Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Troubled World

What to Say??
It is getting difficult to know what to say about some of our more recent episodes of craziness.  I can’t tell whether the world at large is simply dumbing down on its way to pre-Neanderthal status, or whether we just don’t care any longer.  Several issues are driving my mind into a state of permanent disarray.
1.      We continue to suck our thumbs concerning the issue of racial misadventurism between our police and our citizenry, especially our non-white citizenry.  Charles Blow penned a recent article in which he states the obvious—we have apparent racism operating within our various police forces (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/05/opinion/charles-blow-privilege-of-arrest-without-incident.html). Mr. Blow states: Police officers are human beings making split-second decisions — often informed by fears — about when to use force and the degree of that force. But that truth is also the trap. How and why are our fears constructed and activated? The American mind has been poisoned, from this country’s birth, against minority populations. People of color, particularly African-American men, have been caught up in a twister of macroaggressions and micro ones. No amount of ignoring can alleviate it; no amount of achieving can ameliorate it. And in a few seconds, or fractions of a second, before the conscious mind can catch up to the racing heart, decisions are made that can’t be unmade. Dead is forever.”  Yet, we seem to have little if anything occurring within the country at almost any level to examine this issue. To be sure, a few communities have begun small efforts in police-community relations, but I can see little, if anything, happening to correct the apparent problem(s).
2.       Three Islamic (Qaeda??) gunmen broke into the editorial offices of the political satirists Charlie Hebdo and killed a dozen people, including the editor, cartoonists and policemen.  They have been identified, but not yet apprehended; they apparently decried the paper for its anti-Islam publications. Actually, the newspaper is quite an equal-opportunity offender when it comes to religion. They are as offensive to Christianity as they are to Islam.  Yet, oddly, no Christian missionaries have attempted to dynamite their offices.  I am still awaiting the outcry from the Muslim priestly order. Perhaps I missed the cries of outrage from the Ayatollah community.  I assume that ordinary Muslims are afraid of saying anything publically, for fear they too will be assassinated.  What should we assume here . . . that the Muslim clerics are also afraid, or that they actually agree with the gunmen . . . choose your conclusion.
3.       In another article, it is claimed that throughout Europe, there is a growing neo-Nazi community that seems to hate all “Non” people, i.e., everyone who is living within their borders, but not quite “them”.  Evidently, the Roma (gypsy) population takes much of their anger, but assuredly, they will also turn against the Muslim population living within their borders.  And this growing trend is not limited to one country. It is taking shape throughout Europe.  
Now, we have seen each of these phenomena occurring at varying times and we have generally uttered the appropriate tsk, tsk. Indeed, in Europe, we can see "Je suis Charlie (Hebdo) signs appearing everywhere, as though that helps.  And here, we have many protesting crowds, waving signs that say things like, “I can’t breathe”. A few communities have begun exploring the police-community relations problems. But largely, I continue to see no evidence that we are serious as a nation, or indeed as a world in resolving these grotesque issues that now infect the globe. Mainly, I never see us trying seriously to define the real problems.  If we find ourselves unable to bomb somebody (our default solution), we tut tut a lot, or sometimes debate the issue in the halls of that institution of vapidity, Congress. And when Congress is not allowed to demand that we bomb someone, they often, in a fit of hysteria, or generosity, throw borrowed money at the problem, so that they can claim a solution and then walk away.
It would be pleasant to see someone, somewhere, attempting to define real problems, no less attempting to resolve any of them.
For example, what do we know of the real reasons that ISIS/ISIL exists? And why do such folks walk into the offices of cartoonists, for heaven’s sake, and shoot the place up? Worse, why/how could such people convince young people to strap on dynamite vests, walk into a crowded marketplace and blow themselves up?? I cannot, for example, imagine any sergeant, captain, or general ordering his men to don such vests and walk into any facility and blow themselves up.  Apparently, when you remove God/heaven from the equation, people become a little more resistant to committing such acts of stupidity.   What, in fact, is the so-called “Arab Spring” all about, cuz it sure as hell isn’t about God.  For starters, I find it interesting that the Mullahs, the Ayatollahs, and the various priestly classes of the world haven’t said much about all the killing taking place throughout that region of the world.  They are almost entirely absent as a force for good, or evil. So, could all this killing be about, simply, power? One group desiring power wants to unseat another group currently holding positions of power.  And religion is just a convenient way to get people to do really stupid things in order to effect the transfer of power.
In the case of our racial issues here in the US of A, we seem incapable of discussing the real issues of racism in America.  In response to Mr. Blow’s article in the New York Times, I suggested that it might be nice were we to actually get down to defining the real source of the community problems. I said:
Your article is correct. But what troubles me is that I see no action agenda by anyone in a position of responsibility/authority aimed at figuring out how we get ourselves out of this ridiculous situation.  The mayor says things about it, and police officers turn their backs on him.  Then some idiot with a gun decides that his preferred solution is to assassinate some police officers.  Now there’s a great solution.
It is arguably true that whites and blacks fear each other.  Perhaps it is even historically true.  OK, but where do we go from there?  Is there anybody in a position of responsibility in this Land of Ours who cares enough to even discuss the whys and wherefores of this tragic mess?
It seems to me that we need a whole lot of things examined and/or changed.
1.       What do we know statistically about this issue? We (I . . . the public) know anecdotally that white police officers have been shooting/killing black “civilians” in questionable situations (questionable because deadly force seems, to ordinary thinking adults, not to have been required). We also have a few cases in which seemingly very dangerous white “civilians” were disarmed without use of deadly force.  OK, that’s alarming. But what is the larger picture?
                                                               i.      How many blacks are killed by police annually, vs. how many whites are killed by police annually?
                                                             ii.      How many black police officers kill white “suspects”, vs. how many black officers kill black/minority “suspects”?
                                                            iii.      How many white police officers kill white “suspects” vs. how many white police officers kill black “suspects”?
                                                           iv.      Are the statistics the same, or do they differ by the racial makeup of the community and/or the racial makeup of the police forces?
                                                             v.      Is there any statistical evidence that mixed racial police units act differently from either all white or all black units?
2.       When such shootings/killings occur, what actions follow, regardless of the willingness of grand juries to act, i.e., do police forces react immediately to engage their officers in discussions of these events, or do the events largely pass without official discussions?
3.       What do we know of the cultural and educational backgrounds of police officers?  Does the background appear statistically to be related to the frequency of violent incidents?
4.       Suppose we discovered that such shootings are in fact racially based. What are plausible actions that could reasonably and logically follow from such a finding?  Are any such “solutions” plausible at the level of municipalities, or must they come inevitably from higher levels, e.g., state or Federal?
5.       Does the public at large have any role to play in seeking plausible solutions to this problem? Realizing that we elect people precisely to deal with such issues, it still might be the case that we need to engage the public in some way, either informally or through some legislative process.
These questions keep dangling themselves in front of me as I read articles such as yours. Yet, I never read anything by either opinion-makers, or officialdom that appears to even begin to address any of my questions. Maybe I have the wrong set of questions, but then can we have someone pose the right set of questions?
I see no solution on the horizon, mainly because I see no one seeking a solution. But somewhat like the wealth inequality issue, no solutions could give rise downstream to violence within the general public, or some large segment of that public. I keep thinking about what happened after “Let them eat cake”. “
The apparent rise of extreme right wing, i.e., neo-Nazi, sentiments throughout Europe suggests to me that the inevitable reaction to the “let them eat cake” mentality is violence. Sometimes the violence occurs within the ranks of those who have “nothing left to lose”, but sometimes it occurs within the ranks of the privileged, those who fear losing what they have.
So, I suggest to the rulers of the world, your time may well be limited. But it is up to you to decide how power will be shared/transferred. Begin addressing real problems, with potentially real solutions, or the crowds of the world may well choose their own solutions.

