What to Make of Chris Dorner’s Admirers
Last weekend, a small number of people turned out at Los Angeles Police Department headquarters, in some combination of protest and memorial for former LAPD officer Chris Dorner, who killed four people in Southern California, before killing himself during a standoff with law enforcement. Meanwhile, in the virtual world, a Facebook tribute describing Dorner as “a man who is willing to die for something instead of living for nothing” has received over 20,000 likes, while the Occupy Los Angeles Facebook site has offered a wish of condolence that Dorner “rest in power“. While the number of admirers that Dorner has should not be exaggerated, he does have them.
It is obviously not simply Chris Dorner’s grievances or the content of his “manifesto” that won him whatever number of admirers he has. Dorner was not the first to accuse the Los Angeles police department of corruption or racism, and he would have very likely remained mostly unknown had he not taken to murder. Dorner has become the focus of a fringe mini-movement because there are people who believe that his claims against the LAPD are more deserving of attention than they would otherwise be because he started killing individuals not directly related to his “issues”.
During an interview on CNN, Columbia University Professor Marc Lamont Hill opined that Dorner had “been like a real life superhero to many people” who could find watching him “kind of exciting”. Dorner supporters are certainly more excited by his violence than they would be by the details of an administrative and judicial grievance procedure minus the murders. And while many of Dorner’s supporters will explicitly disclaim that murdering innocent people is bad, it is the murder spree that has elevated him to the status of a cause, with the celebration of “action” trumping concerns about its justification or consequences.
There have been times in the past when the idea of the pathway to social change following behind a violent superhero might generate support beyond that of a weekend protest and some Facebook likes; we don’t have to go very far back into history to find such times. Thoroughly modern ideologies with substantial followings from the first half of the twentieth century, e.g. various fascisms and some (but not all) forms of anarchism, regarded the individual acting on his will-to-power, with total disregard for societal norms that might impede ego-determined ends, as the example to be emulated and the natural leader of society.
The admiration expressed for Chris Dorner makes evident that impulses in humanity that drive people to idolize the violent superman still exist. It is not impossible to imagine that such admiration and idolization can be turned into a willingness to follow, if the superhero had an interest in doing so.
* * *This is a very important reason why thinking about the possible forms of political ideology and political philosophy, what they look like and where they might lead, one version of which Justin posted a few weeks ago, is important.
The philosophies/ideologies that Justin placed in the ring represent, roughly, the post-World War II Euro/Atlantic consensus about what’s legitimate, running roughly from various forms of soft-socialism to various forms of welfare-state capitalism. The cross-bar holds forms of “extremism” that don’t fit neatly into that consensus. One idea that differentiates the ring from the cross-bar (though not necessarily the only one) is that the will-to-power of a violent superhero can be accepted as a legitimate political force in the cross-bar, but not in the ring. (Some of the best work I am aware of about how to appropriately separate extremism from its mainstream political relatives was done by a young Jerry Pournelle, back in the 1960s; I am of the opinion that 2 dimensions for political classification which he defined, and a third that he proposed, are still very relevant today)
What throws a society into a state of extremism, i.e. from the ring to the cross-bar, isn’t wholly understood, making it all the more imperative to think a bit about what the beginnings of a slide into extremism might look like and what its warning signals are, so that folks who favor a more peaceful system can be ready to challenge and defeat any movement towards the social and political institutionalization of the barbaric side of human nature.