Well, the news is out, in the event you haven’t heard, a grand jury did not indict police officer Darren Wilson in Michael Brown’s death.
Since I no longer live in the US, one question would be “why do I care?”
How about “most of my friends live in the US and I seem to be caught between worlds, where people in the US believe I am European, and my European friends believe I am American?”
Ok, since I have an almost masochistic attitude when it comes to hate-mail, let me just come right out and say it. From the news I have seen, I believe officer Wilson made the best call he could have at the time. This decision was made without benefit of hindsight, without benefit of multiple camera angels, and there was not a lot of time to ponder the various implications of the action. I am not saying Michael Brown deserved to be shot; I am not saying it was the right thing to do. It seems to me a lot of people don’t seem to be able to separate those 2 concepts. However, an undesirable outcome to an undesirable situation is not criminal.
Almost immediately, there were reports of anger and violence from the community. Many in the circles I associate with have decided to take it upon themselves to respond to this with Facebook memes and posts about how those protesting do not work, attempt to stir trouble, are using this as an excuse for anarchy and lawlessness, etc. These people are not helping. In fact, they are probably fueling the anger that puts public safety workers at risk. Not the best plan.
To believe community outrage and the level of community outrage being witnessed, similar to past incidents, like the LA riots of the 90s, is because of individual actions of individual police officers, in a given circumstance is extremely short sighted. You see, there is a problem, a big problem, which is only getting worse. It is not simply a matter of race; that would be easy to fix.
In my younger days, I was involved with a “sub-culture,” a fancy word that is quite misleading. It would imply we were a subset of a larger group or culture. It wasn’t really true, we were outcasts; in effect, our own culture. If you take an anthropological idea of what culture is, a set of behaviors and customs that identify one as part of a group suitable for mating and resource allocation, in the modern world, whether it is the US, UK, Poland, or any other country, multiple cultures exist within national borders. All of these cultures must share the same resources. Somebody is going to be left without, and those without, like any desperate animal, are going to resort to tactics such as violence or underhandedness in order to protect what resources they have.
Sometimes this cultural divide is mistaken as a social or economic class divide. I think perhaps it may have been at one point, but that point has been surpassed a long time ago. In an earlier post I wrote about the altered morality about being poor. I think it is fair to say that the Ferguson issue demonstrates not only a cultural divide, but also why public safety forces, by extension through the emergency medical system, and into other healthcare sectors are really making things worse.
Whether you are a firefighter, paramedic, police officer, doctor, nurse, or whatever, you are part of a group. These groups have very specific values, and when faced with conflicting values, we as individuals like to retreat into our group for reassurance our values and behaviors are “right” or the most valuable. That ethnocentrism, group-think, insular behavior, whatever we want to call it, unfortunately leads to the conclusion that those outside of the group are “wrong” or misguided. This is the behavior that leads to disorder and violence in society.
You see, as a culture, our group is comprised of people who have certain benefits. We are often well respected within the population as a whole. In many countries we form part of a protected or privileged class. We have not only learned, but became skilled in manipulating the political and legal systems to our values and will. Using not only our social status, but also our money, we have basically secured our resources and mating pool. In some nations like Poland, it is relatively easier to move into this group from outside of it than in places like the US. The main reason is money. You see, when you fit in to a culture, members will not only make economic opportunity available, but will also value you during your journey to being a full member, in essence supporting you emotionally, intellectually, etc. Once you are initiated, you are expected to reciprocate.
But what is given to those not in the group? The answer is becoming “less and less.” No matter what country we live in, our world is becoming more polarized. There are not enough resources in any country or even the world in order to attain the most basic quality of life for everyone. As such, we are more and more guarding our resources instead of sharing. Let’s make it easy to understand shall we?
Let’s define an upper lower class or even middle class Western lifestyle is 10. Let us now understand that many of us reading this probably started at 10 as children. We grew up in 10, and some of us, depending on the success of parents and family may have started at 11 or higher. (for those reading who grew up in a family dominated by generations of physicans, lawyers, accountants, stock brokers, etc, 10 would be a significant downgrade.) Some of us start at say 8. Now it is fairly obvious that in order to get from 8 to 10, it doesn’t take a lot of resource investment. So people already at 10 or higher, don’t have to invest much in order to bring the 8s up. But what about those that starts with say 4? How about those who start with 0? It takes considerably more to get them to 10. It takes double what it takes to bring an 8 to a 10 in order to get a get a 4 to an 8.
