November 14, 2013 § 1 Comment
There are a lot of blogs out there that focus on “collapse,” and many of them will from time to time post statistics about increased crime rates in order to demonstrate the slow deterioration of society, occasionally showing videos of flash mobs such as this one below.
There was a time when I would have seen something like this and thought, “Whoa, things are getting bad.” My evolution has been long, and now I find myself seeing something like this and thinking, “Good for them!” Previously, I was subject to knee jerk reactions which were preprogrammed responses that were silently imprinted in me by our culture. Now that I have slowly stripped away layer after layer of cultural programming and dogmatic response, I can examine any given scenario based on it’s specific criteria, and come to an analysis that I find satisfying. I’m open to critique of my analysis, as challenging my biases and interpretations hones my senses and my ability to comprehend my surroundings.
I think it is fair to suggest that most people residing in our culture see such a thing happen, and as a matter of reflex, condemn it. This condemnation comes from an inner policing that was built partly from Judeo-Christian values as well as capitalist social indoctrination. I would even argue that Judeo-Christian values as they currently stand are informed by mercantilist necessity. Summarizing briefly my interpretation of the knee jerk condemnation of such acts as the one in the above video, I would say most people feel like Society (capital “S”) is a good thing, and that people who would mob into a retail store and in a flash, steal as much as they could get their hands on, are going to negatively impact Society.
This is where my personal bias comes into play. I do not believe Society to be a good thing. My view is that megalithic Society — these nations of millions of people — are unnatural constructs ultimately glued together through violence, whether implicit or explicit. Humans, I do not believe to be social creatures, as much as they are tribal creatures. This is to say, I believe when not arranged into massive groups by other humans wielding power (via violence, whether armies, police, law, etc.) people will self organize into smaller groups, communities, clans, or tribes. The main difference being the over all size of the social organism created by such organization, and where the individual falls within this organism.
In a small tribe or clan, the individual is an integral component and is valued. However, the unit as a whole can maximize the benefits of group togetherness and group work without losing prowess due to curves of diminishing returns. Why is this? For one, the human animal and our psychological and emotional responses have evolved to exist within smaller communities. Emotions like empathy are a boon to tribes and clans, as individuals are all known to each other, are interrelated with one another, care for one another, and thus gift and sharing come naturally. Not only are members of small tribes capable of caring for those who are less skilled, sick, elderly, etc. but they almost always insist upon doing so. The empathy of the individual becomes collective and thus becomes a cultural norm: When you are successful in the hunt, you share the meat, and no one goes hungry. When you are not successful in the hunt, but another clan member is, you eat because they share.
These sorts of relations which are natural to humans, which have allowed humans to survive through massive environmental shifts and calamities of the past, are not only absent from mega-social structures, but under capitalism, they are considered foolish. Does anyone really believe that the people who wield power within this Society are actually empathetic to the masses at large? This is a crucial failure of democracy. Unless decisions makers and policy setters actually know — and I mean in person — all of the people they claim to represent, how could they possibly be expected to be truly empathetic towards them and their particular circumstances? Democracy and the governmental architectures of megalithic social organisms suffer a myriad of contradictions and failures to be sure, but I would just like to highlight for this argument that small clans of people can function in a fashion that is far more agreeable to the individuals involved, thereby giving these individuals a reason to care about the well being of the greater social system. Large scale Society cannot do this.
Even when humans are corralled into massive social constructs like those of today, tribal behavior is still implicit in many of our daily activities. This behavior, depending on who is engaging in it and what the ultimate outcome, will be dubbed “gang activity,” “nepotism,” “cult,” “clique,” or even “patriotism,” “networking,” etc. Tribal behavior that is seen to have a net benefit to the social organism — and primarily to those who sit atop the social hierarchy, will be granted a positive connotation. Tribal behavior that is engaged in by those low on the social hierarchy that is gauged as only having a benefit to that tribe at the expense of the social organism or its narrative is given negative association and is often the target of state repression.
When a group of teenagers mobs into a corporate retail location and in a flash, steals a large amount of wares, this is immediately cast as “bad for Society.” As noted above, I personally believe Society to be a bad thing. Massive social organisms such as the Society in which we live require massive prison complexes, squadrons of well armed police, and a penal system so obtuse and selectively applied as to make Franz Kafka blush. Above all, we have to recognize that the Society in which we live, and the greater industrial civilization of which it is a part, are both decimating the biosphere of the planet. Polluted, overfished, rapidly acidifying oceans; mountaintop removal coal mining, hydraulic fracturing, deep water drilling, and tar sands strip mining; top soil loss, rivers and waterways tainted with agricultural run off, deforestation, over grazing, desertification; massive die off currently underway of trees, amphibians, mammals, and so on; must I even argue that the way humans are organizing and sustaining themselves (with the exception of the world’s remaining indigenous tribes who are also fighting off an ongoing genocide) is killing the planet?
When a true and honest calculus of the costs is visible, it is clear that modern human paradigms must be shattered immediately if there is to be any hope for the future of life on Earth. This is if it is not already long too late.
