Let surprises live, not certainty of complacency
Abin Thomas
Let surprises live, not certainty of complacency Download as PDF
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Can history ever move backwards? Can it be called the trajectory of progress into “the civilized violence”? It is a polemic to start with. Theories of progress and civilization are intimated to the myth of linear regulation of violence through modern mechanism of law. On the face of it, there exists a hope for peaceful and stable human society, which aspires to be civilized and progressive. Every possible attempt is made to rationalize such a society, between the binary of war and peace.

These skeptical notes were written after reading the context of hope and peace for a better world on Wisconsin shooting incident in the United States. Almost everybody suggested toleration and legal intervention as solution. The bottom line is evident: still the certainty of a liberal tolerant society which is progressive is possible and viable.

There are various events from the history of humankind, where the question of violence matter the most (every battle that was fought, conflicts between tribes, riots within societies, war between kingdoms, modern nation states, crimes  of varying level, economic damages inflicting human suffering, environmental mishaps effected from human interventions etc). From the very blink of dawn of life to the last blip of its breath, human mind and its intellectual genius encountered the inherent violent human nature.

Philosophers did postulate many assumptions on human nature regarding living together peacefully. For Aristotle, human beings are political animals, who want to live together. On the contrary, Carl Schmitt believes it is about the antagonism between the friend and the foe. For Machiavelli, it is the logic of malleable human nature while one reads The Prince and Discourses together. Thomas Hobbes’ self-interested human being becomes more civilized in John Locke’s limited government mechanism. Gradually, liberal hope for a stable peaceful society recognized need for human security in the modern legal mechanism in the discourse of human rights. While Gandhi predicated human nature on the hope of peace, by neutralizing the violence of human nature on the face of conflict, Karl Marx emphasized on the economic inequality within the society as the root cause of unstable society. The intellectual tradition of St. Augustine emphasized concept of sin with fallible human nature. Each of these presupposed a kind of desirable human society: a peace-loving one.   

Let’s move from philosophical heights to muddy-shallow empirical reality tainted with human blood: the Wisconsin shooting incident. On August 5, Wade Michael Page, scripted another page of violence in the history of humankind. He allegedly shot six people to death and wounded three others before getting killed by self-inflicted shot during the encounter with police at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin. It was later described as a hate crime.

There are mainly three follow ups to this incident. The first is the sudden logic of accusation asking who is responsible for this heinous crime. Following that, comes the second aspect, causality of the accused criminal is being traced as a timeline (like a face book timeline). Another aspect of the media reports highlights the reasons behind the attack: it ranges from the question of hate, racism, terrorism, and failure of liberal democracy.

 Logic of accusation

 The primary concern of the incident raised questions about the security system in America.  Gurbachan Singh, the head priest of Akal Takht, condemned the attack and reported, in The Hindu, as saying “It is a highly unfortunate incident which has taken place in America leaving six innocent devotees dead. This is a security lapse on the part of U.S. Government”. In the same report, the commitment to stop the repetition of the same kind of incidents was seen. President Shiromani Gurdwara Pharbandhak Committee (SGPC), Avtar Singh Makkar, pointed out that the need to bring out “the cause of this brutal attack on innocent Sikhs” and wanted to prevent this kind of incidents in the future.

 What interests this discussion is not the question of responsibility of the action of violence, but the necessity of our thinking (including the social media, the law and order mechanism, concerned, the public and the diplomats) about natural causality regarding the action itself. There are some set rules for this game of accusations. Every game of accusation needs a criminal and a victim. That is perfectly done in this case. This is not an exception among the stories of crime. The transferring act of responsibility from the point of action, the society, to the individuals involved does many unseen acts together.

 There are certain ways in which blame game is played to the myth of modern peaceful society. One believes that identifying the culprit is the most important step in retaining the hope of peaceful society. This is not enough. The criminal should be punished for his/her action, as it harmed the logic of living together peacefully, and mutually existing harmoniously. It is legitimate to the extent to which the modern legal mechanism and the public outcry agree with the amount of punishment given to the criminal. The situation becomes vague once the criminal opt to die in the process of crime. The immanent presence of the dead criminal will be searched for associated links of miscreants involved with him/her. The question of justice, on behalf of the dead victims, who are innocent civilians and were contributing to the economy and the cultural capital of the society, is asked. Normally, an inquiry into the crime scene is sought as an immediate solace. Administering justice is thus related to identifying the criminal.   

On the other hand, the victims’ are not merely individual. They form different units of family, community, religion, and in some cases diaspora too. It means the social and cultural meanings involved in response to the act complicate the simple picture of the criminal and the victim. There are different possibilities associated with this. The family of the victim may remain unknown due to the fear factor, if the concerned have lost the faith in the legal restoration of peace. The community of those victims may term the attack as “hate crime” or “communal” or “racist”. The social meaning of identities of religion, culture, gender, race and nation are pertinent to this language of victimization. Soon this vocabulary gets echoes from the different sections in the society, discussion and decisions of the public arrive at some consensus through the media. Thus some acts of violence may be termed as terrorist attack or racist attack.

The stage is set for clear social and cultural space to determine and reproduce the history of violence in new forms with unprecedented techniques. Does it sound pessimistic and appalling? The intellectual project to understand human nature, and thus the progression of its socio-cultural behavior gets complicated every day. It is not as easy as one imagines to be. Hence the distinction of the criminal and the victim cannot be sensible in this blame game, at post-violence stage.     


