Focus, part 2

Once again, this is continuing a theme of observing and commenting on recent cultural behavior in this country, and has nothing to do with photographic focus. It’s potentially a lot more useful than camera technique, but still, it’s not photo-oriented.

In part 1, the attention was on the specific trigger event of George Floyd’s death and the immediate reactions/conclusions to that; this one is going to address the subsequent actions taken by far too many people.

As I said earlier, the police officer involved in Floyd’s death (Derek Chauvin) was charged with his murder and relieved of duty – immediately. This is exactly what we expect from our judicial system, and exactly the procedure that should be followed by law. Yet we got to see countless thousands of protests, over many weeks, across the country, except that it isn’t exactly clear what was being protested, and in many cases, I’m not sure most of the protestors even knew. The overall assumption seems to have been that this event, with perhaps a few others included but the focus was definitely on Floyd’s death, was representative of wholesale and widespread racism. And again, it’s not exactly clear where, and potentially most of those protesting wouldn’t agree on that; some felt that it was within ‘the police’ as a distinct entity in the country, while other’s felt that it was in the country itself – really, there’s a huge spectrum of assumptions to deal with, and little recognition that it is a spectrum.

[As an aside, it’s possible, perhaps even likely, that a lot of the reaction was a side-effect of the pandemic, largely the frustrations over the huge change in habits that this engendered across the country, and in other circumstances there may have been an entirely different response. There also remains the possibility that the cultural emphasis/obsession over social media fostered a lot of it, lending people to believe that a gross injustice was being perpetrated even as our justice system had things well in hand. Almost certainly, the current fad of ‘Woke’ attitudes shares a lot of the blame. I’m sure there will be a lot of papers published in a few years regarding the contributing factors and sociological impact.]

There are several inherent problems with protesting. While the possibility does exist that a large group of people will invoke necessary change among, for instance, policymakers or governing officials, history demonstrates that it tends to be slim, especially if there isn’t a clear avenue of change to begin with. And even if/when it does work as intended, the results aren’t immediate, often not even within a few weeks. The result is a large group of emotionally-charged people wanting to be heard, wanting to invoke change, that cannot possibly come to a satisfying conclusion within the realm of the protest. With luck, it peters out peacefully, or was organized enough to recognize the basic trait of protesting and prepare the participants for the inevitable lack of closure.

Most protests, however, lack such organization, and usually lack a clear focus. “Stop killing black people!” is easy enough to do – I wasn’t doing it in the first place, so hey, are we done here? What else are you expecting? Laws? We got ’em. Anything else? Without a clear and defined goal (almost all of which will be accomplished hundreds of times easier than by marching in the streets with placards,) the protest is destined to fail.

Much worse is the bare fact that a large group of emotionally-driven people is, bluntly, a bad idea, and how this has still not been accepted within all cultures remains a mystery. It’s a mob, pure and simple, regardless of whatever altruistic or ethical or spiritual motivation lies underneath. Mobs are fucking terrible at making decisions – it’s kind of their defining trait – and humans are notoriously bad about going with the flow and being influenced far too much by others instead of thinking for themselves. We like to repeat that there’s power in numbers, which is true enough, but there’s also stupidity in numbers, and those two really don’t belong together. And yet, despite the thousands of examples throughout history, often aptly demonstrated just within the past few months, we still can’t recognize the warning signs.

And, to literally no one’s surprise, a hell of a lot of these ‘protests,’ these public demonstrations of ethical behavior and moral conscience, turned into riots and looting. Perhaps some of those participating had some line of reasoning (‘Woke’ reactions to fucking inanimate statues seems to be a favorite,) but it’s safe to say that, in the realm of convincing arguments, this falls even shorter that the average soccer riot, because at least soccer fans aren’t out there to promote a new moral high ground. Not to mention that half of those are drunk. But it’s exceptionally hard to get behind a movement that urges justice through its use vandalism and theft. Some might even say it’s counterproductive…

It is impossible to over-emphasize just how pointless and stupid such actions are. The only aspect (that I saw) that had the faintest vestige of focus and relation to a cause was the destruction of various statues supposedly representing archaic, unwanted standards or behavior. I am in no way supportive of such actions, and will address this is in detail in part 3, but point out that this was the only aspect that had a passing relation: everything else was completely detached and served no positive purpose whatsoever. Defacement of government buildings or grounds? Pure vandalism, and incapable of fostering or even coercing any wanted change, even if this was within such a body’s power in the first place (as I said in part 1, nobody actually knows if there’s a problem to begin with – it’s all huge leaps of logic.) Defacement/destruction of any other fixtures, buildings, and shops? Complete nonsense, targeting people that have no bearing or involvement in the matter whatsoever, and wreaking havoc on the economy in that region during a time when it specifically was poor to begin with. Seriously, assholes, pick a better time than a pandemic to do your fratboy posturing.

I really shouldn’t have to address looting either, but then again, it was hardly an isolated incident, was it? I welcome anyone to rebut this, to come by and tell me that it served some purpose, even if it wasn’t necessarily efficient. I want to know how robbing from shopowners of any kind somehow rights the wrongs that are being perpetrated. I want to know how this demonstrates the value of the cause.

If anyone was ‘on the fence’ about the necessity of changes to our culture, our government, our police forces, or anything else, how convinced were they by riots, vandalism, and looting? How thoughtful and well-reasoned did they find these arguments? How insightful was the footage?

And then, of course, the real targets of attention, those that actually do have prejudice or bias in their views of certain cultures, races, or ethnicity – how convinced were they? Seeing the error of their ways now, are they? I’ve posted before about activism that works directly against the cause, and I’m not sure you could arrange a better demonstration of this, really.

