It’s Time to Change the Status Quo

This is a painful time for so many of us. There is anger, outrage, pain, fear, racism, injustice, sadness, exhaustion — and it’s not just a recent thing, it goes back generations, as far as our country has existed.

It’s heartbreaking.

We need to let our hearts be broken by how minorities, but especially black people, are treated in this country. Let our hearts be broken by the fear they have to live through, the injustice they’ve suffered, the way they’re perceived by everyone else, the way they’re put down, incarcerated, stomped on, segregated, outcast, spit on, villainized, criminalized, demonized, slurred, patronized, marginalized, rejected, and put into poverty … and then blamed for all of that. Let our hearts be broken by how long this has been allowed to go on, how exhausted they must feel from all of it.

We start with the heartbreak, and then let this move us to finally take action.

Let’s end this now. Change is possible faster than we usually believe, if there’s a will. Gay marriage, decriminalization of marijuana, and a black president have proven that, just to start with. Change is possible now, if we decide it needs to happen.

It needs to happen.

We’ve allowed this to go on for too long. And let’s not be mistaken: we’re all culpable in this. All of us. For pretending it’s not real, for ignoring it, for allowing our own biases and racism to go unchecked, for not calling out racism and oppression in our institutions and society, for not talking about it, for not marching on it, for not demanding that change happen now. We all share responsibility.

But let’s not get into finger pointing and blame. Point the finger at ourselves, own our own part, and then let’s make it right. Own our impact, and clean up our mess.

Let’s change the status quo. Not allow police brutality, to start with. Not allow racism or sexism in our institutions. Not criminalize being black, or being an immigrant. Not allow voices to be oppressed. Not allow segregation and oceans of minority poverty. Not allow our political, economic, social, educational systems to be systems of oppression, but to become systems of positive change.

We have the power to do that. Let’s claim it.

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It’s Not about Race, It’s about Police

A cop casually murdered a guy while his associates looked on and enabled the murder. Protests erupted, then turned into riots and looting, losing any moral high ground they may have started with.

And people are claiming this is about “racial injustice”. As if cops of all “races” don’t murder people of all “races”. It’s about cops, not “race“.

Yet almost no one is pointing this out.

I guess it’s safer to lie and say it’s about “racial injustice” than it is to tell the truth and say it’s about cops.

The “job” of policing both attracts thugs who enjoy bullying and hurting people, and it turns formerly decent people into monsters who live on stolen money, keep their “job” only by robbing, molesting, and killing people, and routinely look the other way while fellow gang members commit evil as part of “doing their job”.

Get-away drivers are charged in the bank robbery committed by their associates. Robbers who didn’t pull the trigger are charged with murder just because they were present as associates of the fellow thug who did. But cops who stand around while a fellow gang member murders a guy can’t be charged with murder because… “reasons”? BS!

If you support the police in any way, you support tyranny. You support infinitely big government. Cops are where the boot heel– or the knee– of tyranny meets the neck of humanity.

There’s no legitimate excuse. It’s past time.

Abolish the police!

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Time to Stop Messing Around and Strike at the Root of Police Violence

Protests quickly broke out nationwide following the May 25 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, which was caught on video and quickly went viral.

Yes, Chauvin has been arrested and charged with murder.

Yes, the usual “voices of reason” are issuing a new round of calls for “police reform,” just as they do after every police murder of an unarmed, non-violent civilian.

No, murder charges and “police reform” aren’t going to fix the problem. Long hot summer, here we come.

It’s tempting to believe that protest marches, violent confrontations, looting, burning, and riots can change police behavior, or perhaps that they COULD change that behavior if applied frequently and vigorously enough.

That kind of widespread delusion is, as Thoreau put it, “a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root,” with predictable results.

If protest marches, violent confrontations, looting, burning, and riots followed every police murder of an unarmed, non-violent civilian, we wouldn’t see fewer police murders of unarmed, non-violent civilians. We’d just see bigger police overtime budgets.

The root of police violence isn’t racism, nor is it the presence of “a few bad apples” on police forces, nor is it the absence of sufficient safeguards such as body cameras and civilian review boards.

