A police officer pushed his knee into the back of the neck of a man until he died. Murder. But we watched. A mob stomped a store owner into the pavement as he protected his property. Attempted murder. Again, we watched. A gunship blew journalists and then a family—including children—to pieces. Murder. We watched. We are good at watching. We hear the blasts from the whistleblowers, but we already have our own eyes and despite what we see, we ignore. We do not care. And should we claim to care. It is never enough to challenge the comfort. Even if what we watched was for a time uncomfortable.
For most that read this they were raised in a land of democratic governance; the liberal ideal that in electing one’s representatives, that freedom, security, and order will find some balance. Harmonizing society is the modern religion, with the belief that the sacrifice of millions of innocents is enough so long as we believe hard enough in a rule of law. If we vote regularly, all will be well in the world and when we watch the weeds of this system—the government that we apparently control—we do nothing. Instead we willingly watch the murder go on in our names.
The present protests tearing many parts of the United States apart were ignited initially by a murder. It was not just that slaying of a man that sparked such an eruption. The powder keg was already waiting. But as we watch on, social media blatherers and a clickbait army of journalists speculate and drive narratives. They blame contemporary political matters and merging them with ancient human ills such as racism. All may be to blame and yet none. The consistent theme however is that the state in its many forms is responsible. The protesters are not all looters and rioters. Many in fact are defending private property and protecting people. Some are paid shills doing violent deeds, others are criminal opportunists, and some are undercover police officers instigating violence. But as we watch through the straw of social media, we are told what we are seeing, and it is simplified in narratives.
While most people focus on the riots inside the United States, they do not see the deadly riots elsewhere, from India to Chile. The unrest that has hurt millions in far more impoverished nations was not a simple case of ‘racist police.’ It is for a myriad of reasons, but ultimately the dissatisfaction with the state. It is its present form of austerity measures, where the hungry and jobless rely on the state monopolised services. Or it is because of repression and far more sinister democide and torture. All we can do is watch, and as Adam Curtis once said, ‘exclaim Oh Dear!’ because we can’t explain or understand that much with simple explanations. Instead we can only watch.
Whether a lone police officer murdering a man with the arrogance that only costumed authority could safeguard, or a drone operator peering at human life through the cold gaze of a monitor, the calculation to murder is afforded by the legal mandates of a brutal monopoly. Sometimes scapegoats are sought, and events are segregated from the wider calamity of policy. And other times we, the powerful voter, watch and then move on to something else. Perhaps that vote really does not matter in the end. Instead it enables, legitimizing the murder and misery. Because in voting, we sanction it. The protests and unrests re-emerge. But it lets us feel as though we have a say or have control.
Standing Rock was a powerful moment of defiance for a time and now it is forgotten by those who are not hurt by the outcome and those bitter moments of policy. Those who watched on and formulated an opinion of distance do not care about the injustice that spurred the protests. They could not care about the legacy of betrayal and deceit; they would not know the history that led to that moment. The 1970s Wounded Knee standoff is almost ancient now and robbed in its significance by more recent acts of domestic defiance. The many nations of original Americans know the pain of defeat and the lies of the federal government, while the rest of us watched. Soldiers who massacred women and children still have the medals of honour to their names, while the victims’ graves were robbed of any justice. Then people read and celebrated an end to the West and the frontier. Civilization bathed in the blood of the innocent. Like now, except few read any more and only watch.
Was George Floyd murdered because of racism? Who knows what was in the mind and heart of the uniformed killer. But would it have mattered? Individuals of all races, genders, and ages are murdered by the state in similar ways. Failed no-knock home invasions that lead to the murder of the innocent, bombs dropped onto city blocks from helicopters to defeat a gang, women shot in their bed as they sleep. We can watch on as a homeless man sits in his wheelchair and is gunned down in daylight or a man is tasered and then shot because he did not have a camping permit. Their skin color less important than that they are all individuals lost in time at the hands of agents of the state. That is the distinction. The power to murder without repercussion is afforded by the authority of the state.
While the siege at Waco and the execution of a family at Ruby Ridge may lead to the horrendous violence of the Oklahoma City bombing, the original evil is not suddenly cured because another act of wickedness was committed in vengeance. Even as we watch on, we can attempt to rationalize. Some can blame the victims when they suffer beneath the brutality of the state, despite what we watched. The mass murderers that masterminded the attacks of 2001 on the United States did it because it was a stab into their powerful enemy that they saw as responsible for so much horror inside the lands that mattered to them. Destroying many parts of the world in response was another cycle of misplaced vengeance. The innocent died as we all watched on. But the images of the burning and then collapsing Twin Towers of New York City was more important in some minds than watching Iraq or Afghanistan bleed for decades.
