I understand that people are looking at the deeds of the worthless scum of various ugly corners of our society, the pure acts of hate, acts that show a complete and utter lack of acceptance of the humanity of those they target, and it is easiest to point to the bloodied hands and seek answers for the deeds there. That is clean up and damage control, that is not solution, that is putting band-aids on the bullet wounds. The real loss or victory happens before the trigger pull, before the gun is picked up. Let me share with you the lessons that were shared with me.
The UK and Canada have agreements to allow members of our forces who wish to emigrate and continue to serve the Crown. Basically, you can transfer in rank and grade, but you must complete basic training in the new Army so that you and those who will be in your chain of command share a common frame of reference. By this requirement we found ourselves with a precious asset on our basic training, we had Sgt Reynolds, Recce trooper with tours in Northern Ireland under the British flag, and various fun spots of Africa under the UN. Given a long history of counter-insurgency work, both low intensity and high intensity, we would have expected an attitude fairly extreme towards the shooters, bombers and front line insurgents. What we got was something far different, and a far more complex understanding of how hate works, and where it can or can’t be fought.
Now for those who are offended by harsh language, fuck off. You are not going to have the capacity to accept the stark truths presented to young soldiers by old soldiers who had seen the truth not through media lenses but through their own eyes year after year. I will give you his words, as he gave them to us, because they deserve to be heard as they were, not as anyone might “pretty them up” and lose much of their essence in the doing.
“You see some fucking 14year old with a rock or a Molotov and a mask, and you just know some poor squaddie is going to have to put a bullet in him eventually, hopefully before he kills a bunch of poor fucks just trying to have a normal life and family, knee deep in someone else’s bullshite. Can’t do shit about that. No one can do shit about that kid, he died about seven years ago on his grandmother’s knee when she whispered in his ear about crap that happened a hundred years ago that was probably to avenge some other shit that happened a hundred years before that, and got his bloody father killed already, and convinced him he wasn’t a man unless he avenged the last poor fuck who died avenging some other idiot who decided some shit that happened in sixteen fucking something was worth blowing up a school over”
“You can’t do anything for the punk kid in the mask with a gun or a bomb, the poor kid was killed already by those who taught him that the only way to live was to kill a bunch of people he never met for something they never did and had nothing to do with, just to show the world he has a dick and will find a fucking meat grinder to stick it in. You put a bullet in the ones you have to before they hurt too many people, but you arent’ solving shit if the granny’s keep whispering. You buy time, that’s all you do. If someone doesn’t stop the whispering, you will never stop the killing. Don’t hate the poor little fucks, just shoot the ones who had to, and don’t start whispering about how they deserve it or some poor kid is going to suck that up and end up the next one who needs some poor squaddies bullet.”
It is a sobering thing to learn, that as a soldier, as the sword and shield of the people, you actually can’t stop the bloodshed, you can only decide who dies today and hope someone does something about the whispers before the body count gets too high, or the number of dead to be avenged becomes high enough people stop asking about what the point of the fight was I the first place.
We here in North America do not inherit that kind of instilled hatred. We didn’t have the grandmothers whispering the glory of the struggle to little boys who grew up not as men but munitions. Our culture is too diverse and broadly based for that sort of familial cultural conditioning without external support.
We are fixing that.
This last US election has been the stuff of nightmare. The tides of division and hatred that were whipped up to drive short sighted people into power are not actually the kinds of tides you can dispense with when your port you have reached. You have sown the wind and reaped the whirlwind, you have ridden the storm and now the storm is upon you.
Our media has forsaken its duty to report the story and begun to be the story. I have watched in my own lifetime the shift from news to sensationalism that has become our media news coverage. I have seen how the quest to capture attention has moved from providing balanced reporting to providing shock reporting. We begin with the media attempting to make each and every story not just a single event to be examined in its own merits, but a judgement of society. The problems from that one start at the fact the guilt/innocence of the people involved are obscured by the “greater issues” and the needs of society on those “greater issues” screw justice right up the ass and the story becomes about something other than the deeds of person involved. The first victim is forgotten, the second victim is justice, and the third is the community as the “Greater Issue” comes under the same treatment as the initial story.
