Privilege: A Problematic Paradigm: Issues And Alternatives: Part One

Over the past few days I have been, like many other people, plagued by well-meaning but entirely misguided and wrong-thinking calls on the part of people and companies to check privilege and work to become better at overcoming supposed structural systems of privilege and injustice that exist in this world.  Like many other people who are equally, and rightly, bothered by this mistaken discourse, I have been provoked to speak up about it.  That said, I would like to do so in a way that provides sufficient context and nuance so that, to the greatest extent possible, I am not misunderstood about why I find the language of privilege to be so troublesome.  It is indeed a grave mistake to talk about privilege and to call upon others to check their privilege [1], and to bemoan the privilege that some groups of people supposedly have in this contemporary society.  Yet the mistake is one that is well-worth discussing precisely because it is a common folly and evil in our age.  And if we are people who wish to develop the proper and right ways of thinking, we need to address popular fallacies and errors so that we may better understand how people get caught up in deception so as to avoid the same fate ourselves.

Lest I be accused of burying the lede, this likely lengthy series of posts is not intended in the least to deny the existence of specific acts of injustice that occur in society.  Nor indeed it is to deny that there are many people who do suffer from what is lacking in their lives and in this present evil world.  Far from it.  We will, on the contrary, dig deep into such subjects, likely to an unpleasant degree for some people.  What will be done, though, is to talk about privilege in such a way that we may reframe the problem, both to demonstrate why privilege is a flawed paradigm for viewing the nature of our world, and discussing better alternatives than privilege to viewing the world and the issues that are involved.  And as we will see, the viewpoint of privilege poisons a great deal of our view of life and of the people around us, and is one of the elements that encourages people to be pit against each other and for everyone to compete to view themselves as victims of a cruel and evil world and to view some other group of people as being somehow privileged to avoid some aspects of those evils, while minimizing and downplaying both the struggles that other people face and the privileges that we ourselves benefit from that invalidate, to a large extent, our complaining about not being privileged ourselves.  In addition, even those who consider themselves to be privileged and who engage in self-condemnation about it, err greatly in having the wrong attitude about privilege.  Far from being a bad thing, the ways that we are privileged are in fact blessings for which we should be thankful and grateful to God, rather than berating ourselves for somehow behaving in unjust structures of injustice.  And, far from there being too much privilege for whites and men and Christians and straight people, in this world there is not enough privilege for any of those groups.  The truth expressed here is not going to be popular.  But truth seldom is.

Nevertheless, this series of essays is not going to be unkind to anyone.  The point here is not to insult people, but rather to discuss and demolish the false arguments that are raised up against privilege as if it was something wicked and evil, when in fact what is labeled as privilege is the natural result of God’s blessings for correct behavior.  Nor, it should be noted, are these privileges limited to any group of people.  To the extent that we behave in a godly fashion, our lives are blessed and we in turn benefit from those blessings in many ways.  To the extent that our attitudes focus on gratefulness and thankfulness for what we have been given, we can enjoy privileges and blessings even from injustices that we suffer.  Even the negative and unpleasant aspects of our existence can give us insight, and that insight is a privilege that we should be thankful for, even when it comes at a harrowing cost.  We will also discuss the structures of evil in our world and what is behind them and find out, unsurprisingly to some and very surprisingly to others, that the problem does not relate to being white as opposed to other ethnicities, or being male as opposed to female, but it springs from the nature of power in a fallen world and in the fallen nature of the world itself.  The darkness of abusing power for our own benefit is not something that wealthy straight white Christian men alone struggle with, but is a universal problem of human nature.  And we cannot defeat the structural evils of privilege without realizing that it’s not about our identity at all except our identity as sinful and flawed human beings who cannot help but abuse and corrupt whatever power and gifts we have been given.

