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Stop cheerleading violence

Protesters face off with police at a Black Lives Matter protest in Downtown Las Vegas on May 30, 2020. Photo by Daniel Clark.

For the first time since the last AMC Pacer rolled off an aging assembly line, something interesting happened in Kenosha. 

The details of what happened there are, at this point, largely unimportant. Was the police officer who shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back in front of his children acting in self-defense or was the shooting part of a broader pattern of needlessly violent policing of poor populations of color? Did Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old who shot three protesters, killing two, act in self-defense against a violent Molotov cocktail-armed mob, or was he a brainwashed teen who finally found the ultimate chance to trigger libs?

There are a few out there who find sport in tracking the diverging narratives. I’m not one of them. 

Armed, untrained child soldiers are normally something people move to the United States to escape. If Kyle’s parents thought the property of Kenosha’s business owners was worth defending, they should have made the trip from Illinois to Kenosha themselves and left Kyle at home to play Call of Duty like a normal 17-year-old. Both he and everyone else in Kenosha would have been safer if they did. Every subsequent detail of his shooting breathtakingly analyzed through the lens of social media serves only to distract us from one core truth: Kyle Rittenhouse should not have been there, full stop.

There are also a few out there who find sport in pretending both sides are equally bad. I’m not one of them, either. One side has a body count funded coercively at taxpayer expense. The other side burned some businesses down. I’m not being forced to pay armed government employees with qualified immunity to burn private property. On the other hand, 40 percent of my municipal taxes are paying for police officers like George Forbush to openly fantasize about killing everyone who disagrees with them. I can also recover from my home burning to the ground much easier than I can recover from seven bullets in my back or a bullet in my head. 

That doesn’t mean, however, that this is a good choice to have to make. Given a choice between the two, most people, myself included, would greatly prefer a third, more peaceful option — one which doesn’t lead to us either bleeding out on the streets or living on the streets while our belongings lie in ashes. 

More fundamentally, the people offering only these two choices to you are not your friends, they are not your allies and they are not trustworthy, regardless of what your beliefs might be. People who fantasize about committing violence are always more loyal to their fantasies than they are to any religious dogma, political ideology, or even personal loyalties they opportunistically embrace in the moment to justify their actions. They are also more loyal to their fantasies than they are to intellectualized notions of proportionality or acceptable uses of force. Just ask Hitler’s brownshirts or Lenin’s sailors in Kronstadt, both of whom were swiftly exterminated as soon as their patrons seized total power.

Unfortunately, a lot of people seem hellbent on learning all of this the hard way. 

On the side of naivety, NPR recently interviewed Vicky Osterweil, author of In Defense Of Looting. To Osterweil’s credit, she’s not categorically arguing in favor of looting or rioting; that’s because, to her detriment, she instead defends a narrow, intellectualized definition of looting which exists solely in her head. In practice, as Reno and Las Vegas learned the hard way in late May, once looting and rioting starts, it doesn’t limit itself to, say, mass shoplifting or some mythically bloodless mass appropriation of property. Instead, it escalates into assaults on journalists and wanton destruction of property. 

Intellectual naivety is dangerous. Much more concerning, however, are the people actively cheerleading for death. 

Tucker Carlson, for example, defended Rittenhouse’s actions and asked how shocked we should be that a 17-year-old with a rifle decided he had to “maintain order” when “no one else would” (never mind Kenosha’s police department is considerably better armed and trained and was already on site). On the other side of the ideological fence, protesters set up a guillotine outside Jeff Bezos’ house after he was reported to be the first billionaire worth over $200 billion dollars.

Both of them are examples of the logic of the guillotine:

Those who fetishize the guillotine don’t want to kill people with their bare hands; they aren’t prepared to rend anyone’s flesh with their teeth. They want their revenge automated and carried out for them. They are like the consumers who blithely eat Chicken McNuggets but could never personally butcher a cow or cut down a rainforest. They prefer for bloodshed to take place in an orderly manner, with all the paperwork filled out properly, according to the example set by the Jacobins and the Bolsheviks in imitation of the impersonal functioning of the capitalist state.

And one more thing: they don’t want to have to take responsibility for it. They prefer to express their fantasy ironically, retaining plausible deniability. Yet anyone who has ever participated actively in social upheaval knows how narrow the line can be between fantasy and reality.

Tucker Carlson, along with most everyone else on social media cracking “jokes” about “watering the tree of liberty” with the blood of protesters (variations of which I’ve seen more than once in the past week), probably aren’t going to individually kill anyone. The same, to be clear, can also be said of your average Jacobin Magazine reader. However, they are each actively trying to encourage the sort of people who are happily looking for an excuse — any excuse at all, really — to commit violence to do so on their behalf. 

The rest of us who aren’t casually fantasizing about violence must reject this behavior anywhere and everywhere we see it. 

Civilization’s goal, if a concept as broadly defined as civilization can have a goal, is to reduce suffering, destruction and death. Radicalizing, arming and deputizing children acts in opposition to this mission. So does cosplaying and normalizing the Thermidorian Reaction or the October Revolution, both of which brought immiserating misery and rivers of blood in their wakes. Cheering for greater suffering, destruction and death, even if it’s limited to people we might disagree with, is cheering for the destruction of civilization and the benefits it brings. 

There is far more work to be done to ensure the benefits of civilization are universally granted to everyone — to ensure everyone’s suffering is reduced, to ensure everyone faces less destruction, to ensure everyone doesn’t face needless death, regardless of race, creed or privilege. We have a long way to go before we get there — but we’ll have a much longer way to go if we cheer for those who actively seek our destruction. 

David Colborne has been active in the Libertarian Party for two decades. During that time, he has blogged intermittently on his personal blog, as well as the Libertarian Party of Nevada blog, and ran for office twice as a Libertarian candidate. He serves on the Executive Committee for both his state and county Libertarian Party chapters. He is the father of two sons and an IT professional. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidColborne or email him at [email protected]

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