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May 18, 2012

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Collegium Iustitiae.
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 07:03 AM * 203 comments

One of the consistent problems with the policing of the Occupy movement has been the way that forces deal with being filmed. Not that Occupy is unique—the spread of affordable, good-quality cameraphones is a fundamental change in the dynamic of police-civillian relations. The “he said/she said” model of complaints against the police, where prosecutors and juries tend to trust the uniform more than the blue jeans (or hoodie), falls down when there’s video evidence. It’s been falling down for twenty years.

People hate being caught out. And groups with strong esprit de corps and a deep feeling of separation from the common community are always at risk of putting defense of group members over justice to outsiders. The natural, inevitable reaction in this case has been a police culture of intimidation, confiscation and deletion against citizen journalists.

The ACLU, unsurprisingly, has been on the case. On May 3 they, along with the EFF and a number of similar groups, wrote a letter (pdf) to US Attorney General Eric Holder, calling for federal intervention.

The First Amendment has come under assault on the streets of America. Since the Occupy Wall Street movement began, police have arrested dozens of journalists and activists simply for attempting to document political protests in public spaces. While individual cases may not fall under the Justice Department’s jurisdiction, the undersigned groups see this suppression of speech as a national problem that deserves your full attention.

And the DoJ has already been doing so, even before the ACLU’s letter. In January, they sent a Statement of Interest to the judge in a civil case in Baltimore, where police had deleted a bystander’s video of an arrest. The Statement of Interest essentially instructed the judge to find that the bystander had a constitutional right to film the arrest.

The right to record police officers while performing duties in a public place as well as the right to be protected from the warrantless seizure and destruction of those recordings, are not only required by the Constitution… They are consistent with our fundamental notions of liberty, promote the accountability of our governmental officers, and instill public confidence in the police officers who serve us daily.

The Baltimore Police Department revised their General Order J-16, which covers the topic. But the DoJ, not satisfied, sent a letter, which is both a critique of the rewrite and a broad statement of the federal government’s position on the matter. It’s sweet reading for those of us who have felt for some time like the walls are closing in.

Because recording police officers in the public discharge of their duties is protected by the First Amendment, policies should prohibit interference with recording of police activities except in narrowly circumscribed situations. More particularly, policies should instruct officers that, except under limited circumstances, officers must not search or seize a camera or recording device without a warrant. In addition, policies should prohibit more subtle actions that may nonetheless infringe upon individuals’ First Amendment rights. Officers should be advised not to threaten, intimidate, or otherwise discourage an individual from recording police officer enforcement activities or intentionally block or obstruct cameras or recording devices.

Policies should prohibit officers from destroying recording devices or cameras and deleting recordings or photographs under any circumstances. In addition to violating the First Amendment, police officers violate the core requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process clause when they irrevocably deprived individuals of their recordings without first providing notice and an opportunity to object.

Nice, huh? How about this:

…an individual’s recording of police activity from a safe distance without any attendant action intended to obstruct the activity or threaten the safety of others does not amount to interference. Nor does an individual’s conduct amount to interference if he or she expresses criticism of the police or the police activity being observed.

And this:

The Supreme Court has established that “the press does not have a monopoly on either the First Amendment or the ability to enlighten….. Indeed, numerous courts have held that a private individual’s right to record is coextensive with that of the press. A private individual does not need “press credentials” to record police officers engaged in the public discharge of their duties.

There’s plenty more, too. I’d recommend reading the whole thing.

I find this emphasis on the right of citizens to supervise law enforcement a little surprising, considering some of the other things we get out of Washington these days. But, as Patrick would say, that’s how politics works: inconsistently, messily, gradually and surprisingly. So it gives me cause to hope.

(I’ve already Parheliated some coverage of this. But I thought it warranted pulling onto the front page.)

Comments on Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Collegium Iustitiae.:
#2 ::: Marko Kloos ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 09:52 AM:

What is it that the police state cheerleaders always tell the rest of us? "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear?"

#3 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 10:10 AM:

This is, on the whole, cheering news. Police forces are always eager to push the envelope on their powers. That sort of creeping authoritarianism needs to be resisted.

#4 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 10:38 AM:

Proud of my ACLU!

#5 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 11:01 AM:

Wow. I am completely and unequivocally impressed. Go DoJ!

Also -- damn. It must be something to be a city police department and get an eleven-page letter from the federal government, setting out in detail the ways in which you should Cut It Out Already.

#6 ::: Dave Fried ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 12:42 PM:

Just goes to show how important it is to have the right people running things. Does anyone thing the DoJ in a Republican administration would have sent that letter?

#7 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 12:54 PM:

Dave Fried @6:

I'm not done being bemused that a Democratic DoJ sent it. The Obama Adminstration's record on civil liberties hasn't exactly bowled me over.

#8 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 01:01 PM:

Abi @ 7... Still, a GOP administration would have said "So what's the problem with breaking a few dissenting heads or their cameras?" I'll give Obama credit when he does do something right.

#9 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 01:15 PM:

Serge @8:
Still, a GOP administration would have said "So what's the problem with breaking a few dissenting heads or their cameras?"

I think a GOP administration would have been more likely to say, "A strong commitment to law and order is important enough for our society that some individual rights have to be elided." The effect may be that the people whose rights are being violated are Not Their Kind of People, but the message, and the reasons they tell themselves, would not be so overtly callous.

Look, it's perfectly plausible that the GOP would make the wrong decision based on defensible principles. They're the heroes of their own narratives, the same as we are. Many of our stated principles overlap, though the choices we make based on them vary wildly.

I don't think it's productive, or helpful, to view the GOP or its members as the Evil League of Evil, not when Ockham's Razor allows many of them to be honest, honorable, and wrong.

I'll give Obama credit when he does do something right.

I do, too. As I indicated in the original post, I found the letter a heartening and delightful read. And I was pleased to see that the DoJ had started poking the Baltimore PD even before the ACLU stepped in and had a word.

#10 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 01:40 PM:

Amen! The ACLU and Amnesty International are the only politics-oriented organization that get my money these days, though I keep thinking I ought to send some money toward EFF as well.

I suspect the dynamic here is that while federal spy agencies, homeland security, the pentagon, defense and homeland security contractors, and the FBI all have a lot of weight with the president and congress, local police forces don't. (By contrast, the local police probably have a lot of weight with local politicians, thanks to their ability to vote as a bloc, knowledge of where the local bodies are buried, and ability to help politicians run as "law and order" candidates. Similarly, prosecutors apparently don't like to prosecute police because they have to work with police all the time to get successful prosecutions--prosecuting a policeman for anything but a slam dunk case amounts to making enemies of a bunch of guys you have to work with every day for the rest of your time as prosecutor.) So in this kind of case, the Obama administration is able to push back on police-state-like measures, because doing so doesn't put them in conflict with someone powerful at the level of national politics.

Policemen arresting people for taking pictures is something you used to hear about from tourists who went to places behind the Iron Curtain. Take pictures in the wrong part of Russia, and the local thugs might take your camera and smash it and roughly "escort" you back to your hotel room. Having the police routinely arrest journalists for videoing protests, or anyone for videoing police misconduct, is inexcusable.

I have a theory that cellphone video and youtube and the broader bypassing of the respectable media's filters on what's fit for citizens to know about are going to have a really bad effect on the police.

For years and years, there were occasional rumors about Catholic priests abusing kids, but the overwhelming assumption was that maybe there were one or two priests like that, but certainly nothing widespread. And then, the dam broke, all that was hidden was revealed, and Catholic parents like me who send our kids to Catholic schools and are involved in our parishes get a twinge of unease when we see a priest talking to our kids. Surely the overwhelming majority of priests would never do anything to my kids. But knowing that the organization, that these priests who are mostly decent enough people, protected the priests who abused kids rather than protecting the kids being abused, horribly damaged their reputations. It will be decades before that damage is healed, assuming (as I think and hope is true) that the Church really isn't sheltering abusive priests in the US anymore.

For years and years, I've heard claims that the police were often quite brutal, that they were often crooked, that they might beat the hell out of you for mouthing off or just because they were having a bad day, especially if you were a black guy and failed to be sufficiently meek when confronted by them. But mostly the people saying that were, in fact, people who were in trouble with the law a lot. I assumed there was some of that stuff going on, but also that a lot of it was probably criminals trying to make something up to get away with their own crimes or make trouble for the cops who had arrested them. Similarly, I figured that while there must be crooked cops and prosecutors who would railroad innocent people, it was probably extremely rare.

And then, DNA exhonerations of death row cases, cases being thrown out for blatant prosecutorial misconduct (like they had evidence the suspect was innocent, but didn't reveal it), and videos where some guy is "resisting arrest" by lying in a ball twitching as the half dozen cops around him beat him senseless all came out. More information about no-trial seizures of money and cars came out, which looks indistinguishable to me from the kind of shakedown operation you'd expect in any other corrupt country, except they involved more paperwork.

And now I'm a middle-class employed white guy with a wife, kids, and a mortgage, who defaults to being pretty damned skeptical of the story the police provide anytime there's any reason at all to doubt it. In ten or fifteen years, I think we could have the average informed middle-class white person with about the attitude toward police of the average informed middle-class or below black person. (I recall a discussion on TNC's blog where one theme was a much higher bar than I have for how serious a situation has to be before many of the commenters call the police--stuff like saying they wouldn't call the police for a fight (it's too likely the police will do some innocent person much more harm than the fight) but would call the police if someone was getting the crap beaten out of him and looked like he might end up dead or crippled.

It will be a lot harder to be a policeman in that world, and a lot harder to get convictions. And yet, I suspect that changing the police culture nationwide to stop protecting bad cops and stop "accidentally deleting" video that makes the cops look bad and such is basically impossible at this point. It's like if a bishop had realized the dam was going to break on the Catholic abuse scandal two or three years before it did--he probably could have had relatively little effect in the face of a decades-long entrenched culture of protecting abusive priests and transferring them around to get away from scandals and such.

#11 ::: FaultyMemory ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 01:56 PM:

Eisenhower used the inherent authoritarianism of the Presidency to desegregate the U.S. armed forces, and deployed the 101st Airborne to enforce the desegregation of Little Rock High School.

I don't know exactly where he'd stand on the policing of Occupy, but I don't think he'd condone the violent suppression of rights under color of law, which has been stated above as what a GOP administration would do.

One can rationally argue that the modern GOP no longer has any room for an Eisenhower Republican. Nonetheless, I'm not comfortable seeing the gross denigration of a hypothetical GOP administration when past GOP administrations have done demonstrable good work on civil rights.

#12 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 02:07 PM:

abi #9:

Yes. There are Republicans who have pushed back on our slide toward a police state at home and an empire abroad. Not nearly enough, and they often haven't pushed back as hard as they should, but they exist. Lately, a bunch of Republican/conservative commentators have realized that they don't like drones used for surveillance in the US. Some have even pushed back on the floor of the Senate.

None of that justifies their failings, which are many. But a lot of the worst stuff going on is not a matter of one party vs the other, but rather a few rare ideologues on the right and left pushing back against a consensus that some people don't have rights, while others are above the law. When people whose views you mostly disagree with are on the right side of some important issues, it's important to call that out. Just as it's important to note that the Obama administration, for all its failings, has been much better on this issue and on gay rights than I imagine a McCain or Romney administration would be.

#13 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 02:13 PM:

abi @ 7:

I'm bemused too, because IMO the Obama administration was nowhere near aggressive enough in removing Bush apparatchiki from the DOJ. I count this as one of the reasons why the administration has not made good on its promises to stop the use of torture and unconstitutional detention and lack of due process by the DOD and intelligence agencies. Not changing the guard gave implicit approval to the practices of those who were not removed.

#14 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 02:51 PM:

This is great news. I'm heartened by it.

albatross 10: And then, DNA exhonerations of death row cases, cases being thrown out for blatant prosecutorial misconduct (like they had evidence the suspect was innocent, but didn't reveal it), and videos where some guy is "resisting arrest" by lying in a ball twitching as the half dozen cops around him beat him senseless all came out.

The progress I want to see is those prosecutors going to prison for a term not less than the term served by the victim of their outrageous behavior. Currently IIUC they're even immune from civil suits over it! That's just ridiculous, and shows how far we are from a just society.

Similarly, prison terms for the cops in cases like that are a good idea, and the bishops who covered up the clergy sex abuse should be in PRISON, godsdammit. (Actually I think the RCC's assets should be frozen under the RICO statute until all this can be cleared up, but I'd be surprised if even one person, even here, agrees with me.)

FaultyMemory 11: Nonetheless, I'm not comfortable seeing the gross denigration of a hypothetical GOP administration when past GOP administrations have done demonstrable good work on civil rights.

I'm sorry, but I think you're being absurd. Eisenhower would be called a politically-correct pandering socialist wimp by today's GOP, and if he ran as a Democrat they'd make up lies denigrating his military service.

We're talking about the GOP as it exists today: a racist, homophobic, anti-civil rights, pro-torture organization. It's not the "Party of Lincoln"* anymore, and I believe there are many within its ranks who would just as soon repeal the Emancipation Proclamation, if they somehow could get political cover for doing so. Certainly they've been doing everything possible to suppress voting by people of color for several election cycles now, and do you really think their deep hatred for Obama is entirely based on his policies? If so, you're naïve.

A McCain DoJ would not have done this. Neither would a Romney DoJ. (And note, several of us, including me, are a bit startled that the Obama administration did it.) That's what we're talking about here.

*I can't remember who it was who pointed out that the GOP calling itself the "Party of Lincoln" is like Pabst still bragging about the blue ribbon they won all those years ago. Pabst is a crummy bottom-of-the-line beer now, and the GOP is a crummy bottom-of-the-line party.

#15 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 03:05 PM:

abi, #9: While I agree with you about the way they'd have phrased it, I also agree with Serge that we've seen a lot of political attitudes in the last decade that boil down to, "Yeah, and what are YOU going to do about it?" A plausible-sounding external narrative doesn't rule out the sort of thinking he describes.

That said, what I am most grateful about is that the attempted GOP/Dominionist hijacking of the entire judicial system only got partway through. Now we need to focus on getting the war crimes convictions -- which include Alberto Gonzalez, John Yoo, and the other authors of the "torture is okay if we do it" manifesto -- moving forward.

albatross, #10: assuming (as I think and hope is true) that the Church really isn't sheltering abusive priests in the US anymore

Or anywhere else, and that they haven't simply transferred the guilty parties out of the country. I'm sure you intended all that as well, but I wanted to make it explicit.

#16 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 03:25 PM:

FaultyMemory #11:

Since we've had, in quite recent memory, a GOP administration that was quite eager to use the "authoritarian power of the presidency" to ensure that public buildings disappeared from photographs, I suspect that you're being disingenuous.

As it is, today the Republican Party is condemning policies initially promoted by Republicans (the Affordable Care Act is one example, but so, too, is Republican hostility to the Environmental Protection Agency introduced by that well-known liberal Democrat Richard Milhous Nixon).

#17 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 03:25 PM:

Lee @15:
While I agree with you about the way they'd have phrased it, I also agree with Serge that we've seen a lot of political attitudes in the last decade that boil down to, "Yeah, and what are YOU going to do about it?" A plausible-sounding external narrative doesn't rule out the sort of thinking he describes.

We touched, recently, on the ease with which the most extreme voices of one group get taken as typical of it by said group's opponents.

Just, you know, something to stay mindful of.

#18 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 03:32 PM:

Fragano @16:
Since we've had, in quite recent memory, a GOP administration that was quite eager to use the "authoritarian power of the presidency" to ensure that public buildings disappeared from photographs, I suspect that you're being disingenuous.

Really? I don't know that I had heard of that disappearance. Can you provide more details?

Also, how does that make Faulty Memory @11 disingenuous? I don't quite follow the line from Eisenhower having been a fairly decent fellow (possibly too moderate to be in the present-day GOP), and using the authoritarian bent of the party to do good, to you coming out with the parlor version of 'liar, liar, pants on fire'.

