JOURNAL 8/12/11: London Fog (Pt. 1)
This is the first of two (possibly three) posts on the riots in London during the past week.
Originally this post was to have been my claim that the world has entered an apocalyptic “moment.”
By that I didn’t mean to say we have entered the Apocalypse. Maybe we have, maybe we haven't. I have no way of knowing. And that felt -- still feels -- wildly presumptuous of me anyway.
For the record, I also don't think we have entered the Apocalypse.
But an "apocalyptic moment" ... well, that might be different, although at this point I'm still not ready or willing to say.
By “an apocalyptic moment” I mean a time during which our known world – our familiar world of daily life, personal and public alike, all undergirded by reasonably stable political, social and economic arrangements – is coming to an end.
Maybe we have entered such a moment, maybe we haven't. While I have my strong suspicions here -- and I think we have entered one -- I'm still not ready and willing to say. The swirl of thoughts so far have refused to stop swirling, to gel.
If you see a "Part 3" someday soon, then you'll know they did.
Instead, for now, I want to offer two considered reflections on the riot ... one now, one next time.
The first reflection (which is this post) is to say that, in the “fog of the riot,” God has been left out of most discussions, most interpretations. And because of that, the truth of the riot remains lost in the fog. If the discussions and preliminary analyses were grounded in the God of our Lord Jesus Christ -- if
God were invited back in -- a whole different perspective would be flooding our awareness, our vision of things.
This reflection tries at least to start tugging that "vision" into some sort of early focus. It makes a deliberate attempt to bring God back into the discussion.
The second reflection (which will be the next installment) will be to say that there is yet another reality lost in the fog. It, too, is due in significant part to the fact we keep God out of the discussion. That reflection will look at what I, at least, framing things within my faith, see as reasons for hope. From a "faith perspective" they -- the reasons, or rather the basis for the reasons -- already are in plain view. They are, in fact, on the streets of the riot itself. But only faith can see them.
The third reflection (if there is one) will look at what kind of apocalypse we seem to be entering, albeit in no way diminishing the reasons for hope.
 THE LONDON FOG OF WHO, WHAT, WHY
The riots in London pretty much look like they are ending.
There may still be unrest in other cities and towns in England; but judging from news releases from the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) that say arrests in places outside London total 1000 or more, the suggestion seems to be the riots are winding down there too.
Nevertheless, it’s still pretty foggy now about what went on, exactly who was doing it, and why.
In London, at least, it all started with the police shooting of a black man who was the father of four.
After that, the fog settled in really fast:
The victim was armed ... no, he wasn’t armed ... the police held him down while he was shot ... no, they didn’t hold him down ... he fired first and the bullet lodged in a police radio ... no, ballistics show the bullet in the radio was consistent with a police weapon.
And so it goes. And keeps on , right into that proverbial London pea-souper of a riot fog.
And then the rioters quickly became looters whose rampage, according to most reports, had little or nothing to do with the initial shooting. There were no demands made by the rioters, no organized leadership, no set goals, nothing. They appeared to be “just” hoodlums, hooligans, thugs (to use words in the media and on Twitter) with no other purpose than sheer greedy opportunism:here’s a chance to load up on stuff without having to pay for it, so, let ‘er rip!
No, say others, it ain't thataway at all. The reports of no organization tell us, in the very next breath (literally), the rioters are organized all over the place ... judging especially by communications on social media, especially on Twitter. They do too have an ideology, or maybe "simple philosophy" is more descriptive. Various rioters said variations on these things: rioting is wrong ... they do feel conflicted by it (some said) ... but they are surrounded by a world from which they are shut out ... which defines "success" and "real humanity" bypossessions that none of them can begin to afford (and many of which, of course, they therefore are stealing) ... a world where they have no job, no hopes for any kind of future ... where it's the same endless dreary nihilistic same-old same-old day-in day-out forever ... a world that's "nihilistic" because values andmeaning available to others cost something, usually cost a lot ... values and meanings that come from the rich and powerful through their media and advertising (which appears everywhere, regardless of socio-economic status or location) ... and since the rioters can't begin to buy almost any of that, there really are no values, it is really a life without meaning ... a nihilistic world de facto, and nihilism and hopelessness(and the profound boredom that always goes with them) all produce violence as naturally, as organically, as fire produces heat ... a world where they, the rioters, soon will be dead anyway (drive-by shootings, gang violence, inadequate health care, drugs) so grab what you can while you can because it does not matter.
That last series of reasonings was produced scatter-shot across various sources, and so appears "longer" than it actually was in any given media, Twitter or Internet or other.
Before going on, it's also quite important in this last part of the fog -- right here -- to point out that even the victim’s family spoke out against the violence, the burning and looting.
What was done, by whom, and for what reasons – it was lost, at least initially, in the fog of riot.
