Theory, Practice, and Small Batch, Artisinal Data

The shortest way I can imagine expressing my theory of child-rearing is this: punishing messes us up, just like abuse, and it actually causes bad behaviour, so if you can avoid the use of any sort of punishing – even in the Twitter format, it still needs repeating, any sort of punishing, for the first five years of your kid’s life, you will never need to consider it again. At least that was our experience. Anecdotal to be sure.

So, I’ve been known to draw the parallel with adult punishment, criminal justice and prison, that at some point we must admit that the pain we bring doesn’t mostly make our criminals nicer, but I hadn’t extended the thought all the way yet. What would the prescription be? Five years (give or take) for a human child, how much time for a criminal sub-culture, years for a person, generations for a demographic? Perhaps, but hopefully not five of them – but we must know that generations will be the unit of measure and I’ll bet my eye teeth that two could never be enough. So.

Three to five generations of gentle social coaxing, sixty to a hundred years of not fighting fire with fire, not fighting the abuse of crime with the abuse of fear and retribution, before . . . to follow the pattern of my life as a parent, of my kids’ response to a complete lack of discipline, before what? Before we never need to consider it again? OK, the numbers are a guess, of course, but the principle . . . I hadn’t gone this far, and I didn’t plan to.

Is this . . . envisionable?

Policing at a Crossroads

. . . same crossroads all things eventually reach when they start down the road toward humanism, or just plain exist, moving like the rest of us into the future. At some point in the train robbery, you have to commit to letting go of your horse and holding on to the train. The period where you still have both options is dangerous, so safety dictates it be short. I know, sorry.

I’ll go straight to it, but it’ll take a minute still – still sorry.

I caught a headline somewhere, most likely Twitter, some person got released from a wrongful conviction, and got paid some great amount for damages, which got me thinking. Of course, the first NPLP (something I’m trying to start – Namby Pamby Liberal Pussy. Folks like me.) thought is ‘Yes! Science has saved another wrongly convicted man from police machinations!’ and yes, there could be a racial aspect to the story, I mean of course, there always could be, but the picture was of a black fellow.

Then of course, I sort of globalized the concept, like I enjoy way too much, started to wonder, if there are say, a thousand such cases in a given place during a given period, then how many of the thousand were non-criminal innocents and how many might have deserved their sentences or worse for crimes they weren’t prosecuted for and/or convicted of? I mean, surely, if the police can be known to have railroaded an innocent black man into prison, then it is probably not beneath their morals to have set some heinous, dangerous criminals up for solid wrongful convictions either.

So, the first RWN (Right Wing Nutjob, something that’s a normal epithet on a site I play on, thought following that probably is, I hope somebody is reviewing which sorts of folks they’re setting free, like trying to make sure the newly free drug-related convicts really are only that or something. And, yeah, we always hope for some local knowledge, some attention to detail. Numbers games are always error-riddled.

But for me, again, trying to globalize, trying to see the social implications of all things punishment-related, this is it here.

That second practice must have felt pretty justifiable, if the cop knew, for sure, that his target’s incarceration would make the public a good deal safer, that if in short, the end really was justification for some evil means. However, technology, humanism and morality have moved on in this case, specifically, the old setup tactics are failing now because some humanists, someone who cares, have applied DNA testing etc. and caught the police cheating.

In the long term, each generation gets treated better than the last, and they each learn to expect to be. We expect moral circles to expand, and we are viewing moral issues in a more egalitarian, more logical way with each decade as well, and one result of that process is this. We want to hold our police to the law more than we perhaps have in the past. Police forces evolved because the wealthy found their prosperity to be more stable when the King tried and punished crimes, rather than living with the endless feuding produced by the previous vendetta sort of system where families looked after offenders to their interests privately. So police came into being long before modern democracies. Now, we are taxpayers and the police don’t work for the King anymore, they work for us. So the time honoured tactic of setting a man up to please the policeman’s employers, now, looks as criminal as it always did, except worse.

Worse, because the victim is supposed to be the boss. Worse, because it’s now our moral issue, because we’re the boss. Can’t blame it on the King anymore, it’s us. Now that it is, I think we think the police are supposed to do their jobs and somehow succeed while never straying across the line of the law themselves for the very good reason that when they stray, it’s sometimes against us. I don’t imagine anyone has escaped the image of an experienced cop’s disdain for the idea, and fair enough, I get it, I do. It’s violence for violence, the experience is real, the danger is real . . . but still. As true and undeniable as that is, it’s still, I’m sorry, not that meaningful, uh . . . scientifically, yes, even for social science. Anecdotal, to be sure, but not only that. The thing is, all that is life as viewed from the past, from horseback. Our societies, and our police forces are at the choice-point now, still feeling the ongoing trauma of our authoritarian ways of the past and still trying to keep a grip on it, but we also have one hand on the train of the future, where mass media and big data are starting to show us who we really are.

