Monday, March 29, 2010

The Last Resort

In a community college acting class many years ago, I learned a life lesson that haunts me to this day: the trump card in any dispute, whether personal or political, is always violence.

The teacher paired up the class and gave each of us scenarios that we had to improvise our way through, with the "winner" being the one who achieved the particular goal he was assigned. I was paired with Mike, a large man a few years older than me, who had a very overbearing presence. Our scenario was this: Mike was an auto mechanic who never refunds money when he has an unhappy customer. Me? I was the unhappy customer hell bent on getting my money back on a bad repair job.

I walked into Mike's garage on stage to confront him, but he immediately slipped under a "car," which was a bunch of metal chairs arranged in a rectangle. As I tried to explain that I wanted a refund, he began banging on the "car" with a hammer and making an god-awful racket. No matter what I said, he yelled back that he couldn't hear me. I crawled under the "car" and began yelling at him so he couldn't ignore me, but Mike just banged louder. This scene went on for several minutes, much to the amusement of our classmates.

I was stymied. I couldn't make an argument, indeed I couldn't be heard, so I was being totally ineffectual in achieving the goal of getting the refund. As this was leading to a failure in the task, I switched gears, crawled out from under the "car," and in a moment of inspiration I announced that I found the imaginary cash box, pantomimed opening it, declared there was 50 bucks in there, and made like I had tucked it under my arm as I declared that was good enough, and I marched out of the garage with Mike sputtering in the background. I had won.

I observed my classmates going through their scenarios and noted that it was not eloquence, or wit, or technique that would win the task, but rather some physical action such as a punch, or a shot from a gun, or, in my case, a robbery. The actor who was most effective was often the one who resorted to the most violent solution.

In the context of life, the lesson, I fear, is all too real. There is great anger in the country right now. Despite strong nationwide opposition, our Congressmen, Senators, and President, have spent trillions bailing out the rich bankers, taking over General Motors, expanding wars, and nationalizing the health care industry. The anger in the street is palpable. By god, we say, we will VOTE OUT ALL THE BUGGERS and take our country back...except that we the people don't control the voting booth. The government does. We mass thousands to protest...but the government literally pretends we don't exist. We write to our representatives, but they send us back form letters full of pablum excusing their votes. We can almost imagine the government sitting in their offices sniggering at the utter uselessness of all that storming around. What's worse is we KNOW they are laughing at us.

Breaking points are as varied as the people who have them. And we all have them. Joe Stack found his. Jim Koresh found his. Tim McVeigh found his. As the disconnect between the people and the politicians gets wider, more and more people will find theirs'. One by one, as talking, protesting, and voting doesn't work, people will turn to other means. The government knows this, and it has an enormous stockpile of weapons and agents trained to use them to try to keep a lid on the people's anger. Both sides are likely to turn to violence: the people to random acts of destruction, maiming, and killing, and the government to harsh repression against everyone, guilty and innocent alike, which will push even more to the breaking point. The spiral downward appears inevitable.

Except that I believe that where there is life, there is hope. I hope the people can find the right levers of power to influence that will return the government to its' proper size and role. I pray, though I am not a praying man, the petty tyrants in Washington will sense that the only way to defuse this anger is with talk or with blood, and I hope they choose the former.

If they don't, they will surely get the latter.

I don't revel in this insight. I fear it. I fight against it. I advocate non-violence. But I see the strength of government prompting a response from the people to meet force with more force. The most ruthless will win...and after that how will they conduct themselves? With honor? Unlikely.

Violent revolution, like violent repression, leads to societies of fear and barrenness. If we don't meet the government with violence, they will steamroll us. If we do, we are likely to become the new oppressors.

Dark thoughts for dark times.

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