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Culture War Roundup for the week of May 1, 2023

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The identity of the man who choked Jordan Neely on the NYC subway has been made public.

The man now gets to become the center of a media firestorm, and will certainly be subjected to credible threats, to say nothing of the likelihood that the activists in charge of Manhattan’s criminal justice system will indict him. If he ever gets to live a normal life again, it certainly won’t be in New York, and probably not in any urban blue-heavy environment in this country. Future prospective employers will know him as the guy who murdered a defenseless man and beloved Michael Jackson impersonator who was experiencing homelessness and needed help. This will be how he’ll be perceived by a substantial number of important people who will have the power to determine important things about the future of his life, regardless of any legal outcomes for him, favorable or otherwise.

I told the story previously of how I was assaulted on public transit by a mentally-ill black lowlife, and how I was very close to being severely injured and nobody in the vicinity would have been able nor willing to stop it from happening. (Sorry, the comment search functions both here and on Reddit are terrible, such that it would be too much work for me to track down that comment thread.) Since posting that story, a very similar situation happened to me yet again - with a predictably similar antagonist - and once again, I was sickened and humiliated not only by the actions of the schizophrenic loser who accosted me, and by my relative inability to effectively defend myself if the guy had started attacking me, but also by the inaction of the other grown men standing nearby. Without telling the whole story, I ended up in that position because I attempted to stop the lunatic from harassing a different guy, and then that guy stood around and watched the assailant menace me and did not intervene in any way.

I have fantasized about doing exactly what Daniel Penny - the NYC subway hero - did. Except for in my fantasies, I didn’t unintentionally end the man’s life due to a tragic and unforeseen accident; I just kicked the absolute shit out of him, taking him by surprise and beating him within an inch of his life, or stabbing him before he could get a hand in me. These fantasies are just that: unrealistic power fantasies, the stuff I would do if I were a much stronger, taller, more physically-powerful, more experienced with interpersonal violence than I actually am. I’ve never been in a proper fistfight, and even if I knew how to properly defend myself, in both this situation and the previous one, I allowed the guy to close distance on me and get into an advantageous position, such that they had me right where they wanted me.

I’ve stewed and ideated about what I could have done differently, why I’m a grown man who let myself be treated like a pathetic plaything by individuals who are my social and biological inferiors in every imaginable way except for that I’m diminutive and even-tempered while they’re large, high-testosterone, and well-acquainted with violence because it’s literally the only tool in their toolbox.

I’ve also thought about what would have been the consequences for me if somehow I really had been able to put these guys in their place and seriously injure or kill them. I’ve imagined being at trial - a highly-publicized media shitstorm of a trial, given the demographics involved - and having to answer questions that are designed to get me to hang myself with their rope. I’ve thought about what would happen if they found my posts on The Motte. If they asked me, “Are you glad that Mr. Schizo is dead?” How could I credibly answer “no, this is a terrible tragedy, I never wanted to take someone’s life” when I’ve got a backlog of posts here saying explicitly that I believe that schizophrenic street criminals’ lives have no value whatsoever and that the world would be better if all of them were summarily rounded up and sent to gulags or executed? If they were to ask me “did you do this because Mr. Schizo is black”, no matter how sincerely I would answer “no, it’s because he was attacking me”, how can I be confident that they won’t drag up all my posts here and paint me as a “hate criminal”?

I have no idea how racially-aware Daniel Penny is. I have no clue if he has similar opinions about the scourge of worthless criminal crazies and what to do about them, and I have no reason to assume that his lawyers are lying when they say that he’s devastated that Jordan Neely died, that Mr. Penny never wanted nor foresaw this outcome, etc. It’s very easy for me to say “I’m glad Jordan Neely is dead, you did the world a favor, this was a wonderful thing you did and you shouldn’t feel an ounce of guilt or sadness about it”, but in the actual event that I did what Mr. Penny did, I probably would be pretty shaken-up about it. For most people, taking a life - especially when you hadn’t planned to - is probably pretty psychologically destabilizing, even if it was totally necessary and justified.

