same tone.
And thus cacophony becomes a chorus!
None of this really started with the killing of George Floyd, of course; but his death certainly has escalated things a great deal. Some are fighting in the streets, and some are fighting on social media. Some are doing both of course. Either way, that chorus of violent men shouting at each other is getting pretty loud these days.
One of the questions people keep haggling out in the media is just how the violence got started? A protest doesn’t have to turn violent, but many of these certainly did. What was it, or who was it, that pushed all these protests over the top?
The right wing is happy to tell us that it is protesters. They are happily sharing videos of looters, vandals, and beatings occurring in these riots. The more rioters participating in the crime, the better it suits this narrative. It is enough to know that these crimes occur during the riots. This tells us all we need to know, so the right wing suggests; it is sufficient to discredit this entire wave of protests, just as it was enough to discredit the entire Black Lives Matter movement, and any number of other protests in the past. This isn’t a policing problem, so their narrative goes, it’s a crime problem, or even a black problem. The national figures in right wing media won’t quite say the last part of that sentence; they are content to have their followers say it for them.
Others assure us it was the cops, which is certainly fitting, because this was all about cops to begin with. Many who support the protesters will point to numerous instances in which the cops themselves seem to take aggressive action against people who are not really doing anything wrong. This wasn’t the reaction, they will remind us, when armed protesters stormed government buildings not so long ago. …it really wasn’t! So, perhaps the police are the party most responsible for escalating violence in this case? Just as the killing of Floyd points to a need for police reform so does the violence of these riots!
Or perhaps it was white people? By now we have seen enough videos of this; whites breaking windows or spray-painting buildings while black protesters beg them to stop. “They will blame us,” one woman says to a pair of light skinned young ladies with spray cans, and she is right. Her pleas fall on deaf ears, and it’s hard not to think ill of the young ladies as they wander off looking fabulous in their riot-chic.
Donald Trump seems to think it’s ANTIFA. He tells us that the United States declares them to be a terrorist organization. What this means, as far as policy goes, I don’t know. I doubt Donald Trump knows either, but I haven’t yet found the judiciary authority of Twitter statements from the Executive Couch Potato in the U.S. Constitution. Perhaps, Donald Trump has. Who knows what that man hears when others explain things to him! Last I checked, ANTIFA wasn’t even an organization, terrorist or otherwise, but perhaps they become an organization when Donald Trump tweets their governing principles into existence. He may yet have that power. Who knows?
Boogaloo Bois and their kindred are another candidate for the cause of violence. For those fortunate enough to have made it this far without learning of the Boogaloo Bois, let me ruin the world a little more for you! They are a part of a movement intent on starting a race war. ‘Boogaloo’, it seems, has become slang for that war, and so the thinking goes, these folks can bring it about by escalating violence in whatever way possible. In this instance, the suggestion is that Boogaloo Bois, other committed white racists, or even bigoted cops may be engaging in false flag operations, breaking things or carrying out attacks in the guise of protesters. Suffice to say, this prospect folds neatly into the same theme as the white-people-are-doing-it narrative mentioned earlier.
And then of course, there is the general outsiders-are-doing-this theme? In this instance, the idea is to emphasize that the violent perps have come from out of state. What that means is another question. To some, it means they are obviously ANTIFA extremists coming to riot over the usual list of grievances, because that’s what ANTIFA-types do. Damned Anarchists! Others are quite certain this must be boogaloos coming to commit their dirty work in the hopes it will be blamed on African-Americans. Both of these narratives assume clear intent at the outset, though it seems to me some of these out-of-staters may be as prone as the rest of us to get caught in the moment. Either way, I’m pretty sure that those emphasizing the interstate travel theme include a few folks looking at sentencing enhancements and/or federal involvement in what might otherwise be a state crime. It’s one thing to break a window in your home state, but if it can be shown that you crossed a state line for the purpose of doing it, you may be in more trouble than you think.
Conspiracy theories are bunk of course, …except when they aren’t. Violence at protests have often been cause for stories about infiltrators deliberately pushing protests over the line and into genuine violence. Cue the folks saying; “I support protests but not riots” and you now have cause to justify harsh police measures in the short run and to dismiss the cause of the protests in the long run. Whether the culprit is a rogue cop, a random white racist, or any other bad actor, suspicions about such agents are always part of the stories told about protests and the violence associated with them.