Politics is about swaying the public, the saying “give me a lever long enough and I will move the world” is born in physics, but reaches its purest expression in politics. Levers in politics are shocking events that will outrage sections of the public enough to be harnessed to a political agenda to the ends of those who are shaping the message.
The demagogues of Athens and Rome gave us the true expression of the rule of the mob, as agitators showed how little it took to bring society crashing down simply by finding an event that you could use as your lever to work at the stress points in your own society to overturn it. You would think we would learn from this.
We saw the use of the media in Nazi Germany use this lever to give us the greatest evil of our age, and we saw it enacted again in Yugoslavia proving the tools still work and the price has not changed, and still we did not learn.
We have our media creating sensation and division from tragedy. Rather than seeking reasoned discourse, they seek to whip up the public passions, because that gets market share. Facts matter less than passion, truth matters less than purity of message and inconvenient facts that do not fit the message are casually cut as the message not the truth is the important thing, the “greater issue’ whatever the pet cause of the extremist groups who are feeding off, and in turn being fed off by the media always feel their needs are more important than the truth.
We have our grandmothers whispering hate in our seven year olds, only this time they come at us through TV and radio, talk shows and sound bytes shared and reshared around social media where our tendency to look only at feeds that match our own opinions give us a false sense that what we are hearing represents the whole of the truth, rather than the heavily slanted and sculpted message of your own faction, tailored to your demographic by modern demagogues as skilled as any Athenian , and as amoral.
If you shout fire in a crowded theater, you face the penalty for those who are injured in the resulting panic.
If you lend voices to the extremists in all communities, falsely presenting the impression that these extremists represent the commonly held views of communities alien to you, you have successfully shaped the view of that community as hostile and a threat. You have filled the Molotov cocktail, you have filled the bottle, you have stuffed the wick down into the gas, and you have come to them to ask if they intend on directing those bottles to the target that you yourself have created in the minds of each side.
The problem with the false images of the media’s messaging, is that one you throw the Molotov cocktail or rock, real people are hurt and killed. If it bleeds it leads is not the whole of the expression. We need it to bleed if we want the lead is the corollary. You will not get airtime or market share to explain that you really wont have the real reasons for why an event happened until the trial is over and month of investigation are completed. You get market share if you can stand in front of police tape and give an answer that is sensational, shocking, largely reguardless of the facts of the matter.
If you shout fire in a crowded theater you get charged. You stir up divisions in the community until various sides are spilling blood and burning theaters down you get elected, you get great market share, you get to say that you were right in what you said would happen.
Make no mistake, this is about media creating the news, not reporting it. The politicians and social media use the tools the media gives them to move their demographics, but they do not spin them out of whole cloth, they take them from the media, from our glorious independent fifth estate who somewhere in the 1990’s lost its integrity and any desire to fact check before publication and broadcast.
What are we going to do about this?
What are you doing about this toxic messaging? I know I am as guilty as any for this, it is easy to find an answer in a sound byte that captures your outrage, it is seldom a good answer. Real answers are seldom sexy and satisfying. Real progress means accepting that people can be different from you in ways you really don’t like and yet are no threat to you.
Real threats exist. Bullets do solve some problems. Please keep the numbers that must get solved by bullets to a minimum by restricting them to the actual criminal sociopaths, the truly evil who are a problem in any generation, but a small manageable ones.
Kill the whispers. Kill the whispers that seek to make hatred a foundation of young men and women’s world views. Kill the whispers, or by the gods acknowledge that the blood that covers the ground when some poor fucking squaddie or police officer has to do their job and kill, that blood doesn’t just stain the poor trigger puller, that blood belongs to every one who spread the whispers.