Altruism

I suppose Wikipedia is twenty years behind the times, and not a full collection of all human knowledge up to this minute, but I think I’ve got another theory, a better explanation for altruism, at least for some sorts of creatures.

The most basic definition of altruism there says it’s when a creature does something at some cost to itself and its chances in the world to improve the lot of another individual and/or their chances (for survival, reproduction, etc.). The definition itself shows the biologists’ lens for viewing the world, a creature helps another individual – biology views everything as from the point of view of individual creatures, or that creature’s genes.

There was some group talk, the suggestion that groups of creatures that practice this one on one altruism perhaps get a competitive leg up on groups of that sort of creature that behave less selflessly.

OK.

My other theory suggests that other behaviours produce their fruits at the group level, and that these can be higher priority behaviours than “individually” motivated ones, and I’m now trying out the idea that the group will best explain altruism as well – whups, sorry. I haven’t finished the definitions.

Generally, biology seems skeptical, the evolutionists are not sure “real” altruism exists, meaning that they seem to feel it must add up to an advantage to the altruistic giver somehow, or it would not be selected for, or it wouldn’t, what is it, exist. They go to perhaps the group idea above. Trivers’ reciprocal altruism would seem to redefine it that way, a fairly demonstrable quid pro quo between group members, exactly as stated above, giving their group an advantage over other groups. I’m not refuting these ideas, they’re great, and I haven’t developed my idea yet! Here goes.

Continuing the train of thought I’ve been on, it’s about alphas and the age-old problem of living with them. I think I typed it somewhere this week: what if altruism is a strategy developed by non-alphas to limit and contain the violent chaos of the alphas? What if doing unto others is beta society’s answer to the king’s random violence and narcissism, the stuff of the social bond that enables any sort of society at all? It suddenly occurred to me that when we observe the alphas’ rule in nature among horses or primates, that we are doing just that, going outside and observing what the eternal rule of the alphas produces, and then we go back indoors to the world the betas were able to produce, through affiliation and cooperation, to read and write about it, by portable lights.

If this is the function, or an important function, then it’s a group related thing, but not the whole family group, perhaps. Perhaps alphas are full time cheaters and so are left of any deal-making done among the betas, and it is perhaps not so much a group strategy then as a status strategy, a class strategy, and then one can start to ponder what it means across multiple groups. Now it doesn’t appear that among the baboons or the chimpanzees, the other primates, that it’s the king starting the raids, it looks with the chimpanzees like a band of brothers – but perhaps someone can enlighten me? Is the alpha part of the chimp raiding party, and is he an instigator as he seems to be in the human case? It may be difficult to find primate stories of alphas starting trouble and betas working together to control them, but it’s not a hard fantasy to conjure for us, is it?

A couple of alphas, or would be alphas beating their chests and going straight to madman doomsday scenarios before they ever speak on the phone, and betas on both sides scrambling to save their asses and not minding at all cooperating across borders to do it, whenever possible? (Ha! No-one tell Rodman I said he was a beta, OK?)

This is going to be my new filter for a while. I’ll be looking at things this way, alphas and betas, game theory is for alphas and altruism is for betas. There’s a world of dichotomies in there, maybe. America is caught up in an alpha fantasy, amplified by its enemies, and it elected an alpha to the highest office, something that always means a dark period in history. Nations need their alphas, and alphas will find their way to power anyways, but nations are huge things these days, way beyond our evolved meme of the tribe, which is about a hundred and fifty people. You place your alphas in the military, you give them anything upwards of a hundred and fifty people to push around, and the betas get back to the drawing board, trying to also contain the other nations’ alphas. Altruism.

There’s a book in this, but I’m writing jacket covers these days, apparently.

Mind you, the book’s already been written, at least somebody seems to know how some of this stuff works, even if it’s only the Russian intelligence community.

Whaddayathink? Idiocy?

Genius?

This is my note to myself to think about this, write something later. If anybody’s read it elsewhere, I hope you’ll tell me.

 

Jeff

Nov. 29th., 2017

Advertisements

Alpha-ism

Damnit, America, actual elites are bad enough, you had to go and replace them with this gutter slime? That’s what was wrong with our overlords, they were just too damned nice and affiliative, right? Fuck Political Correctness?

I’m sorry. Twitter rage.

It’s all one.

The stolen presidency, the Russian influence on social media, the apparent ubiquity of men overstepping their bounds with women.

