Still reflecting on the events in D.C. on the Epiphany (Catholic roots are showing – sue me). January 6th, at least in Catholic tradition, is the day when three kings from the East (the Orient) made their way to visit the newly born Jesus Christ, still in the humble manger outside Bethlehem. They made an arduous journey from afar, and they came bringing precious gifts of reverence and good will – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They had followed the Star of Bethlehem, visible on December 25th, to that obscure barn on January 6th. According to legend, they bowed to the infant they recognized as the Messiah. So, that’s the Catholics. I’m not sure all of the Protestant sects are on that page. Where I come from, January 6th – King’s Day – is the beginning of the Mardi Gras season. It’s the first day you can get a King Cake, and begin your 40 days of debauchery and excess until Lent begins. But I digress.
Regardless of theological or cultural bases for the significance of January 6th, What happened on January 6 this year, at the nation’s capitol in Washington, D.C., was definitely not a visit to honor a new Messiah. There was nothing social about this, not even distancing. A visit is generally not associated with violence, or rage. If someone armed breaks down your door and enters your home, that’s generally considered a home invasion. It’s a crime punishable by law all over the country. The events at the Capitol on January 6th more resembled a home invasion. By definition, when this kind of uninvited entry to a capitol is made, it’s defined as insurrection. Other words related to this inident have been thrown about, such as sedition, rebellion, protest, riot, demonstration
According to FindLaw (https://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-charges/rebellion-or-insurrection.html):
Rebellion and insurrection refer specifically to acts of violence against the state or its officers. This distinguishes the crime from sedition, which is the organized incitement to rebellion or civil disorder against the authority of the state. It also separates the crime from treason, which is the violation of allegiance owed to one’s country by betrayal or acting to aid the country’s enemies.
OK, good to know. Insurrection is associated with violence against the state, against the organized government (organized?). So, this is violent without question. I get it – they were pissed. A lot of Americans are pissed about one thing or another relative to government, the current state of affairs, life in America. We have a lot to be pissed about these days…pandemic, joblessness, crime, the economy, inflation, health care, education, taxes, price of a cup of coffee, cost of a Happy Meal. There is no shortage of provocation, but a dearth of solutions. A dearth of trust, good will, and earnest self-assessment concerning the sources of our dissatisfaction. So all of us are pissed. About some thing, some one, some place. Just. Pissed.
I have been angry before. It’s a normal emotion, but when there is unresolved anger that seems to have no outlet, and go on seemingly forever, it becomes rage. Rage is a horrible feeling, as though a hurricane is raging inside your skull with no eye in sight (the eye of the hurricane is a beautiful, yet short lived, period of calm). The feeling of being trapped is highly underrated, as is the inevitable and rapid descent to desperation. Desperation is not rational, and when animals feel trapped, they will do almost anything to escape. They will harm themselves – gnaw off their own limbs, mutilate themselves, kill. Death feels close, and the will to survive takes over.
I believe those who demonstrate the kind of desperation and the willingness to enact violence on January 6th are feeling trapped, if only by their own expectations of what their life experience should be. When you have come to expect a certain relative position in society, in the world, there is certainty, security. There is an illusion of control. When you see that relative position changing, when there is less and less that causes you to feel certain, secure, and in control you begin feeling trapped. When you feel that you’ve played by the rules you understood, but the outcome has not lived up to what was promised, you are angry. When the illusion degrades, and the picture continues to crumble through no fault of your own, one fears that life is coming to an end, that death is near. You feel trapped, and feel you will never be able to get free. And it’s not fair. There’s no solution. And so…desperation makes it possible to do whatever is necessary to survive. And I believe that is what emerged on January 6th. Desperation, fear of death on some level of identity, not excluding the physical. Fear breeds anger, anger escalates to rage, rage resolves to desperation. I understand this.
Where my understanding flails, however, is at the intersection of skin color and history. Africans and other ethnic minorities were drug over to this New Land, in chains, against their will, packed in the cargo holds of wooden boats like sardines. When they rebelled, they were beaten down and murdered in the most horrid ways possible in those days. Their rebellions and protests rarely escalated to the level of insurrection, often because they were put down so viciously. These were largely entreaties for fulfilment of the basic and inherent right to life and liberty. This was the birth of taking a knee, demonstrating the willingness and capacity for keeping your spine straight but acknowledging your inability to stand in your own power. That response is markedly different from insurrection, from the aggression of occupation or attack. Non-white people in this country have never felt they possessed sufficient power as a class to take on the state. The state and white supremacy oppression were generally contiguous, so…better to stay alive and live to see another day.
After slavery had been outlawed, we saw the kinds of violence and rampant terrorism that we associate with extremism. The KKK, the White Knights, tarring and feathering, lynchings KKK members were sometimes duly elected officials in state and local governments, and even served at federal levels. Everyone knew it, and it was acceptd if not encouraged. Blacks were stalked and hunted by ordinary citizens, on the simple expectation of wrong-doing. The law soon caught up to intention of discrimination, and we saw Black codes and Jim Crow laws replace the older slave codes. Non-white people had barely risen to the level of even second-class citizens, but remained in some kind of legal purgatory where punishment enforced an often unwritten code of white supremacy.
