“Instinct is something that people have got away from! It belongs to animals! Christian adults don’t want it!” – Amanda Wingfield
Since the days of Aquinas and Dante, the capacity for reason has been the defining feature of man. The leopard acts by instinct. Man is endowed with better capabilities. Christian theology holds that free will and logic are God’s gift to humanity. Without them, we would be left grazing in a field, not striving for better or to achieve oneness back with our Lord.
If using reason to make sense of the world is man acting at his best, what should we make of the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri and the ensuing “protests” across the country? The killing of unarmed black teeanger Michael Brown by a white police officer has predictably aggravated race relations in the U.S. Rather than focus on the clear-cut evidence of the case — which appears to exonerate officer Darren Wilson of wrongdoing — the shooting is being used to prove a point about police discrimination in America. The means of distribution are simple: destruction of private property and interference with commerce. In other words, brute thuggery and ignominious acts of violence.
From a practical standpoint, the disruption of people’s everyday routine doesn’t accomplish anything outside of ratcheting up annoyance. A casual look at social media reveals that most folks are annoyed rather than sympathetic when a few delinquents shut down a major highway. The random acts of disturbance are doing little to support the cause of equitable punishment.
The best advice one can offer the Ferguson protesters is to get a day job. Nobody, outside of social warriors that aren’t burdened with having to earn a living, likes to have their day interrupted by bodies lying in the road. The same goes for the mindless destruction that followed the grand jury’s failure to indict Officer Wilson. Average voters don’t care for Jefferson’s “boisterous sea of liberty” — meaning they don’t care for ruffians exerting the freedom to destroy without public rebuke.
Even while the savagery in Ferguson reflects poorly on demonstrators, those raising a stink over the killing of Michael Brown do have a legitimate grievance. As Senator Rand Paul points out in a recent piece for Time, the racial disparities in the American justice system are significant. Is it any wonder then that black Americans feel like they are targeted when so many are disproportionately behind bars? Racism is, above all, a sin. It denies the assumption of free will, and thus humanity, on the part of individuals. That our justice system reflects poorly upon our ability to judge persons by their actions rather than skin color is damning. This isn’t to say the system can fixed in short order with enough persistence and good will. Anything designed and run by people is destined for imperfect results. But we can at least recognize the faults and do our best to rectify them.
With that in mind, it’s not hard to see how growing resentment can build into untamed violence. Many Ferguson protesters know that something is amiss in the system. It’s unfortunate that the only way they can articulate this resentment is through harming the livelihoods of working people.
The excessive protest displays — from occupying Walmart to pathetic moral sermonizing to cops to openly harming police to reporters being hit with stones on camera — has the opposite intended effect. Instead of waking citizens up to the injustice within their system of laws, it only convinces them that the misbehaving thugs carrying on are in great need of swift correction. To see police officers, whom are generally regarded with contemptuous suspicion, harmed while trying to maintain order only elicits sympathy for them.
Reverse police brutality also has the unintended effect of making the most libertarian-minded onlooker pine for some kind of authority to restore tranquility. Over-militarized and overly aggressive police forces are an undeniable problem in America. Certain squadrons equipped with riot gear bear little difference from standing armies. Handing over so much force to government agents always presents a threat to peace. But in cases where mom-and-pop businesses are being razed to the ground, brute force behind a badge appears to be the only thing that can deliver us from evil.
Human nature craves stability, even when that stability results in lost liberty. So much of what we do is wrapped up in preserving the small happiness we have in life. Conquest’s first law is that everyone is conservative about what they knows best. What we know best is what pleases us, and what is familiar. We cling to those things, even as the waves of change crest and crash all around us. And sometimes that means we turn to brute, corrective force to maintain what little order we have around us.
In his book Midnight in Siberia, radio host David Greene explains how Russians have come to accept government and corporate corruption in return for stability. He writes that rigid hierarchy in the country offers “comfort in a world that is otherwise chaotic and unpredictable.” This attitude isn’t all that foreign. As Hayek reminds us, “socialism has never and nowhere been at first a working-class movement.” The family-centric middle class cares little for the hooligan antics of street protestors. They want order that benefits their children, while providing a path to secure relaxation in their golden years. Joining hands and sitting in the middle of a road doesn’t help in accomplishing either task. It comes off as irrational behavior reserved for beings of lesser intelligence.
It’s exceedingly easy to throw mud at those who trash convenience stores in the name of justice. Such behavior does not befit beings endowed with reason. Even so, it’s important to remember we are entering the season of light, where forgiveness and generosity are hallmarks of mankind. We must admonish with a humble tone, and remember that those who act belligerently may have their heart in the right place. We should be open to the kind of embracing love shared by Sgt. Bret Barnum and Devonte Hart.
The art of apologetics is often spoiled by infantile defenses of violence, theft, and other shameful behavior. But a well-reasoned approach, grounded in a Christian understanding of human fallibility, sees the reckless nature of certain acts and wishes the best for those who commit them. The rioters in Ferguson and elsewhere aren’t beasts. Their bodies live on the same blood as the rest of us. They have the potential for pain, love, and happiness. By all means denounce their actions as unfitting for civilized society. But don’t believe for one second that you can’t possibly fall prey to rash behavior.