Short Take: The Price of Protest

For some, watching statues destroyed pains our sense of history. Destroying historical artifacts has historically been viewed as a terrible thing, although at the time the mobs, marauders and righteous were certain they were doing the right thing, god’s work, and would be vindicated by history. Nobody seems to learn much history, which makes George Santayana sad.

But beyond the destruction of history, there is the broader random destruction following protests, riots and looting. Which act it involves tends to be a product of who’s asked, as vandals fail to see their acts of vandalism as vandalism, but rather as acts of protest and revolution.

They’ve got a point. People certainly take notice of destruction, particularly those whose property is being destroyed. One might quibble about the fact that the person whose building this is, now tagged, window broken and, likely, looted, may have been out there protesting as well. Or maybe a black person. Or a woman entrepreneur. Or, dare I say it, just a privileged fragile white person who didn’t lie in bed eating bon bons all day like the rest of the white people.

For the “protesters,” this is inconsequential. Their cause is greater than the mere collateral harm done some undeserving person. The mob has voted with their hammers and spray paint to sacrifice their business to the cause. After all, protest is effective when it’s expensive.*

But who pays for the mob’s destruction? Not the mob. It’s not only hard, if not impossible, to identify who did the damage, but you can’t get blood from a rock. Their slightly used Che t-shirt collection isn’t going to pay off a judgment.

Since the protest is, putatively, against the government, why shouldn’t the government cover the cost of destruction? After all, if they have money to fight wars over non-existent weapons of mass destruction, it would be fair to use that same money to repair less-mass destruction, particularly when it’s in service of what the mob has decided is the greater good.

Of course, the government can manufacture a trillion dollar coin, but tends to prefer extracting its lucre from its people. Those people would include people who work and have businesses, like the one with the broken window, and who would likely prefer to spend their money on other things than the angst of activists with dubious college degrees and exaggerated crticical thinking skills.

From the perspective of the rioters protesters, such banal concerns as who pays for their destruction is a concern of their enemy, of the privileged, of the very people whom they feel compelled to harm for the sake of reimagining the world. From the perspective of people who go to work every day, it’s their lives, their sweat, their effort. And it’s being destroyed by children so taken with the power of their mob that they not only have no regrets about the damage they do, but are filled with pride at their destruction.

We’re going to pay. Some of us more than others, but all of us to some extent. If you are willing, even happy, to pay for them to make protest expensive, that’s great, but that’s your choice. The person whose place of business is destroyed didn’t do anything to them or you. Yet, there it is, their efforts destroyed so you can indulge your fantasy.

Is protest effective when it’s expensive? If so, then more destruction will come.

*On the other hand, it’s not.

16 thoughts on “Short Take: The Price of Protest

  1. orthodoc

    a few days ago, the ny times ran an op ed “Black Employees, Don’t Sign Away Your Right to Speak Out” arguing against signing agreements that limit one’s ability to talk about nasty treatment on the job. i did not agree with much/any of it, but i really had to admire the writer’s willingness to pay what you call The Price of Protest. The writer declined a severance payment, to preserve her right to share, for instance, that when she was interviewed for an entry-level position a magazine, the editor in chief at the time barely lifted his head and didn’t bother to read her résumé. (The horrors!)

    a willingness to pay the price of protest, to accept the consequences of action, is what separates civil disobedience from revolution. And while there certainly have been revolutionaries who were “vindicated by history” [at least until their statue was/will be pulled down], it is important to label these protesters for what they are.

    Reply
  2. orthodoc

    sorry for the long version.
    too much coffee.
    short version: i think your phrase “acts of protest and revolution” conflates the two.
    (medium length version would mention ‘fallacy of composition’)
    and yes, “childishly obvious” is appealing in my world of ‘bone broke. me fix’

    Reply
    1. SHG Post author

      Much better, even though it would have helped had you used the reply button. So here’s the next puzzle: Why would I chose to use the words “acts of protest and revolution” where elsewhere I use rioting, damage, destruction and vandalism”? Could there be method to my madness or am I just spewing random words?

      Reply
    1. John Barleycorn

      Not even Jello really captured the rage… but “expensive” ideas take time, even when Peligro gave Flouride the perfect set up for a base line transition.

      P.S. Are you going to break out your drumsticks this week and give us an explainer on Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell’s relationship, or are you saving that for your book?

      Reply
    2. Jim P

      Leave it be. If the reader isn’t curious enough to click his mouse one time, let him remain in the dark. You do enough work for me as it is.

      Reply
  3. B. McLeod

    In the long ago (pre-1980s), some states put the cost of riot damages on the local governments, based on the premise that the local government had failed in its duty to preserve public order and protect lives and property. I don’t know if these laws remain anywhere. There was a certain logic to them, and they did provide some incentive to prevent and suppress riots.

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  4. Onlymom

    Personally i see the actions of these groups trying to erase our nation’s history as nothing more or less than the American incarnation of the Taliban and deserve the same treatment they got and are even now still getting.

    Seems we have 4 groups running around.
    1. Protesters …when peaceful are legal.
    2. Rioters….. The are damaging or destroying public and private property. The are Criminals treat them as such.
    3. Looters. They also criminals by law in certain situations they can be shot.
    Last group
    4. The American Taliban trying to erase our history. They of course are nothing but terrorists. Treat them as such when caught in the act.

    Reply
    1. Hunting Guy

      I think the silent majority has reached this point. If the “protests” keep up there will be significant push back.

      Reply

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