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Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Perfect Prison

There are as many ways to look at a man as there are at a glass of water. Either half empty or half full. Either people are basically good or they are basically rotten. And all theories of government come down to one view or the other.

If people are basically good, then they can also be left to their own devices. They may even be allowed to run their own affairs. If however they are basically rotten, then a system is needed that will force goodness on them. And this system's own goodness will be protected by strict conformity to an ideology that is also inherently good. Those who run the system can only be chosen from the ranks of the faithful adherents of that ideology.

Arguments for goodness or "badness" are wholly anecdotal. And always have been. A man walks into a school and murders children. A man throws himself under a car to save a woman. Which of them is a definite commentary on the species or the culture? That's a matter of picking and choosing. Both are arguably exceptions to the rule. But on the whole we have far more people who do not shoot anyone than those who do. Far more who do not steal, than steal. Far more who may not wear a halo, or that we would want to share a long train ride with, but who on the whole could be trusted not to turn on their neighbors if one day every police department within a 100 miles folds up shop.

Gun control, like most liberal social legislation, is a barometer for the state of the human glass. It is a Rorschach test for how we see others. This week's MSNBC commentary has been the usual notes about the paranoia of gun owners. But if there is gun owner paranoia about being attacked, it seems to be outmatched by the paranoia of gun controllers who believe that every gun owner is a ticking time bomb. Or pretend to believe it when the red light turns on and the commercial break ends.

"How much firepower does a law-abiding gun owner need?" is the leading talking point of the gun controllers. But it could just as well be, "How much cold medicine does a law-abiding sneezer need?" Cold medicine has been regulated to the extent that you need a photo ID if your nose is stuffed up under a bill sponsored by a community organizer from Chicago who stayed briefly in the Senate on his way to bigger and worse things. And people have been arrested for buying too much cold medicine.

If you believe that people are basically good, then they can be trusted with an AR-15. If you believe that people are basically bad, then they can't even be trusted with cold medicine.

We have come a long way from the muckrakers who headed downtown from their cozy digs, toting along heavy cameras and notebooks to document the conditions there. And proposed reforms. Some of the reforms were even salutary. Others were cruel and capricious. The reformers saw to it that a woman walking alone in 19th Century New York City could be arrested for prostitution. Because if you believe that people are basically bad... then you already know the rest of the story whether it's cold medicines, guns or a woman walking down the street.

When you dig up enough dirt, then everyone looks dirty and the justification is there for a mandatory clean-up program. That is what the reformers and the muckrakers accomplished by displaying an image of a broken society. Their work was selective and biased, and they insisted on defining the city by its worst parts, and the entire country by the city. Their grand achievements have culminated in a national system of one-size-fits-all legislation. Lanza is America. America is Lanza.

Mayor Bloomberg is right that New York City has a problem with gun violence, but it's not a problem caused by guns. Still talking about guns is easier than talking about shooters. Urban mayors are waging war on gun shops in more rural and better behaved parts of the country as if urban social problems come from those gun shops, when if anything it's the other way around.

Periods of urban social malaise are routinely followed by vigorous reform efforts by mayors who break free of machine politics and forcibly assert control over the physical and social landscape of the city. Bloomberg is a particularly poor follow-up to men like LaGuardia or Giuliani, but he's following the same pattern of trying to perfect the city by turning it into a perfect prison. And unlike LaGuardia or Giuliani, Bloomberg is trying to take his perfect prison campaign national.

Bloomberg is a living model of the glass half-full theory of human behavior. This is after all a man who banned large sodas, and if you can't trust people to have large sodas, then you can't trust them to have cold medicines, let alone guns. Where does it end? It ends the same place it ends in a prison. Nowhere. If you believe that people are basically bad, then every problem you identify is met with another control measure until you control absolutely everything.

