aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

A la lanterne

Revolutions -- by which I mean, not just abrupt changes of governments, but social upheavals that change everything into Before and After -- follow a pattern. An ugly pattern. As the old order topples and falls, the forces of change often go in for summary justice. Sometimes, that takes the form of lynchings and mass shootings. Sometimes, it merely means that careers are ruined and politicians sent packing. But when the deep-buried fault finally moves, a lot of people get caught on the wrong side of an issue.

That's what has happened in our country, I think, beginning with the fall of Harvey Weinstein - over whom I shed no tears -- and many others, creeps all. Good riddance. Every day brings a new accusation against some pillar of the establishment in politics or entertainment, journalism or academia. Most of these are well-supported, even if decades old. There is a cleansing feeling to what is going on. But it is a cleansing fire, and the Old Whig in me is distrustful of the fire.

For if we look back to the French Revolution, we can see where social upheaval can lead. Where unsupported accusations can wind up. For in the first wave, there is merely the pent-up anger of generations of injustice breaking forth. It's hard to say anything against this movement, because there is so much to say for it. It's long overdue. But even as this continues, and grows, a second wave begins to swell.

This happens when people begin to organize to Go After Them. Laws get written, sometimes, and laws written in anger are a problem. Sometimes laws aren't written so much as just that certain people are put in charge of pursuing malefactors. Eventually, you get the Terror. Institutionalized vengeance. And that institution begins, eventually to eat its own. Never forget that Robespierre died on his own guillotine. Republicans are learning that they can't just point to Democrat abusers, and vice versa. So our leaders start saying, we need to do this right. And that leads to the third wave of the movement.

In the third tremor of the earthquake, people start using the righteous anger of the people to target others. Maybe those others were evil-doers, but there are degrees of evil, and the same punishment doesn't fit every crime. Every evil isn't a crime, either. But people dredge up old stories in order to get people they don't like, or who belong to the Other Side. Informers spring up spontaneously -- or are recruited. And the Purge begins.

It happened in France, it happened in Soviet Russia. It's the way these things work. Being America, I don't see us stringing people up on lampposts or disappearing people or whatever. But just because our summary justice wears a smiley face doesn't mean it won't ruin as many people's lives as it gives belated justice to.

The creeps deserve their scorn. And those who have built careers and achieved power along the way need to be dumped from their boardrooms and pedestals. But we need to remember that though the law is slow, the law protects the innocent as well as the guilty. "We must show them that The Law is king in Massachusetts," said John Adams, in defending the British soldiers who committed the Boston Massacre. And we need to remember, also, that though the past needs to be accounted for, it can't always be fixed, and reconciliation beats revenge. As much as I deplore William of Normandy and all his works, it's too late to hold anybody accountable for the loss of Anglo-Saxon England, and the Normans wound up contributing much to British society that the people of today justly remember with pride. And though there is still a lot that needs to be done in our country about the deplorable situation of Native Americans, calls to "give the country back to the Indians" cannot be taken seriously. We should, indeed, have given reparations to the freed slaves after the Civil War, but calls for reparations today are a mere shake-down racket.

Eventually, we need to figure out how to live together. We shouldn't bury the past, but we need to learn how to overcome it and seek to live in righteousness and peace with each other.
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