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Sabotage: Part 6 - The Natural Human Instinct
The process of repair is being sabotaged. The second step of the process of repair is conviction. The second sabotage is complacency.
Note: this essay was originally published on Revue on September 18, 2022.
This one is a hydra.
Usually I start with a story. It’s a good way to hook into whatever I want to discuss. But I find there are so many ways to get into the topic I’m considering today—so many stories, so many examples, so many aspects—it’s difficult to pick one.
I think I’ll tell several.
But first, let me just say this: when someone is hurt or in trouble, there is a natural human instinct to help. If something is broken, there is a natural human instinct to fix it. If something is wrong, there is a natural human instinct to set it right.
There is a natural human instinct to give a shit.
If you don’t want to help, you’re going to need to overcome that natural instinct, by finding a reason to not give a shit, and providing that reason to others who don’t want to give a shit, and by projecting that reason onto those who still do give a shit.
I would observe that when a person has decided not to give a shit about a problem, the main thing is not whether the reason makes sense, or is logically consistent with previous reasons given, or demonstrates any sort of basic human empathy, or any moral or ethical or even basic understanding. The main this is not giving a shit.
Any reason will do.
Let me tell you some stories.
In recent days, fascist Republican state governors and genuine pieces of fucking garbage Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott have been engaged in a bit of light human trafficking, for funsies. It’s like this: the most vulnerable people in our country are asylum seekers and immigrants fleeing political and economic upheavals, many of which we—by which I mean our nation and our economic and political structures—helped cause. Our country’s policies toward these people once they arrive here are broken and cruel and unjust, leaning deeply into our blameless society’s supremacist foundational lies; lies that insist some people simply do not matter. Shitbag governors DeSantis and Abbott have a big problem with these policies, to wit: they aren’t nearly cruel or broken enough, and they have recently seen disturbing signs that these policies might get marginally less cruel and broken and unjust, so they’ve used their power to make sure that in their states, our country’s responses to these vulnerable people are made as harsh and unjust and broken as possible.
As it happens, there are people here in this country who actually believe our policies should be more open, welcoming, and accommodating; who even believe we share some collective responsibility for creating a world in which we enjoy stability and wealth from policies that have created instability and collapse elsewhere, who want to make our existing policies less harsh, more just, less broken, and who are, as a result, utterly opposed to the direction taken by people like Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott, and say so, and some even do something about it.
These governors/total pieces of garbage are enraged about the existence of people opposing them; enraged about this persistent belief in and expectation for repair of what is broken, and so they have decided to demonstrate their rage by bussing and flying refugees to various places where their opponents live, in what they clearly frame as a punitive act against those places—a stunt that not only breaks human trafficking laws, and aligns these governors with supremacist Jim Crow officials from our nation’s recent past, but reveals their assumption that they do not see refugees as people, but as punishment.
Moreover, they’re doing so in a maximally cruel way: deliberately offering the migrants lies and misinformation, deliberately offering no advance notice of what they intend to authorities and organizations at the chosen destinations, deliberately transporting human beings under false pretenses to unknown locations—in the most recent example, to Martha’s Vineyard, which is a known bastion of the sort of wealthy liberals that total pieces of shit like Ron DeSantis insist are the (((traitorous socialist globalists))) who cause immigrants to come to America in order to destroy America (which is a nation of immigrants).
The governors’ idea appears to have been to create as much chaos as possible, in order to use the chaos they created to demonstrate that refugees and immigrants cause chaos. The idea appears to have been to make the situation as disruptive and costly and systemically failed as possible, in order to demonstrate that migrants are not people but a disruption and a cost, and that systems built to support and aid them are always costly failures. The idea appears to have been to manufacture a problem, and then to take people’s reaction to the problem they manufactured as evidence that everybody actually agrees with the grotesque and inhumane belief of DeSantis and Abbott and their supporters: that immigrants are not people, but problems. And they are supported by a consent-manufacturing media apparatus that will report on the matter with their desired framing, even if the people of Martha’s Vineyard actually mostly responded with kindness and charity and structural assistance and aide.
