Saturday, August 15, 2020

I'll be voting for Hawkins in 2020

I don’t think I’ll ever join any political party, and I don’t typically endorse candidates, but I am happy to share who I intend to vote for and why. In the past I’ve sometimes written up my feelings about the candidates and shared these with neighbors (in Illinois one can get a list of registered voters and check out which party’s primary ballots they took, so I tend to address such letters to neighbors in my precinct who vote in Democratic primaries).  I think it’s important to engage in the democratic process and the culture of civil debate in the public sphere, and as a non-partisan voice, I think I sometimes add something to the debate. When it comes to ideologies and political preferences, I think our voting proclivities are somewhat like our tastes in food; you may like food that I find too spicy or too salty, and I may prefer vegetarian food over the meat you enjoy eating, but such differences don’t create any animosity between us or any feelings of superiority. This is my perspective because I think most people vote for candidates based on ethical values they have, and I believe we mostly have the same basic ethical values; and our political differences come mainly from the relative emphasis we put on these various shared values.  

In the United States, however, for a minority (about 20% of the population, fairly evenly split), personal identity is wrapped up with ideology or political party, and for such committed partisans, politics takes on the power of a religion. For such persons, it’s difficult to discuss the relative merits of policies advocated by various candidates, or the degree of wisdom and integrity each candidate may possess, since these highly partisan persons have such strong cognitive bias that seem only able to process information about the correctness of their beliefs and the facilities or idiocies of their opponents’ beliefs.

Political alignment surveys show that I prefer equality over markets, and I’m rated at 81% equality preferring (where a 50% equality / 50% markets preference would be completely in the center on that scale).  That gets me a label as “socialist” and I’m comfortable with that label describing my economic preferences. I’m in favor of confiscatory taxes to reduce extreme wealth so long as poverty exists (if we end poverty, I’d have few objections to low taxes on the wealthy). I do not think the public sector is inherently less efficient or impractical in solving distribution and production issues compared to the free enterprise for-profit sector. In some cases government tends to be more wasteful, but it needn’t be so, and in other cases government probably tends to be more efficient and effective, but it won’t always be, depending on the quality of persons in the government.  

I have a more global vision and not much national preference. I’m about 69% world-oriented rather than nation-oriented, which gets me a label as a “peaceful” oriented person. That seems right to me. I have always been concerned with the military-industrial complex, the threat of war, the history of American imperialism, and the toxic masculinity that feeds belligerent nationalism. I like to listen to Noam Chomsky’s critiques of American foreign policy, and I often agree with him, but I certainly perceive him as being too one-sided and anti-American in some of his interpretations of American national behavior in international relations. As a youth I was active in the nuclear freeze movement, the causes against apartheid in South Africa, and I demonstrated against my country’s violent aggression and support for murderous regimes and terrorists in Central America. I demonstrated against the Iraq War before it started.  But, although I was opposed to the American invasion of Iraq, my main opposition was based on my (correct, as it later proved) perception that America would bungle the occupation and that we should not act unless we had a broad international coalition to remove the tyrannical dictatorship of the Baath Party. I'm not inherently against the international community intervening to remove murderous totalitarian despots, but as a practical matter, America hasn’t the ability or authority to do this. The U.N. Security Council, which does have the authority, is blocked from intervening by having Russia and the P.R. of China and the United States all on the board, and those countries do not have a shared interest in intervening in “domestic affairs” to stop atrocities and promote human rights—China and Russia have regimes that actively oppose human rights. That is unfortunate, but until a large community of nations unite under a shared commitment to intervene militarily on humanitarian grounds, it isn’t right for any single nation or small coalition of nations to do so, especially not when the United Nations exists with the potential legitimacy to do so. 

I’m more for liberty than authority (64%), and so I’m labeled as “liberal” in that axis, and this seems right.  As a social work professor, I’m aware that many humans are troubled and behave in ways that harm others, so I’m not a total libertarian or anarchist (although I look forward to a time when humanity is ready for anarchy, probably after another hundred generations of social evolution).  On the axis of tradition versus progress, I rate 65% on the progress side. I do not entirely abandon tradition and traditional views, but like to imagine I share with most Americans a cultural bias that makes me more eager to see our society try new things and experiment with systems that might improve conditions.

In 2020, I intend to vote for Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker. I live in Illinois, a state where Biden will defeat Trump by more than 8-percentage-points, so I have the luxury of voting for Green Party candidates knowing my vote will have no chance of giving Trump a victory. The Democrats also control this state to such an extent that I can legitimately blame them for not instituting an instant run-off (ranked choice) election system such as the one used in Maine, where my second-choice vote for Biden-Harris would be available to the Democrats when Hawkins-Walker don’t win the state’s electoral college delegates. I like both Biden and Harris as human beings. They seem decent enough. They will probably win, and their administration will probably help us overcome the Pandemic Depression and the COVID-19 pandemic. They have fewer flaws than many of the other Democratic candidates I’ve known in my lifetime. But, I do not really think they have especially good policies or particularly good visions for the country.  Their records both indicate to me that there is a wide gap between my values and policy preferences and theirs. So, I prefer to vote for Hawkins and Walker, whose values and policies are much closer to mine.

I am not a person who tends to vote Democratic, who is disgusted with Biden and Harris, and will vote for Green candidates in protest.  Not at all.  On the contrary, I am a voter who has only rarely been excited by the Democratic Party nominations, and has usually supported or voted for third party candidates. I've met third party candidates and bought them to my universities (I helped bring Lenora Fulani of the New Alliance Party to Redlands in 1988 when I was an undergraduate student there; and in 2016 I helped bring Jill Stein to the University of Illinois in Springfield when I was a professor there). My understanding is that political scientists who examine third-party voters like me find that many of us would only vote for a third party candidate, and we would simply not vote for either mainstream candidate if our ballots lacked third-party options.  That is, third parties aren’t taking away our votes that would go to mainstream candidates; we’re so alienated from the mainstream parties that the only reason we cast any vote at all in the presidential elections is that there are third party candidates for whom we want to vote.  I think lots of people who identify as Democrats or Republicans haven’t read about this political science research, and they live with such a partisan world-view that they can only see the possibilities of Democratic or Republican candidates, and imagine that all other third party candidates are somehow illegitimate or unworthy of taking seriously. 