During the Civil Rights era in this country, descendants of slaves began to demand full status as citizens, and we saw the even more potent backlash. White citizens demanded, often violently, a return to “life as they knew it”…segregation now, segregation forever. It was just not right for the coloreds to drink from the same water fountains, use the same toilets, go to the same schools as white people. If God had meant for that to happen, well, it would be different (loosely translated, everyone would have been created white). Negroes were obviously inferior, and that is just the way it was. Whites said they were fighting for the good of the country, making things, well…white. And right. So there.
I suppose this is the Civil Rights era for white supremacists here. I’ve heard some of the extremists say they are having their rights denied, their liberty denied. They want their country back (THEIR country), and they want life as they have known it to return. They have had fun before, and this is not it. Carry me back to somewhere, where i didn’t have to worry, when life was good, when things were orderly and predictable and we all understood how this was supposed to work. And it did work as we expected. Except when a few people got out of hand…but we knew how to handle that, how to keep everyone in their place. Life was good.
Early in the pandemic response (or lack thereof, depending on your perspective), there were large crowds of white folks protesting, claiming their liberty was being denied. There were battle cries of “Liberate <state of your choice>!” I found it amusing to see large crowds of white people at beaches and resort areas, protesting and waving signs that said “Give us liberty!” Once shirtless male screamed that he had the right to go out and get a haircut, and the governor of his state was refusing to let him. Guess he never heard of hair clippers, or scissors and that bowl grandma used to clamp down over young boys’ heads back in the day. Alrighty, then. It’s not supposed to be rational, but that’s already been said. I would venture to say, however, that not being able to get a haircut pales in comparison to not being allowed to vote, but that’s just me. I’ve been told I’m a little radical, but whatever.
I’ve heard it said that when you’ve enjoyed privilege all your life, and suddenly find there are limitations on that, you’ll experience that as discrimination. When I was much younger, and more energetic, and people wrote off my bad behavior as the normal psychosis of youth, i felt powerful and mighty. As I aged, things changed, and I began having consequences for my actions because i was old enough to know better. DAMMIT! That’s not fair! So. My feeling on all of this … rebellion, a.k.a. insurrection, the feeling is real but the premise is false. Privilege is unearned, and therefore a false entitlement. We’ve just gotten used to it setting our social order. Like a caste. Just like a caste. We all participate in that caste, whether it’s conscious or not, but we do. There are a million ways that we all uphold it as status quo; it’s looks like privilege if you’re white, and it looks like internalized racism if you’re not. Either way, it’s about oppression, and denial of liberty, and denial of life in some cases. In all cases, it’s about denial of the pursuit of happiness, even if that’s what we believe we’re doing. I’m not sure any of us are truly happy, or at least not as happy as we might be if we didn’t have to constantly chase it, compete for it, fight for it, demand it. (And yes, i understand that we can individually take actions to be happy – we meditate and pontificate and visualize and stuff, but there are limits to all of that in today’s society, so as a collective…we’re not quite there)
When i see a huge crowd of people protesting in a state of rage and violence, I see a huge crowd of people in fear. In fear for all of the reasons discussed above – in fear of that life, as they know it, is going away. In fear the world as they know it going away. In fear that life is going to become more difficult, more hopeless, farther from happiness, less what they want it to be.
In all honesty, I can remember feeling that way, on more than one occasion. There was a deep grieving for all of my naive ideals and dreams that I learned to respect, and fully experience. When there is a refusal to accept life as it is, there is no room for going through a grieving of life as it was. That’s when I found myself caught between attempting to renegotiate the past and manipulate the future, but we’re not living. Living is only accomplished today, not yesterday, and not tomorrow. If I am feeling trapped, I am usually trapped by that – my refusal to accept life as it is. That is the source of my rage, I’m not raging about this moment, I’m raging about the moment before now that’s no longer here. Anger is one stage of grief, and the grieving process as described by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross involves several stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance). There are other theories about this, but this one is pretty commonly used. So, using that model, anger is early on in the process. I feel that as a nation, we’re hovering between denial (This…is not…happening.) and anger (This is NOT happening!!). The bomb is detonating in slow motion, things are destroyed incrementally, and we’re slowly burning. It’s painful to burn. Very, very painful.
In one of the more recent Star Trek spin-offs, there is a alien species that has bridged human and machine life, such that humans are inconvenient aspects of machines. The surviving humans have mechanical and technological implants that serve to maintain their connection to a network hub, referred to as “the collective”. Human functions have been reduced to a minimum, and humanity is virtually non-existent. Removal of the implants does not eradicate all of the mechanical attributes, and those survivors continually struggle for human experience such as emotional response and sense of purpose. I found it amusing that space craft for this species were square. Entirely linear. This comes to mind because I wonder if, as humans, are similarly finding that humanity is far too inconvenient, or at least inexpedient. I wonder if we’ve found that most of us are simply not worth the effort.
Government strives to resolve the intersection between the individual and the “collective”, the common good. As originally intended, government – and specifically democracy – tried to establish a contract between us, one that required us all to direct our efforts toward the survival of all (not simply the fittest). I suppose we believe that we’ve found ways to deal with fitness, establishing norms and expectations with rules to ensure compliance and “normalcy”. We’ve attempted to squelch natural diversity, because it’s very difficult to control. Control is where our species has found its safety and security, its expectation of survival. That’s more or less normal, until it’s not. When the survival instinct is established as a false equivalence to the ideological, survival becomes less about actual longevity and more about power over others. When our governance lives entirely in the “how” and not the “what”, we are on a power trip. A power trip really has no destination, and rarely ends well.