So when the King’s dragoons abuse their position, it’s a moral crime, sure, but he’s the King, he’s responsible and we’re not. When our tax-funded, public police do, it’s our moral crime, we’re responsible, and in democratic societies like ours we need to do something about it. That is our job, to vote intelligently and not support evil, law and order politicians.

For the police, that is the crossroads we’re at. Yes, we have in the past turned a blind eye to some over-stepping on the part of the police, but now here we are, taxed and paying for it. Any herd of herbivores tolerates the presence of the predators, perhaps, the wildebeests live with the lions as a fact of life – but I don’t think they would if they had to pay for it too. I think this crossroads perhaps adds up to a slight change in job description for the police, an acknowledgement of the democratic nature of our society and who’s working for who.


What if we did let’s say, refresh our commitment to the police staying on the right side of the law themselves? We the people might try to remember that the goal, eventually, must certainly be a lawful world where at least the police aren’t criminals too. Sorry, also not very specific. Let’s just brainstorm a bit, point form.

  • It might not be going too far to suggest that police need to lose a few more fights to regain public sympathy. Personally, I reserve my concern for the people who lose the vast majority of the fights. Today, the police don’t look vulnerable enough to justify their shoot first policies. I think non-lethal weaponry in the hands of the police would go a long way towards building some public trust for the police, and for that to happen, there has to be some sense that police casualties are indeed a negotiable thing, as long as there are so many more citizen casualties. As long as the life of a single cop is supposed to be worth more than any number of citizens, we’re going to be in conflict and in that sense, police are creating social problems rather than solving them.
  • I actually like the idea of this possibly fictional ‘Ferguson Effect.’ If the police are really engaged in a sort of work slow-down action to protest the growing public scrutiny of them or to avoid getting themselves into trouble, that might be a good thing. If they are not going through a door when their only possible security is to kill those folks on the other side, maybe that’s a good thing. Personally, I can imagine that there are ways in which even gang activity and drug dealing are less offensive than state-sponsored murder of criminals. I mean, if this is the conversation?

“Hey, Police! Stop shooting unarmed alleged criminals!”

“Hey, it’s dangerous out here! Do you want policing or don’t you?”

“Yes, but murder is a crime, so it is for you too!”

“Hey, it’s my security! Do you want this crime stopped or not?”

“Yes – THIS crime, but your crime too!”

“Hey, if you haven’t got my back, I ain’t working! If it’s my life at risk, I ain’t going through any more doors. See how you like it when we’re not out there killing criminals for you.”

This adds up to an immediate threat, a pressure play, but what if maybe we call the police’s bluff, what if we stop and think about it for a minute? I say we give it a try, see how it plays out. Whatever happens, we learn something. So here’s my response:

“Good idea. Let’s see how it works out. If everything goes to Hell, we’ll make changes again, but for now, yeah. Let’s see how it pans out.”

  • We need to stop arresting people for minor crimes, period. An arrest is an action that is an escalation compared to many of the “crimes” we arrest and detain for, and as such, worse. We need to mail out invoices for fines, and we need to help the miscreants pay the fines – not arrest them and start potentially deadly fights to do it. If we are trying to lessen crime, then we need to stop justifying larger crimes – confinement, violence – by using them to stop smaller ones.


So, this is getting long, I’ll stop.

Long and short? As a society, as many societies, we seem to have missed the change, we seem to not have noticed that democratic governments change everything, all the ancient social institutions, and that police forces today work, literally and officially, for the people, all the people. What was police brutality in the past and used to be a private act, the King’s goons working out on His citizens, is now insubordination. Eric Garner was a member of the consortium that employs the NYPD, a citizen, and he was murdered by his own public servants. Ironically, that should offend authoritarians everywhere as well as everyone else.

It stopped being us VS them when we established our democracies, Folks, it’s all us now. Let’s deal with crime generally, not just some people’s crimes. Ours too.



Nov. 23, 2015

What if I’m the Dumb One?

It was a funny tweet, a few or several days ago, I don’t remember who said it, I can’t give credit. It wasn’t me though:

“It just occurred to me – what if I’m the dumb one?” – Jeb Bush

I’ve always assumed that everybody thinks they’re smart. Well maybe everybody doesn’t think they’re smarter than the folks around them, but we all think we’re smart enough, right? Like we all have to think we know enough to get ourselves around, we have to assume we understand things, don’t we? Otherwise how do we get out of bed? How would we face the world if we really knew we were going to lose most of our transactions, if we really thought other folks knew so much more than we did?

My family all thought we were clever, well, except Dad, maybe, but all my siblings have or had degrees, mostly earned later in life, not straight out of high school. All but me, but I’m the only one that both survived and lived a surburban family life, same job for thirty-plus years and kids.

