So I’ve been doing a long project on crime/criminals. So far I’ve read about pirates, Angola Prison, horseback outlaws, outlaw motorcycle clubs, and currently, the mafia.

The books are good, but this is not light reading. After reading about meth whores abusing their kids for a chapter or two, you find yourself wanting to head over to the nearest church.

And I’ve got two and a half books left to go.

Obviously I don’t like crime. Few people do. I’d like for criminals to go away.

I also don’t want non-criminals accidentally imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit. I don’t want petty criminals over-punished for minor crimes that don’t warrant it. I don’t want a system where some people have access to good lawyers and a shot at “justice” and some people don’t.

I wish we could talk about crime, and the police, and the justice system, and how all of that should work, and subjects like “do the police shoot people inappropriately?” without getting dragged into the poison of tribal political bickering. I especially don’t like the idea that as a result of people trying to prevent one form of murder (police shootings), far more people have ended up being murdered by common criminals. (At least, that’s what the data looks like.)

Obviously we live in an imperfect world with imperfect people in which there may in fact be a trade off between level of police / justice system violence and level of criminal violence. If you have 10 suspects and you know 5 are serial killers but you don’t know which 5, imprisoning all 10 will get the killers off the streets but also imprison 5 innocents, while freeing all of them will result in a bunch more murders. It would be nice to be perfect, but we’re not. We’re humans.

I think there are a lot of problems with the way the legal/justice system operates, but I don’t see how we’re going to get anywhere with fixing it. People need to be genuinely motivated to make it better, not just tribally interested in taking a side over BLM. And most people really aren’t interested in fixing it.

And then there’s the criminal side. (Oh, and on a related note: Portland Deletes Its Gang List for Having Too Many Blacks)

I’m often reminded of a passage in Sudhir Venkatesh’s Gang Leader for a Day (which I read ages ago) in which he expressed frustration at his fellow academics. You see, Venkatesh was doing street-level, real live research in–I think it was Chicago–by actually going into ghetto neighborhoods and making friends with the people, interacting with them, seeing what their lives were really like. At the same time, Venkatesh was a university student studying “poverty” or something like that, and so would frequently attend lectures by academic types talking about ways to address poverty or fight poverty or what have you, and it was obvious to him that many of these lecturers had no idea what they were talking about.

And really, people do this a lot. They propose a bunch of feel-good solutions to problems they don’t actually understand.

This is pretty much all of politics, really.

I remember a conversation with a well-meaning liberal acquaintance that occurred shortly after I finished Phillipe Bourgeois’s In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in el Barrio. She suggested that better public transportation networks would help poor people get to resources like public museums, which would enrich their lives. I thought this was a stupid response. People trying to make ends meet by acting as lookouts for crack gangs or struggling to find a job after getting out of prison do not care about museums. I said something to that effect, and I don’t think she likes me anymore.

Deep down inside, I wish we lived in a kumbaya-world of happy bunnies frolicking in the forest and children holding hands and singing about how happy they are. I wish people were honest, and pure, and well-intentioned. I wish we could go to the museum, experience beauty, and feel connected to each other and history and culture. I wish none of us had to wear suits and that jobs didn’t grind up people’s souls and spit them out. I wish people could see the humanity in each other, because when we stop seeing that, we stop being human.

And to a large degree, we live in a very nice world. We live in a world with medicines and antibiotics. Where child mortality is low and mothers rarely die in childbirth. Where surgery is done with anesthesia. I have a comfortable home, lots of books, and plenty of food. I spend much of my time reading about times and places where these weren’t the norm, which makes me quite grateful for what I have. It also sometimes keeps me up late at night when I should be asleep.

It’s a good world, but it isn’t kumbaya world. It’s a world with criminals and idiots and mal-intentioned people. It’s a world that got to be good because people worked very hard to make it that way (many people died to make it that way) and it’s a world that doesn’t have to stay that way. We can ruin it.

While researching the previous Cathedral Round-Up, I came across what I think is a professor’s old Myspace page. Suddenly this professor went from “person who wrote really pretentious-sounding dissertation” to “human being.” They were a kid once, trying to figure out their place in this world. They looked sad in some of their pictures. Were they lonely? Outcast? Bullied?

I hate “dissertation language” and hate how simple (sometimes even reasonable) ideas get wrapped up in unnecessarily complex verbiage just to make them sound astonishing. I hate it on principle. I hate how the same people who talk about “privilege” use a writing style that is, itself, accessible to and performed by only an extremely privileged few. Much of it is self-centered drivel, and pretending it has anything to do with uplifting the pure is unadulterated hypocrisy.