In 1980 I was inspired by John Anderson, a liberal Republican from Rockford, Illinois, who ran as an independent in the presidential race. I was lucky to meet him many years later and tell him how influential he had been to me. Yet, if I had been old enough to vote, I would probably have voted for Barry Commoner and LaDonna Harris of the Citizen’s Party. In 1984 I still wasn’t old enough to vote, but if I had been I would have again voted for the Citizen’s Party candidates (Sonia Johnson and Richard Walton), with Mondale-Ferraro (the Democrats) as my second choices.  I was old enough to vote in 1988, but I was in Kenya and did not have the time to get a ballot sent to me from the United States to vote absentee. I had been instrumental in bringing the third-party candidate Lenora Fulani (New Alliance Party) to the University of Redlands earlier in the year, to discuss her candidacy for president, and I might have written in her name, but then again, I might have voted for Dukakis, the Democratic nominee. I had of course met Fulani and her election staff, and liked her personally, but after meeting her and hearing her rhetoric, and also after some of my classmates had been involved in the California Peace and Freedom convention where Fulani’s campaign had tried to win the Peace and Freedom Party nomination for President, I had doubts about whether I really would vote for her for president. Had the Democrats nominated Richard Gephardt, a congressman from the St. Louis area whom I liked very much, I would have voted for him, but I suppose I would have voted for Fulani despite my misgivings about her.

In 1992 I voted for the first time in a presidential election. I wanted Clinton and Gore to win the election, but I was not happy with the Democratic Party platform or the candidates, so I made a protest vote for Ross Perot and James Stockdale, hoping that Perot and Stockdale would do well enough to possibly create a third party that could undermine the hegemony of the Republicans and Democrats. Lenora Fulani was again running for president, and I preferred her policies (and even Clinton’s policies) over those of Perot and Stockdale, but I thought Perot might help break down the two-party system, and that is the only reason I voted for him.

In 1996 I finally had an opportunity to vote for someone I really liked, and so I cast my vote for Nader and LaDuke (Green Party).  Nader and I had mutual friends, and those friends told me that he would actually be a horrible president because of his personal style of leadership and his inability to compromise, but I knew there was no danger of his winning the election, and I agreed almost 100% with the Green Party platform, so of course I gladly voted for him, not seeing much of a difference between Clinton (the Democratic Party incumbent, who was obviously going to easily win re-election) and the Republican Dole.  In 2000, I was again able to vote for Nader and the Green party, despite the race being fairly close between Bush and Gore.  Gore won the popular vote, and would have won the electoral college if all the votes in Florida had been re-counted, but the Supreme Court staged a sort of coup and installed Bush in the White House, so we were stuck with the worst president since Millard Fillmore or James Buchanan. I was voting in Missouri that year, and the election in my state was projected to be close; so I offered to do a vote exchange with a friend in Massachusetts, where Gore was sure to win.  My offer was rebuffed.  My friend did not want to encourage anyone to vote for Nader, and would not cast a vote for Nader in a safe Gore state to get me to vote for Gore in Missouri. 

In 2004 I again, for the third straight election, voted for the Green Party candidate (David Cobb). This was my first time voting in Illinois, and Cobb wasn’t even on the ballot, so I had to write-in his name. As a high school and college student I had been a supporter of the Green Committees of Correspondence, and I was one who thought the Green Movement ought to exist as a party-inside-a-party like the Democratic Socialists.  That is, rather than running candidates as a political party, the Green movement should find candidates to run as Democrats or Republicans or non-partisan candidates in local elections, and support (presumably) the Democratic candidates in Presidential elections. So, while I thought it was a mistake to create a Green Party to run in elections, and I continue to think it’s self-defeating and silly to run Green Party candidates for President, I still vote for Green Party candidates. I would rather see more Green Movement people run in local elections or for state-level offices; until we have thousands of Greens in positions on local school boards, city councils, county boards, and so forth, I don’t think the Greens have the practical experience or depth of knowledge to run candidates for the US House or Senate, let alone the Presidency. And yet, I’ve voted for Green Candidates in 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2016, and I intend to do so again in 2020.

I voted for Obama in both 2008 and 2012. I have several mutual friends with him, and people who know him really seem to like him. Living in Springfield, many people around here knew him as a state senator. I even communicated with him a couple times about using his memoir in my community organizing class at UIUC, and mentioned that I had a student who knew him back in the days when he was an organizer in the Roseland neighborhoods up in Chicago. Had he not become a U.S. Senator and then President, I’m sure he would have come and spoken to my classes. Anyway, I think Obama was a great president, and given the hostility and opposition he faced, and the lackluster leadership in the Senate and House for the first two years of his Presidency when the Democratic Party controlled Congress, I think he did much better than anyone could have expected him to do.  Obama was an exceptional person with qualities that set him up among FDR, Lincoln, and Jefferson as a great American statesman, but he had not had enough time in the Senate to develop a talent for getting legislation passed when he was in the White House.  Anyway, with Obama on the ballot, I “crossed over” and voted for the Democratic candidate instead of the Green Party candidate in two election cycles.

Although I admit that the Green Party attracts some fairly flakey and fringe people, when I look abroad to countries where it is more of a serious party, I note that the Green Party has a fairly good track record of governing in places where it has won elections or served in coalition governments. The Four Pillars of Green Ideals and the Ten Core Values of the Green Party are good, and I enthusiastically agree with eight of the the ten core values. I do have some misgivings about decentralization, which is one of the ten core values. In general, I do think people ought to give far more attention to local and state government, and I prefer local government because common people can have a greater say in what happens (grassroots democracy).  But in practice, for many types of policy related to social welfare, it just seems far more efficient for national policies.  And, even at a local level, regional coordination seems to me the best strategy for addressing many problems, rather than efforts at the neighborhood or municipal level. I’m also very much in favor of community-based economics, but again, there are some aspects of international trade and globalized economics that benefit everyone, and I’m not generally in favor of protectionism just for the sake of protecting the interests of local producers and service-providers.  That is, I have a nuanced attitude toward community-based economics. 