What does seem new is the number of videos which seem to show something like this actually happening.
I think we’ve all seen this before, streets filled with conventional protesters and then some guy shows up covered head-to-toe and well-masked, carrying something easily used as a weapon. He makes a bee-line for his target, breaks it, and then makes another bee-line straight out of the scene, leaving other protesters a bit surprised and even confused. We’ve seen that here too, and (this time at least) we’ve seen protesters actively try to stop them. Watching such videos, it isn’t hard to see that such individuals are up to something very different than the average protester. What that is, isn’t so clear, at least not so long as the individuals get away. Of course others will say such incidents are proof positive that a Boogaloo-ANTIFA-Rogue-Cop-Boi is at work, and his actions confirm whichever conspiratorial narrative they happen to favor.
In the coming weeks, we may learn the details of a few of these stories. We may find a conspiracy of sorts explains a burned building here or that beaten man there. We may find cops provoked violence in this city, or the protesters really were just terrible in that one. We may find reason to believe lots of shameless people saw in these protests an opportunity to score some loot from a local store, that some folks will do things they never imagined when they are surrounded by enough angry people doing the same thing. The racists will have plenty of black perpetrators to point at even as others get reason to believe white privilege sometimes carries a spray can or a stick for bashing windows. Those who hate protesters will find plenty in this to vindicate their contempt, and protesters will find plenty of cause in these evenets to take to the streets again some other day.
What we probably won’t have when these riots end (at least I would be damned surprised to find that we do) is evidence that a single one of these narratives explains the whole of the violence occurring in American cities right now. We may well see each and every one of these explanations play out in different stories of the rioting. We won’t get one explanation for all of it. Instead, will will get a range of different stories, each pointing at a different source for the violence. Most likely, people will then cherry pick the evidence to support the narrative best suited to their politics.
Another thing we won’t get in the wake of this, (and please let me be wrong about this!) is a clear course of action for resolving the conflicts that led to these riots.
One other thing we will have, I suspect, is a lot more Covid19 cases.
In the end, the same divisions that pushed so many of these protests into violence will still be with us. The facts won’t tell us once and for all who is to blame, and even if they did, there are too many people who benefit from clouding the issue. So, the same violent people who found each other in the last few days will be looking for each other in the future. The stories they will tell about this round of violence may yet fuel the next round of it, and we will hear the same violent chorus again sometime on down the road.
Unless somebody figures out a few things BEFORE the next George Floyd. There is a real problem here. That problem didn’t begin with the protests much less the riots, and that problem wouldn’t go away even if we did all get a single villain to blame for all this violence. Someone with the will to make things better and the power to do something about it needs to act.
Right now, I don’t even know who that would be.
Surely, you remember Michael Flynn?
I remember him well.
I remember him leading the chant of “lock her up” during the 2016 election. I remember him pleading guilty to making false statements to the FBI.
Well, charges were just dropped against Michael Flynn.
They were dropped because Michael Flynn is innocent until properly proven guilty.
Do you remember George Zimmerman?
He was the man supposedly acting as neighborhood watch when he took a gun and went in search of Trayvon Martin, because Trayvon looked like was up to no good. I remember George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the subsequent trial. I remember countless right wingers lecturing the rest of us about how George Zimmerman was innocent until proven guilty. Many of those same people now tell us stories about how that thug Trayvon attacked Zimmerman without provocation, forcing Zimmerman to shoot him in self-defense.
That’s the story they tell. A story in which Trayvon stands charged, convicted, and executed without a trial.
Because George Zimmernan is innocent until proven guilty!
Do you remember Brett Kavanaugh?
Of course you do.
We are all reminded of Kavanaugh every time the well-stacked right wing Supreme Court delivers a decision. Kavanaugh sits on that court, because he was innocent until proven guilty.
Kavanaugh’s accuser Christine Blasey Ford is of course a lying scumbag who made up accusations against Kavanaugh as part of a liberal plot to keep him off the Supreme Court, so I’m told at any rate. She didn’t prove her case in Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, and the reason is obvious to those now happy to have him on the court.
