Opinion and Editorial

Anatomy of anarchy in America

Narendra Jha
Filed on June 3, 2020
Protesters take a knee during a rally against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, at Foley Square in the Manhattan borough of New York City, U.S., June 2, 2020.


Trump was wrong, Minneapolis PD was wrong, but so is the violence

"The greatest of tragedies is not the conflict between right and wrong," Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel wrote aphoristically once. "It is the conflict between two rights."
Doubtless, you have observed the conflict to be true often. But could we stretch it a bit? Now, Hegel is not a thinker you tweak idly: the outcomes can be extreme. On the one hand, his thought inspired communism; on the other, it validated fascism. However, upon watching the cathartic developments in the US, I do feel tempted to emend this aphorism: On occasion, the greatest of tragedies is the conflict between two wrongs.
A rudderless America tosses about in churning seas. A leaderless America runs around in burning cities. A clueless America scrounges around for answers. Like viruses in a pandemic, hope needs a sustaining host in the stable body of reason, even as the world goes into herd immunity against reason itself.
"Why just talk about America?" you validly ask. "Why not the rest of the world or a part of the world that none really talks about?" Well, when we talk about the death of reason, America is a good place to start. For generations now, it has played the arbiter of global fate, the enforcer of standards that the Age of Enlightenment recommends. For generations now, it has told the world what it should want, how it should be governed, and what might happen if it does not.
The Age of Enlightenment is the age of science, the age of scientific reasoning. It has spawned enduring institutions, especially in America, but they are being blown aside in the disorienting gales that sweep the nation. Pandemic expert Deborah Birx watches in torment. So far her scarf is in place, just about.
In the American psyche-except for earthquakes cracking open California and typhoons cutting a swathe across Oklahoma-bad things happen only to other people, other nations. Pearl Harbour might have been a sobering reminder. But there was an identifiable enemy to march against then. More recently, there have been terror attacks. On these occasions too, there were enemies, though not as clearly identifiable.
This time the enemy can neither be seen in size nor counted in numbers. Twitter has failed to come up with digital solutions and a powerful nation is decompensating. Suddenly, the ills that lay buried under the glowing health of a few have started presenting in rashes of violence; suddenly, there are unseen enemies, both domestic and foreign. It turns out that a country that barely understood democracy now has to understand anarchy.
Democracy cannot be understood adequately if capitalism is seen as the sole delivery system. And capitalism has not been defined adequately if it is believed that the mere promise of prosperity will outlive iniquities indefinitely: possibility, hope, despair and outrage become logical stages in a capitalist democracy when the divisions within-both in depth and extent-are not addressed.
Anarchy is inevitable. But it is not permanent.
When US President Donald Trump went into twitters of delight at the sight of armed citizens taking to the streets in three states-ostensibly to protest the stay-at-home advisory of his own administration-I thought he was endorsing anarchy. Even if we accept the validity of anarchy as a political option, it seemed downright wrong, because there was no evidence to suggest that the objective went beyond the November polls. Anarchy is not as anarchic as widely thought; it bears to a vision.
To the limited extent that history has paused at anarchists, notably Peter Kropotkin and Mikhail Bakunin, long-term ideals have been noted in their persuasions on collectivist societies. There is sophistication to any divergence within the discourse on anarchism. Trump had none. He came through as recklessly wrong.
Today, as Atlanta burns after events in Minneapolis, we see another wrong. Indeed, this seems more spontaneous, less scripted, impelled no doubt by righteous anger. But it presents more harmfully. Those who came out with assault rifles to combat a virus, while Trump tried to figure out whether it concerned the first amendment to the US constitution or the second, could be dismissed as suicidal idiots. But these torchbearers of civil unrest run the risk of being seen as murderous vandals, no matter how justified their ire, especially when they seek to tell CNN that they can be just as mad as Trump.
I do understand that it is easy to embed in a public protest elements that distort its intended nature, turning a peaceful and powerful event into something senselessly damaging. Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has delivered a very hard-hitting speech. "Go home!" she says with maternal authority. "Do not besmirch MLK." Trump was wrong, Minneapolis PD was wrong, but so are the violent elements in these protests, especially after the quickest possible action has been initiated against the perpetrators of a publicly recorded crime.
It is thoughtless too because the righteous are getting confused with the amoral Trump as they make the mistake of engaging with him on his home ground: abject indifference to reason. It does not matter that Trump is a manager of the moment-with neither a memory of yesterday nor vision of tomorrow; it does not matter that the agitators have come to this pass because of a woeful memory of yesterday and a bleak vision of tomorrow.
African American folklore celebrates Martin Luther King more than Eldridge Cleaver. But souls are on fire again. There are unresolved discussions in the independent media in the US-media ironically driven by sharp ideological positions-on whether these events were waiting to happen. Meantime, a bottle of turbid water has been shaken. This is anarchy. Now we must wait and see how the particles logically settle, by weight and density, in a new social sedimentation. That would be anarchism.
For the moment, though, I just wish two wrongs made a right.
Narendra Jha is a former Associate Editor of Khaleej Times

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