America had hypermasculinity before, but the myth of America, anything that was any good about America – it wasn’t this alpha-ism, this brutality that isn’t different from what it is among our primate cousins. The PR version, the face of America was of a benevolent beta, someone who stood as a bulwark against the knuckle dragging alphas of the world. America carried a big stick, but it spoke softly, and friendship and tolerance were possible, apparently achievable goals.

I said it in a tweet, yesterday or today, so I needed to flesh it out a bit: it wasn’t these hammerhead alphas that made humans what they are, that helped us dominate this world and create anything that may have been decent about people, and for evidence, I point to every other species, mammalian, primate, what have you, any species plagued by these alphas and ask you to show me how that caused them these huge brains and these skyscrapers. You wanna organize anything, you need to reign those random, self-serving idiots in, and somehow humans do that, sometimes. We’re evolved that these are our leaders, these alphas, and really, if one of them can get his paws on you, you’d better do as he says, but humankind has moved beyond that bit of our hardware. We know we need better than pre-tool alphas to lead us anywhere we want to go these days.

Except right here and now, in “the West,” apparently. I do think this alpha-ism is imported. I’m not very religious, but I’m a cultural Christian, and I do believe that if there were a Satan trying to lead us off of an eternal moral cliff, that he would play to men and their masculinity, that form of vanity – which, of course, the totalitarian dictates of bronze age warrior tribes naturally support whole-heartedly. So whole heartedly in fact, that modern ideas about statutory rape doesn’t seem to put a dent in it for a lot of people. So, this was the attempted message of my previous blog, that somehow a hundred people at least began to read:

Alphas are not leaders in today’s world.

Your sports heroes, movie heroes, mythological heroes – they have elements of the alpha, and that’s how our patriarchal leaders talk about it, but these heroes are all in combat situations, they are heroes because they win fights, now that is absolutely an alpha trait – this is what alphas do. You elect one of these, or a troop of idiots who think they’re all alphas – and they will take you straight into a fight. It’s the only place they look any good, and that’s all they care about.

Gonna end this one with a question:

Is that the way to divide our politics? Not so much Keynes VS Hayek or Marx VS Smith, but alphas VS betas?

That’s worth its own blog, I think.

 

Jeff

Nov. 24th, 2017

Knowledge of Good and Evil

            A Question for Bible Scholars

            and

            An Answer for Everyone

 

Someone who knows the ancient Hebrew, the ancient Greek, someone help me. Is this a possible matter of interpretation or translation? I refer you to the very second Book, Genesis Two, and

“. . . the tree of knowledge of good and evil . . .” and “. . . the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

My train of thought has brought me to a mindset where a very small tweak to that bit of scripture might have tremendous explanatory power. What if – and yes, only a “just so” story without some support from ancient language experts – but what if the original idea was more like “. . . the technology of good and evil . . .” – like the knowledge of how to work with good and evil?

I’ve said it elsewhere recently, I know.

I also said this was the original sin, gaining this knowledge – or perhaps rather, developing this technology – and if it’s a technology, is it a sin to turn evil to good? It makes more sense to me that our first sin was the other technology, that we learned to turn good to evil, to turn sweet little babies into soldiers, creating warrior sorts of human groups like the ones who wrote those early Hebrew scriptures. Hmmm. Perfect segue, rare for me.

The technology in question is child abuse, and the data is in: rough treatment in childhood makes for rough adults. This is available knowledge today, out there, poised for the hundredth monkey to pick it up, and all before I made a penny off it of course, but here it is again, for free: childhood is rough in the warrior societies, that is an equation: rough childhood = warrior society. “Warrior society,” though, just what is that, really?

Google the term, you’ll see references to American aboriginal tribes, maybe the Samurai culture, maybe you’ll wind up in Klingon space.

What you won’t perhaps see is any reference to white people, to our own WEIRD selves. Apparently, the peaceful societies of England, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Genoa, Venice, etc., mowed down every “warrior culture” on the planet without being warriors themselves. Amazing, isn’t it? Those warriors didn’t know how to fight! It’s a good thing our Christian “religious society” came along to teach them, huh? I guess if I can scream it with sarcasm, I can also just say it.

“Warrior society” is a racist term.

It’s one of those things “they” (people outside of our group or in another group) have and “we” (people in our own social group) don’t. “They” are a warrior society, “we” just desire security. They are a warrior society – one dimensional, all they do if fight – while we “stand to defend” all that is right and proper, all that other stuff that is what we like to say we’re really all about.