The root of police violence is the modern conception of policing itself: The creation of “police forces” as state institutions separate from the populace and dedicated to suppressing that populace on command.

“Police departments” as we know them were just coming into existence in England at the time the United States declared itself independent. They didn’t establish themselves in major American cities until the mid-19th century, or in smaller cities and towns until the 20th.

At one time, a handful of state and federal agencies, a sheriff in each county, and an ad hoc system of volunteer posses and local watchmen handled “law enforcement” in America.

Now more than 18,000 “law enforcement” organizations lord it over the American public, stealing their salaries from that public’s earnings, padding their budgets with literal highway robbery (“asset forfeiture” and so forth), and usually protected by “qualified immunity” when they kill.

If the goal is to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” police as we know them are at best a failed experiment.

How do we wind that experiment down?

Step one would be ending qualified immunity and holding law enforcement personnel as responsible for their actions and as liable for the consequences of those actions as regular Americans are.

Steps two and three would be, respectively, standing down “police departments” entirely in favor of unpaid volunteers for most “law enforcement” duties, and ultimately abolishing the state itself.

Steps two and three, while inevitable in the long term, don’t seem very likely in the short term.

Step one, on the other hand, could be accomplished by Independence Day if the right incentives were applied.

Let’s give the politicians a choice: End qualified immunity or burn, baby, burn.

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Amor Fati, But for the Past

It takes as much equanimity to accept the past as it does to accept the future.

Friedrich Nietzsche (I think) introduced the notion of “amor fati,” or “love of fate” as a way for humans to reconcile themselves to the uncertainty of the future and the disasters it may bring for each of us. The idea? Don’t fear your fate, don’t even just “accept” it – *love* it. If you love whatever comes, and act accordingly, no fate can harm you.

Is your fate to break a leg right before your football team wins state? “Amor fati” would perhaps have you be the best crippled cheerleader/mascot/inspiration you can be, using your injury for all it’s worth as self-motivation, others-motivation, self-improvement, and others-improvement.

“Amor fati” is fine for the future, but what about all else that has come before? As Gus McRae of Lonesome Dove says, “the world ain’t nothin’ but a boneyard. . .” We live at the tail end of a long history of life that includes lots of death, injustice, and suffering. When I drive through the beautiful lands of the Southeast United States, I also have to remember that so much of it is what it is because people were kept as slaves here.

What’s more, we each live at the tail end of long personal histories of mistakes, foolishness, regrettable decisions (or indecisions), and pain. We each have to wonder more or less often how things might have turned out differently with us had things gone differently.

I think this is where we need a more clearly defined concept. Perhaps “Amor praeteritum”?

The past can be a horrible place, but (as so many popular songs attest) it’s also what brought us to where we are now. When someone says they wouldn’t “trade any of it,” it means they have accepted the pain of what came before as the price for becoming. This is a viewpoint worth having. As someone who has spent a good amount of time regretting paths taken or untaken, I reckon it’s one of the only ways to sane acceptance of life.

If it is Stoic to accept whatever comes, it is Stoic also to accept whatever has come before. Practice “amor praeteritum” alongside your “amor fati,” if it’s not too tall an order.

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Why Logic is Unpopular

Value hierarchies are inevitable. What value belongs at the top to make sure the others stay in their proper place?

The ancient Greeks spoke of three perspectives: pathos, ethos, and logos. From a pathos perspective, emotions and feelings take center stage. From an ethos perspective, reputation and tradition are what really matter. From a logos perspective, reason is what guides to wise action.

The Primacy of Logos

There will always be tension between people with different values and tendencies, and this tension often manifests most obviously in politics. Most people are driven primarily by instinct (pathos) or tradition (ethos), which is why self-described “liberals” consistently find themselves at odds with self-described “conservatives”. Some few are driven primarily by reason (logos). Logic is unpopular because it calls into question both instinct and tradition.

In politics, instinct-dominant (pathos) people seek validation of their feelings and messages that make them feel good, usually because something sad/scary/unfair is presented along with an easy solution that would make everything better. Tradition-dominant (ethos) people seek assurance that the messenger is trustworthy, usually because they are part of the in-group or because they signal about duty and allegiance to established institutions like governments and churches and against out-groups and their institutions. Reason-dominant (logos) people seek to establish the truth of ideas and messages, even when it causes them to subordinate natural tendencies and inherited traditions to come into consistent harmony with the wisdom they cherish.

