I promise to stop beating a dead horse soon. Reflecting on one of last week’s posts on Baltimore, two students send me two good thoughts.
First, when your phone is on the fritz, or your computer is on the fritz or when your computer is on the fritz or when you car is on the fritz, and you are frustrated, what do you normally kick? Do you go into your neighbor’s house and bang on their computer, or go into their garage and kick their car tires? In other words, maybe you want to say that large scale violent protests are in order. Who am I to say that they are not? But why are people burning down and stealing from the many small businesses who surely are contributing in a positive way to the Baltimore community? Are there not more appropriate places to direct the ire? My only response to the student was that this line of thinking ignores the fact that first the protests are emotional in part; second, if the problem is that the protests are taking place because innocent people are being harassed, then perhaps this is an illustration of the same thing; third, well, I don’t know.
Second, and I love this point made by one of my very favorite graduating seniors – we were asking in the previous post and in ones previous to that, exactly what people like he and I should do. What are our obligations? We don’t do anyone any harm. We certainly do not approve of police violence and we are both very interested in seeing the reasonable exercise of government power and in the freeing of economic institutions to promote a better life for all people. Finally, we both are fairly new to this country, and may even have had awful experiences in our recent family history. In any case, ignore all that and simply ask, what, exactly are we and others like us to do? Quit school and quit our jobs? Place ourselves in the servitude of a less fortunate person? And NF’s point was this: that if the folks in Baltimore and the folks who are up in arms about those obvious problems and others like this actually specify exactly what NF and I are supposed to do, then there may be an immediate way forward for NF and myself, with some possible assuaging of our “guilt” today. In other words, if the outraged people continue to “holdout” in offering up specifics about what my obligations really are, they can continue to holdout indefinitely. The holdout strategy of never laying out what the obligation is ensures that the guilt and outrage last in perpetuity and continues to pay dividends for a very, very long time. It’s sort of like why I think that governments would never acquiesce to me making a single lifetime payment in place of all of my future tax obligations. Seriously, if I could go to the credit market to borrow money right now that allows me to pay the present value of all future taxes that I may possibly owe, use the proceeds to pay off the government, and then have them off of my back forever, I would do it. I sense that there is very little constituency for that kind of program, both in government, and in the case of issues like Baltimore.
UPDATE: Here is a very good example of what NF is talking about. BTW, it’s not entirely obvious that I or anyone like me is made better off by a society that is racist, or certainly by one that historically took advantage of slavery. Further, I would be very interested in seeing an analysis of this article or a rewrite of this article that examines the same phenomenon within races. For example, Wayne County is east of where I live, “they” are referred to as the “315-ers” and it is clear that those are poor neighborhoods, that there is not a lot of mixing of friends, family, schools or anything between that area and the 585 area, that the 315 area is mired in grinding poverty, suffers from the affects of drugs, and has had mechanization and outsourcing crush opportunities for their low skilled workers. And so on. Crickets.