June 26, 2014

Hubski – some observations

I’ve been a member of Hubski for about eight months.  Like many other members, I am a refugee from reddit.  In my case, I am not only a refugee but an actual exile, reddit having censored my posts because I committed the heinous crime of writing the content myself.  I am still moderately bitter about this – though, to be fair, reddit did post their policy and I blithely ignored it.  I won’t quibble over the guilty plea – but I will laugh at the policy.  “No more than 10% of your posts may be your own material,” sayeth the perky little cartoon character with the bent antenna sticking out of its bald pate.  What irks me is that if I had been truly cynical I could have simply polluted the site with nine reposts of nauseating celebrity news and cute puppy pictures for every one of my own essays – and I would have been in strict compliance.  Keeping up my karma score was never really a problem.  As it is, I look back on my reddit experience with no real fondness.  The tall spikes on my Google analytics charts were nice, but not much compensation for the lack of intelligent comments or coherent criticism.  Not to mention the outright ad hominem.  Or the fact that my posts swept off the pages like butterflies caught in the exhaust of a jet engine.  It seems a little indecent even to put Hubski in the same sentence with reddit.  Like putting an art critique in the same room with a dog fight.

I like Hubski.  If my data spikes are a little more anemic than they were in my reddit days, the volume and quality of the discourse more than make up for it.  I’m an odd user, I know, writing more posts than I read and tending to comment rather sporadically.  While I get the impression that some people actually live full time in Hubskiland, I am more of an itinerant artisan, laying out my wares on the virtual public square from time to time, waving virtually at people I know, smiling virtually at people I don’t.  It’s a pleasant place – wherever it is.

There seems to be a general anxiety, particularly among the more longstanding members, that, with time and expanding membership, Hubski is going to degenerate into something more redditesque.  To me, this seems unlikely.  While it is true that as the population goes up, the number of unpleasant people will inevitably go up with it, Hubski is moderated in an entirely different way than reddit – and that alone makes the probability that it will follow reddit’s destiny unlikely.

Hubski is moderated, from a functional point of view, by the individual member’s right to mute or ignore other member’s.  As a dedicated advocate of free speech, I was initially rather put off by the right to mute.  I think that if someone wants to argue anything – even that the world is flat – it does us more harm to shut them up than it does to go through the minor tedium of refuting them.  I lean toward J.S. Mill’s position with regard to censorship.  I made a personal resolution never to mute anyone – a resolution that I kept for approximately a month.  I discovered that the mute has at least one valid use.  It is a way to stop another member with an abundance of time and malice from conducting a personal crusade against your posts.  It is a sort of virtual equivalent to a restraining order, but with the advantage that it cannot be violated and does not require the approval of a judge – or a moderator.  Can it be abused?  Of course it can.  If a person just mutes people left and right who see things differently, that person undermines most of the benefit of rational discourse.  On the other hand, the promiscuous muter (or ignorer, for that matter) is wielding a double-edge sword.  No one likes being snubbed, and cutting off too many people is probably the quickest way to marginalize oneself.  I have only muted one member.  I consider it a dangerous right to be used only as a last resort – but without it I probably would have gotten sick of arguing with the person I muted.  I see no ethical justification for ignoring people – but I understand that this is my standard and not necessarily everyone else’s.

In any case, the right to mute or ignore (I don’t really know or care what hush does – it sounds like it should reduce that member’s font size) makes Hubski whatever the individual user wants it to be.  If you want to endure the dross and noise that comes with open membership, don’t mute or ignore anyone.  If you want to build a comforting little echo chamber you can bask in to relax – make your own tag and mute everybody except your five closest friends.  This is very different from reddit, where typically you got the dross and noise in addition to arbitrary moderation and irrational draconian site policies.  Unless mk and thenewgreen are struck by lightning, become afflicted by some personality-altering disorders, or are induced to sell to some nefarious 3rd party, I just don’t see Hubski mutating into anything like reddit.  This is not to say it cannot change, however.

