Is the Times wishing for civil disobedience? The prominent placement in the Sunday Week in Review of an inflammatory op-ed by Sudhir Venkatesh, professor of sociology at Columbia, certainly begs the question.
In Chicago, during the summer of 1992, I watched a rally explode into a riot. Unruly public housing tenants were protesting high prices at local grocery stores. A request to speak with a manager turned into shouts and screams when the proprietor was spotted scurrying out the back door. In minutes, bottles flew overhead, gangs began shooting indiscriminately, people shouted for the heads of the management, and mothers scrambled to shelter infants from flying glass and bullets. In the eyes of the rioters, I could see both anger and euphoria.
Venkatesh sounded sad that the streets aren'tpresentlyerupting in violence over A.I.G. and the banking bailouts:
Venkatesh offered the already-a-chestnut lefty theme that the Internet and texting have made us atomistic, unaware of our deeper community, and he longed for the day when we stop wasting time enjoying life and start "storming angrily into the streets":
But these days, technology separates us and makes more of our communication indirect, impersonal and emotionally flat. With headsets on and our hands busily texting, we are less aware of one another's behavior in public space. Count the number of people with cellphones and personal entertainment devices when you walk down a street. Self-involved bloggers, readers of niche news, all of us listening to our personal playlists: we narrowly miss each other. Effective rebellions require that we sing in unison.
To restore our social bonds, each one of us must overcome our isolating feelings of embarrassment and humiliation and understand that this is a shared plight. We'll also have to accept that anger, real anger, has a role to play in producing collective catharsis and fostering healing.
Fury, after all, can manifest itself in more productive ways than urban rioting or cable-TV ranting. Fury can inspire real protest, nonviolent civil disobedience, even good old-fashioned, town-hall meetings. That's how we'll recover our public life and perhaps help one another through this crisis - storming angrily into the streets and then, once we're out there, actually talking to one another.