Common Sense is Stupid

Before we begin, some facts:

* One in six black men had been incarcerated as of 2001. If current trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime. (NAACP)
* The United States is the world’s leader in incarceration with 2.2 million people currently in the nation’s prisons or jails — a 500% increase over the past thirty years. (Sentencing Project)

* 20.4% of prisoners are “pre-trial” – legally innocent. (World Prions Brief)

 

I planned to write this article as of two days ago, before the atrocious shooting that occurred in Oregon. But my theory remains unchanged, even reinforced: we suffer from an incredible, institutional failure. By any standards, a society in which 1/3 of a racial population suffers incarceration operates on an unfair basis. In any other cultures, we’d call that cultural genocide.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle appeal to our inner morons by claiming to wield magical “common sense” solutions. The world is a complex place; millions and millions of factors go into even the most mundane of policy decisions. A simple bridge requires hundreds of precisely shaped concrete, millions of screws, nuts, and tons of rebar, and immense coordination. Most of us have a difficult time with an Ikea set. Proceeding to something slightly more complex – road upkeep – and, well, our roads suck.

Now, let’s take, oh, gun control – and the variables spiral out of control. “Restrict the guns!” they say. Other countries do, and their violence plummets. Yes, but correlations implies not causation. For one, it’s not like guns go out of style or something; they’ll still work, and the market is already flooded. So much so that while we complain about Mexican immigrants, their market is flooded with American guns. Stemming the flow of new guns seems like a great idea, but it’s not nearly enough.

The other frequently mentioned “common sense” solution is improved mental health care. I can’t argue with that need; finding a decent psychiatrist was a nightmare. But by what standards do we restrict gun ownership? Depression? Threats of violence? Or will simple ADD suffice? Where’s the line? And should we worry that the possibilities of being put on a “this person is too crazy to own a gun” list will dissuade the troubled from visiting their doctors? Might that only increase the nonsensical stigma against needing mental help?

And I don’t mean to be an ass, but it may be simply inevitable; doctors make mistakes. Anyone with half a brain is smart enough to lie to a doctor about his or her motives. Will anyone who wants a gun have to get an ok from a doctor? Easy lie to get around that one, while the difficulty of seeing a doctor increases significantly. Or will it be up to doctors to report patients unfit to own a gun? Welp, there goes doctor-patent trust.

I’m by no means claiming that the above ideas are bad, or wouldn’t work, but please, stop calling them “common sense” and simple.

There is obviously a legal component as well. This component, although I am not a lawyer, is bullshit. Not only must the militia be “well regulated,” but it clearly exists solely for the purpose of “the security of a free State.” If so, we can *constitutionally* restrict guns to homes for the sole purpose of protection against foreign invasion (I’m aware of the Court’s stance on this. I just disagree with the “textual” reading of the Constitution).

Furthermore – withholding guns treats the symptom, not the problem. I own a gun, and I’ve never hurt anyone with it. What’s beneath the issue? Mental health, perhaps, but other countries have mental health issues and don’t suffer these crimes. It’s a cultural failure. A cultural failure. That’s on us. We fail.

Gun control constitutes but one small part of the social policy that fuels the prison complex. We’re still barbaric enough as a nation to embrace the death penalty and ignore the horrendous abuses inside of prisons. By what metric do we delude ourselves into thinking prison rape, which occurs alarmingly often, is a fitting crime? The Bureau of Justice Statistics “findings suggest that in one year alone more than 70,000 prisoners were sexually abused” (HRW). How do we allow this? Because it only happens to poor prisoners? Where is the rationale for allowing long-term solitary confinement?

All of these pieces coalesce into something bigger, and this writing is simply a way to trace that development. This “superpower” might be little more than a cardhouse, and the bottom suddenly seems very weak indeed.

Mass incarceration, unstable populations, rampant civil rights and privacy violations, ferocious partisanship, no viable presidential candidates at all, atrocious healthcare, reactionary unrest in the middle east, Putin, and, most dangerous of all looms the promise of technology which evolves faster than we do. This has (up to this point) always been positive for mankind, but negative for the society that birthed it.

 

http://www.sentencingproject.org/template/page.cfm?id=107

http://www.naacp.org/pages/criminal-justice-fact-sheet

http://www.prisonstudies.org/country/united-states-america

https://www.hrw.org/news/2007/12/15/us-federal-statistics-show-widespread-prison-rape