In defense of what we are against

Beware of putting false piety ahead of peace and security

vol. 2 issue 42


Please do something right now. Consider your part in the growing violence. If you don’t see how you helped create this situation, you can’t effectively stop it, and you’ll make it that much easier for those who wish to leverage it for something far worse.

Here’s what I mean.

Recently, friends of ours told us about a recent trip to Manhattan’s Upper East Side for family business, but were delayed considerably while the NYPD held traffic so that predominately white protestors carrying signs that read, among other slogans, “NYPD = Racism” could march through.

This anecdote was the lead-in to our friends then telling us about fears they now have for their family members who must live in what is increasingly an out-of-control NYC where lawlessness is on the rise, including muggings, shootings, break-ins, and car thefts. According to statistics I have read from across a number of reports, I am confident in the data that shootings are up by about 70% in the last year. Hello! That’s a lot!

While violence is neither subtle nor nuanced, the reasons for its increase in New York are difficult to tease out as clear cause and effect. Earlier this year, a new bail-bond law went into effect in the City. Aimed at reducing the number of inmates held in the city jails, it also was meant to course correct what has been seen for decades as a bail system that is overly punitive to the poor who might not be able to make bail, and so sit in jail awaiting trial. Data is being used to plausibly argue both for and against the new law, but from my perspective, it seems it would increase the number of criminals on the street at any given time, even if it is theoretically more just in terms of not infringing upon their rights to a fair trial before being incarcerated.

Another is that so many jails had to be purged of inmates during the coronavirus crisis in the city because the threat of infection was real and vast.

Then there is the heat on the necks of the NYPD not to arrest, not to overreact, and not to call attention to themselves as anti-racism protests, even those that have been marred by looting and rioting, cause many in the city to worry about where this all might lead. This is, according to novelist Kevin Baker, writing in The Atlantic, causing the NYPD to “sulk”, which I wonder is a fair characterization, but the net result is that their vigor for fighting crime has been dampened.

It doesn’t help that NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio perpetually fails to inspire confidence in his law officers, a longstanding issue preceding the events of this summer.

Meanwhile, people are being shot and killed by vigilantism in other cities and towns like Kenosha, and in act of alleged vigilantism in Portland. Police in Washington, DC, this weekend arrested five protestors, charging them with various counts of violent acts, and the latest from one of my own family members who lives in Los Angeles is that in the back yard there is now a homeless encampment where violence is growing, although the police have yet to respond despite numerous calls.

In short, it’s starting to feel out of control, beyond anything to do with protests and real calls for change. While Democratic leaders and others have not condoned the violence, it was only yesterday that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden issued an overtly anti-violence statement.

For the budding despot in the White House, this bidirectional climate of violent anger and hate is a great opportunity, evidenced by his hardly subtle twittering shouts for LAW AND ORDER, and other overt shows of support for militia groups, all made against the backdrop of what we already know he is capable of with his federal mercenary troops.

As Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin has pointed out:

A few Democrats have figured out what is going on. Appearing on CNN, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) observed, “They [Trump and his supporters] believe the violence is helpful to them. And the president is only motivated by one thing: ‘What is in it for him?’ He sees this violence — and his ability to agitate more of it — as useful to his campaign.” He added, “What it does to the country, the loss of life, he doesn’t care.”

At a certain point, lawlessness is lawlessness. People who are not opportunists, criminally inclined, or scratching a lethally bigoted itch will demand that it end, and will be inclined to support whomever they believe will bring make that happen. Thankfully, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden finally twigged this and made his unequivocal call for the violence to end, but, like columnist Andrew Sullivan, I wonder if there is the spinal strength in the Democratic Party to take the necessary nuanced approach to back up the unequivocal demand that the violence stop.

Biden and other Democrats are only as strong as their ability to demonstrate that they can meet the needs for change while not allowing violence to disrupt progress. That means they need to do more than “not condone” the violence, they need to clearly communicate to voters like me that they understand it is rooted not in simplicity, but in dumbed-down simplistic thinking. And then, they need to call upon people to think and act in more sophisticated ways.

“If liberals won’t defend law and order, fascists will.”
~ Andrew Sullivan

Let’s put calls for defunding the police aside, since it is a policy issue, and not one that will be addressed with any seriousness before the election. Instead, let’s talk about the heart of the electorate, as that ultimately will drive the upcoming election and subsequently how policies are made and what is written into them.

The well-heeled liberal Upper East Siders strutting their derisive signs past their own police force is obviously counterproductive if they expect the police to protect them should they need it, but it’s also facile and smacks of false piety.

Racism is real. White supremacy is real. But the solutions for ending it will not be to say “All People I Hate Are One Thing!!!!”

This kind of sloganeering and absolute thinking is precisely what makes it easier for there to be a ham-fisted response; it’s exactly the kind of opportunity a fascist will use to gain complete control.

It is impossible for me to believe that every single NYPD officer is overtly racist, even if they might be biased. Not every cop in NYC is a maniacal killer of black men even if Officer Derek Chauvin of the Minneapolis Police Department apparently had such a notion that he could exercise his own will to do so.

