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Economics, Rationalism

Police Videos and You

I am writing this to all humans for the sake of promoting critical thinking about our situation.

What are your feelings on the US Justice System?

If you frequent any social media site, you might find a wide variety of news articles, videos, and discussion threads about some horrifying thing that happened to a citizen caught on the sharp edge of the Justice System.

Your feelings might be different based on your social status, race, previous experience, etc. I’ve heard from young black men that they are afraid of the police because young black men have a history of being targeted by police action. I’ve heard from old white men that anyone the police have to arrest is obviously guilty because old white men, who view themselves as innocent, have a history of not being targeted by police action. If you live in the rural Midwest, you might not even think there is an issue since crime is low regardless of the race or status of the population.

In any horror story given to us by the media, the universal reaction of humans is some sort of empathy. Depending on your bias, such as the ones I listed above, you might be likely to empathize with the victim or the law enforcement.

This separation of empathy generates a series of more biases. It begins with an ‘Us vs Them’ situation, where humans being to perceive two groups in opposition to each other and create their identity based around it. For example, group one, Young Black Men, might begin to see themselves as victims, that they should be afraid, and that they must unite in opposition to the current legal system. They might view group two, Old White Men, as cold, passive individuals taking advantage of the system by oppressing the Young Black Men. (I willfully admit that I do not understand what it is like to be a young black man, but that doesn’t mean that this bias isn’t present).

Then group two, Old White Men, might view themselves as the law-abiding, respectful citizens, who have nothing to fear and are proud of where their virtue has brought them in life. They might begin to view the Young Black Men as troublemakers, creating disturbances and only using race as a way to manipulate others into sympathizing with them.

This generates another where humans feel the need to play the role of the group they identify with. Old white men begin to act like the Old White Men and young black men begin to act like the Young Black Men. An old white man might not have felt any animosity towards Young Black Men had he not identified so strongly with Old White Men. And a young black man might not have had any animosity towards Old White Men had he not identified with the Young Black Men.

This leads us then to correspondence bias, where, for example, if someone saw a young black man wearing sagging jeans, a shirt that says ‘YOLO’, and speaking in YMCMB vernacular, one might assume this young man belongs to Young Black Men. Just as seeing an older white man wearing business casual, driving a Mercedes, and looking impatient and pissed off about whatever is currently taking up his important time might lead one to believe that this man belongs to Old White Men.

And then we get to the most dangerous bias: the enemy is evil. We see someone who belongs to other group, remembering the reasons we oppose them, and we assume the only reason they could behave in a way we don’t like is that they are evil.

The reality is that virtually no human is evil for the sake of being evil. Humans do things that they think are good, or else they wouldn’t do them. As I have mentioned before, the definition of good is: what everyone desires. Humans do dramatically different things when the information they know is completely different.

The reason this is so dangerous is because we begin to treat humans as something other than humans. We treat them as evil beings that deserve to have horrifying things happen to them. To cite the extreme example, think about the 9-11 bombers. For their actions we have caged thousands and killed thousands. We did this because they hate freedom and they only desire evil and death. The only problem is that it’s not true. People don’t see themselves as the villain of their own story. They don’t hate freedom, they see themselves as heroes. It doesn’t mean they were right, but we have put them into a group called ‘Terrorists’ and put labels on them. Maybe if they had been born to a different place or a different time, they might have been completely different.

All this is to say that we have built a very dramatic set of labels with which to dehumanize people whose actions are much more simply explained by the information they live with.

They say that the simplest explanation is the most likely to be correct. The simple explanation is that old white men and young black men experience different sides of the Justice System.

And the simple explanation for the police is that they are regularly having their lives threatened and they believe that overwhelming force is needed to maintain their own safety (as it can be from time to time). The police are just as much subject to Us and Them as anyone else.

So what is the solution? The simplest solution, in my opinion, is to de-escalate the whole situation. Recognize that the media never tells the whole story. Choose the simplest, most human explanation when you observe a behavior (a man yelling at his wife doesn’t mean he is a bad, angry husband, he may just be having a bad day).

It is better to live in harmony with those from a different environment and of a different opinion. Nobody ever learned anything by being around a bunch of people who effectively serve as an echo chamber.

I personally prefer to take the approach of ‘Us vs The Problem’.  Maybe there would be less police brutality if we took away their side arms and nightsticks and gave them non-lethal stunning devices, like tasers and knockout gas. I’m sure someone could come up with a better suggestion, but it’s better to weigh suggestions than weigh each other’s value.

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About Josh Poland

Worship Leader, Economist, Musician, Martial Artist

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