I see a lot of voices, accusing a double standard of those who would speak out about the American Capitol insurrectionists but not those who looted and burned buildings allegedly in the name of Black Lives Matter. It got me thinking on how people process information and the reasons we attribute meaning or belief into stories told to us from around the world.
It seems to me, that those storming this building in Washington DC were acting under the duress of what appears to be completely false information. Other than wanting it to be true, it seems that there is nothing to back up its accuracy. How then, does this drive folk? It is a temptation to sit from well far away and write them off as nut jobs. However, these sorts exist everywhere and it does no good to judge the worst of someone to assert your own position. This in itself is a form of violence. There were people involved who are authentic in what they believe and if they truly believe these things, then perhaps this was the most rational course of action they could have taken.
Where it falls down though, is that this was not based on physical reality. It might feel like they are fighting as the enemy draws nearer, an impending march seeking to vanquish all they hold dear. But the justification for that is not based on anything that touches the earth. It is an idea, a concept. We all need ideas to live by, stories to articulate a shared world. They may sometimes be niche but this still forms bonds with others. This gives a sense of strength through unity. This in itself is a great, even beautiful thing. When these people gather to take over this building, they are driving each other on with justifications which in their heart of hearts they know to be true. But those justifications are doused in mistruths. They are hop scotching outside the lines of reality to get to a point that they believe is acceptable. And you watch that from the outside and have to think, ‘well, that’s not true’.
They may live with concerns about a world that is shifting and changing and not representing their interests and they want to find answers for why that is. That is completely legitimate. But in this instance, they do this on premises that are incorrect. They may say the ends justify the means. But they are not following through on reality to get there. So they create a new one. But if that is not rooted in a reality, it will never grow. These problems will only perpetuate. Their invisible enemies will always exist, though the evidence of their actions will become more and more irrelevant. And what does that serve? How does someone’s world have any meaning if that is what it is based on? They recognise problems in their communities but they surrender all of their power to fighting something that is not there. They try to demonstrate strength but to anyone watching on, it is a display of farcical weakness. And they then draw further energy from the opposition they face, repeating to themselves the cliched mantra of the perennial arsehole, ‘if you don’t make enemies, you never stood for anything in your life, if you don’t make enemi…’ to drown out any reason. Principles are necessary but they need to be loaded with some sort of self reflection. The same goes for any movement of any perspective anywhere.
So then you have the rioters during an American summer of protest. There is outrage at their actions from people who believe innocence was lost that belonged to business owners and people who in these instances have suffered in their life because of the anger of a mob. But is that comparable? This was not the apex of a movement. This is not what the leadership of a movement was calling for. Equally, this is not to dismiss these actions as outside of the norm of these protestors. Nor an attempt to use the ‘true Scotsman fallacy’ to dismiss those who perpetrated these actions as not part of the ‘real’ movement. They validate themselves far more than anyone else could do. And that reaps consequences. But what is the root? Some, perhaps felt stirred to take advantage of a situation. Agitators and naked perpetrators that travelled from far. But these numbers are fractional. Then there are those who rose up and participated in acts of violence around them. Well, ok, but was this premeditated? Is that comparable to the attempted seizure of government? If the chambers of power are taken, then anything can fall. If a hardware store is attacked, it spells disquiet but it is not an overthrow. It is a reaction. What was their reasoning? A love of violence? If these people are strangers which they indubitably are to most people, then it is very neat to conclude these people are nothing but ‘hoodlums’ and ‘thugs’. Why not call them scum? It purifies us, safe in the knowledge that we would never commit these acts. It puts us in a position where we don’t have to deal with the wider issues. Which is very convenient, because most of us would never deal with them anyway.
It is a revolt borne from a very demonstrable act of violence upon the human body. This is not abstract. It is possible to rub a phone screen and wish that these people’s anger would go away. But this is just a hope, as weighty as a husk of corn but just as sharp. The body of a man was squeezed of its life. We can theorise and crow about how to react but most of us won’t know what it is to ever face this. For so many, this continued a pattern that time has not broken. The body faced an egregious crime, and this seed grew harrowed petals. Amazing how so many that have never gardened can so quickly become experts in horticulture.
Does this justify burning and looting? Not necessarily but it acknowledges anger. Does anger impede judgement and the opportunity for discourse? Perhaps. But how do we judge on that without recognising that these are also the actions of fear? The visceral panic of counting to five hundred and twenty six. Eight minutes and forty six seconds is what it took for a knee on a neck to smother a man from one world to the next. How would you react when you knew this was no one off. Who can tell you that bodies like yours are not there to be destructed? What care should you keep for the integrity of bricks and plaster and shop front windows when this world does nothing to show it cares for the keep of you?
And those are some of the curds borne from the whey of ideas. Literature and art express the potential of healing that thinkers articulate, Morrison, Baldwin, Davis, Coates. They don’t hide from anger, they incorporate it into bonds and the language of something better. They help make it real. Do we throw all that away, drown them out because a few act in a way we find disagreeable? It might be a person’s right to do so but it denies others dignity. For those incited by the leadership of a man whose life has been propagated by wealth, where is their substance or the evidence that they have tried other ways? Some have fought but now the bodies have not been placed in danger, so their minds are free to run and tell them things.
It’s been a windy day on this Scottish island and these issues don’t particularly affect me from here. But that doesn’t absolve me of responsibilities to improve. And these flashpoints present patterns. In a shrinking world, they ask questions of how we choose to live and what we choose to live for. In Scotland, do people want to build movements based on experience or conjured up grievance? There’s a change coming that has the potential to reckon with the world and shake what we know for the better. It is bold and imperfect but if we don’t hold a standard, that change risks being tainted by conspiracy too. If we want to build something that’s worth a damn, then there needs to be integrity. We have to understand why something happens and form our disagreements from there.
I watched a video this morning of an Irishman talking in 1988 about fighting in the trenches in World War I. He didn’t doubt that it was kill or be killed, neither was he apologetic about it. But his violence was because violence was all around him, it was a broken gas mask amidst a mustard cloud or bullets in his brother’s heart. And he was fighting the war of those who got tangled up in their heads and whose bodies were not exposed.
So why waste my time with those harbouring false grievance? It can be challenging but fulfilling to learn from those one doesn’t immediately agree with. In Washington DC, many of these people were once Scottish whilst others grow better beards than me. These are the starting points for some decent conversations. But right now their arguments just aren’t good enough and they undermine their own credibility. Most of my life, my mind has been racing. If I’m to look for guidance and answers, I need to first recognise if my body is secure. If it is, I’ll try to side with those whose are on the line. Those who leave footprints on their path even in the moments when they’re lost.