It ain’t rocket science, people. Fear begets fight or flight. But sometimes – e.g. when defiance of legitimate authority is involved – the latter isn’t an option. Fight requires anger. And anger, if it’s to do its job, is notoriously impervious to sober second thought. Now add the aggravating element of the ‘other’, and what we get, predictably enough, is white officers shooting unarmed black men.

If we find this lamentable – and I’m assuming we do – we need to take a page from Plato’s Republic. His solution to (what he could as readily have called) the policing paradox is how we train the pedigree dog. The dog needs to be taught who are members of its pack and who are not. And, when called upon, as pack members often are, to discipline other members of its pack, it needs to learn to control its jaws.

So how can the American republic imitate Plato’s? Start by housing every white recruit in a black family for the duration of his training. When deliberately moved to anger, reward him for sit and stay. And, finally, graduate those and only those who’ve bonded with their host family, and who automatically think twice when there’s time to do so. And, where possible, who take the time to do so.


Categories: Editorials, Everything You Wanted to Know About What's Going On in the World But Were Afraid to Ask

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2 replies

  1. Very idealistic. And myopic. Let’s cash your idea out bit.

    1) First, let’s take a page or two from Plato’s Republic articulating the notion I take that you’re after:

    Living together while in training contributes to Plato’s ideal of “all things in common between friends.” (449c) Which leads to,

    A well-ordered state (or home) “most nearly resembles an individual. For example, when one of us hurts his finger, the whole partnership of body and soul, constituting a single organism under a ruling principle, perceives it and is aware as a whole of the pain suffered by the part, and so we say that the man in question has a pain in ‘his’ finger. And the same holds good of any other part in which a man suffers pain or enjoys pleasure (462d)” The best-run community will “regard the individual who experiences gain or loss as part of itself, and be glad or sorry as a whole accordingly.” (462d)

    2) A relationship is between two or more people and is reciprocal, though not necessarily positively so or in equal measure (depending on what you’re measuring). Assume the successful recruit bonds with his host family. You assume, probably rightly, that because of these bonds the recruit will not be so quick to draw and fire on an unarmed black man. And the unarmed black man will, presumably, gradually trust that the cops won’t shoot him. If parties are less reactive and more inclined to trust and so more inclined to co-operate fewer people will get shot. And if the end goal is lives saved, then maybe your suggestion is a means to that end. But let’s consider some possible autonomous effects.

    Bonding with another places demands of loyalty on each party. One is less likely to question her friends, at least on some matters. Or to turn them in (snitch, rat them out), particularly if doing so will ruin their relationship. So, imagine a small town or close-knit neighborhood, what if I am to report to my boyfriend’s good buddy that my boyfriend beat me? This is one reason why it’s not a good idea to have new recruits police their own hometowns.

    And because people are people, if you erase a racial line people will reconfigure in different alliances against different adversaries.

    One thing you might consider is that people are mixed. Some, likely many, white recruits will have black friends and family members. If shootings by white cops of unarmed black civilians are high even in a mixed-race community where people regularly break bread together, then your suggestion is moot. But this is an empirical question.

    3) Let’s imagine the home-placement idea flies. Humans are humans no matter the colour of their skin. Duh. Not all homes are well-ordered. Some homes are dysfunctional. Is someone to vet the host family, and who? What do you mean by ‘bond’, what is your measure? How will bonding be assessed and by whom?

    Living together needn’t create bonds. Two prisoners can share a cell for thirty years and each sleep with one eye open and a knife under his pillow. Bonding might not occur just because people intimately share spaces and experiences, except perhaps just enough and long enough to gang up on the prison guard to make an escape. If your idea that by living together, like the prisoners, a recruit will restrain himself just enough and long enough not to shoot, then mission accomplished I suppose.

    And some spouses stay together for the sake of the children. Sometimes people bond to the same “thing” and not to each other. I suppose this is true of people with political identities. If I am a Democrat I am not necessarily going to love my neighbour because he, too, is a Democrat. And I am not going to leave my five year old for a week with a stranger who happens to be a Democrat. But we’ll cast our lots together on Election Day. In the same way, a recruit and host family might cast their lots with the programme and not each other. So bonding recruit and family might have nothing to do with the success or failure of the programme. Let’s reckon with its failure.

    What if the recruit has an affair with either of the spouses? Sexually abuses one of their children? I don’t think this is what you mean by bonding since this kind of “bonding” can cause very serious rifts.

    What if the personalities of recruits and hosts simply clash? Ought a recruit be disqualified for ‘mere’ differences or is there some other criterion you are looking for? Does bonding entail affection or simple civility? Does it matter if recruits pretend to bond in order to pass muster? Is it merely behaviour you’re after?

    If recruits fear not only failure but also an indelible bad reputation affecting other career choices, will this fear lead to resentment of being assigned to live with a host family? Will the host family resent a bad experience with a recruit? Is it possible that more resentment will follow from this arrangement than it is meant to mitigate? Is it possible a well-intentioned effort might create more racists? If so, every failed recruit is still a member of the community, and perhaps less accountable than a public servant.

    Some recruits might resent being compelled to bond. Plato, since you mentioned him, noted no one likes to be compelled. An observation to which descendants of slaves will say, “Right! Maybe now you get it!” It’s hard if not impossible to bond with someone who both wields that power over you and abuses or misuses it. Hence some fear and hate the uniform. But not so fast.

    Stockholm syndrome may occur in cases of compulsion, where a bond can develop between captive and captor. Patty Hearst is a famous case. Some women will say it’s hard NOT to love their abusers, and their bonds of loyalty can be fierce! Some people abuse the ones they love. Bonds, even imaginary bonds, can be so intense that some will stalk or murder their partners rather than lose them. And some soldiers thank their drill sergeants for abuse, rewarding them with unyielding loyalty in combat. Some people thank God for adversity. Life is complicated. And myriad individual cases will yield myriad individual outcomes.

    4) Anyway, maybe the programme you suggest would be a great success. A few failures are inevitable, but might not bring the programme down. The Catholic Church is still standing. I suppose a pilot would be a way to test the waters. But then the more widely distributed the practice, the greater the likelihood things will go awry. I guess there is no escaping the possibility things will go sideways and it would be a shame to miss such potential benefits for that fear. People being people, probably most people will get along just fine most of the time. And there is a likelihood that the programme is overkill, that a only a handful of recruits actually need this experience. This overkill would be a great discovery and contribute to positive community-police relationships. Of course, the opposite discovery might also occur.

    Perhaps community socials, or buddy-systems, are better than forcing people into each other’s spaces and the messiness of sharing one’s home. But then maybe this messiness is just what we need to see each other’s humanity.

    Perhaps it’s better if such a programme is instituted it is on a volunteer basis. Maybe the recruit is rewarded with the next highest pay scale above entry level for her participation.

    Perhaps you and I should shut up and defer to members of various black communities to vet our ‘bright’ ideas.

    Then again, maybe merely suggesting a solution as you have, feasible or not, as a gesture of solidarity and goodwill is enough to put others in your community on notice about the kind of community you’d like to live in.

    Food for thought. P



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