WHEN MEN REVOLT AND WHY
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
Christmas Day 2011, the most blessed day on the Christian calendar that year, was as usual marred by a great deal of violence around the world, not only within families but among religious factions overseas. After all, it is a convenient day, for example, for Muslims to murder Christians gathered together in their churches, even though Muslims believe that Jesus Christ is one of the great world prophets. And it is a perfect time for Christians to murder Muslims and Hindus if not other Christians to celebrate the dominion of Christ. And so on and so forth.
But here again it would be vain to blame the violence on religion or ethnic factors and political persuasions instead of the men themselves, and to fail then to inquire into the psychology of violence. Of course there is no such thing as a man without some society, so group psychology as well as individual psychology must be taken into account; however, the nature of the individual if not the universe is at the root of the conflict, and it seems that his nature is to make war. No two individuals are absolutely identical, and that presents the original issue: the original sin of individuality. But the individual depends on its kind despite the differences; he is doomed with or without them. Unus homo, nullus homo.
Even when men and women are living peaceably together, without any external threat, they seem to have an instinctive need to have others to hate in order to love themselves, wherefore they band together in one way or another to revolt against their group, which is a war on the existing order, or to wage war on foreign nations of people in order to save those people from their nations. What is said here of human beings has also been observed to be the case with some apes; living together peaceably, mating and going about their daily business, they are wont to eventually split into violent factions and murder their former bedfellows. It has been said that humans do it for moral improvement; we notice no such improvement among apes, or warring coyotes for that matter.
Heraclitus said that “War is both father and king of all, some he has shown forth as gods and others as men, some he has made slaves and others free. It should be understood that war is the common condition, that strife is justice, and that all things come to pass through the compulsion of strife. Homer was wrong in saying, ‘Would that strife might perish from amongst gods and men,’ for if that were to occur, then all things would cease to exist.”
Heraclitus pronounced quite a philosophical spearhead with those sayings. We admit that we have to act to survive and that nothing gets done without the exertion of some opposing force. But we also admit love as an overpowering force, and find two gods more reasonable than one, with love winning over strife in the remote future, when we all find ourselves at peace, drinking from the same loving cup around the fire.
James Chowning Davies edited a collection of sociological studies culled into the book, When Men Revolt and Why (1971), wherein the thesis emerged, that men revolt against existing orders because individuals want equality with one another. He discounted the role of economic and religious factors, referring the student to “the human mind as a nodal, elemental factor.”
Equality might be a good word for a battle flag, but the hypothesis that equality is the goal of revolutions has been amply criticized since then in light of right-wing and Muslim revolts as well as ethnic and tribal upheavals. Even without the historical examples, we can look within and see that equality is really not the object of our struggles; what we want is superiority, to be as powerful as we can be. Indeed, something within my nature calls me to live forever, and I would do so without resistance, if only I could. But if there were no resistance, I would have no need for an independent will. If I were the absolute power, I would, for one thing, have no reason to be intelligent or to even think for that matter; in fact, I would be nobody in particular.
Heraclitus was wise to say that sometimes it is better not to get what one wishes. By equality we may mean a level playing field, but the most of us want to win or be on a winning team, for equality is the death of individuality. That is why even the cattle appreciate Heraclitus’ statement that “the best of men choose one thing in preference to all else, immortal glory in preference to mortal good, whereas the masses simply glut themselves like cattle.”
Personal experience with one’s own violent temperament may be a handier guide to the causes of violence than sociological theories blaming social conditions for outbursts; that personal guide may tend to confirm one sociological theory or another, say deprivation theory or power-struggle theory. My own experience with my “Scotch temper” has caused me to consider, in the aftermath of my angry outbursts, that it is the disappointment of my desire to be a god that has made me as angry as any Thor could be on a Thursday, so my anecdotal experience could be portrayed as an upside down J-curve—a brief inflationary period giving me the feeling of omnipotence was followed by a steep deflation when my balloon was burst by an accident provoked an outburst.
