Since Trump became president, there has been an enormous growth of private militias in the United States. There are a few reasons for this. One of them is based on pure racism. There is a white nationalist underpinning to the formation of many of these groups. A lot of the members of these groups are afraid of what is going to happen to white people when white people become the minority race in the U.S. So these militias feel an obligation to physically defend white people against what is seen as any possible threat - physical, psychological or social – from non-white people, among which Jews naturally are included.
Another reason is to defend themselves against all sorts of perceived threats to their personal liberties. The right to bear arms, the right to graze cattle on government land, the right not to wear masks or not to follow the rules for a lock down or for stay-at-home orders. The right to keep businesses open during the pandemic.
But militias are definitely not exclusive to the U.S. Latin America, the Middle East, North Africa, the Philippines, even Europe, all have ongoing problems with militias. And these places all seem to have one thing in common: a breakdown in the grounding provided by the state. When the state can no longer help to provide people with social stability, economic security, or personal safety, people are forced to fall back on their own resources for self-protection. And in a militia, the whole collective protects each individual.
However, not all militias are populist phenomena. Many militias are private armies created by a wealthy person to protect himself, his family and his cronies. The soldiers in this militia are mercenaries, soldiers of fortune who enjoy fighting. These kinds of militias are usually found in Third World countries, where there is a great deal of political turmoil. The state is weak and income inequality is pronounced. And wealthy people feel extremely vulnerable.
So what do all these different kinds of militias have in common? They are all attempts to bind people together in a defined discrete entity as a form of protection when social grounding is disintegrating and when the numbing entropic effects of a social experiential vacuum are making themselves felt. Social grounding is definitely falling apart in a lot of Third World countries where, because of ongoing income inequality and religious zealotry, the state has always been and still is fragile. And in Central Europe, militias have been created to deal with the growing migration from African and Middle Eastern countries. These immigrants are perceived to be disruptive culturally as well as economically.
But perhaps another level of causation is at work here. All over the world, people are experiencing the numbing entropic effects of modern technology. These effects are subtle and almost imperceptible, on the one hand, but overpowering and enveloping on the other. Which is why they are not normally taken into consideration as causal factors in human life. To pull out of the numbness and feel alive today, people feel a need to create new conflicts or to exacerbate preexisting conflicts. So underneath the surface situations of racial and ethnic competition, religious intolerance and economic inequality, there is this basic structural problem of a lack of organic stimulation.
And becoming a part of a militia is a wonderful way to become focused and alert and to feel vibrantly alive. In the Middle Ages, lords defended the vassals and peasants that were under them and that had sworn allegiance to them, doing it with their own armies. This was at a time when there weren’t strong formal nation states. Security could only be provided by the equivalent of modern militias. Except that the backdrop during the Middle Ages was not the experiential vacuum created by modern technology. Instead it was the passionate emotions generated by living closer to nature. The militias of the Middle Ages were built as an attempt to control and focus the passionate emotions generated by all the organic stimuli from the more traditional and natural environments in which people lived.
The question today is as modern technology takes over more and more areas of life, will the use of militias continue to grow as people feel more and more insecure not simply as a result of projected enemies, but as a result of a growing enveloping experiential vacuum. The supposed enemy is the surface cause, the surface excuse. In fact, the real enemy is intangible, but nevertheless very present. Unless we find a way to balance out this modern technology with more organic stimuli, more grounding from more traditional and natural environments, the use of militias to fight in vain against the bad effects of numbness and the experiential vacuum will continue to grow.© 2020 Laurence Mesirow