Years ago, there were many Republicans who might be called liberal or moderate, and I respected and admired many of those.  In this group I would include Richard Lugar of Indiana (whom I met when I was a child), John Danforth of Missouri, Mark Hatfield of Oregon, John Anderson of Illinois, and John Chafee of Rhode Island. Had I voted in 1988, I would have voted against John Danforth, but I still liked him and admired him.  These days I am unaware of any Republican on the national scene for whom I have much respect.  At the local level, I know some people involved in county or city politics with Republican affiliations whom I like and have supported, but really only a few.  I wish there was a party that represented the intellectual and moral preferences of conservatives, but did so in a way that had integrity and decency. I think that ever since about 1994, this country has been harmed by a dysfunctional insanity that has swept away what was the Republican Party and replaced it with a monstrous imposter; the current Republican Party is like a changeling child some wicked fairy has exchanged to replace the natural human infant.  

Basically, I vote for Green Party candidates if they are on the ballot, and since they usually aren’t, I tend to vote for a lot of Democrats.  And when it comes to donating money to candidates, I give more to the Democrats than the Greens. I do this because I know my own values and know the values that guide the parties, and I there is a very close correspondence between my values and those of the Green Party and its candidates.  There is a moderate correspondence between my values and the Democratic Party, so I also often vote for Democrats, and there is only a very weak correspondence between my values and those of the Republican Party as it currently exists, so I hardly ever vote for Republicans. When it comes to policy proposals, I again tend to think that the Green Party candidates offer policy suggestions that would do the most to improve our society. The Democrats tend to offer policies that seem to me fairly good, or not too terrible, and the Republicans have lately offered very few sensible policies, and what few policies they have suggested are often, to my way of seeing things, ridiculous.  That said, when Democratic Party politicians suggest impractical or unsustainable policies, sometimes Republicans give very good critiques of the problems in those Democratic Party proposals. Sometimes it seems to me that the best Democratic Party policy proposals are inspired by things the Green Movement or Green Party candidates have already suggested years earlier. 

Many of my friends and family members strongly identify with the Democratic Party, and there are a couple who are on the other side, voting Republican. I think most of the Democrats I know think it’s a waste to vote for the Green Party candidates, but I obviously disagree. In most states, the election for the President is not in doubt; probably in thirty or more states you can vote for a third-party candidate without any realistic expectation that there will be an upset in your state. In perhaps 20 states (the so-called “battleground” states) you might hesitate to vote for a Green Party candidate, because you fear that the race is close enough that the votes for the mainstream candidate you like least will overwhelm your preferred mainstream candidate if too many people vote for third-party candidates. In such states, it does make sense to vote for the mainstream candidate you prefer. Even better, you should try to get your state to have second-choice (instant run-off) elections where you can vote for a second or even third choice candidate, and if your first choice candidate doesn’t win sufficient votes, your vote will count for your second choice candidate instead of being “wasted” on someone who couldn’t win the election. 

People who say, “a vote for Hawkins is a vote for Trump” are obviously wrong. Ideally, parties most nominate persons we genuinely want to elect who propose policies we want to see enacted in order to win our votes. I like Hawkins, and I like his background, and I think he is far better a representation of me and my values than Biden or Harris. I prefer the Green Party policies to those of the Democrats.  And so, ideally, people who share my values and preferences ought to vote for Hawkins, at least in the safe states where the presidential election is a foregone conclusion. On a practical level, any one person’s vote does not make much of a difference, and so people can vote their conscience without any serious concerns about an election being decided by their one vote. Also on a practical level, the mainstream parties have it within their power to change election laws to allow instant-run-off second-choice balloting in elections, and if Democrats have not advocated for such election rules, they have no moral standing to criticize anyone for casting a vote for a third party.  They have protected and perpetuated a system that creates the problem they are complaining about, so I blame them, rather than the Green Party voter, for the threat to their victories posed by third-party candidates. 

Thursday, July 16, 2020

The Problems We Face Now

I was thinking about the things that most concern me. What are the issues that I think are most serious, and deserve the most attention?  I've made here a list of the top twenty problems I worry about.  These are the social problems and situations that bother me the most.  These are in ranked order.

The COVID-19 Pandemic is not on the list, because I think we will have it handled within a few years, and likewise the economic depression or recession that results from the COVID-19 will probably be solved in a few years. Of course I am extremely worried about the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States right now, but because I do not think it will be an enduring challenge to our society, it does not rank in my top continuing concerns. Someday we may face a virus with an R-naught of 10, a latency period of two to four weeks, and an infection morality rate of 50%, and when we're faced with something like that I'll be scared. Likewise, we may someday detect an asteroid 5 kilometers in length on a collision path with our planet, and that would jump to the top of the list.  But those threats seem remote to me just now.

So, here is my top list.

1) Climate Threat

I am frightened by the global climate change that threatens to make oceans rise and temperatures go up so that some areas of the planet become essentially uninhabitable. The resulting mass migration away from coastal cities and torrid regions, combined with the loss of cropland due to coastal flooding, will present challenges.  This problem poses a nearly existential threat to humanity, and all other problems on this list are far less important in comparison.  I would solve this problem first, if I had to choose, but of course the solution to this problem will involve addressing several of the other problems on this list.
Protesters in Springfield, Illinois want the environment to be protected

2) Nuclear War

I am disturbed by the threat of nuclear war, which remains remote, but continues to be real. So long as the weapons exist and countries that have nuclear weapons such as Russia, North Korea, China, Pakistan, India, Israel, and the United States threaten war, I am uneasy about the long-term future of humanity. Until there is an strong system for regulating international relations in such a way that war becomes impossible, these weapons pose a nearly existential threat to humanity’s long-term future.

