“You can’t trust violence.” —Low (of Duluth, MN)
“Harmed by the millions; saved, one by one.” —George W. S. Trow
“This is the war Micah Johnson joined in Dallas on Thursday night. He didn’t join the side of black people, any more than Bin Laden or ISIS joined the side of Muslims. He joined the side of tribal enmity and vengeance. He joined the side of Dylann Roof, Anders Breivik, and David Duke.”—William Saletan, Slate.com, 7/8/16
In the wake of what will surely not be the last week of media-amplified hyperviolence in the USA this year, Postmanisms finds it difficult to sit with the least helpful, least insightful people who pop up on our Sunday morning political-shadow-puppet shows. But we do, so you don’t have to. Rudy Giuliani—New York tough-guy prosecutor, Mayor, spectacularly failed presidential candidate before the Age of Trump—appeared on Meet the Press to vent his staple right-wing blame-casting. His circular logic, posed as a lecture to the “black community,” (or the black side, as he put it) is that (in his numbers) 99 black men and boys are killed by other blacks for every one killed by the police. Of course, if this was simply a math problem, and had zero human resonance (or empathy on the part of the speaker), it would still be simply a dumb quasi-‘fact’. (Quasi- fact, or ‘truthiness,’ being the general state of media discourse these dark days.)
But it isn’t simply a math problem. In intent and ideology, it is rather more sinister. Here is our translation of Giuliani-speak: “If YOUR COMMUNITY were not so violent, ‘we’ (police) wouldn’t wrongly kill so many of you.” Guiliani channels some 19th-century America here: “The hunter or savage state requires a greater extent of territory to sustain it, than is compatible with the progress and just claims of civilized life, and must yield to it. Nothing is more certain, than, if the Indian tribes do not abandon that state, and become civilized, that they will decline, and become extinct. The hunter state, tho maintain’d by warlike spirits, presents but a feeble resistance to the more dense, compact, and powerful population of civilized man.”—James Monroe to Andrew Jackson. This logic is never used on TeeVee when we talk about, say, the use of opioids, heroin, and meth in white communities, and how if they’d just stop using drugs ‘we’ could stop having a drug war. This is not reasoning. This is propaganda and scapegoating and it is directed at a target. In the Gospel of Luke, a legal scholar asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” To Giuliani, a neighbor is the person next door, not, you know, everyone.
We’re going to pointedly avoid other aspects of the media and interweb discussion, since beyond the well-meant pleas for empathy (a good thing at any time, say we), most of it is the same boilerplate assignment of blame and the throwing-up-our-hands-in-bafflement-while-sighing, “When will this ever stop?”
Here’s what we believe: While it would be a great idea for humanity to “wise up”… “IT’S NOT GOING TO STOP.” (Apologies to Aimee Mann for repurposing her song lyrics.)
Rudy, like many Americans, longs for a time when Righteous Violence still seemed to work, when Matt Dillon could just ride in and clean up the town. After all, Giuliani is a man much admired for “cleaning up” NY so tourists could see Lion King. But the first thing to note in regard to “modern” outbreaks of maddening violence is that, lacking any kind of ethos that would mediate against it, and the tools of violence having been democratized (How long before ‘they’ get ahold of robot bombs? Attack drones? AR clips that hold 8,000 rounds?), that humanity’s long history of uniting society by acts of overwhelming lethal force is over. Politics is likely to be useless in restraining the spasms of hyperviolence we witness weekly on our screens. More this week; less the next—like global climate change, one has to look at whole-world trends to even begin to realize what is happening:
“Charity is now facing the empire of worldwide violence.” —Rene Girard, Battling to the End.
Here’s where we return to the scapegoat. In Girard’s view, both civilization and religion were birthed in the crucible of early human society, as revealed in his readings of ancient myths. Society is imperiled by violence in a community; when the violence reaches a peak of what he calls “undifferentiation” (Hobbes’ vision of an “all-against-all” violence, where the two sides are merely mirrors of one another, like today’s angry righties and angry lefties), these communities, instead of self destructing, found a highborn king (Oedipus) or a lowborn outcast (usually a stranger to the tribe), then killed or exiled (same thing) him, and restored ‘order’ to their community, until the next outbreak.
This mechanism worked pretty well for thousands of years, but, in Girard’s view, the Judeo-Christian ethos, which reveals the arbitrary savagery of scapegoats (Book of Job, the Old Testament prophets, the Christ story) has finally reached the globe at large. We are aware of victims, and at our best try to protect them. (Of course, we can just as easily pervert our knowledge of victimage and try to out-victim one another—from left wing Europeans who scapegoat Israel, as if either side in that fight is trying to de-escalate, to right-wing death cults like ISIS who scapegoat ‘the West’ and the Westerners who want to nuke the entire site from orbit—thus creating a new round of scapegoats Oresteia style).
So here’s our choice: knowing how violence leads only to violence, unprotected by the old, failing scapegoat system, we can either admit that escalation to violence is an inherent feature in each and every one of us, and make every effort, every day, to de-escalate, to not jump to Defcon 1 every time we are offended or harmed, or, since the last thing we want to admit is our own individual complicity in violence, we can continue to bang and blame, and risk the ultimate “escalation to extremes,” Total War, annihilation, the (small-a) apocalypse. To burn the world down.
We quite agree with Girard that it is our default position—especially for we who live in a pretty comfortable consumer society—not to believe humanity is capable of bringing its end down on itself. We’re dumb optimists (i.e., Romantics, Utopians, both the left and right swearing that following their ideology will rain peace and consumer choice on us all). One central truth of the Judeo-Christian tradition is that it dismantles the “magical” Angry God for a tradition that matures and forces us to look inward at ourselves and our own violent natures. Humanity seems to refuse to believe that a God of Love either exists, or that He might have tried to send us one simple, hard message. Simple to understand, that is, but exceptionally hard to live by:
To put it as a meme we here at Postmanisms really oughta hashtag (free of charge!): Either We Renounce Violence, or All Humanity Could Actually Die.