If the world has “warrior societies,” then we all are, or those of us who are not are feeding the crops of those who are, game theory one-oh-one, right? They all are, they all must be. Otherwise what’s the narrative – “we used to have all these warrior societies, but we killed them all and now we’re all peaceful?” If you eat predators, you’re a super-predator; if you kill warriors, you are a super-warrior.

You got a border, you got an army? Then “you’re a gangster now, and there are no late starters” – Carlito’s Way. Particularly if you win the wars, you are a warrior society, again – this is real life, not some evolutionary amateur hour. I’m sorry – “you,” I said? I’m sorry, it’s “we, we, us – white people, Europeans.” We are a warrior society, in fact, human societies are warrior societies. And this is why we know in our bones that children must “be taught right from wrong” – because of that lowlife warrior society next door, that we have to keep kicking their asses forever, because the fools never learn. Damnit. I wish I could say “irony” without ruining it, but, well . . . there it is. (“Ian Malcolm,” Jurassic Park.)

It’s not about smarts so much either, aggression is not intelligence and violence is not intelligence. It’s not about smarts, because if you can slaughter an entire continent of warrior societies and still tell yourself you’re a peacemaker, or an “information society,” or some crap, then you’re a great bunch of warriors, but let’s face it.

You’re not too fucking bright.

 

Jeff

Aug. 1st., 2017

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, Thoughts.com) 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.

Specifically?

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.

 

Jeff

Nov. 23, 2015

Updated! Shows of Strength and Presenting a United Front

. . . are short term, things, of course, is where I’m going. It was never my plan, in raising my kids. We’re playing the long game. We are traitors and pariahs in the world of breeding couples, my wife and I; if you’re disciplining your kids, we don’t have your back. We’ll have no part of it.

Same for the police, and Team America, Team Israel, and the vengeful God of Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition.

If you’ve never read me before – and the odds that you’re one of the few who have are not good! It’s not like my message is the type to go viral – you may not know that this is a pattern with me, the family and then the society, the micro and the macro, the model and the mass production. I see things as fractal, as we do in our nuclear families, so it goes in society.

In my little corner of suburban Canada, in my mainstream life of the middle and lower classes, the adults have a cartel on what is allowed for kids, over what is done and what is not. It’s public school, public play, large public markets and entertainments, and everyone knows what is expected of kids, and apparently we all know exactly how to insure that, and so we all know exactly what is expected of parents too. Of course, that means discipline and control. God forbid your kids should create any problems for me, and vice versa. We all know when a child goes bad and causes problems who is to blame; it’s the parents. Somebody isn’t with the program. Don’t they know that we are all depending on each other to maintain total control of things?

Well, we took a chance, opted out of the cartel, and guess what? Our kids aren’t causing any problems for anybody. I’m not saying it’s all of the kids – but the kids causing problems were raised in the cartel, in the group where all the adults are backing each other up, where the adults are presenting a united front. When as kids we see that dynamic, when we see that it’s a military tactic and it’s directed at us, that hurts our feelings. And when it’s total, when there is no crack in the wall presented by the authority of the adults, when no adult dares break the line and side for the kids, well then we can lose hope. Then desperation may set in.

This united front, this show of solidarity and strength, it’s authority’s answer to everything, but it’s an affront to those of us who were operating under the illusion that we were all on the same side. So it’s a shock and an insult to us when we’re kids, and the grownups who in nature would be our caregivers, the ones who would love and protect us close ranks and say, “No, kid, it’s us against you. No-one who matters, no-one with a vote is on your side.”

That is the Dark Side of Alice Miller’s famous assertion that the presence of one enlightened adult can be the difference in a child’s life. Yes, believe it or not, Dr. Miller was sugar coating it for you. She also let us all think we could undo the damage afterwards with therapy, or she did with her first couple of books anyway.

So, on to the macro part.

Not parents, but the disciplinarians for the parents, and for the children as well, the police – they also like the benefits that come from presenting a unified front, plus they too have left the role of caregiver behind in favour of the bludgeon a little too often. These latest few high profile police slayings of unarmed black people put me in mind of the Hell’s Angel’s rules of engagement as detailed by Hunter S. Thompson so long ago: if one of them has a fight with you, they all do. Plus, as Thompson learned the hard way, it doesn’t matter that they pick the fight, or that it was accidental, the result of a stupid misunderstanding. You were simply unlucky, wrong place, wrong time. All right, on with it. Here’s the point:

We think that in order to keep control of things, we need to be strong, we mustn’t show weakness. Of course this is a self-fulfilling behaviour. If we establish control with strength – read force – then strength and force it must be, forever, because you have pissed off the objects of your control. Here’s the thing though. After some time, like two seconds after the first use of your strength, things like humanity, mercy, and kindness become synonyms for weakness, and that we mustn’t show, or all is lost. That is the nature of fantasy: the fantasized consequences for imagined actions are infinite, larger than life.

