It started with a friend wondering in which song the lyric, “Just as every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners saints” came from as he reflected on the events of the past week.
Fergusson, MO. Michael Brown. At least, that’s what I assume.
As others quickly noted–it came from the Rolling Stones classic, Sympathy for the Devil, which is my favorite song of theirs.
What’s really excellent about this song is not only the story it tells, but the sense of ambivalence, danger, and insidiousness that it creates. It’s the story of Lucifer traveling throughout history, taking part in some of the great tragedies and instances of evil that our species–but also speaking to us directly and warning us to show some respect for the power and danger that he represents.
He’s almost just along for the ride–to help the destruction along.
Later on he notes that he “shouted out, ‘Who killed the Kennedys?'” but notes that the answer is actually already clear… “When after all, It was you and me.”
This is where the real power of the song comes from–and where the real subversion exists.
Because, in reality, there is no devil. Lucifer does not exist.
But it’s so much simpler to have a Lucifer. To have a source of the evil in the world. To have an overpowering force of evil that is responsible for the carnage, cruelty, and suffering in this world. To have a “bad man/villain” to point the finger at and to aim our anger and are calls for justice.
But again, there is no devil. The evil resides within humanity. It can reside in the systems that we create–whether physical (the Holocaust, Red-lining, Apartheid) or mental. It can be seen in groups of people or in the actions of an individual.
This doesn’t mean that we are all evil and their is no goodness. That is obviously–and empirically–not true.
It is also not the case that there are not any “bad men/villains” in the world. They do exist… and as Jane’s Addiction notes in Pigs in Zen, “some people should die, that’s just unconscious knowledge….”
What it does mean is that we must always be conscious that the evil in the world is a human thing–and that it requires us to be aware, to be sharp, and to be careful in our thinking and in our actions.
If we are not, if we are lazy, then we bring the devil into the world and we project it onto people, which too often leads to fear, violence, and suffering.
Michael Brown of Fergusson, MO became just such a devil to some. He was unarmed and even after surrendering, was gunned down by a cop. Indeed, the Police have subsequently painted him further as the devil by claiming he was a suspect in an armed robbery just before he was encountered by the police by releasing video of the robbery.
But he wasn’t stopped because of the robbery. In fact, the cop stopping him had no knowledge that he was a suspect at all, it appears.
One final thought to keep in mind is that we need to be careful here to not just simplistically reverse the situation as some appear to want to do.
Some want to make the cop the devil. To make the entire police force the devil. To find a simple villain and point the finger at them and make them pay.
But there is no devil. There is only us.
Just as every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners saints
As heads is tails
Just call me Lucifer
Cause I’m in need of some restraint
Simplicity of the Devil, my friends, simplicity of the devil.