Becoming Barbarians

When lynchings have gone from headline-worthy to commonplace in less than a year, the social contract has clearly failed.

Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall. In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.

-Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan

The Government doesn’t really seem interested in governing. By governing, I mean the rock-bottom basics: allowing people to live in peace. And I mean peace in a literal sense: the absence of an acute, ongoing threat of violent death.

Civil peace is the first thing, you can’t build anything until you’ve ensured it. When the government betrays society’s trust on this regard, society will figure out ways of replacing it. It all starts when people take the matters into their own hands and lay down the weight of “the people’s law”.

So those who once feared violence now perpetrate it. Condone it. Lynching has become a thing. Videos showing extreme brutality are shared constantly over social media. I won’t post them here because they are simply too graphic – sadly, it only takes a few minutes on a search engine to dig them up.

The scene is always similar; only the actors change. There’s a guy or two at the center of an enraged circle of people. Their clothes are ragged, your brain has only begun to understand what’s happening when the mobs gets busy.

In one of the videos making the rounds, a man in jeans, with a tucked-in polo shirt steps in. He starts kicking the guy in the middle of the circle: first to the head, then to the rib-cage and the back. Then he steps out, a second man steps in, motorcycle helmet in hand. Unspeakable damage is done to the criminal’s head. Then a third man steps in, then a fourth. You hear shouting, sometimes in maracucho, sometimes in caraqueño: “Do you like to steal motorcycles, huh? Do you?” Demands for more punishment are heard from bystanders: “Vamos a prendelo!” Cheers are heard when the punishment is dealt.

It’s a roman circus right there in your neighborhood and all the maddening violence ready to be shared on 2.0.

In other videos making the rounds, all kinds of things are used as weapons: Baseball bats, motorcycle helmets, chains, whatever is at hand. Blood starts gushing out of the victimizers-turned-victims. Bodies are dragged around. Bodies are tied to light poles. Guns appear and then, as abruptly as it started, makeshift savage footage ends, leaving you wondering if they really gunned the guy. Whether they really lit him on fire. The story always starts and ends the same way. A scourge is overpowered. Crime is squared with crime.

The feeling is only made worse when a National Guard or a Police Officer approaches you and you know that they could very well be the ones that harm you.

To date, 24 crime fighting plans have been put forth with little to show. One has hardly started to be implemented when the next one is announced. None of them amount to anything. Those in charge are replaced not due to their failures, but because they became political liabilities.

Normal life is impossible under the constant threat of violence: thieves, burglars, muggers and murderers, constantly hovering around common folk and their families. The feeling is only made worse when a National Guard or a Police Officer approaches you and you know that they could very well be the ones that harm you.

There is no place for industry where you know that courts are rigged, that justice is served to the highest bidder, that judges flee under pressure, that prosecutors knowingly jail innocent men, that prisons are operated by kingpins, some benevolent some cruel, all beyond the reaches of the state.

Facebook wasn’t around in the 17th century when Thomas Hobbes was writing, of course, but he would recognize what is happening in these videos in an instant. Hobbes knew what happens when the state forfeits its central task. A war of every man against every man. The state of nature. Our day to day.