Clearly, what the authorities fantasize would happen if the police punished one trigger happy cop like they do every trigger happy private citizen is total anarchy, the end of their authority and civilization as we know it. Equally clear to some of us is that is really stupid. Of course what would actually happen, is it would be the beginning of some sort of respect. Humanity we can respect. Inhumanity we only fear.

It’s not humanity or weakness that is going to drive the people to rampage, it’s the opposite of humanity and weakness nobody likes, meaning of course, what the police are doing now, the show of strength. Here, perhaps the authorities and their police can take a lesson from parents. As much as parents are the model for this huge error, as much as parents are guilty of the same authoritarian methods, there’s a difference: kids grow up. Every parent sees the growth and steady increase of their kids’ power and the waning of their own that comes with age, and a great many parents can see their mistake in dealing with it and so change their ways.

Those that change, those that add humanity to their arsenal as time does its work, those who allow their dominance to slip and replace it with a real, human relationship, if they do it in its proper time, they are able to grow old, vulnerable and weak without unreasonable fear of their children’s vengeance. Their children also benefit greatly, having a more normal transition from childhood to adulthood, the gradual move from the small world of their nuclear family into the larger world beyond the family dynamic, learning to function in society. Those that cling to their strength and to their dominance live to fear coming under their children’s power – either that, or the children simply get as far from them as possible, possibly never to return. The people in the first group, the ones who relax their grip and show their humanity, those folks are growing up, maturing in a normal arc of learning. The ones in the other group grow stodgy, bitter, fearful of change, and live alone at the mercy of their negative fantasies. Some of the children from the second group manage to grow themselves up against the odds, but many spend far too large a portion of their lives trapped in the messed up power dynamic of their nuclear families. This extra time spent frozen in childhood in that sense, this what we call arrested development.

I’ve recently gotten out the old turntable and begun listening to vinyl records again, and one of the last few I’d bought, back in the day was the first offering from Tracy Chapman, remember it? ‘Talkin’ About a Revolution?’ I listened to the whole album last week, and it was depressing. That record is twenty-five years old and it could have been written and recorded yesterday.

The police, the authorities, they are in the second group of people. They are not learning.

What needs to happen, in order to satisfy Alice Miller’s minimum requirement for a difference in the lives of the people suffering under the dysfunctional caregiving of the authorities, is again, one enlightened adult. In this case though, a particular adult, one enlightened police chief, one enlightened prosecutor,  or one enlightened mayor. That’s something that could make a difference. In a bunch of lives.

Colour Blindness and Optimism

There are a lot of comments going around the internet that sound like a sort of backlash against the Ferguson and I Can’t Breathe protests. It’s white folks taking umbrage, maybe feeling left out, like ‘who’s protesting the fact that my life sucks too?’

I think comments like that can be viewed as somewhere on a spectrum, the extreme bad end being racist, but it’s probably usually best viewed this way: a lot of white folks aren’t aware of their racism. It’s all part and parcel of the beliefs around social things – Original Sin, Nature over Nurture stuff, a pedestrian disdain for psychology and social science generally. It seems to me to be rooted in some sort of idea that despite the bad things happening in the world, still, somehow we need to see everything as being all right.

Everything is OK, we’re not screwed up or racist, we’re just dealing with the screwed up people in the poorest communities the best way and the only way possible. It’s the world that’s bad, not us.

This “colour blindness” is at it’s core, optimistic. Of course, optimism isn’t always a good thing.

Trading Up: Moral Equivalence – Bigger Crimes for Smaller Ones

First of all, I admit, I was a late adopter of the expression, “moral equivalence.” I find it counterintuitive, it really means ‘false moral equivalence,’ right, ‘contrived moral equivalence,’ something like that? Or does it refer to people who really do think these disparate situations are actually equivalent? Whatever, let’s live with those questions, like they used to say in the “est” seminars. I’m a great believer that we need to juggle all these thoughts, all these balls need to be in the air at once, that we shouldn’t commit to any conclusions that could be wrong and then base our arguments from them. Everything should always be available for review in our minds, pending new information.

