Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Collapse And The Crowd

     It is with inexpressible joy that I celebrate the return of Ol’ Remus from his Internet hiatus. No one else writing for general consumption – and I include myself in this assessment – has his gift for the piercing, too-clear-to-be-misunderstood observation about our times. Here’s a brief snippet from his latest:

     The "Ferguson Effect" is everywhere now. It's rank extortion, and violence is an accepted part of the process. When an unruly mob (wink wink) invaded the library at Yale, threatened and criminally assaulted students at their study, Yale apologized for being Yale and humbly caved to their demands, a lesson fundamentally different from what had been taught since 1701. What was unbelievable is unbelievable no more. In turn, the unbelievable will give way to the unthinkable, the unthinkable to the unimaginable. Violence works. It works because we are in collapse.

     I added the emphasis.

     With only a single additional observation – that the persons comprised by such an extortionate crowd are a small (often vanishingly so) minority of the community they seek to bludgeon – the entire temper and character of the American milieu is laid bare.

     What’s that you say, Gentle Reader? It doesn’t quite gel for you? Perhaps it’s the hour. Fetch yourself another cup of coffee while I do the same.


     Time was, we frequently heard a particular phrase in connection with warnings about misbehavior: “I read him the Riot Act.” Like most phrases detached from their geneses, this one has drifted from a useful invocation of a historically important development to a cliché whose referent is grasped by a very few.

     Wikipedia’s entry presents the essentials of the thing:

     The [Riot Act of 1714] created a mechanism for certain local officials to make a proclamation ordering the dispersal of any group of more than twelve people who were "unlawfully, riotously, and tumultuously assembled together". If the group failed to disperse within one hour, then anyone remaining gathered was guilty of a felony without benefit of clergy, punishable by death.

     The proclamation could be made in an incorporated town or city by the mayor, bailiff or "other head officer", or a justice of the peace. Elsewhere it could be made by a justice of the peace or the sheriff or under-sheriff. It had to be read out to the gathering concerned, and had to follow precise wording detailed in the act; several convictions were overturned because parts of the proclamation had been omitted, in particular "God save the King".[2]

     The wording that had to be read out to the assembled gathering was as follows:

     Our sovereign lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the act made in the first year of King George, for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies. God save the King.

     In short, officialdom, upon “reading the Riot Act” to an unruly crowd, had put them on notice: Disperse within one hour or face the consequences, which just might include death. The British made use of the Riot Act to suppress all manner of public disturbances...and they weren’t bashful about it.

     An old friend once told me of a case from Hong Kong, where he lived as a boy. A crowd of several hundred persons had assembled outside the headquarters of a large corporation. It had progressed from bullhorn-powered stridency to the verge of assault. So the British authorities sent out a constable.

     That’s right: one man.

     The constable “read the Riot Act” and commanded the crowd to disperse. He did so with a grenade in his hand. According to my friend, the crowd dispersed quickly and without protest. Frankly, I wasn’t surprised to hear it.

     Unfortunately, not only has Hong Kong been “returned” to Red China; the courage and resolve demonstrated by that British constable have largely disappeared from the English-speaking peoples. Nor are they the only virtues we no longer exhibit.


     A crowd moved to violence is a mechanism of great destructive power. It can reap lives as easily as a harvester reaps wheat. We get examples of this too frequently to require explanation. Any soccer-stadium riot will serve.

     Well-meaning idiots “Progressives” strain to “understand” the crowd’s “grievances.” There must be some, right? After, all, crowds don’t form for no reason. The folks in the crowd want something. Give them what they want and they’ll disperse.

     Wrong. Giving a violent mob what it demands – assuming that it’s demanded anything in particular – only encourages it to demand more. Worse, it sets an example for other quarrelsome groups. You cannot propitiate a behavior without encouraging it. Successful tyrants understand this.

     Once enough examples of violent crowds going unpunished have accumulated, there is no longer any safety to be had. The riotous crowd assumes the character of a lawless state: it will take what it wants, when it wants it, regardless of anyone’s notions about rights or justice.