Christine Blasey Ford is guilty because Brett Kavanaugh is innocent until proven guilty.
Do you remember Sandra Bland? She died in the custody of the Sheriff’s Department in Waller County Texas. Nobody was charged, because folks at the Waller County Sheriff’s Department are innocent until proven guilty. How about Timothy Loehmann? He’s the police officer who shot Tamir Rice? He was never prosecuted either, because Timothy Loehmann is innocent until proven guilty. Do you remember Daniel Pantaleo? He’s the police officer who choked Eric Garner to death over loose cigar sales. He wasn’t prosecuted either. Because Daniel Pantaleo is innocent until proven guilty. Do you remember Michael Slager? Okay, that fucker is just guilty! But do you remember Freddie Gray? He died over a pocket knife. All the officers involved in his case were innocent until proven guilty. Yes, they were!
How about Philip Brailsford? He shot and killed Daniel Shaver in a Hotel in Arizona. Brailsford was innocent until proven guilty.
Now we have the case of Ahmaud Arbery. Oh, don’t worry. he’s not accused of anything. He was just jogging. A black man, out jogging! That’s definitely not a cime. But apparently, a couple white men (Greg McMichael and Travis McMichael) decided that Ahmaud might have been a burglar, so they tracked him down and confronted him with a gun. Now there is some reason to believe Arbery might have been the aggressor at the point he was shot. …twice? What he was doing at that moment we will never know, but I reckon he might have meant to defend himself from two crazy white men with a gun. Such considerations won’t matter in the long run, because the McMichaels are entitled to a fair trial, and such speculation will not be relevant in a fair trial.
The McMichaels are both innocent until proven guilty*.
* Some restrictions apply.
I always thought Morton Downey Jr.’s cigarette would make a fitting symbol of the modern Republican Party. I remember seeing him blow the smoke into the faces of liberals he would bring on his show to shout at. I remember him using that cigarette as a symbol of defiance, a misguided token of individual freedom standing strong against a world of oppressive liberalism. The dangers of secondary smoke had finally sunk into the public’s mind, and people (not just liberals) were beginning to protect themselves from it. With Americans putting up ‘no smoking’ signs in institutions all across the nation, Mort smoked like a chimney just to spite them. He shared his smoke with others whenever he could, at least when the cameras were rolling, and this obnoxious act of self-destruction, discourtesy, and outright assault helped to define him as a ‘conservative’ voice in the ever more carnival circles of right wing politics. He became a shining star of right wing politics, for a time, riding a wave of support with a cigarette in his hand.
And then of course it killed him.
As I recall, it was Rush Limbaugh who replaced him when Downey got himself fired from a radio gig in Sacramento California. Rush also replaced Downey in his role as the most prominent right wing loud mouth. Rush got to keep that role way longer than Downey did, and he accomplished way more with it too. Rush substantially transformed ‘conservative’ politics in the age of Clinton (or more to the point, Newt). Through Rush Limbaugh, bigots and bullies everywhere learned to call themselves ‘conservatives,’ and through Rush conservatives learned to lean less on the authority of age-old traditions and enjoy the role of petulant children defying the authority of liberals whenever and whenever possible. Where old-school conservatives would invoke timeless truths as though speaking with an ancient voice, Ditto-heads mocked and sneered like the slackers from the back of the classroom.
Limbaugh also took on the role of the public smoker in chief. I don’t recall seeing him blow smoke in anybody’s face, but then again, I don’t recall seeing Rush ever spend much time in the company of those who didn’t share his childish pseudo-conservative politics. What I do remember is countless images of him with a cigar in his hand or in his mouth and a smug look on his face. He too wanted us to know that we couldn’t stop him from smoking. He too wanted everyone to know that we couldn’t stop him from killing himself. He was enjoying his personal freedom and there wasn’t a damned thing we could do about it.
At least he got a Medal out of it.