With a big city politician in the White House, for the first time in a long time, the progressive impulse to extend that total net of control over everything and everyone seems to have come together. The old urban muckrakers became sociologists and community activists and then community organizers all over again in the great circle of rich kid busybodying. They are still looking for the worst possible examples of human behavior to justify total crackdowns on everything and everyone.

Fix the social problems by fixing the people. Fix the people by controlling their environment. Total control for total social morality. The social missionaries became social activists. The social activists have become social despots. Their single ability resides in documenting a condition, generalizing it and then crowding the cameras and newspapers and demanding immediate action. And they have gotten it over and over again. And we are much worse for it.

Most cities are once again trending downhill. A century ago the cities were centers of industry and commerce. Now they are warehouses for the poor who have no jobs and will never have jobs. The progressives cleaned up some of the messes and replaced them with static broken systems deep in debt and with no hope of a future. And that is their plan for the rest of the country.

The cities are chock full of laws but not law abiding. There are three classes of people in this perfect prison. The working lower, middle and upper, classes who care about the law. The welfare classes who care nothing for the law. And the upper upper classes who buy their way out of the law.

Laws apply to law abiding people, who are a self-selecting group. They don't apply to people who shoot up schools, fast food joints or pension funds. The people who are the most controlled are also the people in the least need of being controlled. The people who are least controlled are in the most need of being controlled. This is an old paradox of government that governments never deal with.

Meth will go on being cooked, regardless of how often Joe Q. Public is forced to show his photo ID at the pharmacy. Schools will go on being shot up no matter how many assault rifle bans are passed.  Most cops still know that law enforcement is small scale, it's about what you do on one block, not about the big picture press conferences and proposals. But those still keep coming along with the dream of a magic social bullet. A way to fix the problem at the source. A perfect prison that will finally work.

The magic bullets are all about bigger scale crackdowns. Bigger laws and bigger prisons. Don't bust meth dealers, outlaw cold medicines. Don't bust gangbangers, bust the gun industry. It's the type of thinking that exemplifies college smarts over real world smarts. Real world smarts says you have to get dirty to fix a problem and then you have to go on fixing it day after day while accepting that it will never really be fixed. College smarts says that a problem that has to be fixed over and over again is bad design and has to be put under a microscope so that it can be fixed once and for all.

Under the microscope everyone is bad. In the big picture, everyone is the problem. We're all to blame because we're all one social organism. Why bother building prisons for individuals who are only the victims of society, the victims of us all, when a prison can be built for all of us instead? Free the criminals and the mental patients, and put everyone under the same regime as them. Turn every city into a prison and then turn the country into a prison. That's big picture thinking. That's college smarts.

If people are mostly bad, then the place for them is in a prison and the entire country needs to be one big prison complete with millions of armed guards, countless administrators and rules, where every man, woman and child must account for everything that they do to someone. The state becomes a prison and the prison becomes the state.

31 comments:

fsy said...

There's a bit of a paradox here, since "liberalism" has long been known as the ideology which preaches the inherent goodness of people, and therefore believes in utopiae based on "releasing people's real nature".

Well, I guess we always knew that they were hopelessly self-contradictory.

The Old Coach said...

@fsy - Yeah, it the height of irony, isn't it?

Another blockbuster, Daniel. Will spread it around.

NormanF said...

Modern liberals are heirs to the Italian fascists like Benito Mussolini and his black-shirted followers.

He famously boasted he made "the trains run on time." That was an acceptable trade-off for eliminating freedom in Fascist Italy: life gets more efficient.

American liberals take this line of thought a step further: give up all your guns and you'll be safe from those who want to kill you! Eliminate freedom in America so life gets safer than ever.

The Italian Fascists held everything was for the state, there was nothing against state and nothing outside the state. Fast forward to our time and the American Left is relentlessly but surely arriving at the same destination.

Fascist Italy was one big prison. American social planners and community organizers want to recreate it here, in all its glory. The writing is on the wall.

Dennis Latham said...