The danger of letting people build protective walls around themselves is that they will be tempted to do just that.  Every time I hear the phrase “Hubski community” I mentally shake my head.  To me, a community is a group of people with tangible interdependencies.  Whether they like each other or not, they have to get along.  I have seen a certain level of emotional support offered up on Hubski from time to time, but if my car dies on the interstate I will probably not be logging in and begging members for immediate help.  Without any real need to stay on civil terms with members one doesn’t like, mute and ignore rights let Hubski fission into various little cliques and interest groups.  If I mute you and you ignore me, what can it possibly mean to say that we are part of the same community?  We might as well be living on different planets.  The problem this poses for members is just as I have said – it narrows their experience for the sake of intellectual comfort.  The problem it poses for mk and thenewgreen (and whoever else shares in their vision) is that, over time, Hubski may come to resemble reddit at least in that it will consist of a large collection of disinterested or even hostile camps.  I’ve already concluded that certain tags are functionally out of bounds for me.  It isn’t that they are in a hostile part of town where people disagree with my opinions, but rather that they are in a part of town where I evidently don’t exist.  Of course, it is nice to find someone who agrees with you now and then – but a steady diet of agreement is not a healthy diet for an active mind.  The best that we can hope for is that, while many members will sequester themselves one way or another, enough eclectic thinkers will remain at large to make this ongoing experiment a happy and welcoming success.

Every new member has the potential to bring something useful and enriching to the rest of us.  That is an exciting prospect.  Who are we to be bitter if some proportion of them either can’t or won’t?

See also: http://cadwaladr.blogspot.com/2014/10/hubski-thoughtful-web.html

June 12, 2014

Someone to Hate

A couple of days after the 9/11 attacks, I overheard two coworkers talking.  One said to the other “…you know all those people in Afghanistan hate Americans.”  It was the kind of blind, unsupportable statement that makes my stomach tighten.  I said and did nothing.  Sometimes I am a coward.  I have interrupted the conversation a hundred times in fantasy, however:

     “So you’ve traveled in Afghanistan?” I ask.
     “No…” comes the sheepish reply.
     “Well, then you know alot of Afghans?  You see them hanging out downtown at the sports bar?”
     “No, not actually.”
     “Then how do you know that all – mind you, ALL – every last grandmother, every last child – in Afghanistan hates Americans?  Do they get up in the morning feeling this hate?  Do they stop at midday, kneeling down beside their flocks and in their fields, and pray fervently for our demise – every last one of them?  Why on earth would the average Afghan even think about us?  Haven’t they got their own troubles, their own domestic concerns, their own particular breed of human challenges to contend with?”

At this point in my fantasy, my interlocutor shrinks in shame while I stand in glorious triumph, having won another victory for humanity.  It is all pure nonsense – an absolute waste of mental activity on my part.  Stripped of his circumlocution – and my moral indignation – this is what my coworker’s statement actually meant:

     I publically affirm that I consider Afghans non-persons.

That’s all.  Clean and simple.  This is a different kind of statement altogether.  I may be as disgusted and self-righteous as I like, but I cannot argue with something that is not really an argument.  If I had spoken up, the conversation would probably have gone more like this:

     “So you’ve traveled in Afghanistan?”
     “No.  What difference does that make?  Whose side are you on?”

A few concepts

Sociologists call statements in the form “People in group x are all alike” expressions of a belief in outgroup homogeneity.  I’m not sure that the technical term does much real work, except to make the idea discussable as a neutral abstraction.  Saying “Those people are all alike” is functionally equivalent to saying “Those people are not individuals with unique views and feelings like ourselves; they are just instances of a certain type – interchangeable non-persons.”  We all think this way to some extent, whether we like to admit it or not.  It is an extension of the very useful human tendency to generalize.  We do it because, at a very deep level, our brains are attempting to model the world in a way that helps us cope, and keeping a completely open mind about every person that we meet is exhausting, inefficient and occasionally even dangerous.

Consider what I hope will be a non-controversial example for the generally liberal audience I am no doubt biased to assume I am addressing.  Image you’re a native American practically anywhere at almost any time during the 19th century.  Having the narrow and quite bigoted view that any white person you encounter is likely to be a source of trouble is probably going to serve you better than having the enlightened view that every person in the world is an individual and should be given the benefit of the doubt.  Prejudice, in this example, would have been a good survival trait.  For our hypothetical native American, adopting a hostile posture might occasionally have been unfair, might have hurt some innocent person’s feelings (or worse) but, on balance, it would still have been a pretty serviceable heuristic.  The world might be a much nicer place if people’s brains didn’t work this way, but as long as some people’s do, everybody else has reason to approach the odd stranger with at least some measure of caution.  To extend the example above, if the majority of native Americans actually were prudently unsympathetic toward whites, then, conversely, it would have been irrational for whites to show much sympathy toward native Americans.  Hostility is a thing best shared.  Arguments about priority (i.e. They started it!) do not seem especially helpful or enlightening.  To consider prejudice a kind of personal sin is to believe that people do not live within a powerfully influential social context, and that cultures are something we participate in only for the sake of tasty ethnic food.