Balancing this knowledge in one hand, and then watching as a bunch of modern teens, whose minds have no doubt been warped and bent by a lifetime of consumerist propaganda, plunder a store of some clothing no doubt made in a third world sweatshop, I am supposed to weep for the retailer? It would require a chasm of cognitive disconnect to see an injustice.
In discussing this, people have been quick to point out to me that these young people are likely not aware of the larger social and environmental context in which their action took place, and that in all likelihood these teenagers just wanted to steal because they wanted stuff they couldn’t afford, and maybe the adrenaline rush generated by breaking the social convention was an alleviation from boredom. Most people assume these youth aren’t knowingly taking direct action against an unethical capitalist system, and thus the robbery is just another example of disrespectful teenagers acting out.
I think this is an extremely unfair assessment.
I’ll start with a thesis statement: I believe rage is valid. This culture demotes emotion to be subordinate to thought. The predominantly white male “educated” upper class has for centuries defined what reason, logic, and rationality are. Not surprisingly, logic and reason have always substantiated the Social order, and hence the system can constantly reify itself while those who benefit from it the most can claim that it is all high minded and rational.
Members of the lower social classes are abused by the Social organism. They are subject to the highest levels of toxic pollution that accompanies industrial activity, they are far more policed and prosecuted by the penal system, and in general are confined into a go-no-where economic merry-go-round that keeps survival necessities always just barely within reach so they will tolerate egregious treatment by employers; low wages, poor conditions, etc. When people from these classes finally act out in society, whether via a peaceful demonstration or a full blown riot, their demands and their actions are almost universally decried as irrational, unreasonable, and anti-social. Their actions and movements are condemned all the more thoroughly if their demands or motivations are not articulated in a language acceptable to the mostly white middle and upper class.
The absurdity in this rejection is that articulation follows feeling, not the other way around. The feeling of “getting the shaft” or “being shit on” is actually far more relevant than any individual’s ability to explain the particulars of their condition in academic verbiage. The feelings are the truth of lived experience, the explanation is merely a communication of these feelings.
Right and wrong, our internal distinction between the two, and our sense of justice are natural to us. Empathy is a survival instinct, as I noted above, as it promotes the welfare of the tribal unit which is ultimately beneficial for the individual participant. Society has co-opted this sense and attempted to blur the line of what is moral or ethical to include the social machine not as a construct, but as another member of the whole. In this sense, the judicial system uses language which claims criminals have wronged society and that in doing so they owe a debt to society, as if society is itself an individual who could be wronged or paid restitution. This methodology of thought is then further blurred when it is also applied to businesses and enterprises as if these entities are persons. This is why shoplifting from Wal-Mart is condemned by those who think in binaries, where stealing is always wrong regardless of what or from whom something is taken. Wal-Mart in this example, is given the status of an individual to be empathized with, instead of allowing a detailed analysis of just what exactly a Wal-Mart unit is, where from and by what means they acquired their inventory, and what the true costs of Wal-Mart’s existence are relative to the environment and humanity.
This is how those in power manipulate people into expressing outrage and dismay when they witness an incident of flash mob shoplifting. They have confused people into equating the retailer with an individual, whose shoes the witness then mentally dons, and thusly they ask, “If these kids so brazenly rob a retail outlet, what is to prevent them from doing the same to me or my home?” And the illusion is complete, with the average proletariat seeing the retailer as a poor victim, setting the stage for themselves and their loved ones to be next. This leads to fear and demands that the perpetrators are dealt with swiftly, which leaves the social narrative and the hierarchy of power in tact.
If my bias against Society and the greater industrial civilization is well founded, if we can accept for a moment that continuing along with business as usual will allow the continuing onslaught against life which is driving at least one hundred species per day into extinction and will certainly lead to the extinction of human beings as well, then the only moral response is to shift one’s biases to agree with mine: to see the massive social organism as a parasite which needs to be expunged.
Let me be crystal clear; I am not suggesting that humans are parasitic, but that the current experiment of civilization, is. Human beings are just another mammal, who have in the past, and who do in last remaining pockets now, live in balance with nature. Mine isn’t misanthropy, but an anti-civilization (or anti-civ) understanding, which is biocentric, meaning that I believe all life has value despite whether or not it plays a role in human economy.
If the current paradigms of human organization, thought, and behavior — our Societies — need to be completely undone, then why are we at all concerned with whether or not particular retail outlets profit off of the merchandise in their stores? Should this not be among the least of our concerns? Should we not see a breakdown in the domination of commerce as positive?
On this point, people have suggested to me in many manner of ways, that it is not the retail outlet for whom they are concerned, but for the individuals involved, as well as any future victims they may have should they make a habit of breaking social conditions. This suggestion contains a handful of premises. First, concern for the perpetrators. I too share a concern that these young people might end up in the hands of the prison industrial complex, to be sure. Concern for their general state of being, for their character, is less of a factor for me, because all people in this Society have the content of their character on the line every day. Frankly, the store employees who rush after thieves worry me more than the thieves themselves, because in these individuals I see subjugated minds chained and shackled by the hollow promises of a market system that demands loyalty to wage payers, as if we should all be oh-so-grateful to have employment under which to waste away the years of our lives. For those concerned about the character and potential “slippery slope” of looser and looser ethics on the part of the teenage flash-mobbers, there is still an underlying assumption that this act is one that is of low moral fiber — a premise not demonstrated — and an assumption that this act won’t lead in the other direction, to a greater and greater questioning of the status quo, of why some people have a lot when the rest have very little, of how global neo-liberalism actually functions, etc.