The problem with Liberal doctrines is the people who invent them never want to live under their own rules. They are above it. They want to live on the hill while the peasants struggle below under their all live together plan, as long as the Liberals can live beyond the utopia nightmare they create. It can all be boiled down to something like knothole baseball. I went to a game last year and the field was quiet with no chatter. I was told that they are not allowed to yell on the field anymore because it can make the batter feel bad about himself. Liberals are just nuts. No wonder some kids go crazy when they finally grow up and someone says no to them. They are in a tower with an AK yelling, "you can't say no to me." Like T-ball, no scores and everyone gets a trophy. Lazy parents who would rather keep the kids quiet than be a real parent. They never teach their kids that they are not the center of the universe and not everyone will give them all things to make them happy. Liberals will destroy the country and still blame everyone else.

careyrowland said...

We are half-way there already, sad to say. These are times for law-abiding, property-owning family folks to batten down the hatches, and stock up for the coming statist winter.
These hard times are the time to love our families, cultivate our faith communities, light candles, strengthen the good things that remain, be merciful to the stranger who knocketh at the door, be wary of those who think themselves wise. Care for the weak among us and require accountability of the strong who insist on throwing their weight around. These are times to love another and pray.

Mitch said...

There are as many ways to look at a man as there are at a glass of water. Either half empty or half full.

Actually the glass is 100% full - 50% liquid/50% gas.

"Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong." --Ayn Rand

Leo said...

They say, be careful what you wish for. Suppose liberal-progressives managed to turn the whole country into a perfect prison, and everybody's walking around heavily regulated declawed dispirited medicated bubble-wrapped supervised micromanaged 24/7, conditioned to keep their heads low, to react to incidents by running and hiding etc, and then what, problem solved?

George J. said...

"We're all to blame because we're all one social organism. Why bother building prisons for individuals who are only the victims of society, the victims of us all, when a prison can be built for all of us instead?"

Perfectly put.
Progressives have 2 sets of standards by which they operate. One for them, and another for everyone else.
If a progressive were to get mugged, they would have no problem with their own armed security personnel stopping the crime, or with the perpetrator spending a long time in prison.
On the other hand, if some other unlucky bastard gets mugged, the progressive would demand the victim be disarmed, hand over their wallet, contemplate how they have contributed to the root cause of this crime by being secretly racist/sexist/_____ist, etc.

This is why Hussein Obama can revel in glee that his daughters are guarded by men with guns, while chastising the people whom he is supposed to be representing for "clinging to guns" and harbouring racists fears.

It is why Hollywood celebrities can get on their soapboxes and cry for abolishing guns from the hands of the peasants, behind their gated compounds, CCTV surveillance, and armed bodyguards.

For the rest of us peasants, we are to blame for all crimes and need to be dealt with accordingly.

Keliata said...

"Most cops still know that law enforcement is small scale, it's about what you do on one block, not about the big picture press conferences and proposals."


That is all too true:( A major incident happens, the public demands more of a police presence and the city responds with large drug busts and road blocks.

As one woman told me, crime is not happening everywhere. Burglaries are not just happening everywhere but in her apartment. People need sustained protection and get road blocks, major drug busts and stats, and time-limited task forces.

Of course most people who use Sudafed aren't involved in meth labs and most gun owners aren't about to go on a rampage but why should liberals think of these things when they can control the public in one swoop? Turn an isolated incident into a common occurance, lobby enough, garner enough media attention from enterprising reporters and viola!

Keliata said...

oops, wrong smiley

Keliata said...

*not that all enterprising reporting is a bad thing. Sadly, few media outlets engage in genuine enterprising reporting. There's very little investigative reporting.

I've done it--untentionally in most cases--because something caught my interest and curiosity--and gotten in dutch with politcos/cops but thank yous from the public.

Anonymous said...

The virtual prison you describe is completed with Obamacare's mandatory penalty framework, isn't it?