Try the following enjoyable experiment: think about some group of people you dislike.  Unless you are the Dalai Lama you can probably summon up some group almost immediately – the rich, the poor, blacks, whites, Latinos, Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, liberals, conservatives, gays – any group of people that you feel are making the world a more disagreeable place than it really needs to be.  Now ask yourself – “How many people in that group do I personally know?”  I don’t mean “have seen” or “have met once” or, worse still, “have read about on my favorite blog.”  By “know” I mean “have sat down and had a long, informal conversation with.”  “Have lived among.”  That sort of thing.  If the answer is “none” or “not many” – you’re prejudiced.  Sorry.  If it helps to make you feel better, when I’m not being consciously philosophical I am pretty sure I’m prejudiced too.  Personally, I find that people who claim to be free from prejudice are either lying or are living unusually insular lives.  If you live in an elite bubble or a gated community it is at least a theoretical possibility to be sublimely and completely tolerant.  You probably won’t be, but it’s possible.  I don’t live in such a bubble, but I can still feel any way I want to about Afghans – if only due to the accidental circumstance that I don’t know any.  It is important to consider that the person I cited at the beginning of this essay, who probably didn’t know any Afghans either, found it genuinely advantageous – in September, 2001 – to deciding to declare them non-persons.  Before 9/11, I doubt he had any opinion of Afghans at all.  Why would he have?  After 9/11, his prejudice gave him a sense of solidarity with those around him – a social benefit he would not have attained by expressing the opinion, at that time, that most Afghans might be ok people as far as he knew.  Dark and cynical as this may sound, echoing the prejudices of your particular group is a great way to make friends.  Some of us dehumanize more of the world than others – but we all agree on one thing: we only hate the people who deserve it.  Or, to put it another way, we tend to believe that the prejudices of our peers and our own subculture aren’t prejudices at all – but plain, self-evident truths.  We take the word of people that we know when it comes to our assessment, good or bad, of people that we don’t.1

No discussion of prejudice would be complete without at least a nod to another great sociological concept – the fundamental attribution error.  This is the human tendency to attribute the bad behaviors of other people to their basic natures, while attributing our own acknowledged bad behaviors to unavoidable circumstances.2  Fetching up our 19th century native American example once again, it would be easy for him to think that whites were simply antagonistic by nature, and that he himself was only antagonistic because he had no choice.  From the opposite side, the converse would also be an easy assumption.  The fundamental attribution error does not so much create prejudice as it offers a mental strategy for defending it where it already exists.  It can be seen as a fancy scientific term for nothing more sophisticated than a simple double standard.

A distinction should be drawn between prejudice and hate, which up to this point I have bandied about rather indiscriminately.  Prejudices are sometimes serviceable heuristics, and they are not always negative.  An automatic sympathy for members of a certain group is no less a prejudice than an automatic dislike for them.  Hate, on the other hand, is not a heuristic.  Hate is an emotion.  Prejudices are features of one’s intellectual architecture.  You could describe a prejudice as a series of assertions.  Even the fundamental attribution error is intellectual in character – it is the brain’s attempt, however imperfect, to make a certain sense of its social environment.  Hate asserts nothing.  It doesn’t even originate in the parts of the brain where assertions live.  Hate has causes, but no reasons innate to itself.

To understand that prejudice and hatred are not synonymous, one has only to consider that there are plenty of prejudices that don’t entail any emotions on the part of their bearers.  Suppose I have the belief that people in group x are generally handicapped at complex problem solving.  It does not follow from that assumption that I hate them.  I might pity them, or even be completely indifferent.  In general, we hate that which we perceive as a threat – just as any other animal does.  It is the object of prejudice (and here I mean – of clearly negative prejudice) who, simply by being depersonalized, feels threatened – and thus has cause for hate.  Being hated is, of course, another cause for hate – and this almost always makes hatred reciprocal.  “Hating the hater” is no less hating – no less indulging in an intellectually debilitating emotion.  Hatred, too, engenders prejudice since it is practically impossible to hate someone without the brain eventually getting around to constructing some sort of architecture of justifying reasons, perhaps legitimate or perhaps merely expedient.  Simply put, you can be prejudicial without hating but you probably cannot engage in hatred without becoming prejudicial.

