How Would a Real Life Purge Work?


Written by Stewart Storrar – Student Writer

I recently went to see ‘The First Purge’ directed by Gerard McMurry and could not help but ask myself the question; what would happen with a real life purge? While the film explores to some degree and touches upon the philosophy behind the purge in the film (with reference to Marxist Capitalism), it quickly descends into a shoot-em-up fest with an unnatural focus on explosions (thanks to Michael Bay snaffling a producer role). However, this did not quell my curiosity.

To begin speculating about how a real life purge would work, we will need to make a few assumptions:

  • Firstly, we need to assume that our world population is far larger than it currently is. While over-population is a major concern in certain countries of the world, it is still a metaphorical blip on the horizon for other countries.
  • Secondly, we need to address the rules of the purge. Simply applying the rule of ‘there are no rules’ like the films do is unrealistic. In the real world, there are always rules and guidelines.
  • Thirdly, we must assume that the purge is only a localized event. Much like the film, the purge is only in effect within the U.S and this makes sense. There are different laws that govern different countries.
  • Lastly, we must assume that the purge’s main goals would be similar to that of war in the 21st century; that the purge (like war) would be pushed through congress as an economy.

Using these assumptions as a springboard, we can now begin to speculate on how a purge would most likely occur in the real world.

Working from the first assumption, the information speaks for itself. One of the big driving forces behind a purge would be over population and the economy struggling to support so many extra people. The ‘carrying capacity’ of our planet (i.e the speculated total amount of human beings our planet can support) is a factor to consider for another article. However, this carrying capacity concept is based on the principle that there are only so many natural resources that we can exploit and that at one point in the future, our species will reach a breaking point. A point where we will begin to run out of resources to support our population growth worldwide, not just in certain countries. This carrying capacity would most likely be one of the main points a government entity would use to push a purge into its experimental phases.

If we begin to crunch the numbers with this first assumption, we begin to see that over population would be the main persuasive argument made in favor of a real life purge. Back in 2000, the total world population was estimated to be at 6,145,006,989 people. Our most recent estimate for world population in 2018 is 7,634,757,932. That is an increase of 25.5% over that past 8 years of population growth. At this rate, by 2050, the world population will have reached almost 10 billion at approximately 9,374,484,225 people. That is a lot of people. Assuming the world still exists in a relatively stable state as it is in today (i.e no nuclear armageddon and a leader that does not resemble a dried orange), over population will be a huge issue.

Hopping onto our second assumption, we need to consider what the rules of the purge would be. Now, according to the movies, the only rule is that there are no rules.

Anything goes.

While this philosophy is great for storytelling it would not be ideal for a real life purge. Simply put, people like structure and rules. True lawlessness cannot exist as we are programmed with natural laws that govern our choices. If someone hits you, you may respond by hitting them back. If someone attacks you, you may respond by defending yourself. These are natural laws that are governed by instinct. It is these natural laws of human nature that helped us to construct a legal system in the first place, including its limitations. People like to know what the limitations are. Whether or not they choose to abide by those limitations is purely personal choice, however I cannot see a real life purge (true to the movie concept) being a real thing. Why? Certain crimes that protest against the nature of being human and certain crimes that would endanger the state. Assuming the real life purge would be suggested due to over population, the main incentive for such a purge would be to cull the population.

Assuming everything is legal of for a day or night, that would include rape and the leaking of sensitive government information. Such an environment would allow rape to go unpunished which, by everyone’s standards, would not be okay. If a real life purge were to exist, one of the fundamental rules of such an event would most likely be related to sexual exploitation and rape. On an even darker note, the sexual abuse of children (theoretically) would be legal in such an event true to the movies. As human nature and the will to protect children is such an overpowering trait in almost every human being, there would most likely be rules in place to prevent rape, sexual abuse of minors or any harm coming to minors for that fact. I am fairly surprised that rape (in the two purge movies I have seen, the first and most recent) has been somewhat ignored in the films. In the real world, if a purge were to happen, rape would happen. It is no surprise that some aspects of the world can be worse than dying and being raped is certainly one of them (no matter your gender).

