Politics and the New Counter-Culture Part 3: No Peace, No Justice
By Greg Scorzo –
Brutality vs Bigotry
Critics of progressivism may be today’s western political counter-culture.
Yet there is one political issue which, when raised, is fairly effective at silencing even the fiercest critics of progressivism: police brutality towards people of colour. This silencing is understandable, because at least in the US, it has long been common knowledge that people of colour are disproportionately shot by police officers. It’s also common knowledge that US police officers, rather than merely protect citizens, can often harass, bully, and beat them. From these two pieces of common knowledge comes a third idea: people of colour are shot more than whites in the US, because white police officers are generally racist. As a person of colour who grew up in the US, I can understand the reasons people accept this idea.
In the US, police are often aggressive in ways that british police, for instance, are not. Part of this aggression might have to do with the possibility of US suspects carrying firearms. But either way, police officers having a reputation for aggression is a terrible recipe for those officers being able to successfully protect citizens. When one lives among police one is more frightened of than criminals, this causes completely understandable reactions of resentment, distrust, and anger. The criminal population winds up being more resentful and angry than the civilian population. The police know of this resentment and double down on their aggression in a vicious cycle that produces even deeper antagonisms between the police and the public.
Law enforcement, we should remember, only works, if civilians, to some extent, have faith in society. If one is a relative of someone who was shot by a trigger happy policemen, this is not just a personally devastating loss. It’s also simultaneously a loss of faith in a society that is supposed to protect, rather than harm you. When one loses this faith in this society, one can’t effectively use society to better oneself. After all, in siding with criminals over the police, you are siding with social stagnation, rather than mobility.
Yet despite the completely understandable rage at police brutality, there is a mistake that’s commonly made in campaigns against that brutality. The mistake is to assume, as a person of colour, that if a police officer is brutal toward you, that this brutality would not happen if you were white. This mistake is the analogue of the white person being harassed by a black police officer, who then assumes he would get much better treatment if he were black. Excluding the officer shouting racist abuse, there’s simply no way we can tell we are being racially discriminated against, simply because a police officer is harassing, abusing, or even beating us.
To assume otherwise is to make a similar mistake to the feminist who sees a wage gap between men and women and infers from this gap that society is sexist. Just because one race is shot more than another, it doesn’t follow that this disparity is best explained by white racism. Nor is any instance of an officer bullying, harassing, or beating a person of colour automatically explained by white racism. Of course, the fact that one can’t infer racism in these circumstances in no way means the above misconduct is somehow acceptable, or something that shouldn’t be reported. But there is a danger in assuming (without evidence) that any police misconduct you experience is motivated by racism, just as its also bigoted to assume most white police officers are racists.
Yet one can still sympathise with people of colour who feel this way.
There is, after all, a genuine problem, and progressives offer a tantalising, socially respected solution that gets frequent celebrity endorsements. The solution winds up reducing the conflict to a simple “good guys vs bad guys” narrative that’s easy to understand in the deep recesses of one’s own heart. The people of colour are the good guys, while the gun toting white police officers are the racist, homicidal bad guys. But solving the problem of police brutality this way amounts to little more than telling off white police officers for being racist, while forcing law enforcement institutions to stop them from expressing their racism, on the job. This progressive solution unsurprisingly makes things worse. Not only does it engage in racially bigoted double standards, but it also shows a lack of empathy for the police, and deprives people of colour from using their most effective tool for creating a better relationship to law enforcement: personal responsibility.
Expecting personal responsibility isn’t the same as saying either that a person or a community doesn’t need assistance in the form of infrastructure funding, community development, or other social programs. But it is to say that one’s background can never be an excuse, justifying behavior which is harmful and destructive. The only way any human being can learn responsibility, is to be given responsibility for needlessly breaking the law, or hurting others through violence. It’s true that we all need help in learning how to behave. But we can’t learn how to behave without also learning that certain behaviours are inexcusable. Contra the progressive, class and race can neither excuse or justify such behaviours.
Because the progressive believes the west privileges whites and is racist against people of colour, they also believe this is a way whites are responsible for behaving badly throughout the years.
Because whites have behaved badly, it’s understandable for progressives, that people of colour would fear and resent whites. That fear and resentment is tolerated to some extent by both progressives and mainstream society. This is what explains why there are comparatively higher demands on whites to perform their non-racism. This is also why, for many progressives, racial bigotry against whites is nowhere near as bad as racial bigotry against people of colour.
On the progressive outlook, racial bigotry against people of colour is an expression of systemic racism. Racial bigotry against whites is just racial bigotry. Racial bigotry is unpleasant to the progressive, but if it’s against whites, it’s no worse than say, bigotry against smokers or people with extremely loud voices. Hence, when people of colour express racial bigotry towards whites, it’s normally excused. The bigotry is almost always framed as something that throughout history, whites have provoked.
In contrast, people of colour are never given the responsibility to provoke racial bigotry against them from whites. It doesn’t matter how they behave. If there is ever any statistic which paints people of colour in a bad light, progressives normally either deny this statistic, or try and re-frame it so as to make sure people of colour are conceptualised as victims. The same tendencies do not happen, the other way around. If whites, for instance, are shown to murder blacks at a higher rate than blacks murder whites, the progressive will claim that this is evidence of whites oppressing blacks. If a different statistic shows that blacks murder whites more than whites murder blacks, the progressive will try to either deny this statistic, or explain the homicides in terms of blacks being victims of poverty. The poverty will then (surprise surprise) be explained in terms of white racism.
Black Lives Matter
Black Lives Matter is a progressive movement that insinuates that the rates at which police officers shoot black suspects in the US is evidence that american society values the lives of blacks less than whites.
The fundamental problem with this movement is that it sees only the unjust violence of white police officers as the violence it’s ok to be frightened and resentful towards. A white police officer is not allowed to feel these things about blacks and consequently be trigger happy, simply because he knows blacks have higher rates of committing homicide than whites do.22 He also can’t be trigger happy because he knows of the resentment towards police within the black community. Being trigger happy towards a black suspect is absolutely unacceptable, because its an expression of institutional white racism.
However, if a black suspect, afraid of police violence, is trigger happy with a white police officer, it’s never condemned in quite the same way. It’s certainly seen as wrong, but not wrong enough to frequently makes headlines. And when it does make headlines, politicising the racial aspect of the murder is something most reporters take great pains to avoid.
There is a palpable fear of appearing racist against blacks, especially when reporting and discussing black on white crime in the US. There is no corresponding fear of appearing racist against whites, when reporting and discussing white on black crime.
The implicit assumption here is that blacks already have the public making bigoted generalisations about them. So in reporting black on white crime, journalists take special care not to amplify this. There’s also a corollary assumption made: whites (and especially white police officers) do not have the public making bigoted generalisations about them. If there is fear or resentment towards white police officers, either from blacks or from progressives, this fear and resentment is justified. This supposedly isn’t racism because whites have power, and power for the progressive is defined in terms of inequality. The upshot of this view is a bizarre double standard: if either the population, blacks, or progressives feel fear and resentment towards whites as a demographic group, this is not racist. If anybody (including blacks) feel fear and resentment towards blacks as a demographic group, this is racist.
A Thought Experiment
Let’s transpose this situation to another country. Suppose a minority of the population of Japan is German. Suppose this German minority, on the whole, is economically deprived, relative to the Japanese population. Suppose that, adjusting for the relative populations of Japanese and German citizens, Japanese officers shoot German suspects more than they shoot Japanese suspects. Suppose part of what explains this is the fact that Japanese police feel fear and resentment towards the German population in Japan.
Would we say this is anti-German racism on the part of Japanese police officers? Possibly. But in calling them racist, we’d first have to establish that this fear and resentment doesn’t have anything to do with what the population of Germans actually does.
That is, we’d have to make sure that Germans in Japan don’t commit crimes (and especially not homicides) more than the Japanese population does. If it turns out that the German population has a statistically justified reputation for crime and homicide, we would see this inequality in police shootings as terrible, but understandable under the circumstances. Especially if we also knew that Germans in Japan were part of an ethnic sub-culture that, on the whole, deeply resented Japanese police.
Unlike the US situation, we’d probably say there was something like a mutually reinforcing conflict happening between the German population and the Japanese police officers. Germans commit more crime and exude hostility, which in turn provokes Japanese police officers to be consequently more frightened and resentful towards them, in life or death situations. That fear and resentment is what explains the disparity in which suspects get shot, and at what frequency.
Here, I think we wouldn’t merely condemn and punish the Japanese officers for their fear and resentment, accusing their instinctive, in the moment reactions to Germans of being socially unacceptable forms of oppression. And while we would understand the German fear and resentment towards the Japanese police, we wouldn’t automatically assume that the Japanese shootings of Germans were less justifiable than their shootings of Japanese citizens. Each shooting would be evaluated on a case by case basis. The racial inequality in the shootings wouldn’t be seen as prima facia evidence of the Japanese police persecuting the German population. We wouldn’t simply describe the situation as one in which innocent Germans are being killed by racist Japanese police officers.
Our assessment of the Japanese officers would be more compassionate than this. We’d think, “If I were a Japanese police officer in this situation, I might be scared and resentful too.” Then we’d extend that same empathy to the Germans, in relation to their hostility and mistrust of the police. We’d say that both the Germans and the Japanese police need to change their relationship to one and other. Such a change could involve a national effort to change elements of the German community, through various forms of state assistance and publicly funded projects. And such a change would greatly benefit both Japan and its community of Germans, most of whom don’t commit crime.
The fundamental flaw in western progressivism is it can’t do something analogous to this. Whether it uses state assistance or not, it needs to describe one group as a total victim and one group as a total victimiser. Much like progressive gender politics, no blame can go to the victim for anything. Even the victim’s homicidal violence winds up being characterised as an understandable response to being poor, or even a form of self-defense. On progressivism, violence is only worthy of social outrage, when middle and upper class white people do it.
What goes unnoticed within progressivism is that if victims are never responsible for their own violence, they lack agency. And if progressivism explains blacks in the US in a way where it robs them of their agency, progressivism isn’t merely racist against whites. It’s also racist against blacks. Rather than help the black community, it does little more than describe it as something like a group of culturally determined robots, lashing out in anger. Today’s counter-culture prefers to treat blacks as autonomous adults, and that is perhaps why it contains so many eloquent black voices.23
A Way Forward
In rejecting equality of opportunity and outcome, it looks (superficially) as though today’s counter-culture is simply a libertarian challenge to progressivism. There’s a grain of truth in this assessment, as the counter-culture does contain many libertarian figures. But the problem with this assessment is it defines libertarian, simply in terms of whatever is the opposite of the modern progressive. One can make a convincing case that today’s modern progressive is far less left-wing than the counter culture which is supposedly libertarian. Today’s progressive, in being the opposite of today’s counter-culture, is also the antithesis of a liberal.
Liberals are traditionally against judging different groups, according to wildly divergent double standards. Liberals can acknowledge differences between groups, as well as the ways in which they are equal. Liberals don’t problematize every collective inequality between different demographics without first wondering if those outcomes are the product of perfectly valid collective choices. Liberals value choice, and because of this, never absolve people of their responsibilities, simply because of statistics about the demographics they come from. Liberals are also pro-free speech, and so don’t insulate themselves from external criticisms by stigmatising their opponents. They don’t see their opponents as culturally determined, or think there is no point in believing them when they defend themselves from accusations of bigotry. And unlike modern progressives, liberals don’t believe that rejecting their narratives on racism and sexism makes you a bad person. Liberals are pluralists, after all. And there’s no reason why lefties shouldn’t be both pluralists and liberals.
For those of us who value liberalism, pluralism, free speech, choice, diversity, treating people as individuals, and judging different groups according to universal standards, it’s important for these values not to be seen as de facto expressions of either libertarianism or conservatism. One can accept all these values, while still supporting the welfare state, a ban on firearms, the presence of abortion rights, nationalised health care, the legalisation of marijuana, the elimination of capital punishment, a basic income for all citizens, the removal of draconian copyright laws, a more peaceful foreign policy, and an immigration system which keeps migrant numbers manageable, while simultaneously allowing migrants to cheaply and quickly become citizens.
If all of these values are important parts of a liberal democratic society, there needs to be a movement which can combine all of them. In much the same way that marxists had to make alliances with hippies, modern lefties need to make alliances with critics of progressivism. Progressives make the left look illiberal and intolerant, and in doing so, undermine the important left wing projects which are neither of those things. Fundamentally, the left has historically been about extending economic prosperity to everyone, while using the state to both protect people and facilitate various forms of liberty. The victim politics of progressivism is counter-productive for the left, because it’s less concerned with prosperity and liberty than with expressing resentment towards society.
With a politics that can only resent the masses, individuals can’t be given responsibility for being anti-social. Without this responsibility, there is no possibility of helping a community decrease either its poverty, its deprivation, its crime rates, or its targeting by police. You can only begin to help a disadvantaged community if you don’t treat them like culturally determined robots.
When you treat a disadvantaged person like a culturally determined robot, you deny them both the responsibility and the opportunities that facilitate the alleviation of their hardships. That is, you take away the very things that remove their disadvantages. When someone can never be held accountable for anything they do, they can never be treated as an equal to those who are more privileged than they are. They can also never choose not to be racist, if they live in a racist society and are in the racial demograpic of the majority. On the progressive outlook, the racism of whites is as robotic as the crime of blacks.
Because mainstream attitudes are so influenced by progressivism today, resisting the temptation to treat people like robots is deeply offensive. It’s seen as callous, as an example of victim blaming, and as something which reinforces both systemic racism, as well as misogyny, and a more generalised persecution of the downtrodden.
This is perhaps why the new counter-culture isn’t merely offensive and outrage inducing. It’s culture on the offensive, just like the punks, the hippies, and the beatniks were before. It’s as much a shock to the system as the first stirrings of progressivism. And it has that familiar habit of making people as angry, and as frightened, as anything within our rose tinted memories of the 20th century.
Responsibility is scary and outrage inducing, in the early 21st century. Much more so than violence or racism.
22. See https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2013/crime-in-the-u.s.-2013/tables/table-43 Also See https://www.channel4.com/news/factcheck/factcheck-black-americans-commit-crime Also see https://www.amren.com/the-color-of-crime/ Also see https://www.amren.com/the-color-of-crime/ Also see http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2015/apr/02/sally-kohn/sally-kohn-white-men-69-percent-arrested-violent/ Also see http://www.dailywire.com/news/7441/7-statistics-you-need-know-about-black-black-crime-aaron-bandler Also see https://ucr.fbi.gov/leoka/2014/tables/table_47_leos_fk_race_and_sex_of_known_offender_2005-2014.xls Also see http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/dec/26/black-suspects-more-likely-to-be-shot-by-black-cop/ Also see https://ucr.fbi.gov/leoka/2014/tables/table_47_leos_fk_race_and_sex_of_known_offender_2005-2014.xls Also see https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2016/07/19/academic-research-on-police-shootings-and-race/?utm_term=.dd3be9ec5819 Also see http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/black-lies-matter/article/2600164
23. For example, Vlogger That Guy T, Thomas Sowell, Ken Hamblin, Larry Eldar, Tommy Sotameyor, Michelle Malkin, and Mumia Ali.
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