Crime, Scapegoating, and Daily Life

Crime, Scapegoating, and Daily Life

By Wade Lee Hudson

In a New Yorker essay, “Who Belongs in Prison?”, Adam Gopnik comments on several recent books that address key criminal justice issues, including scapegoating and the desire for revenge. Those concerns apply throughout society.

Locked In by John Pfaff argues that prosecutors have been given freedom to imprison whomever they wish for as long as they like without going to trial…. Gopnik reports that Charged by Emily Bazelon "puts flesh and faces to Pfaff’s statistical and largely abstract proposition." …Revenge is an issue Gopnik examines in some detail.

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David Brooks on the Social Fabric

David Brooks on the Social Fabric

Backed by the Aspen Institute, David Brooks launched Weave: The Social Fabric Project to nurture what he considers to be a growing social movement. In his New York Times column, “A Nation of Weavers,” Brooks argues that this grassroots movement addresses “our lack of healthy connection to each other, our inability to see the full dignity of each other, and the resulting culture of fear, distrust, tribalism, shaming and strife.” He believes this movement will “usher in a social transformation by reweaving the fabric of reciprocity and trust.” Through these Weavers, he says, “renewal is building, relationship by relationship, community by community. It will spread and spread as the sparks fly upward.”

Brooks moves in the right direction, but stops short. He aims to go below the surface, but neglects root causes. He wants to address the “whole person,” but fragments the individual.

Brooks rightly argues that “America’s social fabric is being ripped to shreds.” And he’s right to lament the recent emergence of “hyperindividualism” and affirm “radical mutuality” -- that is, the belief “we are all completely equal, regardless of where society ranks us,” which leads us to “love across boundaries, listen patiently, see deeply and make someone feel known.”

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The Autocracy App

The Autocracy App
By Jacob Weisberg OCTOBER 25, 2018 ISSUE
The New York Review of Books

A review of:

  • Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy
    by Siva Vaidhyanathan

  • Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now
    by Jaron Lanier

...A professor of media studies at the University of Virginia, Vaidhyanathan is a disciple of Neil Postman, the author of Amusing Ourselves to Death. In that prescient pre-Internet tract, Postman wrote that Aldous Huxley, not Orwell, portrayed the dystopia most relevant to our age. The dangers modern societies face, Postman contends, are less censorship or repression than distraction and diversion, the replacement of civic engagement by perpetual entertainment.

Vaidhyanathan sees Facebook, a “pleasure machine” in which politics and entertainment merge, as the culmination of Postman’s Huxleyan nightmare. However, the pleasure that comes from absorption in social media is more complicated than the kind that television delivers. It encourages people to associate with those who share their views, creating filter bubbles and self-reinforcing feedback loops. Vaidhyanathan argues that by training its users to elevate feelings of agreement and belonging over truth, Facebook has created a gigantic “forum for tribalism.”

+++

...What would the world look like if Facebook succeeded in becoming the Operating System of Our Lives? That status has arguably been achieved only by Tencent in China. Tencent runs WeChat, which combines aspects of Facebook, Messenger, Google, Twitter, and Instagram. People use its payment system to make purchases from vending machines, shop online, bank, and schedule appointments. Tencent also connects to the Chinese government’s Social Credit System, which gives users a score, based on data mining and surveillance of their online and offline activity. You gain points for obeying the law and lose them for such behavior as traffic violations or “spreading rumors online.”

Full implementation is not expected till 2020, but the system is already being used to mete out punishments to people with low scores. These include preventing them from traveling, restricting them from certain jobs, and barring their children from attending private schools. In the West online surveillance is theoretically voluntary, the price we pay for enjoying the pleasure machine—a privatized 1984 by means of Brave New World.

Birddogging

Erin Grace Burns:

Birddogging is not a protest, and is only rarely a disruption. All it takes to birddog effectively is to show up at an event, as a team, and ask the person who has power over your issue to adopt the specific positions that you are fighting for.

Activists should birddog all leading candidates from every party, even if they currently disagree with you! Getting a “yes” is a big win. But also, if you ask a strong question, and the answer is “No, I prefer tax cuts for millionaires.”<—that's ALSO a win. You just exposed a policy maker's harmful positions, making them toxic to more people in their district.

Multiple Identities, Politics, Freedom, and Equality

Multiple Identities, Politics, Freedom, and Equality

For me, the most important article of 2019 may prove to be “The Philosopher Redefining Equality” by Nathan Heller in the January 7 issue of The New Yorker. The article’s subhead is “Elizabeth Anderson thinks we’ve misunderstood the basis of a free and fair society.” The caption for the lead illustration is “Our real concern should be equality not in material benefits, Anderson argues, but in social relations: democratic equality.”

Heller writes:

Her work, drawing on real-world problems and information, has helped to redefine the way contemporary philosophy is done, leading what might be called the Michigan school of thought. ...She brings together ideas from both the left and the right to battle increasing inequality,...

Born in 1959, Anderson specializes in moral and political philosophy. Right out of graduate school, Princeton University offered her a tenure-track job, but she decided to stay at the University of Michigan, where she is now the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and John Dewey Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy and Women's Studies (which she named after Dewey when the university elevated her to its highest professorship). As soon as I get it, I plan to read her 2017 book Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don't Talk About It).

Heller reports:

“The Industrial Revolution was a cataclysmic event for egalitarians,” Anderson explains.... “We are told that our choice is between free markets and state control, when most adults live their working lives under a third thing entirely: private government.”

As summed up by Heller:

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Don’t Feed the Trolls

Don’t Feed the Trolls

A recent public controversy about how Facebook bans content and a June 28 column by Thomas B. Edsall, “Don’t Feed the Troll in the Oval Office,” illustrate the importance of how “racism” is defined.

As reported on September 20, Facebook bans content that affirms “white supremacy,” which it considers a “racist ideology based upon the belief that white people are superior in many ways to people of other races and that therefore white people should be dominant over other races."

But Facebook allows “white nationalism” and “white separation.” Trying to take into account how their policies impact people around the world (such as the Zionist movement in Israel and the Basque movement in Spain), they believe white nationalism “doesn't seem to be always associated with racism (at least not explicitly.)” Many white nationalist groups say they’re not racist because they don’t consider other races inferior, but merely seek to ensure the survival of the white race and white culture.

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Civility, Racism, and the Red Hen

Civility, Racism, and the Red Hen

The civility controversy is disheartening. Name-calling may lead to a Republican victory in 2018, and help re-elect Trump in 2020.

On June 28, Thomas B. Edsall posted “Don’t Feed the Troll in the Oval Office,” an extremely important piece. According to Edsall, Trump’s provocations are calculated and could work, aided by liberals who take the bait.

Edsall reports that most Democrats believe opposition to immigration is racist, whereas “Trump’s tactics are based on the conviction of many of his voters that opposition to immigration is not a form of racism. They deeply resent being called racist for anti-immigrant views they consider patriotic and, indeed, principled.” Those supporters do not consider non-Europeans essentially inferior, which they acknowledge would be racist. Rather, they merely prefer to preserve the nation’s character, as other communities have sought to preserve their character, which they do not consider racist.

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