Note: Concerning Brown’s alleged involvement in a violent felony prior to being shot, read William Grigg’s thought-provoking analysis. It only goes to prove my point made below.
I feel compelled to say one final thing about what is taking place in Ferguson, Missouri.
It is not just about police brutality. It is not just about crime. It is not just about rioters and looting, maintaining law and order versus chaos. These are symptoms of significant problems that are deep, profound, and many in number. There is plenty of finger pointing that can go around.
The most hazardous aspect of these situations, however, is when people instinctively separate themselves by forming sides and then resorting to violence to either recruit supporters or against anyone who does not support them.
It is a natural part of human nature. In history books, we portray events like the Boston Massacre as though they were sports competition, with two distinct and clearly defined sides to cheer for and offer support or condemn. We like the simplicity of black and white morality.
History is never black and white
Unfortunately, history doesn’t quite fit the level of simplicity we desire. Though the British soldiers fired without orders and killed several Bostonians, the entire situation was unnecessarily escalated by a rabble physically assaulting a sentry. It is this argument John Adams – one of America’s Founding Fathers – used while defending the soldiers in court.
Yes, the British soldier shouldn’t have been there at all, but what exactly was the mob trying to accomplish by harassing a lone sentry just standing guard outside a building? It doesn’t excuse anybody, but it does show the complexity to even relatively small incidents.
Life and the situations that bring about conflict are always complicated, and often there are many, many “sides,” so to speak, in a conflict. What happens, however, is that all sides converge into two great opposing forces, united solely by a mutual enemy, and by then there is no “side” for good men to take, because all of them will inevitably resort to the same immorality to achieve their desires.
It is not just about legitimate grievances. Legitimate grievances mean little if the solutions are illegitimate.
The German Peasant Revolt in 1524-25 is one example. Although the ruling class was oppressive, the peasants’ rebellion was so vicious and brought such potential for massive social chaos that supporters such as Martin Luther called for it to be put down, even as he railed against the princes who suppressed it.
The War for Southern Independence had good men and evil men on both sides of the Mason Dixon line. The Republicans and Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War committed atrocities against each other – as is done in all civil wars. During World War II, Germans such as Catholic bishop Clemens Graf Von Galen found themselves caught between criticizing Nazis they despised and defending their homeland against a Soviet invasion that involved mass killing and rape – just as Operation Barbarossa had entailed.
And then there is the Irish Troubles, which happened as if to serve as an ironic critique of the term “Luck of the Irish.”
Even in the Iraq War, which was an unjustified, unconstitutional invasion of a foreign country, too many of the insurgents fighting U.S. troops were barbaric savages who murdered innocent Iraqi women and children in bombings. The United States had no moral justification for being in Iraq, but that doesn’t excuse the evils of their foes. For the average civilian simply desiring peace, it wasn’t a question of which side to take but which side would claim you as collateral damage.
“If you’re not with us then you’re against us”
It is during times like these that morally upright people not fall captive into a “us versus them” manner of thinking, but to judge people as individuals and not group them together with those of whom they might share superficial similarities.
As a libertarian, I reject almost any claim of “either you are with us or you’re with them.”
The problem is that when the violence spirals out of control, all reasonable discussion goes out the door.
What is unraveling in Ferguson is not a black and white situation. It does not involve just two sides. And if it happens on a national scale, it won’t be black and white, and there won’t be two sides, either. But people will be encouraged to think there is. It’s hard for people to fall prey to groupthink where there are more than two groups and “rally ’round the flag” when there are more than two flags on the field.
As far as violence is concerned, two sides will form, both more or less hideous in their moral foundations, and everyone will be expected to pick one. Those who don’t can expect to be used or destroyed by either side.
If and when this occurs, no one can expect to find a reasonable position – other than getting out of Dodge, so to speak.
Simply put, if things get real ugly, those who believe in law and order will be forced to choose between supporting brutal measures across the board against an entire population by those in authority in order to restore some semblance of order or death. Likewise, those desiring freedom will be forced to choose between supporting barbaric measures against authority in order to prevent a total police state or death.
Meanwhile, the libertarian, the one who desires both freedom and law and order, and understands the two are not inversely proportional, will be alone.
The decent men on both sides will seek a reasonable position, but such a position will not be available. At the risk of sounding pessimistic, most will do whatever is necessary to stay alive.
I hope I’m wrong. I honestly do. But I’m not betting my life on it, because to do otherwise is to bet against history. As the saying goes, drastic times call for drastic measures.
A few years ago, Doug Casey explained in a column why reasonable people will support sociopaths when forced to choose between the lesser or two evils. It’s all a matter of surviving. They will take whatever action ultimately results in their own survival and the survival of what they value most.
One practical issue worth thinking about is how you, as someone with libertarian values, will manage in a future increasingly controlled by sociopaths. My guess is poorly, unless you take action to insulate yourself. That’s because of the way almost all creatures are programmed by nature. There’s one imperative common to all of them: Survive! People obviously want to do that as individuals. And as families. In fact, they want all the groups that they’re members of to survive, simply because (everything else being equal) it should help them to survive as individuals. So individual Marines want the Marine Corps to survive. Individual Rotarians want the Rotary Club to prosper. Individual Catholics leap to the defense of the Church of Rome.
That’s why individual Germans during World War II were, as has been asserted, “willing executioners” – they were supporting the Reich for the same reasons the Marines, the Rotarians and the Catholics support their groups. Except more so, because the Reich was under attack from all sides. So of course they followed orders and turned in their neighbors who seemed less than enthusiastic. Failing to support the Reich – even if they knew it had some rather unsavory aspects – seemed an invitation to invading armies to come and rape their daughters, steal their property and probably kill them. So of course the Germans closed ranks around their leaders, even though everyone at the top was a sociopath. You can expect Americans to do the same.
In times of violence, it is the rational, decent man who will be the outcast no matter which side he prefers. When it is evident that the Rubicon has been crossed, he should do whatever he must to remove himself from the situation while the storm clouds are still gathering.