Archives for category: Social Criticism

New year, new beginnings. Time to start fresh. Throw the old ‘you’ into the trash fire from whence you came and rise like a new, slightly-less-trashy phoenix. That’s what we all seem to want: not just a new beginning, but to be rid of the mistakes of the past. We are no longer that horrid person who doesn’t eat well or doesn’t call their mom. We are better, and it’s best that we just forget that jerk we used to be.

DumpsterFire2

Rise from the ashes!

How do you measure a beginning? Is the beginning of a house when the lot is cleared or when the first nail is driven? When the architect completes the design or when they first dream up the idea? What about World War II? Did it start with the invasion of Poland or China? With the machinations or the election of Hitler? Or was the stage set by the end of the first War, simmering for decades? What about the current tensions with Iran? There are those alive today who have lived through the assassination of Suleimani and the coup of Mosaddegh. Sometimes we long for the simplicity of a beginning because it gives us the convenience of dismissing everything that has come before.

The truth is there are no firm beginnings. Our world is beset by temporal gradients. History is a long series of blurred events bleeding into one another. So it goes with our own lives. However, we try desperately to reject this reality. The question of which came first, the chicken or the egg, is a repudiation of evolution in favour of enforcing a concrete origin. The Sorites paradox offers a much better reflection of reality for acknowledging the ambiguity of beginnings.

egg came first

It’s just inconsiderate

If we want to change, we need to take into account, not just the entirety of our lives, but the context of the history around us. We would need to accommodate our previous habits, the caliber of our will, the willingness of our surroundings to accept our change, the conditions that shaped both our selves and our environment, and then the maintenance of that change in the face of the constant flux of both our selves and our environments.

Who do you think has a better shot at overcoming trauma? The person who accepts that it happened, recognizes their triggers, and has developed the necessary skills in the face of those things, or the person who chooses to begin anew? The problem is that whether we believe in starting fresh or not, the reality of the world around us and the psychological history within us will carry on regardless. What happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas, that would be absurd; it just adds another drop to the soup of our collected experiences.

The alcoholic who relapses after 10 years of sobriety is not starting from scratch, just as the Resolutioner at the gym is not a tabula rasa upon which a lifestyle of fitness can now be engraved. We shouldn’t live our lives denying the gradual evolution of our selves. We shouldn’t accept yearly incremental distinctions as any more valuable than our astrological signs. Make change by growing out of who you’ve always been, not because some doomed-to-fail tradition tells you it’s time.

The traditional motto of the police department is to “Serve and Protect.” The police are supposed to protect the innocent from the criminal, so it might come as shocking that the Hong Kong protesters are calling for the abolition of the Hong Kong police department. Of course, Westerners might read this and think, “Well, obviously they would want to get rid of the police! They live under the tyrannical regime of COMMUNISTS!” No one would bat an eye at someone wanting to abolish the Gestapo in Nazi Germany. Not in a modern context, anyway. The police becomes the arm of government oppression when the system is rigged against the people (or a specific demographic of people). Whoever dictates what is legal and what is criminal uses the intrinsic violence of the police (to either restrain, detain, or attack) as the power to enforce its decision.

fascit police

Don’t look at me, I just enforce what’s right and wrong. Who decides what’s right or wrong? Stop asking questions.

For added nuance, the Black Lives Matter movement made a similar call to abolish the police in the United States. When white supremacy is the systemic norm, black people become viewed as criminally-inclined compared to their white counterparts, so the police become the manifestation of that racist imbalance. When race is criminalized, when poverty is criminalized, when mental health is criminalized, when drug abuse is criminalized, then intrinsic police violence becomes directed at those demographic. Getting rid of the cops, in theory, would force us to confront the problems within these demographics non-violently.

If drug use was no longer illegal, then we would need to help drug addicts instead of locking them up. Treatment would become the default. If we could no longer lock up the poor, we would have to find them stable housing and make sure they had enough to support themselves so they would no longer need to game the system in order to survive. Mental health would somewhat ironically become a health issue, and those whose underlying issues causes them to act out in anti-social behaviours could only be helped instead of punished. We would probably have to shift our cultural view of violence as being the solution to all our problems so that those who commit violence to solve their problems would do less of that, too. We would need to refocus on rehabilitation as a solution, on help as a solution, on compassion as a solution. Cuz if we didn’t, society would collapse into a miasma of inhuman chaos and brutality!!

