Monday, July 23, 2012

Let's Talk About Chaos

"Ah! when the ghost begins to quicken,
Confusion of the deathbed over, is it sent
Out naked on the roads, as the books say, and stricken
By the injustice of the skies for punishment?" -- W. B. Yeats, "The Cold Heaven"

I remember that we grew very quiet, as a nation, the last time an ostensibly intelligent person turned killer, and we do so again today. As ever, we have to stipulate in advance that crazy people are crazy in mind as well as act, that murder is, by itself, proof of a disordered mind. And so, with our new H. H. Holmes, like our Unibomber, we have an insane person who gestures at a body of beliefs. We cannot blame the beliefs for the acts, nor can we think that the beliefs are more relevant or less because of the acts, but often these Crazy People show us silences that society should not have. They reveal repression.

Jonathan Nolan gave voice to the intellectual argument for anarchy in The Dark Knight, and our recent killer believes in it. Just as the Unabomber believed in the "Human Experience" Harvard class and what it taught about the lived life's degradation under the assault of technology and the sociological exchanges of modernism limiting our meaning, so this killer alledgedly believes in an intellectual core beneath chaos. What impressed critics about the argument that The Joker made in the movie was that it was somewhat coherent, if insane.

The Joker, you'll recall, argued that violence, by its nature, whether on the part of the state or against the state, was alike. Destruction was inherent, and all persons were guilty, and his job, he argued, was to make this guilt manifest at the same time that he encouraged the "joke" of destroying the toy-like rules of social control. Inside the new Batman fiction, it's a worthy idea, since the first film had been all about a group of social engineers who selectively reinforced or undermined cities and nations. 

There is no ready export of such a philosophy. In fact, it is itself an export of an older moral and philosophical realization. On the one hand, there is the psychological realization that all of us are sinful and guilty and that therefore the restraints carry only temporary force. We are animals held back by shock collars, and violence is all that prevents us from violence. The other offshoot of this is the idea that chaos, in the form of anarchy, is a method of freedom. In the movie, The Joker explores both possibilities. He puts two boats up, where the people are supposed to demonstrate their wickedness, but they fail to do so. This is in keeping, incidentally, with how people really are unless under duress. When his "game" fails, he simply shrugs, because he never really cared about making that point anyway, so long as there was chaos.

Suppose you believe in the social contract. In this, each person has the power to club the next but gives up the club in order to not be clubbed. Over time, some people think, more rules will creep in, and they will always favor the people who already have wealth or power. Eventually, all the clubs will be night sticks, and all the rules will apply to poor people. To "reset," there is a way only of getting back to the first state. From true chaos, private agreements and natural relationships of power might be formed.

Libertarians think this is swell, so long as there is money in gold and there are profits. Anarchists think that all the laws need to be smashed so that even a single law can be thought out without the prejudice of wealth or power.

Let's add in another group while we're here in the mob. Some people think that screaming, clawing, clubbing, sweating lawlessness is better than air conditioned apartment living because competition determines success and therefore virtue. They believe this is as true of people as bacteria, so we owe it to our children to ensure that they are only begotten by the "fit." Race you to the steroid stash.

If we do not talk about this, we leave people to think about it on their own, without input. They see The Joker, and they hear his side, and then they go on the Internet and read like-minded materials. They might fall in with "Black Bloc" Anarchists, or they might fall in with neo-Nazi's. In the end, it doesn't matter, because it is the failure to speak of chaos and law that has allowed for solitary voices to prevail. In the Batman movie, The Joker isn't proven right or entirely wrong, but the film is working from its own provocative, and intentionally discussion inducing, position of what a "super hero" is.

The old Reds recognized that they were hypocrites, at their best. Bertolt Brecht's "For Those Who Come After" points out that "We who wanted friendliness never could be friendly ourselves." They knew that they were not the workers they sought to liberate, and sometimes they even knew that they didn't especially like the workers. Their faith in the inevitability of a revolution drove them on because they thought it was right. Those who believe that chaos is either necessary or desirable, on the other hand, seem far less self-aware.

Knowing that the system we live in is corrupt and corrupting is not difficult. Knowing that the answer is violence is. Since these measures inevitably involve enforcing one's own philosophy upon others militarily and coercively, the "freeing" one is doing is often fatal and always unwanted. To believe that the laws need to be torn down is one thing, but to believe that they need to be torn down against the people within them is mad. It is fighting for peace. Similarly, concluding that laws diminish one's finances takes a mind of low wattage. Deciding that, because one's own finances have been diminished, the rest of the world must change to fit takes overweening pride.

Has the world run out of land or space for free communes and syndicates? If not, then Bo Gritz and the great Idaho anarchist experiment are always good ways of convincing the world of one's virtue. Deciding to fly a plane into the IRS building in Dallas is not.

In fact, these seem as if they are not intelligent or intellectual gestures at all. I would go so far as to say that such a person cannot be intellectually sound, because violence and the belief in violence in this case is an intensifier, a desire for redress and revenge. It has nothing to do with chaos as improvement. It has to do with being so upset with taxes or grades or dates that others must suffer. It is childish -- a tantrum with guns.

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