Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Politics as a mise on scène

"By their determination to lay down the law concerning social perception and the words that translate them, our governments are increasingly abandoning actual political action. They proceed as if social life were a spectacle and as if the parts of the body politic were objects the perception of which were subject to command: politics becomes a mise en scène. Through ever more emphatic words and gestures, they go to great lengths to command us not to see." -- Pierre Manent, Beyond Radical Secularism, p. 75

It is interesting to contemplate what we are "commanded not to see" here in the United States. For instance, although black people in New York City commit homicide at roughly 30 times the rate of white people, and a white person is many times more likely to be killed by a black person than vice-versa, we are constantly being told about how dangerous it is to be black, due to white racism.

And merely to point out these facts, which really anyone living in New York senses already, is to risk a charge of racism. We are being commanded not to see. I recently received a post on social media about how some black guy left the house to play Pokemon Go, but wound up spending all of his time worrying about being a victim of racist violence. The very same day, I saw three black teenagers walking through my mostly white neighborhood, playing the game with no apparent worries about being subject to violence... and rightly so. Incidents like the one in Howard Beach, where a group of whites beat one or more black strangers, are so rare that they are remembered thirty years later. These black teens are at far less risk of violence in my neighborhood than they would be in most black neighborhoods in the city.

This would be a farce if it were harmless, but it becomes a tragedy when black neighborhoods receive less policing due to charges of racism against cops, with the result that more black people are killed. Playing make-believe about real social problems guarantees that they won't be solved.


  1. No time to do a LOT of research, but here's a quote from the Wall Street Journal pertaining to homicides in New York City circa 2012:

    "When the cold cases aren’t included, the NYPD solved 57% of the year’s 419 homicides, said Paul Browne, chief spokesman for the NYPD."

    The article the cite is from notes that a "cold" case has a 5%-10% likelihood of being cleared within the first "cold" year, after which the clearance rate decreases to less than 1%. Throwing that in there as a claim that the 57% rate seems like a reasonable estimate of the percentage of homicides in which we KNOW who the killer was, if we assume the word "solved" is a reference to the case being "exceptionally cleared" (confession, etc.) rather than merely "cleared" ("we arrested someone -- maybe he did it, maybe he didn't").

    Math problem: What percentage of the "solved" homicides would have to have been committed by black people in order for us, given the 43% of "unsolved" homicides, to be reasonably certain of the truth of your claim that black people commit homicide at roughly 30 times the rate of white people in New York (or, to put your claim a different way, that for every 100 homicides committed by black or white people,approximately 96.8 of them are committed by black people)?

    1. Well, no one should be *convinced* of this claim. However, the best we can do, unless there is some strong evidence that this method doesn't work, is extrapolate from what we know to what we don't: if for solved homicides the rate is 30 times, we can GUESS that for unsolved homicides it is the same.

      But let's say for some reason homicides committed by blacks are shockingly solved at twice the rate as those committed by blacks. (I would guess the opposite: it is much harder to solve a gang shooting than it is a husband killing his wife.) That would still leave us with a rate of 15 times, and I think that leaves my point standing, no?

    2. And positing systematic bias would indicate a higher solved rate for white homicides as well: white people are usually killing white people, and black people black people, so if "the system" cares more about white deaths, it will work harder to solve murders committed by white people!


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