Protesting, rioting, and looting

As I write this, America is going through one of its episodes of the above, and by my vague reckoning, a pretty significant period of them. It’s not the first such in my life, not by a long stretch. It’s hard to judge just now if its the biggest or most widespread. We are in the middle of it.

America has a long history of such events. Protesting is generally a respected activity, though folks don’t like it when someone they oppose is protesting. Riots are usually condemned, but there is some understanding that there is a breaking point in society and rioting is a sign it’s been reached. Thus, it gets some respect in theory if not in practice. Looting is nearly always condemned but is also in many ways the least consequential.

My general opinions on the topic

I pretty much always support protesting as an act. I may agree or disagree with the message, and I may agree or disagree with the specific tactics, but I utterly respect the act of speaking out and being seen doing so even when I’m not favorable to the cause. Violence should not be used to counter-protest, that’s how you get a riot.

Rioting is worrying. I won’t deny there are times I’d do it myself. There are moments when revolution is the only recourse when destruction is the tactic that works best. And property destruction in and of itself, especially in the name of a political cause centered on life or death issues is justified. Lives are worth more than mere property.

However, there are reasons I find it worrying and generally counsel against it. The first is that it creates violent conflict and leads to injuries and death. Violence breeds violence and violence is the rational response to violence most of the time. If there is any way to avoid it, then you should probably try to avoid it. If you go in for it, know that you are signing up for violence and you should not be shocked or outraged that it’s what you find.

Looting is just criminality in my view, short of say, stealing medicine to give to the poor or the like. It is a problem both because it harms the person whose property is being looted and because it denigrates the moral character of the person doing it. We may forgive looters, but we pretty much never admire them. My sympathy for the victims is somewhat proportional to how rich they are. It’s still wrong to steal from a corporate giant, but it’s not really doing that much harm. But looters aren’t often all that mindful about who they are harming, its a fundamentally selfish act most of the time.

Like my thoughts on war, violence, including violence to property is always a kind of evil. Sometimes an evil is needed in response to some other evil, but it still tells us something terrible is happening and there is probably a better path to follow. We should always be looking to say, “how can we avoid this happening again?”

My thoughts on what is happening now

I’ve been called out on my privilege on this topic, and it’s true, I’ve got plenty of privileges. Right now, as there are riots going on in my home city, I’m in Japan where it is quite peaceful and serene and where the police are generally super friendly and helpful. I have had a gun pulled on me by police, but by and large, I’m not subject to the kind of harassment faced by many African Americans. None the less, I feel such harassment, and the militarization of law enforcement is one of the largest problems facing US culture today.

I most admire the protesters who are putting themselves in harm’s way and are at the same time commuted to non-violence. They are heroes in this for me. Those who are rioting and directing their wrath at the police establishment and the political establishment have my full sympathy, but I worry whether they will achieve their aims or make things worse. I’m not certain but I don’t begrudge them the effort.

Those that are committing violence on other people in the course of rioting are villains to me. Those that destroy the property of private business in the name of anti-capitalism or a general disdain for all authority earn my antipathy but are far from my biggest concern in the present situation.

The looters, I more pity them. I watch videos of folks, (some bringing their kids) and I wonder if they are desperate or just greedy. My experience tells me, mostly greedy. I can’t muster actually caring that much considering all the other things happening. It’s mostly a symptom of the general breakdown in civility that comes from people being pushed over the edge. I do wonder how they feel about themselves and if their conscience pangs them or if they just revel in their free stuff.

The worst of the worst are those who are stoking violence for violence’s sake. Those who desire a “race war” or just want to watch the world burn to ashes for its sins. You find them on both the right and left. Folks like that justify violence, both to themselves and to me in opposing them. I feel no pangs delivering violence to those whose whole goal is violence. It’s where my pacifism finds its true limit. We would all be better off without such folks.


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