Posts Tagged ‘Claims’
So first–the good news. There is dissension in the ranks of NYPD. It seems that PBA head Pat Lynch went too far, and a not insubstantial portion of the PBA membership has been pushing back. News of a contentious meeting, with much yelling and pushing and shoving, showed the cracks within the PBA. Perhaps because of this, Lynch backed off his call for the mayor to apologize, although I think some people are overinterpreting his changed position:
“Despite statements to the contrary, our demands have never been for a simple apology, but for clear and unequivocal expressions of support for our members and an equally strong condemnation of those who have stirred up hatred and violence towards police officers,” he wrote [in an internal memo].
“We have also demanded that these words be backed up by concrete actions to hold anti-police agitators accountable and to protect our members from further attacks.”
In the same memo, Lynch took credit for what he called a “shift in the mayor’s tone.” Still, this is being framed as a defeat for Lynch, and despite the fact that he hasn’t changed that much, it’s not an unreasonable conclusion. The memo, as the New York Daily News noted, came a day after a poll of NYC voters showed Lynch with an 18% approval rating.
Given De Blasio’s reputation as a progressive, and the fact that his campaign highlighted criticism of stop and frisk, it’s easy to see this as a victory for Black Lives Matter movement, as a step towards less punitive and racially discriminatory policing. But that would be a mistake.
Motives, Procedures and Hope, or How Not to Bring About Change
Policing practices, mass incarceration, and the general punitiveness of policy directed towards those at the bottom are all things I have been trying to grapple with for a long time. On the one hand, the levels of punitiveness are absurd and indefensible as ways to ensure public safety or achieve anything I’d consider a legitimate policy goal. This would be true even if they were applied evenly. On the other hand, punitiveness is always dished out in a highly stratified manner. These two things are connected–unless justified on the basis of supposed inherent Black criminality and dangerousness, these policies wouldn’t have been possible. They require Othering in order to be legitimated. And if they were applied with anything like an even hand, significant public push back from more politically powerful communities would be swift.
New York City is certainly not the only place where policing has focused on low-level petty crimes and ‘disorder,’ justified by the claim that addressing these minor issues would reduce more serious threats to the public. But it has been a prime mover in it. Broken Windows policing was implemented by Bill Bratton during his first tenure as NYPD commissioner, and when he was appointed again by Mayor Bill DeBlasio it was clear to all observers that the city would continue to be committed to this style of policing. Bratton’s appointment was an early disappointment for many DeBlasio supporters, especially since raising the issue of stop and frisk had been a key to his campaign.
These posts didn’t get as much love. Sadly, none of them is out of date.
Here is some push back on the idea that decriminalization of things will lead to harms, as if criminalization isn’t a massive source of harm.
Is prison harmful? Is ripping apart families harmful? Is the endemic sexual assault found in prison harmful? What about the risk of violence, or the torture of solitary confinement? Or overcrowding, or lack of medical care? How about the collateral consequences of imprisonment–unemployment, being barred from public housing, food stamps, federal education aid and a whole host of professions or voting? What about the impact on communities where many people are shuffled between prison and the neighborhood? What about the police harassment that comes with hyper-aggressive law enforcement?
[Speaking of which, High incarceration may be more harmful than high crime h/t Gerry Canavan.]
I’ve been talking here about a twin set of concepts, democratic efficiency and oligarchic inevitability. In short, ‘democratic efficiency’ involves the assumption that public opinion automatically translates into policy (or at least does generally absent some distortion), while ‘oligarchic inevitability’ is the notion that elites necessarily win out regardless of what the public does. It occurred to me recently that I ought to connect these concepts with something else I’ve been discussing here–the idea of politics as a contest of claims making.
I’ve been less clear on how I think about these two concepts. Both are usefully understood as claims. Sometimes they are made directly–people insist that an outcome must be supported by the public because we are a democracy. Other times they are made indirectly–were people make statements that assume one or the other concepts. Direct claims are always based on some set of assumptions that are themselves indirect claims. Another way of saying this that we need to attend to both manifest and latent content.
