Interpreting violence.

A protest group does something violent. Interpretive choices:

1a.) That particular protest got out of hand, and it tells us nothing about the group in general.

1b.) The violence shows us what the group is all about.

2a.) All human action has context and is never without sympathetic motives. They feel frustrated and unheard. They are overwhelmed by the urgency of meeting the evils they face. We should seek understanding and reconciliation.

2b.) There is never an excuse for violence and it must be strongly condemned by all.

3a.) Look at all the wonderful and sympathetic goods that these protesters are for, and all the evils they are against!

3b.) Look at all the wonderful goods that the protesters are against, and all the evils they are for!

4a) The goals and aims of the protesters call to mind all the great social activists of the past.

4b.) The goals and aims of the protesters call to mind all the early years of all the most wicked and destructive social movements of the past.

Given the complexity of human motives, especially when they are arising collectively in the surreal mode of consciousness caused by the high-energy intoxication of crowd madness, there will almost certainly be a true description of the violence in all eight ways. So the question whether a description of a riot is true is of extremely limited value, in fact, the conviction that a reporter or pundit or home viewer has that their account is true is more likely to blind us to how much work our tacit interpretive scheme is doing.

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