Riots and looting get a bad rap. The additional violence on top of a protest is seen as opportunistic chaos for amoral folks who are taking advantage of tumultuous times, or, for the more cynical, as the underlying and unstated value system of the entire protest movement despite their presented goals of social change and justice. In either case, rioting and looting is seen as delegitimizing protest movements; peaceful demonstration and presumably drum circles are the only valid forms a protest can take. Despite the long history of violence (even random, directionless violence) being associated with well-celebrated social change, today such ghastly displays are tut-tutted by the pearl-clutching among us.

pearl clutching

Oh goodness! Another police killing / school shooting / poisoned water supply / pointless war? I sure hope nobody has any strong emotional reactions to this!

Protesters are told to follow the example of Martin Luther King Jr., who once said:

“And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? … It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”

Or Gandhi, who said:

“I have been repeating over and over again that he who cannot protect himself or his nearest and dearest or their honor by nonviolently facing death may and ought to do so by violently dealing with the oppressor.”

The use of violence is ghastly, and has problems of its own, but to deny its history is to deny the history of protest.

Why might that be? Well, effective protest serves as a disruption. ‘Normal’, as in the status quo, is deemed as harmful by the protesters, so a disruption of that normal is required to challenge it. Blockades, boycotts, and marches all serve to disrupt the economy, trade, and traffic respectively. Peaceful, non-invasive protests like holding signs on the side of the road while shouting slogans disrupts the normal routine of our day; we have to see and hear them when we otherwise would pass an uneventful commute.

pepsi protest

Let’s disrupt society’s ability to drink Pepsi! Oh, God dammit Kendall Jenner, you ruined it!

While certainly a reasonable link between the problem with normal and its subsequent disruption brings greater clarity to the protest in general, it is not out of the question for a little randomness to be thrown in for the same reason that blood feuds are a thing. A blood feud is a form of collectivist justice: if one member of a family commits an infraction, everyone in that family is guilty because they exist as a collective rather than as distinct individuals. Society has become more individualistic since the times when blood feuds were more prevalent, but the idea has not gone away. Consider this: George Floyd was not killed because he was George Floyd, and Derek Chauvin didn’t really kill him as Derek Chauvin. George Floyd was killed because he was a black man, and Derek Chauvin killed him because he was an arbiter of normal. This then is not an individualistic murder, but a collectivist crime. A crime against all of black people by the enforcers of normalcy. The response then, makes sense as the collective of black people and those who stand in solidarity with them lash out at all of normalcy in response. Normal kills black folks, so normal is to blame. Let’s smash up normal: hence, riots and looting. And obviously it doesn’t help that the police continue to brutalize protesters which then exacerbates the blood feud further.

It’s worth pointing out that the size of disruption seems to have a golden mean of effectiveness. A small disruption doesn’t really affect much change (for example, changing your social media profile), but blowing up an Ariana Grande concert is clearly too far. Blood feuds tend to demand blood for blood, but I believe we’ve moved far enough beyond that ideology that we’re no longer moved by this bloody level of disruption. Are riots and looting too far? Well, considering that this is a response to many on-going deaths at the hands of police, we then have to ask, how much property damage is equivalent to the life of a human being? Trump put the number at around $450 billion when refusing to provide any kind of consequences for the Saudi dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi, and, while I haven’t seen any numbers, somehow I think the looters have a long way to go before they reach that ceiling. Trump, of course, is using harsher language to describe even the peaceful protesters than he used for MBS after the Khashoggi dismemberment, but I suppose that’s because he’s not personally profiting from the BLM movement. Or maybe he just needs vapid flattery, who knows?

orb

Could have been something to do with this orb. Remember the orb? I don’t think that mystery ever got solved…

The point is, the riots and looting are not separate from the peaceful protests, but are an extension of the same disruptive motivation that propels all protest. When these things happen, ideally we would reflect on normal. How does normal impact or harass others, or maybe how does normal benefit us, or even just leave us alone? Those who are impacted or harassed are quite familiar with the problems of normal; it’s those who are not who typically need to reflect. Once the justifications are assessed, then we can reflect on whether the level of disruption is appropriate to the level of impact.

Reshaping normal is thus the goal, and normal is not individual. Individual transgressions do not result in riots because riots are by definition collective, which requires collective response, and not the reprimand of “a few bad apples.” Ibram X. Kendi suggests focusing on policy changes, and the individuals will follow. What are some policy changes that might reshape normal into something less destructive towards people of colour? Well, they’ve already made some suggestions; we can start there.