I think it might be wiser to lay a little more groundwork before leveling that charge.

#19 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 03:47 PM:

"Only Nixon could have gone to China."
- Spock

#20 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 04:12 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ 13

I just want to note that there's a real cost to such an attempt to dig out political appointees who "burrowed in" to the upper levels of the career civil service. Sure, the Bush administration hired a bunch of people into supposedly nonpartisan jobs because of their radical partisan ideologies, but they also got their wrist slapped for it, including a bunch of the people involved losing their jobs, getting disbarred and facing at least the threat of prosecution. (I can't remember off the top of my head if Monica Goodling or any of her compatriots actually ever got indicted.)

If you then try to go and fire those people because of their ideology, without having strong evidence of some other form of malfeasance, you risk doing real damage to the norm that the vast majority of the civil service is nonpartisan in the way it does its job. I know that if I were a lefty in a career civil service job, and my conservative colleagues were getting the boot for their politics, I would not be comforted by being told "oh, you don't have to worry, because you don't believe what they do."

#21 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 04:30 PM:

Abi @ 9... I don't think it's productive, or helpful, to view the GOP or its members as the Evil League of Evil, not when Ockham's Razor allows many of them to be honest, honorable

Some are my neighbors. One was a co-worker, and my favorite one, come to think of it because we agreed never to talk about politics, but that left us plenty to talk about, what with the imbecility we both had to deal with until she escaped from my team. But... The GOP tends to attract people like the man who repeatedly tried to cause a collision with my car while screaming at us most likely because of our Democratic-proud bumper sticker, or maybe because of our Darwin Fish.

#22 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 04:38 PM:

albatross @ #10: Besides the ACLU and Amnesty International, I give to EFF, Americans United [for Separation of Church and State], PFLAG, GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, Human Rights Watch, Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Center for Science Education. (Those are my politics charities; I don't count Planned Parenthood, Oxfam, or Doctors Without Borders.)

#23 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 04:39 PM:

Abi #18: I was referring to this: http://www.indecisionforever.com/blog/2009/01/26/joe-biden-liberates-google-maps-from-dick-cheneys-pixelated-oppression

I find the statement "I'm not comfortable seeing the gross denigration of a hypothetical GOP administration when past GOP administrations have done demonstrable good work on civil rights" particularly disingenuous given the Bush Administration's not-at-all good work on civil rights. See for example here: http://www.policyarchive.org/handle/10207/7786

Or here: http://jurist.org/paperchase/2009/12/doj-civil-rights-enforcement-dropped.php

Thus, to claim that criticism of a hypothetical Republican administration is unfair, when we can recall an actual Republican administration that was in office four years ago is disingenuous. In fact, I would call it disingenuous in the extreme.

#24 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 04:47 PM:

Fragano @23:

I was referring to this: http://www.indecisionforever.com/blog/2009/01/26/joe-biden-liberates-google-maps-from-dick-cheneys-pixelated-oppression

Interesting. Not exactly headline news, even at the time. And I work in the mapping industry.

Thus, to claim that criticism of a hypothetical Republican administration is unfair, when we can recall an *actual* Republican administration that was in office *four years ago* is disingenuous. In fact, I would call it disingenuous in the extreme.

I still think you're being unnecessarily confrontational to a fellow member of the community. But at least you've now produced a charge that makes logical sense and can be addressed. I'd prefer you to dial it back a notch or two until you have a clearer idea of how Faulty Memory squares those two things.

Indeed...well, I'll do it as a general announcement. Read the next rock.

#25 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 04:54 PM:

Now Hear This

We, as a community, have become sloppy in our political discourse. We're painting with much broader brushes than is appropriate, and we're calling each other out far too quickly and too harshly. So from this point forward, in all political discussions:

1. If you wish to denigrate a group of people of whom you are not a member, do it in as constrained a way as possible, allowing space for the mistaken, the misunderstood, and the misinformed. Do not take the loudest and most obnoxious members of that group as representative without well-sourced evidence that this is accurate.

2. Before you accuse another member of this community of being "disingenuous", "dishonest", "lying", or any synonyms, broadly construed, I want the following:
(a) a clear, sourced and unambiguous trail of why you believe that this person has been inconsistent with either their own stated record or the widely-accepted facts of the matter, and
(b) a chance already given to that person to square the account before you make this accusation

I will disemvowel violations of these rules.

(If you feel the need to discuss this, do so here, not on this thread.)

#26 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 04:57 PM:

Overall, this issue gets a lot less attention than its importance. The potential to establish some accountability will not be tolerated. The "good guys" (sic) don't tolerate snitches any more than the "bad guys". A cop who won't lie to cover for any other cop is driven off the force.

Here in Chicago the rule of thumb is that a cop has to cost the city a million dollars in lost lawsuits to get fired for being a retarded twisted thug. We had a real classic a couple of years ago: A couple of off duty cops were out drinking. The bartender, a small woman, cut one of them off because he was drunk. So he came around the bar and beat the crap out of this woman literally half his size. Someone called 911, so his partner went outside to divert arriving cop cars telling them the situation was already taken care of. Because the whole thing was caught on the bar's surveillance camera, the cop eventually got sentenced to . . . probation.
Here:
Initially Abbate was only charged with a misdemeanor until the tape was made public. He was later indicted by a grand jury on other charges including official misconduct, intimidation, conspiracy and communicating with a witness. The prosecutor upgraded his charge to a felony and he was arrested Tuesday of this week. In all, the veteran officer plead not guilty to all fifteen counts against him.
According to the indictment, a woman told the manager of the bar that Abbate or other officers would plant illegal drugs on bar employees or customers and arrest customers for drunken driving if the videotape wasn't suppressed. And according to Assistant Cook County State's Attorney David Navarro, another person attempted to bribe Obrycka for her silence.
Peter Hickey, Abbate's attorney, had this comment: "He's pleading not guilty because he is not guilty. And we expect at the end, the conclusion of the trial, that that's what the outcome will be." He then admitted that he was the only person on the face of the planet that hadn't yet seen his client's video debut.
Amazingly Abbate wasn't arrested until nearly a month after the incident due to the fact that he'd checked himself into a substance abuse center where his fellow cops conveniently couldn't locate him. He hasn't yet been fired from the department, but he is on unpaid leave. A judge ordered him to surrender his weapons but it's uncertain if that ruling means he must cut off his hands.
According to the bartender, Abbate became irate after she refused him service. She says he told her, "Nobody tells me what to do," before he pursued his drunken attack.

Judge: Bartender beaten by cop can take ‘code of silence’ claims to trial
In her ruling, St. Eve outlined evidence suggesting a code of silence among police after the incident and showing the city attempted a cover-up.
The judge noted responding officers Peter Masheimer and Jerry Knickrehm didn’t include in their initial report that Abbate was a police officer or that the incident was captured on the bar’s cameras. She said Abbate and his partner called other cops and detectives after the incident took place.
She also noted that city employee Gary Ortiz went back to the bar after the incident and “told Obrycka that Abbate had offered to pay for her medical bills and time off if she did not register a complaint or file a lawsuit against Abbate. The city concedes that Ortiz’s action was an attempted ‘bribe.’”
“A reasonable jury could infer that these numerous telephone calls and Officer Masheimer’s and Knickrehm’s conduct constituted an effort to protect Abbate from police brutality allegations or to cover up Abbate’s misconduct,” St. Eve wrote.

#27 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 07:17 PM:

abi, #17: I think in this instance it's more a case of the party leaders vs. the people on the ground who vote.

I do think it is reasonable to look at the Republican Party of today rather than the Republican Party of 60 years ago when discussing what a "hypothetical Republican administration" might do. This includes noting that part of current Republican policy is the effective dismantling of government, and that in pursuit of this goal they have no reason to govern well, and every incentive to actively sabotage things like public schools, public transportation, and relief programs, so that voters will become convinced that government really can't do anything right.

#28 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 09:58 PM:

I really don't think that it is useful to think of the whole police/policing issue as a party-partisan issue. Just for one glaring example[1], it's the Republican Attorney General of Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli, who fought for a "Writ of Actual Innocence" for Thomas Haynesworth. Just to make sure he did everything he could, he hired him while he was out on parole. And the parole? Granted by Bob McConell, the Republican governor.

The DNA evidence that exonerated him? That was made available by the previous governor, Mark Warner, a Democrat.


1) Glaring to me, since it happened in my city.

#29 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 10:16 PM:

FaultyMemory, #11: "Eisenhower used the inherent authoritarianism of the Presidency to desegregate the U.S. armed forces, and deployed the 101st Airborne to enforce the desegregation of Little Rock High School. [...] I don't know exactly where he'd stand on the policing of Occupy, but I don't think he'd condone the violent suppression of rights under color of law, which has been stated above as what a GOP administration would do."

Does anyone in this thread know any actual American history? The funny thing about this assertion is that we know exactly what attitude Dwight D. Eisenhower would have had toward the "violent suppression of rights under color of law," because we know exactly what role he played when the Federal government turfed out the Bonus Marchers in 1932. While Douglas MacArthur was using tanks and machine guns to drive the (Occupying!) Bonus Marchers from Washington, DC, and setting their encampments on fire, Dwight D. Eisenhower was serving as his loyal media liaison. Eisenhower later wrote in his memoirs that he deplored MacArthur's behavior, but before he wrote those self-exculpating memoirs, he also wrote the official Army report which explained that everything MacArthur had done was right, correct, and by the book. In other words, Eisenhower was perfectly fine with the "violent suppression of rights under color of law," up to and including the murder of impoverished World War I veterans who were begging for early payment of their pathetically small scheduled "bonuses" because the Great Depression was on and nobody could get any work.

There's a lot to admire about Eisenhower, and I'm a big fan of the whole "invade Europe with the largest expeditionary force in history and destroy Nazi Germany" thing, but I can't even begin to imagine how anyone with even a glancing acquaintance with Eisenhower's life story could believe that he would never "condone the violent suppression of rights under color of law." That's not just ignorance, that's going out of one's way to not know basic historical facts.

#30 ::: Deire ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 10:42 PM:

Huh. I remember when I lived in Elgin, IL. They published arrests and charges in the local paper website. One gentleman was arrested solely for taping a police officer. But then, the nature of the police department there was...interesting.

#31 ::: Tom Recht ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 11:35 PM:

Cheering news indeed. Just a small correction: ipsos custodes, not custodies. (Custos, custodis, acc. pl.)

#32 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2012, 11:49 PM:

There was another interesting case in Chicago last summer (a particularly fraught and violent one in all our darker neighborhoods). It was a serious Civilian-Said/Cop-Said argument.

The facts of the case that nobody disputes: The cops showed up to break up a really, really loud outdoor party that was a completely legitimate police target (we have noise ordinances; they were violating them). The guy I'm going to call Citizen lived in a house several doors down from the empty lot where the party was. At the close of the evening, a lot of partygoers and also Citizen and some of his friends were under arrest and significantly physically battered.

The 'Cop Said' version: They showed up to routinely shut down the noisy party; partygoers got rowdier and then got confrontational and started throwing punches. Weapons were present. The cops used necessary levels of force to take down the combatants. Civilian and his friends came down off the porch to pile into the fight on the anti-cop side; therefore, they were also restrained and arrested.

The 'Civilian Said' version: He was up on his porch, on private property, behind a fence, and when he saw the party go nuts he pulled out his cellphone to video it (partly to show his friends, but partly specifically to monitor cop behavior so he could go in the house and call 911 if they got out of hand, as he suspected they might). The cops went in hot immediately, out of lots of cop cars, and didn't wait for anyone to throw a punch at them before using serious takedown force on everyone at the party, including some under-14s. When a cop saw Citizen on his porch filming the cops, he opened their gate, came up on the porch, took the camera, beat up Citizen and cuffed him and his friends, then deleted all the video off the camera.

Conveniently for us (one might think), there was a police camera very nearby, with the party lot and Citizen's house in its clear field of view. Cameras can be autonomous (in which case they slowly sweep their field of view until they detect a gunshot, at which point they turn to show just that part) or cop-controlled. Under CPD policy, any direct control of a camera must be logged, both who manned the joystick and who told them to do so.

The tape from that camera clearly shows that as soon as flashing lights and cop cars entered the block, the camera turns very deliberately around to face ITS OWN POLE, which it recorded for about 20 minutes before going back to automatic sweeps ... by which point everyone under discussion was already in handcuffs.

The case is currently wending through the courts. The police position on the camera's movement is (a) nobody touched anything, but (b) if they had it wasn't anything improper, so (c) nobody did anything wrong anyhow.

I wish I could remember any relevant proper nouns, because Google isn't helping me find the coverage, but it was all over the south-side and African-American-interest newspapers here at the time.

#33 ::: Marc Mielke ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 12:52 AM:

My assumption about abuse of authority is that anyone with any amount of authority, no matter how large or how small, will eventually abuse it.

The only question is whether how much they will abuse it. A cop who fixes his brother-in-law's parking ticket isn't as much of a problem as one who plants drugs on his ex-wife's new lover, for instance.

#34 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 05:34 AM:

I recall a video of a police detective explaining how he, as a matter of routine, taped all interviews with suspects. Then he listened to the tapes, transcribing what he wanted to have down verbatim and taking notes on anything he didn't, and deleted the tapes. He gave the impression that this was absolutely routine, and he did this explicitly so that the interview could only be used to prove what he wanted to prove.

I rather feel that a person in authority who destroys an impartial record of certain events should be held up to considerable scrutiny when it comes to testimony regarding those events. In fact, I'd strongly support a law barring police officers from testifying about events they've destroyed records of, or at least mandating an explicit jury instruction, something like "The jury is reminded that Officer X had in his/her possession a recording of this interview which was then erased, and further that the State of Y regards testimony delivered in lieu of police-destroyed recordings as unreliable unless otherwise corroborated."

It may be reasonable to give any random defendant or witness the benefit of the doubt, but when a cop destroys a recording... It's not quite like giving a false badge number,* but it's pretty damn shady behavior. It should, in my opinion, be treated as an explicit admission that the officer did not want the recorded events to be revealed in court; that he or she is an unreliable witness to those events even if perjury cannot be proven; and that any statements made by the officer about the recorded events must be corroborated before being treated as anything but the most vaporous kind of evidence.

*There are legitimate reasons to destroy recordings. It might be appropriate to protect the identity of a witness or informant, for example.

#35 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 06:32 AM:

Devin, 34: Aha! At last a legitimate reason to say "But if they don't have anything to hide, what are they afraid of?"

#36 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 09:05 AM:

Neil in Chicago @26 being a retarded twisted thug

Completely off topic from the primary discussion - but aside from technical uses in, say, mechanics, can we please treat that r-word the same way we treat slurs based on gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.? Thanks.

Spread the word to end the word

#37 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 10:45 AM:

me @25:

As noted on the front page, I'm willing to be a little less absolutist than this.

But I think we have a severe problem with the way we discuss partisan politics in this community right now, one that is causing me, as moderator, more grief than joy by a long chalk. It's also driving some of our commenters—people with valuable insights and as much right to be at home here as anyone—away from the discussion.

I would appreciate some honest thought and careful discussion of how we can do this better. It's a long way yet to polling day.

#38 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 10:50 AM:

O Appropriately Named Tom Recht @31:

Thanks. Fixed.

I suspect I'm one strike away from someone from UC Berkeley coming by with a fasces to break my kneecaps and take away my BA in Latin.

#39 ::: Ian C. Racey ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 11:21 AM:

abi @38

"with fasces", faces being a plural noun, surely? ;-)

#40 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 12:16 PM:

Ian C Racey @39:

What you don't realize is that it would be really pleasant to see someone from my alma mater again right about now. And since they have to fly to get here, I suspect security somewhere along the line will take care of the fasces.

#41 ::: Laertes ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 01:32 PM:

This reminds me of the big fuss in Illinois some years back when the state legislature (aided by a then-obscure Barack Obama) passed a law which required the police to videotape all their interrogations of suspects.