By Their Egocentric Biases Ye Shall Know Them

If you aren’t sure whether you’re dealing with a pathos-dominant person or an ethos-dominant person, you can look for patterns in their behavior.

Typical emotion-driven behavior:

  • Tend to engage in hot cognition with motivation bias
  • Feelings/intentions valued over facts/results (“it’s more important to be morally right than factually correct” or “that wasn’t real socialism”)
  • Easily scared/overwhelmed, and therefore easily controlled (“we need to do something!”)
  • Furious “mama bear” overreactions when challenged
  • Confuse “open minded” with “empty headed”
  • Oppression narratives with victimhood as a status symbol (various privilege/equity/social justice/forced redistribution schemes)
  • Anecdotal NAXALT fallacy and tactical nihilism in response to statistical evidence

Typical tradition-driven behavior:

  • Tend to suffer from the illusion of asymmetric insight and base rate neglect
  • Obedience to authority valued over truth (“it’s the law” equivocation)
  • Retreat to dogma and orthodoxy when challenged
  • Pearl-clutching fear of ambiguity and change (belief that the only alternative to the status quo is chaos)
  • Confuse “consensus” with “evidence”
  • “Might makes right” crusade narratives
  • Tendency to oversimplify patterns and overlook exceptions

The Cure for Irrational Tribalism

A society that subordinates reason is destined to corruption and ruin as the fruitless scramble to justify and rearrange prejudices to satisfy confirmation bias replaces the quest for truth. Narcissistic moral relativism and political power struggles only escalate the conflict. It is only by subordinating emotion and authority to wisdom that can we avoid catastrophe.

“If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.”

– J. Reuben Clark

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The Banality of Evil, COVID-19 Edition

As the COVID-19 pandemic ran its deadly course in New York, governor Andrew Cuomo  affirmed a state policy forbidding nursing homes to reject suffering from the disease.

At least partially as a result (Cuomo himself acknowledged early on that the virus spreads through such facilities “like fire through dry grass”), nearly 6,000 long-term care residents have died so far.

Cuomo, of course, denies any personal responsibility in the matter. He blames the homes (“Do you believe a nursing home operator would accept a patient who they knew they couldn’t care for? Why would a nursing home operator do that?”). He blames the CDC. He blames US president Donald Trump.

Cuomo’s usual “large and in charge” act seems to be crumbling under the weight of the body count. Suddenly, he was “just doing his job,” maybe even “just following orders.” Sound familiar?

Hannah Arendt,  Stanley Milgram observes in his classic study of obedience to authority, “contended that the prosecution’s effort to depict [Adolf] Eichmann as a sadistic monster was fundamentally wrong, that he came closer to being an uninspired bureaucrat who simply sat at his desk and did his job. … This is, perhaps, the most fundamental lesson of our study: ordinary people, simply doing their jobs,  and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process.”

The policies Eichmann executed and enforced — policies aimed at the extermination of the Jews — were intentionally murderous.

The policies Cuomo executed and enforced were deadly too, but in a grossly negligent rather than openly intentional, way.

That’s the DIFFERENCE between Cuomo and Eichmann.

The SIMILARITY between the two is in their shared defense: The idea that those who execute and enforce state policy aren’t responsible for their actions BECAUSE they are executing and enforcing state policy.

The Nuremberg trials — and Eichmann’s later trial in Israel — quashed such defenses when it came to German war crimes in general and the Holocaust in particular.

Unfortunately, US law lags the Nuremberg/Eichmann precedents by decades: “Sovereign immunity” and “qualified immunity” shield governments, and those who act on their behalves, from liability for their actions.

The worst punishment Andrew Cuomo likely faces for killing thousands of New Yorkers is maybe — just maybe — not getting re-elected governor of New York, or promoted to a cabinet position, or ever winning the presidency.

If there’s any justice in the world at all, he’ll suffer at least THOSE penalties.

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