What the ’20 Riots Taught Me

That civilization is fragile. That’s what they taught me. I seriously believed that I’d see a revolution in my lifetime.

No Middle Ground

One reason was because the middle ground disappeared overnight. You were either a supporter of Black Lives Matter, or you were a supporter of racism. There was no middle. No nuance.

This happens in other revolutions too, you know. The middle disappears. La Fayette and Condorcet in the French Revolution both wanted a constitutional monarchy. But both poles wanted to kill them – the monarchists and the republicans (Chirot 2020, 4). It’s now called “La Fayette syndrome” to believe that 1) there is a reasonable pathway of progress forward, and 2) that you can achieve it.

Incompetent Leadership

Another reason was there was incompetence at the top. Mr. Trump has done a lousy job protecting the American people and economy from COVID-19. Many in the USA already see his administration as illegitimate. The elite’s self confidence is gone too. Very few people believe that either Trump or Biden are competent leaders.

In Russia, the incompetence of Kerenski’s last offence led Russia to lose her fight against Germany in WWI. The fact that Rasputin, a peasant monk, had been able to work his way into the Royal Court and become a trusted advisor completely undermined the elite’s faith in the Russian Monarchy as well.

An Ignorance or Willful Blindness of Grievances

The Black Lives Matter Movement has been protesting police brutality against black people for 7 years now. It’s not clear how police brutality has been addressed. Perhaps we simply have not seen the progress made in the last 7 years. We may only see the violence that still remains because we’re glued to our phones and police brutality videos go viral. But nonetheless, it appears that cops in the US treat black people differently from white people. They may get frisked more, they may get pulled over more, etc. Things like this rob people of their dignity and create resentment and anger.

For the last seven years, the intellectuals I’ve listened to – Coleman Hughes, Sam Harris, Glenn Loury, have dismissed the claims of Black Lives Matter because the data does not back them up. Black people are not killed more than white people (by police), nor do the police have a bias against them when using lethal force. But this, and I, missed the other part. Non-lethal force and interactions matter immensely as well. The conviction rate for ‘bad apple’ police officers matters immensely as well. There are obvious signs of corruption which I, and many others, never saw before!

Chirot points out: “As in the French and Russian revolutions, where incompetent and outdated royal regimes had resisted moderate reform too long, liberals finally brought to power were unable to satisfy popular demands for greater change.” (Chirot 2020, 32). Regardless of whether the police are racist or not, they should have still addressed the problem causing it all – police officer’s easy willingness to use force against people, their absolutely dismal training, and a lack of justice for officers who abused their power because of the uber-strong police unions.

The Only Thing Holding It Together: Trust

Trust for our institutions is the only thing that allows them to work. A bank will only give you your money as long as everyone out there believes that their money is safe in them. If everyone doesn’t, then they run to bank, and then the bank runs out of money.

The same goes for the police, for the government, for the judicial system, for unions, and for universities. I thought, for example, that it was wrong to steal and burn because you’re depriving someone of something they’ve worked hard to earn. But it turns out that mere morality does not bind civilization together. There must be incentives as well – punish those who steal and burn, reward those who save and take risks, and you will create a society that functions.

For some reason, I believed that civilization was stable and strong – that there would always be justice, that revolutions were things which happened to other countries because, well, I don’t know. Not to Canada! Not to the US! I was wrong. Perhaps this is because I’ve always seen the state from my perspective – I alone cannot do much against Leviathan, and therefore nobody can. It turns out that a mob can do things against the state.

So, of the many things that the Riots of ’20 taught me, it was that civilization, and the trust that holds it up, is much more fragile than I’d like to think. But as a result, I have a lot more authority than I originally thought.

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