Still, though, what if Penny thinks the same way I do about the homeless population? What if he truly does believe, as I do, that Jordan Neely was human garbage who had no redeeming value, and that his death is a great boon to the entire population of NYC? He can’t say that in court, even if it’s true. He would be pilloried and convicted of manslaughter and sent to prison. His only legal hope is to vociferously insist that Neely’s death is a tragedy, that he would never have done what he did if he could have foreseen that it would result in a death, that he is 100% innocent of the crime of racial consciousness or animus toward the experiencing-homelessness population. His future depends on his ability to persuasively perform colorblind egalitarian liberalism, regardless of whether or not he believes in it or not.

Outside of the edgy dissident-right spaces I frequent, every other commentator, even putatively conservative ones, are doing the expected throat-clearing about how Neely’s death is a tragedy, that we all wish he “could have gotten the help he needed”, etc. If anyone believes, as I do, that the first step to saving our civilization is for tens of thousands of people to pull a Daniel Penny on their local subway-screaming bum, they’re sure not saying it out loud. The veil of self-censorship and paying homage to liberal pieties will persist no matter what happens to Daniel Penny, and nobody will get the public catharsis of hearing a powerful or important person say out loud that Jordan Neely’s death was a good thing and we need more of it. Those who do say something like that out loud better hope and pray that they’re never thrust into a courtroom and asked to defend those opinions under oath; the defense stand is no place for hard-nosed honesty, and neither is our society.

In your frustrated rage, you have failed to give as much thought to the pitfalls of authoritarianism as you have to the pitfalls of liberalism. The first step to saving our civilization, at least in the sense that I care for it as a civilization, is not for tens of thousands of people to go kill the local subway-screaming bums. Lock them up? Maybe. Kill them? No.

Life doesn't work like that. You can't just have some kind of society-wide spree of murdering undesirables and find that somehow, all of the things that you actually like about liberal modernity have survived. You aren't going to come back from all of the mob justice with your hands dripping with blood and then just calmly pick up with fairness and rule of law as if nothing had happened. The mob justice will kill innocents together with guilty and, even if you don't care about having killed the guilty, still the innocent will either be on your conscience forever or you will degrade into the sort of person who has no conscience.

The apocalyptic cleansing that you dream of will encourage many bestial things to stir. Your political system will lurch towards being ruled by corrupt strongmen who promise the mob easy solutions. The post-cleansing society will be tempted to solve everything simply. You might find an angry mob on your doorstep not long after, maybe because you have too much money or because you do not have enough, maybe because you know the wrong people or do not know the right ones. You might find some uniformed thugs coming for you one night simply because someone denounced you to the local authorities.

No, we should not allow insane people to roam the subways threatening others. But there are many possible solutions between "do nothing" and "kill them all". "kill them all" might feel emotionally satisfying, but I doubt that you would actually like the kind of society that you would find yourself living in afterwards, and you might not like yourself much afterwards either.

They both have pitfalls, and they both have benefits. The trouble we have right now is excess liberty in the form of an anarchy-tyranny in which people will be punished for defending themselves or others but the public isn’t protected from actual harm. We have a system in New York where you are punished quite often for self defense, where criminals are emboldened to rob people and businesses, and being groped on the subway is common enough that people barely notice it.

But without law and order, without public safety and protection of private property, the credibility of the entire system is diminished. Nobody who sees what people get away with on subways thinks that the cops will protect them. After your first mugging, you don’t expect justice. And as the system keeps losing credibility because it cannot help or protect the public you eventually come to a sort of law of the jungle— where you defy the system and defend yourself and your property yourself outside the system.

The first step to saving our civilization, at least in the sense that I care for it as a civilization, is not for tens of thousands of people to go kill the local subway-screaming bums. Lock them up? Maybe. Kill them? No.

