There is in young people, particularly in young male people the unaccountable joy of breaking shit. The kind of shit being broken almost doesn’t matter, as long as there is a proper sense of mayhem and a little carnage. Debris is good, bits of what was once a whole scattered about, some evidence of our existence imprinted on the world around us. In building the new tattoo shop , for example, I had to remove an old bath tub from the premises. The easiest way was to break it up with a sledgehammer, when I was done it looked like this:
It was a hard hour in a hot, humid, stinking, cramped, loud (even with earplugs), and filthy environment and I had a blast doing it. As a kid didn’t idolize firemen or superman, my heroes were Conan and Mad Max. Then I spent most of the teen years listening to loud music and smashing into other people to it, I have broken, vandalized, and destroyed more shit than your average person from the age of 10 til into my 30’s so please believe me when I tell you that I get it. I understand the pure barbaric joy of imposing your will on some inanimate object, as well I also know the extra little cherry on top of the destructive sundae when one is able to justify this savagery by claiming to be doing damage in the name of some lofty ideal. Graffiti is a bit sweeter on the side of a bank or police station the same way that shooting a tiger was more fun than plinking groundhogs to a big game hunter.
I get it, I’ve done it, I know its fun to fuck with the system. it gives one a sense of control in a world where we seem to be nothing more than a mouse in the maze. Imagine how fun it would be if the mouse could knock down a wall or at least write “fuck the scientists” on it with a teeny tiny can of spray paint!
I think there is a reason why this feels good, and it is the same reason that “being right” feels good or getting mad feels good, because it makes us feel real. The lingering doubt that there is anything we can truly call a self goes away in that rush of adrenaline and cortisol, and when you mix this with the idea that you getting revenge on some entity you feel has harmed you then there is the bonus of feeling like you have accomplished something important for yourself and the world.
At the root however is the very mistaken notion that we can soothe the ennui by reinforcing our “self” this way. The truth is that in a dynamic, impermanent, and constantly changing world there is no thing we can truly get hold of and call a “self” and in our heart of hearts we know this. Feeding this sense of self with the goal of feeling comfortable in our own skins is like a junky believing he can quit if he just does enough heroin. It is a bottomless pit because it is going in the wrong direction, anytime we deny and try to cover over what our heart knows to be a fact the only result is suffering.
The argument is that by taking to the streets a-la the G-20 protests that people are becoming organized against global corporations and showing the power of people in numbers, that the chaos demonstrates to police that they are not all-powerful (an assumption that I’m not sure that police actually believe), and that they are fighting against governments and companies which harm the rest of the world. I wish that were true, and I sincerely wish that it could work out in the idealized way the anarchist holds dear. I have a feeling that even if such a thing would come to pass the results would look a lot more like the Reign of Terror or modern warlord states like Somalia or Afghanistan than a cooperative utopia.
Which is actually beside the point anyway, in my opinion. The real work to be done in the world must first be accomplished in each person. How many of the protesters demanding that a company or government act with compassion and kindness show it in their own lives? It’s easy to tell Starbucks what it’s doing wrong, however it is a whole lot harder to go a whole day without talking shit on someone you know, to keep your mind clear of drugs and booze long enough to form relationships not based on getting fucked up, to turn that critical mirror back toward ourselves. Until this is done, I feel that all the rock throwing and slogan writing in the world is simply a way of avoiding the real work of saving the world by saving it from Us!!
Of course we need to speak out against injustice and to strive for a world that is better than the one we have now, but if we do it with even a little bit of the idea that we are reinforcing the “self” then I feel like it negates any good we might be doing “out there”. The second I feel like I am better than a cop, head of BP, or government official I have done more damage to the world than the oil spill. I mean that seriously and literally. Environmental disaster may ruin a part of the world, but thinking you are more worthy than anything or anyone else ruins everything, always. Suffering happens to all of us when you forget that you are all of us. We need to work for a better world without getting so attached to our ideal that we forget the real work is within ourselves.
Running amok in the streets feels good, I know because I’ve done it. Being in a mob feels good too, but its like putting a band-aid on a cancer tumor, it only hides the real problem of what we each do in our everyday world to make it better. Smashing a bank window only gives the poor janitor more work to do, but saying “Hi, how are you doing?” to the same janitor the next day and genuinely caring about his answer will save a lot more lives and free a lot more people than the broken window did.