So ends one of the more infamous scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The man, a strange breed, also know as pig, bull cop -- if you will the police (poor lice on the face of humanity--please release me). Trained storm troopers who know only one thing: Law and Order.
Several hours after the "big game" between OSU and Notre Dame (September 30, 1995), a teeming throng of twenty-somethings and teens descended on High Street in Columbus (Ohio), with the intent to party it down in the endless chain of dance clubs and bars. The boys in blue, decked out in riot gear and armed with bags of plastic restraining cuffs and non-lethal weapons, intent on maintaining order, dropped tear gas on marginally innocent revelers and others who were (out) having a "good time." The vomit-inducing non-lethal weapon swept the streets as people fled the cloud of noxious gas.
Non-lethal weapon is something of a misnomer. They can be very deadly, in fact, getting shot would probably be preferable to puking your guts out all over the sidewalk. Even other riot gear that is not supposed to be harmful can (in fact) be quite lethal. For example, rubber bullets--police are supposed to ricochet the bullets off the ground before striking the target but this doesn't always happen. Getting hit with one of these bullets is comparable to getting struck with a hockey puck at about 100 miles per hour.
The police in this instance were amply prepared for violence to happen and it did. Newtonian physics should not be applied to crowd control. Quite often things can be settled in a peaceful fashion. After all, violence does beget violence, but violent action should not be countered with an equally violent reaction [Note: not all police officers are like this continually but occasionally stress levels reach a critical point that would cause anyone to snap. The Chicago Police Riots are an example of this, not to say that what happened in Columbus over the weekend was anything near this but it is always a possibility, and I do know quite a few cops who are decent people trying to do a difficult job in difficult situations.]
Was this an isolated incident? Was the crowd out of control? No and Yes (probably).
Repression is rampant in this modern world. Over-zealous "peace officers" are but one example of a culture that is intent on maintaining Order by whatever means necessary. Other examples include the so-called War on Drugs, the War on Poverty, or the development of "unproductive" land (I guess aesthetics means nothing) with condos and pre-fabricated houses.
Increasing rigidity in a culture, as demonstrated by restrictive laws and codes of conduct and apearence, is a sign of cultural decay. The natural forces of hear and pressure can form a beautiful diamond, but those same forces can be agents of destruction for that same diamond. The rigid order in our culture can be equated with these natural forces. This equation, followed to its logical conclusion, would then indicate that this culture will, at some point in the not-so-distant future, explode due to the pressures, both internal and external.
One of the variables in an equation (developed by Frank Drake from University of California at Santa Cruz) used to figure out the number of technologically advanced civilizations in the galaxy is the lifetime of that civilization. The number is highly uncertain, but given human societies; it could be as short as 100 years. If this is the case, it would indicate that every 100 years, any given society undergoes a major upheaval (this is of course pure speculation and a careful examination of history is needed to prove this hypothesis). By this reckoning, we are either long overdue for societal upheaval or will be soon, depending on how you read your history books. Cultures that last for longer periods of time are generally held together by violence (Russia over the last several hundred years is a good example of this).
Absolute anarchy is not the answer to our problems; but then again, neither is the mindless violence of a police-state necessary to maintain order. The answer, to quote Bob Dylan, is blowing in the wind. It's right in front of usand although we know it, we cannot know it consciously. Change canonly be brought about by a collective, unconscious action. Somewhere, ages and ages hence history will look back and show us what happened (a perfect case for 20/20 hindsight).
Originally published Monday, October 2, 1995 in the Cleveland State University Cauldron.