Because this threat is not imminent, it could perhaps be ranked near the end of the list.  But unlike the other 18 problems below it, this problem poses a real threat to the planet that is so worrisome that I think it deserves its number 2 ranking. It is also a problem I believe could be solved with greater ease than many of the other problems on this list.
Survivors mourn at mass grave

3) China's government is too belligerent toward Taiwan.

I am worried by threats that the Communist Party of China and the People’s Liberation Army make, where they claim they may invade and conquer the Republic of China headquartered in Taiwan. If the authorities in Beijing launch such a war, I think America, NATO, Japan, and other Asian countries must come to Taiwan’s defense, and in so doing, there is a threat of an escalation of the conflict that could lead to a world war between the PRC and much of the rest of the world. I care very much about the people of China and Taiwan, and I do not want to see a war that would impose terrible suffering on those people.
Sunflower Movement protests in Taipei

4) The displaced people need our care

I care very much about the continuing problem of displaced people around the world who are refugees from racism and war, and in particular the fate of persons fleeing violent anarchy and prejudices in Central America (Guatemala-Honduras-El Salvador), Myanmar, Syria, Afghanistan, and other places. The international system needs to create fulfilling lives for refugees so that they can live in safety and develop their skills and personalities, and be productive and happy. This is a burden all humanity should share. I am not in favor of open borders, but I do think humanity needs to create resettlement regions and enclaves where people will be safe, and where people can build new lives while having their human rights respected.
Ai Weiwei’s Odyssey (2016)

5) Poverty in the United States. Why does it continue?  Why don't we end this travesty?

I am outraged by the perpetuation of poverty and economic deprivation in the United States, a country that has achieved a level of wealth that makes it possible to eliminate poverty. Our country has allowed the creation of many billionaires and multi-millionaires who hold concentrated wealth in a society where over a third of the population lives with economic precarious paycheck-to-paycheck insecurity or else actual poverty.  Poverty is the root of many of our social problems, and if we would eliminate poverty (with a mix of guaranteed employment and basic minimum incomes) we could drastically reduce many of the problems we now face.
Protesters want government to respect the interests of everyone

6) Racial prejudices and racism

I am committed to addressing the general problem of racism and prejudice in the United States. There is a widespread feeling of paranoia and distrust aimed against African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Americans with American Indian heritage (including Hispanic Americans).  I’m especially concerned about the 20% to 30% of Americans who are hostile toward “black and brown” and want to keep high levels of social distance from persons with non-European heritage. I’m concerned about the subtle racial prejudices that make Americans overvalue European racial characteristics and heritage and devalue non-European heritage. This racism and failure to see that we are all one family, one race, is a core problem in my culture. Many injustices are rooted in a large segment of European-Americans refusing to support policies and interventions that would address the problem, but we are also plagued by many well-meaning anti-racism activists more concerned with identity politics and symbolic interventions instead of using empirical evidence to guide us toward the interventions and policies that would most effectively reduce racism.
Martin Luther King Day festival at Civil Rights Museum in Memphis

7) Violence, violent crime, militarism (all associated with a toxic masculinity in my culture)

I am concerned about the violent tendencies in my culture. The gun-loving fetish of a significant minority of the country, combined with the tendency toward violence in some national sub-cultures, makes my society have a very high rate of death and injury due to homicide, suicide, and firearms accidents. Mass shootings, domestic violence, child abuse, violent crime in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, foreign policies that cause thousands of innocent civilians in foreign lands to perish, and a glorification of military power (the achievement of being able to kill many people whom we have dehumanized) are all manifestations of this tendency toward violence in America. I say this as a person who enjoys hunting, and who does think that some Americans (“well-regulated” could mean “well-trained and licensed”) should have a right to own and use some kinds of firearms.
Poster during the Sunflower student movement in 2014

8) Anti-intellectualism in American society

I am concerned with the anti-intellectualism in my society, and the tendency of Americans to devalue the evidence of science and dispassionate and reasoned argument, and instead use cognitive distortion and confirmation bias to inform their opinions on most controversial matters. I also lament the low quality of intellectual life in our public sphere, the rather shallow understanding of theology, science, philosophy, history, art, and aesthetics of most Americans. My national culture is rightly criticized for being overly materialistic and shallow, and this is an aspect of my society for which I am ashamed.
Protesters in January of 2017

9) Increasing inequality.

I am concerned with the growing inequality and excessive power concentrated in the hands of economic elites. I detest the “winner-take-all” society.  The pay differentials between those who serve as corporate executives and leaders of major institutions  and those who serve as rank-and-file workers and professionals erodes democracy. The concentration of wealth is deeply unfair, and causes resentment and anger, because the masses of American workers who are productive and working long hours are seeing most of the fruits of their labors go to a minority (the top 10%) while living standards are fairly stagnant for most of us. The powerful and wealthy control much of the news and political debate, and the political parties have been captured by the elites, so that very few political leaders authentically represent the interests of the vast majority of Americans.  Billionaires can buy elections, and they influence the political system so that taxes on the wealthy remain relatively low, while public goods and public services are diminished in quality.

The problem is widespread across the globe. Economic elites can hide their money in tax havens, and avoid contributing to the public welfare.  This is wrong, and it is wrecking havoc everywhere.
Occupy Springfield protest in 2011

10) Industrial food production and the inhumane treatment of the animals we eat.

I am worried about the food system being dominated by a few companies that use an industrial production model to provide food, and especially meat, in a system that is unjustifiably cruel and harmful. The treatment of livestock, of agricultural workers, of the land, and of many other workers involved in bringing food from fields to the table is unacceptable to me.

As a person who is sometimes a farmer and farmers market food vendor, and also as someone who enjoys hunting (only for animals I would eat), my concern is partly about the alienation between modern people and the sources of their food. This alienation makes people willing to accept food systems that are unsustainable and destructive. It also prevents people from understanding the consequences of their food choices.
Protesters in Springfield, Illinois

11) The Police Problem.