Race and culture 3

Let’s begin with an unproven but supportable assumption.  Race – a set of heritable and outwardly observable physical characteristics – is not a consequential desideratum of either intellectual capacity or behavior.  In simpler English, if you take a baby of any race and raise it as a fully accepted member of a particular culture it will very likely display the values, abilities and behaviors consistent with that culture.  Genes matter, and may greatly affect the capacities and behaviors of individuals – but there are probably no smart races, no violent races, no dishonest races, etc.  I can’t prove this, but it seems to fit an honest assessment of daily experience.  Racism, per se, has little if any empirical support.

Culture is an entirely different matter.  To be a member of a culture is to exhibit certain behaviors and to shun others.  It is to generally adhere to a certain set of values and beliefs.  Behaviors and beliefs have outcomes in the real world, and it is utter non-sense to say that all behaviors or belief patterns are meaningfully equivalent.  If you are a dedicated relativist, I suggest you invite a few neo-Nazis to your next gathering and see how well they fit into your paradigm.  Or, if you’re a ultra-tolerant Unitarian, try inviting a few Satanists to your next vague celebration of the goodness of your amorphous deity.  Relativism is a philosophy for people who live carefully protected lives.

I would not propose ranking cultures (which would include what we usually call “subcultures”) into some great hierarchy from best to worst.  It is not that simple.  What I am saying is that for any given criteria one chooses – social cohesion, long-term survivability, adaptability, placidity, might, intellectual freedom, etc. – some cultures will generally produce better outcomes in terms of that criteria than others.  Further, it is hardly surprising that we are more likely to be tolerant of alien cultures that are most harmonious with the values of our own.  We are social beings.  In striving to adapt successfully to our environments, our brains put a high value on adapting to whatever cultural body we happen to inhabit.  Thus, even a culture that is ill-adapted to present conditions still presents a strong attraction to its members.  We cling hard to what we know, usually until circumstances render such an attachment impossible or at least deeply miserable.  Better the devil you know – the saying goes.  On the other hand, we tend to oppose cultures that we believe are at odds with our values and out interests – whether our beliefs happen to be accurate or not.  In other words, cultural prejudice is often entirely justifiable.  To use the example above – you really don’t need to feel you’ve committed a moral breach by not inviting the town Satanist group to your open-minded solstice celebrations.  Your prejudice, it that case, is probably quite prudent.  If they invite themselves and try to make an animal sacrifice of your dog – perhaps even a little hatred would be useful, giving you the courage to evict them.

Race, while not a true determinant of behavior in a biological sense, is often the identifier of default for members of a particular culture.  To return to an earlier example, the native American I envisioned need not have been explicitly racist to notice that all the people overrunning his land had a common set of physical characteristics.  If I tend to assume that most of the Asians I meet (apart from those working in restaurants) are college educated – am I being racist or merely being demographically observant?  Race, within the context of a particular society, functions more-or-less like mode of dress.  I might or might not be biased against men in suits – but I can assume, with considerable confidence, that they aren’t going to mug me.  It is always possible that a particular man in a suit happens to be a mugger fresh from a court appearance (taking full advantage of the suit-wearing heuristic, by the way) – but it is unlikely.  So long as a given group of people are associated with a certain set of characteristics, members of that group that do not share those characteristics are likely to suffer or benefit unfairly.  Again, although our innate social predispositions may not always be very admirable, imagine a world completely devoid of such tendencies.  How would we function if, on encountering another person, we could not make any prior assumptions based on dress, deportment, gender, sexual orientation, race, age, ethnicity or physical condition?  We would essentially live like robots in a world of identical mannequins.  Flawed as our assumptions may sometimes be, it is only the ability to make assumptions that makes the social world navigable.


The real menace to human harmony is probably not prejudice – but intractability.  We all have prejudices – beliefs – we have acquired in the course of our particular lives.  The problem comes when one decides, perhaps unconsciously, that one’s beliefs no longer require the occasional reexamination.  How often have we heard somebody proudly declare “I have known ____ since I was sixteen,” or “I’m a lifelong member of ____.”  Isn’t that sort of statement just a way of making close-mindedness a virtue?  Isn’t it usually the same as saying “on that subject I am done with thinking and happy with the social benefits of pleasing my current set of friends”?  Introspection and reexamination are dangerous undertakings for the individual, but without them we are bound to certain views dogmatically -- the price of membership in whatever groups circumstances steer us into.  As human beings, we have the capacity to learn and adapt, to be conscious, and to undertake the plans our brains set out – but we also have the capacity to ossify, to live reflexively, and to undertake the plans we acquiesce to.

