The title of this post is a little provocative, but I felt it fit the theme started with my post before last (no one loves old school rap more than white people). Anyway, the actions of the Occupy demonstrators at UC Davis have finally got me to post about OWS. Those OWS protestors at UC Davis have real courage to endure pain and legal penalties for a cause. That kid of dedication is admirable, even if it’s a cause that I oppose. As a spice king, I know how painful the really spicy stuff can get. I find foods above 400,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU) to be barely palatable, yet the pepper spray the cops were using was up to ten times as stronger. For comparison, take a look at one of the videos on YouTube of people eating ghost peppers (about 1 million SHU, 2nd hottest in the world) and experiencing excruciating agony. And that cop sprayed 2+ million SHU stuff directly into the protestors’ eyes and down their throats. Yet, the protestors didn’t break their human chain. I respect that. So, congratulations UC Davis campus cops; the world can see you are insecure bullies and it’s all on YouTube.
Police brutality against left-wing protestors always seems to bring out the bloodlust in the authoritarian strains of the right; it isn’t hard to find outright approval of a bunch of dirty hippies getting their just desserts in comments. Hell, even the word “hippy” is used as a dehumanizing term. While vicariously beating protestors is morally-repulsive, excuse making is more insidious. By excusing bad behavior on the behalf of the cops, repression is inadvertently normalized. The rules apparently aren’t supposed to apply to those who enforce them.
Before Rodney King, it was easy for middle-class white people to just pretend that police brutality didn’t exist. What jury member would take the word of a gangbanger over a sworn officer of the law? Would you? In this age of ubiquitous cameras on mobile phones, police brutality is recorded often enough that it can’t be denied outright. That’s where special pleading and excuses come into play. At best, apologists insist it’s only a few bad apples (who rarely receive serious punishment). At worst, it boils down to “you do anything a cop says or else it’s your fault for getting beaten”, with reasonable force being effectively defined as whatever the cop feels is reasonable. I don’t think I have to explain why that’s bad for any country based on rule of law and constitutional rights.
Along with excuse-making, there is plain old belittlement. Megyn Kelly idiotically and/or mendaciously explained to Bill O’Reilly that “It’s a derivative of actual pepper. It’s essentially a food product”. That’s an asinine non sequitur. You know what else are essentially food products? Ricin and tetrodotoxin. Also, woe to anyone who pepper sprays a cop or Megyn Kelly. On the other hand, things have improved historically. As recently as 1970 were non-violent protestors were shot dead in the US, and Napoleon started his political career by using cannons(!) on a royalist mob in 1795. The Romans probably used something outrageous like flaming pigs or ballistae on mobs. So, pepper spraying non-violent protestors is progress. Yay, progress!
Compared to the 1999 WTO riots in Seattle, OWS has done an admirable job keeping violence in check (poor Whole Foods aside) and keeping the media focus on their message instead of the broken windows. I find the OWS narrative to be compelling: the global economy was ruined by a finance industry that wrote its own rules, got bailouts, and their money continues to buy protection from a corrupt political system. Even when times were good the 1% made fortunes while the median wage stagnated. The “enemy” isn’t productive entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs; it’s rent-seeking industries that essentially sold time bombs instead of useful products. Also, don’t get me started on the inconsistency of the right wing telling OWS protestors to “get a job” while blaming Obama for a 9% American unemployment rate.
I recently found a series of compelling posts about system justification theory. I had sort of dabbled around the idea before (reinventing the wheel, yay), but it seems to be a pretty coherent theory grounded in experimental evidence. The short version is that people will tend to approve of the way things are, even if they are objectively shafted, and people will tend to prefer the guys at the top to their own group. I strongly recommend reading it; one should always choose the red pill.
Alternative post titles:
If You Can’t Beat Them, Spray Them
A Whiff of Pepper Spray
Say It, Don’t Spray It
The Law Is an Asshole