“Afflict the comfortable” Reasonable Literary Device, Stupid Policy

So, here we stand, with Chicago now on the brink of the fates of Baltimore and Ferguson (the latter of which hits very close to home of course.)

The Chi Town protesters are acting about as stupidly as every other group of protesters, including tearing down a Christmas Tree as “part of the problem.” (Maybe you can stretch to a statement against consumerism? But frankly that’s a hell of a stretch.) A season of joy, peace and giving is not part of the problem, it’s in fact, part of the solution.

As we await the results that intend to disrupt Black Friday (RACISM!) shopping on the Michigan Mile, I’m reminded of what I was told (admittedly 3rd hand) was being said to students walking through my alma mater’s protest encampment: “We want you to feel uncomfortable.” (Should you care to verify this story, my brother who may be found on twitter, was there. I’m just too lazy to ask him, plus this gives him a plug.)

This seems to be the general idea behind all these protests. Awareness isn’t enough, there are no policy ideas (besides the standard “pour more money on us”). The goal seems merely to make people uncomfortable.

Discomfort serves a purpose, no doubt. In my ethics classes we use it all the time. You can’t expect someone to come to a new way of thinking (for many clinician-researchers that’s the idea that ethics matters at all) without first pulling them out of their comfort zone. But there has to be a guiding purpose, a goal of where you want to end up. And that goal has to be reasonable and ultimately achievable. “Black Lives Matter” is a chant, not a goal. “Stop Police shootings” may be a goal, but it’s naively idealistic at best and frankly impossible, whatever your view of the police*. (No matter how scared we make police of pulling the trigger, there will always be someone on the other end who threatens them to that point.)

Here’s the problem with afflicting the comfortable with no other goal besides making them uncomfortable: they have the means to fight your affliction, and if you push them enough there will be backlash and they will use them. So you’re faced with one of two options: 1) Open revolution (the ultimate affliction), which frankly the BLM movement would lose quickly and decisively on numbers alone or 2) Draw people to your side for a political/community solution.

Option 2 doesn’t work if you’re running around just making people uncomfortable, attacking Christmas trees and disrupting shopping. (Or for that matter, marching through libraries declaring people don’t care enough by screaming at them and flipping them off which, by the way apparently nets the protesters an apology, not the disrespected students). You need a plan, a goal, and ultimately a policy. And you need to unite people, something that can’t be done in the environment you’re creating.

But who am I to tell you how to run a protest? I mean I’m only one possible ally, incredibly open to an idea of policing reform and other solutions, that you have totally and completely alienated. There are still some 300 million or so other Americans you can go and piss off until no one gives a shit about you anymore. But you better hurry if you want to be the ones to do it, because I’m a fairly smart and occasionally articulate  person who’s already working on alienating some of those people for you.

*This isn’t a post about policing, but suffice it to say I’m not even on the continuum most people are having this discussion around (more force, less force, smaller guns, bigger guns!). I think it’s a stupid way of considering it, which is why I hate Radley Balko and the police unions with equal measure (ok, maybe the unions a little more). They both represent a remarkably stupid approach to the problem.

4 comments on ““Afflict the comfortable” Reasonable Literary Device, Stupid Policy
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