Before the act became law, a free-born citizen of the USA could live her entire life without registering her existence with or begging assistance from a government agency. She could choose to bypass Bloomberg's or Daley's paradoxical, prohibitive Gamorrahs, pay the town doctor with chickens, put her kids in Houston's school system, and vote based on her conscience (instead of on a media brand of "health-care") freely on election day.

It is true that her right to love, live, work, buy and save free of 'the prison' has been steadily eroding since the '60's. But our country's loose federal framework respectful of local economies and societies 'of scale' meant that she was free to avoid places where her values were not respected, and to migrate to those places that do.

But, after Obamacare became law, any further attempt at her escape from 'the prison' became futile. Not participating in census,' avoiding registering your kids in dumbed down state schools, steering wide of unionized, politicized, BigGovernment Medecine, not ponying-up the 'penalty' for not participating...all just became Federal crimes.

Being Free just became Illegal!
steveaz

Anonymous said...

Modern liberal pledge: ...one nation, divisible by identity group, under lockdown, with hedonic license, and 'distributive justice for some.

There is no longer any doubt where this is headed; either self-imposed technocratic tyranny with bread and circuses or dhimmitude of a previously-disarmed populace no longer able to resist an onslaught of the 'religion of peace.'

Civil Westmen

Anonymous said...

Sorry - but study Israel/Australia/British gun control laws and then ask yourself if a) we (myself being British) live in what USA citizens would consider a tyrannical police controlled society? and b) Why we have far less crime of this nature than the USA.

You won't stop murderers or bad people by taking away guns, but you will reduce the harm the 'drop outs' from society can achieve if it's harder to lay their hands on a fire weapon.

America hands out guns like smarties and then scratches her head and screams for 'more' weapons when someone - who was previously considered 'nice' i- loses control. It's the same excuse for every country wanting a nuclear weapon - we're all just too good at destroying ourselves in the name of self defence.

As for cold medicine - it's the same concept. The reason anti biotics are far less effective is because they too were handed out like smarties to be abused by well intending individuals who never understood they needed to finish a course and use sparingly.

Human beings aren't good at self control - hence why laws and safeguards were imposed originally.

The only way to improve the ability to self regulate is via education - and lets face it, education for most comes from the square box in the corner of the living room or a google search engine.


Anonymous said...

The way the real world works is that bans on guns will be just as effective as bans on drugs. Only responsible gun owners would be disarmed. Criminals would successfully import illegal guns by encasing them in cocaine or marijuana shipments. The 'war on drugs' has resulted in more plentiful and cheaper drugs, everywhere in the US. Another Brit building sandcastles on the shores of utopia. In Britain, confiscation of guns preceded an increase in gun violence, not a decrease.

Anonymous said...

@'myself being British' - It is not only about self defense. As several of the Founders pointed out, it is about resisting precisely the tyrannical impulses which would disarm the populace. Please read "Death by Government," which documents the fact that in the 20th century alone, governments killed around 120 million of their own citizens - beyond those killed in warfare. Death by madman or violent criminal pales in comparison. If you think it can't happen here, read the statements of gun control zealots suggesting that NRA members should be shot.

Doug Mayfield said...

I look forward to DG's column because he makes compelling observations on our culture, our country, and the world.

But I disagree virulently with statements in the article above.

"Arguments for goodness or "badness" are wholly anecdotal. And always has been."

Unless meant 'tongue in cheek', this is utterly false. There is valid morality, and moral principles, based on our nature as thinking, reasoning beings by which any indivdual's actions may be, and should be, properly judged.

"A man walks into a school and murders children. A man throws himself under a car to save a woman. Which of them is a definite commentary on the species or the culture?"

Neither. They are individuals and their actions reflect only on themselves.

One of the Left's favorite non-thinking approaches to government is to hold that we are not individuals but instead are some massive amorphous group which is amenable only to state control. Gun control, past and present, is just another false, and useless, variant of this approach.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

Doug, I'm not talking about whether there are values of right and wrong, but whether people as a whole are good or bad.