1 As I write, I’m am visited by the miserable suspicion that some reader will get too this point of my essay and think – “That’s it exactly – the author has those people pegged!”  If that person happens to you, put down your coffee and start over at the beginning.  Repeat as necessary.  On no account write and tell me how I have described to a tee what’s wrong with the rich, the poor, blacks, whites, Latinos, Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, liberals, conservatives, gays or anybody else.  That is yet another fantasy conversation I do not care to realize.

2 Interestingly, the fundamental attribution error always runs contrary to the common belief that humans have free will.  Regarding outsiders, it endows them with nearly immutable predispositions – presumably genetic ones.  With regard to ourselves, it freely surrenders the notion of freedom to the vicissitudes of external circumstances.  While I don’t believe we have free will, the fundamental attribution error is obviously no defense of that position.  Even for the bigot, it is irrational to say the universe itself manipulates other people with one set of forces but manipulates oneself with another.

3 We live in an age in which even discussing race hatred scares me.  I have long had the conviction, though, that that which cannot be discussed cannot be understood.

June 9, 2014

On ending mass incarceration – a modest proposal

Recently, an opinion piece appeared in The New York Times under the title:

The article puts forth a great deal of interesting material, and it is beyond my purpose here to address it all.  Instead, I will focus on a single passage that arrested my attention:

“After prison, people are sent back to the impoverished places they came from, but are blocked from re-entering society. Often they cannot vote, get jobs, or receive public benefits like subsidized housing — all of which would improve their odds of staying out of trouble.”

I don’t doubt for an instant that the Times has put its smudgy finger on a real problem.  While it isn’t at all clear how losing the right to vote pushes a person back into crime, it is undeniable that a released convict has to live somewhere, and shouldn’t to be forced back into criminal activity by an utter lack of other options.  No matter how high the rate of recidivism happens to be, those who truly want to live crime-free, productive lives ought to be given that chance.  That is basic decency.  Unfortunately, the lives of human beings are never simple, and when you consider the aggregate problems of communities the complexity only increases.  

Unless you make the assumption that the vast majority of the prisoners the Times is referring to are wholly innocent – simply rounded up at random and convicted automatically by a blind, cruel, and dysfunctional judicial system – you have to accept that most of them are in fact guilty of the crimes they were charged with, and that a certain fraction of those are going to commit crimes again if given the opportunity.  If rehabilitation programs were reliably effective, we probably would not have resorted to mass incarceration in the first place.

While the Times article laments the injustice of those imprisoned for “non-violent crimes” it is misleading to imply that these are typically petty matters.  Burglary is not a violent crime.  Neither is stealing your grandmother’s social security check to finance your drug habit – a crime, by the way, that no urban social worker working with the elderly would find unusual.  Breaking into cars is not a violent crime, and neither, most of the time, is stealing the cars themselves.  Commit to a generous program of sentence reduction of non-violent criminals and you are committing to increasing the amount of crime in somebody’s neighborhood.  The question is – whose?

I, for one, would not recommend summarily encouraging ex-convicts to return to the slums and ghettos that most of them came from.  Notwithstanding the considerable value the Times suggests that crack addicts and car thieves might offer as role models for their abandoned children, these neighborhoods are already hard pressed.  An extra helping of shoplifting and break-ins isn’t really what the minority business owner needs as he, or she, struggles against the headwinds of a bad economy and an impoverished clientele.  If there is ever going to be an increase in the standard of living in such places, they are going to need healthy businesses creating decent jobs – and giving a boost to the criminal population runs counter to that purpose.

