Lao Tzu Leaves For the Mountains: Absurdity Rules L.A. Riots 2.0, and It's Just the Beginning

Lao Tzu Leaves For the Mountains: Absurdity Rules L.A. Riots 2.0, and It's Just the Beginning
AP Photo/Christian Monterrosa

“Laozi [Lao Tzu] grew weary of the moral decay of life in Chengzhou and noted the kingdom’s decline. He ventured west to live as a hermit in the unsettled frontier at the age of 80 …”

Pundits are twisting themselves into pretzels as they wrestle with the death of George Floyd and the ensuing demonstrations, riots, murders, looting, and government enabling of said chaos.

The self-righteous and sputtering circumlocutions call Looney Toons to mind: “George Floyd shouldn’t have died … but lynching the police officer who kneed Floyd isn’t justice … but we must acknowledge and respect the understandable anger of American blacks … but looting and arson are never right, especially when the businesses and homes belong to blacks … but protestors and rioters must be distinguished from one another … but ….”

Absurdity has overtaken and overwhelmed even the cleverest commentators. Only satirists seem able to extract any truth from our present reality, snarled as it is in massing contradictions. Witness the scintillating headlines from satire blog The Babylon Bee:

The mythical Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu–credited with authoring the Taoist wisdom classic Tao Te Ching–left his city to live alone in the mountains during an analogous period in Chinese history. The takeaway from the legend is clear: wisdom and virtue have no business in a civilization coming unglued. Ideas don’t matter; dialogue isn’t useful or appreciated; and traditions distilled from millennia of life might as well be a third antler on a deer.

In the midst of the confusion, many Americans are coming to realize that–particularly in big, progressive-controlled cities–moral and law-abiding citizens no longer have any reason to persist. This is the thrust of Christian author Rod Dreher’s recent book The Benedict Option, about Christians’ withdrawal from modern society in favor of cloistered alternatives. Politicians have no interest in protecting or encouraging urban middle-class citizens, only dancing a jig to the social justice tune played by underclass minority demagogues and wealthy liberals. Law enforcement’s hands are tied from keeping order, lest even a single racism unfold and provoke Armageddon. Citizens are certainly not allowed to protect themselves, their homes, their communities, or their businesses. That would be vigilantism, and the police are uncharacteristically enthusiastic about squashing anyone who stands up to casual lawlessness and intimidation.

As W.B. Yeats observed more than a century ago, we have entered an era when “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

As it happens, I am in process of completing my own move out of the Democratic People’s Republic of Los Angeles. Starting two years ago, I began to feel that riots were only a matter of time–hence my May 13 Red State article Place Your Bets! After Three-Month Lockdown Extension, Will Los Angeles Experience L.A. Riots 2.0?‘ I wrote:

If the past is any guide, unrest in LA will follow the racialization of the lockdown. Once demagogues find their way to framing the pain of minority communities as deliberate and targeted injustice, matters could get heated. All that’s needed at that time is a spark.

I was in town over the weekend and watched the looting in several areas of LA from the periphery. Santa Monica on Sunday afternoon was amateur thug Disneyland. A swarm of looters–almost all young–jogged from store to store on what amounted to a social-justice shopping spree. The Santa Monica PD was stuck cajoling a mass of verbally abusive demonstrators east of the shopping district, allowing the feloniously inclined to shatter windows and run out with as much as they could carry, along with setting a few fires.

No one raised a finger to stop them. No one begged them to stop, either protestors or passers-by.

Sneakers seemed to be most popular. Apparently, healing historical racism and injustice demands sneakers–sneakers, and anything from Target. Several Targets in town have been emptied out, right down to the potted plants. There are various theories as to why Target has been (ahem) *targeted*, but the simplest explanation makes the most sense: lots of expensive appliances. Probably no coincidence either that demonstrations mostly have “sprung up” right next to luxury shopping centers with plenty of goodies.

