Groups vs systems

Sep. 20th, 2017 10:13 am
dpolicar: (Default)
[personal profile] dpolicar
I am so very tired of the narrative of "We shouldn't condemn a whole group because of some bad individuals. There are good people and bad people in that group."

Here's the thing: there's a difference between a group of people and a system of people. The difference is that a system of people comprises not only the individuals, but also the social constructs that guide the behavior of those individuals... in other words, the system itself.

For example, a company isn't just a bunch of people who coincidentally happen to work on the same projects in distributed ways. A school system isn't a bunch of teachers and administrators who independently happen to work the same way. A police precinct isn't a bunch of officers who just happen to follow the same rules.

In each of these cases there are policies and guidelines and hierarchies and informal structures and so forth that shape behavior. There's a system.

And when we praise or condemn the public school system, or the police, or Microsoft, or etc. we mostly aren't praising or condemning a whole group because of some good or bad individuals. I mean, sure, those individuals exist, but they aren't the reason. We are praising/condemning a whole group because of the system that organizes it. And the larger the system we're talking about, the more true that is: when we say that democracies are more just than totalitarian states, or that capitalism is more efficient than communism, or that communism is more humane than capitalism, or various other claims along those lines, we're basically not saying anything at all about any individual.

Or at least, that's how it should be. I mean, sure, sometimes we praise or condemn a group of people just because we're applying aggregate-level stereotypes to all the individuals in that group. And in those cases the "We shouldn't condemn a whole group because of some bad individuals. There are good people and bad people in that group." narrative makes sense: we really shouldn't! Or at least, we're overwhelmingly likely to be mistaken when we do; we can draw our own ethical conclusions from there.

(I am reminded now of a friendship I broke some time back by expressing both the idea that condemning individuals because of their group affiliations is bad, and the idea that analyzing the common behaviors of individuals is the only way we can identify pathological systems, in ways that struck them as infuriatingly and relationship-endingly hypocritical.)

And sure, sometimes we make analysis errors in this space. Sometimes there's a system operating we're unaware of. Sometimes we infer the presence of systems that don't actually operate, or aren't relevant to what we're talking about. It's easy to talk about the behavior of people while ignoring the systems that shape us, and it's easy to handwave about notional systems without actually making any concrete or testable claims about whether they exist.

I'm not saying I expect us to be perfectly accurate when we describe groups and systems. But I want us to be better about acknowledging that they are two different things.

When someone condemns racism as a systemic attribute of a society, for example, there are folks who reply that no, racism is a property of individuals, end-of-story.

And in principle that can be a legitimate disagreement; if someone wants to argue that there really aren't any social systems underlying/guiding/constraining/coordinating the racist behavior of individuals, for example, that's a totally relevant argument. (Mind you, I think it's obviously false, but that's another matter.)

But usually they aren't arguing that; rather, they are simply insisting that we can only talk about individuals, because when we say that racism is also demonstrated through the systems that essentially all white people in this country participate in, we're talking about a whole group, and (all together now) "we shouldn't condemn a whole group because of some bad individuals. There are good people and bad people in that group."

And I don't know how to say all of this, or any of it, in ways that are at all useful within the conversation itself. And I watch other people trying to do it, and not getting very far either.

And I understand that often that's because other people just don't want to hear it, and in general I don't believe that there's a way to say everything that will be accepted by the person I'm talking to and that it's my job to find it. But still, I try to express myself clearly and compellingly.

So, anyway. I am so very tired of the narrative of "We shouldn't condemn a whole group because of some bad individuals. There are good people and bad people in that group."

Books: Caliban, Alley, Equilateral

Sep. 19th, 2017 06:47 pm
woodwardiocom: (Default)
[personal profile] woodwardiocom

Caliban's War by James S.A. Corey

Second in the Expanse series, this volume revolves around the crisis on Ganymede, and the associated blue-eyed beastie. Entertaining adventure SF, recommended.

Far-Seer by Robert J. Sawyer

A tale of Galileo, if Galileo was a sentient dinosaur living on the moon of a tidally locked gas giant. Interesting world- and myth-building, recommended.

Winter Witch by Elaine Cunningham

Set in the world of the Pathfinder roleplaying game, this is a light fantasy about a Viking woman, an urban mage, and the icy witch who brings them together. Mildly recommended.

Damnation Alley by Roger Zelazny

Loosely similar to the movie, murderer and rapist Hell Tanner is given a chance at a clean slate if he'll ferry a plague cure across a ravaged America. It's clearly supposed to be some sort of redemption tale, but Zelazny missed the memo that some crimes don't get redemption. I honestly prefer the movie.

Venus Equilateral by George O. Smith

Fixup novel of a series of stories published in the 1940s in Astounding, revolving around a communications relay station and the scientific geniuses therein. The science is advanced and accurate for its era, but has not dated terribly well. (The problems they encounter in communicating with, and locating, spaceships were solved in much simpler ways within the author's lifetime.) By the end, the science has advanced so far that it's almost shifted genres from hard SF to morality play. Mildly recommended.
dpolicar: (Default)
[personal profile] dpolicar
(A comment from another discussion)

I acknowledge, of course, that we are all imperfect humans, and what an individual officer does in a specfic situation is always the result of a million variables that are impossible to predict and often impossible to determine after the fact.

That's why I tend to focus more on training and evaluation protocols than on specific events. It's unjust to expect officers to do X in a sitution if they've been trained to do Y, but it's perfectly reasonable to expect officers to be trained to do X if we prefer that they do X in a situation.

I would prefer that police be trained and evaluated as peacekeepers rather than killers. So I would prefer, for example, they be trained and expected to identify situations that don't require a death, and to act so as to not create a death where none is required.

That said, how police are trained and evaluated is a collective decision, and if we collectively prefer police to choose deaths that aren't required -- for example, if we prefer to train and equip police as military officers who happen to deploy among civilian populations -- then that's how we should train and evaluate them, regardless of my preferences. That's part of the price I pay for living in a collective.

If police _are_ trained to choose unnecessary deaths, we should (individually and collectively) treat calling the police, permitting them into our homes, and otherwise making use of their services as a use of deadly force. Consequently, if we don't individually endorse the use of deadly force in those situations, we should not call the police, any more than we would fire a gun.

Those are individual decisions, not collective ones, and it's perfectly reasonable to hold one another as individuals accountable for them.

I acknowledge that this means that individuals who eschew deadly force in a situation may find themselves in conflict with any police who may arrive. I don't like this, and I don't endorse it, but I acknowledge it.

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