The police, as you'd expect, objected, for more or less the same reasons they don't like it when they're videotaped in public.

The fuss died down quickly once the law was in place. Police learned that those tapes did them far more good than harm. There are probably lots of reasons why, but there were two big ones that I recall. The first is that it was pretty routine for suspects to claim that they'd been mistreated during questioning, and the tapes made it more difficult to lie about this sort of thing.

The second was that it lets the jury see the defendant before his attorney has had a chance to clean him up and coach him on proper courtroom behavior.

I expect that once the Forces of Good win this battle over videotaping cops in public, it'll shake out the same way: The winners will be good cops and law-abiding citizens, and only bent cops will suffer.

#42 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 02:02 PM:

albatross @10:
For years and years, I've heard claims that the police were often quite brutal, that they were often crooked, that they might beat the hell out of you for mouthing off or just because they were having a bad day, especially if you were a black guy and failed to be sufficiently meek when confronted by them. But mostly the people saying that were, in fact, people who were in trouble with the law a lot. I assumed there was some of that stuff going on, but also that a lot of it was probably criminals trying to make something up to get away with their own crimes or make trouble for the cops who had arrested them. Similarly, I figured that while there must be crooked cops and prosecutors who would railroad innocent people, it was probably extremely rare.

[...]

And now I'm a middle-class employed white guy with a wife, kids, and a mortgage, who defaults to being pretty damned skeptical of the story the police provide anytime there's any reason at all to doubt it.

This right here? This is a seismic change. This is huge.

We talk a lot about privilege, here and there, and how the experiences of people without it are invisible to people with it.

I read an article a year or so ago about an African American man trying to bring a case of severe misconduct against the police. But the guy, like pretty much all of his peers, had a couple of minor convictions on his record from his teenage years*. And it became clear that he would never be a credible witness against the police as a result.

Pretty much everyone in his neighborhood had a similar record, or a worse one. Quis custodiet there? How do you think the worst of the police behaved to him and his neighbors?

But the cellphone camera doesn't have, can't have, a record. It's neutral. It's credible.

-----
* He disputed, by the way, that the convictions were valid. But who was going to believe him?

#43 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 02:11 PM:

abi @ 38, 40

While I don't have a BA in Latin I have had one or two encounters with the Latin police recently. 1But if you roll up your left trouser-leg while giving a secret handshake and muttering the words 'O tempora! O mores! Oh, bugger' they usually let you off with just a warning.

1. Most recently for for reckless declension of the noun 'pecus' in a built-up area.

#44 ::: Nanette ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 02:35 PM:

Xopher @14 Similarly, prison terms for the cops in cases like that are a good idea, and the bishops who covered up the clergy sex abuse should be in PRISON, godsdammit. (Actually I think the RCC's assets should be frozen under the RICO statute until all this can be cleared up, but I'd be surprised if even one person, even here, agrees with me.)

----
I'd agree with you. Conspiracy for real, not a fake RICO bust that's all twisted .

#45 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 03:03 PM:

40
It might be difficult to send fasces as checked baggage, too. Airfreight, maybe, in a sturdy box...

#46 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 03:06 PM:

Xopher and Nanette,

It's a comforting thought experiment, but it would have a lot of collateral damage: a heck of a lot of people who depend on food banks and soup kitchens would go hungry, and children's educations and people's medical care would be disrupted.

Meanwhile, the heads of the organization in question would remain in the Vatican, out of reach, and all of the really interesting assets would remain subject to diplomatic immunity.

High cost, low effectiveness.

#47 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 03:12 PM:

Then let's arrest those bishops (including the Pope himself) and freeze their personal assets.

#48 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 03:21 PM:

PJ Evans@45: I gather the Olympic Torch is carried about by plane. So maybe fasces would be possible.

#49 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 03:22 PM:

Xopher, Nanette,

How is this (a) relevant to the topic of the thread, (b) ever going to get anywhere at all useful to man or beast, or (c) making us smarter, wiser or more joyful?

Because we all know these are futile proposals, and I, frankly, am back to wanting to stick a fork in my own eye.

#50 ::: Ian C. Racey ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 03:28 PM:

Of course, I ended up violating (or, perhaps, abiding by?) Skitt's law up in no. 39, but if I'm going to get arrested for it, I hope there's a concerned citizen nearby to videotape it.

#51 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 03:33 PM:

Kinda drifted from coverups and information suppression, abi. Generalized injustice. Rage about it fueled it out of the relevance field.

Sorry. Stopping now.

#52 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 03:38 PM:

Laertes @ 41:

AIUI that's what happened in England (in the '80s?) when audio taping of police interrogations became mandatory. The police hated the idea until they discovered that it vastly reduced the number of false allegations of misconduct, and they became willing to accept the consequences of true misconduct for the officers who committed it.

#53 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 04:44 PM:

Xopher @51:

Want to get creative and constructive on the subject, rather than wrathful?

Cross the streams differently. Should we mandate cameras in confessionals and rectories? Perhaps without microphones, with low enough resolution that no one can lipread from them?

Are there other, analogous ways that we can shine a light into other dark corners where other abuse happens?

Of course, how then do we draw the line between these things and the sleepwalking surveillance state of, say, modern London? Is widespread civilian/citizen ownership and distribution of cameras enough of a solution (see Elliott Mason @32)?

What happens when the third institution that always crops up in these discussions gets involved? Corporate cameras? Then we're back to Google StreetView and Germany, of course, but that's just the camel's nose in the tent...

#54 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 05:14 PM:

OtterB @36
I'll happily substitute the commonly understood clinical term of your choice.

Laertes @41
If you follow events in Chicago, you know this about a police torture chamber which ran for many years and took decades of investigative journalism to firmly bring into the public light. The current stage of the problem is that there isn't a judge or prosecutor in Chicago (including a recent Mayor who is no longer named) who didn't get convictions from the resulting "confessions."

#55 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 05:16 PM:

Marc @ 33

"My assumption about abuse of authority is that anyone with any amount of authority, no matter how large or how small, will eventually abuse it."

No, I reject this. It's entirely too easy on people who want an excuse for bad behavior.

I work in internal compliance for a large organization. I've never taken an unethical short cut, and I don't expect ever to be tempted to. It does far more harm than good to the case in question, the long term credibility of the organization, and my own professional reputation. Besides, once you start taking short cuts, it becomes far too easy to self-justify, and you really are on a short trip down a slippery slope. Better never to start, so I haven't, and I won't*.

I'm not the only person who acts that way. There are people from all sorts of backgrounds who share similar moral grounding, and I've worked with several of them, and have the joy of knowing several more socially.

I really do believe in the broken-window philosophy of ethics. When we let it be "okay" to rob faceless corporations by engaging in socially-endorsed theft (or "piracy"), when we countenance "white lies" because they're easy, rather than because they are genuinely the most moral action in a difficult situation -- we are setting the stage for people to be comfortable doing bad things, because we have established that laws, rules, and social contract are unimportant, compared with individual want, opinion, or comfort. It's always just one more small step, and one more small step, until suddenly, there you are, and there's no going back because you're in up to your neck.

I think that police corruption is part of a broader social trend, of people letting themselves be led along (especially if it isn't their actions that are the problem), and self-justifying, and not really worrying about whether their actions are moral or just until something really ugly comes along to make them question it.

I think the only counter to that is to say "No, it is important to us that people follow the rules**," and to hold people we catch violating the rules accountable. I do not see an effective middle ground, where we can turn a blind eye to some things, but not others. I certainly do not think it is possible to build a sustainable society on the idea that everyone is inherently wicked and that's an acceptable risk.


*This is not to say I've never made a judgement call that I later regretted, or that I am perfectly immune from error. But I have always acted in good faith, consistent with my moral values. I would rather have a lot of people acting in good faith disagree with each other, than have a lot of ethically lazy people agree on the path of least resistance, regardless of its outcome.

**Civil disobedience, by the way, has always been predicated on the idea that some moral arguments are more important than following the rules. And people engaging in civil disobedience should still expect to be held to the rules, to the same extent as anyone else would be. This is a special case, and has nothing to do with garden variety ethical compromises.

#56 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 05:31 PM:

KayTei, #54: Civil disobedience, by the way, has always been predicated on the idea that some moral arguments are more important than following the rules. And people engaging in civil disobedience should still expect to be held to the rules, to the same extent as anyone else would be. This is a special case, and has nothing to do with garden variety ethical compromises..

Yes, exactly. Civil disobedience includes a tag of "knowing what the consequences are likely to be, and being willing to accept them". This is why, for example, pharmacists who refuse to dispense Plan B for "moral reasons" but then insist that they should suffer no consequences for doing so are NOT engaging in civil disobedience.

#57 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 07:52 PM:

KayTei:

Yes. Civil disobedience is things like saying "this war is wrong, and I will not pay income tax that will help support it. I accept that I may go to jail as a result." It probably includes "so I am going to find a way to subsistence farm and not have enough income to pay taxes on." It doesn't include hiding one's income to avoid paying taxes that will support said war. That might be defensible, depending on circumstances, but it isn't civil disobedience. (Nor was the Underground Railroad civil disobedience.) A large part of the point of civil disobedience is that it's a form of visible protest.

#58 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 08:14 PM:

A large part of the point of civil disobedience is that it's a form of visible protest.

I agree, but I think that the point is (in all the cases I can think of) to get the unjust law changed (so I disagree strongly with Lee @ 55). It seems entirely within the tradition and purpose of civil disobedience to both refuse to comply with the law, and to pursue and desire a change in the law.

#59 ::: Older ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2012, 10:32 PM:

Abi (42) It is a lot easier for a teenager to acquire a juvenile record nowadays than it used to be. The police seem to spend a lot more time on the activities of the young than they used to. Some of my youngest kids (no wilder nor more out-of-control than I was 60 years ago, or than their much older siblings were 45 years ago) have such records. I suppose this means they can never be credible witnesses; I hope they will never need to be.

#60 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 12:02 AM:

SamChevre, #58: I don't think we're as far apart as you seem to believe. Pushing for changes in the law to make them exempt from doing their damn job is indeed within their right, if despicable. I'm talking about the ones who play the "moral objection" card in the absence of such changes, to say that they should not be treated like any other employee who refused to do his or her job. That's not civil disobedience; it's demanding to eat your cake and have it too... especially since they knew what the job entailed when they took it.

#61 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 01:09 AM:

Sam @ 58

I guess my major concern (and my reason for calling out civil disobedience, specifically) is that I feel like, in many cases, people have taken the example of civil disobedience, and generalized it to the point where people don't particularly feel any need to adhere to any law except for the ones they personally agree with.

As Lee points out at 60, many people further claim that the individual engaging in "civil disobedience" shouldn't be punished, because civil disobedience should be a protected action.

I think both of those conclusions present some fairly significant problems. And I think that those problems are, in part, based on an incorrect understanding of what civil disobedience is actually about.

In my opinion, civil disobedience is instead a specific form of protest, which involves visibly and deliberately violating a law, in order to highlight the injustice of that law and/or its enforcement (or lack thereof).

From that perspective, if civil disobedience is "protected" action, it becomes ineffective. And if your purpose is other than to force someone to pay attention to the law or change it, then your action isn't civil disobedience.

#62 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 01:43 AM:

The people who taught me about and led me in demonstrations of civil disobedience in the 1960s were very clear on this point: it is not only acceptable but morally necessary to resist unjust laws, but it is necessary for the continued existence of the rule of law that those who resist the law accept the consequences. This means legal and just consequences, of course, not extra-legal consequences such as beatings, torture, and other cruel and unusual punishment.

#63 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 02:38 AM:

Neil in Chicago @ 56: OtterB @36
I'll happily substitute the commonly understood clinical term of your choice.

Could you unpack that, please?

Your request for a clinical term makes it hard for me to interpret your sentence in any other way than,

"I think the most powerful insult for morally reprehensible assholes is to call them whatever best describes people with developmental disabilities, blameless and uninvolved and already suffering social stigma though they already are. Will you help me update my vocabulary with the 'commonly understood clinical term of your choice' so I can do so correctly?"

It's an interpretation that is at odds with my wish to think well of the speaker. Could you reassure me that that's not what you meant?

#64 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 02:39 AM:

...@54, even. Apologies for appearing to point at Lee's post. Hopefully my intention was clear.

#65 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 05:17 AM:

Bruce Cohen StM @62

That suggests that civil disobedience isn't an appropriate tactic in places where the rule of law is already broken. Do you think that's right? And if so, what tactics do you think should be used in that kind if case?

#66 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 05:42 AM:

I'm with KayTei in thinking that Marc Mielke @ 33's approach lets people of the hook too easily. But I think that her alternative won't work either, at least in places where the law is substantially unjust. (and in places where the rule of law is broken, break the law, but take the consequences isn't a helpful proposal either.)

I don't think that the situation in the USA meets either of those standards, but I think there are times and places where it can apply. (Not merely hypothetical ones: actual laws in actual places.)

I'm not proposing that people only obey laws that they feel like; and I think that in institutional contexts - and especially, but not only, in the context of profit-seeking bodies - different rules ought to apply.

(If it helps to add context: I live in a country where quite a lot of journalists are incarcerated. It's quite possible that many of them were correctly convicted under the law as it stands. I don't feel the world would be made a worse place if some of these individuals had avoided arrest and conviction.)

#67 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 07:19 AM:

Aargh: given the whole Leveson/Murdoch business, and my markedly British diction, I should probably specify that I'm not in the UK.

#68 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 07:19 AM:

Aargh: given the whole Leveson/Murdoch business, and my markedly British diction, I should probably specify that I'm not in the UK.

#69 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 08:20 AM:

Neil in Chicago @54

Following on what Nicole said @63. The preferred clinical terms these days are cognitive disabilities or intellectual disabilities. Those terms have medical, educational, and legal uses. They are not insults. Using "retarded" as an insult reinforces the idea that people with those conditions are less than human.

"Twisted thug" seems sufficiently descriptive of the person you were originally talking about; if you want to add an observation on his mental capability, the traditional "stupid" would be preferable. But in fact his reasoning capacity didn't seem to be in question. Just his moral capacity. And the two are not equivalent.

#70 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 09:13 AM:

Neil, #54: I suggest "morally-impaired". That puts the onus squarely where it belongs, on the moral rather than the mental capacity of the thugs in question.

#71 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 11:56 AM:

Bruce Cohen #62: What happens when the legal consequences include beatings and so on? That was the outcome of civil disobedience in India, South Africa, and in the US South.

#72 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 12:30 PM:

praisegod @ 65, Fragano @ 71:

I think Ghandi is the best example of how to disobey a moderately corrupt and/or unlawful legal system, where it is possible to discomfort or even damage1 the system by holding it up to the regard of the rest of the world. Be as open and public as possible, drag your opponents' actions into the light of world publicity, and try to stay ahead of your opponents' actions by being more violent to yourself than they are, sooner2.

Of course some regimes are quicker and more willing to use violence and terror against their own citizens than others. But the authors of the disappearances in Argentina were discomfited by groups like the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, and even the Nazis in Germany in the middle of WWII acceded to the demands of the Rosenstrassse Protest.

1. The apartheid system would probably never have fallen in South Africa without the widespread boycott of financial dealings with SA. Moral outrage can have consequences if sufficiently provoked.

2. By which I mean hunger strikes, passive resistance to prison routines, and always getting the news out, with pictures if possible, to your comrades.

#73 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 04:41 PM:

Bruce Cohen (Speaker To Managers) #72: Resistance to colonial rule in India wasn't always peaceful (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Indian_Navy_mutiny). For that matter, Gandhi was not seen by all Indians as a hero -- witness the manner of his death.

In South Africa, peaceful resistance and civil disobedience was accompanied by actions of a very different kind (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umkhonto_we_Sizwe).

Civil disobedience is part of a larger repertoire of political action, I'd say.

