Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Urban right, part 2

As I mentioned earlier this week, we on the right are often flummoxed when poor and minority communities react to issues in a way which seems inimical to their self interest. Here in Milwaukee, while most of the city is safe, there are neighborhoods that have begun to resemble the O.K. Corral. Yet there is little urgency about that. The black community has, during the past year, mobilized over the acquittal of off-duty police officers accused of beating a man of mixed racial heritage at a drunken party, a proposal to restrain out of control students with plastic handcuffs, and the attempted recall of a race-baiting alderman who has publicly called on the citizens of neighborhoods that are popularly known by names such as Little Beirut, to "stop snitching." It seems to have remained largely quiescent in the face of increasingly brazen violence. People are concerned, but there is not the same energy.

In last month's Atlantic (subscription required), experts commenting on the spread of a "stop snitching" ethic acknowledged the impact of good old fashioned intimidation, but also cited the oppositional paradigm (my term, not theirs) that informs a great deal of popular black sentiment. Many young African-American males wind up in the criminal justice system, underscoring the notion that the police are "them" and not "us." They noted the widespread acceptance of racialized myths such as the notion that crack is a government conspiracy that fit within this paradigm.

Returning to Milwaukee, we saw this in the community's reaction to the handcuff proposal. Opposition was based on concerns over the symbolism of handcuffs in school. They were said to be a device to prepare young blacks to be handcuffed in real life or to be reminiscent of slavery. Former UWM professor Walter Farrell, commenting on WMCS, suggested that handcuffed students would be seen in the community as "punked" because they had allowed themselves to be cuffed by someone who was not a cop. Farrell, and school board president Peter Blewitt on the same station, worried about discipline being rooted in cultural differences as if lashing out at others and throwing objects is a "black thing." (I'm guessing its not.)

This is undoubtedly rooted in a concern over further stigmatization of MPS students, a distrust of authority and, frankly, in a certain amount of embarrassment.

All of this is understandable, but it remains problematic in that is severed from an undeniable reality. Every person that I have spoken to within MPS acknowledges that kids who cannot be restrained are a huge problem. Perhaps flexicuffs aren't the answer, but neither is sensitivity or even Farrell's call for flying squads of shrinks who would supposedly do what a child's parents have not.

Similarly, I can understand why poor black people are distrustful of police. But a resolve to stop snitching is akin to handing over the hen house to the fox for fear of the rooster.

Conservatives are right to criticize this oppositional paradigm and are joined by a growing number of black commentators - conservative and otherwise - who will probably be more effective than white conservatives.

But at the same time, we have to acknowledge that the paradigm is widely shared and examine our own complicity in its continuing power. The Jude beating was a double tragedy. Not only was Frank Jude abused, but a community that needs the police was rendered even more distrustful of them. It is incumbent upon all of us to see allegations of police misconduct as a matter to be investigated and not a political litmus test.

We need to reexamine, as many conservatives have begun to do, sentencing practices in drug crimes. In forging ties to African-American pastors who are fighting a lonely battle against family breakdown and the erosion of civility, we must not only share and support their promotion of traditional morality, but listen to their concerns regarding the need for expanded economic opportunity. Our proposals to address the latter certainly need not resemble traditional welfare, but we may need to accept that they will cost money.


Anonymous said...

what, no comments? I guess nobody could think of an argument starter. bless you rick, for being a serious thinker.

Anonymous said...

Let's talk about going against your own interests...

-social and fiscal conservatives who were on line with the Powell Doctrine consistently voting for big government neocons who fake a commitment to "family" or "Chrisian" values, and backing neocon/neomarxist wars of foreign intervention to bomb and occupy people into democracy and progress by helpfully stripping them of their traditional ("backwards") religion and practices and then not even having the guts and follow-through to deal with the predictable (but "unforeseen") blowback.

-The predominance of the "lumpen leisure" class which thinks of itself as "conservative" (see Kuntlser;

-The general "conservative" opinion that the "independent" drifter cowboy, Cooper's Hawkeye/Leatherstocking character or "Pa" Ingalls (always moving away from the sound of axes, i.e. new neighbors) are archetypes of conservative culture rather than substantial sociopaths. A failure to see, in one example, jeffersonian agrarianism and yankee colonial towns as a truer picture of health and balancing of collective and individual interests.

-buying gas guzzling vehicles, widening freeways, killing public transit, and increasing sprawl with unsustainable infrastructure in reaction to urban poverty and racialized politics rather than holding and taking back neighborhoods and engaging the problems that are constantly whined about without purpose from afar.

-not seeing the old Milwaukee "sewer socialism" as more fiscally, governmentally, and socially/culturally conservative than "conservatism" is today.

-playing the honkey perfectly to the TV scripted role and meddling with inner city politics from afar and wondering why it backfires, has unintended but predictable consequences, more gas on the fire.

