What do you want?
There are essentially two models for achieving social progress: a cooperative model, suggesting that social progress is only possible when opposing sides (of an argument) are able to lay aside their differences and find ways to cooperate with one another … and a conflict model, suggesting that true progress is only achieved through clashes with opposing points of view, one of which will (in time) become dominant.
Which of these is correct? Or, are they both correct, with the only real difference being in the speed of achieving consensus?
A large part of our problem in modern society is our inability, or our unwillingness, to engage with one another in meaningful dialogue. Before we reach the stage of dialogue, we must first achieve a generally acceptable view of the “problem,” and its origins. If we do not know what the problem is, or how it evolved, then we cannot hope to solve it. Cooperation, for its own sake, demands that people relinquish their principles; that they compromise with others at the cost of their core beliefs.
There is no benefit to society in this, unless the goal of social engineering is to produce human drones incapable of rational individualism. Likewise, conflict as a demonstration of anger or frustration produces angrier people and levels of frustration that easily lead to violence. There is no permanent solution to social issues through violent behavior.
Our founding fathers realized that the likely result of authoritarianism would be a “pressure-cooker society,” so they provided ways in which people could demonstrate their dissatisfactions without having to resort to extremism. One may recall the aftermath of the French Revolution, whose carnage is today memorialized and celebrated by the French nation as Bastille Day.
American founders wisely acknowledged our inalienable right to have and express an opinion, especially unpopular opinions. They provided for the right to associate with whomever we choose. We have a right to peacefully assemble, emphasis on the word “peacefully.”
Is it enough to express an opinion or demonstrate? My answer is, “Not unless you have your facts right about the nature of the problem, its origins, and have identified common sense solutions.” Otherwise, you’re part of the problem.
So, a cop with a spotty record behaves in such a way that he’s taken the life of a citizen. Good citizen or not, this is not the kind of behavior we want from our public servants. Obviously, the police department or city that hired this cop used poor judgment by keeping him on the payroll. This is a matter for the citizens of that city to address, and while it may be appropriate for people on the opposite coast to demonstrate, there is nothing they can do to solve the problem within that city.
Fact: there are about 850,000 lawmen in the USA … federal, state, and local. If only ten percent of these people are bad apples, then we do have a police problem in our country. My guess is that the percentage of bad cops is around one percent, but even if the number is higher, it pales in comparison with the number of bad citizens who violently assault members of their own communities, including police officers. What are we (as a society) doing about bad citizens?
Fact: we did have a civil war in this country. The top tier issues were constitutional in nature: the right of states to govern themselves beyond the enumerated powers of the federal government, and the right of men to live free of shackles. How shall we address this history?
We cannot change what happened. The issue of states’ rights remains an open issue, as we have seen federal encroachment into the affairs of states. We struggle with this today through the courts, which is an appropriate venue. We resolved the issue of human bondage in 1863, at a great cost in human lives.
Those who endured slavery are now dead. The number of those who remember anyone who endured slavery is miniscule. There can be no atonement for the dead; justice was denied to them. What we can do, and have done, is to recognize that every citizen is free to choose for themselves a pathway through life. Whether every citizen chooses wisely is another matter. I am not responsible for someone who unwisely pursues a dark, unfulfilling lifestyle and no amount of public demonstration will convince me otherwise.
If we are to solve problems in society, no matter whether we cooperate or conflict with one another, then we must do so within the framework of mainstream society. If we choose not to address them from within the body of society, then we have no reasonable expectation of resolving our problems at all.
The question remains: what do you want, America? Do you truly want solutions, or are you content with noisy, destructive, hateful rhetoric or behavior that solves nothing more than to divide our fragile society further?
Mustang also blogs at Fix Bayonets and Thoughts From Afar