I was contemplating the irrationality of violence. People turn to violence out of a desire for safety. Yet violence in the end makes the world a less safe place for everyone, not just for the supposed bad guys.
I can’t stop thinking about one piece of data. The US doesn’t have the highest rates of all kinds of crimes, compared to other similar countries. What makes the US crime rates stand out is that for Americans crime is more likely to involve violence and so more likely to result in injury and death. Why is that the case?
It occurred to me that criminals are more violent because our society unintentionally incentivizes violence. We have a heavily armed population who are trigger-happy. It isn’t always clear who is and isn’t a criminal. You only know a criminal after they commit the crime. Americans are a paranoid people, seeing criminals everywhere. Cops regularly shoot people who they mistakenly thought had guns. So do regular citizens. To a paranoid mind, a bag of skittles or a cell phone looks like a possible weapon.
The criminal is also in a paranoid state. Knowing so many people carry guns, the criminal isn’t going to mess around. He is more likely to shoot someone, if he has even the slightest reason to think the victim might pull a gun. Also, because our criminal system is so harsh in its punishment, the criminal is more likely to kill all witnesses to decrease the probability of going to prison. Our desire to protect ourselves from bad guys backfires and creates a less safe world.
Even mass incarceration just makes everyone worse. It has been convincingly argued that prisons have become schools for criminals where people come out the other side more dangerous than when they went in. Incarceration destroys lives, destroys families, destroys communities, destroys social capital. It makes our society worse in every possible way. We are surrounded by people who are the victims of our demented compulsion to punish at all costs. Some data shows that at least 6% of people in prison are entirely innocent of all crimes charged against them. Over the past few decades, that would amount to millions of Americans who have been falsely imprisoned and had their entire lives destroyed for no reason. These are the walking wounded, the desperate and hopeless, the victims of a society that betrayed them.
On a larger scale, our entire society has become militarized as our country increasingly has embraced its role as a police state and a military empire. The US has become the militarized policemen of the world. The Cold War, the War On Poverty, the War On Drugs, the War On Terror, all of these first and foremost have been wars on people which includes American citizens. We’ve made our country and the entire world into a war zone.
In lowering the standards for recruitment, the military allowed people with criminal records into service. This unintentionally led to the military training of criminals who in many cases were gang members. So, the gangs in this country became militarized, using military tactics and military weapons against both other gangs and the police. At the same time, the police have militarized and our country is beginning to feel like a military occupation with police who look like soldiers, with guns being pointed at innocent citizens, and with military vehicles on American streets.
This creates a state of fear and paranoia. From right-wingers to minorities, people are arming themselves as the society becomes increasingly dangerous. American citizens aren’t sure who to trust anymore. Not even the police seem to be entirely on our side. If we can’t trust the police, as minorities and the poor understand all too well, then the only other choice is to defend oneself, to defend one’s family and community. Americans have started forming militias and are training in preparation. Even gangs in many ways are simply the poor person’s militia.
In our paranoia, we’ve projected our violent behavior onto the entire global society. In acting like Big Brother, we’ve simply become yet another authoritarian bully. All of the US war crimes and atrocities make us less safe as a country. These include: wars of aggression, long-lasting occupations, assassinations, overthrowing democratic governments, arming and training militant groups, mass bombings and drone strikes that kill innocent people (often women and children), funding Israeli’s genocide of Palestinians, allying with authoritarian governments in the Middle East and Latin America, and on and on.
As many have pointed out, the 9/11 attack was blowback from all that our government has done. When we do horrible things to others, they feel motivated to return the favor. It becomes a vicious cycle of violence. It creates and entire mentality and reality tunnel where everything is seen through the lense of violence and where violence is seen as the solution to all problems.
This is social dysfunction brought to its extreme. It is a vicious cycle, a self-fulfilling prophecy of self-destruction.