August 24, 2010

Scary Monsters and Super Creeps

Back in 1993, I took a graduate school course titled "Education in Future Social Systems" which was taught by an odd Libertarian-futurist who looked distractingly like Dr. Tyrell from Blade Runner. This professor encouraged us to think about key factors (funding, technology, population growth, etc.) in the evolution of the publicly funded elements of our social system and to write a "futurist" paper on how society might look if one of these factors was resolved. This was to be a purely intellectual exercise, and the projection or premise had to be based on current data.

I thought the paper assignment was a bit silly, and had an inkling that whatever was presented would be critiqued through the political lens of this particular professor. So I chose to review data on the current prison population of the United States (which was somewhere between 1 and 1.5 million back then) and the gender of those incarcerated (which was about 93% male then) and the enormous financial and social costs associated with incarceration.

My "resolution" to this stark social problem was to propose that the majority of American men be killed, thereby allowing for (among other things) the possibility of a future social system in which large investments could be made in education as opposed to incarceration.

The professor's response was predictable: "Well, the incarceration rates for women are going up and up, especially for violent crimes" he said, "and in 20 years their percentage of the prison population may well equal the male population, and you obviously hadn't considered that!"

Well, actually, I had considered that. And dismissed it as nutty, based on all historical data I could find on women, incarceration, and crime. But no matter. Here we are almost 20 years later, and while the overall population of the country has gone up about 50 million since I took that course, the female portion of the prison population has increased...2%. Hmmm.

One day we will look back on this and it will all seem silly. Or misguided. Or just painfully, willfully ignorant. I can join a chorus of people this week who find themselves in the very unexpected position of applauding Ron Paul, a Libertarian-futurist who actually is able to imagine just how insane present-day conservatives will seem when looked back on by the next generation.

No, women are not going to suddenly (or even in 20 years) level the playing field in the imaginary-violent-crime-incarceration-game. And Muslim community organizers in Manhattan are not going to suddenly morph into anything else. But perhaps that really is the problem, in the end. We -- the others -- are exactly what we are. And no matter how well-behaved we are in the present moment, it seems we are just not to be trusted.

So as things stand this week in our current social system, women need to be contained and managed (to stem the invisible rising tide of future violent female offenders?) particularly via their reproductive choices. Thank you for that one, privileged white gentlemen of Virginia. Similarly, anyone "Muslim-ish" looking who is walking around downtown Manhattan (because walking leads to...terrorism?) should be harassed by white gentlemen of paloookaville. And apparently the same goes for anyone "Muslim-ish" looking who holds public office.

All this hooha is not really a result of stupid-evil intersections. This is the result of perceiving a threat where there is none. Much like my professor did when I offered my modest proposal about a very specific population reduction.

At least I didn't propose eating babies. Hmmm.