There exists a point in time at which someone realizes that they have made a mistake. An alcoholic looks back at years of wasted time and an abusive relationship with the bottle to discover that he has destroyed his relationships with all his friends and family. We look back on the war in Iraq and discover that we have created more chaos and unrest than good. I imagine King George III looked back on the secession of the colonies and wondered exactly where things went wrong.
Oftentimes we attempt to create reasons for the way things are. Well, since this happened, then this other thing happened. It’s quite obvious. If things had happened this way instead, everything would have turned out differently. The fact of the matter is that the world is not nearly so deterministic as we wish to believe. It’s not the influence of a single variable but rather a much greater network of interconnected events, social values, chance occurrences, and other factors, the totality of which can’t, of course, be understood or predicted by one individual or possibly even a group of individuals. To the trained eye, many events do not happen with a “bang!” but rather with a long series of leading events which make the final event inevitable. There were warning signs, yet very often these warning signs cannot be distinguished from harmless phenomena, particularly for people who are unwilling to look.
Human social matters are the most complex realm of existence, in part because human beings are the most complex beings on earth. When you take 7 billion independent (assumed for the sake of argument alone) people and put them on one planet, every one of them vying for resources and desire satisfaction and whatever else it is that drives them, there are bound to be conflicts. Conflicts are inevitable and timeless, and it is an unfortunate truth that there will always be wars for there will always be those who think of war as an appropriate means to deal with others, no matter how clear history is on the subject. (“The only thing we learn from history is that we do not learn from history.”) Yet how such conflicts will occur is much more murky, because while we may understand the inevitability of certain phenomena, this doesn’t mean that we can always identify the delicate combination of factors which lead to them.
War is a form of wide scale conflict which is particularly devious in large part because it is a lose-lose situation. Neither side wins, no matter what the propaganda tells us. Both sides sacrifice resources, lives, and humanity in favor of what amounts to little more than a pissing contest. When it’s done, the “winners” try to recoup the cost by further demonizing the losers, and the cycle continues anew.
Why is it that war, and conflict in general, is such a darling desire of the modern state? The rise of the internet has led to massive globalization of all peoples. Suddenly, we play multiplayer video games where thirteen year olds can hurl racial and sexual slurs at us with no repercussion. The U.S. is face to face with other English speaking countries like the U.K., Australia, and India. We find traces of others as well, those who can speak fragmented English and are thus easy targets for the ire of less accepting internet warriors. One day we wake to discover that the twin towers have been brought down by terrorist attack. Some interactions are benign, others violent, but above all an othering mentality is created, one which defines clear in and out groups and divides human relations into matters of the interactions between these polar groups.
In the face of sudden globalization, it isn’t surprising that conflict would arise. The internet connects us in some ways but disconnects us in others. Unable to see the eyes of the persons we interact with, they are suddenly just meaningless usernames to us, we feel no qualms about treating them inhumanely. After all, they aren’t us.
This undercurrent has led, in recent years, to the rise of hate groups and countercultural movements which could not have previously existed. With the ability to connect to others like them all over the world through the internet, they can now form a united front and organize against others despite the fact that they would never have met such people face to face in a previous era and such a movement would rarely have gained much serious traction. Nationalism is stronger than ever, and racism is coming back in forms all the more pernicious because this time they aren’t outright, but rather based in unspoken and unexamined premises and biases which rarely make themselves manifest. Organization seems useless. For every minor victory, everyone is easily distracted by unwinnable conflicts designed to hold our attention and divert energy away from the more important issues. This drains us of our energy and weakens us, leaving us easy victims to the seemingly endless horde of everything else out there.
The U.S., in recent years, has militarized itself dramatically. We have the largest defense budget in the world, and seem to consider ourselves the masters over it. Everyone else has to conform to how we think, or we must invade them in the name of “democracy” or “freedom” or whatever other ideology of the day has caught our fancy. Yet in the end this just boils down to that very primal feeling, that gut fear, that refusal to understand that others may think differently than us, have different values than us, and exist independently of us.
This militarization is not limited to our dealings with the rest of the world. At home, it continues at an astounding pace as well. Police departments around the United States are being donated leftover military-grade equipment, which they are expected to use for… what, exactly? Making war against the American people? …in the name of fighting a terrorism which now exists only because we have fed it with our warmongering for the past decade.