I don’t remember exactly when Post-Truth became a thing. I don’t care enough to look it up. I’m fairly certain it was when Kellyanne Conway described the alternative facts on crowd sizes that people began to discuss the death of Truth. Regardless of the exact beginnings of this disregard for the sanctity of facts, it has certainly become a staple of the entire Trump presidency, and its blossoming popularity among the wannabe dictators of the world shows a global crisis of fighting facts with alternative ones.

I’ve heard blame for this pandemic of misinformation being foisted upon postmodernism: if everything is relative, then nothing is true in which case everything can be true. Except the justification for these “alternative facts” is never a glib relativism, but always fierce, vitriolic partisanship. Trump isn’t accepting alternative views: his are the only ones and all others are Democratic coups or liberal media lies. In actuality, postmodernism’s view of truth is that the powerful craft the dominant narrative which then defines what ‘truth’ is.

foucault

Pictured: Postmodernism being sexy as fuck

Remember the “Weapons of Mass Destruction” of Saddam Hussein that turned out to be a lie? How about when infamous Reagan administration official Lee Atwater let slip that social spending rhetoric was merely a cover for taking advantage of racist fears? You can no longer say n*****, n*****, n*****, you’ve got to lie. How is dog-whistle politics not post-truth? A hundred years ago, Woodrow Wilson needed to sell an unpopular world war to his country, and thus was birthed propaganda. Hell, even Plato talked about creating a myth to convince the plebs that the hierarchy he had set up in his Utopian Republic was both righteous and eternal. Those at the top, of course, were all in on the ruse. This is all prior to Trump, so there’s nothing “post” about it.

All these instances are powerful people shaping what we consider to be the “right” way of viewing the world. You know, the “truth.” Kinda sounds like the postmodernists were on to something, actually. So how have things changed since Trump was elected?

A compelling argument could be post-accountability. My own version of honesty as a virtue is that virtue requires personal sacrifice. When I have literally nothing to gain or lose by lying, like if I lie about the weather outside, then I’m considered pathological. Honesty doesn’t really fit in as a virtue in those kinds of scenarios. However, if I get drunk at a party and make out with my girlfriend’s sister, then I have a lot to lose in being honest about it. Hence, virtue requires the potential for personal sacrifice. This clearly shows that Trump is pathological, given that he, and his enabling administration, will lie about something as absurd as crowd sizes, even given photographic evidence to the contrary. However, no one holds him or the administration accountable. He was impeached, sure, but given the obstruction of justice he committed that was exposed during the Mueller probe, and the personal profit he has garnered violating the emoluments clause of the constitution, his impeachment was very lackluster. And then it was dismissed in the senate, with no lessons learned.

susan collins

Pictured: bending backwards to accommodate a previous lie into a current one whilst being sexy as fuck

Except, again, no one is ever held accountable. Remember Obama “looking forward” to avoid looking at the literal torture of the past administration? Clinton’s impeachment followed a similar trajectory to Trump’s in the senate. Or how about those who managed to get charged for the Iran-Contra scandal being pardoned by Bush Sr.? Or Richard Nixon being pardoned by his successor? It’s hard to remember any proportional political accountability since the French Revolution.

So truth in politics has never really had its day in the sun, nor has accountability for any vice, whether wrath, licentiousness, or the bearing of false witness. But, something must be different, right? This must be an aberration; Trump is different from all the rest because he’s orange and says the quiet things out loud! And there is! It’s what I would like to call: post-competency.

pots and pans

I don’t know why I thought of this image while visualizing the competency of the Trump administration, but it just feels appropriate.

 

All those other liars and crooks were good at what they did. The rhetorical twists and redefinitions of the word “is” and all other manner of sleights of hand, smoke, mirrors, and all the rest have always been a roller coaster of devilish charm and the subtlest of winks. Trump was accused of pressuring the Ukrainian president to investigate the Bidens, and when asked on camera what he was hoping to get out of his phone call with the Ukrainian president, he said that he hoped that they would investigate the Bidens. And that China should investigate too, just for good measure. He literally admitted to what he had been lying about days earlier, and then went back to lying about it days later. There will be no linguistic philosophy under the Trump administration because they’re all just such terrible liars. Our brains have become so accustomed to hearing well-crafted falsities and half-truths that when someone comes along who is just the absolute worst at telling lies, we think that the very concept of truth has been abandoned.

