Though the Vancouver riot of June 15, 2011 is old news, I’m hopeful the window for timely analysis hasn’t shut yet.
Obviously rioting isn’t new. Its been seen long before, in Canada and abroad, and will be seen long after. It appears timeless, but it doesn’t fit into an almanac. If anything, it’s akin to a forest fire: an aberration but not without antecedents. All catastrophes require the right conditions, the Vancouver Riot included.
The superficial conditions for the riot are obvious: public drunkenness, the loss of the Stanley Cup Final and the violent premeditated intent of certain individuals, among them anarchists and thugs. Add to that the disconcerting curiosity and cooperation of hundreds of coalescing spectators turned agitators. But behind these reasons are latent causes that are themselves cause for concern.
Among the debris of the riot were the reputations of countless persons identified via social media sites. Many of the incriminated heralded from respectable homes, neighborhoods and occupations: white-collar crime turned crimson.
It has been a surprise for some that many of the belligerents have benign backgrounds. No doubt a mob mentality doesn’t help with good judgment, but I expect that long before the criminal public gave into the mob they had given up on the serious search for a better and more moral self. My deeper concern is that society has broadly given up that search as well. I think that on the macro level the riot has less to do with the Canucks’ loss than with the loss of widespread social seriousness about moral improvement. There is an importance to being earnest. As Shakespeare’s Cassius remarked, “The fault dear Brutus, is not our stars, but in ourselves.”
An initial worry is that most people don’t take being a self very seriously: civically or morally. Self-esteem is taken more seriously than self-respect, let alone self-overcoming. Alexander Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago makes the point that “the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts.” At present the self seems to be just another point of sale. ‘To thine own self be true’ might as well have been the misguided motto of the rioters’ madness, as they certainly weren’t being true to anyone or anything else. That same motto also happens to be the unofficial philosophy of contemporary bourgeois and philistine living.
Vancouver suffers from double vision. It’s a deficiency systemic throughout the west. It pays double attention to conduct at the expense of character: looking to the rule of law to ensure the former, and looking away from the moral law at the expense of the latter.
At present conduct is regarded as a civil matter whereas character is increasingly segregated to the private and moral spheres. As an aside, political correctness falls in the conduct category. On first glance the difference between them might seem negligible, but only as the crack of a crevasse may at first seem small. Good conduct does not ensure strong character but strong character produces good conduct. It’s a common vice that, as Pascal reminds, “we would cheerfully be cowards if we thought that would acquire us a reputation for bravery.”
Certainly there is more than one story from the night of June 15, 2011. As mentioned there were many individuals who engaged in illicit activities because the civil structures of conduct enforcement failed and with it the mettle of their own moral character, which is abominable. But there were thousands who left not wanting to be associated with crime, which was advisable. There were also those who attempted to protect property and their rights of others, which is admirable. And the work of police and emergency response workers was laudable.
But as mentioned before, a society that expects no more than the prescribed legal conduct from its citizens will in instances of potential calamity and social disorder discover that individuals are inclined to act according to their passions and not their promises. A conscience however, doesn’t break down, even when the social consequences for bad conduct do. But conscience, like intelligence, though innate to all, requires development, like everything else.
Liberty without the rule of law is anarchy. Liberty without the moral law is licentiousness. The Vancouver Riot exhibited both. The rule of law is essential, as is the moral law and neither operate well without the other. Calamity sometimes comes to civil society like a thief in the night. Bolted doors can be knocked down, glass can be broken, but sound moral fiber frays less at the edges: individually and socially.
TWS Hunt is a recent graduate of Trinity Western University and has spent time as a visiting student at the University of Oxford and has interned in the Office of the Prime Minister of Canada.