Friday, July 03, 2020

Mostly Peaceful

Mostly Peaceful

The city of Seattle recently conducted a Natural Experiment, or perhaps I should say allowed one to occur. It was well-timed, in that it tested a hypothesis that has been bandied about since the horrific death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer; the hypothesis that the police are the real threat to public order, and must be defunded.

One of the peculiar things about living in the modern world is that we are often unable to see the harms we prevent with our infrastructure, precisely because the infrastructure is working correctly. Anti-vaxxers still rarely see measles in the wild, so the notion that the vaccines are preventing a dangerous disease is foreign to them.

It is tempting to be harsh, and label them foolish, but honestly, what evidence can they see to support the conventional narrative? It is necessary to read some history, or learn some immunology to understand the value of a vaccine. Merely looking at the world and drawing conclusions isn’t enough.

Just so with policing. In fact, it is probably a worse situation due to the media environment. Police killings, especially of unarmed Black people, are horrendous. The stories are intensively reported, and covered thoroughly. This is natural. It is also impossible to blame the media for failing to report on all the people who were not murdered, because their potential killers were deterred by the presence of police, or by the fear of detection and punishment. By definition, there is no story to report.

Enter Mayor Durkan. When the riots over Mr Floyd became particularly violent, and the defense of the East Precinct required regular use of tear gas, she grew concerned. If I understand her reasoning correctly, she concluded that this was an example of the cure being worse than the disease, or rather the “cure” (the police) causing the disease (rioting). The order was given to withdraw from the precinct.

Once the police left, the local activists declared first an autonomous zone, then an Occupation. Whether CHAZ or CHOP it was now a self-governing entity, and the police were no longer welcome, not just in the boarded up Precinct House, but in the several block area around it. When the President urged the City and State to clean it up, they demurred. Mayor Durkan even suggested that we would see a “Summer of Love” in the area.

For a time, it seemed like that might be in the offing. There were dance parties, free food banks, public discussions, and so on. A Wall Street Journal reporter visited, and found optimistic people. Perhaps Mayor Durkan was right?

Rousseau is credited, apparently incorrectly, with the claim that the state of Nature was one of true human freedom and peace. A close cousin to this idea is that all of our miseries are the result of our civilization, and if only we were free of its confines, we would be Good, and Happy. An echo of this thought was heard in Margaret Mead’s story that the people of Papua New Guinea lived close to nature, and were thus happy and peaceful.

The truth turned out to be that they were indeed mostly peaceful, and there were only a handful of homicides every year. Unfortunately, due to the small population density, those few homicides resulted in a per capita homicide rate that was about the highest on the planet.

Just so CHOP. In the few weeks of it’s mostly peaceful existence, there were only two homicides. Unfortunately, on a Per Capita basis that works out to 1,216 per 100,000 -- the highest on the planet, by far. Of course it is a small sample, and the statistics can’t compare to actual countries, but the message is clear, it was a disaster.

Mayor Durkan recently bowed to reality, and ordered the police to retake the zone, which they did with little difficulty. Whether she, or any of the other supporters of CHAZ learned the larger lesson about the underpinnings of our civilization? That we shall see.


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