I am worried about our system of criminal justice and law enforcement that incarcerates over two million Americans. Associated with this is our police force that seems to be filled with too many sadistic and brutal persons. I think that our society has a policing problem. I have friends in law enforcement, and I do not hate the police; in fact, I rather admire and like many persons drawn by the idealism of “protecting and serving the public” who show by their actions that they really want to help and protect people.  I also know that there are people who are predators, who are psychopaths or suffering from anti-social personality disorder, who are dangerous, from whom we need protection. But I believe many local law enforcement organizations, as well as state police forces, and even the Federal Marshals and FBI, have been infiltrated by corrupt persons who are basically callous, violent, vindictive, paranoid, and hateful. This is a huge problem.  We need a system that emphasizes prevention of crime and raising the rates of solving crimes and finding perpetrators and rehabilitating them (if possible), rather than a system that is based on intimidation and retribution (harsher punishments do not effectively reduce crime). We need a system that rehabilitates persons who can be rehabilitated, rather than a “corrections” system that punishes people without doing much to help them reform or reintegrate as healthy and productive citizens after they have been punished. Yes, there are people so dangerous that they need to be locked up forever, and there are people who unjustly hate all police and are violent threats to law enforcement workers, but the primary problem is a toxic culture in many police departments and in the widespread contempt in which many police hold the rest of us, the way our justice system is a retribution and hate system, rather than a rehabilitation system.
Young Taiwanese idealists face off against riot control police

12) Inadequate services for persons with substance abuse problems.

I am concerned with the lack of services and assistance for persons suffering from substance abuse or addiction. I believe that substance abuse and dependence is a major cause of child maltreatment and homelessness, and it seems insane to me that our society is not putting more resources into substance abuse treatment and substance abuse prevention. I believe that reducing social isolation and increasing psychological and relationship training in K-12 schools is one way to effectively prevent some of the substance abuse.  In the meantime, we must provide treatment for persons who are abusing substances, and especially persons who are homeless and abusing substances.

I would do whatever worked to solve this problem. Pragmatism should guide us.  If the government legalized all dangerous addictive drugs and then created a state monopoly on them, and gave them out free to those who wanted to use or abuse them, but constantly encouraged those persons to get free treatment to reduce their addictions or abuse, I would support that sort of thing if evidence showed such a policy would significantly solve the problem.  On the other extreme, if we had mandatory life imprisonments for everyone who was caught selling or distributing any quantity of dangerous addictive substances, and put them all to work breaking rocks in the Aleutian Archipelago, and that approached worked, I would support it.  In other words, I am in favor of almost anything, whatever it takes, to pragmatically solve this problem. Until we help persons who suffer from addiction, we are going to continue to have high rates of child maltreatment, homelessness, and property crime.
Aboriginal Formosans join in protest against policies threatening their well-being

13) Inadequate mental health services.

I am worried about the lack of treatment for persons with mental illness, and I am especially concerned about the lack of support for family caregivers who take care of persons suffering from persistent and chronic mental illness or dementia.
Human Service providers try to remind Illinois government of their duties

14) Cultural celebration of cynical nihilism, coarse language, and materialism.

I am distressed by a crudeness and descent into profanity and cynical nihilism in our popular culture. My culture generally accepts glorification of hateful violence and meaningless sex in popular music and film. I am not a prude, and I do not object to the use of profanity in art, but our language has become so crude and debased with offensive words that such words have lost their impact. Many artists and creative types attempt to shock just for the fun of shocking people, and offer no serious criticism of problems or any constructive suggestions in their art. Likewise I believe sex is a worthwhile topic for art and popular culture to address, but it seems to me that the capitalist impulse has harnessed human sexuality and used it to create a culture where many people seem to care more about sex than love. I recognize that the quality and diversity of popular media (music, film, television, and other arts) is now very good, and we are in a golden age in some sense.  Yet, despite this, the most popular forms of leisure arts, especially popular music and video gaming and film) seem dominated by the most empty and materialistic drivel packaged for mass consumption, and there is too much violence and excessive shallow sexuality. 

15) Injustice of the American immigration system

I am appalled by our immigration system.  I prefer the United States to have a fairly stable population, and so I favor a modest decrease in immigration, but I still want a significant number of immigrants allowed into the country.  I want these immigrants to include many who come here to unify families, and I also want us to bring in refugees and talented persons from all corners of the world. We ought to have an immigration system with clear rules and procedures, and persons coming to our country ought to know exactly what they should do to apply for rights to live here or to become citizens. When visitors or immigrants apply for legal status or naturalization, our system ought to swiftly give them clear answers about their status. We ought to allow people who are culturally American because they came here as children and grew up as Americans to remain here and become citizens, even if they are undocumented immigrants (provided they have committed no serious crimes and have made positive contributions to society as students, workers, or volunteers).
Water Protector Encampment at Standing Rock Reservation

16) Black Lives Matter

I am concerned about bias in our police and courts that manifests in higher rates of state-sponsored violence against members of minority communities.  That is, I’m concerned about police being disrespectful and bullying African-Americans and others who are non-white. I am concerned that courts give harsher sentences to persons who are non-white.  I am unhappy about the fact that our society gives much attention to the crimes against wealthy and European-Americans, and largely ignores crimes and injustices perpetrated against poor and non-European-Americans. I think that non-whites are over-represented as victims of unjustified police violence against suspects or harmless innocent persons. I believe that the Justice Department’s report on the Ferguson Police Department shows a type of racist police culture that, while not being universal or dominant in local police forces, is probably still fairly common and widespread.
My friend Diane Elze engages in her civic duties

17) Growth of extremism and intolerance in civil discourse in my culture. Rise of fascism.