Also worth considering is national security. With WikiLeaks being one of the most influential and important journalistic organizations to date, whistle blowing would be rampant during a purge. This is clearly something that the government would not be okay with and since they would conduct the purge, there would also most likely be rules in place to prevent whistle blowing or the release of sensitive information. This is also true for aspects such as bomb threats, dirty bombs (bombs with high explosive yield that are home made) and even potentially nuclear devices. In the purge films themselves, it states class 4 weapons can be used. Within class 4 exists flame throwers, rocket launchers, tanks, heavy ordinance and, yeah you guessed it, nuclear weapons. If a real purge were to happen, it would not be in the style of the films. There would be rules. Specifically, rules to protect against the use of high yield bombs and nuclear devices as well as rules to protect basic human decency and rights (eg. rules against rape).

This brings us onto the issue of human rights and the Geneva convention. Would these be ignored? Simply put, no. I don’t believe they could be ignored. Ignoring basic human rights and the Geneva convention, even for a day, would have drastic international repercussions for the U.S. (or any country that would conform to a purge). Abolishing such things would cause a host of international relations issues before and after the event. Such things cannot be toggled on and off at will, as this would defeat the purpose of their creation. With this in mind, basic human rights and the Geneva convention would most likely still apply to a purge theoretically. This would also impose restrictions on the kind of crimes that would be legalized. For an event like the purge to happen, the country would have to be deemed a war zone and even in war zones, there are rules. In terms of law and order during a purge like event, we would most likely see some kind of war zone like structure for a real life purge. This being said, a purge would not be a complete disregard of all laws.

With these fundamentals discussed, now I want to delve (briefly) into how such a thing would be pushed through congress. I am not a politician. Nor am I vastly educated on U.S. political structure. However, if an event like the purge were to be pushed through congress, multiple factors would have to be considered for certainty.

The first would be just cause. Simply put, why purge? In the most recent films and the more dated films, we are led to believe that it is to combat crime and create a population with a better mental health. Having been allowed to purge, the theory goes, that this purge acts as a release for anger and hate. It is the concept that making certain crimes legal for a day would prevent crime on a yearly basis and allow crime to be tracked more effectively. It would most likely be a similar argument to that of decriminalizing drugs in a real life purge discussion. However, we find out in the latest film that this psychological release is simply a smokescreen to allow the government to cull the population (due to over-population). With a brief reference to Marxist capitalism by a main character, the claim is that there always exists a group that suffers in a capitalist society. This is a known fact and one of the key principles Marx pushed in his analysis of capitalism. In the films, the purge is a way of combating this issue with capitalism by killing or eliminating the population (at the benefit of the survivors). This will always benefit the people that are already rich, as they will have better means to protect themselves as well as better means to eliminate those who do not have these means.

So essentially, in a way, a purge is just another economic and financial method of handling the fundamental flaw of capitalism since its creation. It would be a way of ‘focusing’ the exploitation of capitalism onto a specific group of people in a more clear cut fashion. The poor would be weak due to a lack of funds to appropriately defend themselves. Inversely, the rich would be strong.

Another factor to consider is the economics of a purge. This would also be a driving factor of getting something like a real life purge pushed through congress. War is an economy. It always will be. Money is made from waging war and this fundamental understanding is why the U.S. has been at war 93% of its history as a nation. Funnily enough, the U.S. is one of the (if not the) wealthiest countries on the planet. So what is a purge if not a small, localized war on your doorstep? Why not bring that war economy to the home front and simultaneously solve an over-population problem. Not only would you ease the pressure on the economics of the country via culling the population, you would make money off such an event. Out of all the justifications, these two would most likely be the driving forces behind such an event being voted through congress.

All this considered, a real life purge would be met with fierce opposition. There is also the multitude of issues that a purge would create relating to psychological damage to people, the potential to make crime rates worse (for example, revenge killings) and the issue of how to police such an event? How would you enforce the purge rules? Much like in a war zone, war crimes happen and much of the time, there is little that can genuinely be done about them.

If you ask me? Let’s just stick to cool movies and leave their ideas for all the storytellers out there.