Those last three words are a play on the phrase “fog of war,” words used originally by Prussian soldier and German military analyst Carl von Clausewitz (1780 – 1831). The larger statement in which the phrase occurs is worth quoting in full:
"The great uncertainty of all data in
war is a peculiar difficulty, because all
action must, to a certain extent, be
planned in a mere twilight, which in
addition not infrequently — like the
effect of a fog or moonshine — gives
to things exaggerated dimensions and
~ Wikipedia, “Fog of war,” referenced
in a footnote as ^ Clausewitz, Carl
von. On War. Book 2, Chapter 2,
Reading through comments on Twitter (more about that below) and the Internet, all virtually simultaneous with the rioting itself, it was obvious that things immediately had taken on those “exaggerated dimensions and unnatural appearance[s]” about which Clausewitz wrote.
To use another of Clausewit’s phrases there, the London riots are in a “mere twilight” in terms of exactly what is going on.
A “mere” fog.
It was fascinating, in a grim sort of way, earlier in the week, to watch the early befogged “analysis” of what, who and why all unfold on Twitter (which is on the Internet).
Most “tweets” – messages sent on Twitter much like a text message on your cell phone, if you’re not familiar with all of this – blamed the rioters. This one was typical, and awfully popular judging on the large number of times it was “retweeted” (forwarded to other Twitter users):
The Youth of the Middle East rise
up for basic freedoms. The Youth
of London rise up for a HD ready
42" Plasma TV.”
This popular “tweet” joined countless others in arguing about whether the rioters were engaged in an uprising akin to recent ones in,e.g., Egypt, Syria, Libya and many other places. The “tweeter” (a young black woman, for the record) obviously thought there was no comparison whatsoever. London rioters weren’t after freedom and justice … they just wanted to grab some goods.
There also was a significant number of “tweets” at the other end of the spectrum of blame. Here are two, the first from someone who “tweeted” several times an hour, sometimes a minute, throughout the first days of rioting:
"Tsk, tsk tsk" says the intellectual
about austerity. "Burn, burn burn,"
says the poor.
Another asked, sarcastically and rhetorically:
Bombarding young people with adverts
for products they must buy to be whole
but can't afford, how could that ever
That last one refers to “cognitive dissonance,” whether the tweeter knows it by that name or not. It has been a staple in the social sciences for decades – the observation that some societies (the U.K. and U.S. certainly very close to the top of the list, if not at the tippy-top itself) define “success” and “importance” as owning certain things … but then the cost of those things puts them out of the reach of a lot of people.
“Cognitive dissonance” is fancy talk about a condition of significant emotional pain, existential pain that can approach despair.– “I’m not a complete [whole]human being because I don’t have X. I’m a complete failure, a total zero, a nothing because of this immeasurable void.”
Despair stops caring about anything. Despair doesn't see -- and couldn't care less if it were to see -- the connections between actions and consequences.
There also were countless “tweets” urging prayer for London, for the innocent folks in the neighborhoods, the innocent victims, the people who lost homes and businesses and livelihoods … for the police and fire fighters, for government officials trying to discover the wisdom and ways of bringing safety and calm back to the streets … and, yes, for the dispossessed in the streets who were doing the rioting.
The latter prayers and prayer requests seemed to be of the “forgive your enemies” kind. They tended to focus on the kinds of psychic and spiritual pain they had endured, to dehumanize them to such an extent as this. I didn’t see any “tweets” that petitioned, verbatim, the rioters be forgiven because they didn’t know what they were doing – à la Jesus’ own prayer on the Cross. But those who spoke of the complicated toxic chemistry of social and psychological conditions in the rioters’ lives seemed to come rather close to that kind of prayer.
One Orthodox priest in London tweeted – in reply to Twitter questioners I couldn’t see on my computer screen – that so far no one in the parish had been hurt; and that, likewise, certain buildings or facilities about which he had been asked were unharmed.
Back and forth, back and forth, so it went, sometimes "tweets" coming in like 100 and more per minute. Interpretations all over the place, back and forth, back and forth, world without end reduced to two basic themes and some critical prayers as well.
* * * * * * * * * *
My first reactions to all of this – and it showed up in four or five early drafts of this post – was to grow increasingly agitated, often angry, at various things said on all sides of these “analyses” of who was doing what, why.
Sometimes I even found myself highly annoyed at prayer requests! Some of them were pointlessly condescending toward the poor in general. And some were wildly inappropriate toward the Holy One. They seemed to see prayer as a form of instructing God in what's going on and what is to be done about it. They had no semblance whatsoever, in other words, of "Thy will be done," trusting that will always to be forms of love and mercy and compassion but leaving it entirely to God to decide what forms those things will take, and when.
But after three days and change of that kind of spinning – and, emotionally andcognitively it was an intense and awfully unpleasant spinning – I realized a common truth that not only stopped the spinning, but also, as I discovered a few hours later (and to my embarrassment), brought Christian faith back to the discussion.