The idea appears to be to demonstrate that people who despise immigrants and other kinds of refugee should be allowed to go on not caring about their fellow human beings without the consequence of being understood to be inhumane—not because it is good to be indifferent to human suffering, but because they have furnished themselves with adequate proof that people who claim to care are just pretending; that all other people are secretly indifferent about human suffering, too.
They don’t want to be good. They just want to reassure themselves that everyone else is similarly bad. And then they rejoice at any slight hint that this might be true.
And, as stated, these actions almost certainly qualify as human trafficking, which is a crime against humanity. And in DeSantis’ case, it was almost certainly a crime of misappropriation, since the migrants he flew over weren’t even from his own state. And probably it was criminal obstruction of the government as well.
So, once again, we have multiple open crimes committed by powerful sitting Republican office holders, for the sake of bigotry and cruelty and greed and political gain.
I am told there’s an Attorney General for just these sorts of things.
Oh well, I guess.
How about an oldie from all the way back in the year 2022?
Uvalde police take about 40% of the city’s budget and spend it on things like military gear and SWAT team shit that lets them play-act as soldiers. I say “play act” because one spring day this year a single gunman murdered 21 Uvalde citizens, most of them elementary-school children, over the course of hours, and after sorting through the police’s lies, and their lies about their lies, and their lies about those lies, it became clear that they hadn’t done a goddam thing about anything for hours and hours, making their own safety paramount even as the death toll mounted, even as the parents begged to be let in to save their children themselves. Since, they’ve been spending their time harassing parents for exposing their cowardice, refusing to cooperate with the investigation into the incident, and generally demanding to be treated like the heroic protectors of the community they refused to become while behaving like the cowardly lawless gang of thugs that everyone can now see they are. Republicans, who demand laws that make it as easy as possible for people who want to enact a massacre to get massacre weapons, have decided the correct solutions are even more guns in school and out of school and everywhere, and more hardened schools, and even more money for even more police. The Democratic president largely agrees with their last point, by the way, and plans to add 100,000 more cops to the streets as part of a “Safer America Plan.”
It took 376 cops 14 hours to enter a school to not stop a gunman. I wonder how long it would take 100,000 of them to not do something about a gunman massacring schoolchildren. Weeks, maybe. Hopefully with the extra manpower they can at least save some time on their lying and harassment of parents afterward. Busy busy busy.
It seems that the only answer to the problem of guns is “more guns” and the only answer to the problem of police that don’t keep us safe from guns is “more police,” and if our schools aren’t safe I guess we have to spend a lot of money on panic rooms for schools and AR15s for teachers and training for cops who were already well-trained to do exactly what they did, rather than trying to address the underlying causes.
Let’s see what else is up.
Oh, Joe Biden recently moved to forgive college debt, and conservative America lost its complete mind, insisting that this would crash the economy or make people stop working or explode every bald eagle in Wyoming and immolate every flag in Montana or I don’t know what all else, but it certainly caused conservative America a lot more heartburn than trillions given to already wealthy billionaires so they might piss it away on luxury items like apocalypse survival bunkers or yachts or space travel or judges or Senators; and a lot more heartburn than the billions Biden has earmarked in his Keep America Safe bill for adding 100,000 more headcount to our country’s largest organized paramilitary crime gang.
Anyway, one big reason conservative America settled on for their opposition to this massive relief from decades of predatory debt was that it wasn’t fair to people who had already suffered from predatory debt over the decades—which, as many people have pointed out, is simply a sociopathic and selfish rationale against improvement as a general concept, as if curing cancer would be unfair to those who had already died of cancer.
Do their objections mean they want to expand the relief to also include the people they claim to be concerned about—that is, to people who already paid their college debt?
Hey hahaha let’s change the subject!
