Sometimes it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that people can’t always see what’s in front of them. However obvious it is. However frantically it jumps up and down right in front of them. However hard it punches them in the face, however red and dripping the clothes it wears, however loud it screams, however charred the flesh, however choking the smoke.
Not that they don’t notice that something is there. But what they – some people, sometimes – have a hard time making out in the fog is a possibility about what the something is. They see the something there – all red and jumping and punching as it is – and they notice it – but they don’t always do a very good job of figuring out what it is, or what it might be – they don’t do a very good job of figuring out that it might not be what they think it is. In other words they think they recognize it, and they don’t stop to consider that the light is bad, that they’re not wearing their glasses, that it’s the middle of the night, that they’re sound asleep. All those courtroom things. ‘I suggest to you that you could not possibly have identified the defendant from two miles away during a blizzard while wearing a blindfold.’
It’s not just the riots. It is those, but it’s other things too. It’s also suicide bombers, and animal rights campaigners, and people who make death threats over plays and movies and novels that ‘offend’ their religion. The possibility that seems to escape a lot of people’s attention is that all these things are far less a matter of protest, and alienation, and revolt, and justified anger, and understandable resentment, than they are just plain old pleasure in sadistic violence. No more edifying than that. Just joy and pleasure and delight in frightening people, and hurting them, and smashing them up, and making them suffer. That can happen, you know. (Read a little Thucydides or Euripides, if you don’t know – it’s all right there. There was no need to wait for Nietzsche or Freud or Foucault; it’s all right there.) People can just plain get off on beating up on people or leaving fake bombs on their porches or stealing the bodies of their relatives from cemeteries or setting fire to the buses they’re sitting in.
That possibility, at least, is part of these events and activities, but it doesn’t always get as much explicit attention as it should. Too often it’s just tactfully swept out of sight and ignored, or never even noticed in the first place. That’s unfortunate. Think of Gladys Wundowa. Think of the driver of the bus she was on, who instead of running away ran upstairs to help his passengers. Think of the woman on crutches who was set on fire in Sevran, outside Paris, on Friday. Think of the driver of the bus she was on, who suffered smoke inhalation in helping her to escape the bus instead of running away. Think of the woman leaning out the window on a high floor of a block of flats where some ‘youths’ had just set fire to a rubbish bin inside the lobby, calling down that she was frightened. Consider possibilities – that’s all.