And a thoughtful reader has penned a response to my posting, adding another important insight into this global issue . . .
"I do think there is a larger context that makes these questions more difficult: Our world is rapidly changing from an Industrial Age to an Information Age and I see several examples that closely parallel the shift from the Agricultural Age to the Industrial Age in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Both transitions had newly-empowered (but imperfectly empowered) groups with legitimate grievances (workers in the emerging Industrial Age;students/young people in the nascent Information Age); both witnessed large-scale violence (several regional conflicts [Crimean War, Russo-Japanese War, etc] leading to the carnage of WW I; the entire Middle East, much of Africa, Ukraine, etc, leading to God-knows-what in the near future); both saw the fall (Austrian-Hungarian Empire, Ottoman Empire, beginning of the end of the British Empire) and rise (USA, USSR) of new international powers; both included large-scale demographic shifts (farm-to-town then; international mobility now), etc., etc.,  The instability and uncertainty of such systemic upheavals, across so many different sectors of our lives, creates an environment which tears people from their traditional roots in places, family, religion, work, etc. and breeds class/group/national grievances that cannot be resolved (or mediated) by traditional roots because these roots are no longer relevant.  Chaos is a predicable result, as we are now seeing.

That leaves the two most important questions you raised:  OK, it is what it is, so what are we going to do about it?  And, who is going to lead the way?  I don't have the breadth of knowledge to addrerss these questions on a global scale, but in our country I thought Bill Clinton would be the answer (or, at least, the beginning of the answer.)  I thought he had the best combination of intelligence, vision, and political skills since FDR.  I thought he understood that if we are to take "all [persons] are created equal" seriously, then everyone must have a fair shot at success.  If education is the new coin of the realm, then in order to give everyone a fair shot quality education must be available for everyone.   If good health is (usually) an important part of a good life, everyone must have access to quality health care.  Etc., etc.  I thought he understood these things and had the skills to get things started.  Unfortunately, he couldn't keep his zipper up, and his was a wasted presidency.  Then I had high hopes for Barack Obama, but he turns out to be a terrific campaigner but a lousy political manager, and his is (in my view) another wasted opportunity.


So that leaves us exactly nowhere.  To pull back from the chaos and create conditions for a new burst of growth and improvement we need stability (real stability, not something that relies on military force or political domination bought and paid for by the highest bidder, but something based on shared norms and values and built on solid political structures,businesses, organizations, communities, and families) and a comprehensive, inclusive agenda.  The agenda, I believe, is straightforward: Everyone counts, everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone must contribute to the common good.  The problem, again in my view, is with the stability."  
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