Sadly, despite the fact that the overwhelming number of protests, beginning with the Women’s March on Washington in January 2017, have been peaceful and earnest, by not perceiving the nuances in the violence around the edges of some of those marches we’re showing that we collectively aren’t fully “getting it”.

By simplifying our national anger and unrest into an Us v. Them distillation, it’s not possible to see both side’s role generally, and our individual role specifically, in fueling the growing violence. This puts us all and our democracy in grave danger. The simpler we make things seem, the higher the chances we’ll cave to a strong man looking for a chance to swoop in with this promises of LAW AND ORDER, and then stay put. And then, whomever he says is his enemy disrupting the “law” — his law — well, goodbye to you America, hello Weimar Republic, the clueless nation that Hitler manipulated to his sick and narcissistic aims.

The idea that the racism the wealthy marchers in NYC are denouncing is all the fault of the NYPD is so dumb, it’s scary. Baker’s piece in The Atlantic might be critical of the NYPD, but his larger well-made point is that NYC has been setting itself up to teeter on the brink for decades by sucking up to the wealthy, which would include many of those marchers on the Upper East Side, making it ever harder for those not at the top of the food chain to live in the city. This obviously makes them angry and ready to take advantage of the current state of chaos.

How on earth can it be possible that all our lives are reduced to a bumper sticker? Why do we not show more respect for ourselves and understand that we are complex? That we are not slogans. That no one thing is all one thing, not even the apparent occupation of the White House by the Lord of Hades. When we align ourselves as a solid block of “we”, then we become no better, no more sophisticated, and no more powerful then “them” because our vision is limited. Our intelligence is faulty. And to win in battle, you need the best information.

The moment we get suckered into thinking that our “enemies” are all one shade of either black or white, we are about to be trapped. It means we don’t see ourselves clearly. The Lord of Hell might have had help from foreign hostiles, but he still got elected, if not by us, then by our friends and family members who didn’t just suddenly think he was a good idea — he was the answer to their prayers, and then some.

Did we not see that there was this kind of division growing? Did we not hear their prayers before he appeared? If not, then it was because not seeing, not hearing was somehow advantageous to us. What was there for us to gain and so not act? Whatever it was then, it’s still there now, and it remains the thing each of us has to own and address if this nation really is to succeed.

All along I have not been willing to say that the current POTUS was thrust upon us, no matter how much help he might (did) have from foreign hostiles; he is the result of all our dereliction of duty in being responsible for our democracy. It’s why I didn’t support use of the 25th Amendment. He is all our collective id and ego made manifest.

With the violence erupting — violence that is utterly unrelated to the earnest protests against racism and the rampant feelings of powerless — I worry that people feeling like they get to claim they are “good” by hiding behind their piety, but not actually having the character to experience the change of heart within, will deliver us into the hands of our demons.

It’s just more of the same outsourcing of our individual powers of thinking and problem solving to people who might or might not want to solve problems, but who are definitely attracted to taking our power, regardless of their political stripe.

We have a real moment of power and potential to shrink the ill effects of racism and hierarchy in our nation right now. We have a real moment to step into some serious democratic power. Our nation has to have a change of character if we are to trust our soul to carry on.

Let’s believe we are sophisticated enough to hold that many things are true at once: that racism, hatred, and hierarchy are real, that we let it be that way, that there is no us v. them, only us; and that we are innovative enough to resolve these paradoxes. This is the only way that a serious conversation about defunding, re-allocating, or reforming any law enforcement can be done with positive, lasting results. Otherwise, it’s just more of our guys vs. their guys, and someone has to get shot.

The “wokeness” moment is over. We are awake. The only way to stay awake — and most importantly, to generate reasons to stay awake and anticipate a life worth being alive to — is to step into our power, not keep handing it over, not go back to sleep, and not become violent.

I hope the Democrats are steely-eyed enough to understand the need to resist such stupidity and find the strength to inspire enough of us to think and act with more sophistication.

If not, I fear that leaves us with only two choices: Batman or the Strongman.

One isn’t coming, the other is poised to pounce, but neither will deliver democracy.

This week I am out of town, which is why I am dashing this off now and not Friday afternoon; I was feeling too annoyed about seeing so many people losing perspective.

Here are some other voices speaking on this topic. If you to read choose only one, I would like to suggest it is this brief essay in The American Scholar by my friend, poet Ethelbert Miller, about turning to the soulful sides of ourselves rather than sloganeering.

Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish: The Trap Democrats Walked into

Rachel Larimore at The Dispatch: Rioting and Looting Has Us All on Edge

George Packer at The Atlantic: This is How Biden Loses

Ethelbert Miller at The American Scholar: America Upside Down

Also, here is some soothing new music from San Francisco-based Mercury Soul with DJ Masonic (aka American composer Mason Bates). It’s a blend of world music with meditative classical and electronica sounds. I am partial to classical and traditional Indian music, which is seamed in with Debussy’s Sunken Cathedral, among other sounds. There is also this one which features two solo instrumental interpretations by Bach, personally my preferred way to hear his music unless it is swinging in more modern, jazzy interpretations. I hope you enjoy it and leave comments below.




Photo credit: Publicity still for Batman Begins, Warner Brothers Studios.