One of the key things to remember about claims is that they are observable, intersubjective things, unlike beliefs (which are internal states and not observable, and generally understood as subjective). It may be that the actor who makes the claim believes it, but this isn’t necessarily true nor relevant. A claim can be made successfully without being believed, by either the speaker or the audience. This also means demonstrating that a claim isn’t true is irrelevant to whether it matters. Some statements can never be facts, but will always remain claims–for example, when they involve essentially contested concepts or when they depend on claims about motives or beliefs. In political science, there is a tendency to dismiss claims as “talk” as opposed to “action”, despite that fact that many of the “actions” studied are themselves talk, such as a veto or the filing of a lawsuit. Scientific claims can be substantiated or not, and to different degrees, but often can never be facts–something that can be considered simply true or false.
I was watching MSNBC earlier this evening, where Ari Melber, sitting in for Chris Hayes, was covering the beginnings of what is being called a “humanitarian intervention” in Iraq in response to ISIS which allegedly* is at this point only about delivering food and water. I’ve argued before that the word ‘intervention’ ought to be avoided, for two reasons. First, it implies that one is getting involved in an area of the world, when typically, the actor doing the ‘intervening’ has long been heavily involved. Second, it covers both war making and non-war making activities, and that means obscuring a very important difference. The legal, moral and political questions between say, offering asylum or providing medicine are not at all connected to those related to mass aerial bombing or a ground invasion. But helping people tends to more popular than war, despite what people claim about the public, so elites that prefer more war tend to avoid talking about it explicitly.
Last year Elias Isquith asked me to contribute a piece to a forum he did on the State of the Union speech. There was some dispute between the contributors over how they read the speech which was my jumping off point. I’m posting it again before this year’s speech because most of what I had to say is still applicable, even if some of the details have changed.The fact that people have such different readings of this speech isn’t that surprising. It reads to me like it was designed to do just that – let each of us hear what we want to hear. Our normal way of understanding the SOTU is outward. We tend to think of the president seeking to persuade the opposition or independents. But there are two ways we might think of ‘us’ as the target. First, speeches can be used to mobilize one’s own supporters to action. Second, they can be used to demobilize one’s own team. But ultimately, the impact depends on how we react. We can use the good things that were mentioned as a resource, in making demands. Or we can assume that the White House has the issue in hand and therefore we can stand down – at least until we get marching orders. The latter is a losing proposition, regardless of your thoughts about the president’s own motives. I cringe at the barrage of emails about supporting the president’s agenda. We should have our own agenda, and pressure him to support us.
Of course, we all know that the president faces a hostile Republican majority in the House, and an obstructionist Republican minority in the Senate which, as a result of Harry Reid’s unwillingness to undo the filibuster, has a great deal of power. Because of the sequester, there will likely be fiscal legislation, and because of Republicans’ fear over losing the Latino vote in perpetuity, immigration legislation will at least get a hearing.
So I thought I’d focus more on some other things, including those the White House has more control over.
I don’t remember where it all started, but I’ve been unhappy with the concept of the decision as the central framework for political science for a long time. Very few political scientists, I should note, would say this is the case. They’d probably object to the idea that there is a central framework. Instead, they would likely focus on various different frameworks. But, being heterodox and inclined to see the biggest picture possible, it was clear to me there was a deep similarity among these different approaches. For one thing, there was so much political activity that was left out of this dominant framework, or dismissed or obscured. Of course, we might conclude that something that political actors think is important is not after investigating it, but to do so as a matter of definitions makes little sense.
Since I began developing my idea of ‘politics as a contest of claim making’ as an alternative, I find that idea all over political science, although rarely foregrounded. It seems the sort of banal point that is widely understood but rarely the basis for much explicit theorizing. But it does come up again and again. My task seems to be to call attention to it and explicate its implications.