Becoming Famous Through Violence
It's been a pretty charged couple of weeks globally. We had Dallas, Nice, Alton Sterling, the attempted coup in Turkey, Philando Castile, and many more that didn't make the headlines. The rationales for the use of violence in each of these situations are completely different, yet our reactions are predictably similar. We ask ourselves why and how this could happen. We feel a call to action. We begin to identify with the victims as if they were our brothers and sisters. We express our grief and pain so we can show exactly how strong we are to those who have wronged us. However, through technological developments and the deluge of media we are exposed to, we are giving these actors a fame based on violence and the ability to exploit our grief.
There's no simple way to solve the issues surrounding the tragedies of the past few weeks, but one thing is certain: terrorists and activists love your pain. It gives them purpose. We can attempt to show solidarity through hashtags and petitions, forgetting that we're publicizing and historicizing in the process.
Whenever a hashtag asking to #prayfornice or #bringbackourgirls, we showcase exactly what we are afraid of. We're afraid our prayers aren't enough, and we're afraid we'll never see our girls again. Whenever we choose to highlight a singular issue of police brutality, we miss the forest for acorns on the ground. Social media is built on a culture of virtue signaling, and we show the terrorists exactly what they want through our tears.
Terrorists, not specifically religious, and activists rely onabsolutes to achieve their aims. Our constant confusion on who to blame for the sources of violence, whether it be the NRA, Black Lives Matter, ISIS. This confusion leads to cultural fragmentation. These organizations are not to blame for the Orlando or Dallas. The murderers of these tragedies have appropriated the most violent parts of culture. They use the organization's message and cut it out to fit into their ideological scrapbook. If the Murphy Law means anything, i.e. we cannot prosecute gun manufactures for crimes committed with guns they manufactured, it means that we must apply the same rational basis test to how we blame organizations for the actions of a fringe minority.
If we do end up blaming civic organizations, and acting on that, we begin to unravel the sweater of a free society that keeps us warm and comfortable. At this point, we are choosing to throw it into the dryer. Our free society will continue to shrink the longer we apply heat.
What is a nation to do in these situations? Culturally, this is a perfect storm of disaffection from the state, a shared value desiring fame, and the cons of a free society. Instead, we've created a "fame society" where your value is based on your notoriety, Twitter reach, and ability to get people talking about you. For those who are caught in the perfect storm of a fame society, there becomes an opportunity to be the lightning strike that sets our house ablaze. This is the thread that strings together the weekly tragedies of our world.
The other way we fetishize violence is in the form of victim idolization. In the wake of Orlando, there was an outpouring of support for the victims and their families. Famous people read names aloud on the top shows, and people applied filters to their profile pictures. When we have another shooting by a police officer, we create a new hashtag and protest the action while not acknowledging the laws that led to the abuse of enforcement. The violence turns the victim into a martyr, and reinforces calls for us to "do" something to "end" the violence. There is rarely a call to end specific policies, because police brutality is not a policy. But narrative is far easier to understand and support than policy. Here are a few suggestions:
How about decriminalization of drugs?
How about areas with high gun control in America have higher rates of violence?
How about the failure of public education in the poorest areas of our country?
How about the fact we fetishize violence in such a way that it connotes notoriety after death?
None of the attackers felt valued in their daily lives. None of them had fulfilling jobs, loving spouses, or economic prosperity. All of them were smart enough to realize violence could provide them the validation they are looking for.
None of the shooting victims were affluent. None of them deserved to be killed. All of their deaths and the corresponding grief and anger have been co-opted by organizations that are fragmented by separate notions of identity.
How do we strike the balance of appropriately paying our respects while not accepting the status quo as ok? There isn't a clear answer as to how we deal with this abroad; our foreign policy, much like our emotions, can be used as a tool against us. And much like guns or trucks, the way these tools help or hurt us depends on the user.
Our grief is their sustenance. Our pain makes them feel pleasure. And our fear is their fuel that powers their engine of worthlessness, rejection, and powerlessness. It is our fear that gives them fame with their 15 minutes of destruction. In a free society, if we still want to have some semblance of one, these people do not deserve our fear. Our policies should not be based in fear. This is the primary driver of the gun control movement, a statistical failure over the past 50 years. This is the primary driver of our militants foreign interventions, another 50+ year failure.
At the base level, we share the same fear as these terrorists and their victims: our worldview and life are at a risk of being lost by the actions of a nation. Let's not let their desire for a fame based on violence destroy what we've got left.