Timeline of the crime


Once a mishap take place it becomes mandatory without any doubt to argue about the past involved in the crime (the formative period of tendency of crime). Wade Michael Page was a member of the U. S army, and had links with music bands End Apathy and Definite Hate, espousing views on albums such as "Violent Victory". The combative training in the past and the element of fear that the white race is under siege played a crucial role in shaping the crime. The very negative precocious character of the accused was researched well and reported in the media. Later reports carried out surgical examination of his past to make sense of the blame game that was discussed earlier. The accused was dead in the incident, and now the timeline of the crime see the failure of an entire society to deal with differences of social identities.

The crime scene was clear about the involved person. Wisconsin police chief John Edwards asserted that "right now I want to make it clear that he (Page) is the only individual” involved  in the shooting. But later it was known that his girlfriend, 31-year-old nursing student Misty Cook, was arrested on a tentative charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm according to the South Milwaukee police. Meanwhile the FBI declined that her arrest has no link with the shooting incident. It was the part of investigation on the timeline of the crime. Generally, most of us are happy with a just investigation procedure. The legal apparatus in the form of the police and the federal agency acted on behalf of the citizen to restore the peaceful past in the future.  

The secular timeline of the particular crime adds much to the framework of freedom from all coercive control within the society. The vision of the present in that timeline was about certainty of a particular kind, peaceful and stable society of equally respecting individuals and communities. The accepted norms of normalcy in the society are the following. Firstly, there is a hope of consenting individuals to live together with optimum possibility of violence. Next, human mind is sure about its regulatory capacity about the future, to keep pace with the future while being in the present. Here, the investigation is the mechanism through which we hope for both norms. The remaining norm of normalcy is the aspect of punishment given to restore the act of recreation in a particular sense: in the sense that everything can be regulated and controlled by human effort and adventure of reason. As a result, every timeline of crime end up in just another mimetic way of earlier versions. The modern human mind, if there is something like that, failed to calculate future based on accumulated probabilities at hand rather than the unrealizable certainty of peace. Thus our own complacency with present reproduce status quo of violence with deeper damage in the near future. Still, one hope for a less violent world out there and sets up investigation committee, and invest millions of dollars on research on human rights, techniques of diplomacy and art of peace. 


Highlighting the reasons behind the attack: Does this lead us somewhere?


The third aspect of the discussion comes in relation to the reasons of attack. As already indicated, each of them is questions of hate, racism, terrorism, and failure of liberal democracy. Everything that mentioned here as reasons for the attack normatively correspond to the blame game discussed earlier. The natural causality of the blame game is articulated in each of these reasons. Whether it is the notion of hate or terrorism, irrespective of the denomination of reason, the voice behind the noise of language of blame does not amount to the concreteness of the problems involved here. Rather each of these reasons clouded the complex sensibilities of communities, religion, and politics of culture shared through social and cultural mediations.  

To make the above point clear take the example of question of racism. There was somewhat similar situation some years back in Australia. The same religious community was targeted the most then. In India, our brethrens panicked and resorted to political assurance and other diplomatic interventions with government of Australia. How can somebody look at the present crisis in America? One can accuse one community or a nation to be responsible, and can transfer the real issues at our own epistemology of thinking. If somebody thinks that human right is the guardian of every individual to have a dignified life to move forward, can any of the modern nation-state ensure the realization of those rights? American President Mr. Obama pointed out that the contribution of Sikh community to that country was invaluable, and recommended his nation for a phase of “soul-searching”. Does that mean it is a political assurance to be sure of a perfect future?

There are various ways of consent and persuasion to reproduce the present in the coming future too. The powerful nation states and the discourse of modern legal language mythically espouse a kind of linear logic to every incident that involves violence which is termed as crime. It is mythically recreated every day media report, news reading, research papers, and even in the popular responses to the incidents of violence. The element of myth is there since the modern minds believe in certain kind of society, based on some political ethics: idea of self-determination, self-rule, rule of law. The political economy of every act of violence is interlinked to the status quo of the society. Every year we mourn the dead due to various reasons. Ground zero is monumental evidence why human being does not forget the dark ages of human history. It reminds us the political economy of our passion, memory, and emotions to live together peacefully.

Consequently, the philosopher human mind did struggle to recognize and realize the reality of violence inherent in human nature. Once Thomas Hobbes signed a social contract for all of us each of us were satisfied forever. Hence the idea of nation, state, constitution, the people and the abstract citizenship grapple together to deal with the reality of violence in every human society so far. There are many thinkers who would be against state, or pro-state, or for limited state. Cutting across every category, there is a consensus regarding the modern idea of human right. As the economic or the environmental suffering is collateral damage for human right question, how does it make sense to realize in a world of structures of power and complexity of sensibilities? Also, like law, human rights discourse never tries to eliminate violence, but regulate it (It is brilliantly discussed in The Formations of the Secular of Talal Asad, and its influence is much  on this piece too). By result of which the depiction of a violent act in the media was a package of familiar question answer section. Wisconsin incident was not an exception there.         

To sum up is to say one thing: we need to unlearn many things. These thoughts were just aimed at one thing, to learn to unlearn some unquestioned principles of representations in the present media. Everything is not settled all the time. The intellectual linearity from Descartes needs to be relooked. Some of us may be able to escape the binaries of the subject and the object, the criminal and the victim (and the like) to make sense of our observations, deductions, and inferences to arrive at some alternative ways of thinking. At the moment, complacency of peace and certain future plagued human novelty and curiosity to learn and adventure. 

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