This summer, Arizona Department of Corrections Director David Shinn said Arizona communities would “collapse” without cheap prison labor, during testimony before the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. So I guess our mass incarceration problem isn’t a problem after all. I guess the economy depends on it. It’s practically patriotic.
And hundreds of people will die today in this country from Covid, which is over. Yesterday it was over, and hundreds died from it. Tomorrow hundreds will die from it, and it will still be over. Millions suffer the effects of long Covid, which is also over, and our workforce is facing shortages across a wide range of essential industries and service sectors, which is unrelated to millions of deaths and millions of disabilities, because, again, Covid is over. We’re done with it. It is over. If it kills or disables you, it’s important to remember that your death or disability is also an important part of it being over.
And so on.
I could go on. I could go on maybe forever.
But we were talking about repair, and sabotage of repair.
Here’s a thing I do sometimes. See if this sounds familiar.
Sometimes, when I see something that isn’t as it should be, I talk about how it should be different than the way it is.
Sometimes, when I see somebody being treated by society as if they don’t matter, I talk about how they shouldn’t be treated that way.
Sometimes, when I see somebody announcing their intention to do something harmful and cruel, I talk about how we ought not to permit that.
Should. Shouldn’t. Ought.
Maybe you’re like this, too. I doubt I’m unique.
There seems to be an expectation hard-wired into us that it would be better if broken things were fixed, if hard things were made better, if cruel things were made kinder. So we talk about what should be, imagining a better state of reality, with some expectation that together we might change it—in fact, a belief that changing it is our shared responsibility, and the reason for society.
I think of this mixture of imagination and expectation as conviction. After awakening to something broken or wrong, it’s natural to move to imagining a different and better state, and then, having imagined something better than what is, to expect it to happen. In fact, it seems to me that nothing ever changed without conviction that it should change.
So that’s what I try to do, and probably so do you. And, because I try to start with the premise that everybody matters as much as I do, I enter into a conviction that things should improve, not just for myself, but for everybody, and that if anybody is treated in an unjust or abusive way, it’s something that ought to be changed. You probably try to do this, too.
That’s interesting, but it’s sort of standard. Sort of obvious.
What’s truly interesting is the response I see, when conviction of any kind is sent out into the world, that immediately and instinctively moves to eliminate it, negate it, neutralize it, and destroy it.
There are people of ignorance, who sabotage the awareness of others, or had their awareness sabotaged, or have sabotaged their own awareness, and simply refuse to awaken to the reality of the broken thing, choosing instead to express a completely alternate reality, subsidized by an enabling neutrality. I’ve covered them already. Click the links if you want more.
But sometimes when I talk about things that shouldn’t be, I’m assured that the people who say they intend to enact cruelty or defend brokenness don’t really intend to do the cruel broken things they are clearly trying to do, or that the atrocious things that have been proposed can’t ever possibly really happen. Or else I’m told the atrocious things that are already happening to others will work themselves out somehow, and anyway they will certainly never happen to us. These are people who are aware that things are broken and cruel and hard, but they’re optimistic that everything will work out, without them having to do any work or worry about preventing it. It’s a way to deal with awareness without entering conviction. Optimism, I’ve found, is a popular way to not give a shit, by deciding that our broken human systems are self-repairing, self-healing, and self-correcting.
I’ve been optimistic before. Maybe you have, too.
Sometimes, when I talk about how things should be, I’m asked what my plan is, in such a way that it’s clear the interlocutor doesn’t think any plan will work; or I’m told that my aspiration is very cute, but it will never happen because the system is impossibly broken and can never be fixed no matter what happens; or I’m told that it doesn’t matter because nothing matters and everything has gone far too far, and we’re doomed. These are people aware that things are broken and cruel and hard, but they’re cynical about solutions; they’ve constructed their identity around not being able to be hurt by atrocity by ensuring they’ll never be surprised by it. Cynicism is another way of not giving a shit, by deciding that our human systems are so broken that they can’t possibly ever be fixed, to such an extent that even the desire for repair is naïve and foolish.
