The Cost of a Culture

I’m totally That Girl on Facebook.
Not the one who posts her lunch every day, or the one who posts a million and one requests from Farmville. (Does anyone still play Farmville?) But I’m pretty sure that there’s a contingent of my friends who, any time anything happens, groan to themselves and think “Oh crap. Liz will have something to say about this.”

So yeah. I’m THAT that girl. The SJW. I’m opinionated and passionate and I’m likely to have something to say about it. Rewrite that: I’m unable to keep my mouth shut about it.

For those of us who are opinionated and loud there are two kinds of posts in the world. There are the ones we write that basically boil down to “I can’t believe we still have to argue this point”. And then there are the ones that we ourselves have really struggled with and evolved on and write because we hope to help other people get there too.
And the issue I’ve done the most growing on is around questions of violence.

Let me back up a second. Where I come from, firearms are a regular household implement. They’re not scary or even particularly manly or considered aggressive. They’re just part of your usual stock of household equipment. Spanking in public was a bit déclassé but not shocking. Daily brawls happened in the hallway without any particularly damaging outcome and without anything more than two kids getting pulled apart and shoved opposite ways down the hallway. (If somebody bled, it went to the principal’s office, or if it really got out of hand.) Casual slapping and punching (Again, not even hard enough to bruise) were a thing.

So was casual hugging, handholding, and back patting. We’re a physical people, is what I’m saying.

So for a long time I was blind to the fact that as a culture, we have an inordinately high tolerance for violence. Not just that, we have an inordinately high expectation of violence. Americans as a rule operate under the assumption that a fair degree of violence is unavoidable and inevitable.

We see it most clearly around Black Lives Matter. When someone resists arrest the chorus from a large percentage of the population at large is that resistance will inevitably lead to a violent response. Failure to follow police instructions will get you shot. And here in Madison, WI our mayor’s suggestion following the battery of a young woman was a class for high schoolers in how to properly follow police orders.
This is a tautology to them. Failure to follow instructions from authority figures will lead to a violent response.

This line of thinking is drawn through parenting, where it claims that the only two options are corporal punishment or indulgence, to schooling to law enforcement to International Policy. It presumes that the only meaningful authority is the use of force. It presumes that failure to exercise that force either through physical violence or through the threat of it is a display of weakness.

And worst of all, it believes that there is no other way.

These are the Devil’s absolutes, as it were.

We know that peaceful parenting is possible. Overseas policing and work in any number of institutions on the civilian side of life demonstrate that it is almost always possible to control even very violently agitated people without returning force. Especially in domestic contexts it is almost always possible to resolve issues without resorting to force.

The trick, of course, is that it requires more work. For police it requires more training. As a culture it means reworking how we do things so that we ask police to do a lot less. Right now we have profoundly unreasonable expectations of our police forces, and that in itself is an act of violence both against them and against the populations they’re called upon to serve. Beyond that it requires an openness, honesty and vulnerability we don’t like expressing.

It requires humility from all comers, and that’s next to heresy in this country.
It’s a difficult proposition. But it’s a necessary one. Without it, we aren’t going to survive.

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