Or… Am I about to be banished from popular mass culture?
[Note: contains one minor spoiler so if you haven’t watched the first two episodes, please skip].
For years, I’ve resisted being drawn into the popular HBO series, Game of Thrones. Mostly out of laziness. As with most HBO shows, it has a fanatical following. People who wouldn’t otherwise like Fantasy have been drawn in. People who love Fantasy love it all the more.
I acquired season one a few years ago and then just never watched it. My friends used all kinds of reasons to get me to take it up. Arguments about the quality of the production (whatever the #$%@ that means). The acting. The storylines. The huge amounts of violence. The gratuitous sex and nudity; apparently Game of Thrones boasts the most boobs per episode of any major television series.
Last fall, I watched episode one. My friends weren’t wrong. The opening sequence is really cool. The acting is good. Attractive people having sex. Yay. And yawn.
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ article on Mandela and Question of Violence is really worth reading. In it, he takes to task those people who would condemn Mandela’s prior forays into political violence and the inconsistent development of the South African state after Apartheid while simultaneously glossing over the violence meted out by the American state as well as its own inconsistent democratic development.
“Towards a more perfect union…”
We cannot posit that ours has been anything but an imperfect union. We can only strive towards the perfect. Yet, when we cast our eyes abroad, the concept of American Exceptionalism blinds us to this very fact. Specifically, the role of violence in changing internal American dynamics. Martin Luther King, Jr. realized the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act but some measure of this triumph, this change also belongs to the likes of Malcolm X, the Nation of Islam and the Black Panthers. Imperfect actors to be sure but ones whose influence indelibly advanced the cause of the Civil Rights Movement.
Malcolm X understood:
If violence is wrong in America, violence is wrong abroad. If it is wrong to be violent defending black women and black children and black babies and black men, then it is wrong for America to draft us, and make us violent abroad in defense of her. And if it is right for America to draft us, and teach us how to be violent in defense of her, then it is right for you and me to do whatever is necessary to defend our own people right here in this country.
It is not uncommon in this day and age to gloss over the contributions of Malcolm X and other more strident leaders.
As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems … But, they asked, what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, my own government.
#1 – Nobody likes violence. Most people are horrified by it.
#2 – A group — any group — that has political or social or economic grievances will likely resort to violence at one point or another. Otherwise the system never notices the grievance and never does anything about it.
#3 – However, once violence is used, that also allows the system to use, or persist in using, violence systematically against the group that has the original grievance. Usually at this point you have some sacrificial victims, usually leaders of the grievance group.
#4 – The system then demands that the group with the grievance “forswear” violence, with the expectation that once that is done, change will happen without violence. In fact, what usually happens is nothing, until conditions get so bad that change happens anyway: Usually with violence, this time with sacrificial victims from the system group (think of murdered royalty, etc.)
— This is a model for peasant uprisings in Europe for centuries, as well as many Euro revolutions, as well as the US CW, as well as anti-slavery and anti-colonial rebellions, forever. The elephant in the room for all this of course is in the Arab / Muslim world today. That’s the overall judgment context at work here.
This is an interesting model and can be supported by two leading modern examples, Gandhi’s attempts to ‘liberate’ India and the US Civil Rights movement. It is noted by other commenters that without actors such as Malcolm X and the Black Panthers, Martin Luther King Jr’s non-violence may very well have never caught on.
What is less-known is that the Indian Independence Movement followed this pattern as well. Gandhi didn’t found subcontinental agitation for independence from the British. He helped to fulfill it. But long before him, other peoples and movements within the subcontinent set the stage for Gandhi to prosper.
Most notable, to my mind, were the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 and the First Partition of Bengal in 1905 as well as the work of Bengali nationalists such as Suhrawardy and Sarat Chandra and Subhas Chandra Bose. Both the Sepoy Mutiny and the first partition of Bengal were violent events. Suhrawardy and the Boses, whatever one thinks of their ultimate places in history, were influential actors in early subcontinental agitation for independence from Britain.
Human beings are violent. As a group. As a species. We are violent. There has never been a period where there is not some type of war being waged on this planet. Some people say that the ‘Muslim world’ needs a reformation, similar to the one experienced by European Christianity. That such reform will bringRead more about Adding Deeper Darkness to a Night Already Devoid of Stars[…]