#74 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 05:05 PM:

Every time someone talks about the example of Gandhi, I remember that alternate-history story in which he tries to apply passive-resistance tactics against a victorious Nazi government, and the governor simply blows him away and has the body dragged off. Much the same happened in the Deep South in the early days of the black Civil Rights movement.* When the entrenched authorities have no moral sense to appeal to, the only approach which stands any chance of working is to hold up the corruption to the light, until thos who do have a moral sense -- and the ability to do something about the situation -- rise up in support, as happened with South Africa.

* I have taken to phrasing it that way so as to underline that we are currently in the midst of a second Civil Rights struggle.

#75 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 06:08 PM:

Praisegod Barebones @ 66

Fair call -- I admit, I was thinking primarily in terms of the present political situation in the US, and I agree with you that it becomes more complicated in times and places with more overtly corrupt and ruthless governments (I do not think the US is yet one of those places).

I don't have a perfect answer. I think "Stay good" and "try everything, as much and as often as you can" comes closest.

... Although, it does mean that I am not sure I would agree that violence is never appropriate in these sorts of circumstances. I think that in some very extreme cases, violent resistance becomes morally very similar to self-defense.

#76 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 08:55 PM:

Lee@74: Most likely "The Last Article", by Harry Turtledove.

#77 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2012, 10:03 PM:

Lee @ 74: I was thinking of the story, too.

I recently read The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson. It's a history of the migration of African Americans from the south to the north, starting around WWI and wrapping up in the late 60s. I was quite ignorant* about that period, and was horrified at the level of violence. It's an excellent book, BTW.

*and only slightly improved

#78 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2012, 02:06 AM:

Fragano @ 73:

Civil disobedience is part of a larger repertoire of political action, I'd say.

And I would agree completely. As much as we may not want to talk about it, it may be that having Winnie Mandela and others like her in the background as a threat was one of the forces that pushed the SA government into dealing with Nelson Mandela. I'm certain that one of the reasons why the Freedom Rider summer of 1964 didn't end in the disappearance of a lot more civil rights workers was because there were many black people in the south who were not committed to nonviolence themselves but recognized the need to protect those who were when they weren't protected by the eye of the news cameras.

Lee @ 74:

I remember reading that story, and not being satisfied with it for a couple of reasons. One is something David Brin said about his own story, Thor Meets Captain America, to the effect that he had a lot of trouble thinking of any change in history that would allow the Nazis to win WWII: "Those schmucks just weren't capable of it" or words to that effect. The other thing that bothered me is that in fact there was a non-violent demonstration against the arrest of Jews to be taken to the camps in Berlin, 1943, and it was successful in that the demonstrators (non-Jewish spouses and relatives of the prisoners) were not arrested, and almost all the prisoners were eventually released. It may be the Germans intended to release them all along, but it's still surprising that they allowed the protests to continue.

#79 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2012, 02:24 AM:

Years ago, I read a book called Praying for Sheetrock, by Melissa Fay Greene. It's about the "rule of law" in a rural Georgia county -- quite a different law than was on the books. I think that's where I read of local African American farmers being appalled when they realized that the young lawyers who'd come from the north to work on voting rights were driving around without guns. They assured the northerners that they never drove after dark without a shotgun. They didn't let the lawyers drive off alone, but went along with armed pickups.

#80 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2012, 10:45 AM:

KayTei 55:

I might rephrase the original statement by Marc: Any authority is subject to being abused, and so mechanisms need to be in place around it to limit that abuse. Lacking Lensmen or incorruptible angels, we have to assign corruptible humans to positions of power like policemen, prison guards, teachers, doctors, judges, prosecutors, governors, accountants, managers, warehouse clerks, etc. And so we need to be prepared for abuses of authority. It is never an acceptable response to concerns about those abuses to say "yes, but we are too pure and good to need oversight, trust us.". We need auditors, compliance officers, whistleblower protection, grievance procedures, civilian oversight boards with teeth, etc., because we can't just trust that power will be used appropriately. And transparency is probably the most important tool in that fight.

I think I just fundamentally disagree with many people here wrt following unjust laws and civil disobedience. Many laws deserve nothing but contempt, and following them makes the world a worse place.

Recently, my son with a peanut allergy went on a school function. The school rules say the kids may not carry medicine, yet there was no adult able/willing to stay with him with his epi-pen. Scanadlously, we conspired to violate this school policy, and he carried the epi-pens I've trained him to use in his pocket.

When I was a young man, the state in which I lived had antisodomy laws on the books, which applied to both heterosexual and homosexual activities[1]. I promise, I gave those laws every bit of the respect and deference they deserved, as did many other people.

I routinely ignore the "turn off everything with a power switch" order on airlines, as well, to the extent of leaving my noise cancelling headphones on during takeoff. If the noice cancelling headphones can generate enough electrical interference tobring down the plane, the avionics are in urgent need of redesign (since there are probably half a dozen cellphones left on by accident in every plane). And so on.

It's important to know what the rules are, and to understand the reason for them. But rules are made by people no wiser or better than us, often for actively bad or stupid reasons. When the rules or laws are stupid or evil, it can be good to visibly violate them as a form of protest, but it is better in many cases to remember the eleventh commandment[2] and keep it wholly.

[1] Straight white guys who weren't f--king the governor's daughter or something had little reason to fear prosecution under these laws, but that has little to do with the rightness/wrongness of violating the law.

[2] Don't get caught.

#81 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2012, 11:16 AM:

If cell-phones could really bring down aircraft, the wicked terrorists of the world wouldn't have to mess around with underwear bombs, would they?

#82 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2012, 05:17 PM:

KayTei @ 75: I think I want to distinguish quite strongly between the violent/non-violent issue and the classic civil disobedience/non-compliance and evasion issue. I think there can be cases which call for non-compliance and evasion without calling for violent resistance. I'm not quite sure how I'd delimit those cases, but I'll come back to them in a moment.

Bruce Cohen StM @ 72: I didn't know about the Rosenstrasse protests, and the link which you gave - which was for Wikipedia - suggests that they weren't succesful examples of civil disobedience. Could you point me in the direction of a different source?

I'm going to have to think harder about the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who I did know about, because they might show that the view I'm going to put forward is wrong. (I think the view is worth trying to articulate: if it's wrong, I need help seeing why it's wrong)

My thought was that for classic civil disobedience 1 to work, a couple of things need to be part of the background legal culture - not universally applied, but at least widely accepted. The first is some version of habeas corpus - a situation where, if the state takes action against you, the charges have to be made public. If that's not happening, the chance of shaming the civil power, or bringing the law into disrepute seems minimal. (and that's part of the reason why the Argentine disappearances were so destructive).

The second is some kind of protection of free speech. if, for example, journalists covering the cases of civil disobedients can be charged with something like'material support for a prohibited organisation' , and then get banged up for pre-trial detention for a period of 6 months or more, it's not so likely that word will get out.

That's not intended to demean the efforts of those who have tried classic civil disobedience in cases that don't meet these conditions. But it is intended to point at conditions that might make it legitimate to choose non-compliance and evasion over classic civil disobedience. Certainly, those are situations where I wouldn't advocate for the latter rather than the former.

1. meaning by this what KayTei @ 61 and (I think) Bruce Cohen @ 62 meant by civil disobedience, as opposed to, say simply, morally motivated non-compliance.

#83 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2012, 05:36 PM:

FaultyMemory @11: I think that if we're thinking about the behaviour of a hypothetical Romney administration, its more likely that it will reflect the values and interests of Bain in the 1990s than those of the Republican party in the 1950's.

abi @ 9: I suspect that public declarations manifesting that sort of overt callousness would be too great an electoral liability for most administrations. It's less clear to me that that sort of callousness couldn 't be going on behind the scenes.

That incidentally, seems to be something that could probably apply to administrations of any political stripe. Nothing I've read over the years makes me think that this sort of thing would be alien to the mindset of, say, Rahm Emmanuel. (Really, I think that this may have as much to do with the nature of electorally-based politics as with the culture of any one political party).

#84 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2012, 05:49 PM:

In re the Rosenstrasse protests:

The White Rose Society (Weisserose) did not fare as well.

#85 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2012, 05:58 PM:

Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) #78: Plus, the Civil Rights movement in the US was paralleled by quite another movement led by people who talked another language, which involved phrases like "by any means necessary".

I don't believe in violence as a tool, or as anything save an ultima ratio when all peaceful means have failed. Yet I can't help feeling that Gandhi's success owed something to Subhas Chandra Bose, MLK's to Malcolm X, Mandela's to Chris Hani (and even, for that matter, to Frantz Fanon).

Even my hero, Norman Manley, owed something to honest Wills Isaacs who asked "What are a few broken heads in building a nation?"

#86 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2012, 07:06 PM:

praisegod barebones @ 82, Fragano Ledgister @ 85:

I think there's a spectrum of activities from simple protest and demonstration through organized disobedience and non-compliance to economic boycott and strike picket lines. At the very far end of the spectrum are forceful and violent initiatives up to and including civil insurrection and rebellion. And sometimes working effectively at one point on the spectrum involves threatening to move further over towards the uncivil end of the spectrum, which is much easier to do if you have credible actors in those areas to point to.

I personally would really like it if fixing the serious problems of our society could be done by reasoned debate, and failing that by political and economic pressure. Unfortunately, that hasn't been sufficient to deal with the serious class, race, gender, and international political issues that need to be addressed in the USA or western Europe.

#87 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2012, 08:21 PM:

Bruce Cohen (Speaker To Managers) #86: Yes, there is such a spectrum, starting with plain discussion and ending with revolution and civil war. The United States is definitely at the discussion end of the spectrum (I've seen far nastier, and had friends murdered but been far short of civil war).

#88 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2012, 10:25 PM:

"Only Nixon could have gone to China."

If he wins, could Romney go to Iran?

#89 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2012, 10:57 PM:

Fragano Ledgister @85 I don't believe in violence as a tool, or as anything save an ultima ratio when all peaceful means have failed. Yet I can't help feeling that Gandhi's success owed something to Subhas Chandra Bose, MLK's to Malcolm X, Mandela's to Chris Hani (and even, for that matter, to Frantz Fanon).

There's a certain implicit "or else" in having the more violent end of the spectrum visible in the wings. There seems likely to be an Overton window effect as well.

#90 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2012, 11:01 PM:

It's late, and typing something about "middle of the road" while I was drafting my previous post reminded me of a bumper sticker I saw yesterday.

I envision a world in which chickens will be free to cross the road without having their motives questioned.

Googling finds several variations of this on the web, but it was new to me, and I enjoyed it.

#91 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 12:15 AM:

Albatross @ 80

"I might rephrase the original statement by Marc"

You might, but he didn't. I don't object to sunshine laws, controls, or any other reasonable mechanisms you want to put in place to prevent muckety-mucks from running amuck. I do object to the fundamental notion that all people are corrupt and corruptible. It sets a bar that many people are entirely too willing to meet, given the excuse, and yet it is not an accurate reflection of reality in my opinion.

"I think I just fundamentally disagree with many people here wrt following unjust laws and civil disobedience. Many laws deserve nothing but contempt, and following them makes the world a worse place."

And the examples you gave are generally good ones, though I would personally differentiate between "civil disobedience" and "not following unjust laws," as being similar in appearance but very different in intent.

My problem is really not with people who thoughtfully evaluate harms and decide to bend or break a law in the name of safety, or where a law is truly unjust and damaging -- I should have been more clear, but I was caught up in the context of where I was in the discussion, and lost track of things. But I get awfully tired of hearing people talk casually about things like violating traffic laws, or IP violations, or letting people off the hook for petty corruption (like fixing grandma's traffic ticket) or other small crimes of convenience. There is no virtue that justifies that sort of petty, selfish act (and the obvious exceptions are exceptions - speeding to save a life, etc.).

I just don't see why I should be okay with people casually violating laws that they just sort of disagree with or think are stupid or find inconvenient, in the absence of any compelling justification. And I don't see why I should accept such actions as inevitable. Which is really what I was responding to.


praisegod barebones @ 75

"I think I want to distinguish quite strongly between the violent/non-violent issue and the classic civil disobedience/non-compliance and evasion issue. I think there can be cases which call for non-compliance and evasion without calling for violent resistance."

I don't disagree. I apologize if I was unclear. It was intended as one possible extension of a much broader series of thoughts, not a declaration that it was an appropriate solution in all cases, or even most. I agree that if other tactics can be effectively used, they are always preferable.

#92 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 01:46 AM:

Fragano Ledgister @ #87:

The United States is definitely at the discussion end of the spectrum

I agree, but I'm concerned that we're moving slowly but surely towards the other end. The behavior of the police towards the Occupy movement, and particularly the recent actions in Chicago at the NATO summit indicate a hardening of the political positions of the mid and upper levels of the law enforcement communities. That, coupled with the increase in activity of hate groups and other domestic terrorists in the last few years, is likely to ratchet up the level of antagonism in the streets.

#93 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 02:02 AM:

Bruce Cohen @ 92: I'm disturbed by recent events, too. At the same time, I comfort (?!) myself with remembering just how violent our public discourse has been in the past: Lynchings; the term "police riot" was coined in the 60s; union organizers faced off against the police and Pinkertons; and so on. May we get through this, too!

#94 ::: Cassy B ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 07:08 AM:

Bruce @92 and Janet @93, speaking as a (suburban) Chicagoan, I have to say that although there were some violent incidents which had darn well better be investigated, the NATO protests over the last few days were nothing like the Battle For Seattle or the '98 Chicago Police Riot. I hasten to admit that I wasn't personally on the scene, but I've heard descriptions from folks who were... and they mention that the cops were handing out water bottles to the protesters. Which I think is good to know to balance the images of shoving and hitting.... And that despite the media images, most of the cops weren't in riot gear. (There were, of course, plenty of riot-geared cops waiting in the wings... but at least they were trying to project an image of minimal force.)

This is in no way meant to excuse the times that things got out of hand and protesters got hurt (and a cop got stabbed in the leg).... but all things considered, it wasn't the tear-gassed glass-breaking riot that Chicagoans feared. (No reports of tear-gas use at all that I've heard, actually. And if any businesses were damaged, I've not heard that, either.)

#95 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 07:24 AM:

Kay Tei @91, I agree with at least 95% of what you say. In particular, I agree that there is an important distinction between deliberately choosing to break a law that you think it is unjust or unsafe - whether you call attention to that as a form of civil disobedience or not - and casually disregarding laws that don't suit you. I think the default setting should be in favor of obeying laws. There is a continuum, of course. I can choose to park at a parking meter while I run into the store even if I don't have any change; I might get a ticket, but I don't think I'm seriously damaging the social fabric. On the other hand, I do not think I'm entitled to park in a handicapped space, in front of a fire hydrant, or the like, just because no other spaces are open and I need to run into the store.

I disagree with you on this one: I do object to the fundamental notion that all people are corrupt and corruptible.

I agree that not all people are corrupt, but I think that given the right pressures, we are all corruptible. It's a hard line to walk in governance or in business; a system needs to protect against the fallacy that "good people" will never do anything wrong. It also needs to avoid the opposite trap of treating everyone as guilty-but-not-yet-proven, which leads to the "if they're going to treat me as though I have, I might as well" reaction.

#96 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 07:32 AM:

ObSF connecting civil disobedience and the Scalzi thread about straight white male as the lowest difficulty setting (and discussion in the comments there about what people in that situation or other privileged situations can do). Thinking of Miles Vorkosigan in "The Weatherman." (Not, I suppose, civil disobedience, but close enough for the context.) He chose to disobey an order to stand with lower-ranked, less privileged people, using his privilege to make their message heard. He was privileged to the extent that he didn't die for it, as they probably would have without his intervention, but he wasn't immune from consequences either; he lost the chance at the ship duty he wanted.

