Tag Archives: reasoning

Saturday in the Park: Ping-Pong versus Potholes

It was indeed an early morning in Chicago as the terrible gray light of morning dragged me from my brief sleep.  The night before I had joined a fellow democracy-enthusiast for drinks.  After a night navigating Chicago, we settled in a bar that hovered between beards-and-denim on the hand and collared shirts on the other.  Sleep didn’t settle into my bones until mid-morning, so I knew Saturday was going to be tough.  At some point that afternoon, I sat in a big comfy chair and fell asleep, right there in the middle of the university campus.

(This music plays in Chicago all the time… in my head)

I had come to Chicago’s Loyola University for the Participatory Budgeting Conference, to engage other people in the field of citizens governing themselves, or at least their city’s capital budgets.  The day’s conference began with an opening plenary that included Joe Moore, the city councilor who brought participatory budgeting to the United States, and the academics, organizers, and activists behind PB Chicago. read more »

Safety Through Reason

Last week we discussed the role of Islam in terrorism committed by Muslims, and the meaning of Islamophobia.  My aim was to turn our attention away from illusions that blame individual beliefs, and towards understanding the real causes of human behavior.  I did so because the Boston bombings has again led to blaming Islam as the cause of terrorism.  In turn, ambitious politicians and media commentators make Muslim people collectively responsible, and that collective responsibility becomes justification for collective punishment of Muslims.  Such commentators and politicians claim to want to make us safer, but the real motivation is to get you to blame and punish.

Assigning responsibility for the Boston bombings is easy: the bombers did it.  If a jury of their peers find the Tsarnaevs guilty of the crime (and they sure seem to be), then they should be punished as justice dictates.  Yet the fearful, or those who benefit from fear, seek more punishment than what is just.  People who express more anxiety also tend to be more vindictive.  These loud and quivering few spread the blame from the responsible individuals to whole communities of innocents.

Many more are also apt to confuse punishment and safety, and to believe that punishment, violence, and surveillance will promote public safety.  In reality, punitive and intrusive measures are often mere security theater.  That is, airport security screenings, heavily armed police, and pervasive surveillance may make the gullible few feel safer, but do not make the public actually safer.

If we want to be more secure, then we need to understand the causes of real insecurity, especially the human motivation to commit violence and the conditions that influence that motivation.  (One of those motivations is to punish, by the way.)  Explanations don’t take sides, no matter how some few may want to take sides.  Explanations don’t have aggressors or victims, good or bad.  Explaining human violence will involve the discoveries of psychology and social science, not moralism.

The FBI’s anti-terrorism pursuits of the past decade have shown us the futility of blame-oriented predictions.  The assumption of the FBI, as well as national security and intelligence agencies, is that certain beliefs cause violence.  Thus, the FBI makes victims of American Muslims for their worship.  FBI bullies weaselly informants to harass mosque-goers and student associations.  The informants are so unsuccessful, but under so much pressure, that they must manufacture bomb plots with the mosque’s village idiot.  The FBI then finances, with your money, a fake terrorist plot to arrest a fake terrorist.  The latest example of this farce was the ‘attempted bombing’ at the New York Federal Reserve last year.  In these cases, the explanation for terrorism is the need for a bureaucracy of idiots who need to justify their expanding budgets.

The issue of responsibility is a discussion of organizing human society, making rules to follow, and who has what obligations.  This is a valuable pursuit – in fact, it’s our first concern here at Democracy in Principle.  Yet responsibility is not germane to explaining why people blow things up and predicting when they might do so.  These explanations will involve a description of how changing social organization alters the psychology of human beings.

In our case, the rotting structure holding up the American ruling class creates fear, and in turn rancor, blame, and violence.  Meanwhile, the rest of us pay the price for phantom fears.