Thursday, 9 August 2012
What is wrong with bipeds, anyway?
Not strictly a rhetorical question although I do not anticipate a satisfactory reply. It is prompted by a silly fake-debate broadcast last night on New York 1, the local all-news cable channel that does a pretty good job of keeping up with city news and politics. Curtis Sliwa, the self-promoting face of the Guardian Angels, argued that the recent rash of gun violence around New York City is causally related to the measurable drop in frisk stops by the NYPD, which in turn is arguably a result of public pressure against the racial profiling involved. You stop grabbing black and Hispanic males off the street and searching them for guns, argued Sliwa, you get more shootings; therefore, Al Sharpton is the guilty party here.
Sliwa is making the cardinal error of bad science, equating correlation with causation. Just because I see fewer female smokers among pregnant women, it does not mean that tobacco is a contraceptive. Phenomena are often associated without being related, and even if they are related, A may not cause B. Instead, B might cause A, or A might cause C, which causes B. Or A and B may have nothing to do with each other.
Sliwa’s argument can be turned on its head: given that the huge number of stop-and-frisk non-arrests over the past decade have been sold to us based on the theory that they stop crime, why do they apparently fail miserably in doing so? One could then counter-argue that the violence would be that much worse without stop-and-frisk, but the available evidence doesn’t really tell us anything one way or the other.
The supposed logic of these postures isn’t really the point, and it doesn’t take a research scientist to see that our emotions, not our reason, drive our politics when it comes to crime, fear of crime, the desire for safety, etc. Those feeling they will be victimized want strong action and rarely stop to think about police abuses unless and until they become the object of same.
But the whole debate about guns, frisks, and shoot-outs at the Brooklyn version of the O.K. Corral reminds me of the bizarro-world that emerged after 9/11.
Consider this thought experiment: what if Al Gore had not only won the presidential election of 2000, but also been allowed to take office and then presided over the 9/11 attack? This presumes that he would have been as distracted as Bush was by a fanatical desire to conquer Iraq and equally dismissive of the red flags that many intelligence people were waving in the presidential face, but let’s presume both those things. What would have been the reaction of the Republican opposition upon seeing the smoking ruins of the twin towers?
I don’t think we need speculate for long: there would have been a sustained howl of outrage about how the weak-kneed, lily-livered, pansy-ass, towel-head-loving, get-down-on-your-knees-and-surrender Democrats had sold out the nation’s security and allowed an attack on the heartland for the first time since the War of 1812. We would still be hearing about it, and the Dems, for their part, would still be apologizing for it.
Instead, as we all know, criticism of Bush’s negligence was promptly declared out of bounds and tantamount to disloyalty. Furthermore and incredibly, Bush backers blithely argued that there had ‘never’ been a terrorist attack on ‘our watch’ by way of justifying his introduction of a whole slew of abuses, including detention without trial, rendering to secret prisons and torture. (Obama later doubled down by adding kill lists.) No one seemed to notice that the event had occurred on the Bush ‘watch’, and woe to anyone who would dare to recall this salient fact.
So to return to the original question, What is wrong with bipeds who are ever-ready to forgive the tough-guy blowhards, who make a big show of their willingness to drive a tank ruthlessly through any and all comers and obtain revenge for injury, while apparently unable to perceive that this macho display might mask total incompetence in achieving the supposedly desired ends? I don’t think there really is an answer except that the DNA that made us a successful species has outlasted its usefulness and that we’re stuck with it.
Posted by Tim Frasca at 12:07