It’s a Feature, Not a Bug


Crime has been rising for several years, so it’s understandable that one year into the Biden presidency President Biden would be blamed for everything. That’s just how Republicans roll. But let’s set aside stupid talk about defunding the police, lousy administration job performance and the rest. Crime is a symptom, not a root cause. It isn’t a coordinated effort to keep cops employed or politicians’ hands wringing and fingers pointing, so let’s take a look at what might be driving crime.

Let’s start with two givens: first, I’m not an expert at this; second, while other kids are eager to grow up to be a fireman or doctor or a superhero, very few are eager to be criminals. There’s something that causes them to make that decision.

Try hopelessness. Try broken promises. Try the breakdown of families, perhaps broken by hopelessness and broken promises.

We swat at the symptoms, as though a crackdown will stop criminals and serve as an example and thereby prevent future crime. But if we are willing to ask how that’s working for us and we’re realistic, we’d have to answer that it’s not working too well.

What we are doing well is to provide our citizens with public examples of lawlessness and proud declarations of intent to break the law issued from the highest places. And we do next to nothing to create the things that would cause people to choose a life of non-crime. Let’s poke just a little at both pieces.

If you’re reading this (and obviously you are) you already know and have seen insurrection and lawbreaking on a breathtaking scale by elected leaders. Trump is the obvious and easy example, but we’ve locked up several from Congress in just the past few years for things like insider trading. The standard belief is that “They’re all crooks,” which may be a bit of overreach, but there is evidence to suggest that taking bribes, bent legislation that lines the wrong pockets and more is common. Clearly, that stuff happens at the local level, too, where we citizens have the most contact. That provides a not-so-fine example to follow, or at least a message that breaking the law is okay, that it’s just the way things work.

As for hopelessness, how do you think we’re doing at ensuring our people that there are prospects for economic security, a chance for a better tomorrow? We watched and even encouraged manufacturing jobs to go overseas, leaving thousands of towns and millions of people suddenly unemployed or under-employed. Politicians have given lip service to bringing those factories and those jobs back, but it’s been nothing more than hot air for decades.

They also give lip service to better education. Then they kill every attempt to make that happen, especially in poor areas. See “broken promises” above.

Said an unidentified woman participating in a focus group detailed in the New York Times,

” .  .  .  they’re not giving me any sort of ambition to feel like I have any sort of trust in the government to fix things or at least get the ball going in the right direction.”

It’s unlikely that she is prone to committing a crime, but she articulates well our general level of confidence in our self-paralyzing government. Worse, in Flint, MI government officials saved a few bucks or made them for donors by poisoning children with lead in the water. They weren’t alone in that and other nefarious behavior.

Our cities offer little hope for anything better for many of our fellow citizens, which leaves a lot of people with pockets full of empty. Answer for yourself what you would do in such circumstances. Answer for yourself what your level of anger would be – maybe substitute the word “rage.” A drive-by shooting just might help anyone to feel powerful and in control, if only for a moment. And cash stolen from an ATM or convenience store would ease economic woes a bit. Doing the robbery might even feel justifiable.

As I said, I’m no expert at this, but our national hand-wringing and political posturing don’t help a thing, and making the police force of any city the equivalent to the army of a small nation will make for yet more brutality and no progress. What if we were actually to address the root causes? What if we were to stop the hypocritical posturing about education and actually educate all of our kids well?

I’m guessing that there are experts who can tell us what to do to reduce crime. If a miracle happens and somebody in authority actually seeks such counsel, my confidence is high that we won’t pay any attention to that expert advice and that nothing will get better. That’s what we’ve always done.

What we can count on is that right wing politicians will continue using crime statistics to denigrate others and to promote themselves and their chest-thumping, faux virtuous righteousness. They’ll find more ways to blabber about freedom and responsibility. They need that cudgel for political gain, so they’ll steadfastly refuse to take action to open possibilities for those who need them most.

It’s the same logic that causes politicians to obstruct actions to mitigate the pandemic. It’s in Republicans’ interest to keep the suffering and death going, because that gives them both an ongoing pandemic and inflation as issues to use to beat on Democrats. They’d rather that people suffer and die than do anything to help. And review that focus group woman’s comment once again.

Then read Andrew Yang’s essay, The Data Are Clear: The Boys Are Not Alright. The facts and the numbers are shocking.

The design of our system creates these circumstances, which is why I say that crime is a feature, not a bug.


Each is a lethal dose

Congratulations to us on our consistency. We have over 100,000 deaths from drug overdose every year – more than vehicle crashes and gun deaths combined. That number is sufficient to include someone not far from you, although, to be fair, there is a much higher concentration of overdose death in poor areas, like Appalachia, the slums of our cities and on Native American reservations. (How come we took the best land and “reserved” the worst land for them until we wanted that land and then “reserved” still worse land for them?)

Could it be that hopelessness to the point of complete resignation is involved? So, how come we don’t do anything about that hopelessness?

Oh yeah – out of sight, out of mind. Bootstraps demands. Self-induced Myopia. Those people are worth more to the suppliers hooked until they OD than alive and clean. Just ask the Sackler family of Purdue Pharmaceutical and the doctors who got kickbacks from them.*

Looks like our death from overdose is a feature, not a bug, too.


* Read Barry Meier’s piece, Origins of an Epidemic: Purdue Pharma Knew Its Opioids Were Widely Abused, as well as German Lopez’s piece A Rising Death Toll, from which the chart below is taken.


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2 Responses to It’s a Feature, Not a Bug
  1. Joni Lindgren Reply

    Just one of the things people could do for the young people who live in dismal and hopeless inner cities is to offer young people a lot of choices of things to do. It will take money and resources like computers, using old buildings all over the cities where children could come to gather with others…..have Michael Jordan or stars from baseball, football, soccer come to these places and teach the children a skill…..from experts!! Knowledgeable people can read books and tell stories, teach children art, teach them how to be resourceful…..and teach them how to solve problems instead of fighting and getting into bad mischief. There are a lot of retired people who could give of their time on a regular basis to educate and to give children in the inner cities a place to go that is enjoyable!!
    When it comes to winter, there should be ice rinks all around the city so that children could ice skate or call in the dump trucks to create hills for sledding. There is just so much to do for children because if we don’t get them young, they become the future for “nothing to do” or the crowd who would be into bad mischief.
    The big cities should take care of the homeless and the children who have nothing…..and give them a reason to get up in the morning…..not more hopelessness!! This idea would take a lot of money, but just think of how much these children would gain in self-respect, emotional well-being, and for crying out loud…..keep them from vandalism, settling arguments with guns or knives. This plan would be worth its weight in gold!!

    • Jack Altschuler Reply

      Yes, this plan would be expensive, but it would cost a tiny fraction of the cost from violence decay and, most of all, wasted lives.