Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Fires and Ferguson

I wish I could watch the violence in Ferguson with some satisfaction. This whole thing has just sucked, dismally sucked, from beginning to end, August to November.

"Everything in moderation, including moderation," I saw someone saying on Twitter on Monday night, when downtown Ferguson started to burn. This has been a salient theme in the Twitterati's response to the fallout from the Michael Brown verdict: the rioting is unfortunate, but if it isn't justified, then it exists in a kind of moral vacuum, isolated from and unassailable by the judgements and admonitions of anyone watching from the outside. Let it happen; it had to happen, the crowd had no other recourse.

It's interesting how this strain of social exegesis accurately, albeit indirectly, acknowledges that the actors in the Ferguson danse infernale were not behaving as totally autonomous agents (whose actions were determined by some obscure factor called "free will"), but as organisms doing precisely what organisms do: answering their present environment precisely how that environment has developed them to answer it.

A tautology: riots are caused by environments apt to cause riots. We can refine this by inserting the appropriate sociological diagnoses, but it is enough here. The social environment is much more at fault than the human beings or human behavior it produces, whether considered individually or as an aggregate.

Fires must be put out. Letting a blaze run its course is one way of seeing it extinguished; it demands the least effort of intervention, but is certainly the most costly in the long term. And that is why I can't condone the rioters, why I still have to be one of those sententious assholes who sits far away and yawps about nonviolent civil disobedience.

Where fires are concerned, it is most sensible to subtract from the environment the necessities for ignition: if no fires start, there is no need to put them out.

We are doing a very poor job of this. The Micheal Brown case has been like trying to extinguish a spark by smothering it with kindling.

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