Sunday, December 14, 2014

Public needs versus private pursuit of status, influence and money

It has often been said that the legal profession, including the police, the courts and the process of conducting trials is a very blunt instrument that fails both in the gathering of evidence and in the prosecution of wrong-doing. Missed files, overlooked pieces of evidence, misquoted witnesses, gaps in both communication and understanding between departments in the same office, and laws that either exaggerate or restrict police powers to do their jobs....these are all part of the problem.
More and more we hear of broken window tactics that concentrate police attention on the "little things" that are wrong in a community, in the strongly held belief that such focus will derail larger criminal actions.
Another way of perceiving such an approach is to allege that policing has eroded to the point that one small-town entrepreneur called "Mickey-Mouse" policing, whereby the big stuff is sacrificed to the petty crimes, for a variety of reasons. Partly, superior officers demand that their "supervisees" produce a quota of offences in whatever section of the law they are required to enforce. Partly, too the public relations aspect of keeping public discontent from undermining trust and confidence in the law enforcement apparatus forces law enforcement to scurry around chasing the petty actions of bored young men thereby leaving little time, energy and resources for the "big fish" many of whom go untouched.
And then there is the question of the training and the culture of the law enforcement agents themselves, much of it traditionally built on a military model, in which a top-down hierarchy rules. And many of the traditions of that organizational structure are weak if not counter-intuitive to the changes that have ridden into town on the screens of cell phones, tablets and the internet. Historically, public perceptions of 'new people in town' were so prominent and so strong that even a new horse on which the 'new-guy' rode was both noticed and suspected before many acts were committed.
Today, the whole world is 'the new guy in town' given the access to and the ubiquitous deployment of digital devices, and the capacity to raid those devices (hacking has become so prevalent that the public institutions lag behind the tactics and strategies of those determined to undermine whomever and whatever target they select). Collaborators in criminal activity, in various criminal stings, are reported to be located in multiple cities, all of them linked to each other, for example, in the gathering, storing and dissemination of pornographic images of young children. Gangs have gone viral. And "gangs" now connotes a much more complex and far-reaching concept than those individuals who reside in the same neighbourhood, while those renditions of the word continue to operate.
While digital technology may have, and indeed it has, expanded the capacity of individuals to observe and to report and to comment on events at home and around the world, it has also enabled those who seek to hurt others to commit their offences in what could be called near anonymity. We all know that public institutions, even within the same agencies, merit the allegations of failing to communicate with their counterparts in their own organizations. Sharing of information, made so easy and accessible, continues to plague the operations of most organizations, in a climate in which information is increasingly seen as power and the instinct to protect one's little morcel of "influence" blocks the sharing of that information/influence even with those who need that intelligence in order to operate effectively.
We have witnessed a significant and slippery slide to the construction of silos of information, status, influence and the perception of power, as people both individually and collectively strive to protect their turf, in the widely held belief, warranted by the exposure of multiple public examples, that their unit may be swept away at any moment in an organizational move that is geared to cut costs, preserve the budget and the careers of those in charge at the expense of those on the bottom rungs of the org, chart. Just as universities are being dubbed the purveyors of "status" through their granting of degrees, layered by their tuition costs, their historic reputations and their own 'brand' status in the minds of students and parents (as the online emporium of digital courses grows exponentially and at a much lower cost, if at all), so too in the marketplace has the marketing of 'status' brands become the hallmark of western culture that divides all cities and towns on an hourly basis between those who have and those who have much less.
Degrees as status, bank accounts and retirement accounts as status depending on their size, cars and homes marked by their brand names, on their hoods or their street and neighbourhood names, occupations that fill corner offices based on the competitions that demonstrate winners and losers in the productivity/smooze/networking games inside and outside the office....these are all signs that we have fallen into the black hole that can only ensnare the most ideologically pure and the most needy of extrinsic affirmation. I once worked for a television executive who told his hundred-plus staff that the motivation for his life and work was "applause". And when I heard those words spill from his lips, I say bolt upright in my chair, wondering how significant that observation was for so many of the people I knew, not only in that specific organization, but in other situations.
Hierarchies of status, power, influence and importance, like fame, is about as authentic and sustainable as a climate infected by billions of tonnes of toxic chemicals all of them spewing from the stacks of those very corporations whose capacity to pay for their license to pollute exempts them from prosecution and from changing their polluting habits. Buying justice, either individually or collectively, through political influence, has rendered the justice system a victim of the money, status and influence of white collar players all of them colluding to support the maintenance of each others' power. Those who have no power, no money, no status and no influence are the detritus that has become the defining signature of our time.