I am concerned about tendencies toward extremism and intolerance in my culture.  On the right, there seems to be a more rabid and proto-fascist cult of authoritarianism manifested in the people who practically worship Donald Trump, and the general tendency in the Republican Party to excuse the Trump Administration’s traitorous behaviors. There also seems to be more racist and nationalist behavior and extremism on the far right. To a lesser extent, the Democrats and the far left are mirroring this behavior, and I’m concerned about cancel culture and a tendency toward group-think and identity politics on the left.  I have never admired or identified with either the Democrats or Republicans.  The Democrats tend to support policies with which I agree about 60% of the time, whereas the Republicans and I agree on policies maybe 10% of the time, so when I can’t vote for a Green candidate, I tend to vote for Democrats, but I do not think people ought to identify with political parties or ideologies. We ought to instead identify by our passions, hobbies, values, beliefs, families, communities, and our professions or trades, and our geographic locations. The tendency of Americans to identify by their political tribe is worrisome to me. I’m especially bothered by the fact that the tribes often suspend critical thinking and just engage in group-think in support of their “cause” or their “tribe” no matter what the facts are.
Protester in Springfield, IL

18) Global erosion of democracy and the rise of nationalism and the authoritarian right.

I am worried about the growing nationalism in India, Russia, China, Brazil, the Philippines, Hungary, Turkey, Poland, Israel, and of course my own country. These nationalisms are eroding democracy, and in places like India, China, Russia, and the United States they threaten world peace. I’m especially worried about the way the ruling dictatorship in China is promoting hatred and resentment against Europeans, Americans, and Japanese in their education and mass media systems, and I think this sort of virulent nationalism is being promoted in China and other countries to distract the masses from the corruption, incompetence, and miss-management of the political elites.  I think this nationalism also makes the public in such societies more susceptible to militarism and justifications for war.
Nationalists who went too far in the former Yugoslavia

19) Sexism.

I am upset at the continuing sexism oppressing women, and the enduring threats of sexual violence against women, whether in human trafficking for the sex trade, violence against women in the home, honor killings, or rape as a tool of terrorism and warfare. I am angry about the fact that women are paid less than men, with their salaries perhaps being 4% or 5% less than men’s salaries (after controlling for education, type of occupation, tenure in occupation, type of work, and tenure in specific job).  I am angry at the injustice that “women’s work” is devalued compared to “men’s work” so that nurses, school teachers, social workers, and others are relatively low-paid.
Grave of a boy who was murdered in Srebrenica.

20) Degraded natural environment and extinction of species.

I am distressed by the environmental destruction wrought by humanity beyond the problems of climate change.  The bush meat trade, the conversion of rainforests to rangeland, the poaching of rare animals, the exhaustion of fisheries, and other human attacks on ecosystems are causing the extinction of many animal species. 
Earth Day poster

Other Concerns

There are many other issues I care about that are not in my top twenty. I think it is crazy that we do not have universal health insurance or universal health care provision here in the United States. That is probably the 21st issue if my list continued.  I am bothered by continuing prejudices against persons who are transgender or queer or have other sexuality tendencies or gender identities outside the heterosexual hegemony. I am distressed by religious extremism and fundamentalism in all religions, including my own.  I am dismayed by the persecution of my co-coreligionists in Iran. I am opposed to the tyranny and cruelty of the worst governments (in North Korea, and several other countries). I am upset at the cruel injustices against the Uighurs and other Islamic minorities in China, the oppression of the Tibetans, the mistreatment of the Palestinians, the persecution of the Rohingya, the continuing injustices perpetrated against American Indians, and so forth. I am concerned at any attempts to erode the civil rights of Americans by diminishing the protections of the Bill of Rights. I do not think the state should intrude on the rights of women and their doctors to have privacy in their medical decisions (even decisions about terminating pregnancies).  All these things also bother me, but they just are not in my top twenty list.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Some of my Thoughts on the Crisis of Police and Racial Injustice

Today is June 8th, and amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020, we in the United States are now seeing massive expressions of frustration and anger at racist injustice (and, I assume, economic unfairness mixed in with that, since racist injustice and economic exploitation are intertwined). We’re also seeing extremists who have lost all interest in preserving American society attempt to hijack the protests to further their own agendas (grabbing consumer goods, sparking a race war, sparking a class war, provoking more chaos so that “their side” can gain respect or the “other side” can be discredited).  My understanding of what goes on comes from various newspapers and websites, NPR, and the posts friends and family and colleagues and former students are making on Facebook and Instagram. There is a great deal of strong emotion, as there should be, when such injustices are brought to our attention. 

One of my concerns is the lack of good quality information. When people I have known for years report on what they are seeing and experiencing, I generally trust that pretty well. When people I know and trust report what they hear as second-hand reports of what has happened, I don’t always assume the sources they are using are giving me a fair or complete picture.  And when it comes to journalism, I’m especially dismayed by the lack of journalistic integrity and the difficulty journalists have in giving their audiences some understanding of scope or context. Journalists are especially interested in reporting extraordinary and sensational stories, so I suspect the violence and looting are exaggerated, but perhaps the opposite is so: perhaps police brutality and looting are even worse than reported. I don’t know, and the information I'm getting doesn’t allow me to form a clear impression of the degree or quantity of horrible things happening. As part of my training as a social scientist when I was earning a doctorate, I was encourage to not waste my time on bad information, and so I have not been reading much of the journalism about protests and riots and COVID-19 because I am aware that much of what is provided is bad information, and reading it converts my time into increased confusion and ignorance. I do not want to increase my ignorance or misunderstanding.  

Here is what I know.  In local law enforcement in the United States there is a persistent problem  of persons who are not psychologically suited to wielding lethal force on behalf of the public gaining authority and misusing it. No one who studies law enforcement can have any doubts about this. Some police and some prosecutors routinely violate the civil rights of the persons whose rights they are entrusted to protect. Many police forces use psychological screening to reduce the number of sadistic and corrupt police, but despite these attempts, there are still too many abusive and cruel psychopaths over-represented in law enforcement. Another problem is racism, where police have a bias against African-Americans or Hispanics, and it can be worse than mere “bias” in many cases, with actual hatred/contempt/fear being part of how police respond to people who are non-white. 

