Not far from our house lies Pimlico race course, site of the Preakness, the middle leg of the Triple Crown each year. Horse racing is big, or at least pretends to be, in Maryland.
Pimlico during Preakness is bedlam. Our neighbors rent out their lawns for parking… then spend all the money they make to repair ruts in their lawns, bag beer cans and fast food wrappers and usher drunk millennials off to their next destinations.
Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but there are pros and cons to living near one of horse racing’s most famous venues.
Not far from Pimlico lies the neighborhood of Park Heights.
You may recall Park Heights was the ignition point for three days of rioting in Baltimore in 2015. Buildings burned. Bands of teenagers looted various dollar stores and 7–Elevens.
At one point, a group of them marched to the Inner Harbor and tried to lay waste to an upscale shopping mall.
The mayhem was sparked by the death of Freddie Gray while in custody of the Baltimore police department.
A Ringside Seat to Chaos
We watched the whole drama play out on CNN like the rest of the world, often commenting things like: “Hey, look, there’s the McDonald’s we stopped by on the way back from soccer practice the other night.”
The distance between our neighborhood and Park Heights is only a couple miles. But the social divide is a canyon.
During the Freddie Gray protests in Baltimore in 2015, over 285 businesses were destroyed. Over $10 million of small business property value went up in smoke overnight.
Our employees got an advanced preview of what it would be like to work from home during the Pandemic… because they were too afraid to work downtown. A band of protesters marched right down St. Paul street under the windows of what was at the time our customer service center.
Like Minneapolis today, the National Guard was called out. A curfew was imposed.
We feel for the folks of South Minneapolis this week.
The Spark That Lit the Fuse
On Memorial Day, we saw iPhone images of George Floyd, a petty criminal, a black man, get his neck crushed by Derek Chauvin, a white cop. Just what we needed following weeks of claustrophobia, eh?
Now Minneapolis is burning as mobs have looted and torched stores — and police stations (doesn’t look like they’re not practicing social distancing. What would Dr. Fauci say?).
Since the riots began Monday evening in Minneapolis, over 170 businesses have been burned, looted and vandalized.
One “protester” said yesterday that they’re coming for the suburbs next. Reassuring for suburban Minneapolis.
Protests have also spread to other cities like Los Angeles, Denver, Memphis and Columbus. Though on lesser scales.
Things are quiet here in Baltimore, or at least no louder than usual — for now anyway.
One Minneapolis woman asked poignantly on NBC news: “We understand the anger. Police brutality is wrong. But what does any of this prove?”
She was standing in front of a building smoldering after having been torched by protesters the night before.
Insanity Is Rare in Individuals, the Rule in Groups
One thing we know is that crowds often bring out the worst in people. “Insanity in individuals is something rare,” said Nietsche — “but in groups,. parties, nations, and epochs it is the rule.”
To protest injustice is certainly worthwhile. But to loot and burn down the stores of people who had nothing to do with the injustice? That’s a different story.
In the process they destroyed many jobs of those who needed them most during this time of crisis. Where’s the justice for these victims?
To take things to the level of politics, you can call mass political movements like Fascism and Communism a madness of crowds.
Maybe that’s why at times like these I think of José Ortega y Gasset…
The Revolt of the Masses
Ortega was from the old school in Europe, a gentleman of Spanish origin. Think white suits and fedora hats. Maybe a glass of wine and some fine conversation among the ruins.
In 1929, he foresaw the rise of fascism and extreme nationalism. Which dictated the structure of lives for men, women and children all over the world for most of the 20th century.
Big ideas, bad results.
His 1929 work The Revolt of the Masses, “traces the genesis of the ‘mass-man’ and analyzes his constitution en route to describing the rise to power and action of the masses in society” [from Wikipedia… I’m cheating a little here, but it’s still good information for you].
Again from Wiki: “Ortega is throughout quite critical of both the masses and the mass-men of which they are made up, contrasting ‘noble life and common life’ and excoriating the barbarism and primitivism he sees in the mass-man.”
“The Fascist and Syndicalist species,” wrote Ortega, “were characterized by the first appearance of a type of man who ‘did not care to give reasons or even to be right, but who was simply resolved to impose his opinions. That was the novelty: the right not to be right, not to be reasonable: ‘the reason of unreason.’”
The Revolt of the Masses was a seminal work in the early 20th century. And I have to admit the first couple of times I read it, I didn’t really understand what Ortega was trying to get at.
But having now lived through the last couple of political cycles, oy, I understand a heckuva lot more.
It ain’t a reality show anymore. It’s reality. OK, enough windy political philosophy
So, to return to that woman in Minneapolis asked, what does it all prove?
The Thin Veil of Civilization
It proves that we all live within a very thin veil of civilized behavior. The pandemic is what it is… but the anger and violence resides very close to the surface and is not very far away.
We’re seeing it come to the surface in Minneapolis and in other cities right now. It’ll be something else that brings it to the surface tomorrow.
If the economy sinks into full-blown depression while Wall Street thrives, you could see similar scenes.
Let me conclude with a personal story…
Several years ago, I was selected to sit on a jury for a murder trial here in Baltimore.
The prosecutor had a written and audio confession. He had a live witness testify that he’d been at the scene. He had photos of where the incident had taken place. A full description of the events and corroboration from police reports at the scene.
When the defense got up to cross–examine the live witness, he asked: “It wasn’t possible for you to be at the scene, was it?”
“No,” said the witness.
“And why is that?” asked the defense attorney.
“Because I was in prison at the time,” the witness replied.
A few gasps in the courtroom… and some frenzied typing from the court reporter… later confirmed that the witness was, indeed, in prison at the time.
We, the jury, were released. What fate befell the defendant? One thing for sure, he wasn’t convicted.
A thin veil of civilization.
for The Daily Reckoning