Locking them up is an option for a political entity with a jail and a staff; it's not something an individual can do. Those political entities (the city and state of New York) have chosen to do otherwise. That means the locals either must put up with the subway-screaming bums no matter what they do, or they must use less-measured force. It's a bad situation, but it's certainly not clear that making everyone put up with the aggressive drug-addled mentally-ill violent people is better for civilization than allowing direct action be taken against them.

Life doesn't work like that. You can't just have some kind of society-wide spree of murdering undesirables and find that somehow, all of the things that you actually like about liberal modernity have survived.

Are you sure? And even if not, maybe most people would prefer the aggressive drug-addled mentally-ill violent people dead over whatever they lose by that happening... perfection, after all, is rarely an option.

Those political entities (the city and state of New York) have chosen to do otherwise. That means the locals either must put up with the subway-screaming bums no matter what they do, or they must use less-measured force.

Or, alternatively, they can empower the city and the state to use such necessary force to lock them up. The fact that they haven't suggests that the people would prefer to deal with the occasional nuisance of subway bums than subject them to what they feel are the deleterious effects of "the system". To suggest that individuals should have the power to unilaterally decide to take matters into their own hands makes a mockery of any pretense to having a rule of law. What if a similar mob thought that certain posts on The Motte were inherently racist and not appropriate for civilized society and therefore, since the state and national legislatures have chosen to do nothing, track down the authors of those posts and beat them within an inch of their lives? Would you find this behavior opprobrious? Once you come to the conclusion that individuals and mobs should trump the laws of political entities you disagree with, you empower all such people to act as they will, not just the ones you happen to agree with.

“William Roper: “So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!”

Thomas More: “Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?”

Roper: “Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!”

Sir Thomas More: “Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!”

I'm glad you're defending this line of argument. That said, it's not clear to me that decentralised enforcement of the law is going to lead to widespread violence and vigilanteism. It always amazed me that police forces were relatively rare in both the ancient and medieval worlds, and that was largely due to a combination of collective enforcement of norms and the ability of wealthy respectable private citizens to pay for investigators/private muscle.

I'm not say that's better than our present arrangement, or that it's compatible with the luxury liberalism we enjoy today, but in many cases it worked surprisingly well.

You can have decentralized legal systems, but there still has to be some sort of widespread buy-in (or what we might call meta buy-in, where different groups have their own legal system, but still with some other authority to resolve inter-group disputes, and each group still experiences buy-in from its own members). If you could get that level of buy-in, you could probably just make the city government of New York actually enforce laws, and it would be much easier, and with many fewer nasty side effects.

One example I'd flag here is the Philippines, which amazingly has a lower per capita crime rate than the US and the UK, but which is VERY reliant on private security and community justice. The middle class live in gated communities, private security guards are everywhere, and justice is swiftly and pretty brutally implemented. Here is a really funny scene from the movie La Visa Loca where a British tourist gets his bag snatched by a thief. After he's arrested by private security guards, the British tourist is invited to beat the shit out of the guy before they call the police.

Another example - back when she was a teenager one of my Pinoy wife's friends was sexually assaulted in a Manila club. The next day her brothers and cousins had established the name of the guy, and went to his family and explained they were going to teach him a lesson. The guy's family basically agreed and they fixed the terms of the beatings (e.g., nothing that would leave him permanently disabled). A few hours later a dozen 20-something men jumped the guy as he was leaving work and kicked seven shades of shit out of him. Thus was justice done, and justice was perceived to have been done, and a precedent was enforced in the wider community.

Without researching, this description makes it seem ripe for underreporting.

Family- or clan-based legal systems are viable (David Friedman's book describes at least one), but that still does involve a process. The part where the male family members went to the other family first is really really key. If they just went and did it, without giving the other family the ability to say "I don't think you're correct, this person was out of town last night" it just devolves into a cycle of retaliation.

