I just finished reading Salon.com‘s republishing of an article titled Baltimore’s violent protesters are right: Smashing police cars is a legitimate political strategy.
The piece reminded me of a conversation I had recently with a reader of my book who had been reading The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander, who argues that after the Civil Rights movement in the sixties, those who were racist and had access to authority and to the tools of state violence could no longer openly call for violence against people of color, and so they began to speak in code. This is how we hear of the war on drugs, and being tough on crime, and other such discourse.
Yet when we consider what communities are being targeted by these acts of force and discipline by the state, we can’t fail to notice that there are more black people in American jails today than there ever were people in slavery.
It is undeniable that we have a legacy of racism and that this legacy is preserved by many in positions of power and with access to a very militarized state machine. It’s also clear that media images and discourse about state violence and media images and discourse about the (usually) politically-motivated violence by communities that live under it are not equally balanced.
It’s also clear that having a Black president did not solve the problem of state violence against our Black brethren in America.
On a relevant and related subject, I spent all day today working on my commentaries titled Reasonings on Philodemus’ On Anger. They are based on a French translation of a scroll written by Philodemus, an Epicurean teacher who lived in the First century BCE. They’re also based in a chapter of my book, and partly on Elizabeth Asmis’ writings about the scroll, according to which Philodemus argued that anger was natural and inevitable, that it could be categorized as rational or irrational (depending on whether it’s justified and to what extent), and also as useful or useless (depending on whether it’s productive of good or evil, or of nothing), and that even a sage experiences rational anger briefly.
What this means is that rational and justified anger, when channeled properly, can be useful, good, and even virtuous. In my reasonings I share the example of the Stonewall Riots, the Civil Rights movements, Occupy, the Indignados, and many other movements of indignant and tired souls that sought societal change and how, in many cases, they channeled their anger intelligently and produced desired effects.
The Reasonings bring me back to the original piece I mentioned from Salon, which is why I shared it: the author (perhaps not knowingly) subjects the rage he sees on the streets and, it seems, the rage he participates in, to hedonic calculus, and makes calls for making sure that acts of violence are useful, that they achieve the intended results and that they avoid unintended ones. Although the tone seemed radical at first, upon reading the piece, it really seemed that it was more or less in line with the Reasonings I was writing today, an attempt to ask how Humanist teachings about hedonic calculus can be applied to a complex issue today.
At first, I didn’t think an Epicurean would participate in the Baltimore riots. Now, I think some Epicureans might be able argue the case.