Unfortunately, resources are finite, and the more you have, the easier they are to get. It takes tremendous effort in order to maintain what we have. That is why the less you have, the more painful the loss. In societies around the world, there is a growing resource gap. That is an observation, not a call to some Marxist ideology. This so called “social/economic” divide creates and exacerbates a cultural divide. It creates the “us vs. them” mentality that is described as “racism” or “class warfare.” No matter what country we are in, we are not the same. We are not equal. We will never be. It doesn’t matter what color a person is, or how much money they have or don’t, we have taken to vilifying and dehumanizing “them.” But this misidentification of who constitutes “us and them” is why there is no understanding of why rioting, etc. happens and what the flashpoints are.
To explain it simply, us in the 10+ category have not only made it undesirable to not be in the 10+ category, we have criminalized it. We can and have done so because we have resources like money and time in order to utilize and master our economic, political, and legal systems. Those less fortunate simply do not have the collective resources, time, or knowledge in order protect their interests within our system. As such, they eventually resort to violence and “lawlessness.” It is often said “violence is the last act of the desperate.” It works both ways. Whether you are a 10 or a 0, when faced with losing resources, (For poor people, family members are resources) our last desperate attempt is violence. You can see this play out in murder suicides of the wealthy and middle class when faced with becoming poor. You can see this is the poor when they turn to looting in order to obtain resources they otherwise cannot as a form of “justice” when they lose something like a family or community member. You can see it in the militarization of the police when protecting the “order of the state” which maintains the resources of the 8+ groups by virtue of rule of law. You see it in the +10s when faced with competition or taxation in the form of war.
All of this leads to a major conundrum for groups such as public safety and medicine. As our core value, helping and protecting is paramount. We claim to want to help all people as much as we can, but we are faced with the real duality that we must also protect our own resources and interests. Whether we like it or not, it is a fact we cannot help anyone if we cannot provide and take care of ourselves. In fact I stipulate one of the major contributors to mental illness in our respective groups is that our desire and efforts to help others leads us to self and family neglect; even to destructive behaviors. But that is another topic for another day.
In order to protect ourselves from violence, we must remain a protected and valued class in society. In order to take care of others, we must provide for ourselves and protect our ability to do so. In order not to lose, we must constantly use our money and resources to promote ourselves and our agenda. These are undisputed facts. In order to do all of this, we must first understand what the challenges are.
In remaining true to our cultural value of helping others, we must understand what their challenges are. We must take purposeful steps to minimize their losses. Whether you identify as a police officer, firefighter, paramedic, doctor, or nurse, “helping people” is more complex than just performing your particular set of skills and behaviors. We must help the “person,” not simply try to cure the disease or enforce the law, which we are prone to focus on to the detriment of all other aspects. WE MUST NOT VILIFY OR DEHUMANIZE the less fortunate. I know we do this and I know we do it too often. From cops who just “know” certain people are criminals to the doctor who doesn’t want to treat the “drunk.” Certainly they are partially responsible for their coping or failed coping mechanisms, but they do not have the same resources and opportunities we do. They may be choosing the least evil they are presented with. It will take us more effort and resources, sometimes seemingly fruitless, in order to help them maintain what little they have. While we may not ever want to become “them,” and it is certainly beyond our power to make everyone like “us,” by realizing the values of their culture and understanding our own, we can find ways to avoid the violence of desperation on all levels, from suicide, homicide, civil unrest, and even war.
We must stop isolating ourselves from the people we are trying to help and seeing our interactions as “us and them” instead of “we.” The more we secure and fortify ourselves, not only will we make it impossible to reach out to us, we will make it impossible to reach out to others. Once that happens, we can no longer help. When we cannot help, we are no longer what we believe in. We are no longer valuable or sacred. At that point, we become competition, not consolation, and the violence will only get worse.
Think about that the next time you post a blog about undesirable patients or memes about the lazy and poor.