#97 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 09:11 AM:

A new report on exhonerations linked to by Radley Balko. A few high points (this is relevant to the discussion on the Stand Your Ground thread as well as this one):

Of the 893 defendants (not a random unbiased sample, alas):

50% are black, 38% white, 11% Hispanic and 2% Native American or Asian

For all exonerations, the most common causal factors that contributed to the underlying false convictions are perjury or false accusation (51%), mistaken eyewitness identification (43%) and official misconduct (42%) – followed by false or misleading forensic evidence (24%) and false confession (16%). The frequencies of these causal factors vary greatly from one type of crime to another.

Three interesting patterns: Blacks were often misidentified by witnesses, and the report summary suggests that part of this is that it's generally more difficult for white witnesses to identify which black guy they saw than which white guy they saw.

Child sex abuse cases where there were exhonerations often turned on the finding that the whole crime had just been made up and had never actually happened. I gather these were mostly during the witchhunt wave of sex abuse cases where you'd have cases that made no sense when considered rationally, but that were convincing to juries somehow when steeped sufficiently in the alleged awfulness of the crimes.

Probably because the cases were easy to find, group exhonerations (where pervasive official misconduct led to lots of people being let out of prison at once) appear a lot in the data.

A real comprehensive database of these cases would be very valuable, I think. For example, if we got all the cases of exhonerations, would the racial breakdown remain about the same, or would it change, and in which direction?

#98 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 08:47 PM:

OtterB #89: Given that the Neocon/Palaeocon alliance in the US has succeeded in moving the Overton Window rightward so that Barry Goldwater now looks like a liberal, that's not altogether surprising.

#99 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 08:50 PM:

Bruce Cohen (Speaker To Managers) #92: The US has been there before. A look at the history of the period right after the First World War (the Palmer Raids, the deportation of such threats to the Republic as Emma Goldman &c., the Sacco-Vanzetti affair) suggests that the Teahad has quite dishonourable antecedents.

#100 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 09:52 PM:

KayTei:

One thing that I think is worth looking at, to see where something falls on that spectrum, is whether the people doing it think everyone should, nobody should, or something in between. People who commit civil disobedience usually don't expect a lot of others to follow their lead, but would be glad to be wrong about that. For example, if I publicly refused to pay a tax I considered unjust, and took the chance of losing my job or going to jail, I would be pleased to have others stand with me.

And if I'm secretly breaking the law to save people from an oppressive regime, I want others to do the same if they can, whether or not we can know of each other's deeds.

Neither of those is like a judge or police officer fixing tickets for their relatives, or other cops, while expecting the fines collected on the large number of tickets that are issued to people who don't have a friend on the force will help pay the town's bills.

#101 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 01:03 AM:

The more I think about this, the more I think what really troubles me is the idea that people who break the law often seem to think there shouldn't be any consequences for them. (Other people who break different laws are often held to a much more rigid standard, of course. Those people are fiends and scoundrels, all of them.)

I'm generally a lot more understanding, where people accept that there are consequences if they are caught, and don't expect any special leniency (there are obviously limits to this tolerance).

Or where, if they are fighting to change the law, they accept that it may not work all at once, and they may face some adverse judgements as a result (fairly or not, as I think we've discussed elsewhere).


OtterB @ 95

You're right that we differ on whether all people are corruptible. I believe there are people who, in the face of great power and great temptation, will still do the right thing. And I believe that there are equally apparently upstanding people who, under the correct pressures, will cave.

I don't think there are people who will never feel tempted, but I do think there are people who value other things enough that it is extremely improbable they would ever give in to corruption.

I don't think the primary risk (the one which makes it only "improbable" they will be corrupted) is that you "haven't found the right lever," but rather that I don't think it's possible to tell which kind of person you're dealing with, until they rise or fall to the occasion.

But I absolutely believe that there are people in the world who are completely upstanding and who strive to be ethical in everything they do -- for whom an act of corruption would be a fundamental betrayal of their core selves.

I think it's sad that we feel a need to pull all people down to the level of the lowest common denominator in order to make everyone else feel more comfortable. I appreciate the whole "trust but verify" ethic, but if it prevents us from acknowledging that there are truly good people in the world, then I think we're doing it wrong.

#102 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 01:52 PM:

How much do we really spend on national defense?

My not all that well informed take on this is that we spend probably 10x as much on defense against foreign adversaries as we need to, largely because of the effective lobbying of defense and homeland security contractors and the power of the pentagon and intelligence services in Washington. It's very clear to me that a lot of what we're paying big money for isn't benefiting us much, if at all. But God forbid we cancel an overpriced $100M apiece fighter jet we have no use for, or refrain from bombing some helpless third world country when it would provide a momentary domestic political advantage to do so.

#103 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 02:09 PM:

albatross @ 102... Unfortunately spending money to help rather spending it to dominate doesn't satisfy our inner Big Male Monkey.

#104 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 02:26 PM:

Fragano Ledgister @ 99:

That's what concerns me about the current situation: I see a lot of parallels, and I know enough of the history to know just how far the US has gone before, when the stakes were not as high as they are now. The cost of continued imperialism, for instance, is an increased dependence on the political and economic benefits of imperialism. The cost of perpetuating sharp class and race divisions is the increase in the dammed up hostility across those divisions.

#105 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 02:56 PM:

"Vietnam? Where's that?"

I think that's one of the last things said in the last episode of "MASH", and I do wish Ambrose Bierce had been wrong about how my country gets to learn about geography.

#106 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 03:44 PM:

This reminds me-- is there any reasonable way of figuring out the real costs of the drug war? Not just what's spent, but the damage that's done to people's lives, some of which shows up as less useful work done, and more need for help for their families?

#107 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 04:11 PM:

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little @63
OK, plain English is un-PC because it can be used insultingly. I have a personal objection to using seven neologic syllables when one plain one will do.
Please suggest a term for severe intellectual impairment which might occur in normal conversation, and I will use the term you prefer.

Lee @70
"morally-impaired" is flattering compared to these individuals, but I was talking about intellectual capacity, not moral fiber.

#108 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 04:12 PM:

Kay Tei @101 I think it's sad that we feel a need to pull all people down to the level of the lowest common denominator in order to make everyone else feel more comfortable.

This is where we differ. I don't think that saying all people have the potential for corruption is pulling them down. I think it's acknowledging a truth of human nature. And I don't even think that is depressing. On the contrary, I am encouraged, even inspired, by the existence of people who act with integrity despite everything. They choose to do the right thing. Sometimes they don't even notice it as a choice: habits often carry us, for good or ill. Sometimes it's an easy choice. Sometimes it's not. They wouldn't be models to emulate if they were somehow made out of different, incorruptible stuff as opposed to the rest of us. But they aren't, and they choose rightly, over and over, and that means I can choose rightly too, the next time I have to choose.

#109 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 04:16 PM:

Neil in Chicago @107:
OK, plain English is un-PC because it can be used insultingly. I have a personal objection to using seven neologic syllables when one plain one will do.

My granddaddy said the much same thing about only using one "g" in "Negro". Vocabulary changes. It behooves us to change with it.

Please suggest a term for severe intellectual impairment which might occur in normal conversation, and I will use the term you prefer.

I believe the term "stupid" was suggested by OtterB @69, if diminished intellectual capacity must be brought into it.

But at this point, you've dug a sufficient hole that I for one would like to hear an explanation as to why you do need to impugn his intellectual, as well as moral capacity. Surely it's worse if he's capable of discerning better, and chooses not to?

#110 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 04:30 PM:

"Run, you fools!"
- Gandalf

"What a maroon!"
- Bugs Bunny

"You imbecile!"
- Moe Howard

#111 ::: Jennifer Baughman ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 04:48 PM:

Serge @110: 'Maroon' isn't a word I'd use; its roots are as a term used for runaway slaves.

'Fool' is good, though. 'Ignoramus', maybe? If you've got to insult someone, putting the onus on their actions rather than their native capabilities seems "better" to me, for small values of better.

#112 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 05:01 PM:

That's "Fly, you fools," Serge.

#113 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 05:01 PM:

Serge@110: That's "fly", not "run".

#114 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 05:04 PM:

I stand corrected, Jennifer, Xopher and David. :-)

#115 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 05:16 PM:

Jennifer, Bugs was committing a malapropism for 'moron', I think.

#116 ::: Jennifer Baughman ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 07:16 PM:

Xopher @115: Hmm. On more research, you may be right; I'd heard a few years ago that there was a link, but doing a little googling suggests that there's little, if any, connection between Bugs' 'maroon' and the escaped slaves. I'll cheerfully eat crow on this one.

#117 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 07:36 PM:

#11: Eisenhower used the inherent authoritarianism of the Presidency to desegregate the U.S. armed forces

Even aside from what PNH said above, it's worth noting that that was Truman, not Eisenhower.

#118 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 08:08 PM:

Jennifer... Xopher...

I assumed that Bugs Bunny said 'maroon' because 'moron' was deemed inappropriate for a kid show(*), for the same reason that Dudley Dooright said 'fudge' instead of 'f*ck'.

(*) Crossdressing and same-sex marriage was ok though.

#119 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 09:20 PM:

Neil in Chicago: I don't suppose you could read this before you keep going?

#120 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 09:35 PM:

Jennifer, #116: FWIW, I'd always had the impression that it was military slang. But I could be completely wrong.

#121 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 09:46 PM:

Serge Broom: I assumed that Bugs Bunny said 'maroon' because 'moron' was deemed inappropriate for a kid show

Termite Terrace never really worried about that, or excessive violence, since the Warner's didn't *care,* unlike Quimby at MGM who kept giving Tex Avery orders like "Don't make such fun of Hitler: we don't know how the war will end" when Avery was doing "Blitz Wolf" in 1939. (The lunch where one Warner brother told Fritz Freling "I don't quite know what you do outside of making sure that Mickey Mouse stays popular" comes to mind. He said he'd try to keep it up and J.L. growled "You'd better.")

When it comes to violence, Tex Avery's comment "And I look back, and yes, I did take that character's head off" and the results of the memorable line that Chuck Jones directed in a Three Bears cartoon "Pa! You have a bee on your nose! Don't worry, Pa, I will save you!" come to mind.

(There were also a few cuts that were supposed to be in-house stuff that wasn't cut accidentally--the most famous being the "I'd better cut this out--I might start to enjoy it" joke and the revelation just before he died by Chuck Jones that if you single-framed through the scenes where Pepe LePew appeared on or off screen you could see some *very* interesting details. Er, um.)

#122 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 10:47 PM:

OtterB @ 108

Okay, I'm really confused. Are you sure this isn't a question about a glass holding approximately half of its capacity in unspecified liquid?

Some people don't give in to corruption. They choose, again and again, not to give in to corruption. And we seem to agree that these people exist.

This is not inborn magical pixie stuff I'm talking about. This is: There are people who, I believe, are dedicated enough to ethical behavior, and have practiced it, and pride themselves on it, and prioritize doing the right thing over everything else, and spend their time with other people who reinforce those values and that way of living, and maybe they also put themselves in the hands of a higher power or maybe they don't. These are people who will never deliberately violate their integrity, because they regard that as too high a cost.

To say that those people just haven't met the right temptation troubles me severely. It feels like a very cynical and limited understanding of human potential.

Because up to that point, I think you're absolutely right. The fact that those people can get up every day and still not be corrupted does, in fact, mean that you can too. But being incorruptible is not a feat that requires superhuman abilities. You "just" have to care enough to make sacrifices, and you build some of those skills slowly, over a lifetime, and you accept that despite your best efforts, you will make mistakes, even though they did not come from corrupt motivations. Not everyone cares enough to bother, or is willing to sacrifice very much, or is able to sustain motivation in the face of discouragement and setbacks.

But some people make those sacrifices right up until their own deaths, no matter how much it hurts them, and I don't think it's fair to them to dismiss that dedication to their values out of hand.

#123 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 06:53 AM:

Kay Tei @122, we may well be into glass-at-half-capacity territory. If you want to drop the subthread, that's fine with me. I'm finding it an interesting exercise to work at articulating subtle differences.

To say that those people just haven't met the right temptation troubles me severely. It feels like a very cynical and limited understanding of human potential.

I see that, from one direction. It puts down their achievement by saying, well, they'll be down in the mud with the rest of us some day.

What I was trying to say was not that they will inevitably fall (and that I'll be watching with schadenfreude when they do). It is more that I think that such things are better approached, in oneself and in others, with a certain level of humility rather than hubris. Maybe it's the distinction between "will fall when they meet the right temptation" and "could fall if they meet the right temptation." I agree that the first is cynical, and I don't believe it either. The second is, I think, part of our humanity in all its flawed glory.

#124 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 10:01 AM:

Bruce E. Durocher II @ 121... if you single-framed through the scenes where Pepe LePew appeared on or off screen you could see some *very* interesting details.

L'amour, oui?

#125 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 10:56 AM:

KayTei/OtterB:

It strikes me that the difference between your models of the world cannot be diffferentiated by any experiment or observation. Anyone who refuses to recant his faith under torture, or is murdered by narcos because he won't stop publishing news stories about them, or who loses his promising political career because he won't cover for the boss' crimes or lies, may be a corruptible human who wasn't offerred the right inducement to betray his principles, or an incorruptible human. We will never be able to distinguish between these two cases, as far as I can tell. The difference between them doesn't matter for predicting what will happen in the world, or describing the world--each works exactly as well as the other. The difference seems to be which model is easier or more pleasant for you to work with in your mind.

#126 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 11:22 AM:

No, "stupid" is not strong enough.

abi @ 109
This is the third time I'm saying I will be happy to use a reasonable alternative suggested by either the critic or the group mind. There hasn't really been one yet.

Serge @ 110
Thank you.

Jennifer @ 111
In context, this is transparently a PC back-formation. see Serge @ 110

Leonora @ 119
"I love you" is not a workable substitute. The point that I could hurt some hypothetical person's feelings has been driven into the ground. You still haven't given a reasonable substitute meaning drasticly reduced capacity.


I'm done with this.

#127 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 01:12 PM:

That's the nearest I've ever seen to a full bingo card from a ML regular.

#128 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 02:02 PM:

Neil in Chicago @126:

Since subtlety and kindness have not worked, let me try bluntness.

You do not get to ram your quirkily offensive vocabulary down the throats of the other people in this community when they have asked you, with good reason and good manners, to reconsider your wording. Some of them have genuine, personal interests in deprecating the word "retarded". Your pigheaded insistence that you must be allowed the full and nuanced range of sneers at their expense and that of their loved ones -- and, indeed, that of absolute strangers -- isn't a particularly persuasive counterargument.

Between that and the way you use "PC", you pretty much come off looking like a privileged, ignorant and selfish asshole. You might want to consider whether that's really the impression you're trying to give to this community and, if so, why.

I'm done with this.

Unless your next comment is an apology, you most certainly are.

#129 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 03:23 PM:

Idiot, moron, dipshit, dumbass, damned fool, half-wit, lack-wit, bonehead, cretin, blockhead, brainless, empty-headed, dimwit, simpleton, clod, fuckwit, shithead, mindless, twit, rocks in the head, dumb as a box of gravel, not the sharpest tool in the light bulb drawer, clown, dummy, drone, all off the top of my head. All offensive and nasry and mean and insulting to such intelligence as the target may possess, but as far as I know, none all that likely to make a subset of bystanders feel like they've just been stabbed in the heart. (But if I'm stepping on toes too, please let me know.).

#130 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 03:36 PM:

Albatross:

Of that list, I'd drop "idiot," "moron," and "cretin," all (now disparaged) medical terms with defined meanings.

(If anyone is interested, an idiot was an adult with a mental age below 3, a moron was an adult with a mental age between 8 and 12, while a cretin was a person with a thyroid condition leading to stunted growth and diminished mental capacity.)

#131 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 03:43 PM:

albatross 129: The subset of those that have been used (to my knowledge) as the technical terms for people of diminished intellectual capacity is: Idiot, moron, half-wit, lack-wit, cretin, dimwit, simpleton. Any of those could be offensive to people who are, have relatives who are, or work with the developmentally disabled.

