Andy Warhol predicted that in the future everyone would be world-famous for 15 minutes. What he neglected to mention was that they were just as likely to be infamous.
Zimmerman had decorated his flyers and website with the famous quotation attributed to Edmund Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is that good men do nothing.” His activities reveal a man who took those words to heart, who put his time, money and safety on the line to become one of those good men who do something. But the problem was that Zimmerman had been reading Burke, when he should have been reading Kafka.
“Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything wrong, he was arrested.” That is the famous opening sentence to Kafka’s novel, “The Trial”, words that have far more to do with the way we live now.
George Zimmerman is not on trial because he shot a black teenager during a scuffle. It’s not the facts of the case that brought him here. It’s his name. Had his last name been Pereira, none of this would have gone anywhere. And it’s not the name alone, it’s that in this time and place lynching him will help make the political fortunes of everyone from the man in the White House to his cheerful smiling prosecutor who is already counting her campaign cash and book deals.
Zimmerman with his book of quotations from the great thinkers of history, a man who clearly believes in the old fashioned virtues, is particularly ill-equipped to understand what is being done to him and why. The quotation that he plastered on flyers while investigating the beating of a homeless black man and on his own website, is more apt than he realizes.
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is indeed that good men do nothing, but as a corollary to it, those are exactly the sort of men that evil will go after. It does no good to read Burke quotations to a Kardashian society which makes its determinations not on truth or justice, but on its omnipresent need for entertainment. Trying to reason with it only makes it angrier. Talking about virtues and decency to people who have none either confuses them or infuriates those few who understand the concept in some distant way.
We aspire to behave the way that George Zimmerman did, to contribute to our communities, to defy the conventional wisdom and speak out when we see wrongdoing. We believe that all that is needed for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing. And we are only a misstep away from being George Zimmerman, from doing the wrong thing, from intervening in the wrong fight, drawing the wrong cartoon or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, a heartbeat away from appearing at the bar of the kangaroo court of stage managed public opinion.
In our own way we are all George Zimmerman. We think that society should be moral and rational, and that people should do the right thing. But that’s not what it is. It’s an insane braying donkey’s laugh as the thieves, large and small, rob the people blind and then muscle them into a lynch mob to go after some handy victim. It’s George today, it will be someone else tomorrow. Maybe someone who even deserves it. But it won’t be the people destroying the country, because they’re the ones leading the mob.
George Zimmerman has been chosen to serve as a gladiator in the circus that distracts a bankrupt nation from the criminal folly of its leaders, large and small. He has been assigned white team colors, had an NRA badge pinned to his lapel, and is being shoved out into the stadium while the lunatic mob howls for blood. The Emperor of Hope and Change has already made the thumbs down gesture, the courtiers are rushing out to fix the match.
Like Kafka’s protagonist, Zimmerman has been protesting all along that this is some sort of mistake. And he’s right. It is a mistake. Had the engineers behind the lynch mob gotten a good look at his photo, they might have pulled back and looked for a better victim. Someone who more properly fit their bicoastal idea of a “cracker” to string up on the crooked scales of Lady Justice. But once a mob has gotten started, it’s hard to shut it down. And there’s no real need to stop.
In the past, a media organ that reported a blatant lie might have at least paused on getting caught, but we live in a post-fact society now. The only thing that happens is that the media shrugs and doubles down on the narrative. George Zimmerman isn’t white? Just call him a white-hispanic. Insist that Latinos are really white even though your entire practice has been to loudly scream the opposite. Accuse anyone who points out that Zimmerman doesn’t look much like Larry the Cable Guy of being a racist. Problem solved.
Zimmerman thinks it’s a mistake because he’s not guilty. But as Kafka might have told him, guilt or innocence has little to do with it. Zimmerman wasn’t indicted on charges of shooting a man, but of being a racist, of being the living embodiment of American inequality, NRA lawmaking and a dozen other sins. These are not charges that he can ever shake, because they are not legal crimes, they are political crimes.