The second major premise is that this is in fact, a “slippery slope,” a “gateway drug” to breaking more and more laws and/or social conventions. While this could be one possibility, it is not necessarily the case. Some slopes are not slippery at all, and some acts are not gateways. In fact, in committing such actions and challenging the social conventions impressed upon one since youth, it is quite reasonable to assume that these young people have had internal or external dialogues about their actions, and whether and how they are justified. In any case, to assume that it is necessarily so that these teenagers will engage in more brazen acts, possibly including violence, is unfounded. Someone who smokes marijuana doesn’t necessarily move on to crack cocaine. Someone who runs a red light doesn’t necessarily move on to tax evasion.
Law is interesting in that some of Society’s prohibited behaviors are those that run counter to our natural state of being, such as murder and rape. These are acts that to a mentally and spiritually stable human, are repugnant. Our natural empathy for one another and our evolution as a tribal cooperator already has cast murder and rape as abhorrent in our minds. Crimes that are bureaucratic, or prohibited actions which are prohibited to preserve an economic order — such as theft, writing bad checks, counter-fitting, what have you — do not require necessarily that the perpetrator have been mentally or spiritually broken. These are crimes committed because Society itself creates an enormous amount of economic pressure and lays is on every individual, requiring everyone to take on wage labor in order to survive. This unnatural order creates scenarios in which certain pockets of Society have very few options to legally attain a dignified survival. Or again, some people sense the greater injustice of “getting screwed” by an imaginary construct over which they have no say in their participation. So while committing a murder or rape usually requires first that the perpetrator be mentally or spiritually broken down, this is not the case for those who commit “crimes” against the economic order. This is all to say, engaging in actions of the latter type, does not place one on a “slippery slope” to commit actions of the former type.
Systems of power do not create available methods for the ruled to dismantle the power structure. Power accumulates more power, consolidates it, and entrenches itself. It throws up walls and defenses to ensure its continuation. There is no flow chart of legal and available political channels for the ruled (I should say, “owned”) peoples of the world to set themselves free and to terminate the industrial economy which is hell bent on destroying all life on Earth. The only hope, is calamity. This calamity can be an environmental mega disaster, or an amalgamation of social disruptions compounding upon each other. Either way, the current paradigms — economic, political, social, et al — are toxic, and grass roots behaviors that are detrimental to the success of these paradigms are ultimately to our benefit, as contradictory as this may seem at first glance. In simple terms, “Good for the machine, bad for you. Bad for the machine, good for you.”
Of course, billions of people are now dependent upon the machine to access their needs. This is aptly described by Derrick Jensen’s statement that,
“if your experience is that your food comes from the grocery store and your water comes from the tap, then you are going to defend to the death the system that brings those to you because your life depends on them. If your experience, however, is that your food comes from a landbase and that your water comes from a stream, well, then you will defend to the death that landbase and that stream.”
We should not be inclined to preserve the machine because it is meeting our basic needs today when we know that it is accomplishing this by destroying the planet’s ability to meet those needs tomorrow. This is doubly true when we know that the machine is only accomplishing this task through a massive program of violence meted out upon the global poor as well as all non-human species.
My last observation on this issue concerns balance. The universe is a system in balance. Even temporary imbalances are only perceptions of a frozen timeline, for all they will all come into balance once again. Our mega Societies — the global civilization — is a system out of balance. When I suggest to people that we abolish police and prisons, most are immediately mortified. They assume that such an abolition would be immediately followed by an immense surge in crime. To this I respond, “Of course!” This should tell us something about the Society in which we live, particularly that it is entirely out of balance. The need of so many runs up against the wealth of so few. No natural state would allow such a one sided distribution of resources. Any other place in nature, devoid of constructed law and cordons of militant law enforcers, would see a rapid diffusion of the resources to a balanced state. Imagine one-hundred gorillas, with two of them controlling ninety-eight percent of the available bananas, and the other ninety-eight gorillas having two percent of the bananas to divide amongst themselves. This would be an absurdity even modern humans from this culture wouldn’t be able to explain if they stumbled upon it in the wild. Yet we exist within such a system! In our example, the hungry ninety-eight gorillas would quickly take what they needed from the other two by whatever means necessary, and we wouldn’t expect them to validate their actions or any sense of indignation that preceded them with artful discourse.
No doubt, the teenagers engaged in flash mobs, and indeed plenty of other people who steal, are often taking non-essential items. Cultural distortion of need due to advertising propaganda is surely playing it’s role. Despite this, we should at the very least see these acts as the result of causation. These hard and fast broad daylight robberies are a clever tactic undertaken by people who have been given zero reason to care about the bloated social organism The real question we should be asking ourselves, is when and how we are going to join them in acting out against that which is rapidly killing us.