Wednesday, April 29, 2015

We always learn what we want to learn

Here's a much discussed post by Baltimore native Ta-Nehisi Coates talking about what's happening in his (and probably also your) city.
When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is "correct" or "wise," any more than a forest fire can be "correct" or "wise." Wisdom isn't the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the community.
Y'all remember to behave now. While your wages remain stagnant, while your infrastructure decays, while your schools are neglected and/or privatized, while your franchise is denied, while the criminal justice system is used as a cudgel to keep you intimidated and... OH MY GOD WHY ARE YOU HITTING YOURSELF?

As always, we're only allowed to deplore the violence when it happens in one direction.
Today has seen the usual depressing tally of which commentators — Sharpton, Scarborough, the #tcot crowd with their sad little tweets — have deplored the violence in Baltimore. There is of course no excuse for looting — check that box. People should be more like Dr. King — check that one, too. Before we talk about anything, with any force or meaning, let’s make it clear we are talking about nothing at all.
In spite of that, I liked this Charlie Pierce post a little better than some people did.  I get the criticism that he's maybe pulling some punches and setting up equivalences in the interest of affecting.. I don't know ..wisdom or something.  But Pierce isn't the worst offender in that regard by a long shot.  (David Simon, meanwhile, is the worst person on Earth.)

Pierce's worthwhile observation is strictly a political one.  Forget about whether you think he's trying to tell you how you should behave and note that he is probably correct about how others will react.
Why in the hell does this country never learn? Why does it never learn that invasion and occupation and bombing is not the way to spread democracy and virtually always comes to blowback and ruin? Why does it never learn that reactionary, militarized policing will inevitably lead to rioting, which will inevitably lead to repressive techniques that the rest of the country, watching on television, will approve? The whole world is watching? Yes, the whole world is watching and applauding every burst of the water cannon and every swing of the truncheon. The country never learns because, goddammit, Americans never learn. Dr. King was right about an eye for an eye. The country is blind.
We Americans never learn because we are not interested in learning. Instead we are interested in having our biases confirmed and our self-righteousness reassured.  Coates and Pierce can write all they want in whatever measure they like about the violence of the state but Pierce's point that, "the whole world is watching and applauding every burst of the water cannon and every swing of the truncheon," remains the most relevant.

To see this, all you have to do is take a step outside of your own filter bubble and talk to people.  What you'll find, especially if you talk to whites.. and especially if you talk to older whites who vote.. is their perception of events from Ferguson through Baltimore is that the police are the victims here. Yes, they'll tell you there is a crisis. But the crisis is lack of respect for authority.

Really, it's not even fair that we're offered this false choice between social justice and "law and order" but that's what has happened.

So we're dealing with a whole system designed to create police abuses.  But people are less concerned with the leviathan than they are with the little bits of it that touch them.  And mostly that means people want order in their neighborhood.  This is not a difficult thing to predict. We've seen this exact script acted out many times before.

It's likely there will be political fallout from all of this during the 2016 election cycle. Surely, the Freddie Gray incident won't be the last case of police brutality you'll hear about between now and then. And Baltimore won't be the last scene of public demonstrations.  Republican candidates will make hay out of the desire to restore order.  Chris Christie has already done a thing.  Expect Bobby Jindal to write some sort of op-ed for Time or Politico this week or next.

Because we like pleasant endings, eventually what's likely to happen is Mitch Landrieu and Sidney Torres will go on a national tour selling NOLA4Life and some app-driven privatization scheme as the feel good security solution to everyone's problems.  People will largely buy that because they like to be told that every terrible thing always works out for the best

But before we get there, there's kvetching to do. So expect more exasperated CNN reporters wondering why it is that desperate, marginalized people just can't seem to do "civil discourse" more politely. And, with that, expect more demand from primary voters that somebody do something to make them behave.

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