Cretin, incidentally, comes from the Vulgar Latin *christianus, or "Christian." No, that's not huh-huh Christians are stoopid huh-huh. My understanding is that there was a priest who started calling persons afflicted with cretinism that, to remind people that they were human and entitled to compassion and good treatment. See the little problem there?

#132 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 03:44 PM:

Further: Dummy is/was a derogatory term for a deaf/mute person.

#133 ::: praisegod barebones, hypothetical spambot ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 03:48 PM:

Albatross @129: for what it's worth, you might want to avoid 'cretin' , as it's an obsolete medical term with pejorative connotations.

Back when I was a lad, the phrase 'knitting on only one needle' had a certain amount of currency.

Neil in Chicago: would it lead you to reconsider your choice of words if I mentioned that some of the people whose feelings you are hurting you are offending are not merely hypothetical, but actual. I'm one of them. And I'm not the only person active in this very conversation to have reason to feel that way.

Just to be clear though: my objection is less to your choice of a word, than to the thoughts and attitudes which appear to stand behind it.

#134 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 04:22 PM:

Neil, we've known one another for a long time. Please knock this off.

I am myself trying to get over the bad habit of using "retarded" as a term of derision. What finally got my attention was seeing how genuinely unhappy it makes people I know who have family members with mental disabilities. If I can manage this, you can too.

And honestly, it's remarkably obnoxious of you to demand that others come up with substitute language for your use. You're an intelligent, language-using human being; coming up with new language is what you do. You don't need to pull this crap.

#135 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 04:25 PM:

I wonder what Captain Haddock had against Zouaves...

#136 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 04:29 PM:

"Neil, you are not being your best self," she said, taking a better grip on the handle.

#137 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 04:32 PM:

I didn't have that habit of using 'retarded' that way. What I had to (well, let's be honest, still have to) get rid of is derived terms like 'e-tard' (someone who's on Ecstasy) and 'fucktard' (an insulting troll). Haven't used either in a while, though the second one is harder to get rid of. I'm trying to go back to using 'fugghead'.

#138 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 04:54 PM:

I know some of the terms have a medical history, though I wonder whether a lot of people have the visceral sense of hurt hearing these. I really don't know. I'm far less concerned with the abstract category than with not pointlessly hurting bystanders, FWIW.

Choosing what language to use is a balance between (among many other things) filling your writing with euphemisms and self-consciously-used genderless pronouns to the point of unreadability on one side, and leaving lots of people around you gasping in horror or feeling like they've just been punched, on the other. It isn't always obvious where to make the tradeoff, and I won't always make the same tradeoff someone else would. But it seems really important to at least know what tradeoff I'm making, to know when I'm accepting a lot of collateral damage in order to hit my target 5% harder[1], or when my use of some word will make enemies of people who might otherwise be my allies or at least neutral.

As best I understand the world, intelligence is determined by some combination of genes and environment (Einstein raised on lead paint chips and regular blows to the head isn't going to be discovering a lot of new physics), but probably isn't much under your control, especially not as an adult. So in some sense, making fun of someone for being stupid is like making fun of someone for being short, sickly, or ugly--you're poking fun at him for stuff he had very little or no control of. Usually, of course, we're not really talking about anyone being stupid--the people Brad DeLong derides periodically as "the stupidest man alive" tend to be very smart educated people who are spouting nonsense thanks to ideological blindness or the need to keep cashing checks from their favorite think tank.

[1] The realization that I am making that tradeoff generally means that, right at that very moment, I am in the process of being an asshole. Noticing this before clicking "post" is a win in that case.

#139 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 05:39 PM:

Part of the item linked to by Lenora Rose @119, because it seems relevant:

"Would you mind not using that word?" asked the pig.

"What word?" the wolf demanded, ripping the flyer off the tree.

"‘Retarded.’ You see, my stepson is learning disabled, and it’s hurtful when people use that word in such a derogatory way."

"I see," said the wolf. "Please educate me so that I can decide whether or not to stop using this word that hurts you and your stepson."

The pig’s shoulders slumped a little more, but she looked up at the wolf and did her best. For the next hour, while the bunny played in the dirt, she talked about the challenges her stepson had faced. She talked about how hard it was to get people to treat her stepson with respect, how society treated the mentally challenged as a joke, as stupid or defective.

"I see," said the wolf. "But don’t we all have challenges? Don’t we all have someone who refuses to respect us? Don’t we all get laughed at sometimes? You might be surprised to know that I have a very good friend who’s a bunny, and she uses the word ‘retarded’ all the time."

"What does it cost you to use a different word?" asked the pig.

"Nothing," said the wolf. "But you have failed to adequately educate me, so I will continue to use the word that hurts you and your stepson."

#140 ::: Jennifer Baughman ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 05:55 PM:

'Crazy' is another one I'd ask people to avoid. I have a mental illness; so does my husband, and they are entirely neurochemical in origin. We are not insane, we aren't stupid, we have a chemical imbalance in our brains, and medication resolves it the same way statins help high cholesterol.

My rule of thumb for insults is, generally, if the term refers to some characteristic which the individual has no control over or cannot change, I don't use it. This eliminates skin color, gender, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, gender preference, ethnicity, eye color, etc.

Believe me, there's still no lack of ways to insult someone, even considering those categories off-limits. I'm fond of "pusillanimous lickspittle", personally. Or "yammering pustule". For those who blindly adhere to a single ideology, refusing to consider other evidence, "willful ignoramus" is always good. And "hateful dissimulator" is one used by Husband to good effect. And Cold-War era authoritarians really hate "Party apparatchik", for some reason...

The additional, amusing side effect (to me, at least) of abjuring that category of insults is that my insults, when I choose to use them, have become a great deal more interesting, more pointed, and more accurate. It's a win-win; I'm a more interesting writer, and I'm not hurting people unnecessarily.

#141 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 06:02 PM:

I have decided not to use the word in question through people telling me of the issues - the key was them commenting on the fact that I was disparaging "those *******" by comparing them with obvious contempt to their friends and relatives, who they loved and cared about, and who were, objectively and obviously, good people. The implication was that those people are, in my opinion, both contemptible and worthy of my contempt.

Oops. I thought I had worked that out at 12 when others were calling me a faggot with the same contempt - and I looked at all my family's friends who were both gay and (relatively) out, and *also* clearly better people than my bullies.

Talk about being obtuse like brick.

Some of the issues I have with any of the synonyms going around is that there's a difference between the people with developmental disabilities - even the severely cognitively disabled - and the people we're disparaging. They *aren't* stupid/dumb-as-a-brick/two-pieces-short-of-a-puzzle/whatever - they're *choosing not to think*.

The original sentence was talking about a (n un-)civil servant who has to cost the city $1M before being fired for thuggery. That's not a comment on his intelligence; it's a comment on the way he chooses to use his intelligence. And most of the time I have heard "that's *ed", it's a comment on lack of *use* of intelligence, not lack of intelligence.

And that's, if anything, worse.

As for whether those afflicted have a "visceral sense of hurt": all I know is that a large number (not all, mind you) of the derogatory terms common when I was growing up, today's teens probably have never heard, or at least don't know who the terms were disaparaging. But those in (to pull the foul names I can remember right now) the Italian, Irish, black, or Jewish community still know. I would believe that a much higher proportion of the cognitively disabled community and their families know the exact medical definition of some of these derogatory words than the general population; so I don't use "moron" any more either. Hard to remove "idiot", though (I hope I am safer on this given that it is much older than the 1910 coinages of moron, imbecile, et al. If I'm just rationalising, please let me know.)

#142 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 06:06 PM:

Jennifer Baughman, I wouldn't mind it a bit if people stopped using "narcoleptic" as a synonym for "boring".

It has occurred to me that English has no shortage of vocabulary to convey concepts like "transient situational stupidity" or "remarkably poor judgment" or "incomprehensible choices and behaviors".

My only regret is that I shall have to give up the cherished phrase "farm-raised wingless quailtards," used by Stephen Colbert to describe the birds being hunted by Dick Cheney et al. on the day he shot one of his companions in the face.

#143 ::: Jennifer Baughman ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 06:33 PM:

Madame Teresa, Wielder of the Red Pen of Doom, people actually do that? that's a logical jump that even in my wildest dreams, I couldn't dream of making -- but it, sadly, doesn't surprise me that people make it.

I truly don't understand the mindset of someone who, when told, "Your words hurt people," simply shrugs their shoulders and continues to use the same language. Communication is a two-way street. A word's effect is not solely the onus of the recipient to accept or reject, if they "choose" to; the speaker must bear responsibility for their part in the exchange.

#144 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 06:35 PM:

"Flamboyantly wrong" might be a good substitute for the colloquial use of "crazy". I'm willing to not use "crazy", but I'd like to match the exact shade of meaning. For some cases, "flamboyantly and elaborately wrong".

#145 ::: Jennifer Baughman ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 06:35 PM:

Ack. *blushes* The "people actually do that" in the post above was supposed to be struck out, and I missed it in preview. I promise, I know better.

#146 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 10:45 PM:

Serge Broom: L'amour, oui?

From what little Jones said, it would be more in the category of medical treatments that would get the gnomes after me. Apparently Pepe didn't sweat the four-hour medical injunction.

#147 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 10:57 PM:

Bruce E Durocher II... Socialism-induced ardeur?

#148 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 11:04 PM:

OtterB @ 1-2-3

(Hey, that rhymes and scans! Rock!)

I would be more than happy to continue the discussion with you, if there were anything left that I disagree with you over...


albatross @ 138

I can tell you that I feel those terms viscerally. I'm well aware of their history.

On the broader topic, I don't understand the need for names to call anyway. Why can't people just say "I just think he's failing to demonstrate any particular intelligence right now" if that's what they mean? "Did he even think about that at all before he did it?!" or "He just didn't strike me as terribly bright/thoughtful" are also fine alternatives that get across the same thing.

What's the obsession with labels?

#149 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 11:29 PM:

Teresa, #142: Why in the world would anyone use "narcoleptic" in a context which so clearly requires "soporific"? Is this an instance of someone not being on good terms with the Muse of Language, or aspiring to a level of vocabulary with which they are not truly conversant?

Nancy, #144: I suggest the fine and elegant coinage "fractally wrong".


The state of being wrong at every conceivable scale of resolution. That is, from a distance, a fractally wrong person's worldview is incorrect; and furthermore, if you zoom in on any small part of that person's worldview, that part is just as wrong as the whole worldview. Debating with a person who is fractally wrong leads to infinite regress, as every refutation you make of that person's opinions will lead to a rejoinder, full of half-truths, leaps of logic, and outright lies, that requires just as much refutation to debunk as the first one. It is as impossible to convince a fractally wrong person of anything as it is to walk around the edge of the Mandelbrot set in finite time. If you ever get embroiled in a discussion with a fractally wrong person on the Internet--in mailing lists, newsgroups, or website forums--your best bet is to say your piece once and ignore any replies, thus saving yourself time.

#150 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2012, 11:23 AM:

abi @128
For approximately the fourth time:
I will henceforth use whatever substitute word is satisfactory with the single proviso that it be reasonably vernacular, and not a long, clumsy, PC neologism.
My original use of the word "clinical" was a poor choice.

What acceptable word is preferred to the one I haven't repeated, with a similar but belittling meaning? I will use it.

#151 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2012, 11:26 AM:

Oh, for the love of god, Neil in Chicago, would you stop digging?

People have given you lists of words. People have explained how to form words yourself. People have explained why you shouldn't need other people to come up with these things for you in the first place.

At this point I think whatever word you consider to have the appropriate "belittling meaning" should apply to you, because you're being willfully obtuse. Or you're just not reading any of the other posts, which is outright rude.

#152 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2012, 12:16 PM:

Well, Neil can't say he wasn't warned.

#153 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2012, 12:19 PM:

My favorite summary of a "what?" decision/statement:

"What were they thinking?"

"Objection: assumes facts not in evidence."


I'm loving the concept of "fractally wrong".

#154 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2012, 01:07 PM:

I like "fractally wrong" too. It's related to the description I've seen of some computer systems as "robustly weak"--repeated fixing of the latest vulnerability results in no actual improvement in security.

A related idea I see often, and which I commented on earlier, is when someone is starting from a broken worldview. Typically, this happens when your ideology and/or the common tropes of your ingroup are protecting you from noticing various bits of reality in front of your face. This gives the result that you find yourself talking to someone whose basic picture of the world is so out of kilter, on so many levels, that meaningful communication and discussion is just impossible.

Talk about US foreign policy with someone who has internalized a certain common worldvew (the low-end mainstream media view plus the high school history view), and you can get a taste of that. ("Why do they hate us? It must be for our freedoms--I mean, what else have we ever done in the middle east/Muslim world/Latin America/Southeast Asia to upset anyone or make any enemies?"). The underlying picture of reality is so thoroughly cartoonized that no real conversation is possible.

The scary part is, I think there are non-negligible areas of common public knowledge/belief in which all but the most informed people have that kind of picture of the world. This has a horrible cost in elections, when candidates can and do appeal to the cartoon version of the world in their arguments, and win elections on that basis.

#155 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2012, 01:08 PM:

Mr. Chicago, please stop being such a neil.

#156 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2012, 01:25 PM:

Neil in Chicago @150:

Farewell, then; you no longer have the opportunity to grace our conversations with your distinctive insights. I'm sure the place won't be the same without you.

Now hear this, everyone:

In the unlikely event that anyone is not clear on what just happened, let me enumerate what, exactly, Neil did wrong.

1. When asked not to use the word "retarded" because it pained fellow members of the community, he did not acquiesce and apologize for having hurt them, even unknowingly. Instead, he:
* demanded that they prove that their pain and offense was valid
* demanded that they provide alternatives that would satisfy him

Neither of these demands was appropriate for a community of equals, bound together by affection and common interests. But out of the kindness of their hearts, and because they understood that a community treats even its oafs and jerks well, others in the conversation tried to help him past his dismal social and intellectual failure.

2. When given what he demanded, he stubbornly and obdurately refused to accept it. Neither the context of the offense nor the alternatives suggested met his delicate and refined tastes. I am increasingly convinced that nothing would have met his standards.

3. When all else failed, and three moderators intervened, he did not, as required, buckle down and apologize. Instead, he dug himself even further into his hole.

Thus, ban.

Note that when Neil first used the word "retarded", it was not an offense in the community to do so. We had not had this conversation. But we have now. Please don't use it or "crazy"* in their common vernacular senses. If you forget, apologize. If someone else forgets, gently remind them.

If they do a Neil, flag a moderator and we'll come sort them out.

-----
* Crazy(and amusing)Soph is exempt from this rule when signing her nom de net.

#157 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2012, 01:54 PM:

I see in preview that abi has dropped the banhammer while I was writing this, but I'd still like to say it. It seems unfair to talk at someone who can't talk back, but I didn't really expect a dialog anyway, and perhaps the perspective might help those who are willing to back off use of the term "retarded" because they accept that it's hurtful, but don't really get it. There was certainly a time when I wouldn't have.

Neil in Chicago @150

There is no preferred term for the purpose you are asking, because the problem is not the specific words, it is the purpose. It is not acceptable to use this group of human beings to belittle others. The officer in your original post deserved to be belittled. These people do not.

(Tangential, but relevant. Bear with me.)

I had always assumed that when I had children, I wouldn't push them, but of course they were going to WANT to go to graduate school. I have been coming to terms over the past 15+ years with the fact that my younger daughter has intellectual disabilities. It's not something you settle with once; it has to be revisited, at least at each new life stage, and sometimes more often. One of the things I've realized in the process is that somewhere I had acquired the belief that competent=lovable=smart=high-achieving=worthwhile.

Those are false equivalencies.

