August 24, 2014
My observation of rioters, admittedly from a distance and refracted through cameras, is that they enjoy rioting. Pride is not the only thing that goeth before destruction; human nature does too. I certainly know myself the pleasures of destruction, and knew them as a child: still when I dispose of my bottles in the bottle bank I am disappointed if a few of them do not break with a gratifying tinkle. When I am in a temper (which is not often these days), I know the momentary relief and pleasure that a broken window would bring me. But I have a duty not to relieve myself in this way; everyone does.
When the destructive urge is allied to a sense of purpose and righteousness, it is at its most dangerous, for then one denies that one is deriving pleasure from one’s actions”one is only doing what is right.
There is more that might be said about the violent protesters in Ferguson, as elsewhere. It is true, of course, that no one can be equally moved by all the injustices in the world; if such a person existed, his life would be one long protest against injustice and he would have no time for the enjoyment of the ordinary things of life. The best way to be a bore, said Voltaire, is to say everything; and the second best way would be to protest about everything. But still one has a duty to keep one’s wrath in bounds.
I am not against protest as such. But where someone’s protest against one thing is very much greater than against another that is equally near and in aggregate as serious, one may suspect his dishonesty or bad faith. It is true, of course, that a killing by an agent of the state is particularly heinous, especially if part of a pattern, but it is not infinitely serious by comparison with other killings, nor is it the only serious killing. Though Ferguson is not a particularly violent town (its rate of crimes of violence is about average for that of the United States), five people were murdered there in 2011 without arousing the kind of agitation that has captured, and perhaps even captivated, the attention of the world for the last few days. There are places near Ferguson where the violent crime rate is four times higher than in Ferguson, but there has never been a protest of the same order against the depredations of criminals there.
I try to imagine what it would take to make me throw bricks through windows, ransack buildings, and so forth. Having myself suffered only minor injustices and been responsible for my own failures in life, it takes a special effort of the imagination. But even after I have made that effort, I still cannot see a logical or justifiable connection between protest at injustice and looting a store.