The true charges against Zimmerman are ‘class charges’, they indict him as the representative of a class, white racists, gun owners and the entire heteronormative patriarchal class of men who quote Edmund Burke, carry guns and feel entitled to trail troubled black teenagers in their community. Lynching Zimmerman is not about putting one man away, it is about putting everyone away. It is about the absolute triumph of the system and its ideology and about putting the individualist in his place, in a small cell and an orange jumpsuit.
The original title of “The Trial” was “The Process” and we are always in the middle of a process. The process begins before we are born and ends only when our bodies and estates are disposed of to the complete satisfaction of the system. The point of Kafka’s book was not whether the defendant was innocent or guilty. The point of the process was the process. The purpose of the trial was the trial.
We are all on trial under the system. That is the nightmare that Kafka anticipated. It is a reality that was already taking hold in the Soviet Union even while he was writing. The purpose of the trial is the absolute power of the system and its ability to snatch up anyone, examine them and then dispose of them. The theater of the trial informs everyone who lives under the system that they are at its mercy.
The very randomness of choosing Zimmerman, the contempt for the basic facts of the case, has become part of the message. The message is the same. The facts don’t matter. The decision making process doesn’t matter. Leave your evidence and your Burke quotations at home and watch how the wheels spin, the gears grind and the blood flows. The message is that the system is absolute and there is no escape.
This is evil. It is the very essence of evil. It is an evil that Zimmerman could not have seen coming or understood when he was out patrolling his community. It’s an evil that is all around us. We can catch glimpses of it on the evening news, in the sneers of anchormen, the practiced smiles of politicians, it’s there in Angela Corey’s helpless grin, it’s there in the mountains of paperwork, the lines of tiny print, the lines of people waiting at bulletproof windows, the morality mobs forming up digitally for the next victim to string up, the next popular opinion to enforce, the next skull to crush.
The beast that is doing its best to swallow up Zimmerman knows no facts or truths, it has no virtues, only goals. It cares nothing for what he did or did not do. Its only goal is to swallow him whole. It has eyes made of cameras, teeth made of guns, network cables for guts, a mind made of slogans and a nervous system that always needs stimulation. The beast may fail in its task, but it will let out a brief howl and move on to the next victim.
For all that the beast seems terrible to Zimmerman now, it is no larger than Obama’s water dog, it is one of a thousand such animals wandering through studios, courtrooms, legislative offices, chambers and all the corridors of power. If it should fail, it will break up into a thousand pieces, the reporters will go back home, the racial hucksters will head to the next trouble spot, the protesters will go back to hanging out on street corners, the cops will ride past them, the prosecutor will treat it as a learning experience, the lawyers will add it to their calling card, and the politicians will sniff the air waiting to see which way the wind blows.
In movies trials end in some larger conclusion, some lesson learned, some principle defended. That will not happen here. The people who run our system no longer believe in those things. They don’t read Burke, they don’t even hang Andy Warhol on their walls, he has become too structured for them. There are no more lessons except the lesson of power, the grand game of guilt and terror, the spectators crowding the bars to see the tigers roar, the blood flow and the knowledge that they could be down there.
White guilt. Entitlement. Patriarchy. Heteronormative. Critical race theory. All that empty gabble of words is a way of defining power and power rests with those who make their words into law. Those who use them to destroy meaning and feed those who believe that words have meaning to the lions.
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for enough people who say things like that and mean it to be fed to lions. Not even on purpose, but because they stuck their head up at the wrong time, they caught the eye of the insect eyed Big Brother collective of critical racial theory thinkers and gender role debunkers, of sensitivity counselors and nightly news provocateurs, of politicians running on race and running away from race, of the rich playing class warfare against themselves and the poor who know that money comes from the government, and the uniformed and pantsuit clad minions who oversees the circus that keeps the system going a little longer.
We are all Zimmerman. One of us might be next. One of us will be next. The system is always hungry and the beasts must be fed.