Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Thin Blue Line

I am currently working on a utility construction project in Oakland, California. Police officers are assigned to the worksites for security and traffic control. I have time to talk with them, frequently at length. This is not about the police, but about human nature.

People working in law enforcement are constantly forced into close proximity with the worst of human nature. The natural conclusion one would make, serving in such capacity, would be that these are the worst humans. It is easy to conclude that some people are just incapable of civilized behavior. This conclusion is born out by the frequent use of excretory metaphors by police officers when referring to micreants.

I would like to suggest, instead, the we are, all of us, fully capable of uncivilized behavior. Under the manners and consideration, we are all still savages. Psychological profiles of Hitler's henchmen did not reveal monsters, but men who were quite normal. Any society is capable of committing a holocaust. In Nazi Germany the social permission for the Holocaust was created by the unrelenting anti-semitic rhetoric of the propaganda machine and the expectation by the perpetrators that there would be no accounting.

The evolution of cultural institutions has been, generally, in the direction of peace and stability. That evolution, however, is in the web of habits and obligations of the way we deal with each other, not in the fundimental structures of who we are. It is learned behavior that we are all able to unlearn under the wrong conditions.

Love, and consideration,

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