That is not to say that my ideals were not fine ones; the fact that someone or something stood in the way of their realization was what disturbed me so much, for I expected they would be fulfilled. Great expectations lead to great disappointments. Indeed, if we look at the flip side of the coin, when a man or woman is violently angry, we may find a rather high ideal, one that we feel we hold in common; the problem is in the manner of realization or agreement in application.
The Greeks were well aware of the ruinous consequences of the outrage I sometimes experience, which they called hubris. “To extinguish hubris is more needed than to extinguish a fire,” Heraclitus indited. We expect “immortal glory,’ but woe be when something stands in the way; and if we lose control in our arrogant blind outrage, our downfall is assured by the envy of the real gods, who would fain set Nemesis onto us for the offense.
Hubris is an excess of pride. We need to take pride in ourselves to play a worthwhile role in society. Certain Christians, well aware of the dangers of hubris, which is an insult against their god, derogated pride and abjectly humbled themselves, subjecting themselves to humiliations in order to drive out the devil so they might enter god’s realm. Indeed, they were extremely proud of their humility and other virtues. The devil refused to be pinned down and they fell from grace so disappointed in their expectations that they became the very thing they fought against.
Now I am not a Christian, but that very same thing happened to me on Christmas Day 2011 just after I used the toilet—Luther recognized that works do not save as he sat on his toilet in the tower one day. I do think about high ideals while sitting on my metaphysical throne. I fall so far short of them in my deeds when I get off of it that it is fair to say that I mean well but I am a mean man deed-wise. My retrospective history appears to be a continuous mistake. I would gnash my teeth, rend my clothes and roll in the dirt if I were not so mean. I am so mean that I received only two Christmas cards, from a friend and my virtually estranged family, both of which I do not deserve. The only shred of hope I have for redemption given my lack of faith and lackluster works is to say something that might momentarily please someone and cause them to do some little good.
I was thinking high thoughts on Christmas as I quoted the Pope’s homily on the birth of Jesus just to prove the late Christopher Hitchens wrong when he entitled his book “god is not Great.” I mean, the ideas that people have of their gods may not be so great, but god capitalized, i.e. God, is the God of gods and that means greater than the greatest god that can be thought of, so that, if I had faith in God, my god would be greater than all the other gods put together, which might give me the right to chant, “My god is greater than your god, my god is greater than your god,” presuming that your god was not God. To have faith in this God does not mean that I would have to believe in God’s actual existence independent of anyone’s thought, for belief is in the perfection of knowledge, and it is absolutely impossible to have perfect knowledge of perfection in itself as the Supreme Being. Faith would do very well, then, providing it is blind to any evidence to the contrary.
The reader may understand how inflated I was as I shared the Pope’s divine afflatus as Christ was butchered and apportioned. I retired to the toilet, meditating on the Word, when I heard a knock on the door. It was my neighbor, Manuel. He was quite disturbed. The landlord, who had been complaining for months about his water bill and the possibility of leaking toilets, had suddenly and without notice turned off our water.
People were cooking, showering, going to toilet, opening presents, and here was the landlord, a Cuban Hebrew, no less, turning off the water without giving the smallest notice, which would have allowed tenants to at least fill up their bathtubs or pails to flush their toilets and so on. Heaven forbid! Who does he think he is? Castro? Why, this is not Cuba!
The landlord, sometimes we call him slumlord, as every Cuban American tenant knew very well, “walks on his elbows”, meaning that he is tecaño; in fine, cheap. He loves nothing more than cash rent paid by illegal immigrants and petty criminals. No, he does not do background checks; big dogs are allowed, to crap all over the yard; tenants may throw trash in the yard as long as they fork over the cash. He claims to sympathize with illegals because of his own background; he says they keep the prices of oranges down, but he threatens to turn them into I.C.E. when they are uncooperative. He barely maintains the property so that it does not fall down. As for leaks, one woman’s apartment was filled with four inches of water for an entire weekend because his regular plumber, an undocumented worker, was not available, and he did not want to pay a licensed plumber to fix the problem. He is too cheap to secure the gates with locks, to paint the buildings, to put outside lights where they are needed to discourage drug users and the use of the property as a toilet for customers of the wall-to-wall urban clubs nearby. Finally, after months and months of being terrorized by resident criminals and their customers, the three little buildings had good tenants; at least they kept their sins to themselves. And now this: no water on Christmas! What an outrage!
