Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Cognitive Dissonance

There is a basic disconnect in the attitude of Americans between what they believe to be true and what they are willing to tolerate in the name of 'public safety'. Some examples:

1. The majority of Americans believe the "harsh interrogation techniques" used on prisoners at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib constituted torture under both the Geneva Conventions and U.S. law, yet they are willing to allow people to be subjected to such treatment, if it is necessary to protect 'national security' - i.e. avoid an imminent terrorist attack.

2. The majority of Americans believe racial profiling is wrong but they are willing to tolerate it to: (a) facilitate the identification of 'illegal aliens' (e.g. Sheriff Joe Arpaio's roundups in Arizona) or (b) target potential 'terrorists' (e.g. profiling of Arabs and sometimes Sikh's at airports, etc.) and (c) to justify the exclusion of "troublesome" - usually Black & Brown - youth from public spaces (e.g. malls, street corners, parks in cities throughout the U.S. of which the Maryland example is just one)

3. The majority of Americans believe we are not winning the "war on drugs" and that it is unwinnable, yet they are willing to tolerate (a) the disproportionate arrest, conviction and incarceration of Blacks and Latinos for minor drug offenses; (b) the arrest of more than 700,000 Americans annually for marijuana possession - primarlly youth of color; (c) the continued violence on our border with Mexico driven by America's insatiable appetite for illegal drugs (the majority of which are not consumed in poor inner-city neighborhoods) as well as our unwiliingness to deal with the gun lobby; and (d) the escalation of the war in Afghanistan with the mission of suppressing the cultivation of poppy to limit the ability of insurgents to use drug profits to finance their operations (didn't we try this in Colombia and Nicaragua and Boliva? How well did it work there?)

Our politicians and media would rather talk about John Edward's infidelity, Michael Steele's buffoonery and Dick Cheney's Orwellian view of history rather than address any of the above issues on anything but a superficial level and we let them. So what does that say about us?
Postscript: What ever happened to the investigation into the roots of our current economic crisis? With all the focus on the bank bailouts and various stimulus plans, the reasons we got into this mess seems to have faded from view. Unfortunately, the institutional forces that led to the crisis are still in place so it's in the public interest to understand these forces so we can develop appropriate and effective regulations and safeguards - but don't count on Washington to light the way - they're in the pockets of these forces - pay attention to the battle over the legislation to limit credit card fees.

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