In case you missed it (seriously?), we had the grand jury decision to not indict Officer Darren Wilson over the death of Michael Brown last week in Ferguson, MO. Particularly, this photo struck me of Michael Brown’s stepfather:
Of course, the reaction was rather predictable. Everyone, overnight, became a lawyer and a pundit. Why anyone would want to be that combination of things is beyond me, but there is no shortage of opinion on the matter. So, I want to take a different route and offer a slightly different observation: we are a nation of Circumcellions.
A.) THAT WORD SOUNDS DISTURBING
At first glance, when I speak of modern Circumcellions, it appears I’m discussing the newest emo band that has decided to put a surgical procedure in their name. Which is, of course, completely plausible. I’ve seen worse, actually.
The Circumcellions, or Agonisticis (not to be confused with Agnostics, which comes from a different root word), were a group of heretical North African Christians from the fourth century that were linked to the Donatists. To the Circumcellions, rectifying social problems was of paramount importance, such as ending slavery. Obviously that is a noble cause. Sounds pretty good so far.
Besides their concern for social justice, they also believed strongly that martyrdom was the ultimate Christian end game. It was the thing to aspire towards in your Christian life. Dying for your faith is a pretty big deal, so they all longed for it. Martyrs were their heroes, and I’m sure they had all of the trading cards.
So, they did what any reasonable person would do: they beat random travelers with clubs while shouting “Praise God!” until the person being beaten with a club is provoked to the point of killing their assailant.
Boom. Instant martyr.
B.) IN PURSUIT OF VICTIMHOOD
One thing that can be said of the general human condition is this: we define ourselves by the causes we support or the causes we oppose. Whether it be a particular passion, a stance on a hot button issue, or any other variety of things, this is what drives man and gives us purpose. It provides a goal to achieve and work towards, and often times it is accompanied by a feeling that your cause is righteous.
So, what could possibly show greater devotion for a cause than to die for it? The Circumcellions understood that, and so did many throughout history. We all praise martyrs, because they are killed for their beliefs or their refusal to deny their beliefs, and you can’t really convey a more powerful message than the ultimate sacrifice of giving your life for it.
Fast forward to today, and the thought really isn’t that much different in terms of martyrdom, except the difference now is that no one really wants or expects to die for their cause. However, that primal drive to show that ultimate conviction is still there to prove to others how faithful we are to the group or belief. Since most of us are either a.) pansies, b.) in an area where we aren’t exactly fearing for our lives because of our beliefs, or c.) both, we desire the next best thing to martyrdom: victimhood. Being a victim due to some harm inflicted for a belief has all of the trappings of being a martyr, but with less death. Everyone wins.
C.) LOOKING FOR A FIGHT
The Circumcellions missed an important point: they weren’t killed for shouting “Praise God!” or because of their religious beliefs. They were killed for beating random people with clubs. The thing that is missing, and the thing that makes a martyr a martyr, is that a martyr’s death is related to their belief and that the harm received is specifically due to that belief.
In today’s society, many of us enter discourse with the exact same mentality as the Circumcellions: 1.) my cause is righteous, 2.) being a victim for my cause shows the highest level of devotion, and 3.) it’s much quicker to become a victim for my cause if I start the fight. We go into a bar specifically to pick a fight when everyone else there just wants a drink, then when we come back bloodied and bruised we can garner sympathy from supporters and feel better about our status.
Even though many of us walk in guns blazing, it’s not always a human reaction to fight back with the same fervor or, to the dismay of the Circumcellion, cross a line. Not everyone wants to fight. Some will stay quiet, others will feign approval to avoid conflict. This causes a lot of problems for someone who wants you to punch them in the face.
For these situations, where no one is taking the bait or no one is throwing a punch (or if you weren’t even the one in the bar), there is really only one thing left to do to reach than important status of victim.
D.) THE ENDLESS CYCLE OF VICTIMHOOD BY ASSOCIATION
What is left for someone who has no real harm than to graft someone else’s harm onto themselves? If one cannot be a victim, one must feel that they share the harm of someone else in order for them to be empowered with righteous fury. However, sympathizing with a victim does not, in turn, make you a victim. No matter how much you desire to be the center of attention at a funeral, you are not the one in the casket. So, in modern America, not only do we have a continued desire to be a victim for a cause, but we actively try to leach off the victim status of others and then make it our own. And the best way to share the victimhood is to get your clubs out and invite the harm upon yourself.
Together, this leads to a nasty spiral of a Circumcellion beat down party. Undoubtedly, you can trace many things to an actual wrong that was committed somewhere by somebody against someone else. After that point, things can get muddy. The tragedy or wrong will get associated with a movement, followers of that movement will consider themselves harmed as well by association, then to cement that harm that they’ve internalized, they will run out and seek martyrdom for their cause to make it real. Inevitably, in a polarized society such as the one we live in today, forcefully meting out your opinion online or in public will get you exactly what you’re looking for in terms of opposition (now YOU are a victim for just speaking your opinion and you don’t have to leech anymore) and support (others for your cause have now seen you take the slings and arrows of opposition).