Manuel’s Christmas message was the straw that broke the hump on this camel, puncturing the wonderful balloon I had inflated for myself. I was alone in my apartment and was only cooking metaphysically. My chief worry was how I would flush the toilet and wash my hands for the rest of the day, and then I thought of the kids in the apartments, how the absence of running water would certainly ruin their Christmases, as Manuel had suggested.
I was talking to a friend in Las Vegas on my cell phone about the situation when I went out back, where the landlord had a tenant tampering with the main water pipe—a pool of water had formed around it in the alley.
“Who are you talking to?” he demanded imperiously.
“None of your business,” I said. “Why did you give us no notice? Why didn’t you fix the water months ago? This is Christmas!”
I had somehow become a bigot. I had forgotten that I am not a Christian’ if I were a Christian, I would have wished him God’s blessing and forgiven him for everything so I could feel good about myself instead of being so hateful and angry. And I was tempted to call him a Jew, forgetting that my dad lost half his family in the concentration camps.
“Fix what? This is an emergency!”
“This water thing has been going on for months and months! Instead of complaining about the thousands of dollars of extra water bills, you should have gotten a plumber over here to test the system and fix it. And while you were at it, you could fix the locks and paint the place.”
“Get off my property! You’re out of here!”
“If you want to evict me, you had better get your lawyer to do it, as I have a lot of evidence I would like to show the judge, and the district attorney, too!”
“F—k you and f—k your mother!”
Mention of my mother, who died when I was little, and whom I worshiped as God in her absence, went way over the line. I thought of threatening to kill him then and there, but I really did not feel like killing him. Strangely, I kind of like the man—he is what he is, take it or leave it. Christmas had vanished before my eyes; but my bad temper blows off quickly, so I was really not mad anymore.
Words would do for blaspheming the gods in men. Several “f—k you” s were exchanged as I went back to my place. I had forgotten to turn off my cell phone; my Las Vegas friend was on the line; he said he enjoyed the Christmas show very much.
I was a bit ashamed of myself for flying off the handle. I am too easily angered, I concluded, but I am getting a handle on myself as this is only my second outburst in a year. And I can forgive myself not only out of vanity but because I am successfully loving at least one person unconditionally.
I must stay away from religion, I decided, as it makes me feel too high and mighty, and I get mad when the world does not turn as I will it. Furthermore, I reflected, if enough people think so highly of themselves, that if their great expectations are disappointed, and they feel united by some ideal promising their progress, mass violence might ensue in the aftermath of some sudden, unexpected deprivation.
I sent the landlord another rent check, attached to a note: “So far so good this month: only one incident involving the police, a domestic disturbance call, but it was just words.”
Coincidentally, or perhaps providentially, the police chief sent an email blast out after Christmas notifying his list that there had been a domestic disturbance incident at my street address involving a new tenant in the front building and his wife. I did not hear a thing, but neighbors told me it was quite a row. The man happened to be the very one who fixed the broken water line for the landlord. He was our hero: it took him two days because he could not buy the pipe on the holiday, so he bandaged it to allow us water over night.
Cops do a lot of good; nevertheless, they are hated by the majority of people in my neighborhood for their real and imagined faults. Not only the rich but the poor in my city disrespect the police, holding them responsible for the city’s ills instead of the city manager and city commission. Of course my city is not very different from many others throughout this great nation of ours. Cops desperately need respect, especially when their pay is being cut or they are subject to being laid off. Without respect, law enforcement is doomed, for officers are vastly outnumbered and outgunned.
