Jack RabbitJack Rabbit's Journal
My view of the world is through the lens of Rousseau, specifically his dichotomy of the natural and social orders of things.
Our species is not cursed with original sin, as Christian doctrine holds, but there is certainly no evidence of the opposite, perhaps we should call it original virtue, which seems good for selling overpriced paperbacks in a new age bookstore, but little else. Since I've mention Ayn Rand, an overrated hack novelist and quack philosopher, her ideas about human nature are closer to the Christian doctrine of original sin, except that she thinks that the emotions and behavior Christians enumerate as sins are virtues.
To give that lady her due, however, greed and selfishness do fill a positive role, along with some of our more aggressive traits that get out of hand too often. If we were created by a god, then it created us, like it created every other species, to survive for at least for time on this planet while it is still inhabitable.
Nevertheless, Ms Rand's view of human nature is at best a half truth. Her heroes are "born without the ability to feel others." Such a person usually ends up committing criminal acts, like a serial killer. If her novels don't ring true to most of us, that is the reason: her heroes aren't like most of us, and we don't hold them up as people to be admired. That ability to feel others is as much a natural part of us as greed, selfishness and aggressive behavior. Primitive humans live in groups and hunt in packs. A human with no ability to feel others would not survive very long in a state of nature. He would be a lone hunter. No one would do his hunting for him or look after his health if he were laid up for a while with the flu or if he catches a cold that digresses into pneumonia. He might pass on his genes if he can find a mate who's as sick as he is, as happens in Ms Rand's novels such as, for instance, with Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart in Atlas Shrugged.
While it is true that we can be characterized as being greedy and selfish, there is a reason we don't often think that those are part of our better nature. Humans are also, by nature, a social animal. By nature, we reach out to our fellow humans. One can call that empathy. It's a good word for it, although I think empathy means something more, something less clinical or academic, but something warmer. If we didn't do that, we would have become extinct long ago. A slow runner (compared to a hungry leopard) and poor tree climber (compared to a frightened monkey) had to have something else going for it in order to have been as successful as we have been. A good part of this might have been that magnificent brain of ours.
Do I hear the Objectivists chortling? Do they really think a lone human hunter could have survived in a state of nature more than a winter or two by himself and his brain? No, he would not have. He would not have lived long enough to become a hunter. Most of human cerebral development takes place outside the womb, after birth. Our childhood comprises about the first 20% of our life span. It is necessary for our survival to the age of puberty that we be nurtured by other, older humans. Again, it is natural for humans to live in groups. If it were not, few of us would survive childhood and the likelihood we would be extinct by now would be rather high. Therefore, we have the family, the village, the tribe, the community, or if one wishes to use some more general term, society. Human society cannot be separated from our nature. It is part of us.
True, it comes at a cost, such as limitations on individual freedom. Part of that limitation is what we call morality, that is, the rules by which we agree to live in a particular group. Believers in the Abrahamic god assert that morality comes from their god. I don't agree with them. People who have never heard of that particular god still live in groups that have rules by which they live. A society could not function well if we allowed any individual to resolve a dispute with another by killing him. Nobody needs a god to furnish a prophet with a stone tablet saying so in order to know this. Even Pharaoh, who most certainly did not believe in the Abrahamic god, enforced laws prohibiting murder and theft.
Morality, in my view, grows out of a social pragmatism growing, in turn, from our natural need to live in groups. I don't think that need is the same thing as empathy, but it is related to it. Empathy is something like an elaboration on that need. We don't really need empathy for survival, but it makes the world a more pleasant place.
I think it is perfectly possible for a police state to allow some, even most, citizens to make the observation that it is a police state. One may even make the observation while not condemning the state, e.g., "Thank God this is a police state; the police should have free reign to do what is necessary to protect law-abiding citizens from criminal elements."
The sticking point is that "free reign to do what is necessary" clause. In a real police state, "what is necessary" is interpreted in a way to mean "excessive." What is excessive? In the specific case at hand, it is when the police -- or a neighborhood watchman -- treat any young black man as a criminal suspect. It should have been a wake up call that some thirty years ago when patrolman stopped a young black male driving a car only to find out the "suspect" was television star LaVar Burton. That incident only raised some nervous laughter -- it was clear that Mr. Burton was stopped only because he fit an overly broad profile of a criminal and, beyond the inconvenience of having to explain to an officer that he was only his own business, didn't suffer any harm -- but there was still something wrong with that picture. We knew that this happened all the time, but the only reason we heard about this instance is that the young man randomly stopped was a Hollywood celebrity.
I don't believe the patrolman who stopped LaVar Burton had any specific crime that he was investigating, but in the time that it happened to now I may have forgotten a detail or two. In much less time, I can't recall any specific crime for which Trayvon Martin was suspected when he was killed by a neighborhood watchman or last week when Michael Brown was killed by a uniformed police officer. Messrs. Burton, Martin and Brown were not suspected of any crime; they were suspected because they were simply being.
Now consider this: is there any one here who thinks that officer who killed Michael Brown won't walk, assuming that he is even brought to trial? More than that, is there any one here is isn't expecting a barrage from the right wing claiming that Michael Brown was a thug who got what he deserved? Some of us might like to think that the Koch brothers or other right wing oligarchs are manipulating that sentiment, and perhaps that is partly true. Scapegoating young blacks helps keeps the masses divided, making it less likely the masses will come together to oppose them. Let's not get to conspiratorial in our thinking. Much of the ugly right wing sentiment will be spontaneous. The Koch brothers were not around when the KKK was founded.
The elements at work here are scapegoating, oligarchs who finds that scapegoating useful to maintaining their own power and police officers who are instructed to believe that a whole class of individuals are thugs and should be treated as such. The police officers come from the same general population as George Zimmerman and his defenders. Of course, so do you and I, my fellow DUers. Don't get too proud. If one's survival defended on a career and one's career depended on doing as one is told and one is told to treat any young black man as a criminal suspect, then even one who is not inclined to that kind of scapegoating will damned sure act as if he is.
That's how police states are made.
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