EXPLAINING A POP-UP RIOT
In Switzerland, which claims to be neutral, the country is divided into cantons like counties. Each one keeps order with either a policeman or a pastor. Either. They do not achieve this with intimidation or punishment, but through the shared sense of reality. It works pretty well until some unexpected force discredits that sense. Like a pop-up riot in the midst of a killer pandemic and economic dislocation.
This is a phenomenon that repeats and therefore is subject to interpretation and analysis. There is a body of thought about the entanglement of government and religion that has recurred from Jonestown to the Crusades, from ghetto gangs to World War. Today there is new thought about how our brains organize and interpret what comes to us through our senses and through interaction with other people who enlarge our thought intake. This may be an invitation to madness.
“What differentiates this from a riot or a lynch mob is the fact of police coordination and directions from the DOD and Executive Branch. Those two things make this a coup attempt, a genuine attempt at a violent takeover. Dismissing it as a LARP is inaccurate.” (Tweet)
“A LARP is a type of interactive role-playing game in which the participants portray characters through physical action, often in costume and with props.” (Google)
In the past on this blog I’ve talked about things like Mardi Gras, or Halloween or spring break where a formalized and expected event has developed that makes the lowest the highest, mocks authority, and abandons convention in a kind of tension-breaker, stress-reliever, safe defiance.
“Many rituals considered to effect purification do not utilize any of the specific purifying techniques outlined above. They simply make use of techniques believed to have generalized ritual efficacy, no matter what the disorder. Thus, some purification rites involve reversals, especially reversals of roles between men and women, on the general principle that they represent a return to chaos and then a change back to order. Another widely practiced ritual principle involving the symbolism of reversal is that of death and rebirth; man and the world, with all their disorders, are symbolically put to death and then symbolically renewed in a purer and better state.” (Britannica)
In the past I’ve also talked about the premise of Victor Turner in “The Ritual Process” that an invisible virtual construct of interactive space can be “liminal” — entrance into a constructed “place” that is a kind of time-out, king’s X, sanctuary.
But this riot was different. In the first place, it was only a cover for a true criminal and treasonous overthrow of the key to democracy. In the second place, there has rarely been enough wealth in a country for so many people to fly in for a few days. Third, there is no consensus except fear and helplessness as the pandemic kills many and the environmental movement shows us destruction. Despair seems realistic so why not go crazy?
Here’s a little cautionary tale. An indigenous practice on the northern prairie is the sweat lodge, not so different from the Scandinavian sauna but improvised from hot stones splashed with water to make steam. When whites encountered it, the practice was both for cleansing of bodies and a ritual retreat for renewal of the spirit. Then the therapy movement got hold of it and encouraged confession with the group replacing a priest.
One person always stayed outside to heat the stones on a fire, carrying them to the 100 willows bent into a dome and covered with skins and blankets. He also served as a safeguard monitor. Some groups encouraged nakedness, some separated genders or barred women, etc. There were lots of little particularities for ritual elaboration.
A chancer built up a little business by doing woo-woo with sweat lodges. He thought he’d use some big cheap plastic tarps to cover his framework. It meant some people got too hot and fainted. Then one day people died. Now the law was involved.
Something like that happened when mainstream churches got boring, went to mega-wealth-centered churches, then began to mix into politics as a quick way to be famous. It was the time of the sons of the evangelicals who had been embraced by presidents. It was a fabulous marketing opportunity.
The demand for spectacle and violence was encouraged by football and rodeos, sand wars and movies about watching predator drones controlled in Indiana while they showed on green screens to kill families. You already know all this stuff.
We have created a nation of sub-citizens who can’t quite make it in this technological, scattered, mobile world. They have no framework for survival. Once a madman like Trump showed up, the international mafia brotherhoods who had their own realities and frameworks could see that this was an opportunity for gaming. So they took it up.
One religious principle from the origins of the Abramic way of thinking was that the included people must guard against the Others, both those who were privileged so could afford armies and those who had almost nothing to lose and therefore benefited from uproar, destroying the standing order. This kept the group pressed together and better defended in case of danger. It worked if the tribe were clustered around a waterhole. The two assumptions met on 1/6, those with armies and those with nothing to lose and lost in sagas.
The new strongest religious truth is that we’re all in this together. A human being is a dynamic process linked to the fates of all other life. What we do poisons the mother polar bear’s milk or all the bees. What the bat does kills millions of humans. Humility is not facing some mega-master who — if we flatter him enough — will save us. Humility is only as close as we can get to reality.
Smashing into the big fancy building at the Capitol was a lot of fun except for those who died on that afternoon and will not be fun for those on respirators in the future. But the fun obscured the real despair and the wickedness of those who exploit it.