Friday, June 12, 2020

Single Events

I don't respond that strongly to single events. It is patterns of behavior that matter, not one-offs which usually have complicating factors.  This may just be a personality trait I have long had, or it may come from raising many children and slowly learning that whatever fault they are showing does not need to be fixed by sundown. There's no rush.  Even though I work in a job where we are always in a rush, and sometimes my ability to rush has important consequences, evaluating what is happening with a patient, a coworker, or another agency should not happen quickly.

When I am summing up an evaluation, I might choose a particular incident as the best example of what I think is wrong.  I think Obama is a narcissist, and if I were to post on this I might strive to find the best illustration. But it is his body of work that I am interested in.  There wasn't a single event where I went "That's it!  I am never listening to that man again." It is almost a literary approach to find the one killer event to highlight.  Movie-makers search for the telling detail.  I think that is fair for an artistic expression - I think the Bible in general and the ministry of Jesus in particular is a string of these almost-literary telling details.  It's good teaching tool once you know the lesson is true.  But it isn't a fair way to judge a person, a movement, a situation.

When a pattern has been established, I do sometimes jump on the incident du jour as hard as any hothead swayed by every passing enthusiasm.  I did that with the children growing up, I have done that at work with individuals, and I have done that with current events.  About 50% of the time, this is justified.  That's not a great percentage, and I think I have gotten better as I have gone along. It is worth noting that leaping into action fairly quickly isn't always the wrong decision.  When Pearl Harbor gets bombed, it's not a great strategy to say "Wait and see.  Maybe this is just a one-off event." Yet in general, humans overreact to current events and underreact to developing patterns.

I am going to attempt a metaphor which I hope holds up, but all metaphors limp, and this may stumble badly.  When we notice an unjust or irritating pattern, we begin piling up fuel for the day when a fire will be lit. However, we are quite likely to put the fuel for all our resentments in nearby piles, even when they are unrelated.  What should be a series of piles scattered across the landscape turns out to be a single large pile of fuel.  If you are with me this far, I will add in the acknowledgement that sometimes the injustices are related, and it is not unfair, if one fire is lit, to grab some of the fuel from nearby fires and throw that on as well.  A little overlap and combining is not unreasonable.

But angry political movements usually rely on a lot of resentment borrowing, trying to get a critical mass for a general insurrection.  A might be upset about tariffs and B might be furious about gun control and C, D, and E might each have their animating causes.  They may care some, a little, or not at all about the other causes. Revolutionaries attempt to weave these resentments together to create action. This is usually a mischief, and dishonest.  And this is why allowing people to stockpile fuel based on false data is dangerous. 

The killing of George Floyd is a legitimate striking of a match. It was the sort of bad incident that deserves some response.  But which collections of fuel was it justified to light?

Before I get to that, I want to not merely state, but defend the idea that the match was legitimately struck. I have a problem with some arguments being advanced questioning that. Conversation:  It turns out he wasn't that great a guy, and had a criminal record.  Doesn't matter.  You shouldn't kneel on his neck for an extended period.  He had fentanyl and meth in his system.  He might really have died of a heart attack from the drugs. Doesn't matter.  You shouldn't kneel on his neck for an extended period. Sometimes people are hard to subdue at first and claim medical difficulties that aren't real.  Doesn't matter.  You shouldn't kneel on his neck for an extended period.  The police have a hard job and deal with really difficult people.  Doesn't matter.  You shouldn't kneel on his neck for an extended period.

Of course, I apply the same type of reasoning in all directions.  Irrelevant and exaggerated arguments are dismissed.

There are a couple of dozen other piles of resentment, from which people are dragging over the fuel to throw on this fire.  Schools, jobs, police hassling, historical oppression, school discipline, African-Americans disproportionately dying by violence, general police tactics, Donald Trump...I have the same two answers to all of them: emotionally related is not logically related; these are exaggerated and misattributed.


Thos. said...

"Doesn't matter."
I agree. The law, and the courts that apply it, have been far too accommodating of police misbehavior for far too long.

As someone who is concerned about the militarization of civilian police (and the wholesale destruction of civil liberties brought about by the war on drugs), I should know better than to chuck those concerns and circle the wagons around the police, just the people who are angry with them at this particular moment happen to be not of my political tribe.

james said...

As you mention w/ Pearl Harbor, sometimes the event itself comes with enough implications to create a whole new story. The CHAZ affair implies things about the character of the leadership of Seattle that you don't need a lot of backstory to judge.

Texan99 said...

I agree completely about rejecting calls to minimize the murder by pointing out the flaws of the victim. No doubt he was flawed, but that didn't make him dangerous enough, when already in handcuffs, to deserve lethally violent control. (I draw the opposite conclusion about the guy who grabbed the cop's taser in Atlanta; that looks more like traditional suicide by cop.)

So for the first few days I agreed with 99.9% of the human race in condemning the policeman who murdered George Floyd. Then the riots and looting started, and I vigorously disassociated myself from a movement that tried to argue that the 99.9% of human beings who deplored this murder were somehow responsible for this murder and needed to atone by subjecting themselves to ritual deprogramming if not beatings and theft. They can sell it somewhere else, and while they're at it, reform their own darn cities, states, and police unions. Nobody's murdering black men in custody where I live. We already know how we feel about it, and how to prevent it. It's not by wearing cute t-shirts and beating other people up.