     A lawless state within a lawful one is an unstable configuration. Inevitably, one will put down the other. In a polity whose authorities have become unwilling or unable to disperse a violent crowd by force, all notions about law and public order are null and void. Crowds, wherever they may form and for whatever reason, are the true rulers of the domain.


     Today, the most important survival tip you could give anyone is the one Remus offers in the brief essay cited above:

     In short, I stay away from crowds.

     This is essential because we no longer act as intelligent persons, determined that public order shall prevail, once acted. That British constable did. Yes, he was putting his life on the line; it was his job to do so. It was once generally understood that any “peace officer’s” duties required him to put his life on the line when it was necessary to preserve or restore public order. That’s become a pleasant fiction. We still give it lip service – how often have you heard some bloviating politician say that “a policeman puts his life on the line every day” and never bothered to question it? – but the reality is quite different.

     When the “official” forces of order abrogate their commitment to order, what’s left are the “unofficial forces:” the crowds. Society has entered the penultimate stage of collapse: the one that immediately precedes Hobbes’s description of the “war of each against all:”

     In such condition, there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently, no culture of the earth, no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building, no instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth, no account of time; no arts, no letters; no society; and what is more, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.


     Perhaps we’re not quite there yet. But we are at the point where political agitators eagerly assemble crowds that all too often turn violent. On occasion, the agitators intend violence from the start. The recent developments on major university campuses serve as examples.

     In August of 1965 in Watts and July of 1967 in Detroit, military force was deployed to quell riots. In both cases, the peace that followed was an uneasy one. It lasted for some time nevertheless, because those who’d incited the riots had seen that the forces of order were willing to respond with the necessary degree of force. If we can judge from the more recent riots and mass disturbances of today, such a response in force is no longer very likely. Thus, every venue where a crowd might form, whether spontaneously or as a result of planned agitation, has become a dangerous place to be.

     There is only one workable response to the proliferation of angry, violent, crowds uncurbed by the authorities: stay away from them. Assume every cohesive gathering of more persons than you could fit into your living room is headed for trouble, and head in the opposite direction. Assume that the forces of order will not respond – and that were they to respond, they’d treat you as part of the problem.

     Assume, moreover, that rule-by-crowd will proliferate and become still more violent – that a collapse is nearing. Make the appropriate preparations. Pray with all your might that you won’t need them, but make them all the same.

6 comments:

  1. About how to handle riots: Please see Belisarius, Justinian, Theodora and the Nika Riots.

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  2. "He who does not punish evil commands it to be done."
    - Leonardo DaVinci

    What you've described here is the second half of the definition of anarcho-tyranny:
    "Anarcho-tyranny is defined as a situation where the Government harshly enforces excessive punishments on the law abiding while ignoring actual crimes committed by favored classes."

    See: http://borepatch.blogspot.com/2012/08/anarcho-tyranny-101.html

    ReplyDelete
  3. Fran -

    A favor - the link to your short story about Uriel the angel.

    Thank you. jb

    ReplyDelete
  4. Fran -

    Thank you very much. A Happy and Blessed New Year to you and yours.

    jb

    ReplyDelete
  5. If my memory was better, I could recall where I read an antidote to this sort of crowd violence, like the larger race-based "flash crowd"violence. Something on the order of two-man sniper teams based on pickup trucks or vans which could stand-off at the periphery, engage a few targets and then move to another location. Wash, rinse, repeat. Done a few times, it could be effective at breaking up such a disturbance, and reducing the incidence of such in the future.

    It is my understanding that this worked for the Israelis in the not-too-distant past. Suppressed Ruger 10/22 rifles used on the hot-spots of muslim violence. Nowadays, the Left and the media (but I repeat myself) make such a screaming dog and pony show of any injuries to any of the so-called "Palestinians" (Hamas, Fatah, etc.) that they have stopped using that technique, at least as often as they used to.

    It could be a viable response for us, though - an antidote for the "Ferguson Effect".

    ReplyDelete

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