Sublimation: No Excuse To Harm

Monday, October 17th, 2016 @ 12:00PM

It’s a simple concept taught in most high school chemistry classes – sublimation – when a material, in solid phase, converts directly to the gas phase without passing first through the liquid phase. The classic example is dry ice which, in actuality, is frozen carbon dioxide. At room temperature, dry ice undergoes sublimation, that is, it doesn’t convert to a liquid by melting but, rather, converts directly to a gas through evaporation – a rather unusual phenomenon indeed.

However, there’s another definition of sublimation, a psychological rather than chemical definition, which explains the underlying motivation of various detrimental social phenomena. According to psychologists, sublimation is the expression of socially unacceptable behavior through socially acceptable means. Psychologists often refer to several classic examples to explain sublimation: a prison guard who brutalizes prisoners; a law enforcement officer who utilizes excessive force in apprehending suspects; and, a surgeon driven to perform surgery not to cure but, rather, to indulge fantasies of inflicting pain on others.

In defense of these highly socially acceptable professions, psychologists are quick to point out that the percentage of members of these professions engaging in sublimation is extremely small, on the order of one to two percent. Further, psychologists suggest that these examples are merely that – examples – and that sublimation occurs across the full spectrum of human activities, both at the individual and societal level.

A modern example of sublimation as a social phenomenon is the physical assaults, looting, and property destruction associated with the Black Lives Matter movement. This example, however, comes with a slight twist on the definition. The twist is that the expression of these behaviors – assaults on innocent bystanders, stealing of merchandise from businesses, and torching of cars and buildings – is only socially acceptable to those perpetrating the behaviors and not to the public at large. The perpetrators of such violence against people and property feel justified in their actions. Those being assaulted or having their businesses looted or property destroyed, however, most assuredly feel otherwise.

The argument promoted by these perpetrators, essentially, is that they have little or no other effective means of expressing their anger and frustration at perceived racial and social injustice. In their minds, such actions are justified when they perceive that a person with whom they identify, usually on racial or ethnic grounds, has been unjustly detained or killed at the hands of law enforcement or if a court verdict regarding such incidents is reached that is contrary to their expectations.

However, in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, sublimation is not simply the result of momentary anger and frustration at perceived social and/or racial injustice associated with a specific event. In most instances, the anger and frustration that drives these socially unacceptable actions is latent, subacute, but ever present. Like an overheating automobile radiator waiting to explode the moment an unsuspecting driver attempts to loosen the cap, a single misperceived incident often serves as a catalyst for the release of long held but ever increasing rage.

True social injustice in America, though present, is actually quite rare. And, yes, occasionally, innocent people are harmed as a result of poor judgment on the part of public servants, however, this phenomena, too, is quite rare. Nevertheless, such social imperfections in no way justify the assaults, looting, and property destruction that is plaguing many of America’s cities today.

Were it not for the tens of thousands of dedicated and experienced public servants putting their lives at risk everyday across America, the rare social injustices decried by members of movements such as Black Lives Matter would become truly commonplace and, left unchecked, would soon lead to outright chaos. The sublimation and resulting violent protests have no place in modern America. Only when the underlying anger and resentment is assuaged can the specter of social sublimation be eliminated.

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