I still respect and admire competence. I love verbal agility and witty conversation; it's one of the reasons I hang out here. I use my brains, and they are good ones, in my job, and I'm proud of what I achieve. "Smart" is deeply ingrained in my identity. What took me a while to see is that that identity is not invalidated by the existence of people who do not compete along that axis. I don't have to push them to the bottom of the heap - to use them as mud to throw at others - to make my own place. Neither do I have to disregard that dimension of myself. The world, and the places we make for ourselves, are far more multidimensional than that.

Your insistence that you must be able to use a term for this group to belittle others suggests that you hold the same belief: that intelligence is a major determiner of humanity. You are wrong. Intelligence is valuable. It is to be celebrated and enjoyed, in yourself and in others, the same way you would celebrate a musical, artistic, or athletic talent. It makes those who have a lot of it better at many kinds of tasks than those who have less.

It does not make them more human.

#158 ::: Jennifer Baughman ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2012, 02:12 PM:

OtterB @157: I had a post half-formed before abi dropped the banhammer, and you said, with grace and clarity, exactly what I was trying to. Thank you.

#159 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2012, 02:36 PM:

Abi @ 156... thus ban

Where deodorants are concerned, I'm with Loki and prefer using Asguard.

#160 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2012, 03:24 PM:

OtterB @ 157

I like this post of yours a lot.

I'll add that having been generally considered disposable as a child, by many many people who held biases like this, I don't find it appealing or appropriate when people casually toss such slurs around as if they are "meaningless" because "we all know it's not serious." And, I sometimes suspect, because people think that the (actual or presumed) intellectually disabled will never realize how hurtful these tropes are. (Damn Flowers for Algernon, anyway. Teaching the wrong damned lessons.)

While I know many people are attempting to improve their awareness and responses on this subject, I'm also well aware that the only real reason people in general no longer treat me with contempt and pity is that I am now unmedicated and so my appearance and real-time responses match my other abilities.

Gives one a slightly different take on the whole thing.

#161 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2012, 03:35 PM:

Serge Broom @159:
Me, I prefer deodorizing my underarms.

#162 ::: geekosaur gnommed 'gain ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2012, 03:36 PM:

Hm, do the gnomes dislike relative links now, or just bad jokes?

[The gnomes mistrust links that have a certain form. Not the relative links, but certain links that point to individual posts. The gnomes in the Research Department (Sounro Grabien, Terrizo Havvlak, and Prioto Kobobi) are hard at work devising a more sensitive filter. The recent arrival of over a hundred and fifty sheep and goats testifies to their diligence. (Yes, we do test our spam filters on animals.) -- Rusport Temminic, Duty Gnome]

#163 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2012, 03:39 PM:

geekosaur @ 161.... If bad jokes were enough to get one gnomed, would I be here?

#164 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2012, 05:35 PM:

Thank-you OtterB.

I've found it to be a continual struggle to interact with my kids as themselves and not a projection of myself on them. It's so very easy to lapse into assuming my view is the only/best/most valid one.

I'll also note: Families are fractal. Self-similar, chaotic, different in the details, yet there's an overall theme. There's more there, but, perhaps, in the thread for that sort of thing.

#165 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2012, 07:16 PM:

abi @ 156:

I've been taking the "Crazy" in Soph's netname in the sense of "Crazy Fun", or "Crazy Talented", so the name translates as "Crazy Wisdom".

#166 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2012, 03:37 PM:

Eric @164 I've found it to be a continual struggle to interact with my kids as themselves and not a projection of myself on them.

This may be the single most important task of parenthood, to recognize and accept your kids for who they are. Not a projection of you, not a reflection of you, not the kid you wanted or expected or feared, not the kid your neighbors or your parents expected, not the kid in the TV show or the commercials, but the kid they are.

#167 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2012, 05:06 PM:

Who watches the guys who send killer robots and death squads to murder people, US citizen or not?

Nobody.

But it's okay. The president is perfectly trustworthy, as are his advisors. And there will simply never be anyone in his position who isn't trustworthy. Really. It's only shrill liberal moonbats right-wing crazy black-helicopter types who don't trust him.

And this power will certainly never be misused. It's not like he includes political advisors in the star chamber hearings national security briefings to help him weigh the political impact of his decisions. Or like he defines away any unidentified military age males who get blown up as terrorists, or allows strikes on people the CIA can't even identify, if they seem like they might be terrorists. Our presidents are honorable men, who would simply never do such things.

This is bipartisan consensus policy now. Who will ever reverse it?

#168 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2012, 05:20 PM:

Unbelievable, albatross. I can't think of a single thing I can do about that, or even do to influence it a little bit. Obama's bad on this; I'm convinced Rmoney would be no better, and possibly worse, so it's not really an issue in the election (at least for me).

Is anyone listening? I think most Americans don't know about this, or (worse) would see nothing wrong with it, American exceptionalism being what it is.

Do you have any suggestions?

#169 ::: David DeLaney ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2012, 05:40 PM:

Coming in late again, and I'll try my best to be respectful of the law-as-laid-down. ...Would "unreasoning" or 'unthinking', as adjectives for the twisted thug, work better? As they're not based on what he CAN do (I'm assuming a male, nonspherical, thug), but what he currently WAS doing?

Similarly, "reality-challenged", while PC-sounding, seems to me more usable than 'crazy' or 'delusional' without connecting on the edges to "mentally ill"? It's also apropos to those who just Have That Set Of Opinions They're Not Changing And They Bring It Out Every Thanksgiving Dinner And We All Quietly Roll Our Eyes And Ask Aunt Marge To Pass The Gravy... or to certain politicians as well. More all-purpose-y, so to speak?

--Dave, humbly submitting

#170 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2012, 09:00 PM:

167/168
And one adviser, in particular, who seems to have free run of everything, including handing out classified information. emptywheel has been covering it.

#171 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2012, 02:28 AM:

David DeLany @169:

All of those suggestions look fine to me. As you say, they don't associate the people you're deprecating with a wholly innocuous—and already discriminated-against—population.

#172 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2012, 10:13 AM:

"You incompetent!"
"Incompetent, Milord?"
- The Sheriff of Nottingham having his usual chat with henchman Guy of Guisborne

#173 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2012, 12:44 PM:

OtterB @157: Beautiful post all the way through, and increasingly rewarding on subsequent reads too.

It's got me pondering a thing now, about this:

What took me a while to see is that that identity is not invalidated by the existence of people who do not compete along that axis.

I'm pondering the notion of competition (or perhaps comparative measuring) along various axes, because I've gotten unpleasantly surprised when it has been practiced on me by people to whom one-up and one-down in certain areas is useful to their sense of well-being or something. (I don't understand it fully myself, so I'm undoubtedly mischaracterizing their motives. Then again, I'd usually rather not get close enough for a good view, if you know what I mean.) If somebody imposes a competitive framework on the two of us based on who's better at volleyball or at conjugating Akkadian verbs or at mimicking the cover of the fashion magazine of your choice (Vogue, Gothic Beauty, Sports Illustrated, whatever), it's startling to me. At least in part, it's startling because I don't understand what they think they're getting out of doing it.

And then I start to look for places where I compare or compete. Hmm. And I look back at what you said about "not invalidating an identity" and yeah, particular identities are particularly important to some people at some times, for sure. (I remember the time someone told me I was obviously not a fan and therefore wouldn't be around the fannish community very long. I think that was twenty-five years ago now.)

Anyhow, I've got no great wise conclusion here. I'm still pondering -- and for that I'm very grateful. Just wanted to say thank you for making me think, and for writing such a good thing there.

#174 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2012, 03:44 PM:

I have a young friend who used to call himself "crazy," and spoke of his antipsychotic medication as "crazy pills."

I told him "You're not crazy. You're mentally ill," and told him about someone who *I* considered "crazy" - a previous boyfriend who insisted that various aspects of reality were not relevant to his life. His response to being told facts he didn't like was to hold out his palm and say "we disagree," and mean "the discussion is over because I've stopped listening." These were facts like "the Kamehamehas are unlikely to re-establish the monarchy in Hawaii, and even if they did, your ascension to the throne is unlikely in the extreme," and IIRC "total eclipses of the sun cannot happen at the full moon."

Willfully ignorant, filled with self-serving and deliberately-adopted delusions. I can't call him my "crazy ex-boyfriend"? Well, no, not if I don't want to hurt people whose feelings I do care about. This bothers the hell out of me, either way; but not hurting people is the priority.

People talk about their parents being "crazy" all the time, and let's just say this same young person's (the mentally ill one, not the jerk) parents (his real, by which I mean adoptive, parents) were, shall we say, not especially committed to a reality-based approach to life. But his birth parents were actually psychopaths and possibly serial killers. Gives a new perspective on "crazy."

#175 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2012, 05:12 PM:

I grew up with an aunt who was in and out of institutions because she was bipolar ("manic-depressive" in those days). When California cut off funding for mentally ill people, my father had the difficult choice of putting all his money into her care (and impoverishing his offspring) or cutting all ties with her legally. He chose the latter.

She was seriously mentally ill. I don't think we ever talked about her as "crazy".

#176 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2012, 05:33 PM:

Headline for that, Tom: Budget Cuts Destroy Families.

#177 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2012, 05:40 PM:

Similarly to Dave DeLaney @169 with "reality-challenged", we tend to talk about people who don't quite share the same reality as the rest of us. This applies with a certain amused affection to my SIL with mental illness, and (with decided lack of either amusement or affection) to wingnuts and those who are fractally wrong. Sometimes shorthanded "What color is the sky on your planet?"

Which suggests a society in which it's offensive to use this question to imply lack of rationality, since some of the citizens do, in fact, come from worlds with different colors of sky. :-)

Also, elise @173, thank you. I have one more thought along that line but it's not quite jelling yet. More later.

#178 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2012, 10:09 PM:

Xopher @ 174

For "crazy" substitute "queer" or "gay." Then imagine me earnestly trying to convince you that you should identify as a "homosexual" instead.

#179 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 01:09 AM:

KayTei, you mistake me, I think. I'm not trying to tell you how you should identify. When I was speaking to my young friend, that was before I learned what I've learned in this thread.

I'm talking about a process; my current state of consciousness is raised but not settled; that is, I understand what you're saying, and I'm largely convinced, but not yet at peace with it.

#180 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 01:38 AM:

I guess I need a way of distinguishing between people I want to treat with respect and help if they need my help, on the one hand; and people I just want to avoid on the other.

The mental problems faced by my young friend were more severe, by most measures—except that he knew he had them (most of the time) and was struggling to deal with them. Category: love and help.

The ex-BF, on the other hand, was wallowing in his refusal to accept reality. His aberrations seemed more like choices (at least to me), and he believed the right course was to believe things really hard until the world fell into line. Then he'd rule Hawaii in a feather cloak. Category: avoid like plague.

I'd like to have labels for those categories, even though I know the exact location of the boundary between those kinds of "crazy" is arbitrary and to some extent personal. And I'm not sure the distinction is more than prejudice on my part: feedback on that solicited.

Is it wrong of me to be willing to deal with schizophrenia in my friends, but not narcissistic personality disorder? (But of course that's not the real issue; one was struggling to keep a grip on reality, and the other was running from it as hard as he could. A hand up to one, while waving goodbye to the other, doesn't seem unreasonable or disrespectful.)

#181 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 01:40 AM:

Ugh. I plead the hour: my ex was never diagnosed with NPD. That was a different category of "crazy" that I'm ALSO unwilling to deal with. Sorry for any confusion.

#182 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 04:52 AM:

elise @173:
I'm pondering the notion of competition (or perhaps comparative measuring) along various axes, because I've gotten unpleasantly surprised when it has been practiced on me by people to whom one-up and one-down in certain areas is useful to their sense of well-being or something. Then again, I'd usually rather not get close enough for a good view, if you know what I mean.) If somebody imposes a competitive framework on the two of us based on who's better at volleyball or at conjugating Akkadian verbs or at mimicking the cover of the fashion magazine of your choice (Vogue, Gothic Beauty, Sports Illustrated, whatever), it's startling to me. At least in part, it's startling because I don't understand what they think they're getting out of doing it.

But how is this not an essentially competitive statement? You're measuring yourself in comparison to others on the axis of competitiveness itself, and you've got a clear value statement about which end is better than the other. You also assert that your position is toward that end. Furthermore, as you confess, you don't really understand the people on the other end of the axis, which makes your comparison against a stereotype, rather than real, complex human beings. Said real human beings actually at the other end of that comparison might find it a bit startling themselves, because it probably looks quite different from where they're standing.

I think there is a valuable direction to go from What took me a while to see is that that identity is not invalidated by the existence of people who do not compete along that axis. And I think looking to how we each deal with the overlaps between competitiveness and identity is important.

But if both moderation and parenting have taught me one thing, it's that both of these drives are baked into the species. We're tribal (identity!) and we're hierarchical (competitiveness!), both between and among tribes. The answer is not, cannot be, to pretend that these things don't exist in our society and in us as individuals. On a deep level, valorizing their absence is valorizing being angels: very nice, but not really achievable. We humans are stuck on this particular Mishnory Road. The question is primarily which direction we're going on it, and how we get on with the people we meet along the way.

I think we can (and I do, on Making Light) deprecate the kind of self-valorization and self-value that comes by comparing one's self to Others, particularly an oversimplified mob of Others. I think we can examine ourselves honestly, identify where our competitive urges are counterproductive to our joy and that of the people around us, and redirect those urges in more productive directions. After all, there are other ways to value one's self than "better than that other guy", even in a competitive framework. "Better than I was last week" is a good one, for instance. I also think we can prioritize those forms of self-value which are not competitive, where comparison leads to cross-fertilization and admiration. (That's a tribal behavior at heart, of course.)

And it's useful to remember the uncomfortable feeling one gets, realizing that someone else is climbing on top of one for their own validation. But one reason to do so is to then watch out for that behavior in one's self.

Because we're still on the Mishnory Road.

#183 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 10:57 AM:

Xopher, it's mellow. I was having fun with the analogy, though it's also true that it is an accurate reflection of where I am right now. (There is also a certain tongue in cheek hilarity in my telling anyone they should identify as "homosexual," even hypothetically.)

I do appreciate the clarification re: moving on. I hadn't explicitly picked that up from the original post, though it doesn't surprise me.

NYT had an article on psychopathy in children recently, and... I think, highlighting the way that society assigns different levels of sympathy according to whether the damage resulting from mental illness affects the person afflicted or everyone around them. There's a certain self-protective aspect to that, as well as the fact that it's easier to feel sorry for someone who recognizes that they are suffering.

I think that this is an area where it is important to practice practical compassion -- of course you protect people first, but then... at some point, I think there needs to be a recognition that one of the people needing protection is the person whose mental illness is creating problems. Even if they don't appear to recognize it themselves.

The interesting thing about the term "mental illness," for me, is that most people fairly consistently seem use it only to label people who are severely impaired or whose impairment severely affects those around them. When you try to apply it to someone who has mild depression, or some other "routine" mental illness, it starts to sound wrong, like it's too extreme a label. That makes me seriously question its neutrality and appropriateness as a categorization, even though it is the default "neutral" term that I'm aware of at this time.

Which I guess is the long way of saying "Yes, I hear what you're saying. I think it's a pretty normal reaction. But in my own personal journey, I've started to wonder if we as a society should be looking for a third path, where we can protect ourselves but still also appropriately care for people whose mental illness is more destructive and makes them less easily likeable and sympathetic."

#184 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 11:25 AM:

Xopher:

One bit of added complexity here wrt "crazy" is that it is an overloaded term, in the programming language sense that it means different things in different contexts.

a. Sometimes, it means suffering from a mental illness which is probably of organic origin, like someone with schizoprenia or serious depression.

b. Sometimes, it means acting in ways the speaker personally finds incomprehensible or counter to the person's apparent interests. It's common to describe markets and bureaucracies this way, even though they're explicitly not human thinking beings.

c. Sometimes, it means operating on the basis of a set of beliefs and assumptions about the world so far from the speaker's that little or no mutual understanding or compromise is possible. For example, it's common to see someone opine that some political movement is "crazy," not in the sense of being a large concentration of people with mental illnesses, but in the sense of being a large concentration of people whose worldview seems so out of kilter with reality that it's hard to make sense of it.

