Sunday, December 07, 2014

Ferguson and the Mob Mentality

That classic cartoon scene where the wily coyote reaches the precipice, ignores there is no ground beneath his feet. He starts to fall only when he looks down and notices the abyss. Thus is the way the end of empty ideology works. The implosion of a social construct happens when people finally notice there is nothing beneath their feet. Until then they just go on and on. The church's task is to live life grounded in so powerful a reality that people scurrying around stop and take notice there's nothing under their feet. They then can land in the new thing God is doing.
- David Fitch

I was having a conversation with a friend on the topic of Ferguson. Said friend is extremely conservative. I was arguing that “Get the F on the sidewalk” is no way to start a conversation with someone, regardless of whether or not they are a perpetrator. I also noted, in passing, that language murders reality. I also briefly explained what I meant by that in relation to ideology, saying that ideology closes reality off rather than opens it up to us. My friend’s only response was to note that the witness who gave that testimony was proven not to be credible.

Later, in order to affirm his point, that same friend of mine showed me this story, with the title, “Michael Brown Shooting ‘Witnesses’ Admit They Lied, Were ‘Intimidated’ by ‘Community of Color’”. What the story essentially says is that, in the hours and days after Wilson’s shooting of Brown, an unknown person or group of people issued threats to the members of the community, who witnessed the event, to ensure that the truth was kept quiet. Said threats were even echoed with periodic gunshots, presumably meant as warnings to back the threats.

From that story, a few things that pertain to my conversation with my friend may pertain to a wider audience, as well.

Firstly, and most obviously, none of what is said in that story means Wilson didn't start the encounter with "Get the F on the sidewalk."

Also with this story, however, I would like to take the opportunity provided by this story in the “reagancoalition” website to make my point about ideology. I'll use it an example of what I mean by saying that ideology closes reality off instead of opening it up to us. First of all, the story from a website called "reagancoalition." The story repeatedly mentions "mob mentality", a favorite catch phrase of conservative ideology. “I don’t do group think,” I once heard a conservative Baptist “Thomist” say who claimed not to be modern. Why is that?

Why is it that you hear the phrase “mob mentality” so often from the right? Because, depending on who you ask, either the sovereignty of the autonomous individual or the murder of our natural collective consciousness that had obviously prevailed up to that point in history, was one of the sacred cows of the Enlightenment.

What was apparently going on in that neighborhood soon after the shooting, according to the reagancoalition, is different from our natural collective consciousness that what we now call conservative ideology monstrously vilifies and exaggerates. A neighborhood acting in response to threats of violence that came out of an inter-mixing of anger, sadness, prevalent lawlessness, and justified lack of trust in the authorities based on habitually common experiences of poor treatment is different from our natural collective consciousness.

And, yet, this Liberal (more properly termed) ideology by its own very definition and existence, has to, by necessity, shape phenomenon to fit within its own ideological boundaries. In other words, said ideology has to take any possible opportunity, no matter how far it has to reach, to identify some phenomenon as a "mob mentality" in order to affirm the sacredness of what allows said ideology to exist in the first place. On the other side of the coin, the reality of what is happening - the threats and lies - is subsumed by the ideology into the all-pervasive and ever-available phrase "mob mentality."

I mean to say that people afraid to speak to the authorities because of threats from individuals within the community is different from the actions of a mob. The ideology, though, is required to reach to grasp at the identity what was actually happening as "mob mentality" in order to confirm its own existence (the existence of the ideology).

And, I say that what was happening was different from a mob, because, more properly, according to the actions themselves, you could say that the rioting and looting is by a "mob." Potentially, one could make the argument that what was going on in the neighborhood in the hours soon after the shooting actually fits well with the definition of a mob: someone with an agenda stirring up a group of people to act a particular irrational way. At that point, however, the concept and speech referent of "mob" is being subsumed with the ideology's view of our natural collective consciousness that Liberal ideology must vilify as a monstrosity. Because, like I said, what was actually happening in the neighborhood was not a mob wreaking physical havoc as on monstrous unity but, instead, threats influencing what numerous individuals reported to the authorities separately.

“Michael Brown Shooting ‘Witnesses’ Admit They Lied, Were ‘Intimidated’ by ‘Community of Color’”, from the “reagancoalition,” then, is an example of how ideology speaks a language that murders reality. When I say it speaks a language, I mean that it uses a system of sign and signified that is not comprehensible to those who do not speak the same language. That is one way that the language is distinguishable from others. Another way to distinguish the language of an ideology is by its differences as compared to other ideologies. Where those on the left speak the language of systematic injustice, those on the right make constant reference to a “mob mentality.” And, generally speaking, neither really understands what the other is saying. The speakers are too busy stealing treasures from each other and hiding them in plain sight within their closed systems. To my point, another conservative friend responded in the conversation and totally ignored my basic point that there was no mob at the scene in the hours after Brown's shooting. Instead, he started to explain in a small bit of detail how "mobs are always the toys of liberals."

To understand a language, one must live in the world where it is spoken. That brings me back, again, to my original point that the language of ideology murders reality. As discussed above, in the hours after the shooting of Brown, there was no mob. Much less a “mob mentality.” “Michael Brown Shooting ‘Witnesses’ Admit They Lied, Were ‘Intimidated’ by ‘Community of Color’”, however, made repeated and continual reference to this non-existent “mob mentality." Why is that? The story was affirming an ideology. Ideology speaks a language that, in its totality, does not refer to any reality. Ideologies are built systems of empty signs that refer essentially to nothing. In practice, the ideologies create referents that refer to anything, precisely because they are self-referential. Nothing is the same as anything. Like the kings from which Liberal ideologies seek freedom, they affirm themselves and their power with murder. The murder is of reality. This is why the article spoke of a mob mentality that didn't exist. This is why another of my conservative friends continued to talk to me about mobs after I pointed out that there was no mob.

What is important about this for me, as a Christian, is that the reality of the hope of how God is at work, even in the circumstances and neighborhood of the shooting of Michael Brown, to bring His kingdom of love and peace (IN COMMUNITY) becomes all but impossible to even imagine within the confines of murderous ideology. How is peace and reconciliation within a community possible when two ravenous languages are at war with one another within said community? How is understanding within a community of love possible when two different inhabited worlds are being built by violently clashing and self-seeking systems of referents? With Christmas coming, I ask, where is there room for a people of the Incarnation in a den of thieves?

To these questions, I say: we might want to rethink the problems of the “mob mentality” and “systematic injustice.” What do you think?

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