I am seeing many video clips showing police behaving in criminally incompetent ways, firing rubber bullets directly at peaceful protestors from short-range rather than shooting at the ground to hit people in the legs with ricochet from a greater distance. Police are using excessive force and violence on persons who are exercising their civil rights and not threatening any property or persons.  Police who behave this way are proving the point of the demonstrators and protestors; we have a serious problem with many police in our society. One example is the case from Buffalo, New York, where video captured an image of two police knocking down an elderly man who was out after the curfew order (but was clearly not actively looting or rioting). The man fell to the ground and started to bleed, and in addition to the assault on this man, none of the officers in the rather large group of police offered him first aid as his blood pooled under his head. This event was already bad, but what makes it worse is that the police involved lied in their report, and mischaracterized the interaction as it was caught on film. And, even worse, when the two officers who illegally assaulted the man were suspended, all 57 members of this unit (a specially-trained riot team) resigned from their special riot control duties to return to the force as regular police. This mass action of loyalty to the two colleagues who behaved in a criminal manner demonstrates to me that every single member of that riot team puts more loyalty to their colleagues than they give to the Constitution or their duties to protect the rights of their fellow citizens. None of them should be allowed to work in law enforcement. The suggestion that most police are good and only a minority of them are bad is clearly false in the case of the Buffalo police riot team, where 100% of them failed to give aid to the elderly man who had been assaulted by two of their colleagues, and 100% failed to object to a false report being filed about the incident, and 100% of them put their loyalty to the Constitution and their duty to society at a lower priority than their loyalty to members of their team. That’s misplaced loyalty, and it’s a form of corruption.

The federal government has sometimes drawn attention to the problem of police corruption and criminal behavior. The Department of Justice investigated the police department in Fergusson, Missouri, and came out with a scathing report (which I assign my students to read, in part, when we study issues around justice and crime in my policy class). We do have federal marshals who occasionally arrest local police when corruption comes to their attention. I had students work in East St. Louis in the early 2000s when I believe some police were running a prostitution ring and engaging in other corrupt practices, and as I recall, the FBI had to blow their cover as they were doing a secret surveillance and arrest police who were under investigation when they intercepted a call (they were wire-tapping local policy department phones) in which a police officer ordered a hit (an assassination) of someone. There are websites devoted to collecting stories of police misconduct.  There is a website devoted to covering stories of persons killed by police. As you read the stories in the killed-by-police websites, you realize that police really are doing dangerous work, over half of those killed by police were threatening the lives of police or others. And of many who weren’t actively threatening anyone when they were killed, several did legitimately seem to be a threat.  But as you read the stories, what you’ll notice is that a large minority percentage of the cases involve questionable shootings. My sense is that about 20% to 30% of the killings seem like they didn’t need to happen. And, about half of those that didn’t need to happen seem egregiously horrific. With about 900 to 1,000 persons killed by police each year, this a number of police killings that might be around 100 or slightly less each year, where the killing was bad enough that it seems to me that the police involved deserve criminal investigations, and in many cases, criminal charges. 

One problem I noticed in discussions I saw in social media comes from people who know and love people who work in law enforcement (I have friends and have had family members who worked in law enforcement). Some of them seem extremely defensive or scared, worried that characterizations of the police as “racist” or “bad” are unfair to the people they know. What I suspect is going on in those situations is that someone has a self-concept or identity that involves their respect and admiration for police, so when there are complaints about the sadism or racism or corruption or criminal activity of police, these people can’t dispassionately consider the facts and think about solutions; instead, they take the criticisms as personal attacks on their identity, and the fear this triggers elicits anger and hostility, and they argue back instead of accepting that the problem exists and thinking about what might work to solve it. Also, the problem is one of systems and institutions, and a police culture that has toxic aspects to it. So, when people want to talk about individual police who are good, or individuals they know in police work, they are missing the point that we have a pervasive cultural problem, and trying to keep the focus on the individual character of persons involved. Take, for example, the case of wartime atrocities and the acts of Lt. Calley in the village of My Lai. I once heard Seymour Hersh give a talk about Calley and , and the journalist Peter Ross Range got to know “Rusty” Calley, and described him as a person you would never expect to be a mass murderer. He was a “nice guy” who killed (directly or indirectly) 109 villagers, many of them children. The problem wasn’t so much that Calley was a depraved monster (he certainly was that one day in My Lai), but that the war put him in an atrocity-inducing environment. The culture is now putting good guys (police) in an environment where some of them are committing atrocities. And, just like many Americans were enraged at Seymour Hersh for telling the story of the My Lai massacre, people are now very angry at the protesters and critics fo police brutality.  It’s pretty much the same dynamic. 

Another point I have seen made in these discussions, and even heard made at a demonstration, is that the 100-or-so police killings of innocent persons each year are very small and nearly insignificant in comparison to the many Black Americans who are killed in regular community and family violence each year. There are about 14,000 homicide deaths in the USA each year, and very approximately half of all those murders are committed by African-Americans (with African-American victims almost always). African-Americans make up 12-14 percent of our population (depending on how you count persons identifying as mixed-race or bi-racial African-Americans), so clearly the homicide rates are disproportionately representing violence in the African-American community. But, if you control for poverty and living in high-crime neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, African-Americans aren’t really more violent than any other group.  That is to say, what we have a problem of high levels of violence among the poorest Americans who live in socially isolated communities with high violence and poverty all around them, and it so happens that about half of the Americans who live in those conditions are African-Americans. The “black-on-black” crime is actually a manifestation of “socially isolated impoverished persons committing violence against other poor persons” crime and the racial backgrounds don’t contribute much (if anything at all) to the rates of violence or murder. But anyway, people are pointing out that there is much anger and many protests about a score or a few dozen of police murders of Black people each year, but nothing like this for the approximately 7,000 Black men murdered by non-police each year. Well, they’re right that we don’t make enough of a fuss about violence in impoverished communities (and thus, in Black communities), and there is also a factual correctness about the difference in scale: maybe 30-50 innocent or only mildly-criminal Blacks murdered by police each year compared to 7,000 murdered by associates and neighbors and friends. They, however, are missing the point that we expect a certain degree of homicide among marginalized persons who live in poverty, and murders are expected to do murderous things; but police have a monopoly on state-sanction violence, and their whole purpose is to defend and protect us, and so we naturally hold them to a higher standard than what we expect from the outcasts and pariahs who engage in violent crime and murders. It’s this difference in roles and expectations that makes people upset, because of the betrayal.  And also, along with the betrayal that makes police killing so outrageous, there is added to this the problem of the system and culture that makes this killing go on, with police seldom adequately punished when they murder or harm people, and the fact that this has been going on with police used as an instrument of oppression and harassment against African-Americans and other non-white Americans. The police represent the worst aspects of the power structure, and the power structure is habitually harming African-Americans, and has been doing so for 400 years, so yes, there is more anger directed at police and authorities for the rare killings (although 20-40 per year isn’t really all that rare, and such a count is only police killing of innocent and unarmed Blacks, and doesn’t count the tens of thousands of degrading and dehumanizing interactions African-Americans regularly have with the racist or insensitive police). 

