In a connected world, supporting a cynical worldview will boomerang back at you.
Two articles caught my attention in the past days, from two very different sources. Read together, they spell out a clear picture of how times are changing, and how this may be a time for many to do a bit of necessary soul-searching, in the interest of nothing less than self-preservation.
One was an article in the (liberal) Washington Post, about an American suburb, where thanks to the police vacuum in the aftermath of the George Floyd riots, a tent town of over 300 homeless people, often with mental and drug issues, has settled and residents are fearful due to a rise in crime. Nevertheless, these residents are unwilling (due to a percieved risk of police brutality) to call the police, a police that may anyway be increasingly powerless against the recent organic, societal rise in lawlessness (after all, much like way markets work because people believe in the market, the lion’s share of the police’s control over lawlessness is dependent on people believing in the police’s power, which is now eroding rapidly).
The other article was from a website on the right side of the spectrum; the gist of it was a suburban gun owner warning looters not to come to his neighborhood, because he will react differently than what the “rioters” are used to in the cities, i.e. he will shoot any intruder that enters his house.
There is a sort of tragedy in witnessing (for now, from the distance) doomed ideologies and convictions fighting tenatiously against “the dying of the light”, but here I am led to think that the writer of the second article is in for a painful awakening, with the residents in the first article along for the (painful) ride.
You see, the wild west illusion, the insistence on a romantic frontier individualism, where the “me against the world” attitude is still viable, and the fight is winnable, is gradually but surely evaporating. Let me first get into the concrete specifics of why the second author’s viewpoint is illusory, and the predeliction of those in the first article tragic.
If you contrast today with 200 years ago (as has been pointed out by many commentators), there have no doubt been tectonic shifts, brought about by technology, that make a sort of rugged individualism increasingly meaningless: today, as Juval Hariri points out, the “virtual world” of data that governs life exists mostly in a network of imaginations and perhaps computers; whereas 200 years ago, we lived by the seasons, we are now organized and subject to what Hariri calls “fictions” that exist mainly as ideas (and perhaps bits of data): companies, ideologies, mass movements and their unpredictabilities. Let me bring this point home by making an example based on the second article. Perhaps 200 years ago, the brave man would indeed have had the chance to repulse a group of unorganized, roving bandits. Porbably the Sherriff would even have supported him. But now, if you apprehend, or even shoot, an intruder, thanks to Twitter and Facebook, the “mob” will almost certainly get wind of your resistance, your address will be “doxed”, spread on Twitter, and soon, it will not be two people breaking and entering, but 200. I am reminded of the last scene of Scarface… does the author have enough bullets? Does anyone? And even if he would, how would he sleep at night? Is a society where he needs to threaten violence to deter home invasion worth living in?
In this world where everyone is connected, and the great wave of both progress and destruction brought about virtually, you as an individual are, on the individual level, powerless. You must rely on the collective for protection. Even staunch conservatives realize this, who, beside touting their gun rights, are also great advocates of police, and law and order. But here we come full circle back to the first article: what if that law and order ceases to exist? Who do you call then, and who do you blame?
Not knowing the author of the second article personally, I can only make a general inferences, based on his voiced convictions. He is a conservative, Republican, who probably voted for Trump, and will probably blame Antifa, BLM, etc. for the current problem. But before he does, it may be time for some painful self-reflection.
It is very easy these days to start moralizing, so I will try to keep that to a minimum. But I believe many would agree with me that though personal ethics may be subjective, there is a sort of power to truth that makes it analogous to gravity, i.e. foolish to fight against. For instance, if you claim that a virus is no problem, and dissappearing, but it is indeed surging, the virus will not care about your lie, and will kill many, unless you contain it. Besides gravity, truth is the ultimate grounding force. Keep fighting against it, and you will perish. And this is the point the author of the second article should reflect upon, to understand how he got to his present perdliction, i.e. where he needs to publicly threaten force against would-be home invaders.
It is at first a surprising fact that beyond all the “fake news” debates, very few serious people, even on the right, doubt that Trump lies, and lies a lot. And this is the original sin of those who elected him: because they wanted the conservative agenda and judges, they looked away from the crudeness and the lies; in many instances, they even looked away from human suffering being inflicted in their name. But here is another truth: crudeness, lies, and cruelty and the corresponding selfishness do not somehow stop at the Mexican border, or stop somewhere between your country and atrocities committed on your behalf in foreign lands. As immortalized in the poem “First they came for…”: the author, if he is smart, knows that lies usually have victims. Did the author really believe that voting for a serial liar would mean the lies stay neatly contained in its use against his enemies?
The blowback is already happening. Before the author of the second article lays blame on others, he should consider what role the lies he tolerated helped create the current situation he faces. The lies, in not just my opinion, were indicative of a narcissist who is willing to throw his entire country overboard to satiate the insatiable. It is no secret that Trump has been instrumental in dividing the nation, for his own benefit; this division, more than anything, is what is leading to a breakdown of law and order: because to divide means: every man for himself. And, returning to my point, if you yourself are lonely and divided, but the tools to commit violence against you are better than ever (be it using an AR-15, and/ or Twitter), then you face terrible odds, indeed.