100% agree. That's what really impressed me when I heard the story. It made it go from the kind of system that could lead to feuding to something like justice by-social-consensus.

This also leads to things like Duarte's War on Drugs, which includes, "In speeches made after his inauguration on June 30 of 2016, Duterte urged citizens to kill suspected criminals and drug addicts. He said he would order police to adopt a shoot-to-kill policy, and would offer them a bounty for dead suspects."

Definitely sounds outrageous to a Western audience, but most Filipinos I know loved Duterte (excluding FilAms with college degrees). None of them felt personally endangered by his policy, and they reckoned it was a success. I'll be honest, despite spending a couple of months in the Philippines most years, I don't have a good grip on whether Duterte 'succeeded' in his war on drugs, because in my time in the Philippines I saw basically zero evidence of drug use except an occasional joint being passed around at a party. Certainly nothing like the zombie hordes of San Francisco or Philadelphia. But culturally, the Philippines seems to have a really low tolerance for substance abuse; I always felt like an alcoholic when I was there, whenever I ordered a third beer and everyone else stopped at two. So perhaps there was a groundswell of support for wanting to aspire to Singaporean standards and nip the problem in the bud?

Leads to, or results from? I was under the impression the Philippines were high-crime until Duarte?

EDIT: Seems like he halved the crime rate?

India has pretty low crime, something I would also warrant is due to our extrajudicial punishment.

Thieves often get severely beaten up before the cops get there, and the latter happily turns a blind eye.

Frankly, I trust the community at large to police violent crimes themselves, having your ass handed to you makes your bad life decisions much more poignant than a stint in prison, especially for scum with low time preference.

The last argument is one for corporal punishment over prisons, not for mob justice.

And the big issue with mob justice isn't that thieves get beaten up, it's that sometimes the person getting beat up didn't actually do anything except be an outsider and look funny. Or more generally, that the less formal the mechanisms of justice, the more they become about social standing. India does keep popping up in international news about various gangrapes and coverups thereof because the rapists are friendly with/members of the police, which is enabled by the same mechanisms that enable your beatings.

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I don't know about the ancient world but the upshot of this was that in the medieval world the murder rate was ridiculously high by modern standards. I remember reading one article that estimated the murder rate for Oxford in the 14th century being well over 100 per 100,000 people while New York City at its most dystopian never cracked 30. Estimates of the overall American murder rate dropped from over 30 in 1700 to below 8 in 2020. By comparison, only the 5 most violent Mexican cities even approach the medieval Oxford murder rate, and the 1700 US rate is comparable with modern-day South Africa. The best that can be said about historical eras when law enforcement was decentralized was that it wasn't any more violent than the most violent places in the modern world, and that seems like damning with faint praise.

A huge confounder now is omnipresent surveillance. With cameras on every doorstep, every vehicle dash, every corner store, etc., it's bloody difficult to physically move to a place to murder someone without a camera catching you, your car, something. It's not always enough, but it is absolutely an incredible deterrent, at least to people who have other "regular life" equities that are a least a little bit important to them in comparison to the prospect of going to prison for most of the rest of their life.

I also wonder if the rise in surveillance is actually contributory to the rise in mass shootings. This is a completely fresh thought for me, so I'm just sort of throwing it out there. (Also, it's a small percentage of the overall issue, so the whole rest of this is pretty much just an aside.) The initial thought is just that omnipresent surveillance probably makes it vastly more difficult to be the type of serial killer we had decades ago (and presumably long in the past, too). You just can't bank on being undetectable by, like, picking up random victims at highway rest areas or whatever. Those rest areas have cameras now. The highways have automated license plate recognition, and they can correlate plates that were on the road near multiple incidents. Cell phones are constantly telling the telcos where you are, and that will also correlate you near multiple incidents. You can probably start trying to scheme your way through each one, but there are more and more and more. Many pieces of data, and you'd have to be incredibly meticulous to work your way through each problem in order to rack up a big body count over an extended period of time.

