From my ‘uncomfortable conversations’ file:
Somewhere on the road to greatness, we took a wrong turn. We became The Divided Sects of America.
There’s a corrosive separatism – or self-inflicted apartheid – tearing this country apart. Everyone splintered into separate tribes – tea party, black lives matter, 99%-ers, LGBT, atheists, religious right, pro-pot, anti-GMO, pro/anti-abortion, etc, etc. I think these groups operate under a faulty premise and a lie.
The faulty premise: that each identity group can go it alone and advance their cause through confrontation and rage.
In reality, that reduces them to yet another special interest group, like the NRA or some other industry lobby. They’ll court politicians but remaining niche. Their exclusivity keeps them from attracting the widespread support needed to affect change they want.
The lie: to justify this tribalization, group members tell themselves that they are victims, the hunted, the downtrodden. From ‘war on Christmas’ to ‘war on race’ to ‘war on guns’ to ‘war on women’ – it’s always someone else’s fault, never theirs. Binary. Black and white. Absolute.
One way to engage the broader community is to:
- be honest about the stats, instead of cherry-picking the narrative that suits the cause
- take accountability – acknowledge that some of the necessary change is up to you
- show you’re willing to make the hard sacrifices FIRST, before demanding everyone else change, except beautiful perfect flawless you.
So I ask each tribe, do you want to solve the problem or rage against the machine, in isolation? Those are wildly different paths. So choose leaders wisely. Results will vary, as they have throughout history.
Whose lives matter?
Though I drafted these notes long before the recent killings by and of police, it’s only fair I address Black Lives Matter, specifically.
I think excessive police force, violence, and militarization are serious problems. I completely understand the emotional reaction to all the killings that are publicized. I was outraged at the senseless deaths of Eric Garner and Philando Castile. These events are considerably more striking to blacks, who often face much harsher economic conditions, crime, bouts with racism and profiling, etc.
Drug enforcement is a misguided, failed program that disproportionately affects minorities. Drugs should be decriminalized and addiction treated as a medical problem, not a crime – unless a crime is committed.
People who served time should have better tools and opportunities to get jobs and become productive members of society. I’d let out most nonviolent offenders. It’s idiotic for taxpayers to pay $50K a year to imprison someone when they could earn $50K per year, pay taxes, and support a family.
Yes, there has been a terrible history of injustice towards blacks in the US, some of which lingers systematically and socially, depending on geography, industry, etc. Any institutional remnants of racism should absolutely be reformed.
I bet a vast majority of citizens already support – or could be persuaded to support – every one of those positions based on simple economics, if not plain old humanity. However, the shrill reaction to #alllivesmatter, cherry-picked statistics, and ignoring the totality of the problem doesn’t help.
Fact is more black citizens are killed by other black citizens annually than the current rate of cop killings could do in decades. And, as published in the NY Times, “eliminating the biases of all police officers would do little to materially reduce the total number of African-American killings.” Why? Statistically, the distribution of policing mimics the distribution of crime. So more frequent interactions with police produce a proportionate increase in deaths.
None of the public ‘conversation’ addresses that root cause. Less than none addresses steps individuals or communities could take to reduce crime.
And ironically, there may be a body count associated with BLM’s selective diagnosis of the problem. By focusing mainly on downstream police killings and not upstream root-cause violence, they may be having the opposite – and deadly – effect on the people and communities they want to protect. Recently, violent urban murder rates have increased, disturbingly. One possible explanation may be reduced enforcement by cops who now feel like targets in enemy territory.
Take the war zone formerly known as Chicago for example. Even if our hapless government continued doing nothing, individuals could end this violent cycle in one generation by waiting to have kids until they can afford them, raising them right, keeping families together, and demanding better schooling. Perhaps not the only solution or even best solution, but certainly A solution that doesn’t rely on politicians.
Instead, the tendency is to look outside for answers. Unfortunately, strangers rarely work that hard to save you if 1) you don’t try to save yourself first, or 2) there’s nothing in it for them. This holds true regardless of what your disadvantages may be. Look at poor immigrant cultures that made it out of poverty in recent US history – Asians, Nigerians, Italians, Indians, Russians, etc. No one bent over backwards to help them. It can be done. It’s not easy, but their formula can be emulated.
As intertwined as police brutality is with race, if I were advising BLM’s leadership, I’d suggest making these issues universal, humane, pan-racial, and inclusive. If they want to solve the problem, they can significantly lower the barrier for whites and Hispanics to join their cause. The millions who listen to Alex Jones, supported Ron/Rand Paul, voted for Trump, or lean Libertarian are inherently distrustful of the police and excessive militarization. They are low-hanging fruit and could bring others on board. Why not take advantage?
I’ll take it a step further. Direct outreach to these groups on this issue will have a massive, positive, halo effect on countless other disagreements. It will start us on a path towards mutual understanding, humanization, and dismantling the apartheid we’ve imposed on ourselves.
Finally, a warning from The McFuture
As we gain more and more power to isolate ourselves – where we live, what media and people we expose ourselves to, the human experience will continue fragmenting. The longer we stay inside these bubbles, the easier it becomes to reinforce our victimhood and justify victimizing others. As your truth drifts farther and farther from The Truth, extremes become the norm. Eventually, the conditions that spawned Trump and Bernie will guarantee the next guy (or gal) will be an unstoppable monster.
We can do better than this. We are better than this.