American Prisons, Honor Killing & The Innocence of Muslims
Do we want to be a nation of dignity, or a nation of law?
I recently posted the following anecdotal story over at Glenn Loury’s ‘stack. The subject was ‘Do we really need prisons?’. Hell yes we do.
My response was:
My kids, as I raised them in the affluent suburbs said that they didn't know anything about bullying. "It doesn't happen, Dad."
Where and when I grew up (LA Crenshaw 1970s), there were certain cute girls for whom the boys in the neighborhood would protect, and ugly girls they would not. This is basically a question about an honor culture vs a legal culture. We presumed that we could handle justice on our own, and if something happened (like rape) to one of those cute girls, the very common phrase was "Under the jail". In other words, we would, if we had the power, execute the perpetrators on the spot. We understood that there were some lives we held close and others we held cheap.
When the older brothers of the neighborhood left for the Army or College or just moved away, all that we held together fell apart. We could name each and every knucklehead that was going to cause a problem in our neighborhood. We knew whose fathers beat them, we knew who was an alcoholic. We knew who stank or was stupid in class. We knew which basic fools needed to be kept in check. So when I went back to the old neighborhood it didn't surprise me which girls got pregnant as teens, which boys went to camp, then to jail. It didn't surprise me to find out who ended up in prison for murder. It wasn't most of us, it was an identifiable few.
Is it my fault that when I went away to college that crimes I might have prevented were committed in my neighborhood? Is my judgement about which kids should be respected and who deserves a beatdown or worse actually fair?
So if we have 2 million in jail out of 331 million. That's 0.006, 6/10ths of a percent. So if my judgement is good enough to be the 'local justice system' I'm thinking if only 2 out of 331 people are going to jail, that a lot of people in inner city schools are getting away with murder.
But I don't want an honor system of men. I want an administrative system of law. I want a rigorous process, because I know that I'm partial, and I know that I personally, given the people I knew, that a presumption of innocence just doesn't apply to certain assholes. They needed to go under the jail.
I didn’t follow up on the idea of my kids lack of witnessing bullying of the sort I lived through, but the implication is clear. ‘The black community’ of just my family has radically different experiences and judgements about how to deal with sexual assault, as just one example of the sort of crimes that result in jail. How could we ever standardize my example of honor codes born in 1970’s Crenshaw. We couldn’t. And this is exactly what I say ‘social justice’ is. I’ve been saying this over a decade now.
Social justice is crowd-sourced law, the whining little sister of mob rule.
Steven Pinker's latest book posits a theory which makes some rather fantastic predictions about the social evolution of mankind, the overweening ambit of which makes me skeptical. But it is chock full of factual research whose historical interpretation while subjective, point to real and useful knowledge. Of all the tools Pinker uses to support his theory, the one that has stuck with me resides in mind as 'crappy government'.
In 'The Better Angels', Pinker describes that in societies whose governments have not yet reached a stable level of reliable provision of justice based on law and jurisprudence or in areas where such provision has broken down, there arises a phenomenon of justice based on 'honor codes'. It very much does stand to reason that if I don't believe that the police are going to protect and serve, then I need to take the law into my own hands. And if my loyalties are to families rather than law, then the integrity of that family is more important than any sacrifice for the sake of the legal commons. In other words, the rules of dating my sister substitute for municipal law, and don't you dare talk about my mama.
I take this as the single most useful observation of Pinker's book as it dovetails with Hobbes and is in synch with my critique of the overreach of organic politics - aka 'Who is Your Leviathan?' Nonviolent social protest and all such questions of 'social justice' are an attempt to move multicultural honor systems into national law here in the United States. They weren't in the case of the Civil Rights Movement, because King's SCLC was nationalist and his dream was firmly rooted in the American Dream. That was the Negro position. But the Black Nationalist movement that followed on the heels of Civil Rights successes required international links and Marxist connections. It sought to change the direction of justice coming from an honor established outside of the Pledge of Allegiance, as do its multicultural follow-on movements.
-- this above paragraph is my first clearly articulated idea about what exactly people mean by 'social justice', which is to say that it seeks to elevate particular and provincial honor codes to national standing by privileging the victimhood of favored groups according to social definitions. I opposes this because it is anti-modern, and devolves common law towards interest-group law. --
It is clearly the case in every country that has recently found the pretense of what I perceive to be little more than an Onion-style parody video to be an excuse for violent attacks against US embassies their own governments are crappy. At this moment in history an ontological description of 'crappy government' is about all you can say about the Arab Spring. A bunch of largely Muslim folks living among rising food prices fell to the point of violent mistrust in their governments. Most of these populations have little or no experience in participation in responsive government & democratic politics of the sort that has marked the ascent of the black middle class in America in our post-Civil Rights era. They don't have the open and free sort of societies that give them the sort of critical tolerance of rude, ironic, offensive or provocative cultural productions we take for granted in the West. They have either failed to evolve or have lost the evolution of common law providing stable justice on a national basis. And so they have fallen, like anyone would fall, back to the matter of local, provincial and family honor, instead of the rule of law.
It is enough for me to indicate this without any mention of the particular role of Islam other than to speculate the following. I believe that any of the Muslim folk on the street, peasants all, would expect that a proper Islamist government or political faction would amplify their simple interpretations of honor without distortion, and that is especially the case since the provocation here is about the image of the Prophet himself. We have little real expectations that such things as applying to ourselves become national - 'Megan's Law' is the exception rather than the rule, and it's bad law anyway in my opinion.
I should punctuate my observation with the criticism of those who find reasons to justify this violent spasm are likely to be among those who think Muslims are some special case of people whose sensitivities ought to be protected from the callous indifference of nature and the world at large. There's surely an Onion video for them as well.
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Michael never ceases to amuse, challenge our orthodoxies and inform the reader, courtesy of his unique life story. I dont understand why more are not reading him