Sloppy Thinking About Baltimore And Ferguson

As usual, looking back over comments on other sites as Baltimore burns, I am appalled at the sloppy thinking, the acceptance of the standard frame of ‘black vs white’, with special characteristics of people on one side or the other. That frame is very wrong and useless as anything except status quo propaganda: all those folks are people, even the cops.  Lots on all sides are black. The whole political structure is black. There are so many characteristics one could choose from, all illustrated by those ordinary people doing things they are lead to do by standard human weaknesses and external influence.  Cops, too.  Commentators too.  Theodore Dalrymple  too. (I found it at Western Rifle, they get the credit.)

I find myself agreeing vigorously with Dalrymple and nevertheless thinking him largely wrong and old-fashioned in his thinking.  Dalrymple is right that the welfare system doesn’t work, has perverse effects on the evolution of the society.  He may be right about ‘determinism’, which I identify as Newtonian Clock Work Universe : predictable to the far future, if you just get the right data into your equations.

But even without any of that, who could have doubted that would happen, always has and always will, people being people.  We have had welfare systems forever, there are studies of them all, including the probability that they end up corrupting the welfare providers.

Dalrymple is very wrong when he transitions from a critic’s “It’s broken” to a system designer “what we should do”, comparing other welfare systems as though there is meaning in that effort.  Or at least more meaning than in the standard comparison of historical precedents for some event.

Dalrymple’s views were all formed from inside the system he is critiquing.  He accepts it and that it will exist.  He doesn’t critique the state that wields that power, just the particular application of it.

A bunch of those shop owners would love for some outsiders to come stand in their stores with shotguns, probably hate the cops because they won’t. Almost all the people in those neighborhoods are staying home and protecting their property.  And doing it in a gun-free safety zone, a point nobody seems to catch.*  Also no real checking as to why the cops are allowing those fires, what budget limit prevented protecting them?

My general comment is :  Any use of ‘they’ is a category error, how can you possibly think you can understand reality when your words mis-represent it like that?

‘They’ isn’t clear thinking : there are people who want to burn things down, agent provacateurs, and indeed there are excitement-prone youth willing to take advantage of that and loot.  Dalrymple’s books show British welfare classes acting a lot like the people in Baltimore, the behaviors are not unique to one race.

I am sure all of the actual rioters’ grandparents disapprove and many of their parents. But none of them are ‘they’, any more than you are ‘they’ in whatever social, religious, economic group you are in.

The problem is not to assign blame, that is a propaganda exercise that tells us a lot about the writer, nothing about the reality.  Assigning blame is usually prelude to deciding how much retaliation can be justified.  The problem is to understand what to do next as individuals and what we might agree upon as social and political groups.  Retaliation is rarely the right answer, however politically popular.

My diagnosis is that those people lack freedom, few of them act like free people, rather like people who have no skin in the game, no ownership of anything around them and not much self-worth because the system around them is really FUBARed. They can’t even protect themselves, given the laws and corrupt police, how can they enforce social norms on their crazies?  Given the cops as a franchise of ‘lots of arrests pay us overtime’ and a court system willing to bilk the public, what can you expect to happen?  There aren’t many strong defenders of the status quo in Baltimore, and they were all home protecting their property, staying out of the line of fire.

Has nobody noticed that these riots take place in gun-free safety zones, the most heavily regulated areas of the country?  Hey, maybe Ferguson and Baltimore don’t represent a problem with Blacks?  Maybe it is just another manifestation of a too-powerful central government?

We should work to remove the state that is oppressing them, many of those individual humans are natural allies, if only we get the frame right.  Instead we adopt the standard frame that prevents understanding anything, the good old ‘black vs white’.**

*No, gang-bangers aren’t armed.  They have guns and can use them against people equally outside of the law, the safety gained in an attack by another gang is larger than the risk from carrying the gun, should the cops come by.  So they have evolved sophisticated means of dealing with all that.  But for anything else, having or using a gun is a net liability, will end them in jail for a long time.  So even drug dealers are disarmed in the face of a smash-and-grab mob.  Break-even is probably a home invasion, so you don’t see many of those.  But everything else happens, events that stopped happening when a bunch of Korean shop-keepers in LA stood in front of their stores with AKs and ARs.

**So now, if anyone reads this, I should expect to get ‘they really are different, you would treat blacks differently than other races in those neighborhoods.  My answer is “Yes, there are areas that are dangerous for outsiders in many cities in the world, but our statistics are far better than average, even the worst US cities are pretty peaceful by world standards.  Baltimore is 40th in the world in murder rate.  And the association of ‘black’ and ‘danger’ is strong for an individual in some neighborhoods, for them too in cities with a lot of Mexicans.  But that fact isn’t at all relevant when diagnosing the key problem, that clearly transcends the black-white divide.  Race or racism are not the issue in any direction in Baltimore, probably is in St. Louis.  Yes the crime rate in such areas is horrible, why do the police do such a poor job?  It is easy to blame the average person forced to live in a bad area because of a FUBARed economy.”

I think that if you want to change individuals, change the FUBARed systems they are part of, cops too.

Added later : more evidence it was indeed a rotton and corrupt system. Why did it take so long, if everyone was in favor of the change?  Everyone in the St. Louis area, black and white, owe Ferguson thanks for making the fuss.


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