I think we all place the concept in the category of fallacious argument. Moral equivalencies are offered as justifications for behaviours that we all naturally intuit to be wrong, such as violence that is out of proportion to the behaviour that prompts it. Examples of moral equivalence may include:

  • A nation like Israel literally killing something like a thousand Palestinians for every murdered Israeli because the Palestinian Arabs WANT to kill all the Israelis.
  • A police officer literally killing a citizen in a fight that begins with an attempted arrest for a minor crime – of course, like jaywalking or operating a very small commercial enterprise without a license or without filing the taxes.
  • A law introduced that curtails the rights of large numbers of people based on statistically insignificant levels of a crime – like the voter ID laws.

Now, I know everyone is making the race arguments about these things, and of course there is racism, and classism, the poor always get the short end, and through long term, cultural racism, ‘the poor’ is pretty much synonymous with ‘blacks,’ at least in America. Fair enough. I just want to point out what seems to be slipping under the radar: the simple moral fallacy underlying all policing, and authority in general, and that is the magnitude of the crimes in these situations.

I think we can all see the cost and benefits of imprisoning murderers. Sure, forcible confinement is bad, an infringement of the prisoner’s human rights, but his infringement on the human rights of his victims is worse, so we feel justice is served. Perhaps not optimally, at least I don’t really think so, but close enough for this conversation. And so, if this killer resists arrest and dies in the ensuing fight, that’s still close enough to proper – of course, provided he really is a murderer, provided he’s guilty.

Morally, that is not so bad. Pretty good in a horrible situation. But that example should not be used to cover all arrests. That is some bad science, in fact it is probably one of these arguments of ‘moral equivalence’ to say that anyone who resists arrest for anything can be righteously killed. Race and racism aside, that is reprehensible, and defending that behaviour very correctly puts the defender on the wrong side of morality. This is a net increase in crime: murder for jaywalking, murder for black market cigarette sales.

That is the opposite of what we are paying police for.

Talk about ‘do as I say, not as I do!’ Here’s what you can’t do, and here’s what we can do – this is the very essence of inequality, inequity and anathema to ‘all men being created equal.’

So here’s what I think should happen: I don’t think that we should enforce these laws if it means creating a bigger crime than the one we’re trying to stop. So no corporal punishment for non-violent crimes, for jaywalking for illegal small businesses – verbal admonishments only. Counselling and reason, let them know that they aren’t holding up their end of the deal in our attempts to have a fair society. Perhaps for the subsistence criminal, we can find them some legal money to live on. This may involve reorganizing our social structure in such a way that doesn’t leave so many people out of the right side of life and the law, such as decriminalizing drugs and stopping the erosion of the government’s revenues for education and healthcare.

Maybe we could document these minor crimes, and use the information in court if the person does anything that really does require police and courts, so we could show a pattern of anti-social behaviour, make a case that some sort of intervention is overdue for the stubbornly anti-social and criminal people that abuse the system.

Pie in the sky, right? Madness?

So, the status quo seems reasonable, then? That minor crimes should be punished corporally, with a forced trip to jail and possibly prison, something that would motivate the offender to fight for his life and turn our attempt to correct small crimes into deadly street battles instead? Please don’t take this the wrong way, I don’t blame everyone. It’s been complicated and confusing for so long, but that’s . . . crazy. All infractions of the law do not need to be enforced.

In fact, of course, all cases of breaking the law are not enforced now. How many crimes of the rich, the bankers, and the leaders are not punished? Of course, the crimes that are detected, solved, prosecuted and punished are far fewer than the actual instances of crime and always have been. In this way, criminal punishment has always been unfair and random. That perhaps bears repeating.

Criminal punishment has always been unfair and random. That being the obvious truth to any thinking person, and being that improving the consistency in catching and prosecuting is unlikely and possibly not even desirable – most of us think we’re close enough to the dystopic police state of our nightmares now – maybe we need to think about going the other direction. Simply not arresting and prosecuting the poorest people for minor crimes (again, drug laws come to mind) – not going after the lowest hanging fruit with the intent of violence and forcible confinement – could well be our best way to increase the consistency of our law enforcement, and therefore the general fairness of our society.