Whether at home or in the most remote corners of the most poor nations, those without power, status, influence (with money as a measuring unit of their lack of power, status and influence) experience the most abuse, the most injustice, the most imprisonment, the most attention from the law enforcement agencies, and the most public contempt. We have veered in our public culture toward making individuals and groups the objects both of adulation and adolescent envy and also of adolescent gossip, derision, contempt and even hate. We project both our highest expectations and aspirations on those we consider "successful" (those who have money, status, power and influence) and also our deepest fears and anxieties on those same individuals and groups. We also project our strongest fears and anxieties on those who are deemed to be "losers" (those without money, status, power and influence).
Our public institutions, too, have become enmeshed in this charade of the lemmings' pursuit of influence and power, as individuals concentrate more and more on their own status, without regard for the conditions necessary to sustain this headlong stampede to status. In this unfolding drama, those in uniform with power over others without uniforms, are more likely to abuse their power and influence, considering both their own vulnerability to their 'higher-ups' who make demands that are designed to sustain their own power and the eruption and exposure of their own shadows in a world that reeks of denial of the unconscious while swatting its every whimper as if it were the plague that exceeds Ebola in its virulence and our capacity to develop antidotes to its impulsive bursts.
We are becoming what could and has been readily and frequently anticipated...a culture of frightened narcissists who are increasingly developing a parallel distrust of others and especially of public institutions. And included in our distrust of public institutions is our distrust of those law enforcement agencies we have designed and deployed for our own protection. However, in a society and culture in which every individual is on his own, or believes he is without support and without status and influence, and lacks even the hope or the potential of acquiring status, influence, and power (coming from basic needs like an education, employment with dignity, access to quality health care, and an opportunity to live in some secure neighbourhood that is not threatened either by criminal elements or public abuse of power) all of the basic instincts including human fear of both failure and the loss of what little crumbs of power and status and influence we might currently cling to come rushing onto the shared playing field that constitutes our towns and cities and neighbourhoods.
And now, the West Side story of gang versus gang on the streets of New York, is reconstituted to form a war of those with power against those without power. In Canada, First Nations people are no longer willing to gather up the crumbs of discarded food from the tables of those in power and feed them to their children. And they are growing increasingly rambunctious in their insistence on changing the power structure of their national culture. In the United States, blacks especially, but also including other minorities, are marching in the streets, to demand what they perceive as a modicum of justice for their people, in the face of a spate of public decisions that they perceive as the abuse of influence by those intent on preserving their own power, status and influence.
In Lima Peru, United Nations-sponsored talks on global warming and climate change witnessed underdeveloped countries demanding financial assistance to join the club of non-polluters from the rich nations whose industrial and government establishments have chucked the vast majority of toxic gases into the atmosphere for decades, and who now demand their indigent international colleagues pay for their own measures to stop carbon pollution.
We are witnessing a global explosion of voices, including violence, from those who consider themselves dispossessed, underemployed, or even unemployed, underfed, under-educated, lacking in access to medical care, and who are experiencing enhanced torture and violence without the protection that all civilized people everywhere deserve and require in order to survive and to grow their families. And with the means to watch and listen to others of similar (if qualitatively different) abuses of power, from different abusers, the perceived strength and validity of the arguments being expressed in the streets of America this weekend, for a justice that is colour blind, rather than a false and unsustainable justice that is colour-coded and colour targeted will only grow and threaten even more of the public institutions.
And the decisions of those institutions, like the most recent U.S. Senate funding bill that removes the requirement for healthy food from school cafeterias, because children are not eating the vegetables and fruits that had replaced the sugar and salt-infested processed foods, thereby eliminating jobs for many cafeteria workers, will come under increased public scrutiny, as we attempt to wean a public addicted to sugar and salt off their own cardiac and cancer death sentences, and focus their attention on the more healthy foods, including visionary and healthy laws and law enforcements and collective initiatives that seek to serve and protect all people everywhere from the rampant dangers of both the immediate threats to survival and the longer-term global threats to international peace and security. It is the erosion of the public confidence in public institutions, including governments and law enforcement agencies, and public and private corporations, and the perception that ordinary people can do little if anything to stop this erosion, that is creating a climate of both distrust and public agitation that will grow exponentially as the wave of acquiring a public voice in and from the collective replaces the screaming ambition of individuals to acquire power, influence, status and money that lies at the heart of the current cultural model.

No comments:

Post a Comment