All right, it’s time for our weekly roundup of…whatever the hell is going on out there.
In the least shocking news of the week, Gawker highlights an AP poll showing that only one-third of Americans think most people can be trusted. Apparently, back in the 70s, half of everybody thought most people could be trusted. Boy, those 70s sure were the golden years, weren’t they?
Let’s set aside for a moment the fact that this entire line of questioning is gibberish. What value can possibly be gained by going up to people and basically asking, “Do you suspect the other randos out there? Some of them? More than fifty percent of them?” It’s hard, but we have to set that aside because otherwise I can’t talk about it, and I’d really like to look at this for a second.
Beyond the general silliness of the poll itself, the results are little more than a Rorscharch inkblot upon which we can all imprint our biases and agendas – so, having said that, let me imprint mine here. My biases and agendas suggest that we can actually learn a little bit of a lesson here, and it’s not a complicated one.
Why should we trust anyone?
Most people, across the political spectrum, have some issue with the government. Some just see all fancy institutions, especially those in perhaps far-off Washington, D.C., to be forms of tyranny preventing their fishing and gun-love. It’s not all about them, though – even those of us who ardently affirm the proper role of government in society loathe bitterly the notion that there are spies keeping buckets filled with our phone calls, texts, e-mails, and web activity. That’s not the kind of shit that promotes a broader trust in society.
Okay, you say, but that’s just the government. Maybe we can mostly agree that we don’t fully trust the government, but what about each other?
It would take four lengthy blog posts to adequately explore the omnipresent ways in which we are divided from one another, but we can summarize quickly. Because of our current system of predominantly nonunion wage labor, our workplaces are designed to be competitive instead of cooperative, with changing standards, opaque criteria for advancement, and discussion of salary among colleagues considered strictly taboo. In this systematic and calculated removal and absence of any unity or common cause among us, we are divided. (This is a case I will make in much greater detail in the upcoming winter issue of Jacobin magazine.) Everyone surrounding us is, at best, a rival for finite resources, promotions, and other favors, and, at worst, a snitch watching for us to make a mistake that can then be reported to management. Management itself, while in part comprised of those who once existed at our present level, is a separate class both in money and culture. Why would we trust either management or our coworkers?
In our communities, small police forces are becoming militarized, and the blue line of the police fraternity is growing thicker. These local law enforcement organizations are rapidly turning from citizen peace-keepers to little insular militias to WATCH us and CATCH us. Because of laws that allow all assets – cars, houses, cash, anything – connected in any way with drug crimes to be seized and kept by the police forces involved, police forces now have to make busts in order to get money that they need to fund themselves. Just stop and think about that for a second, and ask yourself what kind of conflict of interest that might cause. Couple that with the conflict of interest inherent to allowing companies to profit from people getting locked up. The beast is fed by informants, people – whether criminals themselves or just “concerned citizens” – who try to get other people in trouble by helping police catch them doing crimes.
Yeah, lot of trust there.
Then there are all the people who want other people’s blood and piss. Tons of employers make you give them your pee so they can check it out before they will let you work there. Lots of people in America, mostly people who don’t like when the government spend money, want the government to spend lots of money to look at poor people’s pee. Tons of people want to look at the urine of politicians. There are arguments for all of these things. I’m not particularly sympathetic to any of them, I’m just saying that there are arguments. My argument, put as simply as possible (don’t get me started on this) is that we should pretty much leave everybody’s pee alone. Since we’re not going to do that, is this an environment that encourages trust?
I mean, if you want a nice and neat “let’s trust each other” solution/exhortation here, you’re going to have to find a friendlier and more New Agey wizard. There’s nothing mystical or centered in the heart or soul about this. We have damn good reason to be suspicious of most of our fellow citizens, and the only way that’s ever going to change is if we make some pretty major changes to the entire way we go about society.
Let’s get to it.
Just a few quick other highlights from the last week or so.
Ever since reading the Adventures of Tintin as a child, I’ve found the concept of people blowing up oil pipelines to be fascinating. In Yemen, some tribesmen who want the government to compensate them for the resources of the land have blown up a pipeline. Without blindly endorsing tribesmen I don’t really know wholesale, I’ll say it’s not the worst idea in the world.
The drug you’ve never heard of is khat. It’s a plant that grows on the Horn of Africa. When chewed, it acts as a fun and great stimulant. It’s very popular not just among Somalis but many in North Africa. Naturally, it’s banned here, because everything is banned here, but it’s not banned in Britain, which has a very high population of immigrants coming from areas where khat is popular. They’re thinking of banning it, and I mean, why not? Banning recreational substances only ever leads to positive results…
In the the election of 2008, the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts voted, 65-35 (no lie), to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Less than three years later, the eminent wisdom of the state Supreme Judicial Court ruled that, because voters overwhelmingly stated that marijuana violations should not be a law enforcement priority, the smell of marijuana should not be considered probable cause to search a vehicle. Seriously, in effect, this made Massachusetts the only state in which a burn cruise is not really a criminal act. Now, the district attorneys who lost that battle are back at it, trying to argue that the cops should be allowed to use the smell of marijuana as probable cause because the federal government says so.
All this wizard says is good luck, assholes.