This could be one way that the police could gain some real respect and trust in the poorest communities – I mean, this wouldn’t be huge, much crime is violent crime, and I’m not advising we ignore those who would victimize others with violence – but this is exactly the point. Victimizing others with violence is exactly what the police are doing when they come to arrest and imprison people for minor crimes. If this is what cannot be changed, then talk of community trust and respect is empty blather. And deeply cynical too.

To say to people –

“We want to work with you, to establish a partnership, based on trust and mutual respect, based in understanding. We acknowledge that we are here to serve the community, to work for a greater peace and a better life for all – “

– while still maintaining that we intend nonetheless to come to your house, overpower you and throw you in prison for not paying your parking and court fines? That is deeply schizoid for some of us and downright cruel and cynical for some others. Either way, it’s . . . crazy. Again, violence, kidnapping and forcible confinement for minor crimes – that is a net increase in the level of crime, and it’s the very opposite of what the general population is paying the police to do.

Morally, arrests and the associated force and violence are worse than jaywalking, street level black market dealing, avoidance of legal and traffic fines, and drug possession. That is what I’m saying. This isn’t moral equivalence. It’s a total inversion.

It All Starts when We Punish our Kids, #6

It all starts when we punish our kids.

What “all starts?” Well . . .

6. Racism.

Childhood punishments are where we first hear talk about “the other,” about “those kinds of people,” about Good People and Bad People.

  • You don’t want to grow up to be one of those people, do you?
  • You’re bad. I told you to be good!
  • “Jimmy played with matches. Don’t be like Jimmy.”
  • Stay away from those kids, they’re bad.

Those aren’t very direct, it’s no simple thing to draw a direct line from there to something like Ferguson, but a few things can be said, and if you’re looking for proof of anything in the foggy sphere of social science then you’re just looking for a way out of things you don’t want to hear. If social change relied on hard, math-style proofs, our progress would be at full stop instead of just being really, really slow.

Even when phrased in the second best way, descriptions of when we behave and when we misbehave are still about what we are, and not about things we only did or didn’t do. Santa Claus wants to know if you’ve been a good boy or a good girl, he needs to know you haven’t been naughty. When it’s our own language, and especially if we only know one language, it’s easy to forget what that verb is; we rarely conjugate words we learned as young children, but those statements don’t speak to what you do, they speak to what you are.

When we do something wrong, it’s because we are bad. Of course when we think a bunch of people do something wrong, then they are bad.

Of course, a good definition of bigotry is thinking that “the other” does what they do for impossibly stupid reasons, and that can as easily be descriptive of how a parent reacts to a young child’s misbehavior as it can to one race or culture’s inability to comprehend the actions of another’s. What we do, and therefore what we are, has its reasons and makes sense. The destruction wrought by a toddler or the rioting of an underclass race is just senseless. They need to be made to understand that they’re being bad.

Of course, little sponges that humans are, everything we do anywhere near a young child, and especially what we do to them, the stuff that affects them directly, is stuff that we are modeling, stuff they are learning. If we explain everything we see not in terms of processes, not in terms of interactive activity but rather simply because of what the people doing it are, of what the person doing it simply is, then that is how they learn to understand the world.

And, yes, that is a problem, and one cause for the problems we have understanding one another across cultures and across races; it opens the door for bigotry, it skews us toward not trying to understand the experience of “the other” because we already have our explanation, it’s just what they are.

Here’s the rest of the series:

 

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2014/09/11/it-all-starts-when-we-punish-our-kids-5/

 

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2014/08/25/it-all-starts-when-we-punish-our-kids-4/

 

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2014/07/20/it-all-starts-when-we-punish-our-kids-3/

 

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2014/07/19/it-all-starts-when-we-punish-our-kids-2/

 

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2014/07/19/it-all-starts-when-we-punish-our-kids-1/

The Islamic State Just Doesn’t Get It.

Well, it seems those damned Muslims in Iraq and Syria are misbehaving again.

And they’re getting worse!

WTF is the matter with those people? We’ve already bombed the crap out of them at least twice, and still they insist on their revelatory religion, and they’re only getting more committed to it, getting stricter and more fundamentalist. We’re having to go bomb them again, like we told them we would, like everybody knew we would if they acted up again. We’ve tried everything, haven’t we? We occupied them, some really present, hands on supervision, plus we’ve tried invisible death from the sky. If that doesn’t let them know that we will always know when they’re misbehaving and that we can always catch them and correct them, I don’t know what would!