It isn’t merely that these two clowns have smoked themselves into cancer. Were that the case, I really would consider it their own business. No, what makes this all a matter of public concern is their use of tobacco in fashioning their own self-image. Both used smoking to symbolize right wing politics, to cast their own personal dances with death in the guise of rebellion and to cast efforts to combat the tobacco industry as just so much arrogance by the left. Just as Mort before him, Rush minimized the threats of secondary smoke. He too denied the health risks that smokers impose on others as well as themselves. Limbaugh too celebrated a known health risk on a regular basis, and he too turned it into a disingenuous symbol of rebellion against authority.
To hear these professional morons speak, American smokers had become freedom fighters and accomplished healthcare professionals become just another form of meddlesome liberal out to take your freedoms.
Sadly, this is hardly an unusual feature of right wing politics, not just the self-destruction part; the taking the rest of us with them part as well. From pollution controls and safety standards throughout industry to the flagrant refusal to address climate change, right wing pseudo-conservative politics embraces countless risks to human health and happiness. They flaunt the half-based idiocy of Sunday-Morning Scientists in answer to the work of dedicated scientific professionals on countless issues of public policy. They consistently do so in the name of personal freedoms and stories about confrontation with left wing authoritarianism.
These fuckers will one day kill us all.
Mort’s cigarette and Rush’s cigar really are perfect symbols of what American ‘conservatism’ has become.
A death cult!
Well we started this New Year by correcting an egregious crime. See, my gal, Moni, hadn’t been able to eat much on Thanksgiving. This didn’t stop her from making a great turkey dinner for myself and several of our friends. (Her first time cooking a turkey.) It just prevented her from enjoying it herself.
…which was an egregious crime!
We corrected that crime tonight. Moni made an even better turkey for New Year’s Eve dinner, and this time she got to eat her share of it. Afterwards, we went on down to the fireworks display for the town. That’s the thing about Barrow. Fireworks aren’t that cool here in July, so we do our fireworks on January 1st, right in the midst of polar midnight. This being the modern age, it didn’t happen without some electronic record of it, so both Moni and I froze our hands for the sake of ontology. It was worth, I think. I got some pictures and Moni caught the whole thing on video.
Presented for your enjoyment…
(Click to embiggen)
Happy New Year everybody!
This meme to my left just smacks of good old fashioned common sense, doesn’t it? I mean, who could be against “personal responsibility?” Just reading it makes me want to go take care of something, maybe take responsibility for something wrong even as I fix that very wrong up good, just like a real man oughtta.
Then go fly a flag!
Seriously now. The first problem here isn’t that personal responsibility is a bad thing. Of course not. It’s that the world itself isn’t going to magically fill up with people who live up to that value any time soon.
Neither is Murica!
The idiots at Turning Point USA didn’t really come up with this bit of folk wimpdom, I don’t think, not any more than they came up with the various fake founder quotes bearing their name lately, but I’ve ranted about that before. This meme can’t be debunked with a simple press for evidence, but it comforts the already-comfortable just the same. Like fake quotes from America’s founding fathers, this meme is designed to light up a warm and fuzzy feeling right in that place where folks might keep their inner old codger.
I think just about all of us have had that experience, we’ve all seen some living train wreck crashing through our presence without any sense of personal responsibility. It’d be easy enough to imagine they could do better in life, both for their own sake and for those around them, if only they would just take some responsibility for their actions. Collect enough such stories and I suppose it could become really tempting to think that same prescription would go a long way toward making the world a better place.
But of course we could say the same thing of kindness and compassion.
Of hard work.
Of self restraint.
…you get the idea.
It’s the nature of moral principles. We can often see how neglecting them means unnecessary hardship for ourselves and others. We can also see that people do neglect them on a regular basis. Sadly, that just isn’t going to change any time soon. So any solution predicated on this possibility is a non-solution.
But of course the point of this meme isn’t really to hope against all hope that everyone suddenly learns to cowboy up and resolve every problem from homelessness to the persistent popularity of boy bands. (Dammit anyhow!) No, the point here is to conjure the illusion that this fantasy is an actual solution to real-world problems, and perhaps more importantly, to point a finger, so to speak, at those who may be in the way of that fantasy-solution.
