2020-06-11 – With all the debate about defunding police departments, I decided to take a day off to think about it.
The debate doesn’t really seem to be about what to do with our police. There are a lot of proposals that would get wide approval. I’ve written about some of them. There are some proposals that would be more controversial, but a calm debate would probably settle on some actions that significant majorities could agree on.
The debate seems more about what to call it.
Some on the left wants to call it “defunding” and the right is pretty happy with that terminology because they believe that it’s scary to people and will help them block any change.
As usual, the left is more fragmented than the right. Some of the people on the left like the terminology (or even the term “abolition”) because it implies that they were right all along that police are bad news. Some on the left like the term for it’s shock value: it gets attention, then people will listen to their program specifics (maybe or maybe not). Some on the left don’t like the term because it doesn’t really reflect the program at all.
Of course, they all have a point. But I’m interested in how the debate over the term distracts from a debate over the program.
This is common in American politics. Certain hot-button words have the effect of stopping debate. Often, these hot-button words are deployed by the right specifically for that purpose: The right to life, religious freedom, second amendment, socialism. Right-wingers often don’t have a program other than: we’re fine keeping things just the way they are. So obstructionist tactics don’t make much sense.
But the left uses communication-stopping words, too. “Defunding” might be one of these. It may be too soon to tell. In left-wing cyberspace there’s a lot of communication about what defunding means (maybe because significant participants on the left didn’t like the word). But in right-wing cyberspace, there is no such discussion. It’s just: you can’t leave us defenseless against rapists and murders.
The left has other communication-stopping words including fascism and racism. Calling out people as fascists and racists has had definitely mixed results.
Now, before you call me a name for saying this, I want to assure you that I think something needs to be done about fascism and racism. I’m just saying that we need to focus on the “something.” I’m saying that we need to articulate the program in a way that increases the likelihood of “something” being done. Just saying the word gets us nowhere. And I’m saying the we need to be conscious of when saying the word might actually decrease the likelihood of getting “something” done.
I know that some people don’t care about this. They think that if they shout some shibboleth on social media or even on the streets, they’ve proven their righteousness. It’s a lot more work specifics. And if the fight is what gets you excited, resolving the conflict might be really disappointing.
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