The liberal press cultivates a sometimes unhealthy disrespect for the police power; mainstream media loves to report the abuses of power and neglects the good side of the coin, wherefore police departments do their best to publicize the good things cops do, especially charitable works.
Now one might observe of society as a whole that the inequitable system, or rather the perceived viciousness of the persons in power, make virtuous charity necessary if that power is to be maintained; otherwise the leaders will be deposed and their heads mounted on pikes. Therefore compassion must be advertised and exhibited to counter the negative consequences of the hierarchical organization of the race which is all too often based on brutal principle instead of merit. The vulgar image of conspicuous consumption may be offset somewhat with conspicuous compassion.
The idea that charity should not be bragged about if it is truly sincere seldom does not hold sway anymore, so deeply insecure has authority in our society become. That is not to say that the good deeds are not to be appreciated at all; some people need reinforcement to do good deeds, perhaps because, as Luther said, works do not save—so why keep doing them? Therefore, to that end, I convey my police department’s Christmas story about the wonderful deed done by a police officer, which proves that Santa Claus does exist and in fact visited my very own apartment complex!
“On Tue, Dec 27, 2011 at 9:03 AM, to Residents and merchants: Please take a moment to read the below email from one of my Sector 2 police officers. These are the types of stories that the general public never gets to hear about. [Police Chief]
From: Officer M.
Sent: Tuesday, December 27, 2011 00:08
To: Officer J. [Public Relations Officer]
Subject: [Street and Apartment Address]
Lt. J: I wanted to update you on [Street and Apartment Address]. I responded to this location last week reference a verbal domestic disturbance. At this location were two children a girl age 5 [Name] and a boy age 13 [Name]. Inside the small studio apt. was a small Christmas tree with no gifts two beds and not much else. The apartment was clean however you could see the family was struggling to make ends meet. I struck up a conversation with [Name] the 13 year old. He stated they were having a hard time with money and he felt bad for his little sister because he did not think there were going to be any gifts from Santa for her. He was concerned because he would not be able to explain to her why Santa did not come to the house. This really weighed heavy on me and I felt I needed to do something. On Christmas Day I went to the house after roll call and took the family Christmas dinner, I got the children’s sizes and asked them what they wanted for Christmas. My family and I went to the store and bought clothes and toys for the kids. In addition I requested the help of my neighbors who donated items as well. I returned on today’s date after roll call with Officer S. and made the delivery. The family was overwhelmed to say the least. What a great feeling to be able to help a family who really needed it and represent our police department at the same time. I wanted to thank you for your support in allowing me to take the time to help these kids and the family. I will continue to check in on the family until they get back on their feet. I guess everything happens for a reason and being back on patrol as an officer has given me the opportunity to help this family out. Thanks for all your support and encouragement, Officer M.
Not only did I receive this email from the chief, but I received copies from other recipients in the neighborhood who recognized my address and wanted me to know about it in case I was not in the police department’s loop. My first reaction was pity for the police officers who are so desperately in need for respect that they would advertise this deed all over the city. And I was a bit shocked to see the names and addresses of the children revealed, and embarrassed for the parents identified to merchants and residents all over the city.
I knew quite a bit more about the family than the officer did, so I sent along the information to the chief and asked him to relay it to the officer so he would have greater context. I will keep that information for myself as I would not want to detract from the glory of the official police officer’s deed, except to say that I figured our landlord should pay the man, who happens to be a licensed plumber who maintains several buildings, and is supervising recently arrived immigrants, perhaps friends or relatives, in several buildings, at least $75 per hour for 16 hours of working to save our entire Christmas holiday from water deprivation.
Thankfully, the disturbances at our address were merely verbal; that is, they were domestic disturbances, not domestic violence incidents. Holidays provoke disappointment in many people, and murders may result.