When I was maybe fourteen, we bought a supermarket IQ test booklet out of the comic rack and I think I beat everyone on it, got some crazy high number that made me think I had a brain forever afterwards . . . LOL. Doesn’t sound too clever when you put it like that, does it? (For the record, on better tests, it’s my oldest sister who has the most horsepower upstairs, I think we all concede it. Also, the evaluation I took when I got depressed and dropped out of school said I was “oh yes, very smart, but a real dreamer,” something like that.) I really do think my mother and my siblings were and are a smart bunch, and I think I was competitive around the kitchen table, but again – because we must trust ourselves and our minds, objectivity isn’t really possible, is it? Even our dog has to think he is looking after us, that he knows best. This is a huge source of conflict and stress for creatures in large social groups, I guess, to feel necessary and relevant in the face of some obvious redundancy. In order for us to feel important, apparently we need to think our minds are important too. We need to tell ourselves we know something they don’t. ‘Them’ meaning everybody else, our competition.

So it should be no surprise when a fool like me appears to think he’s clever – and it’s no surprise to me if you think you are too. We sort of have to.

It’s a puzzle, isn’t it?

How can billions of people and hundreds or thousands of distinct voices all think they’re right?

. . . so what I’m saying, Jeb, I guess, is . . . uh . . . yeah. Horrifying as it might sound, it’s a possibility we really do have to consider. Due diligence and all.



Nov. 14, 2015

A conflicted Society – When it’s your Job to Die

This was last year’s Remembrance Day post, here it is with only the tiniest of edits, but I thought it was worth repeating, maybe we’ll find something else that needs to be said too.


Remembrance Day in Canada, Veteran’s Day in the States, it brings a lot of talk, mostly all patriotic, and when it drifts into some controversial, nationalism VS pacifism stuff if it becomes a debate. It’s all well and good. Personally, I like some of both: remembrance, sadness, sympathy for the many bereaved and afflicted, tempered with some concept that war is bad, and that peace is the final goal. Again, all well and good.

But we are a very conflicted bunch. I don’t think it would be a stretch to say we are confused on these subjects, the appreciation and treatment of our veterans and their families, as well as anything around violence and its consequences, such as police brutality (to use an old-fashioned expression about it). Maybe I’m not reading the right things, but from my limited perspective, it doesn’t seem to be something that we ever break down, it doesn’t seem that either we try to understand it, or that we simply fail in the attempt.

All the talk about our veterans is, uh, a little too positive to help us get to the truth of it, it’s all about the positive aspects of sacrifice, about heroism, and it doesn’t explain how our soldiers can get the shoddy treatment that many of them get after their service. To explain that requires a visit to the dark side, I’m afraid. In this case, the operative thing, the driving function behind it lies in the soldier’s job description. That isn’t a secret, we all know it. But, that it matters in this conversation is somehow a secret, nonetheless. So here it is.

It is a soldier’s job to die for his country.

This is our conflict. Perhaps it’s only a matter of perception. If we phrase it in this way, describing the sacrifice in the more negative way, we can see that the conflict disappears, like this:

We ship a person overseas to fight and very likely die, even more likely these days to suffer loss of limb and traumatic brain injury. Here’s the thing: this is not good treatment. Therefore, refusal of adequate medical and psychiatric care and the refusal of financial support that so many ex-soldiers suffer, wait for it . . . is not a conflict. It is not any change in how we have treated these people from the day we decided to send them into war. To say it another way, our abuse of these folks starts long before they come home.

Let’s imagine it from another angle. Let’s imagine that we can hear the people in power discussing what we all perceive as our failure to look after our warriors, that we can hear the generals, the State Department, the politicians. Let’s try to see it from the POV of some powerful, cynical leaders when they are dividing up our dwindling tax revenues and deciding where to spend our money. Imagine how much priority is given to the care of a person that we already sent off to die. These folks aren’t likely to forget that it is a soldier’s job to die.

Call me a cynic to say it, but I am indeed cynical enough to imagine that it gets said, hopefully half in jest by these folks, that our wounded veterans failed at their job. Old cynic that I am, I find it impossible to imagine that no-one in these positions ever said “You had ONE job!” To carry on in this dark vein, sending a person off in a modern war to die on the far side of the globe – that isn’t cheap either. For the budgeteers of our world, soldiers cost money going out and coming back. Do I need to say it? Going out is the essential part of a soldier’s journey in many of our minds, and it certainly is in the minds of the men signing the cheques.

What I’m trying to say, getting back to it, is that the mistreatment of our heroes is not some detail, not some unintended consequence of war. It is intrinsic, it is logical even, it is part and parcel of the war machine generally, and it is not likely to change. It is fully in line with war and its objects. Mistreatment of veterans is not a problem we can fix while we’re at war, while we love war. It’s not going anywhere. The masters of war are just patiently waiting for us to get it off our chests and then shut up again.

If you’ve got a problem with that, then your problem is with war. Which, if you have a problem with war, that’s a good thing.

But just so you know.