Appropriate, Effective, Response: Shoot the Looters to Kill?

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God gave Noah the Rainbow Sign

No more water, the fire next time.

— James Baldwin


A long time ago there was an uprising in Chicago. The then mayor, Richard J. Daley, was reported as saying shoot the looters to kill. I thought, does he really mean that? Does he want that to be the law of the land? Does he want us to shoot the realtors, arms merchants, oil diggers, corporate owners, political abettors? Does he want us to shoot all those who take wealth from others to enrich themselves? Death to the purveys of pain?Death to the merchants of death? We’ll stand over their graves till we’re sure that they’re dead?

It has a provocative ring, like “hang all the lawyers,” only more so. Arguably, it even has legal warrant. “Justifiable homicide” applies when the killed was an imminent threat to other lives. Someone looking to grab minimal food through a broken window? Not so much. Corporate overlords and their politician buddies who grab billions upon billions? Exactly. Indeed, society’s self-seeking, delusional corporate and political overlords now threaten imminent death not just to a few. Not just to many. To everyone. They wield the matches. We burn. The fire this time.

Of course the fact that Musk, Bezos, and the Koch brothers, not to speak of their political abettors, not to speak of media moguls, not to speak of philosopher cowards, are murdering narcissists for whom justifiable homicide applies if it applies to anyone, doesn’t mean that shooting them would be wise. On the contrary, just because something is plausibly legally warranted—Manchin, anyone?—doesn’t make it a good thing to do. Consequences matter.

So far, so obvious. Our times plummet toward end times. Oligarchs in office. Billionaires in boardrooms. They flaunt their finest finery of wealth. They rattle their most polished jewelry of status. They conduct an ecological suicide march. A serious question surfaces. How can we save and then liberate humanity?

Way back, I remember some supremely courageous people who sought to stop the U.S. war machine from further carpet bombing Vietnam. They publicly napalmed themselves to death. I remember thinking their courageous self immolations terminated a potential fifty years of activism to display thirty seconds of horrifying incineration. Little gained. So much lost.

I also remember friends drenching their minds in paranoia and entombing their bodies in acts of violence unconnected to wider circles of dissent and construction. Little gained. So much lost.

What about now? Too much heat. Too little food. Reason retreats. Death encroaches. High water rising higher. Society suicide sliding. Do something. Do what?

The world is crying. The world is dying. Mister Moneybags celebrates.

But even Mr. Moneybags should be able to see that they and their families live in the same dying world as us. Or are they so entitled and insulated that they think death by denigration is for others? Death by denial is not for them? Do they think their palaces invincible as they tirelessly pursue profitable deaths for us?

Decision makers in board rooms, legislatures, and courtrooms pursue long-term insanity to avoid—what? Short-term political dissonance? Media disfavor? Diminished profits? Reduced power?

So what can we do? What should we do? Yes, I know, Revolution is the only solution. True that. Ultimately. But ultimately won’t come in time to curb ecological nightmare. So, on the road to fundamentally transforming institutions throughout society, our urgent question must be what can we do now to force our self-interested, morally malignant overlords to stop societal suicide?

On the one hand, it’s obvious. We must raise sufficient costs for our overlords that they use their hands on society’s pliers to meet our demands. But what can we do to raise costs to them that high? To raise threats to them that high? So high that even they will succumb?

This is where it gets harder. On the one hand, again, it’s obvious. People in motion. People demanding change. People in large numbers that threaten to grow larger, more committed, more militant without limit. People with serious demands that threaten to grow more serious, more thorough, more fundamental, without limit. That is the logic of winning change. Raise social costs and threats of more costs to come unless they meet our demands so high that the gate keepers finally succumb. Not self immolation. Collective organizing.

But, I have to admit, of late I wonder if the enshrined, enshrouded, gangsters in command can perceive sufficiently to know when our movements are growing so great that to have a chance to survive they must surrender. And when I wonder that, my thinking on what to do, which is the question of our times, perhaps goes a bit off the rails.

For I wonder whether the depraved decision makers need to see militant masses not just in town squares but on their otherwise immaculate lawns. We trample their gardens. We scream through their windows. I wonder whether they need to personally fear our growing numbers not simply due to discerning the future that our numbers portend—because to discern that future may be beyond their jewelry rattling, entitled selves—but to viscerally, directly, personally fear our growing numbers.

If this is right, resisting global suicide entails that we not only grow our support, deepen its commitment, and broaden its focus, but that we also manifest it not only in our own neighborhoods but in theirs. We disrupt not only at legislatures, courthouses, churches, news centers, and corporate boardrooms, but also on the bosses’ doorsteps. More, when they venture out, there we are. At their fine dining restaurants and at their self promoting events, there we are. Everywhere they go, we go. Our militancy gets right up in their faces. We deliver an offer even they see they best not refuse.

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