Anonymous said...

I admire most of your posts, Daniel, but can't say as I agree with you on this.
What about the view that people are basically bad, but should be allowed to ruin their own lives as long as they don't infringe on others?
Such a person (myself) is perfectly willing to leave people to their own devices (large soft drinks, unlimited cold medicine, no gun control) while wanting to see teachers armed, smaller prisons, but more banishment to a self-governed shark infested uncharted island in mid-Pacific for most convicted violent offenders.
Must all human nature pessimists engage in preemptive 'justice'?
Bill K.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

There's the survivalist angle for pessimism. Assume the worst and prepare for it. It's a legitimate and certainly historically valid approach.

Linda Rivera said...

Daniel, thank you and G-d bless you for all that you do in the fight for freedom and the survival of the free world and our beautiful MERCIFUL Western civilization!

If only EDL leader, POLITICAL PRISONER, Tommy, could be home for Christmas with his family! PLEASE SIGN everyone!

Petition: Free Tommy Robinson!
http://britishfreedom.org/petition-free-tommy-robinson/

God bless you Tommy for fighting for freedom and the survival of Britain, the Free World and Western civilization!

Linda Rivera said...

Obama, Clinton and George Soros ADORE gun-control for peaceful law-abiding citizens, but supplied thousands of weapons to violent Mexican drug cartels who work very closely with barbaric Muslim terrorist organizations.

The U.S. admin. also supply weapons and finances to their top favorites in the Middle East - the most radical Muslim terrorists.

Whilst seeking to make law-abiding Americans defenseless prey for criminals, Muslim terrorists, drug cartels and even a military invasion of America, the U.S. admin. has purchased 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition and sniper rounds all for DOMESTIC use inside America. It sounds like the U.S. admin. is planning to go to WAR against the American people.

Papa Buckland said...

http://rightreactions.blogspot.com/2012/12/theyre-coming-to-get-me-and-you.html

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

"The underlying motive of many Socialists, I believe, is simply a hypertrophied sense of order. The present state of affairs offends them not because it causes misery, still less because it makes freedom impossible, but because it is untidy; what they desire, basically, is to reduce the world to something resembling a chessboard.

The truth is that, to many people calling themselves Socialists,
revolution does not mean a movement of the masses with which they hope to associate themselves; it means a set of reforms which 'we', the clever ones, are going to impose upon 'them', the Lower Orders."

George Orwell

Paul said...

Dittos BillK. Except no arming teachers.

Anonymous said...

Bravo.

fsy said...

@careyrowland

be wary of those who think themselves wise


This is probably the most important key to remaining sane. The ones to watch out for are those who think themselves all-knowing and mysteriously superior to all who have preceded them. I just reviewed a video of a McCain ad from 2008 showing Obama being asked in an interview, "Do you ever have doubts?" and answering with a big smile, "Never!"

Keliata said...

Not all adults are basically good but small children are, until they are corrupted morally and emotionally by dysfunctional adults.

I am very pleased to see the increasing number of cops arresting parents for endangering the welfare of a child. Bring a child with you to shoplift? Endangering the welfare charge.

Blast a stereo with vulgar music? Same thing.

Assault someone in the presence of a child? You guessed it. Too few people are aware that the charge includes anything likely to be injurious to the emotional and moral welfare of a child.

Things can improve in society if we consider these things.

Anonymous said...

Sir:
If only 10% of the citizens of this country were as clear sighted as you. Run for office. It would be nice to have a sane voice from NYC.

Anonymous said...

It's an odd conundrum, the "now what" after Man is Basically Good/Bad discussion.

If he is good, he can be allowed his own decisions: if he is bad he must not be allowed so many decisions. But who is doing all that "allowing/disallowing?"

Other people. Who, if the premise is valid, are also inherently Bad.

Claire
or Good...

1389 said...

Fascism - this is how we got there.

Definitely time to emigrate.

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