With the phrase “…benefits like subsidized housing…” the Times points the way to a program that the elites of our society are nearly oblivious to, but which strikes dread into the hearts of many in the middle class.  Most people support the notion of equality as an abstract ideal – but they live in the cleanest, safest, least-graffiti-covered neighborhoods they can afford to.  Most middle class neighborhoods are, believe it or not, already quite racially diverse.  They are full of people, black, white and otherwise, who were either born into the middle class, or who managed, by their own honest efforts, to lift themselves out of poverty.  Heartless though the barrier of higher rents and mortgage costs may be, practically no one in the middle class really wants a sudden influx of the poor into their neighborhoods.  This isn’t racism.  Middle class blacks and Latinos do not really want them either.  Of course, the majority of people living in poverty are decent people, but it is simply a fact that the most antisocial or otherwise dysfunctional among us tend to sink to the socio-economic bottom, being unable to meet the minimum threshold of social responsibility one needs to stay in the middle class.  To be blunt, crack addicts and car thieves don’t generally have good credit, and don’t buy houses in the suburbs.  Unfortunately, the rest of the poor have to live with the stigma of being lumped in with the lumpenproletariat.  Housing programs, particularly Section 8 subsidies in which the government pays the lion’s share (usually 70%) of a recipient’s rent, often let the poor jump over this barrier without any special effort.  Even with restrictions barring these subsidies to ex-convicts, enough bad cultural traits get through to make a scattering of subsidized housing in a middle class neighborhood a cause of sharp decline.1  Removing the restriction against ex-convicts is a depressing thought for anyone who likes their current neighborhood, and must be doubly discouraging for those members of the middle class who have worked their way out of poverty.  How would you feel if you had escaped a slum through your own hard work – only to have the government build a new hostile environment around you?

Having eliminated the two poorer classes from contention as the recipients of a million-odd ex-cons the Times feels are the victims of injustice, we are left with only one place to put them – and this is my proposal.  Settle them among the rich.  This scheme has quite a number of advantages.  First, it would give policy makers and opinion shapers (including the editorial board of the New York Times) a chance to experience cultural diversity first hand.  And who better to reform the wayward and disadvantaged than the most moral, most advantaged members of our society?  Second, the most affluent neighborhoods in the country have the greatest abundance of entry-level, unskilled jobs available – since it is generally beneath the dignity of the children of the rich to even consider such non-professional employment.  Wouldn’t it be better to have resident ex-convict waiters, cashiers, valets, gardeners, etc. – than to have to bus such people in from poor or middle class neighborhoods across town?  Consider how much of a reduction in an affluent community’s total carbon footprint the transportation savings could amount to.  Why settle convicts in Oakland when we could settle them in the more uplifting parts of Berkeley, or maybe Marin County?  Does anyone doubt that a disadvantaged soul from SE Washington would find more opportunities of all kinds in Bethesda or Georgetown?  From New York City’s Upper East Side, visiting relatives in the South Bronx on the weekends would be the easiest (and greenest) of subway journeys.  Why not build some half-way houses in the Hamptons?  Or a colony of convicts on the shores of Martha’s Vineyard – a sort of Botany Bay among the best and brightest?

Although the high cost of housing in such areas is an obvious objection, it is not beyond the government’s scope to invoke its right of imminent domain.  Failing that, the lower and the middle classes would probably be overjoyed to pony up the added taxes in the interest of their own self preservation.  Here too, settling convicts among the wealthiest Americans might go a long way toward alleviating the growing sense of inequality among the classes.  Let us share, on fair and equal terms, this legacy suffering, injustice and inconsequential non-violent crime.  What could be more moral, more impressive to the rest of the world than to have the great and powerful make such sacrifices?  Nor would this resettlement need to be in any way partisan.  Build section 8 apartments next to the Koch brothers and George Soros alike.  Build them next to Bill O’Reilly and next to Whoopi Goldberg too.  If there is crime, the rich have more than enough resources to protect themselves in more-or-less the same way many of the poor have done – by making their houses into little fortresses with bars on the windows and doors.  This is really what the rich have always done in any case, except that their barricades are usually more sophisticated – and erected further out.

In the real world, of course, the burden of living with crime will be saddled, one way or the other, on people that policy makers, media figures, and academics don’t really care about.  Prisons produce alarming statistics, but a million crimes perpetrated by the anti-social elements of the poor against the rest of their equally poor neighbors rarely disturb the after-dinner conversation in the places where decisions are made.  And, after all, it is the appearance of caring that matters – the moralizing, the wringing of hands over the fates of the correctly fashionable set of victims, the crying and shouting that the culture tacitly requires.  None of that has a damned thing to do with genuine human empathy.  One needs to know some real people to have a sense of empathy – and nobody really wants those people in their backyard.


1 I have seen this happen personally, having lived on the edge of a ghetto for more than a decade, and then in a middle class neighborhood that was in decline. There is no need to take my word for it, however: