I was asked why I believe police violence will decrease with body-cams, why I don’t think the solution is “merely” hiring better police, or even why I don’t think police are “bad.” As well as why I am unshakably optimistic about the entire equation of race in America. Good questions, and I thought I’d take some time to address them fully.
You can believe that people are different (as groups) or that they are basically the same. If, for instance, blacks are intellectually inferior and whites morally inferior, then Houston, we have a problem. And cannot resolve it. And I think that very ugly fear, one way or another, is at the root of much of the despair.
But if it’s only one or the other? Then the problem will resolve, albeit slowly.
But if it’s neither? If blacks are as smart as whites, and whites as moral as blacks? Then the problem will resolve itself, and what we’re seeing is nothing more than the natural clash of cultures and acting-out of fears and identities as the groups blend due to social and sexual exogamy. Happened countless times in human history. People blend, but before they do there is chaos and pain and self-justification and self-serving obliviousness. No, not to the slightest degree do I believe cops are worse than their paymasters. I do think they tend to be more protective of the status quo, more Alpha-aggressive, and that if you don’t understand male psychology, or are afraid of it, it looks like they are actually worse.
No. They are tribal, and human beings evolved that way. We are changing the definition of “tribe” to include people of different races, religions, political orientations, nations, and so on. This is pretty new, so far as I see. There was no golden age in the past when we all just “got along.”
Ask the Neanderthals. Oh, that’s right. You can’t.
Change is hard to see, over the course of a single human lifetime. But you can be deluded into believing change of these basic boundaries is rapid, and if it isn’t rapid, why, there’s no change at all. But one of the advantages of living as long as I have, I seen both amazing change and the human tendency to wake up, shake your head with disbelief, then go back to sleep and pretend nothing happened.
Now, if this change is counter to your comfort zone, it feels overwhelming, triggering terror among those clinging to the past, or the “old ways.” But if change is what you want NOW, then the other human tendency is to say “nothing has changed! Nothing will ever change unless it happens NOW!” Which is also a mistake.
Here’s what I see as the biggest mistake one side is making:
- Racism is over, or has never existed. (Or if it did exist, it existed among the group they aren’t a part of. Or…it was minor. Why, the Irish were enslaved, right? So what’s the problem…)
- Blacks are solely responsible for their current issues.
- The playing field is level.
- Whites would have done better than blacks, given the same history.
- Racism is carefully defined as something they are not. “If it’s true, it isn’t racist.” is a common one. No, the differential attribution of human qualities based upon race or ethnicity is “racism”, whether you believe it’s true or not.
And the other side is making these:
- Racism is as bad as ever, or worse.
- Blacks have no responsibility for the damage in their own community. Or…that damage and dysfunction doesn’t exist at all.
- Confusing the definition of “racism” and “institutional racism.” In other words, you can’t be racist if you don’t have the power to back it up. This is a “slight of mouth” pattern, designed to gain rhetorical or political advantage, and I have no respect for it.
- Blacks would have behaved better than whites, given the same history. Hah.
- The playing field is impossibly uneven.
If you believe in inequality, then you look for ways to separate yourself from the negative behaviors you see in others. If you believe in basic human equality, you look in the mirror. For the ways all of human history is just the emergent working-out of patterns you can see operating over and over, among human groups all over the world.
If you believe blacks are superior/inferior to whites, this is what you will look for, and support.
If you believe people are basically the same, then this is what you look for, and probably find.
Ultimately, it boils down to spiritual/philosophical positions relating to nature and nurture that cannot be proven or disproven ultimately. We’ve been arguing them for thousands of years, and trust me, I have no illusion Steven Barnes can resolve them once and for all.
I can tell you one thing, though: there is no joy on the side that claims inequality. There is no way out. They’re in a conceptual box, filled with pain and fear and denial. Imagine the room filled with blacks and whites who think that way. Whether they consider themselves inferior or superior, there is going to be fear and pain and blame, and ultimately they are going to do their best to kill each other.
The room with the people who see basic human connectedness is the only room that has a chance to find and implement answers. It’s also a lot more fun to hang out in.
There is nothing, and I mean NOTHING, that has happened in human history that confuses or discourages me much. Nothing in American history that causes despair. Bad stuff? Sure. Grotesquely so. But it’s just nature, working its way out. And the violence of human interactions, over our history, has decreased.
And as the institutional racism diminishes, we are stuck with individual flaws: the natural human tribalism, “my dog’s better than your dog” hierarchicalism, and selective amnesia due to fear of retaliation (“If I admit we screwed you over, you’ll demand reparations and want to cut our throats! God knows I would!”) on one side, and accusations of totally intractable and increasing racism on the other side due to fear that, ummm…well, what if…ummm…white people are really right, and there’s something wrong with us?
I see both. Hear both. It’s heartbreaking, because both diseases stop us from being able to see how far we’ve come, OR how much more there is to do. They miss the big picture.
Segregation ended when those without an entrenched need for it witnessed the violence used to keep it in place. MLK specifically used the tactic of provoking this violence in front of cameras. The country got to ask itself: “who are we? What is true?” in this regard. And local standards and customs were changed by the national will. But it isn’t that Southerners were intrinsically worse than Northerners—they were driven by their historic circumstances, and if you reversed them, Northerners would have behaved the same way.
I can agree that blacks are a statistical threat to themselves in many ways. Fatherless homes, black-on-black crime and other factors are abysmal. Some love to point this out. But the dishonesty, the unspoken part of the equation, is the invisible question: “do you really believe that whites would be healthier and less self-destructive if the history was reversed?”
Abused, depressed individuals damage themselves. Societies and sub-cultures can do the same, on a Macro-level.
Anything other than a resounding: “hell no” is a mealy-mouthed avoidance of saying what you are really thinking: black inferiority. Oh, there are lots of fun ways they talk around that subject, but that’s what it boils down to, and a tiny fraction (maybe 1%) will say out loud what I figure 5-20% are thinking down deep. Heck, Jerry Pournelle thinks that FIFTY percent of people believe their tribe is better. If that’s true, then about 98% of bigots hide their actual beliefs under political rhetoric and PC terms. But it’s there, the turd floating in the social punchbowl, excreted by the elephant in the living room.
Sorry, I just couldn’t resist.
So…how does that relate to cops? Hell, cops are the people willing to “hold the line” against the animals, whatever they consider those “animals” to be. Criminals, perverts, Commies, homos, blacks…whatever. We need them. As one of my instructors once said, any culture that doesn’t produce a certain percentage of these risk-seeking, aggressive/protective “wild boys” (and girls, of course) is going to get wiped out.
Cops feel fear like anyone else. They are the sharpened, cutting edge of the axe, not the head, not the handle, and not the axeman swinging and choosing the target. The axe-man, the “driver” would be our human instinct: SURVIVE!
So what happens when the unconscious “survive” meets the unspoken “we’re superior to them”? You have people trying desperately to keep power (to enhance their power and security) without being able to speak their perceived truth (“the inmates are taking over the asylum” or less flattering, “the monkeys are taking over the zoo!” Boy, can you ever see “polite” versions of these in action in public discussion. The grinning hierarchical ape hind-brain pretending to be all “we’re all brothers, right? Racism is over, so the problems [which we never admitted in the first place] are yours!”) So much fun.
Cop violence will diminish when more people admit it is happening, and believe it must end FOR THEIR OWN GOOD. Are willing to stand up and throw their blinders off to a reality that has existed for centuries, and which, while diminished and no longer institutionalized, is still the unconscious or unspoken desire of the pay-masters and city fathers.
The violence will increase on the personal level because it has been broken up on the institutional level–because black people were and are smart enough to claw their way out of a pit, and whites are moral enough that, if they have no personal need to maintain a social status quo, their consciences and naked self-interest and capacity to empathize move them toward positive action. People are people.
And on both sides, the progress is obscured and subverted by those of lesser capacity or morality (I never said all people are equal. I said that GROUPS are roughly equal in these ways), and those who believe in the hierarchical “we’re better.” It’s poison for either side. And how about the flip side? How about the “we’re worse”? You think there aren’t blacks afraid blacks are inferior? Whites afraid whites are inferior?
All you have to do is look at the male Feminists, some of whom CLEARLY believe males and their approach to life are inferior, and that women are morally superior and will save us all. It’s pitiful. (I suspect they hope it will get them laid. It certainly worked in the 60’s. Good luck with that.)
And of course, there were and are plenty of women who believe women inferior, and men should be in charge. Equally pitiful.
This is what we are. These thought patterns evolved because they helped us survive in simpler, slower worlds. It is changing. The alpha-aggressives will fight for the society they comprehend, and against the retaliation of those who are gaining power. Fear. Nothing but fear.
Fear and love compete for the same place in our hearts.
All you have to do to determine if there is a resolution to all this is ask yourself what you believe the basic nature of human beings might be. What reality is. If you believe we are basically evil…man, there is no joy in Mudville.
If you pretend to believe we are basically good, you might despair as well: if we are angels, this must be Hell on Earth.
But if we are basically animals awakening to a larger world over the course of the last 250k years, it is possible to witness an unfolding miracle. We don’t need to be “good” or “evil” basically. We can simply, like planaria or polymaths, obey our programming to move away from pain and toward pleasure, learning to future-pace and delay gratification as we mature.
That drive can create “morality” all by its lonesome, because over the long term, those who cooperate, behave honestly and pass what they learn to others succeed and survive more often than those who damage their human relationships, behave dishonestly, and keep their discoveries to themselves. That can pretty much be proven objectively and logically. In other words, from this perspective, given time, our very selfishness and fear will move us toward the behaviors we call “goodness.” It is an amazing thing to contemplate.
And then I have to jump to the spiritual, a realm in which I can express my experience, but cannot “prove” l to those who do not share it. In the mundane realm, human beings start by discovering themselves then slowly learn to explore the external world, learning “who am I?” and “what is true?” along the way.
But this same pattern in the emotional/spiritual realm is that we must learn to love ourselves and the divinity within us…and then expand that humanity to include others…and finally realize that we are all part of the same existence…and then see the face of the Divine in every human being we meet, as well as in our own hearts.
It is a journey. The sleepers dwell in a dream of superiority, or a nightmare of inferiority. It is common, and it is pervasive, and as it seems that humans “woke up” to their own existence about thirty thousand years ago (judging by the appearance of human figures in cave paintings), I think we’re simply “waking up” to the fact that we are all one human tribe, and perhaps even one great living force. One soul, looking out through many eyes.
As groups, we Gingham Dog and Calico Cat each other, “using every fang and claw in the awfullest way you ever saw.” We are also loving and caring.
Deal with it: we contain multitudes.
A members of a group, we can see that our group has damaged others without feeling the slightest guilt–you are only responsible for what YOU do. You can see the damage, lend a hand if you have the heart for it, but the only thing you CANNOT do and be an intelligent moral observer (IMHO) is pretend the damage didn’t happen.
Or, you can be a member of a group that was damaged, and see the damage to your community, without pretending you have no responsibility to act with maturity and commitment to take personal action, to hold yourself to higher standards, to never fall into the “this was done to me, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
No. There is ALWAYS something you can do. If you were sexually abused, that is a hideous fact. But your current happiness and health in life is YOUR responsibility. It doesn’t absolve your creepy uncle from what he did.
It is unfair that you were marooned on that desert island. But either you weave nets, built a hut, and make bonfires or you will starve, die of exposure, and have no chance of rescue.
It is both. Yes, it happened. No you need feel no guilt if related to those who did it. Yes, you might be a better person if you lend a hand. I don’t judge those who choose not to. What is crossing the line, though? At what point do I say: “no. You will not get away with that”?
Try this analogy: You can mug me. Knock me down and take my wallet. Piss on me as I lay unconscious in the gutter. Even laugh. I can accept all of that. Life is tough.
But what you CANNOT do is say to passers-by: “look at that broke, stinking idiot sleeping in the street. This is his natural state. He must LIKE it. His current state expresses his intrinsic nature.”
Yes, it is my responsibility to get up. And if the mugger is gone, it would be wrong to attack the next person who comes along who resembles him. Wrong.
But if you’re the one who laughs, and points, and lies to cover your ignorance, fear, and self-serving ego? Then you have done an actually EVIL thing, akin to the creepy uncle who says: “she was the most seductive six year old you’ve ever seen. She asked for it.”
In other words, my brothers and sisters are those who can see both ends of this toxic burrito:
There is fantastic damage and dysfunction within the black community, and blacks are the only ones capable of dealing with some of it. And that damage happened because of external historical circumstances–and that given those circumstances, whites would have done no better, complained no less, and blacks been no kinder or less oblivious or piously self-serving.
You will not understand me without accepting both propositions.
And if you don’t, in my opinion, you can’t see the Nathan Bedford Forrest for the trees.
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