When people inside Iraq protest outside the American embassy, many cheer when the U.S. military blows an Iranian envoy to pieces while they are in an airport on a diplomatic mission. The protests were blamed on a foreign nation; they could not organically spark, the narrative claimed, even if thousands of people were desperate in their anger. As we watched on, we had the murders explained to us. The dead were evil men, the killing was justified. Yet it solved nothing. The people in Iraq are still suffering and desperate. We can watch them cry in agony as mutated babies die and smoke pollutes the playgrounds of violence left as a result of a self-righteous foreign policy. We can blame Iran, but it was the coalitions of distant and willing nations that have been bombing Iraq since 1991.
In months and years from now, when the present protests die down, the narrative will be simplified. As the LA riots of 1992 or the Watts riots of 1965 have become memories, it is clear the lessons were not learned. Sensitivity training and better public relations has not stopped the increase in laws, the violence, and the murders. It can be called racism or a class struggle but, in the end, it is the government exercising authority despite the claimed limitations of its own laws. Regardless of a sniper blowing a hole through a mother holding her baby or the bombs destroying peasants in distant lands, we are told to be angry when a man does not stand for a flag and a song before a football game.
The 1989 Tiananmen protests did not end the grip of the Chinese government’s rule. It made the CCP wiser and ensured that they installed greater controls from censorship to surveillance. The Hong Kong protests will no doubt only further these tightening grips, added with the Covid-19 pandemic and the availability of pervasive technology. Dictatorships will find it easier to control and rule. They will cite the calamity and violence of social disharmony as justification. The pandemics that have spread fast and taken lives as a key factor for public health and controls on the individual. And many more will dob and report to the authorities despite the AI and software that already monitors us. Despite the repression, the organ harvesting, executions and symbol of the ‘Tank Man,’ we take money from that government and visit the nation as happy tourists, omitting the images we watched.
This is the coming fate for liberal democracies. We have seen it with the COVID-19 lockdown and pandemic. The average person was diligent in their obedience, reason be damned. Science is politicized and massaged according to the latest meme that someone viewed. Feelings and mob instincts for control, to dabble in a neighbour’s or stranger’s life, is fueled with sense of entitlement. More authority, more government is called for by the self-righteous voices. And as a flock of ‘Karens’ scream at a woman who is shopping with no face mask on, many will cheer and applaud them. If their belief in the mask is enough many may some day bludgeon the maskless too, like that shop owner who was left for dead by looters, and we will watch.
Those who have caused the chaos, whether in foreign lands littering them with bombs and depleted uranium, or in crippling industry through regulation and taxation, or in waging a war on human ingestion, or to enforce medical lockdowns each time a flu arises, have only been allowed to because we all watched it happen. We were, in the end, indifferent. We are told that each vote matters and yet we never seemed to vote for anything that ever mattered. Instead the voter only votes on want, not need. A want for welfare, subsidies, grants, contracted jobs, and entitlements. All at the expense of dignity and other people’s rights. The mob never seemed to need freedom. And when it is taken away, those who cry out are called selfish. Yet those taking it, those wanting comforts or entitlements at the expense of strangers and familiars, claim to always be in need.
The violence of policy is on all of us. No militant junta or imperial democracy ever existed without the obedience of thousands or millions of willing killers. No tyrant is so powerful that they could rule without others doing their deeds. When Nicolae Ceausescu, the communist dictator of Romania, was executed by the very men who served him, they did so because the tide had changed. The killers now served the mob and not the tyrant. It is no different anywhere else. The killers will kill for whoever is in authority.
And without that authority, the killers are no longer protected. They no longer have the excuse of orders and policy to cower behind. When a policeman brutalizes an unarmed child, instead of filming it—protect the child. We have watched that scene enough. When a gang of fiends bash a man into the pavement—save the man. And perhaps instead of thanking a military person for their service, treat them as just another person. Because if it was not for that collective service, we would not have so much misery in those desperately poor parts on this Earth.
Perhaps we need to stop simply watching, we should begin to think for ourselves and stop blindly obeying the unjust. Perhaps next time you are watching murder, stop seeking a narrative that blames the victim and absolves the killer and act according to your dignity and justice. The answer is not in a ballot box or in mass carnage but by thinking, living, and discussing with liberty in mind. Perhaps we need to stop being afraid of disobeying unjust laws.
Never forget that there is never a reason to kill a non-threatening person in your care. That is murder and it defies the apparent principles of law and order under which the rest of us are forced to abide. Human dignity tells us it is wrong, even if narratives and ideologies grant it an exception. Dropping bombs on unarmed civilians or blowing a school bus full of children is always wrong. No matter who does it. A song, a flag, an ideal is never important enough to conceal that fact. There is never a context for murder. Tt is a shared insanity we keep allowing to occur. There is no greater perversity in watching the murder of others. We have too many snuff films that we can access and yet we do nothing but keep watching on.
Should something happen to you, don’t be surprised if the world just watches on.