All of this internet-driven SJW political signaling is really performative morality. When you are in the context of a real flesh and blood human being in your own community whom you’ll have to interact with repeatedly over the course of years, you’ll try to be faithful, honest, dutiful, loyal, dependable, etc., and you’ll value those some traits in others. Put us on the internet, and we have no need for any of that. We’re not going to cooperate in any meaningful, real-world way with a bunch of people on the internet. Morality on the internet becomes performative, a show you put on for a 3rd-party audience. Here the best thing isn’t to be dependable, but to have the best-sounding opinions. Status isn’t built on your long-term reputation but on your ability to prove that other people are less moral than you.

I noticed years ago that people on the internet often did not debate honestly with each other, but would lie and distort the other person’s argument. Why would they do this? Surely they couldn’t hope to win by lying to someone’s face about their own argument! It only makes sense if you assume the goal of the discussion isn’t to convince the other person, but to convince some other person watching the debate. If you get lots of approval from your adoring Tumblr/Twitter/whatever fans for saying all the right things and accusing your opponents of being all of the wrong, immoral sorts of things, then who cares what the person those remarks are actually directed at thinks of them?

And who cares if you are actually a good, decent, reliable, honest person?

As someone who writes a blog that often discusses other people’s work for the sake of my own audience, I must admit that I, too, am guilty here.

But hey, at least I haven’t put a meathook up anyone’s ass.

So I guess I’ll just end by encouraging everyone to go and be decent people.


8 thoughts on “Decompression

    • You’re welcome. I usually consider that a low bar, but apparently not for everyone.
      I thought the internet was going to be great for discussion! We were entering a new golden age of people sharing information and amassing data and really figuring things out!
      I may have been gravely mistaken.
      Thank you. I hope you enjoy it.


      • I still think it is great for sharing info/gathering data, but discussion/discourse has slowly gotten worse. The default on blogs/Twitter/Tumblr etc now just seems to mute/block anyone that disagrees w/ you.

        Stay well!


      • Maybe we’ll get lucky, and like those early internet fads like email forwards and “what color crayon are you” quizes, people will eventually get bored of being difficult and start valuing discourse again.

        Thank you. You, too!


  1. Outlaws, crime, you really need to read this book.

    I agree with you that I would like the world to be some nice place, full of love and everyone minding their own business but some people can’t stop themselves from trying to take what belongs to others. Seems much easier than working for it your self. Others can not stop themselves from running other peoples lives and dominating them. They want everyone to be under their thumb and do what they say. This guy has a VERY strong theory on why some of this is. I don’t think it’s perfectly complete but 70% at least. Look at his theory page. The link is to his blog.

    Whenever I hear about organized violence I always think about a passage an anthropologist wrote about tribes in the Amazon. He said that they congregated in larger tribes even though they hated it. The reason was their was some serious asshole running the big tribes. If you tried to leave he would attack you. If you lived in a small village, say around 50 people like most of them wanted, he would use his bigger tribe to attack you, kill the Men and enslave the Women. So one or two assholes destroyed the joy of everyone around them for miles and miles.

    This is what Detroit and Baltimore are suffering from. A few assholes who are so aggressive they drive everyone in the whole area into destruction. I think this is why the policing they did in New York worked so well. They aggressively attacked all crime and once they had the most aggressive assholes locked up the less aggressive criminals could actually sit back and not be forced by whatever means, pride or threats, into more crime. They really focused on people carrying illegal weapons and jailed them. It chilled the whole area.

    Baltimore has started pleading felony gun crime to lower non-felony crime. So if a guy on probation gets caught with a gun he doesn’t do a lot of hard time and gets charged with a lesser crime. Of course shootings and killings have gone through the roof. They ought to stop focusing on drugs so much and focus on “victim” crimes like guys carrying guns illegally, theft, robbery and attacks on people. Once they lock up a substantial amount of those people it will greatly increase the peace of the area.


    • Sounds like Genghis Khan. There’s always got to be that guy who ruins things for everyone else, huh?

      Thanks for the recommendations. I just finished Frank Lucas’s Original Gangster, which was interesting. I think he glosses over some of the violence he must have committed to secure his own spot. But based on Lucas’s account, I don’t think the police/gov’t were all that serious about stopping crime until things got pretty bad. For a long time he was harassed by crooked cops–they extorted a ton of money out of him–so clearly the cops knew something was up but didn’t bother arresting him until after he’d imported tons of heroin. (Even the cops would rather get rich off the heroin trade than stop it.)

      Hopefully things will get better, soon.


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