• Daniel Ethan Finneran

On The Riots

June 2020

It’s been said, with brevity and wisdom, that extremes beget extremes, and that, once swung too far in a single direction, the pendulum will inevitably swing too far in the other. What arises in haste, must necessarily fall with a thud, and that which flows exceedingly left, must return in its motion to the fringe of the right. It’s Newtonian, in a way—a universal law of action and response. That which effects motion will itself, in its turn, be moved. It’s a truth to which, with mechanic predictability, we’ve all become well accustomed, a verity of the world’s inner-workings to which we all consent.

We know, with the confidence of examples to which we can barely fix a number, of the revolution and the reaction by which, necessarily, the former is always followed. It’s a cyclical event, a repetitive phenomenon, that of the constancy of action and response. The motion is repeated, the law is further codified, and the pendulum persists in the inevitability of its swing.

The strength of a force of which a careful scientist, such as you are, is keenly observant, will be not only opposite, but commensurate with that by which it was originally provoked. This has long been the opinion with which, from ancient until modern times, each century’s foremost thinker has stood in uninterrupted agreement. It’s the opinion, so old yet so new, of which nearly every political commentator by which those ages are known—a class for which, in its present incarnation, we harbor such odium and contempt—has been a timeless expositor. Undoubtedly, it’s the consensus at which, after years of studious deliberation and careful thought, all right-thinking men in the public forum have arrived.

From the Stagirite Aristotle, to the German Georg Hegel, to the enslaved and then liberated Frederick Douglass (to whom, I might here mention, the words with which this article opened must respectfully be attributed), all the great political thinkers to whom, with yet greater plaudits, we still make reference, agreed on this very point. Extremes beget extremes, a thesis is provocative of an anti-thesis, and an excess of liberty results in a world anarchy and then, not long thereafter, the imposition of a tyrant’s regime. Every action, in not only politics but society and life, has as its consequence an equal and opposite response.

In viewing the protests and, now, the horrible riots of which the unlawful killing of the late George Floyd have been stimulative, I can’t help but think I’m witnessing but another example, of which we already have far too many, of one extreme giving birth to another. Both extremes, that of his killing and its aftermath, have had, without a doubt, insalubrious effects. They’ve left, among countless other marks, an un-healing wound on what is, by any assessment, a badly damaged body politic. We feel them both acutely and run our fingers along the open sensitivity of their gash. Both are reasons for our current pain, an injury for which, with little success, we blindly seek an ointment. At this point, search our medication cabinets as we might, none is to be found.

The pendulum, in the circumstances of Floyd’s tragic case, swung too far in the direction of the tyrannical application of a policeman’s brutal force. The law, of which that depraved officer Chauvin was supposed to be a gentle enforcer, was subverted by the violent and gratuitous nature of his act. He pinned beneath his knee, for the breathless duration of ten long minutes, an innocent man’s gasping neck. He did so while three fellow officers, three emasculated comrades by whom he was surrounded, assisted, or, at the very best, failed to interrupt the deadly completion of his act. As opposed to the long arm of the law, beyond whose honest reach few miscreants can flee, it was the short, blunt leg of Chauvin to which Floyd succumbed. No man, so positioned, should die in so unseemly a way. This, by any measure, was an example of an awful, condemnable extreme.

We’ve now witnessed the consequent extreme of which this, Floyd’s killing, has been the author. For nearly two full weeks, an unthinkable allotment of time—especially when one considers all the horror that’s transpired—we’ve seen throughout the restive cities of this mourning land an endless barrage of protests and riots. The former, while originally peaceful, have been absorbed by and, thus, conflated with the latter. Despite the better intentions of the protestors to whom, with all their frank sincerity, Floyd’s killing was an intolerable affront, despite the irenic aims of which, with constant re-assurance, they’ve held themselves to be the honest champions, this is what typically happens. What was first a noble showing, a resilient public display behind which any 1st-Amendment-loving American would throw his support, has since turned into a national disgrace.

Rioters and looters, a group for whom, so far as one can tell, these unstable and emotional situations offer but little discouragement, have unleashed upon our streets a wave of horrific violence. They’ve draped our sidewalks in terror and unforgivable sin, and they seek for their baleful actions no atonement. This is an anarchistic, radical, and nihilistic bunch, a group upon whom no notion of decency will have an ameliorating influence. It’s been responsible for the destruction of countless businesses and outlets, struggling entities, large and small, upon which, for the better part of the past three months, the joined efforts of a global pandemic and a lockdown have already thrust so much havoc.

Yet these rioters and looters, these Antifa members and anarchists care not. Rather, this is the type of environment to which the looter, so rebarbative in his thinking and his mien, is attracted. For him, it’s a most propitious state of affairs. No atmosphere could be so welcoming. This is the state of tumult and anger of which the rioter avails himself. He likes nothing better than atrocity and disquiet. For people like these, there’s nothing lamentable, certainly nothing undesirable, about the promise of conditions that have become so intractably fraught.

Sadly, the damages for which they can now claim credit haven’t been material merely. While places like Nordstrom’s, Target, Best Buy, and Office Max have been the victims of their thievery and rapine, actual people—among whom we can now number a multitude of police officers as well as civilians—have been injured and, in some cases, killed. This is the result of their thuggish behavior and their unquenchable desire to cause injury and fear.

Hundreds of police officers, valiantly serving their communities in a way of which Chauvin would have no conception, have been injured, and, in many cases, very severely so. Granular videos of officers being run over by unhesitating vehicles, to which, it seems, none appears ready to offer pursuit, are becoming ever more commonplace. Though nauseating, I’ve already watched three.

That’s not all. If those incidents weren’t bad enough, there are clips of police officers being battered and shot. In the case of the latter, four officers were shot in St. Louis, one in Las Vegas, and one in Oakland. The one shot in Las Vegas, by the intervention of some police-protecting deity, is in a fragile and doubtful state of health (the bullet penetrated his skull) while the one shot in Oakland rests with far less lucky an end; he was killed where he stood. A retired police officer, to whom, for thirty-eight years, a small St. Louis department was home, was killed on a sidewalk in cold-blood. Seventy-seven years of age, he was attempting to interrupt the robbery of a pawn shop owned by a man to whom he was a dear friend. As he bled to his death, he was filmed on “Facebook Live”.

I’ve also watched countless videos of police officers being assaulted, videos at which even the most lawless devil among us would cringe. In them, they’re seen to be attacked with any assortment of unfriendly objects—be they blunt or sharp, acrid or base. Some are the recipients of rocks, others of distant and indiscernible projectiles, while others are confronted on the backs of their heads with maliciously-wielded bricks. Worse still, none of the thugs by whom they were accosted seems to have been pursued in any serious way. Color, when used as a weapon, seems to have conferred upon every bad actor carte blanche.

We are in an age of extremes—one begetting the other, and the other conceiving in turn. The pendulum, the dangling sword beneath which, with great anxiety, we sit, has swung too far in one direction, and now in its opposite as well. What we need is conciliation, reason, and tact. We need a calm exposition of our ideas, by which we might be convinced. We need a dispassionate discussion and an intermediate course, an approach by which, with any luck, this nation might be preserved. We need the lessons of Aristotle, of Hegel, of Douglass—of those like thinkers about whom we’ve become heedless. We need to mollify these extremes, to find a middle way.

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