So, if you're a wannabe serial killer, but it's just too darn exhausting to think through how you can pull off more than a few before getting caught by the panopticon, maybe you just get funneled toward not doing it over an extended period of time. You don't do them individually, carefully, one-by-one, always hoping to not get caught on the next iteration. Instead, you give up on observability and simply try to get all your desired killing in as quickly as possible in one big streak.

In any event, I'm not sure we've experienced a combination of panopticon with decentralized law enforcement. Would probably result in some weird incentives.

that omnipresent surveillance probably makes it vastly more difficult to be the type of serial killer

CSI (and its later offshoots) unambiguously communicated to everyone alive at that time (everyone watched it or knew someone that did) that every police department had Sherlock Holmes capabilities.

Yeah, "zoom and enhance" was bullshit at the time, but people were largely ignorant of computer capabilities at the time (being that this was also pre-cellphone) and that was only a small part of the claimed capabilities of forensic science. And now those capabilities are increasingly the reality, so you get things like 1980s serial killers getting found out by DNA data they never even submitted.

Instead, you give up on observability and simply try to get all your desired killing in as quickly as possible in one big streak.

As a bonus for the new "parallel killers", you're guaranteed to be on every newspaper (TIME magazine made the Columbine killers a household name), your manifesto (or supposed manifesto) will be paraded around, and everyone in the nation will freak the fuck out.

We haven't quite figured out how to deal with that yet, since renting a truck and driving into a bunch of people is even easier and deadlier than guns are (the recent events in Texas should show that pretty clearly), and the fact that these acts are also fundamentally suicides complicates things even further.

Personally, I think we already hit upon the solution in the 70s and 80s with movie plots portraying 21st-century blood sports. It'd be a radical solution, of course, but if we can offer someone a guaranteed 15 minutes of fame and (the chance) to kill people for shits and giggles while at the same time crowding out the media attention current parallel killers receive I think it'd probably depress their numbers. Might lead to some really weird incentives, though.

Absolutely fair, but obviously hard to disentangle cause and effect here; the medieval era was desperately poor and ideologically fanatical by modern standards with an incredibly poorly educated population. I guess my main point was not that private justice systems are necessarily desirable from a niceness and human civilisation point of view, but merely that there are indeed stable equilibria involving them that don't immediately turn into the war of all against all. Also note Scott's discussion in his NRx explainer post about the bizarrely low crime rates in Victorian England that existed alongside high poverty and very low per-capita policing.

Also note Scott's discussion in his NRx explainer post about the bizarrely low crime rates in Victorian England

His first source is moldbug quoting some text where a guy just says something like 'We are secure, without crime! You can go out at night without anything bad happening', without much attempt to back that up! Elsewhere on his blog, moldbug has cited some other old texts that say similar things, but never any data, and ... firsthand reports of the vibe of a place like this are often wrong.* Scott then goes on to cite English crime data, and he just doesn't pick a graph that goes back far enough, even back in 2013 there were studies saying pre-1900s english crime rates were high.

*This is one thing I worry about with him, especially in the areas I agree with. He's reading a bunch of old books, coming to rather unusual conclusions, and then synthesizing that across hundreds of (area, period) combinations. It's really easy to make mistakes while doing that, as ... almost every failed grand narrative historical synthesis ever attests to. And I haven't seen many attempts at criticizing his ""historical scholarship"" either - which, if many existed but were bad, would make the claims more plausible.

To your main point - it's def correct that such equilibria exist, but even in your example, the process didn't seem to discriminate too much between 'the accused did something wrong' and 'the accused did nothing wrong but we have social power and want to beat him up'.

Yes, but as well know from British period dramas like Bridgerton the black share of the population was much higher back then and that it explains crime rates /s

Low effort + sarcasm isn't a productive way to join the conversation.

The fact that they haven't suggests that the people would prefer to deal with the occasional nuisance of subway bums than subject them to what they feel are the deleterious effects of "the system".

