Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Knockout Game Filtered Through Saint Augustine's Confession

In book 2 of Confessions St. Augustine tells the story of stealing pears with his friends as a 16 year old. His purpose for telling this story was to show in his words how unmotivated evil is more evil than evil with a motive. He writes:

Those pears that we stole were fair to the sight, because they were Your creation, You fairest of all, Creator of all, Thou good God...Those pears truly were pleasant to the sight; but it was not for them that my miserable soul lusted, for I had abundance of better, but those I plucked simply that I might steal. For, having plucked them, I threw them away, my sole gratification in them being my own sin, which I was pleased to enjoy. For if any of these pears entered my mouth, the sweetener of it was my sin in eating it. And now, O Lord my God, I ask what it was in that theft of mine that caused me such delight; 

The knockout game is unmotivated evil at it's purest. Writing his confessions later in life Augustine still struggled to find a motive for his actions. I know comparing his theft of fruit to the knockout game is a stretch for some, but in his own words he compared the lack of motive behind his crime to the crimes committed by the Roman empire. In his mind they were of the same kind of evil.

We're shaken by the lack of meaning in atrocities. The fact that we have no answers or explanations make the horror associated with senseless crimes more frightening. Most people are killed by someone they know. We compartmentalize this type of crime because it allows us to feel safe knowing that maybe there was something under the surface that can give the act a deeper meaning. The randomness of the knockout game puts all of us at risk. 

The rise of social media and the allure of instant fame factor heavily in the spike in the knockout game. Years ago drug dealers would knockout junkies just for laughs. They would lure some unsuspecting addict or homeless person into an alley and see if they could drop them with one punch. 

Now, kids have video cameras on their phones. They can upload a video to a social media site in less than a minute. As a culture we've traded our 15 minutes of fame for 15 seconds. The technological age we live in allows me to publish from my home with a modest amount of equipment, but it also allows people to upload videos of innocent people being assaulted on our streets. 

There's a racial element to this new version of the knockout game. It appears to be rooted in some misguided attempt for fame or maybe it's a rebellion against the socioeconomic realities. The symbolic gesture of knocking out a person whose white skin "associates" them with power is a systematic rejection of the path paved by the civil rights leaders of the 60's. This temporary power is the illusion of power Augustine says prisoners experience when they do something wrong without fear of punishment. The weak are made to feel powerful, but after the laughs are over and the moment fades their circumstances are still the same. 

Cruelty is the weapon of the powerful, used to make others fear them... Augustine

In the context of random violence, cruelty is the tool of the weak. These kids are weak because they choose not to address the root of their problems. The lack of judgment at the center of theses attacks are indicative of a culture obsessed with instant gratification and a lack of understanding. Immaturity and socioeconomic factors can't explain away all of the social ills facing our youth. Sometimes we have to accept that evil doesn't always have a motive.