Tuesday, August 11, 2015

How do people rationalize the use of force (even bullying) and get the approval of others? A look at the protests

As I drove home down I-81 in Pennsylvania Monday (in ridge-top fog), I listened to a radio talk show, from a “liberal” host, generally supportive of the activities of the demonstrations in Ferguson, and of the whole “Black Lives Matter” (speeecifically) movement. A caller was protesting that the behavior, especially Sunday night, simply represented anarchy.

For one thing, I don’t think that the Ferguson incident is the “best” one for the goals of the BLM movement.  In most other incidents in other cities, police went over the line and seem to deserve the community anger.  The very worst incidents seem to be Baltimore, Staten Island, Cincinnati, and a recent female case in Texas.  The case of Darrien Hunt in Utah is interesting has surprisingly little media coverage.
The reason that I feel this way is that it does appear that Michael Brown did behave violently and badly before the incident, including the convenience store theft and then apparently (not completely clear) actually intruding into the police car.  Police officer Darren Wilson has a reasonable case and should not be living as an outcast and unemployable, even though not indicted.  It’s simply too bad police weren’t using cameras yet.   The New York Times has one of the best factual accounts here

 Vox has a yellow “card stack” on the facts and truth as best known, here.

The talk show host (apparently from Scranton or Wilkes-Barre) pointed out that the city of Ferguson had been running its police department as a cash cow, targeting blacks for fines.  The serious problems with some local governments in the politically fragmented St. Louis area, and their not representing their people (especially police departments) has been well documented, as are the demands of the Department of Justice for change.  All of that is true. 
But the talk show host seemed pushed into a position of defending Michael Brown’s behavior as an act of justifiable resistance, rebellion, or “warfare”.  That is rather like justifying revolution, which, in the course of history, sometimes happens, and changes the way the “morality” of other individuals’ actions will be assessed by others.

The host also answered the claim that most black crimes are committed against other blacks by saying the same is true for whites. 

As I noted yesterday, I spent some time in Rhode Island this weekend discussing some materials with regard to Gode Davis’s unfinished film “American Lynching” with the estate.  It seems that a major goal of Gode had been to document the history of “extra-legal violence” that becomes embraced by others in a cohort as justifiable.  In the South through the period of the Civil Rights movement (and sometimes afterward), some white individuals, dispossessed by what they saw as economic losses imposed on them, saw their own violent behavior as “justified”.  On the other side, protestors sometimes see their own aggression, and even demands that others off the street join them, as justifiable.  The people I talked to noted that I seemed more interested in the "truth" of an incident (indeed, the Rosenfels "eternal feminine") than in helping apparent victims, or taking sides, or forcing some kind of political change.
But really, this whole idea has plenty of precedence in history. The Bolsheviks saw forceful expropriation from the Czarist rich as morally justified.  Then the Nazis thought the same thing about their march East in 1939.  Zionists see the forceful taking and settling of Palestinian lands as justified by a group objective.  And look at the psychology behind how ISIS behaves.  To me, it’s all similar.
 This weekend, I posed the question another way.  Michael Brown had reportedly been a good kid with a promising future, going to college.  Why would a good kid suddenly behave violently and do bad things?  It’s horrible to see this.  In the very worst cases, you get incidents like James Holmes, who, however affected by schizophrenia, killed just to prove that life and existence have no meaning – the ultimate nihilism.  For me, this kind of breakdown in another promising person, who might have been regarded at one time even as a role model,  is one of the most horrifying of all possibilities. In conversation, the case of Trayvon Martin was mentioned.  It’s unclear, but it appears that Martin might have charged George Zimmerman (whose behavior since doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence). One idea floated is that some young men just think they are invincible, even from police or authority, and have a need to prove it by force. 

As I noted, the protests seem like a somewhat isolated issue, focused on one group.  To me, it’s the context of the problem with respect to other possible social breakdowns that really matters.  It doesn’t help to win the battle and lose the war – your entire civilization.

Picture: Fracville, PA, near I-81, on the way home yesterday.  Also, Cape Cod National Seashore, and a picture from Fort Dix, NJ, from which draftees left for Oakland than then for Vietnam during the Vietnam war. Also, BLM protest in Cambridge, MA, which I encountered "accidentally" Sunday afternoon, see Issues blog for more. 


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