And that’s the thing about abolishing the police. If the monopoly on “legitimate” violence dissolves, a power vacuum appears. It’s why libertarianism is a terrible idea: if the government is abolished, then those with the most power (corporations) would step up and dominate with their unchecked and unregulated sovereignty. If the police disappear, then those currently with power, and this could be as little power as an abusive husband to as much power as a drug kingpin, will be able to execute that power without regulation.

emot-ab

Quick! Call the BLM movement to remove him from the house!

This isn’t to disregard the absolutely solid arguments that both the Hong Kong protesters and Black Lives Matter movement make. The police, without a doubt, are the arm of systemic oppression within the state apparatus. The goal should always be anarchism. The issue is always the method of achieving that. The problem with libertarianism (or anarcho-capitalism) is that it wishes for anarchy within the cultural context of today. If we cede police power to anarchism within our current societal context, the violence that exists within our world now will continue to manifest itself; simply in new, unchecked ways.

I believe in a more incrementalist approach: similar to social workers whose goals are ultimately to end the apprehension of children from families, the goal of the police should be to work themselves out of a job. We obviously need to work on cultural transition, poverty reduction, race relations, mental health issues, and so on, but so long as power imbalances exist, then having a police force that is even minimally under popular control (in that we in the West have a small say in who writes their paychecks and holds them accountable) is better than allowing the unchecked power of some other violent agency to shape our legal and social framework. What we need is a new world. In order to reach that new world, we should no longer look at the police as a static necessity, but as a dynamic institution geared towards its own demise.

Bootstraps are things that everyone has, but the only people who have ever used them are rich people. If poor people had used them, they wouldn’t be poor. Their bootstraps remain, unlaced, disheveled upon the floor. This is how we justify our system: it is merit-based. Those who attain power within it must have that power legitimately, and legitimacy is seen as being earned through hard work. The powerful, those who noticeably do not generally wear boots, obtained their power through the literally impossible task of pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.

bootstraps

He must have been poor

To deny the bootstrap theory is not to proselytize a Calvinist social doctrine where some are preordained with salvation through inherited grace while the rest are condemned to poverty and damnation. Social forces, however unjust, will never be immutable. If things can change, then it must be the people who change them. The capacity to change must then exist, and if not through bootstraps, then how?

Imagine two people in two separate hallways at the end of which lies a mysterious door. The first person opens their door, and a litter of adorable puppies is revealed! Behind the second person’s door is a literal crack den with someone offering them a pipe. Both doors offer a choice, it’s just that that choice depends entirely on which hallway the person happens to be in. The person being offered crack could say no, sure, but the person playing with the puppies didn’t even get the opportunity to smoke that delicious crack.

puppies

I know what I’D choose

There will certainly be things that influence that choice. Did the second person receive an accurate education regarding the nature of drugs? Did they witness drug use during their formative years? Did they suffer a previous trauma that they never learned to cope with? Is the first person allergic to dogs? There are always correlative factors that influence choice which explain statistical trends, but choice does exist to explain anomalies.

The thing is, we don’t choose our doors. A door may open, and behind it may lay overt racism. Behind another door may be an abusive partner. Behind another door may be a downsizing layoff. We can only choose our reactions to these doors, but our reactions will always open more doors towards which we must again react. A woman might open a door to sexual harassment at work, and how she reacts might open another door that reveals a misogynist work environment, and her following reaction might open a door to reveal hostility at having rocked the boat.

Privilege is living in a hallway with mostly benign doorways. Merit doesn’t enter into it at all. Don’t have to react to racism? Congratulations! Don’t have to react to sexism? Congratulations! Don’t have to react to growing up in poverty, undergoing abuse or neglect, being followed home by a cat-caller, learning your times tables in an underfunded educational system, walking down the street with an authoritarian police force, or making a shitty wage under precarious employment? Congratulations! Resilience is a thing, certainly, but if doorway after doorway is consistently negative, a negative anti-social status is far more likely to develop.

shining hallway

I’m sure it’s fine

Like I said earlier, we’re not Calvinists. Choice is an option, and our hallways are not preordained. They are evolved, shaped, and constructed through social history, economic factors, cultural attitudes, and policy decisions. Someone on the LGBT spectrum would not have to react to homophobia if homophobia in all its social, cultural, economic, and political incarnations wasn’t a thing! On an individual level, encouraging resilience is not the worst thing in the world because often in that precise moment there is nothing else really that an individual can do. Even if that is the case, being aware of the context of that person’s situation is going to massively improve your compassion and understanding, vastly improving their likelihood of listening. However, encouraging bootstraps in any other capacity completely ignores that we all live in different hallways, and that we, collectively, can actually improve what’s behind those doors through our evolving culture, our economic system, and our political decisions.

So let’s do that instead.