We’ve shot them, bombed them, blown up whole families, even whole villages, yet for some reason, despite that we will kill and maim them, they continue to kill and maim each other. Where do they get this idea that it’s OK to do that? Who do they think they are?

It’s their Quran, isn’t it? It’s a manual for violence, and it teaches that life is cheap. That must be it. They are raised on the belief that violence can solve any problem that presents itself, and that belief is so pervasive and so entrenched that all of our righteous violence can’t seem to get through to them. It almost seems hopeless. It almost seems like we should just give it up. After all, we’ve tried everything.

But how can we? What they’re doing is so bad!

I guess we’ll just have to step it up.

I’ve Never Met Sam Harris, but . . .

I think I’m already over him. Plus, as collateral damage, I think my bromance with Bill Maher may be at an end too. I mean, regarding Bill, I haven’t yet committed to never watching his show again – but I deleted the scheduled recording of it from my PVR yesterday. He’s moved from my “I want to watch” list to my “I’ll only watch it if it’s on while I’m in front of the TV and it’s somehow the least stupid option, like if there’s no mixed martial arts on or something.” I’ve got a feeling that he’s lost more fans than just me over this latest Islamming (trademark!) that he’s doing. A parting bit of advice, Bill? You may want to distance yourself from Harris a little.

Now to Harris.

Mr. Harris has been taking a lot of guff since Bill’s show some eleven days ago, and from some pretty popular voices, not just internet nobodies like myself. Here’s a response he made to some of it on his blog:

http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/on-the-mechanics-of-defamation#.VDsSLTPpryM.twitter

Now, before I delve into details, and before we get caught up in those particulars, I want to point out that this blog post of his is an answer to people calling him a “genocidal fascist maniac” (which even I would suggest is a little hyperbolic), but this the thing. Nothing in this post would change my mind. I’ve been having some back and forth on Twitter with a person or two, someone is telling me that the point of the passage in question, and the chapter in his book it comes from, is a philosophical one about how belief drives action, and I think they’re trying to say the statement about the war is only an example.

Which, if the passage from the book had been the end of it, while I still don’t believe that theory (that the justification of the USA killing Islamist terrorists was put forth only as a theoretical example), I might have been able to let it pass, I might have said, ‘OK, close enough,’ but he said it again, in this blog post that was ostensibly intended to portray him in a less maniacal light. It wasn’t a hypothetical reference; it was updated for today’s war and was very specific. I’m speaking of the last three paragraphs in the post. Here’s the new statement, same as the one that got him in trouble with actual liberals in the first place:

“It would be ethical to kill these men (he means ISIS)—once again, only if we couldn’t capture them—because of all the death and suffering they intend to cause in the future. Why do they intend this? Because of what they believe about infidels, apostates, women, paradise, prophecy, America, and so forth.”

And here’s the rest of his defense:

“ . . . nowhere in my work do I suggest that we kill harmless people for thought crimes.”

First of all, wow, just wow. If we’re not dangerous people AND we don’t ever have nasty thoughts, Harris is not advocating for our destruction. What a shining beacon of Liberalism.

Now, the ways in which this philosophy contrasts with my own views:

The clear implication here is that Harris does think we should kill harmful people for thought crimes.

Personally, I think that anyone trying to lessen both the expected duration of the Islamists’ hatred for and wish to kill Americans and also the level of violence and war in the world generally would not even advocate for killing these harmful people for actual crimes, let alone thought crimes.

I marvel at this philosopher’s self-unawareness. In advocating that we should kill harmful people for thought crimes, Mr. Harris is a faithful mirror to the very attitude he ascribes in these passages to Islamists alone, that it is justifiable and somehow helpful to kill those whose beliefs are antithetical to ours, or to our lives. By this reasoning, it must also be “ethical” for Islamists to kill Americans.

The only place this reasoning is ethical is in a very small world, a tribal situation. This is only morality to someone for whom the only moral concerns are the domination interests of his own tribe, someone for whom the death of his enemies is not a moral issue. It’s not exactly peacemaking, which, I think, by definition means the search for a larger morality, one in which a solution is sought for all parties. Of course, in geopolitics, in the new, smaller world we live in, for the more than fifty years during which nuclear war has been a real concern, the difference between war and peace affects us all. It is really in all of our interest that the morality of peacemaking be the morality we attain to.

And if America is, God forbid, listening to Sam Harris for moral guidance, then it seems sort of obvious what the problem is, at least from our side.