This is not activism. This is not forwarding a cause. This is diddyfucking around like a spoiled child having a tantrum, making matters far worse for everybody than if they’d Just. Stayed. Home.

[There’s a bit of irony in here too, in that no one participating really believed the police were willing to violate the laws and their duties in the manner claimed, because the last thing that you’d do is make yourself a prime target of such. There couldn’t even be ‘martyrs for the cause’ because the protesters were directly engaged in criminal activities and demonstrably (heh!) unstable. “Case dismissed.”]

People like to imagine that they’re doing work like Martin Luther King Jr, using protest as a method to effect change. Except that King was quite a bit smarter than that, promoting an organized, peaceful, and multi-faceted approach that had a lot of thought behind it and eschewed emotional, kneejerk actions. And of course, few protestors recognize the thousands of other such protests that accomplished jack shit, because it’s a pretty ineffective method of promoting any kind of agenda – when there’s even an agenda to be seen, and not just venting. Much worse, however, is that even if it did work by some chance, forcing a change instead of convincing someone of a better alternative is only mob rule, just this side of fascism; not the thing we want to encourage. Might does not make right, and noise does not make a solid argument.

I’ll be a bit (lot) presumptuous here and propose a set of steps to consider before someone gets involved in a protest, or indeed any form of activism:

1. Check all emotions at the door. Actions done out of anger or frustration are rarely ever effective, because these block rational thought.

2. Determine, to a high level of certainty, that there really is a problem. It remains entirely possible that impressions or initial evaluations are completely mistaken.

3. Determine, to a high level of certainty, what that problem is and where, exactly, it lies. Assumptions and pop psychology should be discarded immediately as a fool’s game.

4. Formulate a plan that addresses the problem within the existing structure of our culture and/or government. If there’s already a law in place that applies, great! The groundwork is already done. If there isn’t, nothing is going to get better until there is. Lawmakers don’t pay attention to mooks with placards, just as a subtle hint.

5. Before engaging in any kind of activity, have a damn good idea what it will actually accomplish, preferably with previous examples of effectiveness. Imagining a reaction or outcome is only fantasy.

6. People are not sheep, waiting around to be shown the wisdom of our goals. Consider them at least as intelligent as we are, preferably more so, and aim accordingly. Even if we have a solid argument, condescension will guarantee that no one will listen.

7. There is no such thing as Thought Police. New laws don’t ever cause someone to change their thought processes, only to avoid expressing them as publicly.

This is perhaps the hardest for many people to grasp. We cannot force someone’s mind to change; it must be coerced, convinced, established, and reinforced over a long period of time, and what it usually comes down to is their own willingness to do so. As you might imagine, this can be a ridiculously hard thing to accomplish. Change takes time, as well as lots of support, which doesn’t mean extra staples between the poster and the stick. If you’ve never looked at a placard that said, “USA is for whites,” and thought, Huh, that seems convincing, well then, neither has anyone else. Instead, think of something that you changed your mind on, preferably some belief that you held since childhood, and recall how that change took place, how long it took, how many factors were involved, and how many factors you could now list in support of it. Those are the kind of things that we should aim to produce.

And the last one, which is more important than all of the others combined:

8. Be prepared to take responsibility and correct things when we have made a mistake. Not “if.” While the rest up there are intended to help prevent this occurrence, they’ll never be a guarantee against it. And if we fucked it up, it’s our responsibility to unfuck it. Yet there are countless actions where this is prohibitively difficult, if not outright impossible; once started, that boulder is liable to keep rolling down the hill. “I thought I was doing the right thing,” means jack shit to those who fall under the boulder. If we don’t know how to fix it, then we should make damn sure we’re not breaking it in the first place – or simply leave it the hell alone at least until we are sure. Imagine the historical events that would never have taken place had this simple concept been adopted.

There are a couple of interesting anachronisms here. Many of the protestors no doubt believed that they knew what was wrong, the specific issue that they were protesting against, which is essentially believing that they were smarter than the responsible parties (again, the ‘police,’ the ‘government,’ even most of ‘society,’) but then abdicated thought and consideration to go along with the mob and engage in some fucking stupid actions, most of which would accomplish nothing positive in the slightest. Not a role model for anyone.

Then here’s my own, because while above I suggested treating those we wish to convince as if they were at least as smart as we are, I also have to recommend that we assume those around us, those we consider our allies and compatriots, may be stupid; not so much in our behavior towards them, but in following their actions or believing in the effectiveness thereof. It’s a fine line to walk, because we don’t want to come off as pompous or condescending to anyone, but we always have to assume that they may not be the best at making decisions, therefore the only safe bet is thinking for ourselves. We’ve been told to do that since childhood, anyway, and it’s an essential part of critical thinking and skepticism. Most especially, if we ever find ourselves about to engage in something that we hadn’t planned when leaving the house, that’d be the best time to stop and consider.

And, as mentioned above, acting emotionally usually doesn’t allow us to even get that far, so best to avoid acting emotionally altogether; when we’re angry or frustrated (or, for that matter, even excited or aroused,) we react, eschewing consideration and fair judgment in favor of base drives. That’s all (mostly) well and good when escaping a dangerous situation, but absolute shit for nearly all other circumstances. “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…”

It also helps to know that a mob is made up of individuals, all acting towards the resulting behavior – it is not a group of people separate from us. Our own behavior helps push it in its direction, so if we’re there, we cannot claim any innocence in the end result. A better quote might therefore be, “If you can keep your head so all about do not lose theirs…”

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