Interestingly, (b) and (c) are also sometimes described using the term "stupid." That's true even when you're talking about organizations full of very smart people, or political/social movements full of very smart people. In that case, it's like we want some word that fits somewhere between those two words, to catch either the bizarre, irreconcilable-with-observable-reality worldview or the bizarre self-defeating-apparently-unreasonable actions.

Is there some word which captures that midpoint, or perhaps those two midpoints (because they're different things)? Ideally, one which doesn't give needless offense?

#185 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 11:36 AM:

KayTei:

It seems like both physical and mental illnesses shade from life-wrecking to mild annoyances. A huge number of people with ADHD or depression seem to have pretty productive and rewarding lives with a bit of medical intervention and a bit of rearranging their lives to adapt to what they're good and bad at, in much the same way that many people have lifelong asthma or diabetes, without that keeping them from living pretty decent lives.

I mean, I have asthma, and there are circumstances where that could matter a great deal, where it could even kill me. And yet, it would seem really weird to put myself in the same category as someone with some lifelong really debilitating disease, like Parkinsons[1], because there is very little that changes about my day to day life due to the asthma. It seems like mental illnesses are often the same way--someone with some problems with depression that is effectively treated with antidepressants and has a perfectly fine life just seems like they're in a different category than someone with depression that doesn't respond well to antidepressants and as a result, can't keep a marriage going or hold down a job.

[1] Once as a high school student, probably due more to inattentiveness than anything else, I ended up in the hospital overnight as a result of an asthma attack, and shared a room with an old man with emphysema. It would have felt weird to put him in the same category as me, since I was going to be better (and running around outside, playing tennis, etc) in a week or two, and he was, as best I could tell, spiraling downward toward death.

#186 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 11:39 AM:

abi @182 But how is this not an essentially competitive statement? You're measuring yourself in comparison to others on the axis of competitiveness itself, and you've got a clear value statement about which end is better than the other.

Maybe. I think there are two different things going on here, not just for elise, but for all of us. I think it's possible, even easy, to run down the "I'm less competitive than you are" road (and I'm more humble than you are, too), but I didn't read her comment that way. I heard it more in a values sense.

I agree that identity and competitiveness are pretty much built in. "Belonging" fits in there somewhere. In some ways identity is a mix of group identity and individual identity, with the group identity associated with belonging. In other ways, competitiveness is about finding your place in a group so that you and everyone else knows where you belong.

People vary in what they value, and it doesn't have to be in an I'm-right-you're-wrong way (though it often devolves into that). I'm most familiar with this in the context of work values and how they play into career success and satisfaction. Valuing achievement or recognition is most closely tied to competitiveness, but there are other work values. If it's important to you to have a lot of autonomy on the job, and you don't get it, you will be unhappy. But it might be important to you-prime to have clear and specific goals and structure, and you-prime gets your autonomy while you get hir structure, you will both be unhappy (and neither of your bosses will exactly be thrilled either). There's not a right or wrong in the abstract about what you value, although there may well be right or wrong about how you seek to live out that value. And there can definitely be good or bad fit between your values and the demands of an occupation or an organization.

If you value something, then pretty much by definition you want it, whether it's something you get (e.g. money, designer-label stuff, or first-edition books by favorite authors) or something you become (able to run a 10K at an increasing pace, patient with difficult people). The trick is, how much of it do you want? Do you want "enough," however you define it? Do you want an increasing amount (abi's "better than you were yesterday")? Or do you want more than the next guy?

If you've opted (not necessarily consciously) to plant your flag on "having more than the next guy of good thing X," then two kinds of people threaten you. One is the guy who has more X or is better than you at X. But the other is the guy who says, "X isn't important," and walks away. The second one may even be more threatening. You still have some chance of overcoming the guy who has more X, but you can never overcome the guy who won't fight that battle. He says, in effect, that all the time you've put into X and everything you've built on your X collection doesn't matter. In that sense, being able to choose the axis on which others will compete - most obvious, as are many social phenomena, in the high school clique who determine what's cool and what isn't - is a position of high power. And people who decline the selected game threaten that power and may come in for harsh treatment.

This gives form to what I told elise @177 that I still wanted to say about the identity thing. If I build my identity on being smart, if I count on that to earn my belonging, then people who have a place in the group without being smart at all (e.g. people with intellectual disabilities) are threatening, because they say that my identity doesn't matter. And that was the struggle I had - to realize how multidimensional this identity thing is. My identity is not invalidated by the existence of people who don't compete along the axis I have chosen. But the flip side matters too: I don't have to abandon my identity, to pretend that something doesn't matter to me when it really does, in order to accept people who don't care about that thing. I just have to acknowledge that it is okay to have value in other ways. And that is much easier to do if I feel secure in being valued for things other than my X as well as for my X than it is if I feel that X is the only thing that gives me value.

By the way, I had to go google "Mishnory road." That's a useful analogy. And I have a book to add to my re-read list, since I didn't remember that.

Rambling, but I think I'd better call it quits and post.

#187 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 11:53 AM:

Albatross's category (c) reminds me of what I've heard called axiom lock: two (or more) people whose ideas of what the world is and/or should be are so different that there are topics they can't usefully discuss.

For example: person A thinks individual liberty and happiness are and should be personal and societal priorities, and person B thinks that the stability and continuity of the family is more important than what any one individual wants. That I would generally agree with A doesn't mean I can convince B of this.

See also, anyone whose reaction to someone's description of their own experiences and desires is "that's impossible/nobody is like that!" If someone has never knowingly met anyone who isn't heterosexual, you can say "Hi, over here, I'm one of those people, I don't bite." If someone's reaction to hearing that is "nobody is really homosexual," it's going to be harder to get through to them, because they've already dismissed any evidence you can offer.

#188 ::: David DeLaney ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 11:56 AM:

albatross @184: ... "alien"?

--Dave, heinlein-style-ish

#189 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 12:14 PM:

OtterB @186:

I think those are some very good, and very interesting insights. I'm still uncomfortable with the elements of Elise's post that read like "I don't understand them but I think less of them," but I can see how they may be referring specifically to people who compete damagingly, particularly damagingly to the non-competitive, rather than those who compete as an entire class.

I'm still a little uncertain how much that category exists as a specific, identifiable category; so often the groups we don't understand but dislike turn out not to exist once we look more closely.

Elise, if I've misinterpreted you, I apologize.

#190 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 01:11 PM:

Abi, yes, you did misinterpret me. Thank you for the apology.

It's not (for me, anyway) about thinking less of anybody who competes, though it sometimes is about being irked by competition suddenly being a big deal to the other person. I didn't get into details because it seemed likely to take us into territory I'd rather not go into here, but it's actually connected with how certain kinds of comparison-and-competition frameworks for interpersonal relationships are things I personally need to steer clear of, because they're near occasions of sin for me in a very particular way, and places of great sadness because of particular history. For me. This does not mean they are that for other people, though.

If basketball is not a near occasion of sin (or temptation to behave in ways one does not want to behave) for somebody else, that's excellent for them. Yay, basketball for them! The fact that basketball is a place I'm steering clear of doesn't remove the value from basketball for somebody else. And yeah, I'm a little touchy because I've got a history with basketball and getting pulling into pick-up games without wanting to be -- but that still doesn't make basketball a bad thing for other people. I just really really don't want to play basketball, for my own reasons which are mine, as the saying goes. It's even OK that I don't see what some people are getting out of basketball. That doesn't invalidate them, any more than -- to pick a not-random example -- someone not being a hot-pepper gourmet invalidates anybody else's hot-pepper love or their own other-food love. (Though I might be touchy if people have been offering me peppers a lot lately even after I decline.)

I'll try harder to keep my personal irkitude out of other people's way when they are praising what basketball means to them.

Otter: My identity is not invalidated by the existence of people who don't compete along the axis I have chosen. But the flip side matters too: I don't have to abandon my identity, to pretend that something doesn't matter to me when it really does, in order to accept people who don't care about that thing. I just have to acknowledge that it is okay to have value in other ways.

Yes! Very much yes. And beautifully put. Mrissa Lingen said something on LJ a little bit ago that was about Happy Smart Kids and Sad Smart Kids that touched on all this from another angle; maybe she'll come by here and post on it too.

But the other is the guy who says, "X isn't important," and walks away.

Or sometimes a guy says, "X is something that's medically contra-indicated for me at this point" and walks away. One guy's needs are not necessarily comments on another guy's choices.

#191 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 01:30 PM:

OtterB:

I think the other thing is that if you've decided X is of value and have reshaped your life around X, then someone who says "X is uninteresting" is a threat in another way: Most of us aren't entirely of one mind about X, even if we've shaped our lives around it. Seeing someone challenge our dedication to X, even by implication, is a threat to our commitment to X.

I've shaped a huge amount of my life around having kids and being a husband and a dad. If I see other people like me behaving as though those aren't important values, it may strengthen the parts of me that chafe under the hard tradeoffs I've made for those values--things like taking a less exciting job that's more family-friendly, tying myself down with a mortgage and spending all our spare cash on, to a first approximation, kid and family and house related things, skipping out on my own events in order to make sure the kids get to theirs, etc.

People, like organizations, can sometimes be divided in their desires, and that's a potentially unstable situation, in which it's hard to make commitments and long-term plans.

#192 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 01:47 PM:

A controversy about word choices, tone, and insensitivity in a somewhat different direction from what we've had here.

It's a hard question how to minimize collateral damage in conversations without enabling people to suppress whole lines of discussion by saying they are offended. And in the case of the linked-to article, the issue is pretty clearly one of using a certain word choice (referring to US soldiers as heroes) as a way of shaping public discourse and thought.

#193 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 01:57 PM:

albatross @ 185

Sure, I hear that. I just think it has a tendency to go more along the lines of "I and the people I like/approve of/can get along with aren't mentally ill, but people I don't like are."

I worry that it makes it easier for us to other people who are severely ill, even though the illness itself makes them more prone to being unlikeable and destructive (and depending on the severity, I'm not at all sure that everyone has the ability at all times to recognize the problem or be able to control it).

It feels to me like there is a serious risk of people not getting appropriate treatment and care, because people don't like the mental illness, and mistake the illness for the person.

#194 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 02:00 PM:

albatross @ 191:

One important component of many people's identity crisis in middle age is the sudden and tragic realization that they are no longer able to make any choice about the future they wish, that the decisions they've made up to now preclude some paths they might have taken before. It's a hard fact to accept, that the wide-open world you saw as a child, adolescent, and young adult is now foreclosed to you, that there are experiences you will never have and successes you can never achieve.

The key to resolving this crisis is to realize that this was always true, that it's part of the human condition, and that you can still have a life full of experiences and joys, and that the way to and the cost of doing so is to commit to that life and live it to the full, without regrets. Not an easy thing to do, but a very good thing for your happiness.

And an important part of that acceptance is to realize that just because someone else took another path, and has other values, this doesn't impugn the path you took or the values you accepted.

#195 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 02:50 PM:

albatross @191 and Bruce Cohen @194, good points.

It's harder in some ways to acknowledge that, yes, some particular life path has many appealing things about it but it's not the one I'm on, vs. I have chosen the One True Path and you others are at best misguided.

The less certain we are of our own choices, the more we go on the defensive around people who have made different ones, and then on the attack. (The fuel behind much of the "mommy wars venom". But I digress.)

I think it connects to elise's point about near occasions of sin @190. We all have to make choices. Some of those choices are hard: not just hard to make, but hard to follow through even when we are sure they are right. Without falling into the trap of becoming a fanatic, if we want to follow through, sometimes we have to avoid things that put us at risk of failing to follow through. But to be effective that choice needs to be done deliberately, I think, not as denial. ("Those grapes are sour anyway.")

#196 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 03:03 PM:

Bruce @194: The key to resolving this crisis is to realize that this was always true, that it's part of the human condition, and that you can still have a life full of experiences and joys, and that the way to and the cost of doing so is to commit to that life and live it to the full, without regrets. Not an easy thing to do, but a very good thing for your happiness.

Yes! That realization is so very... hmm, there is a book where one character describes a realization as being called a thunderbolt by somebody and that it brings simultaneous deep gravitas and the urge to laugh uproariously. I can't remember what the book is now, but yeah. (And the laughter is laughter of acceptance and love.)

#197 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 03:12 PM:

Bruce Cohen @194:

One important component of many people's identity crisis in middle age is the sudden and tragic realization that they are no longer able to make any choice about the future they wish, that the decisions they've made up to now preclude some paths they might have taken before.

I once heard a mid-life crisis defined as the time where you realize that, if your family is murdered by the bad guy, you can no longer flee to a mountain monastery, train to be a ninja, and come back to avenge them all.

Without necessarily buying into the value-system in there, that's a decent definition.

#198 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 03:19 PM:

OtterB, #186: You still have some chance of overcoming the guy who has more X, but you can never overcome the guy who won't fight that battle. He says, in effect, that all the time you've put into X and everything you've built on your X collection doesn't matter.

This is one of the major issues that many childfree people have to deal with. Our parents, whether rightly or wrongly, tend to view that choice as a very personal rejection of them -- saying, in effect, that all the time and effort they put into raising us was unimportant. It's worse if your parents' social circle is made up of people who play "look how well my children are doing" as a status game.

albatross, #191: Yes, that too. It's especially hard for someone who wasn't sure they wanted to have children in the first place, because every person they meet who is happy and fulfilled without having children is another whisper that "maybe you made the wrong choice and ruined your life thereby". Over on the DFD threads, we've had reports from people whose parents actually told them that they regretted having children, which is a potential toxic outcome of what you're talking about.

#199 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 07:42 PM:

Connected to this is that some people will think "well, okay, I can deal with having X mental illness, but I'm so glad I don't have Y or Z, because that would be horrible." (This comes up with physical illnesses and other life problems, not just mental illnesses.) I've caught myself thinking the other side of that one, that I can be close to people with certain mental issues/problems, but that other diagnoses/issues would be more than I could handle.

And then I realized I don't know that because it hasn't come up. From experience, I know some things either aren't problems for me, or are problems worth dealing with for the sake of being with the person who also has all those good points. But lack of evidence or experience tells me nothing, except maybe that people with those issues don't feel safe disclosing them (at all, or to me).

#200 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 04:05 AM:

I read Marissa Lingen's comment that elise @190 refers to, and was likewise impressed by it. I don't know if it would be appropriate to copy it here, but I see no harm in linking to it: Mris on Happy Smart Kids. For me that comment sums up a lot of what I want out of fandom, perhaps out of social interaction in general.

#201 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2012, 11:41 PM:

A big disconnect between DOJ rhetoric and reality on medical marijuana.

This is a pattern within the Obama administration, and in different directions was also a pattern within the Bush administration. I suspect agencies have a huge amount of internal ideas and goals that are hard to push them aside from, even with a direct order from the president or appointed head of the agency. Without anything that direct, the DEA is going to look at expanding decriminalization and medical marijuana and say "over our dead bodies," and do everything they can to stop it. And Obama and company would have to expend political capital and scarce time and attention to change that, whereas a little empty rhetoric costs almost nothing.

#202 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2012, 11:57 PM:

Has anyone been following the fast and furious scandal? I have not followed it closely, but in the little I have followed, the administration sure seems to be doing its best to block investigation. My not too informed take is that in a world where the whole scandal had taken place under the McCain administration, congressional Democrats and Republicans would precisely have swapped places--a Democratic congress would be trying to investigate, and a Republican white house would be trying to stonewall with help from the Republicans in congress.

#203 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2012, 12:22 AM:

202
It's a little more complicated than that - Issa is looking for anything that could possibly be called a scandal. (He's been looking for two years.)

(This is apparently the first time Mr O has asserted executive privilege, and the committee has been given many documents.)

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