And I’ve been cynical before, too. Maybe you have, too.
Sometimes when I talk about what should and shouldn’t be, I’m given reasons why the cruel thing that’s happening isn’t really happening, or why the cruel thing that’s happening isn’t actually cruel, or why the cruelty is necessary. Sometimes I’m told that, while brokenness is regrettable, it’s inevitable, that fixing the broken thing would be impractical, even unwise; might devastate some sector of the economy, or make us all less safe or free, or compromise us in some way that might be uncomfortable or inconvenient or unpopular. These people are aware that things are broken and hard, but their commitment to institutionalism convinces them that the institution is the primary thing to defend, rather than the principles the institutions purport to uphold. They perceive the ways brokenness itself has been incorporated into the system, and decide that the brokenness not only is the system but ought to be; that the natural disruptions and costs that would attend repairing our institutions are far more dangerous and costly to those institutions than will be the slow inevitable collapse of refusing to repair them. And institutionalism is another way of not giving a shit, by seeing brokenness as so fundamental to institutions that repair itself is perceived as unwise, frightful, and ruinous.
Have I ever been an institutionalist? Yes, I’m afraid I have.
Sometimes when I talk about what ought to be fixed, I’m even told that people suffering cruelty and brokenness deserve cruelty and brokenness. I’m told why they don’t matter, and why their suffering isn’t tragic—more than that, why their suffering is righteous and good and necessary. Or I’m told that because these people have already suffered from the cruelty, it’s not fair that others should now be spared. Or some person will explain they are indifferent to suffering and brokenness and injustice because they believe that people who claim to care about such things are only pretending—as if their perception of others’ indifference licenses their own. It’s an almost incalculable indifference toward injustice and human suffering, but it, too, is a reason to not give a shit.
Have you ever been indifferent? I hope I haven’t, but I fear the truth of the matter isn’t very flattering.
Sometimes when I say should and shouldn’t and ought, I’m offered pure misdirection: some decoy or another, some deflection or false dichotomy.
Have you ever heard this one? When the topic is providing for some basic human need, I’m often told that if you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day, but if you teach him how to fish, he’ll eat forever.
It’s a metaphor. The idea is that it’s more effective to provide a person with the sustainable means of production than it is to simply gift him the temporary output of production to meet an immediate need.
Which is true.
But I can’t help but notice how often it is that the person who deploys this aphorism doesn’t actually support providing people with sustainable means of production, and doesn’t even seem aware that’s what they’re suggesting. They don’t want to break up the commercial fishing monopolies overfishing the waters, or subsidize easily affordable fish schools, or offer no-interest loans on boats and gear backed with government collateral. They just mean they don’t want feed the hungry guy.
The actual reason for deploying the aphorism seems to be to neutralize our conviction, that natural human instinct, to give a shit. To fix what is broken. To improve what needs improving. To care for the sick. To feed hungry people. We’re not pointing toward giving people the means of production because we want more sustainable economic models, but because we want to sabotage any conviction about meeting immediate material needs.
In fact, we’d just as willingly point to immediate material needs if faced with a conviction that we ought to create more sustainable economic models—not because they wish to see immediate material needs fulfilled, but merely because they don’t want to see anything done.
The underlying philosophy isn’t “give a man a fish” or “teach a man to fish.”
The underlying philosophy appears to be “all fish are mine.”
The opposite of conviction is uncertainty—an inability to decide on a proper course—and saboteurs of repair will foster uncertainty by sabotaging our awareness with ignorance.
The opposition to conviction is complacency—an active unwillingness to take a known and needed course. I think the reason there are so many different types of complacency—indifference, institutionalism, cynicism, optimism, false dichotomy, deflection, disassociation—is because complacency, by definition and as an aspirational goal, doesn’t give a shit. Any path will do for complacency, as long as it arrives at not giving a shit, and once it doesn’t give a shit, it doesn’t give a shit why it doesn’t give a shit.