Although much of this conversation is likely to be serious, I do not intend it all to be.  In fact, there is a great deal to laugh about when it comes to conversations on privilege, and some of the stories I tell will be quite humorous as well as positive.  And lest this series be only about myself, I hope to have and to share with you all conversations with a few other people whose perspectives are different than my own, as part of an effort to be as fair as possible in presenting the issues and alternatives of the problematic paradigm of privilege.  After all, it may be argued that I have a particularly privileged perspective in the matter and thus have no right to speak on, much less wholeheartedly condemn, the paradigm to begin with.  If you have felt the temperature rise in our discussion so far, and have found yourself feeling hot under the collar and inclined to think and write nasty things about me, I hope that you will control your feelings and feel differently once this lengthy conversation has come to an end, or hopefully long before then.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Defying The Crowd

Defying The Crowd:  Cultivating Creativity In A Culture Of Conformity, by Robert J. Sternberg & Todd I. Lubart

How does one cultivate creativity?  This is a problem I have wrestled with in reading dozens of books on the subject.  One of the authors of this book at least is an expert on creativity, and if this book gets a few things wrong (such as its judgments on Galileo and why he was brought before the Inquisition), and if the book also regurgitates some of previous works I have read by one of the authors, there is a lot that is valuable here.  The authors affirm that all people have the capacity for creativity in at least some ways and situations and that this capacity for creativity is seldom realized to the extent possible because it is not encouraged.  Enough people are smart enough to realize that their creativity is not welcome that they simply don’t exercise it, leaving only those too stubborn to choke off their creativity to resist the pull of the crowd.  And generally speaking, if you are going the way of the crowd, you can be sure that it is the wrong way to be going in the first place.

This book is about 300 pages long and divided into eleven chapters.  After a preface, the authors discuss the nature of creativity by examining questions of intelligence, knowledge, thinking styles, personality, motivation, and environmental context (1).  After that the authors discuss what creativity is and who needs it (2).  The author discusses the investment approach to creativity by which one buys low by supporting unpopular opinions and then sells high when they achieve greater popularity and moving on to more obscure areas to work on (3).  The authors discuss the implications of this view of creativity (4) in requiring skill in recognizing the right unpopular ideas to support and the persistence and courage to deal with that unpopularity.  The next few chapters then discuss the role of intelligence (5), knowledge (7), personality (8), motivation (9), and the environment (10) to creativity, sometimes rehashing earlier work and discussing the differences, for example, between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation as well as the tolerance to ambiguity and the willingness to grow and matters of creativity as they relate to different types of business organizations.  After all of this the authors include a chapter that seeks to put it all together in discussing about the creative spirit and its implications (11) before the book closes with an epilogue, references, and an index.

The aspects of intelligence that the author talks about are numerous.  The author appears to hold a multi-factor view of intelligence, which is connected to a multi-factor view of creativity.  The author also, unsurprisingly, discusses his multi-factor view of love (in which he talks about his own tendency to get in a rut when it comes to creating three-sided conceptual models, as he did in his book on love).  The end result is a book that reminds all of us that we resist change even if we happen to be creative in some aspects, and helps us as a result to be more understanding to others who may be suspicious of our own creativity.  In looking at defying the crowd, the authors’ encouragement to all of us to overcome ourselves and our own tendencies to resist change and to squelch the creativity of others is advice that should be well heeded.  Those who read this book and appreciate it are going to view themselves as being creative people and outside of the normal herd anyway, so it is vital that people examine themselves and keep themselves from being the enemy of the creative potential of other people in their lives as they have the power to do so.

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Book Review: Psychologists Defying The Crowd

Psychologists Defying The Crowd:  Stories Of Those Who Battled The Establishment And Won, edited by Robert J. Sternberg

This book is a bit less than 300 pages and contains a variety of psychologists writing about their own personal lives and stories.  These psychologists are all portrayed as being iconoclasts, but in many cases their iconoclasm is overrated simply to gain outsider cred.  That isn’t to say that the research and perspectives of these psychologists is all bad–some of it is quite good in fact–but there is a lot of angst and whining here about the price that has to be paid for going against the stream even when all one is doing is opposing behaviorism or cognitive psychology or some other orthodoxy that no one cares about outside of the field.  This is the sort of book that overly sensitive people make to encourage themselves that some cool crowd of hipsters likes them even if they get a lot of unfriendly article reviews from mainstream psychologists.  To be sure, this book has an obvious market and an intended reader among those who want to fancy themselves iconoclastic (which I suppose would include this reader), but its appeal is limited by the tone of many of the articles and the self-absorbed nature of much of the material.

This book is nearly 300 pages long and is divided into sixteen different essays, almost all of which amount to autobiographical sketches of the author and his (or her) experience in dealing with the psychological establishment in universities, meetings, and journals.  Most of the time the authors show a rather insular perspective that tends to focus on personal research, how the author came to be a psychologist in the first place, and discussion about university politics and the prestige of positions and journals that one is looking for publications for.  The authors, of course, speak very highly of their own point of view and their own insight and comment knowingly about the problems in the establishment that they criticize for being narrow-minded.  Some of them note that it is better that not so many people are outsiders because it gives them a niche to do research that gives them distinction because it is different from the norm, and many of these writers appear to have an oppositional approach that leads them to be hostile to any orthodoxy even if their views become more popular with time.

What does it mean for psychologists to defy the crowd?  Much of this book contains rants about a few subjects, such as the tendency for psychology to be attracted by fads that limit the sort of problems that are of interest, and the way that the funding of research is easily politicized when one receives federal grant money.  I have a great deal of respect for the researcher who was aware that his research interests were not the sort likely to get grant money, as I can respect someone who is willing to do research without demanding taxpayer money to do so, and less respect for the whiny researcher who complained about how hostile press coverage about her golden fleece award wrecked her marriage to a journalist husband who kept on trying to excuse the behavior she received at the hands of journos.  A few people are here for pioneering social psychology or for opposing intelligence and personality tests, and one gets a sense that these people feel the need to find like-minded souls in order to encourage their iconoclastic tendencies.  But I suppose that is the case for us all.  Creativity and innovation depend on having an infrastructure that includes encouragement and support, and that is no less true for psychologists than the rest of us.

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Book Review: Thinking Styles

Thinking Styles, by Robert J. Sternberg

As someone who has some familiarity with the author’s work [1], it is not surprising that the author fancies himself to be a creative person who is liberal in thinking and loves new ideas.  Or at least he loves what he thinks to be new ideas, and this book is an attempt on the part of the author to find a place for thinking styles that sits on the uncomfortable boundary between issues of personality and issues of ability.  While I do not know how original the author is in thinking of styles and approaches, I think that this uncomfortable boundary space is very productive of creative ideas that appear to fall between the cracks.  A sure way to find a niche for oneself is to find boundaries that exist between fields and approaches and to mine that space for all it’s worth.  The author does that here and correspondingly it works very well.  This is a solid book that is thought provoking in the best ways and that demonstrates at least some of the issues that plague societies and institutions when it comes to what sort of talent they recognize and what sort of people have a hard time finding a good place for themselves because their approaches are not recognized.

Coming in at 140 pages, this book is pretty short as far as works in its field go.  The book is divided into three parts and nine chapters.  The author begins with a preface and then discusses in four chapters the nature of thinking styles (I), with a discussion of what they are and why we need a concept of them (1), a comparison between legislative, executive, and judicial thinking function styles (2), a comparison of monarchic, hierarchic, oligarchic, and anarchic form styles (3), as well as a comparison between global and local level styles, internal and external scope styles, and liberal and conservative leaning styles (4).   After that the author looks at the principles (5) and development (6) of thinking styles (II).  This leads into further discussions about thinking styles as they relate to the school as well as research and theory (III), including a discussion of what we have learned about thinking styles in the classroom (7), a history of the theory and research that has been undertaken on the subject (8), and the author’s preferences for looking at a theory of mental self-government rather than computing (9), after which there are notes and an index.

Appreciating this book requires at least a few things.  For one, it requires an appreciation of brevity, because this is by no means a long book.  Another thing this book has going for it (at least in the eyes of some readers) is that the author spends a great deal of time seeking to provide diagnostic questions to the reader to help them identify where they sit on the various approaches that the author recognizes.  And though this book has a lot to offer those who are fans of the personality theory world in general, the book even manages to have some nuance within its rather small size, discussing the way that people have different styles in different areas of their lives and sometimes different styles at different times of their life.  Indeed, further research along this line could seek to discuss how it is that styles develop in particular areas of life and how it is that they develop and sometimes harden into rigid approaches to dealing with aspects of life and how some people are able to be flexible enough to know which styles are of best use in different areas of life.  There’s a lot to like here, and plenty that one hopes are followed up in future works.

[1] See, for example:

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What I Cannot Change

One of the most unpleasant obligations that one faces as a just person–and not just someone who wants to appear just–is the burden of speaking unpopular truths.  Another obligation, and one that is equally uncomfortable, is to hear unpopular truths.  Yet it is an aspect of our natures that we will not hear unpalatable truths unless they are said in a fashion that is communicated with love and respect.  If we desire other people to change, we have to recognize that we as human beings are strongly resistant to change, and will generally only change peacefully when we feel comfortable and safe.  Those changes that are coerced on people will be fought and resented till kingdom come.  This is something that would-be reformers simply do not understand.  To be sure, they are equally resistant to being told about their own sins and flaws and need to change, but they are impatient to change others and to change the world according to their own flawed and biased vision.  And the lack of respect for others makes efforts at change far more violent and hostile than needs to be the case.  Those who are impatient about change need to reflect upon the fact that eternity is at stake, and compared to that the years and decades and generations we worry about the pace of change are entirely worthless.

So, in the interests of discussing why it is that the pace of some changes are so slow, it is time for us to take seriously the fears and concerns of those whose perspective is seldom heard or respected when it comes to society, and that is the point of view of white, and frequently Southern, conservatives.  Although admittedly this has not been a point of view I am very sympathetic with, it is well worth hearing because the pace of change can only be accelerated to the extent that it feels safe for people to do so.  And threatened and harassed and disrespected people tend not to feel safe with any change at all nor do they well regard those who view them with contempt.  To the extent that we genuinely care about change and not with merely appearing to be just in the eyes of whatever subaltern group we view as possessing some sort of victimization cred, we must respect the sensitivities of those whom we wish to persuade to make some kind of change that we wish and prefer, and that may even be in their own best interests.  Again, this change must be freely given and cannot be coerced, and efforts at coercion will generally backfire and delay or reverse the course of change altogether, which is clearly not what those people desire.

If we look at the ethnic conflicts in the United States, we will see that most of them are strongly connected to histories of conquest.  Even the resentment felt by many Southern whites is deeply connected to the conquest of the South in the Civil War, which forced upon the South the extinction of slavery and the destruction of the wealth and power that the region had built up.  Even in the North, with far fewer blacks at least in the 19th century relative to the South, there were tensions whenever blacks were viewed as competition with poor whites when it came to wages, which led to blacks being banned from such states as Illinois and Oregon during the mid-1800’s, and to riots against blacks such as the Irish-led draft riots of 1863.  Similarly, the promise to poor Southern whites that race was enough to make one a natural aristocrat despite one’s poverty was highly appealing to those whose lives were greatly harmed by the general depression on living standards that comes when free labor is put in competition with slave labor, and where work is looked down upon as being servile and dishonorable.  To the extent that one group can be pitted against another in competition for scarce resources of jobs and honors, people in those groups find that gains given to one are threats to the well-being faced by the other.  This was true in the early centuries of America’s history and it is still true to this day.  Obviously, the extent to which this competition and this scarcity can be limited can encourage less intergroup hostility, since it is easy for people to be pitted against each other.

If you want to encourage some sort of change, one of the most obvious things one can do is to go to the people whose resistance to the change is greatest, and to listen to them and take their suggestions and to figure out what about the change is most worrisome and threatening to them.  Somehow no one thinks to do this.  By and large, change efforts are forced from above by people who are not asked to change or learn anything on people who are asked to keep up with their tasks while being forced to learn new ways of working and living and behaving and who are understandably less than happy about being coerced in such a fashion.  To the extent that we are able to understand the point of view of those who are being asked to change, and to address their concerns in a fair way that makes as few demands on them or that provides as many benefits to them as possible, that resistance to change can be overcome graciously.  Most of the time, though, efforts to change are trumpeted from above, fail because they are unrealistic and fail to address the concerns of those below, and simply fail to work.  This is true in business, in politics, in religion, and in a great deal else besides.  Rather than demonize those who are resistant to change, we can use that as a signal that we are simply not respecting them and their concerns enough, and that if our desire for change was urgent and serious enough, we would.

Why is this so difficult?  When we show contempt to others whose change in some areas is slower than our own, it is of vital importance that we reflect upon the ways that we ourselves are prejudiced and highly resistant to change.  Do we appreciate when others tell us how our own behavior falls short of God’s standards in the Bible, or of the societal standards of decency, or of the expectations of those with whom we have to deal?  No.  Do other people inform us of these shortcomings and bring them to our attention in the most gracious way possible?  Not often.  Do they think they are doing well by awkwardly forcing upon our attention things that we do not want to hear and that we may lash out against?  Without a doubt.  Yet while we all know and resent the way that people try to coerce us to change, we tend to think that it is somehow different when we are the ones trying to coerce others to change.  When we believe ourselves to be enlightened and just and others to be unjust and ignorant, how patient are we with the struggles of others to learn and grow and change?  Often, not very patient.  And even if we are, by our lights, we will still frequently come off as being superior to others simply because of the imbalance between our position of strength and theirs of weakness.  However difficult it is to be empathetic to those who are different from ourselves, it is more striking that we seldom try to put ourselves in the perspective of others and recognize that the responses that others have to our efforts at pushing them is similar to the response that we have when others push us.  And yet we seldom stop to recognize how this aspect of our shared human nature could potentially unite us by allowing us to see others without viewing them with contempt.  But if we truly desired change, and not to be seen as something special, it would be more common to see humility and reflection rather than posturing and virtue signalling across the land.  And instead of asking others to bow down to us because of some imaginary historical guilt, we would bow down to God and ask Him to forgive us for our own pride and arrogance of heart, and for the blindness of our own ways.  For few are blind guides to the extent that would-be reformers are, and few more ignorant of the darkness inside their own hard hearts.

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Book Review: The First Civilizations

The First Civilizations:  The Archaeology Of Their Origins, by Glyn Daniel

What is civilization?  In Southern Europe there were a variety of cities that were built by speakers of unknown and lost languages, and few books are written about them or even mention them at all.  The main reason for this appears to be the fact that these lost cities did not have a written language, which has hindered our understanding of what they thought.  To be sure, there are civilizations in the ancient world whose written languages we still cannot understand–Elamite and the Indus River Civilizations come to mind–but we know that they wrote and literacy counts.  This book attempts to explore common threads in civilization that demonstrate the subtle form of influence and look at how it is that civilizations formed in the first place.  The author posits seven original civilizations in the ancient world:  Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus River, China, Mesoamerica, the Mayans, and Peru.  There are likely a few other ones that could be added as well if they were better understood, but this certainly amounts to a good start and there is a lot that this book has to offer as a basic discussion of the archaeology of the ancient world.

This book is about 200 pages or so and it is divided into eight chapters.  The book begins with a list of illustrations and figures, their sources, a chronological table, as well as a preface.  This leads to a chapter on savagery, barbarism (where some material culture is present), and civilization and the difference between the three, including the presence of cities and literacy for civilization in the author’s view (1).  The author’s discussion of the discovery of the first civilization (2) leads to a look at the origin of civilization in Sumer (3).  After that comes a discussion of the diffusion of civilization to Egypt and the Indus River valley (4) and then after that to the Yellow River valley in China (5).  After that the author spends some time discussing the development of civilization in the Americas (6), as well as a look at what archaeology had, by 1968, revealed about these civilizations in the Americas (7).  After that discussion the book ends with seminar notes, books for further reading, as well as an index.

That is not to say that this book is by any means perfect.  The author has a mistaken view of biblical chronology that leads him to view Genesis as a 9th century text when it was likely written long before at least to start, and substantially complete in the mid-1400’s or so if not before.  Given that the author’s interest in ancient history extends far beyond the Middle East, though, the author is on more solid ground when talking about the pattern of civilizations to occur in areas close to river valleys in the Old World, and the way in which knowing that civilization had been accomplished somewhere, and the possibilities of trade and knowledge coming from existing civilizations likely helped later areas that were in the process of trying to work out the process of civilization as well.  The author speaks a lot about the way that fully developed bronze work in China signifies that the technology might have come from elsewhere, like the Middle East.  It is hard to know these things but the author does a good job at presenting some interesting ideas about the diffusion of the idea of civilization and the potential of simultaneous development of the key set of qualities involved in the start of civilization, as well as the difference between savagery and barbarism from an archaeological and material perspective.

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Book Review: Sketches From Sikh History

Sketches From Sikh HIstory, by Puran Singh

This is not a very good book, unfortunately.  It is mercifully short, at less than 150 pages, but it is not a very accomplished effort.  It is easy to see what the author is trying to do here, and to respect the intention of the work.  These sketches from Sikh history seek to present the gurus of the Sikh faith as being followers of God with a great deal of enlightenment and to present the struggles the Sikh people and their leaders had to face in the latter stages of the Mogul Empire as being noble martyrdom worthy of the respect of the West.  There is in here a sort of ecumenical appeal that wishes to view the Sikh as being on the level of faiths as Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism as being important to know and to regard on a global level.  The author, moreover, attempts to portray faith as being more a matter of mystical relationships rather than ancestral identity, and engages in some comparative religious discussion that seeks to put Sikh on an equal and level playing field with much larger and better-known religious traditions that the author appears to view with at least some respect.

Even if one is not an ecumenical person, and I am not, the intentions of this book are easy enough to praise.  The fault, as is usually the case, is in the execution of this book’s intentions.  The author rambles on about points that have little to do with Sikh history and more to do with a philosophy of history that the author seeks to adopt in order to legitimize the history of the Sikh.  There is a discussion of the supposed enlightenment of the sages of the Sikh faith, of the martyrdom that they suffered, and of the struggles of the small Sikh community to grow and to maintain its faith.  At best, the most enjoyable parts of this book are biographies of important people in Sikh history, but this book is not properly a work of history as much as it is an act of philosophizing in a way that is not as enjoyable to read as it could have been.  It is unclear whether there are many works on Sikh history that exist; I have seldom come across them and this is not an example worth recommending to others.  Hopefully others have done the job better, even if this was an early effort from a bit more than a century ago.

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Book Review: Controversies In Policing

Controversies In Policing, edited by Quint C. Thurman and Andrew Giacomazzi

This book is the example of someone trying to toss a loaded grenade into a conversation and finding that it bounces back on themselves.  The authors here are under the mistaken belief that policing does not have controversies involving it, which would be an immensely ignorant thing to say at any age but particularly our own.  Moreover, besides that amazingly ignorant statement, the authors in this book demonstrate a marked anti-police bias that makes this book a partisan attack on the legitimacy of policing and an opportunity to make a wish list and agitate for all kinds of bogus and dubious reforms that need to be foisted upon the police to make it acceptable to the leftist morons who wrote this text.  Indeed, the more I read about policing the more I see that books about it are written by those who do not respect or regard it.  Imagine trying to gain insight about a subject by reading what is said about it by those who are biased and hostile against it?  And yet that is regularly what it happens when one reads about policing, which leads one to suspect that this book is written more for sociologists who want to bolster their ignorance of the world and less for people that work in policing or who want to know what it is actually about.

This book is a bit more than 150 pages and is divided into ten chapters and four parts.  The book begins with acknowledgements and an introduction by one of the editors of the book.  After that there are two chapters on an introduction to policing (I) that discuss controversies in policing before 9/11 (1) along with the debate between order and freedom after then (2).  After that there are some essays on the role of police in a democratic society (II), including policing in an age of terrorism (3), community policing as not being soft on crime (4), and perhaps the worst essay here, a piece of garbage on the supposed police culture (5).  After that comes a discussion of various operational issues in policing (III), including the use of deadly force (6), racial profiling (7), and the expansion of the role of women in police work (8).  After this a discussion of ethical issues (IV) leads to predictably biased essays on ethical issues in policing (9) and civil liability (10), after which there is a conclusion, references, biographical information for contributors, and an index.

Since this book is written flamboyantly by the enemies of police, this book is worth reading, to the extent that it is worth reading at all, mainly as a guide to the wrong ways to think about the police and how they should operate.  While the lawyers and self-professed scholars here appear to be doing their best to gain leftist credibility points, the book is mainly of interest from a negative perspective.  The authors point out that the data lies, which is certainly an important thing to remember.  Other authors point out that women’s roles have expanded in police work, but the focus is more on how the police are portrayed in film and television rather than how women have fared in actual police forces, which is demonstrative of the greater interest that leftists have in media and its narratives rather than in reality.  Likewise, the comments the book makes about racial profiling and the ways that cops attempt to deal with scrutiny about it are well-told.  All told, this book would tend to bolster a belief by a policeman in the hostility of certain aspects of society and would tend to buttress their hostility towards such elements, which seems contrary to the intent of the authors here.

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I Sought To Rely On My Good Intentions

It was the mid 1990’s.  The band Toad The Wet Sprocket released a song that had been recorded a few years earlier and not released because it seemed too much like an obvious pop single as part of the Friends soundtrack and it became their last major hit, earning them a top ten on the AAA charts as well as top 20’s on Adult Top 40, Adult Contemporary, Alternative, Mainstream Rock, and Mainstream Top 40, although it was never released as a commercial single so it was ineligible to chart on the Hot 100 at the time.  The song, written by Glen Phillips, laments the state of a the narrator who struggles to see that he isn’t blind, who relies on his good intentions despite being deeply troubled in his thinking and not being the most observant person.  If it is an obvious popular song, as it proved to be, it is popular not because of a lack of quality but because the idea of seeking to rely on one’s good intentions when dealing with a world in which our competence is seriously up for debate is a very relatable problem.

Indeed, there is a systematic problem when it comes to our good intentions.  The difficulty is that we know our intentions.  We know the gulf that exists between what we wanted to say and do and the way it came out and the way it was judged by others.  We recognize that it is unjust for others to judge us by their misinterpretation of our words and deeds when we know what we were aiming at.  All of that is well and good as far as it goes.  Encouraging others to recognize the gap between the way that they view us and the way that we view ourselves is a worthwhile experience for all sides, not least because it lets us all know how we can misinterpret things based on our own thinking and experiences and not know or be able to relate to how someone else sees the world.  But we know our own intentions instinctively because we are privileged to have an insider’s perspective on our own thinking and behavior that we do not have when it comes to judging others.  In order to understand the intentions of others, we generally need those intentions communicated to us.  And it is not easy for us to trust what we hear from others, or for others to trust us enough to tell us their motivations and intentions, lest we insult them or exploit them accordingly.  And so we judge others by our interpretations of their words and deeds and demand to be judged for our good intentions.  It is no wonder that our judgments are frequently skewed, regardless of how we end up biased.

Throughout the day today my social media feeds have been infested by well-meaning but not very bright people who have posted black pictures of various kinds as a way of virtue signalling their sympathy with the black community over the death of George Floyd.  As I have made my own feelings about this matter rather plain [1], I am hostile both to acts of abuse by authorities as well as the spirit of lawlessness and rebellion that seeks to exploit those acts of abuse as a way of attacking the respect towards order and authority that is proper and fitting.  A great many people think that by posting a black square on their social media pages that they are signalling to others that they are the sort of people whose views are progressive and who are not racist unlike those other bad white people.  All such acts do are convince me that appeasing violent leftist terrorists is more important than simply letting people express their own frustrations peacefully and going about one’s ordinary business otherwise untroubled with compassion in your heart but without the need to feel that one has to add anything to a discourse that one is not properly a part of.  It is a shame that people desire to have other people view them as just to such an extent that it leads to active irritation and annoyance of other people, and counterproductive repercussions in only increasing the division one might wish to overcome.

Ultimately, good intentions don’t count for much.  Our opinions, in the final analysis, mean little, except the extent to which they serve to shape the lives we live as other people respond to those opinions with disagreement, agreement, polite silence, or violent responses.  The opinions of others matter little either.  Our judgment of the motives and intentions of others is of little value, seeing as we are judging on things that we do not happen to know very much about.  Our own intentions and motives are typically complicated and difficult for ourselves to understand, and yet we try to put the best face on them anyway.  It is hard enough to help others out when we have intentions to help.  When our desire is to help ourselves and avoid the feeling of being judged and condemned, it is even harder to do something that will ultimately be of use.  Perhaps silence would be best, but as someone who finds it impossible to be silent, I cannot blame others for feeling the need to speak out.  One needs to do so in a better way than through empty symbols, though.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Zero Tolerance Policing

Zero Tolerance Policing, by Maurice Punch

The problem with this book is that the author is not fond enough of zero tolerance policing to give it a fair hearing.  In fact, it appears to be that a consistent problem with books on policing is that they are hostile to the act of policing unless it fits their biased leftist agenda, and that makes the books practically useless.  At the very least this book is short, so even though it is pretty useless as a study of policing it at least does not waste one’s time.  That is not much of a virtue but in a book like this it is about the most positive thing that can be said about it.  It is clear that those who do zero-tolerance policing, which means a variety of different things depending on who is responsible for it, are too busy fighting crime to write books trying to bash it, but one would wish that the friends of sound policing would do a better job at defending themselves from the libelous and defamatory things that are said about them by authors like this one, who view policing as a task that is to be accomplished with kid gloves according to leftist principles rather than seriously and rigorously.

The book as a whole is only about 70 pages long including all of its supplementary material and it mainly focuses on the complex efforts of the British and Dutch cops to learn from the lessons of the police of Guiliani’s New York City and apply them to their own crime-ridden societies.  The author notes that both the British and Dutch applied some of the lessons, like a focus on statistics and data as an aid to crime-fighting, and disregarded other elements that are specific to the American approach to crime.  This is as it should be and I do not think that anyone would necessarily mind reading this.  Where the book gets to be most unfortunate in its bias is the way that the author is continually hostile to conservative and right-of-center politics and populism in general, not realizing that responsiveness to the desires of the people is a mark of good government and not bad government, at least insofar as it exists in a fallen world.  The author’s hostility to populism and to law-and-order policing and approaches which are supported by the ordinary mass of people means that this book really doesn’t have anything to offer that is worthwhile in looking at policing.

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