This “common truth” may, or may not, lead me back into a later Part 3 here … into a reflection of whether some form of apocalypse is set loose on the earth now.
But for now, the “common truth” is this:
Lost in the fog of the riot – in which some blame the rioters, and others blame “society” and “conditions” – is God’s truth: there is no difference between rioters and the rest of “society” (especially the so-called “better,” “more civilized,” “decent” levels). Everyone on all sides of everything have sinned, and fallen miserably short of God’s glory (Romans 3:22b-23 paraphrased).
More to the point: poor people who also riot, whether or not driven by greed and the idolatrous worship of Mammon (whatever kinds of loot was looted),riot in the streets … while rich people, whether or not driven by greed and the idolatrous worship of Mammon (consumer goods and bottom-line corporate profit-and-loss statements) riot in the board rooms of giant banks and mortgage lending institutions, the evil under-the-table collusion between global corporations and the International Monetary Fund and World Bank and corrupt governments and governmental agencies, giant health insurance corporations and so on.
The greed is the same. The lying and collusion, whether on social media or inter-office Email and memos, is the same. The amorality – unless “gimme mine and gimme all you can gimme NOW” is a moral value of some sort – is the same. The utter indifference to those who suffer loss of homes, livelihoods, health, even lives, is absolutely the same.
Absolutely the same.
Or, no, not quite: rioters destroy, maybe neighborhoods. Corporate and financial rioters destroy nations … hemispheres … entire ecosystems … air, water, resources.
Everyone, the homeless poor all the way “up” (relatively speaking only) to government officials and multi-billionaire corporate heads, has is guilty of sin.
Those at the top of the power ladder are immeasurably more responsible for their sins because of the astounding amount of damage they have the power to leave behind them.
Final “numbers” aren’t in yet on the cost of what was lost in the London riots – houses destroyed, businesses destroyed, jobs lost
Whatever those final “numbers” turn out to be, British Petroleum’s recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has destroyed many many many times that number of homes, businesses, jobs.
Both are sinful, individually and collectively. Both are guilty, individually and collectively. Both are responsible for their actions, individually and collectively; for the damage and harm they have caused, individually and collectively.
But BP, like any and all supremely wealthy and powerful persons and organizations, is immeasurably more responsible for the damage and harm they cause because they cause immeasurably more of it.
However, for now, I stay with the first "common truth": rioters in the streets, rioters in the board rooms … in the name of greed, amoral indifference, and perhaps above the idolatrous worship of Mammon, all do the same thing.
FAITH SLANT: I’m not certain yet – and again – exactly how to formulate an “Orthodox Slant” to the “London Fog.”
I am certain what my faith, all of it beginning in its Protestant/Presbyterian roots and continuing even through its Pure Land Buddhist nurture, and so far without any known or "felt" contradictions from within the holy Tradition of Orthodoxy, all tell me:
God’s passion, and passionate opposition, isn’t to street riots per se.
And God’s passion, and passionate opposition, isn’t to wealth and power per se.
God’s passion and passionate opposition is at work precisely where there no longer are any meaningful differences between either "end" of the power spectrum. Where it is all greed, amoral getting and having and consuming, idolatrous worship of things and possessions, of Mammon.
The times, and our increasingly global forms of "free-market, consumer capitalism," are unsettlingly akin to those of Jeremiah the Prophet. In chapter 5 of his poetic writings, he despairs of trying to get the attention of the poor -- which is where the prophets, and indeed our Lord Himself, seem to have directed much if not most of their time and energies -- and so turns to the wealthy and powerful. Here are his words:
"Then I said, 'These are only the poor;
they have no sense; for they do not know
the way of the Lord, the law of their God.
Let me go to the rich and speak to them;
surely they know the way of the Lord,
the law of their God.' But they all alike
had broken the yoke, they had burst the
bonds." -- Jeremiah 5:4-5 (NRSV).
Those are our times. We all alike have burst the bonds.
The necessary greed and amorality, and Mammon-alone-is-bottom-line, of corporate global capitalism filters down largely unchanged -- through media of all kinds, through public behaviors -- to the poor. Again, all are guilty; butresponsibility lies primarily at the "top," with those who have the resources ultimately to know better ... but have not used them, and are abysmally ignorant and ignorant of the law of our God.
A social order that godless, that corrupt, "top” and “bottom,” is in serious trouble … not only by whatever “natural laws” have been unleashed … but by a God who withdraws saving (Uncreated) energies here, realigns them there, and generally, perhaps slowly and over time (and perhaps not!), even if so subtle it's behond human perception, changes the entire known world.
That is where apocalypse comes in, and where I am, as yet, unwilling to tread.
I do, however, have hope. And it was the “dis-covery,” the surprising un-covering, of what I already had seen … in the riots themselves … that further prompted me to let go, for now at any rate, of apocalyptic reflections.
[NEXT: SIGNS OF HOPE IN THE LONDON FOG]