We’ve been talking about repair as a progressive process with sequential steps, moving from awakening—that is, awareness that a broken thing is broken—to conviction: imagining what things would be like if they were repaired, an expectation that they should be, and knowledge that we hold a measure of the responsibility for fixing it.
It all ends with doing the actual work and paying the cost of repair, but it begins with awareness (the thing is broken) and proceeds to conviction (the broken thing should be fixed).
And we’ve been talking about a blameless society, opposed to all natural costs of repair, including the cost of blame—that is, the cost of being exposed as people aligned toward maintaining brokenness, making others pay its much higher costs.
The way you avoid cost is by taking the problems caused by brokenness and making them endemic—that is, simply the way things are.
When a problem can’t be solved, you don’t have to solve it. So it becomes very important to demonstrate the problem as being inevitable.
Once it’s endemic, you don’t have to solve it—which means you don’t have to pay any costs of repair—so endemic is exactly the place that supremacist blamelessness wants to get every problem.
(And, as we see, even open crimes by Republican lawmakers are no longer seen as a problem to fix, but to manage. Republican corruption has become an endemic problem. It’s assumed, yet also somehow unknowable and unfixable and inevitable. It gets framed not as a legal problem for Republicans, but rather a political problem for their opponents.)
Notice: Republicans don’t just enact policies to make gun massacres inevitable—crucially, they start with the premise that gun massacres are inevitable, and build their policy out from there. Massacres are absolutely crucial to establishing and maintaining the illusion of this worldview, and so massacres must exist—even though we know they can be prevented, even though we have ample proof, even though other people don’t live this way.
A massacre has to be an unsolvable problem, precisely because it is solvable.
The act of even suggesting a solution must be cast as unseemly, precisely because solutions already exist.
So we need more guns, which did not stop anything, to stop bad people with guns, who nobody can stop, except for us, who did not stop them. We have guns, and we know who to shoot, unlike the bad people, who shoot the wrong people, and we know they were the wrong people to shoot, because they were not shot by us. The guns are needed to enact good violence, and bad violence reinforces that need—and the worse the bad violence, the more it reinforces the need, the more “unsolvable” the problem becomes, and thus the more blameless those who refuse to seek solutions become, and the more unseemly those who try.
We’re talking about guns and massacres. We could be talking about anything, really—anything at all.
It’s all in service of a worldview that tries to extract the maximum value from society without paying back, that treats the problems this corruption causes as inevitable, unsolvable, and requiring violent punishment to manage.
And it’s all to avoid paying the cost of solutions.
If you want to observe the sabotage of repair, I recommend you look at the ways conviction is attacked, the places where we are encouraged into the great apathies of optimism and cynicism and institutionalism and indifference, and in the ways we’re offered false dichotomies—these logistical game of three-card monte, whereby we can’t give a man a fish because we haven’t taught him to fish, whereby we can’t teach the man to fish because those resources could go to providing fish to the man, and unless we look closely at the ever-moving hands, we never notice that the lie is the notion that we have to choose, never notice that it is entirely possible to both teach a man to fish and give a man a fish, so we never do anything, which was always the point of the game.
If you don’t want the natural process of repair, you’ll need to sabotage that sequence with an oppositional process—an unnatural chain of actions that makes brokenness inevitable.
If you are aligned against paying natural costs, the first thing to sabotage is awakening to awareness of what is broken, and the next thing to sabotage is the conviction that it should change.
You sabotage conviction by insisting that repair isn’t necessary, or desirable, or even possible.
You sabotage conviction by making brokenness the way things are.
So I find it vitally important, if I want to align myself with repair, to hold to my conviction, because holding conviction continues the progressive work of reparation.
Indeed, I keep discovering I need to re-enter conviction, because repair is a process, and so I keep awakening to new things, leading to new convictions.