The conservative party of the United States sows a distrust in our government, purposely undermines democratic agendas so that the purpose of the government is not to pass laws and serve the people, but to consistently and constantly sabotage and undermine itself. In response, we are encouraged to purchase weaponry, arm ourselves, prepare for its failings, be prepared to fight to protect ourselves from some nameless and unknown enemy, all in the name of patriotism and exercising our right to purchase guns and wave them in people’s faces for no discernible reason.
When no such enemy appears, and our judgment falters, who will be the victim? Who will be made into an enemy? Perhaps that guy down the street we don’t like, the one who stole our girlfriend. The black guy at school, because he talks differently than us and wears different clothes. That middle eastern fellow because he could be a terrorist. The effeminate man with the soft voice, because he’s probably a queer.
The problem with this philosophy is that it encourages us to tear ourselves apart from the inside out. This is an escalation of conflict not with a clearly defined enemy but within ourselves. When everyone is prepared for war and there’s no enemy, an enemy has to be made, lest we be forced to admit that this militarization has been pointless and stupid. Guns have to be pointed somewhere, after all. Someone has to be blamed, someone has to take the fall for all this manic aggression that we’ve built up as a society. It can’t be helped. He should be careful not to steal things, should be careful not to do anything to piss us off. We’ve got the guns, we’re in charge.
Further, this rampant misuse of our rights to bear arms results in a sort of overbearing defense, a defense which in its overzealousness, goes too far. Not only should we have the right to have pistols and shotguns and rifles for hunting, we need assault rifles and automatic weaponry and explosives and who knows what else. We don’t know what the “bad guy” could have, we don’t know what we might need. This concentration of force amounts to little more than an arms race. But this isn’t an arms race for war; we’ve already got all the best weapons on the world stage. This is an arms race for our own lives, for our defense on our own soil, for our very country. What happens when the weapons get too big to control? What happens when this philosophy follows itself to its inevitable conclusion?
We exist in a situation in which we are taught to fear others with an intense paranoia, are taught to arm ourselves with weaponry in order to combat others as needed, and in which we are supposed to be convinced of our own value to stand over others as judge and jury, to attempt to dominate and control the world as we see fit. In this world, our government is weak and ineffectual and can do little to maintain order and pass effective laws, or so we perceive. Is it not inevitable, in such a situation, that any capable of being perceived as outside the norm are thus relentlessly persecuted, sometimes even with unnecessarily deadly force? We are encouraged to take the law into our own hands, and unlike the law, we have no abiding standards, no universal code of conduct.
What has gone on in Ferguson is a tragedy. It is a tragedy that could, in one sense, have been avoided. Yet in another, it is inevitable. The minorities of our country walk the streets afraid that they can be gunned down, without justification, without reason, and further, that such people will be given free reign to continue their lives without any consequences for their actions. It is a travesty that Michael Brown is dead.
What is even more disturbing is that his killer is not on trial at this very moment. Why is it that when a man kills another, this is murder, but when the murderer is a cop, every effort is made to justify this murder and blame the victim for the murderer’s actions? Debates are made to distract us from this central point, to try and lead us away from the realization that the police in this country in many cases operate outside the law, breaking it as they see fit, all in the name of the overarching philosophy of violence and paranoia which has infected us as a people ever since the day that the twin towers fell. We are no longer a melting pot; we are once again a white majority inflicting ourselves upon others.
Marx believed that the completion of the revolution is what justifies and gives meaning to the actions of the oppressed people which predated it. Before the revolution, its signs and symptoms can be easily mistaken for something else, or overlooked entirely. Yet when the revolution has occurred, everything which has led up to it becomes clear, becomes meaningful. All the puzzle pieces fall into place. Those killed in oppressive acts are no longer simple tragic victims but rather the first sacrifices to the revolution, those who kindled its fires and gave it strength. When the revolution is over, they are honored as heroes, remembered for their sacrifice.
The very nature of complex systems is that they often cannot be predicted with any degree of accuracy, because their complexity defies simple human understanding. Is Michael Brown’s death enough to convince us to give up our old ways, to look for serious change and reform like we were promised when we voted for our first black president? Or is it instead the first signs of something much greater? Can we realize that we have made a mistake, or more accurately, have been consistently and repeatedly making mistakes? Or are Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin the first victims sacrificed to the machinations of a coming revolution?
I refrain from prediction. But for the sake of this country and everyone in it, I hope not.