Friday, November 04, 2005

Just Singing in the Rain...

We see rioting in Paris nightly, a maniacal singing in the rain, a African in Paris, and from afar it looks more interesting and more frightening than it is. Rioting is merely the gesture of thought. The gesture, even the fascist "grand gesture" we have written about here so often, pales in comparison to the thought behind the act.

What?! What's so pale about flames destroying neighbourhoods and crippled ladies trapped on burning buses in France?

Most people in the modern West look at violence as irrational and subjective, something that happens to other people, over there. It's a passive action, a thing that doesn't have a source in the real world, a craziness that happens when something is wrong, who knows what. There must be an explanation, some rational reason, some cause we could all understand if only we knew what is might be. It's probably poverty or discrimination or some fluffy cliche or other, something we can relate to if only we understand the root causes. So we see the gesture and mistake it for the essence. The poor riot? Give them money and they won't riot any more. Muslims riot? Let 's all understand Islam. Let's tip-toe around the issues and try to encourage the best behaviour we can from those we will refer to publicly as adherents of the "Religion of Peace." If we convince ourselves that it's nothing serious, then we should be able to convince the rioters too. Everything can be discussed rationally, and we can all hold hands and sing a round or two of Kumbyah.

We see the gestures, and we mistake them for the reality. We see the fires and think they are true, like the shadow figures cast up on the walls of Plato's Cave. We're deluding ourselves if we think the riots in Paris are the real problem in Paris. The truth is that the riots are only a problem for those who are hurt or impoverished. Those are few. That's the subjective. To the person involved he is the centre of the universe, but objectively he is one man or perhaps a few hundred. Important, yes, but not essential to the well-being of the community that is the French nation.

We have below two short excerpts from a magazine and a book. Both cover the notion of riots. We'll return to this topic in later posts as the occasion arises.

Moral Holiday

In a nutshell: Riots begin when some set of social forces temporarily overwhelms or paralyzes the police, who stand by, their highly visible inaction signaling to the small percentage of teenaged embryonic psychopaths and hardened young adults that a moral holiday is under way. This criminal minority spearheads the car-burning, window-smashing, and blood-letting, mobbing such hate targets as blacks, or white merchants, or lone cops. Then the drawing effect brings out the large crowds of older men, and women and children, to share the Roman carnival of looting. Then the major killing begins: slow runners caught in burning buildings and-as civic forces mobilize-in police and National Guard gunfire.

The books are on the shelf-- let the responsible authorities in city hall and police headquarters check them out.

The time to halt a riot is right at the start, by pinching off the criminal spearhead with precise and overwhelming force. The cops will usually be caught flat-footed (no pun intended) by the initial outbreak. But they need to spring into a pre-arranged mobilization that should always be as ready in every major city as the fire-department or hospital disaster-response program.

EUGENE H. METHVIN,The Riot Makers: The Technology of Social Demolition

The Riot Era

In July 1964 New York's Harlem exploded into a fiery riot, and in quick succession six other cities erupted. In the next three summers 105 major urban riots in almost as many cities occurred. Then, in April 1968, in the ten days following Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination 125 cities erupted at once. Federal troops had to be sent into Washington, Baltimore and Chicago. In the Nation's Capital, smoke from flaming blocks blotted out the Capitol dome in broad daylight, and the acrid smell of burning buildings permeated the Supreme Court and halls of Congress. The U.S. Army set up machinegun nests on Capitol Hill and troops in battle dress patrolled the White House, as two blocks away stores burned and mobs looted.

The riot era had come home to America.

The plumes of smoke spread a tragic fallout across America: acrid, murky wrangling over causes, blame, guilt and remedies.

Almost every "cause" mentioned had a role. There was a universal tendency to try to weigh each cause too finely to suit ideological predispositions or preferences in policy conclusions. Certainly many historic and recent failures of government and private behavior contributed. In large measure, the "blame" could not justly be apportioned to anyone now living....


Newark: The City Hate Wrecked

1. The Social Avalanche.

Shortly after dark on a hot July night in 1967, two white policemen in Newark, New Jersey hauled a cursing, struggling Negro prisoner from their cruiser and dragged him up the steps into the Fourth Precinct Station House. Across the street, from two towering 14-story public housing buildings, Negro residents saw the struggle. Some later swore the policemen "beat" and "stomped" their prisoner. Within minutes the rumor flitted: "He's dead, Brother—the whitey cops beat him to death!" A crowd of 1,200, mostly teenagers and young men, gathered. Soon Molotov cocktails and firebombs smashed against the police station, and two cars were set on fire. The crowd stoned firemen away. Down the street, a garbage can smashed Harry's Liquor Store window, and looters leaped through.

The Newark riot was on. It raged for four days, requiring State Police and National Guard to restore order, and left 23 dead and $15 million in property destroyed. In five other Northern New Jersey cities, violence flared simultaneously. The next weekend Detroit erupted into the worst U.S. riot in a hundred years, and like a crowning forest fire, explosions burst in 43 other American cities over the next ten days....


Setting the Stage

1. The Causology of Riots.

By the political summer of 1968, four years after the start of the Riot Era, Americans were in a state of universal near-hysteria over "violence in the streets." In the 1967 summer mass violence racked 128 American cities, killed 83, injured uncounted thousands and disrupted millions of lives. In Washington the Justice Department put computers to work tracking known extremists from city to city. Pentagon staffers prepared elaborate counterinsurgency plans as if for a Latin American banana republic. Region by region U.S. Army troops had their assignments to nearby cities to put down violence. At Fort Gordon, Georgia, a GI "mob" in the mock city of "Riotsville, U.S.A." hurled rocks at skirmish lines of bayonet-wielding, gas-masked soldiers rehearsing for "the long hot summer" according to hastily updated manuals originally written for the strike violence of the 1870's. In central city slums tiny bands of extremists also planned—for an altogether different conflict: Viet Cong style hit-and-run urban terrorism and guerrilla warfare. They studied how to booby-trap a police callbox, decoy policemen and firemen with false alarms into murderous ambushes, sabotage high-tension wires, poison water reservoirs and manufacture incendiary timebombs. And in the suburbs Ku....

When we focus our attentions on the hand and dismiss the mind behind it we fall into the trap of obscurantism that will be our downfall as a civilization. We must know our enemies well, better than they know themselves, in fact, and Methvin's work, though it's dated and odd to our minds today, is still, for those with the curiousity and sensitivity for extrapolation, a wonderful textbook for study of the rioter's psychology and tactical programmes.

Forget, for the moment, the moving hand, and look to the mind behind it.

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