Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Some unpleasant facts

The recent spectacle of a North Philadelphia father telling his daughter in open court, out loud, not to say anything - to claim she can't remember anything - about a drug gang-related shooting that claimed the life of a ten-year-old bystander is a tragic exposition of just how bad things are in some areas of Philadelphia and by extension, inner-city America.

Here are some facts and situations that must be accepted before anything is going to improve in the inner city.

We see in this incident the intersection of political philosophy and the real world. "The People" are the law. The police and district attorney are the hired help of "The People". If the residents of a city will not assist the police or the legal system, then they have retrieved for - and reserved to - themselves the enforcement of the law. The residents of North & Southwest Philadelphia have essentially fired the police and DA. Knowingly or not, they have renounced America's generally accepted social contract.

Historically, societal development has proceeded from isolated homes to small family enclaves to small communities of families - on up to cities. The operative force which allows for growth is: Community. Community is the force which brings people together to look out for the safety and convenience of all residents in a particular area. As people move closer together they help each other because they realize that they are helping themselves.

In North & South West Philadelphia this process has unraveled and reversed course. We have a situation in which people not only do not assist the authorities, they do not look out for their neighbors. Thus, they see no safety themselves. The difference between this situation and the one that existed in the West 130 years ago is that in the frontier west no one had an expectation of assistance or of safety.

That is the disconnect, the dysfunction that afflicts the inner cities of America. Residents of North Philadelphia will not help those whom, ostensibly, they have hired to maintain order. Neither will they help themselves. Yet, they demand order and a resolution to the trouble they have.

A large part of the problem is that the people in inner-city America have been taught, indoctrinated, over the course of the last 70 years, that they cannot help themselves; only the government can help them. But better than most in our country they’ve seen the excesses and abuses that the power of the state makes possible. They’re caught in a classic catch-22: Only the government can help you, but the government is against you.

Additionally, laws passed to make things safer have disarmed and disempowered the people so that they cannot help themselves even if they want to.

I am not surprised or disappointed by the actions of the father in that Philadelphia courtroom. If his daughter testifies, because the residents of his neighborhood both will not and cannot help the police or their neighbors, there is no protection for her or him or his family. The gangsters who have capitalized on the dysfunction of the neighborhood will have no hesitation to firebomb his house, because they have no fear - of the police, or the resident. It is a very sad situation.

What is, in my mind, unavoidable is a re-evaluation of social order and a re-establishment of community - which will necessarily retrace the historical steps of community building. Proponents of collectivism and social engineering have absolutely nothing to offer the residents of these neighborhoods in the way of help. Big-government can only stand in the way and prolong the agony. This movement will necessarily be a bottom-up process.

The first step will be a banding together of the people for communal safety. This will result in a period of vigilantism – toward which the police and DA would do well to turn a blind eye. Once the gangs are banished and the bad guys are scared of the people again, the people will revisit the idea of policing their neighborhoods. My belief is that, due to past abuses, the current system will not work in places like the South West and North Philadelphia. A new system will have to be devised. Once crime is reduced to a manageable level, poverty can be addressed. I wish to emphasize the order in which it will happen. Crime causes poverty far more often than poverty causes crime.

An unintended, but positive result of this will be that once this happens, the people of these neighborhoods will realize that they don’t need the government as much as they’ve been told they do.

As I’ve said repeatedly: Make no mistake, things will get much worse before they get better.


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