You see a building owned by an international corporation that pays meager wages and seeks to nickel-and-dime its employees at every turn and think, “Why? Why do these people act like savages? Why do they destroy their community.”
Perhaps it won’t be a popular thing to say, but this is an understandable reaction from some people—both those who sympathize with the plight of the protestors around the United States and those who believe that they’re claims should be dismissed out of hand. But it’s not understandable for the reasons you might think.
It stands to reason that you might come to this conclusion because too many of us have come to understand community as transactional institutions—centers of labor, commerce, and profit. You work tirelessly so that you can invest in signifiers of status, of belonging to an “us” that separates you from them. For some Americans, that might be a nice car, a beautiful home, a brand-name jacket, a degree from an institution whose prestige is directly tied to its vast financial portfolio; for the Americans who benefit most from this kind of thinking, it might be the implicit loyalty of attorney general, a chief of police, a senator, or a political party. You’ve been taught for much of your life that community is a retail experience best illustrated by signifiers of your relatedness to empowered institutions. Even if you don’t have much power yourself, its comforting to buy a sense of proximity to it. The power to transact is the great American opiate, and for many, a potent aphrodisiac.
But having learned this, you maybe become blind to how these same institutions take from you in big ways and small ways. You pay in time and money much more than what many of these signifiers are worth. If you occupy certain positions on the gender, race, class, ability (and we must never omit ability/disability from these discussions), and identity matrix, you also often pay with your dignity, your freedom of movement. For far too many, you pay with your life, and you do much of this whether you like it or not—because many of the same institutions of power for which too many vie for proximity have predetermined a coercive relationship with you which demands that you either participate or occupy a state of living death, of surveillance, and, eventually, of permanent silence. They surveil you. They buy the complicity of the legislators that govern you. They make non-consensual purchase of your life, and produce an illusion of just enough space so that some of you feel an equilibrium in this deeply unbalanced relationship which does not truly exist.
I understand why you think this way, but consider for a moment that you had the eyes to see the pattern of coercion, of exploitation for what it was. Imagine that it was pain and bloodshed that was the catalyst that opened your eyes to this dynamic. What would you do?
Probably having been schooled in all the ways of genteel society as we know it, you might write, you might speak, you might beg, you might air your grievances civilly. That’s fair, I suppose.
But what would you do if you used those tactics for generations and, yet, your civil words fell on deaf ears—because changing the dynamic would right the balance of things in such a way that you might get your fair due, and those institutions which rely on your coercive participation in their carefully plotted dynamic would get less of the ill-gotten gains to which they’ve grown so accustomed?
Maybe you might find that community exists beyond the spaces of those transactions and institutions. And maybe, having realized your humanity supersedes that inhuman circuitry, you might wish to see those institutions fall in the hope that they might be replaced by something better—something just.
You might hope that you could reason your way into a better relationship with these entities, but when that hope was exhausted, I think you might come to understand the plight of the so-called savages you so freely condemn.