Above all, a blameless society sabotages conviction in order to claim the right to define problems and solutions as its exclusive property; the license to treat as invalid any attempts to address problems if it has not agreed to treat the premise a problem; to treat any attempt to actually solve the problem as a threat against the established order—within which life must be earned and belonging must be deserved—in order to establish a framework that systemically forces people other than themselves to pay the abusive costs of brokenness, then use the fact that they themselves have unjustly avoided the cost as proof that the cost is avoidable, then use the notion that the cost of brokenness can be avoided to blame anyone who hasn’t avoided cost for the crime of failing to do so, then use that crime as a rationale to further punish those who have most suffered the effects of injustice, then use the expense of the punishment as a rationale that the punishment should be made profitable. It’s a process that uses the brokenness created by the process as a justification to further profit from the disrepair at the expense of those it already harmed; an unsustainable feedback loop of costly unconcern.
It treats as tyranny any attempt to use our natural human system to benefit people deemed undeserving, or in ways that do not flatter its comfort.
It puts people into impoverished and unstable conditions that ensure the rise of social and economic turmoil, then cast those who suffer that turmoil as the reason for the turmoil, in order to cast them as undeserving of relief or justice.
And then it pours money into charities that are organized to carefully flatter their own sense of blamelessness, into institutions designed to punish human problems at a profitable markup rather than sustainably solve the problems of brokenness at a lower cost.
A blameless society demands a cruel management of social problems it causes, and it is willing to pay extravagantly for it (which, by the way, is the easiest way to detect that the primary cost of repair they seek to avoid is not loss of their money, but of their blamelessness).
And I think that’s sabotage.
Why sabotage? To make complacency popular. To borrow against that popularity to lend complacency credibility. To use that credibility to further increase complacency’s popularity. To force people to engage in a daily fight to defend their natural human conviction that better things are possible, and what is broken needs repair—in order to frame the people who engage in that fight as combative and unrealistic, as a pretext for further suppression of conviction.
To make conviction an unfavorable position to hold, a difficult burden to maintain, and highly undesirable compared to the ease of indifference.
To establish repair as morally insupportable, a waste of resources bestowed to undeserving people who have not avoided brokenness.
To make conviction hard, and painful, and draining, so that people stay away from conviction, and resent those who enter into it.
It all amounts to sabotage: a refusal to seek solutions. Not just a refusal to solve, but a suppression of the natural human instinct toward giving a shit; a learned and categorical opposition to solutions.
This is a sabotage that makes complacency inevitable, and an inevitability that makes the cost of conviction high—high enough that people will choose complacency instead.
And remember, it’s all to avoid the threat of improvement; all to avoid the costs of repair; all to preserve the profits from the higher price of brokenness.
This is the second step in the sabotaging work of blameless supremacy.
Why would people of awareness and conviction allow a sabotage that makes complacency inevitable? I suspect the answer isn’t so comfortable. Those of us who accept it do so because we are in the blameless society, too. We want to enter conviction, but the cost has been made too high, and we’re instinctively optimized against paying our share of the lower cost of repair, if somebody else remains to pay the full higher cost of disrepair—and the blameless society will always make sure that the cost of conviction is high, and that there is somebody else to pay the cost of complacency.
Sabotage of the process of repair is a supremacist process, and supremacy offers its enablers temporary limited membership in its supremacy, in exchange for enablement.
And while supremacists may indeed be hateful, I think enablement of their hate is what creates the supremacy. The accommodation is the supremacy.
So we will always find that very fine people have decided to accommodate our blameless society’s complacency by agreeing to abandon their conviction for a more comfortable and convenient compromise.
That’s next time.
A.R. Moxon is the author of the novel The Revisionaries, available in most of the usual places and some of the unusual places, and co-writer of Sugar Maple, a musical fiction podcast from Osiris Media. He does win friends with salad.