The looters and arsonists I saw didn’t demonstrate any anger, understandable or otherwise. On the contrary, they were having a great time. They laughed and joked as they took their time loading swag into waiting cars. Some of the cars were quite nice. I spotted a few Audis and BMWs filled with name-brand booty. Many getaway drivers had removed or covered their license plates to prevent helicopters and news cameras from filming their tags for later prosecution. Some of them had crowbars or other smash-and-grab tools with them. Clearly, they had planned their reparations outing with care.

One industrious fellow pulled up with a truck. He and a few other entrepreneurs loaded an ATM into the bed and took off.

At the protest lines themselves, the outrage I witnessed struck me as performative, a veneer of wounded dignity and righteousness covering glee–glee at being able to block freeways and streets, frighten commuters, smash windows, spray-paint obscenities on walls, and intimidate authority figures free of consequences. Even among the non-destructive, behavior tended more toward ‘Grand Theft Auto’ than ‘I Have a Dream.’

Social media justice warriors jockeyed to get in front of news cameras with their fists raised, or posed for photos in front of flaming, disfigured police cars. (Gotta get that shot for Instagram, after all.) Still others made a show of getting in the faces of police and filming them incessantly. The cell phones thrust into their personal space antagonized the cops and gave the cinematographer an outside chance of catching the constabulary losing their grip and applying batons to foreheads.

To be fair, some of the more naïve protestors probably were surprised Friday night in Downtown LA, when rioting and looting broke out for the first time. But by Saturday afternoon, not even the purple-haired white girls in crop-tops and short-shorts could have missed what was going on–they were drawing focus for vandals. On Saturday, marchers in the Fairfax District kept the police pinned down while the more earnest folks surrounded and destroyed a dozen or so police cruisers and then looted the nearby Grove shopping center, along with dozens of small businesses (there are a bunch of specialty sneaker stores on Fairfax as you move north toward Melrose).

When the police cars began to shatter and smoke, the sprinkling of gray-haired, Anglo ex-hippies fled the demonstration to return home, visibly disappointed  at the feckless, greedy, and nihilistic behavior unfolding before them. In contrast, young riot apologists appeared thrilled with their employment as shills, relishing the festive anarchy and impotence of police.

“Dude! It’s like Burning Man! But with cop-baiting and JUSTICE!”

Los Angeles lawmakers and law enforcement are caught in a liberal paradox from which they cannot extricate themselves. They persist in asserting the cure for liberalism’s manifest and growing failures is MORE liberalism. It’s a pyramid scheme: abrogate the rights, safety, and property of Peter to placate Paul–since Peter isn’t inclined to getting shooty or looty yet–and call it “justice.”

The feeble attempts to paper over the holes in the liberal paradox are darkly comic, as long as it isn’t *your* sneaker store being redistributed to keep the pyramid scheme intact.

I’ve had several people tell me after this weekend they are done with LA. They are moving. Like-minded Angelenos must number in the thousands. No one with a lick of sense should be in LA come November. This weekend’s riots are almost certainly a harbinger of things to come. President Trump’s looming 2020 victory–more likely after this weekend, I suspect–will provide ample pretext for a redux of riots in the fall.

Herein lies the crowning absurdity. The opera of ‘St. George and the Blue Dragon’ unfolding across America’s stage has nothing to do with the unfortunate story of the man George Floyd and everything to do with panic over President Trump’s campaign to lay bare both classical and progressive liberalism’s inherent contradictions and impending collapse. The hastily concocted George Floyd myth is one more pawn advanced up the board to corner the King. Liberals do not apprehend they are committing the age-old fallacy of hating the player instead of the game.

As I write, law enforcement leaders are kneeling with protestors to show their “solidarity” and shared revulsion at police brutality. Winston Churchill’s quip comes to mind: “Each one hopes that if he feeds the crocodile enough it will eat him last.”

Good luck making friends with the beast, guys. I’m headed for the mountains.

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