E.) YOU ARE NOT MICHAEL BROWN
The first picture above is probably the clearest example one can find of what’s going on. Undoubtedly, the tragedy of losing a son (or stepson in this case) is terrible. The key point, and one that should not be overlooked, is that someone did indeed lose their life at the center of this controversy. We should never lose sight of that in any discussion. However, you are NOT Michael Brown. No one in that crowd is Michael Brown. You are your own individual person with your own experiences, and whatever happened to Michael Brown that day did not happen to you. It is hard to have a conversation, then, when the people you’re speaking with consider themselves to be homicide victims by proxy. So, the endless cycle continues, and of course there are plenty of innocents on the path.
One of the real tragedies of the modern inner city and the African-American community is that the real, tangible hardships get muddied by what has become victimhood groupthink. During the Civil Rights era, there was actual group harm. There were unjust laws blatantly targeting a specific group, and their courage to stand up is a model of human strength and desire for justice. Now, the fight is largely about individual wrongs. Unjust application of just laws. Misconduct. These individual incidents need to be fought on the merits and we need to help the real victims, but it is becoming increasingly harder to do so when they are being transformed into group harm against people who have almost no connection to the actual incident. It changes from a solid into a vapor, and it is impossible to hold a gas in your hand.
The community (along with many other groups in America today for any number of causes) has become a large sensory organ where every cell feels the pin prick of one individual no matter where they are situated. And, if you DON’T feel it, or you do not choose to share in the victimhood status, then you simply don’t care enough or you are not a part of the struggle. How often do we see a strong, successful African-American endlessly ripped for exactly that? Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has suffered that for years upon years (like this fun diatribe), and the recent 2014 midterm elections has again brought it out into the open with nasty comments hurled at Tim Scott.
The Michael Brown case is a perfect example of where this leads. After going through the witness testimony from the grand jury, some of the comments were eye-opening. Like many eye-witness accounts, there were inconsistencies, but what was apparent here was that there was a narrative that needed to be followed. For instance:
Another witness had told the FBI that Wilson shot Brown in the back and then “stood over him and finished him off.” But in his grand jury testimony, this witness acknowledged that he had not seen that part of the shooting, and that what he told the FBI was “based on me being where I’m from, and that can be the only assumption that I have.”
The witness, who lives in the predominantly black neighborhood where Brown was killed, also acknowledged that he changed his story to fit details of the autopsy that he had learned about on TV.
“So it was after you learned that the things you said you saw couldn’t have happened that way, then you changed your story about what you seen?” a prosecutor asserted.
“Yeah, to coincide with what really happened,” the witness replied.
The witness followed the narrative, but later admitted he didn’t see part of the shooting. What he DID admit was that he made assumptions based upon “where he’s from.” In other words, he made base assumptions because of victimhood groupthink. Generally, we are victims, so I can only assume that is what happened. He only recanted once physical evidence proved him wrong, which means he would’ve maintained it otherwise.
However, others gave an extra layer to that story, one that probably affected the above account as well. They added a different side to the coin: the fear of members within their own group. The article sums it up best with its introduction:
This witness was scared. He had Googled himself and found the phrase: “Snitches get stitches.”
He was scared that black neighbors would find fault with his description of what happened when a white police officer, Darren Wilson, shot dead an unarmed black man, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo.
He was scared that white supremacists would accuse him of hurting Wilson’s case. “I do think of the Ku Klux Klan. I do,” he told investigators.
From the first day a grand jury met, it is clear that fear and anxiety played major roles in the struggle to paint a precise picture of what unfolded between Wilson and Brown on Aug. 9.
The whole snitches thing isn’t new, but that’s what happens when you leave the group. I can find no greater example of where we stand: this person is fearful of EVERYTHING. He’s afraid of racist groups. He’s afraid of outside people coming after him. Elsewhere in the article it speaks of mistrust of police, so there is fear there. However, worst of all in my opinion, he is afraid of his OWN COMMUNITY if he didn’t meet the group ideal. That is the real underlying story in the witness testimony. The Circumcellions are out in full force, whether they feel they are justified in rioting, being goaded by some well-known individuals who make a living off of spreading anger, or threatening members of their own group for cooperation. What we are left with is an entire community hemmed in by the clubs of a few, there is a fear of ever breaking away from the group, and we all hate each other not because of our beliefs, but because we are being beaten into retaliation. And that is a microcosm of our current state: we divide ourselves, despise the others as we brandish our weapons, and make sure our own can’t/won’t leave.
So here we are. A man was shot and killed, the harm is grafted onto the group, and certain members of the group feel they are the victims. The clubs come out as riots hit the streets. The clubs come out when “snitches” are threatened. The clubs come out when talking heads, who couldn’t possibly be any further from the actual harm, start hurling provocative accusations at each other. We come into the discussion, like almost ALL of our discussions nowadays, with our guns loaded BEGGING the other side to make us pull the trigger. “Go ahead, call me a racist.” “Go ahead, call me thug.” When we get labeled, we no longer have to pretend to be the victim, because we have now made ourselves the victims in a sick, Circumcellion way. And, in the crossfire, discourse dies an unnoticed death.