Thursday, December 03, 2015

On Our Increasing Political Violence

The latest mass shooting, in San Bernardino, CA, should draw our attention to the fact that there has been an overall increase in mass shootings in the U.S. over the past several years -- even as gun violence overall has been decreasing. The answer in the case of this latest shooting seems obvious -- a radicalized Muslim couple is now known to be responsible -- but the rest are not so simple. Neither, by the way, is this one.

I have written previously about Peter Turchin's thesis of 50 year cycles, which he discusses in light of mass shootings in Evonomics. But I haven't really done so in light of some of the specifics we are beginning to see.

One thing Turchin predicts is a rise of political violence. What that means can vary. It doesn't necessarily mean assassinations of politicians, though in the late 1960s and 1970s it certainly did mean that. It doesn't necessarily mean the targeting of obviously political/governmental targets, either. What it can and often does mean is the targeting of institutions which the individuals in question consider to be responsible for their situation. It is telling that universities, colleges, and schools seem to be high on the list of targeted institutions.

We see a lot of "unrest" at our colleges. Adjuncts are pushing for reforms in employment. Left-wing students are increasingly pushing their P.C. agenda, demanding the end of free speech, including the silencing of critics and even the media. Many of them are essentially victims in search of oppressors -- they have been told for so long by teachers and professors that they are victims, they now believe it. The only problem is, there are no real oppressors around. Whatever racists there are, they mostly keep their mouths shut. Unless provoked. The P.C. left have discovered that if they want oppressors, they have to provoke the racists into exposing themselves. So they first fabricate an incident, protest against their own fabrication, provoke the racists to expose themselves, then protest the racists' words and actions. Rather than trying to build bridges and tear down the residual racism in America, they seek to create deeper divisions, just so they can justify their own ideology. It is a tactic which is ultimately self-destructive, but in the meantime it's socially destructive, being intended to trigger hatred. Among the beneficiaries of this will be the professors who have radicalized their students and are using them to make reforms within the universities. Politicians will also benefit, as they will be able to use the unrest to centralize power more and more and try to disarm the public.

In the meantime, we see increased militarization of the police and increased police brutality, even as we see fewer police harmed in the line of duty. Those who protest the police the most ironically want only the police to be armed, and they also want the police to have even more laws to enforce. This will lead to more and more police killings, which will only increase political violence. We are seeing this with more and more protests against police shootings.

And let's be honest, what happened in San Bernardino was a case of political violence. As is all terrorism. We should expect to see more and more mass shootings from all sorts of political actors, left and right, religious and secular. This is due to increasing alienation in our society, alienation created by our government, whose actions at home and overseas are designed to dissolve social cohesion and trust in order to centralize power more and more. There is a web of economic policies that keep us working longer and longer hours, discourage entrepreneurship, and protect political cronies -- policies supported by both parties -- and thus alienate us more and more from friends and family we can't see because we work long hours, and alienate us from the places where we work as we blame our employers for our situation (seen vs. the unseen). We should expect to see people reacting violently against our government's policies, foreign and domestic, and targeting anything but the government itself, since targeting the government is even more of a suicide mission than hitting softer targets. Thus the tendency to hit gun-free zones and avoid direct government targets.

Much of the violence we have been seeing and will be seeing involve race and other kinds of differences, like religion and ideology. People of different races make for an easy scapegoat, while the people actually responsible for the situation we find ourselves in are safely tucked away in government buildings. Worse, we should expect our politicians to use race, religion, and ideology to direct people's attention away from the polities in question. In fact, we are already seeing this happening in the Presidential nomination races. The most obvious offenders are Trump and Sanders, but they all do it in more or less subtle ways.

Over the next few years, political violence will continue to increase. Will it become more overtly political over the years? Perhaps. If and when it does, we'll begin to see more direct solutions proposed. Will they solve the problem? In the short term, perhaps. It's amazing what a few carrots will get you, even as you continue to ensure everything remains mostly the same. But people won't remain fooled for long. Then the violence will return.

What needs to happen? A true revolution. There are too many path dependent problems in our political environment, economy, culture, and society. Unfortunately, history shows that most political revolutions turn out terrible. But the revolution doesn't have to be political in the way most of us think; rather, it can be a change in culture, society, philosophy, art, literature, thinking, economy. The best revolution would be one that completely bypasses politics as practiced, leaving the politicians within nothing and no one to rule. The best revolution would be a psychosocial revolution. It can be realized, but it will require a revolution in our thinking about revolutions themselves.