Why are there poor and homeless people? Cause the lazy bastards won’t work! Why do people cheat on tests or taxes? Cause they haven’t taken personal responsibility for meeting their t-challenges. Why is there crime? Why is there corruption in Congress? And why do the Bluetooth devices in my home fight over the signal from my cell phone? You got it! Cause some bastard hasn’t taken responsibility for making it otherwise. The meme conjures these and so many other inferences without stating them outright. It invites us to imagine a brave new world in which everyone tackles their own problems and we all right off into the sunset after enjoying a hearty steak-dinner at the end of every day.
…and really, let’s be honest, that first item above, the one about poverty, is probably the big one for this particular fantasy.
The folks at Turning Point USA do love their commie-bashing, so the poverty theme is right up their alley. At the heart of this folk idiocy is the notion that such problems are, at bottom, simple, just a result of lazy people who refuse to take responsibility for their own lives. We have poor people, so the thinking goes, because of the poor people. It’s their own damned fault! If only they took responsibility for their own welfare, they’d be just fine, but they won’t so it’s their problem, and not ours. We can forget any questions about the underlying social causes of poverty, and we can flat out ignore the existence of the working poor or the known consequences of getting seriously sick in a nation whose government is so wholly devoted to the profits of the insurance industry. No, if people are poor, it is their problem. That is all we need know.
If only the poors would just buck up, America would be the fifties fantasy-land some of us grew up watching on television. And boy-howdy, wouldn’t that just be swell!?! But they don’t, so we can’t and it’s all their fault.
And that’s what’s important; knowing whose fault it is.
Thus, a solution to a problem becomes a means of avoiding it!
…speaking of responsibility, and the utter and complete lack of it.
“You drive back home to Flagstaff every Friday night, right?”
A student asked me this one evening. Sitting as we were in Chinle, well inside the Navajo Nation, and a hundred and sixty or so miles away from Flagstaff, we both knew that he was describing a rather long drive late at night after a long week. Normally, I would be leaving just around 9pm and I could expect to get into town shortly before midnight. I’d been doing this for years, and I think most of my students knew about it. I wondered, why was this student asking me about it now?
“Do you ever see anything strange on that road?”
It seems, I learned that night, that a significant stretch of the road I was traveling was known for skinwalkers. From the reaction of his classmates, I gathered, this student wasn’t the only one curious about my experiences on that drive. I had only recently come to learn that the ghost of a small child was rumored to walk the halls of the school where I taught evening courses. Being stubborn enough to keep class the full time on most evenings, I was frequently the last person out of the building. I hadn’t seem this apparition either. Nor had I ever heard his footsteps in the hallway
It was an interesting moment, a conversation that reached across cultural boundaries, and did so in an unusually personal way. We weren’t discussing official Navajo Educational Philosophy or touching on any of the well known themes of Navajo ceremonialism, economics, etc. Were were discussing neither any part of Navajo culture nor any themes from western education in the abstract. This was a student who actually believed in skinwalkers asking me if I’d seen them myself, knowing full well that I didn’t. It wasn’t just that I was white. He knew, as most of my students knew, that I am an atheist and generally skeptical of all things purportedly supernatural. He knew this, and chose to raise the subject anyway.
This didn’t strike me as a confrontation so much as an expression of genuine curiosity, and an effort to communicate across cultural barriers and well-established differences of opinion. He wanted to hear about my own experiences on a road known for its share of scary stories. For my own part, I was as curious to see what stories were told of the road as he was to see if I had one.
But of course I didn’t have a story. None at all.
…which was a bit awkward.
Don’t get me wrong. Nobody’s world view came crashing down that evening. My students and I just sat there in an odd silence, each contemplating the next step in this conversation. I suppose some of them must have been trying to decide, as I was myself, just how much we wanted to get into this? We could have taken it in all sorts of different directions. Finally, a student offered the following; “Since you don’t believe in skinwalkers, they probably wouldn’t bother you.”
I think I started to put together an argument, even made the first couple sounds of a reply which would probably have involved questions about the meaning of his words or the nature of his reasoning, and then I hesitated. I couldn’t help smiling.
“You know. I think I can agree with that.”
Everyone laughed, and then it was time to say goodnight for the evening.
You never really know when you will find yourself in agreement with people whose thoughts differ so very much from your own.