Oddly enough, it’s probably racism that is at work in both the relatively high rates of violent crime and murder among African-American men and the widespread discourtesy and contempt directed by police toward African-Americans. In both cases, the perpetrator (either a police officer of whatever race, or a hot-headed young man or youth) is perceiving the victim as less valuable and less human. If we really had the culture that valued and celebrated life, police would be less likely to abuse African-Americans, and marginalized people would be less murderous toward other marginalized people, so there would be less violent crime (especially crime against African-Americans).

Some people seem to be confusing the protests with the looting. I think almost everyone agrees that the looting and rioting is wrong and bad; only a tiny fringe speaks out to defend or justify looting, and those who do so are undermining their credibility.  That said, as a social scientist, I could explain why people loot and riot, and I could even point to historical evidence that violence and the destruction of property may be effective in pushing the powerful and community leaders to make necessary changes. Likewise, everyone ought to agree that in the face of terrible injustice, the protests are justified and ought to be supported. It should be only a tiny fringe that opposes the protests or tries to blame protestors for the looting—a fringe of weak-minded critics just as small as the fringe that defends of the looting as necessary. But, of course, it's not. There are quite a large number of Americans who blame the protestors and associate looting and lawlessness with the protests. That's unfortunate, but to be expected when the class that owns so much property controls so much of the media that reports on the crisis, and so few media outlets are controlled by the sort of persons who are regularly victimized by police brutality. Also, while what I get from the media confuses me and is probably misleading, it does seem to me that the police are introducing the lawlessness and rioting.  I've seen many, many videos and read several articles describing unlawful behavior instigated by police or police operatives. And there are credible reports that some of the rioting and looting is initiated by persons who want to stir up hatred against the protestors or gain sympathy for the police.  I'm sure that happens, but I don't know how widespread it is.

Police have to deal with too many traumatic issues. They are mental health workers, although they don’t want to be, because we have inadequate services for persons with mental illnesses.  They are dispute arbitrators, although they don’t want to be, because we do not teach people in schools some basics of psychology or human relationships so they can avoid escalation of disputes. They are grief counselors, although they don’t want to be, because they deal with people who have been traumatized by crimes against their property or persons, or persons who are learning about, or have recently witnesses, terrible injuries or deaths in accidents or disasters. And, don’t forget that police are widely hated. Just as African-Americans must suffer (and do suffer, and give up, on average, many years of healthy life because of it) through the experience of living in a society where maybe 20%-30% actively dislike them because of their race, Police too must live and work in a society where many, many people actively dislike or hate them. At least police and African-Americans have that in common.

There are two problems here, and I know a lot about one, but very little about the other.  Racism is the primary problem, and I know that a couple things work to reduce prejudice and racism.  The practical implications of those two “technologies” that reduce prejudice is that we need to have Americans spend more time cultivating empathic friendships with people who are different from them, and the burden for this is primarily on European-Americans. People need to make an intentional effort to reach out to people who are unlike them to develop some rapport and empathy and establish some sort of collaboration with people who are from different backgrounds.  This is actually a very pleasant thing to do, involving going out to socialize with people, having them over to your home, visiting their home, going places together with them, and that sort of thing. If people really understood what it feels like to do this sort of anti-racism work, they would embrace it eagerly. The other implication is that we need to be mindful of our thoughts, aware of racist or prejudice thoughts that intrude into our feelings and perceptions, and develop skills in calming and dispassionately noting those prejudiced thoughts or fears and countering them with factual non-prejudiced counter-thoughts, and recognizing each time we do this that we are resisting the disease of racism, which permeates to some degree our culture. Again, it’s not so terrible to do a little bit of thought about our culture and some of the flaws in our society, and then work on resisting how these pervasive toxicities try to invade our minds. The same discipline used to struggle against racist indoctrination can be used in other forms of mental discipline to resist intrusive thoughts. So, anti-racist work of this nature will probably help people develop many other healthy mental habits.  

Aside from these two approaches to addressing racism in ourselves and among our circle of close acquaintances, there are also those institutions that may perpetuate inequalities and unfair advantages/disadvantages.  Here again, it can be easy and fun to work on these problems. At the very least, we can vote only for candidate who are proposing realistic and concrete plans to dismantle institutional racism (not simply those who agree that they are bad). With a bit more effort, we can work in cooperation with friends and allies to point out which practices and systems are perpetuating injustices, and tell those in authority to take our warning and change those systems. 

So it goes with racism and race-prejudice-based injustices. The tougher problem is what to do about police forces and police behavior. I don’t really have the answer for that problem. I agree that police culture is generally very bad in our society, and I’m not just basing that on the riot squad in Buffalo, New York or the Department of Justice’s report on Fergusson, Missouri, or the 100-200 highly questionable or outright murderous killings committed by police each year. I suspect that the answer will include some change in the way police culture is shaped, and go beyond improved training. Police in some other societies are more well-regarded than our police are, and we should certainly look at what works in other cultures. But, American culture is somewhat unique in our individualism and our gun-fetish sub-cultures, as well as our violence. So, even more than looking abroad for models of what might work, I expect criminologists and sociologists are looking around the United States to find cities or counties where relationships between police and the community are extremely good.  What is working here, and could we replace what we have in the worst police forces with what works in our best police forces?