This isn’t a demonstrably helpful response. This isn’t participatory. This isn’t progressive, active, or even difficult. It is, at most, appreciative. And supportive (in its own way) and perhaps, I hope, acknowledges the undeniable truth that things are not ok. I could fill an entire post enumerating all that is encompassed in that “things” but instead I will prioritize succinctly: Black Lives Matter.
Yesterday, inspired by these many brave demonstrators of civil unrest, I rewatched V for Vendetta (I know, I’m a real revolutionary). I found it as brilliant as ever. I’ve viewed the film umpteen times, although probably never in the past decade or so. It was eery to watch those many scenes which, at the times of first viewing, were plausibly fictitious and are now fictitiously accurate of today’s reality.
Classic movies of that era can be painful to revisit. Not so, here, in surprising ways. For example: after significant buildup, we viewers enjoy the moment that V professes his feelings of love to Evie and, even though the whole movie is prefaced on their connection, the screenplay doesn’t obligate her to verbally reciprocate such feelings to her erstwhile captor. Incredible.
Also salient are V’s monologues, including:
“Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth. And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn’t there? Cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression. And where once you had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission. How did this happen? Who’s to blame? Well, certainly, there are those who are more responsible than others, and they will be held accountable. But again, truth be told, if you’re looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror. I know why you did it. I know you were afraid. Who wouldn’t be? War, terror, disease. They were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense. Fear got the best of you…”
Yes, I will acknowledge that the state-sponsored bio-terrorism in the movie is different from governmental incompetence in the face of a natural biological threat, but I was flabbergasted to revisit a perspective in which surely the death of 80,000 people from a virus would precipitate fundamental societal change. For once, Hollywood undershot it. In actual reality, more than 100,000 have now died from our leaders’ largely bungled response to COVID-19 and…what? We remain mostly indifferent, moving towards the same authoritarianism of our imaginary compatriots. Is there no other hope?
I continue to exist at distance from the socialized world, living not buffered-from, but in the buffer itself. So, I only follow the civic demonstrations as reported on the national webstage. Compulsively refreshing url after url, I monitor from afar what I perceive to be the struggle between those advocating for justice and those in the corner of–not injustice, which might be passive happening, but rather–anti-justice.
In between those frequent refreshes, I make my way outside and garden. Rather, I assault the greenery with all the tools at my disposal. I am spending hour after hour wielding chainsaw, hedge trimmer, machete, weed whip, shovel, et al to hack back the overgrowth on these acres. I am clearing large swaths of brush to make way for fencing, decks, and garden beds. The experience has taught me something about myself–perhaps not a surprise revelation but a kernel of recognition that is chilling all the same: I would not be an acceptable police officer.
I’ve long known that I’m a great second banana. I have my own convictions, yes, but to an unhealthy degree those are malleable to the charismatic people and purpose-donning organizations (i.e. employers) in my immediate periphery. I need to be needed. And while I believe myself to be strongly principled, I, too, am pathetically goal oriented, which can lend itself to a blurring of judgment in the heat of the moment.
I am a diligent worker, each stroke of my machete pushing this green border back an inch, then another inch, and another. I grow increasingly vitriolic, imagining this simple act of gardening as my enacting of just punishment on misbehaving plants. Soon, all I want is to foster a lifeless buffer of brown dirt, visible victory for my efforts in spite of the fact that, when collected, I love nature’s green sprawl. In general, I greatly prefer an overrun of vines to a methodically vicious curtailing. But, when presented with a task, I puppydog-ily respond with the most unhealthily of mentalities: if 100% is good, 1000% must be great!
And so it is that I find myself aggressively chopping at those peacefully protesting shrubs all the while taking pleasure in my unequivocating (and unflinching) efficacy. I fear that I’d do the same as a police officer today, ignoring my deep-seated moral convictions in order to demonstrate in easy evidence my value in the literal face of every new challenger.
So it is, I imagine, with many of the police in today’s USA. The sheer volume of individuals from police, national guard, and other “law enforcement” organizations that are behaving in unconscionable manners is mind-boggling. Are some of them unapologetic racists? Yes, I believe so. Are many, many others unexamined followers of racist ideologies? Absolutely. But also, I believe, there must be a not-small contingent of bad-actors who are like me, who easily lose perspective and tend to focus on the micro-goals at hand, rather than their own macro-beliefs (or, you know, the US Constitution). These are not bad people, just the wrong people for the job, and people poorly lead at that. I’d argue that instead of a shooting marksmanship test prospective officers should be asked to garden for a couple days…it seems like that might give a more helpful window into their characters.
I don’t pen these words in effort to excuse the abhorrent actions of law enforcement in recent days, merely as a preamble to underscore the complexity of the dynamic at hand. With that out of the way: