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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

On @jandrewpotter's Response to #Ferguson and War Room Politics (UPDATED)

I don't know if Potter quite intended to make this point, but there it is.  When he talks about the increased militarization of society on the whole, he could just have easily pointed a finger directly at War Room politics.

Partisan politics is all about forcing a political outcome.  It tends not to involve violence and deadly force, lately, at least in some countries - but that wasn't always the case.  As Potter hints at, we've seen a slow debasement of standards in politics, a subtle shift that has allowed more and more questionable tactics to be used.

Destroy your opponents?  Hate, step on their throats, etc?  How is this a healthy way to engage in policy debate in a democratic country?  Yet that's how war-roomers frame the battle between them and the barbarians at the gate, or in office.  

Only we can save you from them.

It's not much different from the mentality that produces lines like "bring it, you fucking animals, bring it."

They will eat your babies and salt your land out of sheer malice, given the chance.  Heck, they're trying to do both already, aren't they?

Truth be told, plenty of partisans are just like the cops Potter describes; they relish the combat and want to rack up wins, whether it's for bragging rights or for career advancement.

Instead of guns, though, they use robocalls, Nationbuilder and behavioural economics to force their wins and defeat their foes.

As I've written before, though, this is the sort of slow creep from which actual shooting wars always start. We're seeing that play out right now.

Potter makes another crucial point, though, that has been lost in the fog of pseudo-war:

Police officers serve and protect.  They are keepers of the peace who, by the nature of their work, face extraordinary risk to life, life and mind.  Soldiers are different.  Soldiers are trained to walk into the line of fire; there job isn't to preserve peace, but to fight for it.  It's a completely different enterprise.

Funny enough, we're seeing a strange shift in behaviours; friendly neighbourhood cops are being replaced as the cliche by heavily armed, tough-talking cowboys in SWAT gear while the US military has become the biggest consumer of Positive Psychology in North America.  

Soldiers are learning about social-emotional learning and communication at the same time as how to survive in the war zone.  There are some police I know who get this stuff and are committed to using the positive tools available to do their job - to serve and protect - better.  Having said that, there are lots who simply love the power of wearing a badge and carrying a gun.

Soldiers accept that sacrifice is part of their job; they, as people, come second to the cause they serve.  Both sides will have guns, both sides run risks which have often been mitigated by codes of honour like bushido or chivalry.  Omerta is not a code of honour - it's a defense for the Prisoner's Dilemma.

Cops don't have the same level of skin in the game; they could and probably should expect to punch out form their day job and have a regular life at home, same as anyone.  As such, risk doesn't play the same way for police as it does for soldiers.  

Which is partially why we've seen an escalation of weapons and tactics among police, especially in light of 9/11, but even in response to situations like G20.  They want to be in control of any given situation, but they don't want to be at risk.  More guns, armour and the like helps mitigate their risk as crowds grow in response to an increasingly disengaged decision-making class and the consequences of armchair policy making.

The truth is, folks, you can't take the risk out of war - certainly not against your own people, not without becoming a doomed-to-fail tyrant.  Trying to do so unilaterally and without a willingness to honour your opponents as you'd like to be honoured yourself is a sure-fire way to escalate tense situations into shooting conflicts.

Something that also holds true for political parties, by the way.

I hate to say it, but things are likely going to get a lot worse before they start getting better, which bodes well for none of us.

UPDATED 20/8/14

Reflecting on Potter's piece this morning, another strand stood out:

6. That is why the real problem with what we are seeing in Ferguson is not the equipment, but the culture. And by that I don't just mean the culture of policing, but our culture as a whole. Over the past decade, the dominant themes and motifs of our culture have become increasingly militaristic.

Why is that?  Why are we developing into an increasingly militaristic culture that is so focused on being able to compete and score wins?

A couple thoughts on this.

We live in a consumerist culture that pushes the notion of entitlement for all.  You deserve to have the latest phone, or sneakers, or whatever; if you're not part of the latest franchise craze, well, you're being left behind. 

It used to be that only elites felt a sense of entitlement; either by birth, luck or in some cases, actual talent, they got more access and the means to control access to others.  That control of stuff like money and policy led to a sense of social divinity, that they could do no wrong by virtue of being who they were.

We still have a highly entitled elite; one of the messages they and others are conveying is that, in a supposedly flat world, there should be no redistribution of resources, no sociology - just pure free market capitalism.  To get ahead, people need to be competitive.

What do we tell our kids?  They have to be number one.  What do we tell people on the job market?  They have to be expert salespeople, in addition to whatever else they used to be.  No longer do we have sellers who seek out services to sell; now, we have a neofeudalism, where the front-line is supposed to be master sellers, pay their own way and provide for the elites.

If you're going to survive in a competitive world, you need to be tough, aggressive, have the best tools, right? 

That's the culture we have; each to their own, success through aggression.

Explains a few things, doesn't it?

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