Accountability for this brash incompetence fails because modern politics is more about tribalism than it is about policy or even ideology. The attachment most people have to their political parties is the same that they have to their preferred sports team: it doesn’t matter who they are or what they do, we support them no matter what. Trump can talk about injecting bleach or grabbing women by the pussy, and then brazenly lie about sarcasm or locker room talk despite abundant evidence to the contrary, and his fans will not bat an eyelid for the same reason the ref always seems to be penalizing your team more than the other.

ESY-031306450 - © - Antonio_Diaz

The caliber of stock photo actors on full display. Their ambivalent rage is palpable.

We shouldn’t be worried so much about the abundance of lies, even as deadly as they might be. The tobacco industry lied to congress about the addictive nature of cigarettes, and the oil industry knew about climate change in the 80s, long before Trump started peddling hydroxychloroquine. Hell, even the level of incompetency is a bit of a blessing. Can you imagine a Trump administration that had even a modicum of intellect or skill? Or, to be fair, had these things that were then not stifled by sycophancy to a president lacking in both? America would actually have a Muslim ban as well as a wall along its southern border. We’re better off that they’re idiots. We should be concerned as to why people don’t seem to care when these things are so out in the open, when pathological narcissism demands impossible to believe lies, and nothing changes. Fealty to surreality is a bizarre thing to witness, and it is no surprise that we question our collective commitment to reality because of it. However, what we need to focus on is breaking away from the devastating tribalistic partisanship that allows it to happen.

The first step towards good, wholesome anarchism is the abolition of all political parties. Let’s start our focus there.

 

Those who are less than enthusiastic about sports are often confused by the vehemence with which a true fan can celebrate their team. A team can change the entire roster of its players, can change the coach, the owner, the logo, can change every single facet of itself, and the fan will continue to cheer without question in a complete validation of Theseus’ ship. This is because the fan is connected to the idea of the team rather than any tangible aspect of the team itself. The critic is baffled as to why the fan would bother with something that is so incredibly alien to them. The answer is simple enough, however: the fan sees the team as part of their tribe.

Sports television is very aware of this. Pre-game shows often deliver the stories and travails of the players and teams as a whole. Relationships will be analyzed and champions will be celebrated. It’s all gossip, and gossip is how we navigate tribes. How is Susan doing? Watch out for Bill. Did you hear what happened to Karen? Gossip is what keeps us safe and connected in our communities; it’s a natural human attribute. When we talk in-depth about the stars and heartbreaks of the previous night’s game, we are engaging in communal gossip.

The thing is, your sports team is not your tribe. The stress of a close game and the pride toward a favourite player kindles deep instinctual drives, but modern sports are “entertainment.” You can’t call any of your team for emotional support during a difficult time. The success of the quarterback does not bring food back to your table. A loss has no concrete consequences. Knowing who is a dangerous player will not keep you safe. Fandom is not so much the connection to an idea of a team, but to an idea of a community.

world series tickets

I value baseball over having a life partner! I’m sure I’ll be able to count on the Red Sox in turn to help me cope with the emotional devastation of losing said life partner

There are merits in the celebration of athletic prowess and remarkable skill. An argument could be made that sports facilitate community by acting as a shared interest among friends, and that’s fair. However, sports as an interest is then interchangeable with any other interest, and the accompanying gossip becomes meaningless.  If a group subscribes to the full tribalism of intense fandom, then it is in the same danger as described above. The importance of interdependence and mutual support in a tribe could easily be lost in shallow relationships centred on extrinsic factors.

We are, all of us, literally all of us, living in a time when the necessity of our tribe is morbidly obvious. Communally-deviant behaviours such as hoarding, ignoring physical distancing measures, neglecting essential workers, and spreading disinformation are representative of large swathes of the population feeling disconnected from the real-life human beings that surround them. We’ve been so focused on our false tribes for so long that we’ve forgotten the value of our neighbours.

covid toilet paper

We seem to recognize the destructiveness of wealth hoarding when the wealth is toilet paper. Wouldn’t it be sad if there were far worse forms of wealth hoarding taking place that people go to great lengths to justify? But I digress…

Whose shoulder can we cry on? Who will drop off groceries for us if we’re sick and unable to go out? Who will help us financially if we’re out of work? Who will mourn us as we lay dying, even if from afar? These are the people who matter. These are the people who have always mattered. None of them are on the television hanging in a sports bar. Let us no longer be distracted by idolatrous practices meant to profit off our deepest human instincts.