This only follows if governments run perfectly and have no principal/agent or other problems that prevent the will of the people from working.

And that only follows if there is broad public consensus that some people are human garbage who are undeserving of basic rights and that violence against them should be ignored provided it's executed with some broad excuse of having the "public interest" in mind. Something tells me that no such public consensus exists.

That's the case in India, and looking around, I don't see anything particularly wrong with the state of affairs when it comes to policing of violent crime or theft.

Seriously, you Westerners are spoiled, society doesn't breakdown overnight when common people beat up thieves, thugs or miscellaneous dirtbags, no matter how much you wring your hands afterwards.

Does it break down totally? No. Does it make it an undesirable place to live? I don't know, weren't you extolling the virtues of London a while back because you could walk down the street with your girlfriend without drawing the opprobrium of the community? I can't imagine how little it would take for one to be considered a "miscellaneous dirtbag" and thus subject to senseless beatings.

Once again, you're severely miscalibrated it you think a couple walking down the street is at any real risk of harm.

India itself supposedly frowns on PDA, yet my girl and I have gotten away with quite a bit.

There really are stable equilibria between anarcho-tyranny and fascism, and one would be that assholes committing significant crimes get their asses handed to them, while otherwise benign behavior or very mild offenses don't cause a ruckus.

Do you actually believe people have an obligation to respect iniquitous laws? Do you feel like a revolutionary when you jaywalk? The law is just a crude model and reminder of morality, of course it yields to it when they conflict. If I get to decide how everyone should act, I ask that they behave morally, not legally.

According to you, this is the reasoning of an antifa: ‘Man, it would obviously be the right thing to do to beat up those fash motte guys, that would really help the oppressed. I don’t care about the danger, or going to prison. What really stops me is the unspoken contract not to do anything illegal. My hands are tied because my enemies respect all the contracts between us. I could never knowingly break the rules of this in no way corrupt system I admire. Etc etc. ‘

Is your argument here that homicide laws are iniquitous?

Was your argument not that people should obey the law regardless of other considerations, lest it mean the end of the rule of the law, and possibly your own death?

Okay, you asked first. Yes, they are iniquitous.

Iniquitous in what way? How would you rewrite the homicide statutes to correct whatever iniquity you find there?

Those guys should be institutionalized for their repeated violations, but since they are released as soon as caught, it requires the creation of a new legal category to accommodate their deplorable presence in the public sphere: Let’s call them Prisoners on Parole.

“When robbed or assaulted by pops, citizens and cops may use all the force they deem necessary. “

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Or, alternatively, they can empower the city and the state to use such necessary force to lock them up.

No, they can't. Demonstrably. Political systems turn out to be really hard to change by voting, since a vote both has little effect and that little effect covers a whole host of issues.

Your analogies miss on many salient points.

As I stated in another reply, you're operating from an assumption that there is broad consensus for the changes you seek. If that were the case, and it was only the pesky legislature whose intransigence prevented the necessary legislation from passing, you may have a point. But I doubt there's any social consensus to put a "the guy was a piece of shit" exception into the homicide laws. And even if there were, this is the system we have. If you think our system of government needs reform, then I'm all ears to you suggestions.

There's broad consensus for not wanting aggressive drug-addled mentally-ill homeless people in the subways. But you can't vote just for that.

But there's broad consensus against OP's implied solution.

Isn't the point here that the law enforcement system is too EASY to change by voting? Your DA's are politicians first, they get elected by people who are "soft on crime" therefore they are "soft on crime". Which they should be, if that is what they campaigned on.

Its not too difficult to impact law enforcement politics, its far too easy. Its too responsive to the whims of the public.

Isn't the point here that the law enforcement system is too EASY to change by voting?

No. Voters not paying enough attention so dedicated activists can elect soft-on-crime DAs is part of the problem, but only part. NYC has been doing nothing about the problem for far longer than Alvin Bragg has been in office.