While it may not be exactly a social crisis, as the Trumpian Right and its fans in Australia keep claiming, I do keep getting the feeling that we are at some kind of inflection point on the issue of, well, how to run and maintain a successful society.
On both sides of the Pacific, we seem to be watching towns or cities in which it's being realised, by the underclass, the police and politicians, that if enough people choose to thumb their nose at social mores in terms of property law and civil behaviour, we can't really jail our way out of it. There can literally be just too many people behaving badly. (Well, I suppose this is assuming that custodial punishment has to be in the form it currently is, and we're not about to go back to hulks on the Thames, followed by transportation to a far away island, as a way of running our criminal justice system.)
The key role of parenting is recognised in both countries (we're talking the US and Australia, if that's not obvious) as an issue with poor youth behaviour, and drug or alcohol consumption as a leading cause of poor or absent parenting is well known. And, of course, we are talking primarily about a black underclass, which in both countries, has only recently, in generational terms, come out of official discrimination.
These thoughts are prompted by the online discussion and news reporting on the state of crime and homelessness in places like San Francisco and Alice Springs, although in both countries there are many other locations with similar problems.
Noah Smith, for example, seems gobsmacked by someone who ran for District Attorney in SF responded to this story:
The reception to his "just live with it" attitude has not been positive:
The other thing that prompted me to post about this was an essay by Darrel Owens about the serious literacy problem in black education in the Bay area. This got noticed at Hot Air too. The essay was thoughtful and to a large degree reasonable, although he strained the friendship when briefly endorsing the idea of enormous reparation as a solution. How's this for ridiculous virtue signalling:
San Francisco's Board of Supervisors have signaled they're ready to right racist wrongs of the past — at least in spirit.
In a unanimous vote on Tuesday, the 11 members accepted a draft plan of more than 100 reparations recommendations
for the city's eligible Black residents. Those proposals include a
whopping one-time payment of $5 million to each adult and a complete
clearing of personal debt — including credit cards, taxes and student
loans. Black residents would also be able to collect an annual income of
at least $97,000 for 250 years and buy homes within the city limits for
The move by the board was largely procedural – an
intermediate step in a much longer process. It does not bind the city to
any of the ideas presented in the 60-page proposal by the San Francisco
African American Reparations Advisory Committee,
which in 2020 was tasked with addressing "the institutional, City
sanctioned harm that has been inflicted upon African American
Apparently, the city has no money to be offering any reparations, let alone $5 million per black adult.
Anyway, the Owens essay has opened the argument about culture and change - with Owens arguing you can't just tell people to change their culture overnight:
In my Substack on Black and Asian race relations
in San Francisco, the most common criticism I received was that Black
San Franciscans could solve their problems with better cultural
practices. That Asian Americans also had been discriminated against in
the past such as the Chinese Exclusion Act or WWII concentration camps,
and thus Black Americans have no excuse. AKA the old model minority
It’s a particularly silly criticism because the majority of Asian Americans are foreign-born
and the 96% can trace ancestry after or around the 1965 immigration
act. However, discrimination against Asian Americans is still rampant,
particularly in the immigration and employment system; and in Silicon
Valley’s management positions.
In comparison, only 9% of Black Americans are foreign born
— rather the inverse of Asian Americans. Vast majority of Black
Americans trace their ancestry back to slavery. When controlling for
Black Americans of foreign ancestry, they have educational attainment on par with immigrants broadly, including 41% degree-attainment among African immigrants, comparable with Asian Americans.
This matters because foreign-born Americans on average tend to commit less crime than U.S.-born Americans. So, yes, when talking criminal justice and poverty, it is a cultural problem. But it’s an American
cultural problem of centuries of imposed segregation and disinvestment
against Blacks, that was explicitly legal until one and a half
generations ago. Asking wide swaths of Black America to imitate foreign
cultures they don’t know as a means to break 400 years of imposed
suppression in the country they’ve lived in for generations is moronic
and absurd. No other ethnic group can do it or has been expected to.
Further down he writes:
To be clear: this conversation isn’t new. The academic gap has
happened every decade since schools have existed in the U.S. However the
stakes are worse because the rise of the Information Economy requires a
degree of intelligence beyond the basic trade skills of the past, and
we’re not even reaching the bare minimum for Black children.
we’re going to make our educational system so heavily dependent on the
activities of children at home rather than in-class, the least we can do
is financially and culturally support families. You cannot erase
decades of poverty, drug addiction, environmental pollution and impaired
child development, explicit disinvestment and redlining in Black
neighborhoods by just saying “try harder.” We’re not just investing in
the future of those families or a race, we’re investing in the future of
our cities and nation.
Many people don’t see it this way and I’m
sure they’ll tell me so. I’ll predict their arguments: “It’s not my job
to take care of other people’ kids. It’s not my job to fix Black
people’s cultural problems. My family / this ethnicity dealt with racism
and overcame it; so to can Black people.”
The Hot Air response to this, though, notes that attempts to improve black education in Baltimore have failed miserably. It seems that the Right love to point out the failure in Baltimore - here's a recent Fox News article about it. But they may have a point in that there is good reason to consider Baltimore has a clear example of showing that throwing money at a problem does not always work. (It's schools are apparently very well funded.)
What I tend to find frustrating that both sides of politics seem to currently be dominated by bogus ideological approaches that we know are not going to work: on the Right, you have teary oddball and former drug addict Jordan Peterson as the advocate for personal responsibility and keeping your room tidy as the route to success in life - what black person is going to find him convincing? On the Left, in Australia, we have (as I have been complaining recently) comfortable and increasingly radical urban advocates going on about the "anti colonial" task, how everything bad now is the fault of "settlers", "never ceded" sovereignty, and a protracted "treaty" process as some sort of resolution to poverty in remote communities that have no economic reason to exist.
I wish there could be a revival of "third way" politics to navigate a path between the extremes, with an emphasis on hope and unity, and that paints a picture of success that is based on realism and positive views about what constitutes a good life, rather than each side pointing to the other and screaming "no, it's all your fault!".
While you could say that the Democrats and Labor are, essentially, still close to being "third way" parties, they by and large don't really talk that way any more, and let essentially culture war issues get too much of a public run. (Although, to be fair, when you have Republicans over-reacting to drag shows and legislating about medical treatment, it's not something easily ignored.)
I guess I just feel that there is room for a revival of more explicitly "third way" approaches that no one is taking up at the moment. And we need better public philosophers of society and life than the current batch.
I may add to this later...