-pushing "get tough on crime" agendas but never addressing structural problems with law enforcement and the justice system, e.g. prison overpopulation or the conversion of prisons into criminal universities in a catch and release system.

-not having the balls/being too liberalized to back capital punishment in a way that really makes sense: kill sociopaths quick and perhaps publicly -- that IS a deterrent but only insofar as it is crude, ugly, and no "advance" beyond "primitive" society.

-ignoring the destruction of local economies and especially agriculture in the name of "progress" and losing populist, localist thinking from "conservatism."

-constantly banging the drum for flat-earth "science" about human origins and other non-issues settled by philosophers long ago (no general theory of origins/progression of species is possible; first causes are beyond our epistemic horizons) and also totally capitulating to the secular stealth religion of Scientism on a host of other issues.

-dismissing environmentalism and failing to direct it back to a true "conservative" basis everyone could agree on as under Nixon--not about "global warming" and crypto-religious hysteria but about heavy metals, drugs and other toxins in soil, air and water; invasive species, etc.

-going along with neocons who have an open border policy and wish to extend the free market so globally that it economically destroys Americans without major financial or vocational stakes in multinational corps.

-never rethinking the early 20thC corruption of the GOP in shifting from populism to robber baron interests in which the personhood of living individuals is legally and economically equivalent and even lesser than the legally established personhood of corporations.

-being overall philosophically incoherent and unaware of what "Liberalism" really means and is, and how "conservatism" is now a form of it.

-considering oneself a social conservative and seeing nothing out of place with "conservative" and other media, your kids up to their ears in Grand Theft Auto, Jerry Springer and Britney Spears style porn/"pop" culture (just look at the crap on Belling's radio station site, the fox news stuff), and generally having relativist standards of taste and merit due a lack of any (or interest in any) cultural authority that would constrain creation, broadcast and consumption of such filth.

-Complaining about criminal underclass culture dominating black identity and culture but not seeing how it's richly permeated the white youth culture too.

-Out of control personal spending and debt.

-Baseless faith in institutions as institutions if they are not government--ie schools, universities, corporations.

-paying lip service to meritocracy but hating "elitism" that looks askance at oneself--being just as sensitive as any underclass individual when one feels looked down on, regardless of issues of truth and merit.

-persevering in a public half-belief in a myth of radical egalitarianism and the equal potential/ability of all individuals when it comes to schooling and one's own kids and those of one's social set.

-being intentionally ignorant consumers so as not to disturb the dumbed-down myth of the american dream. thinking, for instance, "good" schools are those that guarantee by some institutional magic that kids put through them will emerge from them into at least the middle class without any work ethic, real sense or experience of the world as it is, their ears plugged with headphones listening to crap, and twenty grand in debt after graduating from a "good" college that feeds them bilge and nothing resembling education as defined and practiced by the best in western societies since Socrates.

Also instructive:

salient points copied here:

"I live in a Midwestern city that was dominated, built and deconstructed by socialists for most of the twentieth century. (Rather crunchy and substantially conservative, religious and natalist socialists, many of whom were co-opted by the New Deal.) The city's history since the 60s is the familiar rustbelt story: post-industrial economic collapse; the turn to irresponsible and violent radicalism in the civil rights and countercultural movements; the flight of the white and black middle class; the proliferation of guns, drugs, and despair in the broken underclass communities left behind; the pathetic dance of cajoling and bribery between "protest-identity" minority demagogues and white liberals. Apart from a steady, bipartisan voting-with-one's-feet withdrawal movement, the general response to these events has been inchoate libertarianish reaction driven by cynicism and resentment on the right alongside denial and nostalgic statist dreaming on the left. Each feeds the other in the paralysis of a short-sighted politics of reaction.

Generally political disputes reduce to taxation, and this is indeed one of the most highly taxed states. On one side are those who want to pay as little as possible to perceived (and often real) sources of dysfunction and corruption. On the other side are those who think social spending is the only answer to every problem. Politics on the right focus on an understandable but profoundly unhealthy, deep-seated, and highly racialized fear and loathing of the city (our state's economic hub) that they've all but abandoned. The left ignores the material realities of the inner city and economic infrastructure to sermonize about tolerance and diversity.

As witnessed by an extensive network of conservative bloggers in my region, the primary discontent with the GOP at the national level is that it is not serious about small government. Aside from city-suburb conflicts, the most beloved regional conservative political initiatives center on downsizing and tax cuts at the county and state level, including initiatives that actually increase spending and bureaucracy in order to legislate taxing and spending constraints on legislators! Now it may be clear to crunchy cons of an urbanist stripe that this rust-belt world of sub/exurban conservatism has a drunken incoherence all its own, but it's far from clear to conservatives who are not already in the crunchy choir. Ideas of community and common good are not in the political discourse because of our culturally balkanized situation. I have a hard time seeing how "crunchy cons" can even begin to penetrate these kind of on-the-ground realities."