Thursday, October 29, 2015

Five Easy Principles: A Fair Tax Plan

Five Easy Principles:  A Fair Tax Proposal

In the same way that war is too important to be left to the generals, I believe taxes are too important to be left to politicians.  The size and content of the tax code is testimony to the power of special interests at the expense of simplicity and fairness.  Whatever our differences, we all pay taxes and care about the tax systems. I propose here a major modification to our income tax system that is based on several principles that, I believe, most people can agree on, at least in general terms.  The goal is to design a general structure that is impervious to the machinations of special interests and politicians; a people's tax policy.  I ask that you suspend judgement until having considered it in its entirety because it will only makes sense, and seem fair, when all of the elements are in place.

 I believe that most citizens would agree in principle that:

 I.        There is a maximum tax rate above which taxes are excessive.

II.      There is a minimum income below which a person should not have to pay taxes.

III.    All money is of equal value.

IV.    Tax policy should be about raising money for government programs.

V.      All “persons” are created equal.

These principles can be the basis for a fair and equitable income tax program. To see how, I explain below what I mean by the principles and show how they become the basis for a fair tax system.

 I.        There is a maximum tax rate.

      Most people would agree that there is, or ought to be, some maximum income tax rate.  While people may have various ideas about what constitutes a fair rate, a survey several years ago by Readers Digest suggested that most people thought a rate above 25% was too high and unfair.  Suppose we had a national referendum to determine the maximum rate, and for the sake of this discussion, let’s say the most popular value was 33%.  (We could use range voting as probably the best way to  determine the most widely held value.)  This value will become central to this tax program.

II.      A minimum taxable income.

      Again, most people would probably agree there is a minimum income below which a person shouldn’t have to pay taxes.  Some possibilities include the poverty level and the point at which it costs as much money to collect the tax as the money collected.  Some may say every one should pay taxes, irrespective of income.  Again, I propose we have a national referendum and decide the issue for ourselves.  For the sake of the discussion here, let’s say the chosen value is the poverty level.

      With just these two principles in hand, it is possible to lay out the basic structure of a tax policy.  These two values, plus only one more, completely define a workable tax system.  The tax rate is simply a linear function of income, starting a 0% tax at the poverty level income and increasing to 33% tax (our assumed maximum rate) at some (as yet undetermined) income level.  A graph of the tax RATE as a function of income looks like the figure below. 

All that’s left to fully determine taxes is to decide at what income the maximum tax rate is reached.  We can leave that to Congress.  They can adjust it so as to insure the necessary income.  BUT THEY CANNOT CHANGE THE MAXIMUM RATE OR MINIMUM INCOME. 

      Whatever other objections one might have, this tax rate structure has obvious benefits over other tax simplification proposals such as a flat tax.  While still simple it preserves the progressive tax policy that has long been a generally agreed upon feature of income tax.  Further, it eliminates stair step tax rate increases which are fodder for special interests and create disincentives for additional income.

 III.    Money is money.

      Money IS money, and it doesn’t really make any difference how you got it.  Whether it came as a gift, as wages, as capital gains, or whatever, if you get money, you can spend it as you see fit.  So I propose that ABSOLUTELY ALL INCOME be included in what gets taxed.  No more special consideration for this kind of income or that; it’s all the same.  If you received money (or equivalent instruments, goods, services, etc.) it’s taxable. 

IV.    Taxes are about raising money for government.

      Taxes should be about raising money for government operations only.  Taxes should not be about family planning, or savings, or social policy.  Paying taxes is a shared obligation of citizenship and one of the most ubiquitous aspect of government that links all  citizens.  It is an essential basis of our social contract:  the idea that we, as a people, have common goals which we share the expense of attaining.  Everyone paying his/her fair share is central to that idea and fairness is a fundamental value held by all.  When taxes are seen as unfair, the "system" is seen as corrupt.

      Under the present system, every time a deduction or allowance is created, someone benefits and somebody else looses.  So I suggest that just like all income is taxable, there will be NO DEDUCTIONS.  Why should I get a deduction for my home mortgage interest and you not for your rent?  Why should a medical bill be deductible and an education expense not?  All such items are put into the tax code either to benefit some group with the clout to get it there or as a consolation prize to those without power to keep them quiet.  A great deal of politics is primarily about taxes.  If we eliminated that, perhaps we could attend to other important issues.

V.      All “persons” are created equal.

      This is the really radical part of the proposal.  The quotes are to bring attention to the fact that there are two kinds of persons in the U.S, people and corporations.  Corporations were originally intended to be just legal constructed “persons” for business purposes, hence the same root as corporeal, i.e., a body.  But over time two classes have evolved and present tax law heavily favors corporations.  What I mean by this principle is that all the exact same rules that apply to people should apply to corporations.  Therefore, all corporate income would be taxed and there would be no deduction for business expenses either.  That is, corporations would be taxed on their gross income, not net.  The only exception to this would be wages (and all other compensation) directly paid to employees and officers.  (This would also apply to private individuals as well:  if you pay a housekeeper W-2 wages, those would be deducted from your income since the housekeeper would be paying his/her taxes on that money.) 

      Just as there is no objective basis for what is a legitimate expense for a private citizen to deduct, the same applies to business.  What makes supplies, depreciation, lunches, etc. legitimate expenses and others not?  The true answer is power and politics.  Let’s get entirely out of the business of making some expenses cost less because they are deductible.  This practice ultimately distorts spending and diminishing incentives for minimizing costs.  The fundamental idea to keep in mind is that whenever Congress creates a deduction, it doesn't make just one.  There's always something else in the proposal, ostensibly to make it fair to some group, but most likely it's really to pay a political debt to a donor somewhere.  As Warren Buffett has said, every line in the tax code has it’s champion(s).

      If these principles were scrupulously followed, then I believe a very interesting thing would happen:  Taxes would no longer be a very important economic consideration for both people and businesses.  Indeed, I don’t have the data to calculate this, but my bet is that the maximum tax rate necessary to provide our present Government services might be less than 33 percent and that rate wouldn’t be reached until a fairly high income.  Doing taxes would take about 20 minutes and the tax rate would be low enough that businesses and people would make decisions based on what made economic sense, rather than on what the effect on their taxes would be.

      Given that I am by no means a tax policy wonk, what I have proposed here may have missed some important considerations.  I welcome any suggestions.  I hope that they would confirm to the guiding principle of this proposal: It attempts to create a tax plan without consideration of how it effects any individual person (or corporation.)

      By way of beginning the discussion, I want to suggest two modifications that I thought of recently.

      1.  Allowing the tax rate to "go negative" for incomes lower that the poverty rate would allow payments to the poor similar to those provided by the EIC.  This system has the added advantage that there would be no critical points where incentives would change substantially.

      2.  Once a basic maximum tax rate were chosen, it could be adjusted automatically by some formula that caused it to vary inversely with respect to changes in the GDP.  If GDP increases, the max tax rate goes down.  Perhaps this would incentivize the rich to avoid bubble making.  If the GDP decreases, increased taxes would provide income for stimulus programs.  Although this idea might have multiple unintended consequences, the idea of an automatic feedback system has a certain appeal.  Perhaps economist could devise one that we could agree on.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Our Contribution to Pollice Corruption and Gun Culture: 2. Gun Culture

2.  Gun Culture

The police, however, are neither the only ones experiencing vulnerability nor the only ones with firearms.  In the next section of this paper, I will examine how these same forces play out to produce our gun culture.
There are approximately 100 million gun owners in the U.S. and 300 million firearms.  The role of experienced vulnerability due to fear of crime is known to play a major part in the decision to purchase guns.  For many such gun owners, owning a single firearm appears to be enough to quell their fears.  But for the 20% of gun owners who own 65% of firearms, something else seems to be going on.

According to biologist, humans evolved to live in small groups (50 to 90 max) of individually know others.  (This is not true of wildebeest or bears, for example, but is of wolves.)  This, of course, implies that there must be some survival value associated with such grouping.  That further implies that there would be some vital costs associated with being excluded from the group; costs of which we would have some experiential knowledge.  That is, we won’t like to be expelled from a group; we will find it aversive.

Our nation has a long history of defining groups of people as other, not us, not fully “we, the people.”   Examples include Native Americans, slaves, various immigrant groups, women, gays, etc.  When a person comes to see that they are, or are seen as being, a member of one of these excluded groups one of the effects is that they also come to realize that they are, to some degree, on the other side of the police force barrier.  They “get” that the power and firearms of the police is less likely to be of assistance to them and more likely to be directed at them.  While many in America have been oblivious to this reality, the recent videos of police interactions with African Americans vividly demonstrate this fact.

Not being within the perimeter of police protection and, instead, being part of that which is being protected against inherently increases actual existential vulnerability.  Each person’s self-defined identity regarding their degree of membership in or out of the dominant culture determines perceived vulnerability to the forces of chaos, and the degree of protection or threat they can expect from the police.  How we see which “we” we are a part of and which we are not is a fundamental determinant of perceived vulnerability. 

This self-definition, though largely subjective, is almost always powerfully influenced by how we are treated by the people we live and interact with.  This fact is extremely important because any of the myriad ways we denigrate and mistreat others may become the basis of isolation and eventual alienation.  We, like all peoples, have innumerable “causes” to reject others.  Obvious examples include “race,” gender, ethnicity, religion, income, and sexual orientation.  Subtler ones include virtually any difference we can perceive between people: physical ability, intellectual ability, appearance, beliefs, and material wealth.

The essential point is that any of these differences can become an axis along which social, family, interpersonal, and intra-psychic forces can propel a person from “in” and  “us” to the periphery, and, eventually, to ”out” and “them”.  Shorn of identity, connection, and social support, and individual’s perceived vulnerability may increase dramatically. 

Let me use one example to illustrate the process.  Suppose you are a white male, who, by virtue of even mildly neglectful or abusive parenting, has a lessened sense of personal power, that is, your own ability to get what you want in a manner in accordance with social norms.  If “merely” average in intellectual and athletic abilities, you may find yourself gravitating towards the lower status groups in school, the crucible of much of identity.  With college not an option, for whatever reason, your options are severely limited and you take a low skilled, low paying job.  You get married but, like half of marriages, it fails.  Like is not going according to your dreams.  At some point it becomes understandable how even such a person, who could see himself as born-into-it member of the in-group, instead comes to see himself as an outsider.  Shorn of the group, the protection of being in the group, he comes to feel diminished in status, in power, and, maybe, beating on the barriers to consciousness, an increased experience of vulnerability.

Obviously, what’s possible for a white male is even more likely for members of any group that’s discriminated against, seen in any way as other by the dominant culture.  Once again, remember that people abhor the experience of vulnerability and everyone will look for some way to decrease it.  Fortunately, for them, the wide availability of firearms in the U. S. means they won’t have to do a hell of a lot more than I did in Vietnam to pick up a gun.

There’s much more that could be said about how “othering” people leads to increased vulnerability and increased propensity to possess firearms but one point is critical:  It is an inherently shaming process.  As one comes to see oneself as on the outside, unwelcome in the larger, “in” group, it is impossible not to feel shame.  It may not be acknowledged as such but it will be experienced.  And that’s vitally important because one of the ways we have of dealing with shame, one, attack others, is the chosen path of many who are most likely to come in contact with the police.

Shame is such a searing, painful emotion that it’s tolerated even less than vulnerability.  We all learn mechanisms to quickly and effectively minimize our experience of shame by moving in one of four directions.  We can withdraw from interaction and/or society.   We can try to avoid shame by presenting and conducting ourselves as though the very possibility of shame is unthinkable.  We can attack ourselves, berating ourselves, thereby accepting a smaller portion of shame in hopes of avoiding being the target of more.  And finally we can attack others, through blaming, criticizing, put downs, and violence.

I think all of us have some familiarity with sting of shame that happens when someone with more power than us says or does something diminishing.  Imagine, then, the impact on the dispossessed when they encounter the police who treat him/her with indifference, contempt, or violence.  They will feel shame that this happens to them , shame that they can do nothing about it, and shame that others see this happening will course through them.  Rather than the police providing  protection, they get assaulted, and further expelled to “not us”.

Given this othering, is it so hard to see the attraction of a gun?  Of a lot of them?  Can you imagine the relief of finding like-minded others, a group to be a part of?  Can you feel the attraction of someone to blame for all this, some group that, all agree, must be stopped by whatever means necessary?

Section 3: Guns and Us

Although I’ve portrayed three distinct groups-“us”, police, and “outsiders” I’m hoping you see a bigger picture.  I’m hoping you see how all of us are connected to and interact with each other through the issue vulnerability.  All of us are always at risk for death, disability, and loss.  All of us employ psychological and actual barriers (fences, locks, etc.) to ward off our experience of vulnerability and it’s overpowering fear.  How we do that, however, can not only fail to protect us, but also perversely create more vulnerability.  The police stand at the very fulcrum of this process.

The police are our firearms.  We deploy them to protect us from gangs, criminals, “thugs”, violence, and chaos.  The police force is our power to coerce “others” to do our will; to leave us alone, to not hurt us.  They are our power to ameliorate our feelings of vulnerability.  Since we, too, are not immune to the corrupting influence of power, we, too, have become corrupted.  We insulate ourselves from our complicity in any abuse of power by police.  We hold police as “heroes” but turn a blind eye to the harm they do.   We almost always take their account at face value and refuse to find them guilty when tried. 

This creates the paradox that by “supporting” our police to arduously, we end up paradoxically enabling their brutality.  We don’t see how our “support” has the effect of leaving them on their own and therefore vulnerable to the corrupting influence of power.  We turn a blind eye to the dangers we expose them to by failing to provide the necessary training, working conditions, supervision, and oversight needed to protect them from the threats of their job.  We essentially abandon them, sacrificing them as we pursue our own stuff, status, and safety.  The conspiracy of “support” by police officers, police unions, prosecutors, and juries, all essentially sacrifice the police officer on the altar of our “safety.”  (Put another way, it may be said that we have failed to provide them the leadership that is critical to preventing the risk of damage inherent in the use of deadly force.)

We leave the officers “holding the bag” of moral injury resulting from what they’ve done.  But the “justification” our support provides can never fully silence the knowledge –that they keep hidden within--that they have betrayed themselves and their duty.  That, in actual fact, they did something they shouldn’t have done, whether out of fear, rage, or some other emotional need of their own.  By not holding an offending police officer truly accountable, we destroy any hope of reconciliation, repair of the social fabric, and the possibility of reintegrating the officer into the full society, including it’s softer sides of inclusion, compassion, and altruism.

In ignoring our own vulnerability, in ignoring how our deploying the police protects us from feeling vulnerable, we make it impossible to have a serious discussion about what it will take to have a justice system that truly protects and defends all of us.  In order for that to happen, we have to be willing to tolerate more vulnerability in the interest of increased safety. We need to give up the false sense of security provided by mass incarcerations.  Pay for effective rehabilitation and accept the fact that mistakes will be made.  Pay for community policing and the additional costs of careful selection, continuous training, and effective oversight such programs require.  We need to provide adequate court resources to truly provide timely trials.

We can agree that our neighbors can provide their own self-defense in their homes but negotiate the weapons suitable to that purpose in our neighborhoods.  We have to provide appropriate limitations on the police use of weapons: who to shoot, where, when, and why while accepting that instituting such limitations will make both the police and us somewhat more vulnerable.  At the same time, we need to diminish the supply of illegal guns that are the main source of police vulnerability. Finally, we have to recognize the inherent vulnerability created by othering people: making them “the other”; not me, not us, whether based on race, or poverty, sexual orientation, or political difference.  Because this is the first step in the process that creates the “them” that “justifies” the coercive policing of “them.”

What I hope I’ve illustrated is that this same dynamic operates in all of us.  All of us have fears, and fears of vulnerability.  All of us reach for and rely on whatever diminishes fear.  And all of us are vulnerable to the corrupting power of that which makes us feel safer, whether firearms or the police, alcohol or heroin, denial or cynicism.  The paradox is that our attempts to limit our vulnerability frequently have the unintended consequence of increasing it.  Only by all of us learning to tolerate some feelings of vulnerability will we be able to devise democracy creating, rather than democracy destroying means of dealing with the dangers inherent in our large, heterogeneous society.  We’re all in the boat.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Our Contribution to Police Corruption and Gun Culture

Our Contribution to Police Corruption and Gun Culture

Whenever we loose the Great Way we get benevolence or righteousness.
Lao Tzu

1.  Policing

I know the feeling of power conferred by a gun, both in owning one and using it.  And I also know it's corrupting influence.

Two years out of the Naval Academy, while on a Navy Destroyer already in the combat zone off Vietnam, I got orders to become the executive officer of River Division 594 in Operation Giant Slingshot.  The Division consisted of 10 River Patrol Boats with 60 men on a base straddling the main Viet Cong supply route to Saigon.  I was scared from the moment I got those orders until the end of my tour when the plane crossed the Vietnamese coast headed home.  But it wasn’t until months after receiving those orders that I first truly experienced my vulnerability.

It happened on my last training patrol.  A Chief Petty Officer was the Patrol Officer, in charge of two boats and also training me.  Since I was still in training, I  had no actual assignment.  Suddenly we came under enemy rocket and automatic weapons fire.  Nothing I can say can possibly communicate the immense totality of the vulnerability I experienced in that moment.  I was standing exposed on the engine cover, with no weapon, bullets flying by, noise from every direction.  I experienced myself as a naked piece of meat that could be shredded in an instant; me, and all my dreams, could disappear forever.  It was the worst, most intolerable feeling I've ever felt.  But I didn’t have to tolerate it long (though it seemed so).  I found an unused M-16 and, though “shaking like a leaf,” I somehow managed to cock it, flip the safety and fire.  Although still experiencing my vulnerability, still aware I could be killed in an instant, I also experienced the immense relief that came from not feeling totally helpless.  I was doing something!  I had some power and that decreased the lived experience of my vulnerability.

When I left Vietnam I wanted nothing more to do with war, guns, or hierarchical organizations.  I wanted to live on a hill by myself in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  But that’s not how it turned out.  After awhile I rejoined society and pursued a graduate degree.  Eventually I married and had a son.  At which point vulnerability overcame me again.

It’s one thing to be willing to tolerate the possibility of my own death but with the birth of my son, right alongside intense love, came overwhelming vulnerability.  I could not then and still can't bear the thought of the possibility of his dying.  I strongly felt the need to protect him, both by taking care of myself and doing everything in my power to preserve his life and prevent harm to him.

The way emotions work is that when one is stirred, it also brings to mind other memories of our experiences with that same emotion.  So you might well imagine my experience of vulnerability at my son’s birth to have been amplified by my memories of combat.  And you might therefor not be surprised to hear that I reached for a similar solution.  I bought an M1 carbine from a neighbor.  I believed it provided an ace in the hole in case the world descended into chaos, as it sometimes feared it would.  I still have it.

It may be that I’m unusual, but I don’t think so.  In my thirteen years as a psychologist working with combat vets at Walter Reed Army Medical center I saw many veterans who always sat with their back to the wall in restaurants, wouldn’t go to malls, and slept with a hand gun under the pillow.  Who got intensely angry with their children and wives but had no idea why.  None of this is new, it’s well known by anyone who works with combat veterans, but I bring it to your attention because I believe the experience of combat veterans provide us a stark, clearly understandable example of dynamics that operate in all of us.  

“All human beings must come to terms with fear.”  Fear is ubiquitous and nearly constant even if mostly unacknowledged.  We are afraid of being criticized, of spiders, flying, talking (our blood pressure rises every time we speak to another person), public speaking, being left, intimacy.  The list is endless.  We are the inheritors of the ancient fear mechanisms that kept our tiny, tasty, early mammalian ancestors alive in the land of the dinosaurs. 

For the last two summers I’ve been training a wild lizard in my back yard to eat out of my hand.  It took awhile.  But what really impressed me was that even though she’s been doing so for many months now, if I make the slightest move too quickly, she flees immediately.  “Stupid lizard,” I would think, but over time, seeing it again and again, it has led me to have a deep appreciation of how central instinctive fear is to survival.  The ironclad rule: one mistake is too many.

I believe the lizard’s experience of fear is very similar to ours, both in the feeling and the inclination to act.  But our big brains allow us to know something the lizard doesn’t: the things we fear can kill us or cause excruciating loss.  (The lizard needn’t know of its mortality; fleeing when something moves quickly toward it suffices.) Thus, for us humans, instances of fear also stir recognition of our vulnerability to death and loss.  And, like combat vets, we, too, find that very difficult to tolerate.

We all devise, inherit, and/or adopt ways of coping with the daily onslaught of fear and vulnerability, be it denial, ignoring it, praying, believing our specialness exempts us, superstitions, substance abuse, obsessions, rituals, and on and on.  Anything that can dispel or diminish the experience of fear is itself experienced as relieving and very desirable.  You can easily convince yourself of this the next time you see an animal carcass on the side of the road.  Notice how quickly your eyes and thoughts slide elsewhere, preventing the recognition that you, or your loved ones, could become a similar pile of dead meat at any moment.  It happens instantly, below or just barely in conscious awareness.  Barely aware of the threat, you are also barely aware of the relief that came from being able to keep it out of consciousness.

It’s probably not too much of a stretch to say that warding off the experience of vulnerability is a major focus of human activity.  That it’s the goal of many of our actions and much of our psychological process.   My goal is to explore here this intertwined, shared process in police, gun owners, and us.

Try an experiment:  Before reading further, allow yourself to imagine for a moment what would happen if we took all the guns away from the police. 

Did you have a vision of chaos?  Did you notice feelings of fear?  A recognition of vulnerability?  If you did, and you think it likely that others would too, this has, I believe, two important implications I want to consider here.  First, having an armed police force is one of the ways we ward off experiencing our own vulnerability.  Second, people who have reason not to trust police will be inclined to arm themselves.

Fear is a feeling, an emotion and, usually, feelings come and go quickly.  Vulnerability, on the other hand, is an unchanging, existential fact of life.  Loss and death are ever present possibilities of every moment, and recognition of this, with its attendant experience of vulnerability, is forever hovering somewhere on the far outskirts of consciousness.  The ability to keep recognition of our vulnerability at bay enables us to live and function in relative comfort, at least until some threatening event places the fact of our vulnerability front and center in our consciousness.  This suggests that the psychological function of an armed police force can be understood as providing a bulwark against the experience of vulnerability and its attendant fears.

It’s not common for us to think of things in terms of their psychological function.  When we think of the function of the police we think of providing law and order, deterring crime, protecting law-abiding citizens, apprehending criminals, etc.  Although we think of these as objective realities, the truth is that what really matters to us is our lived experience of them.  If harm or threats of harm from our fellow citizens are experienced very infrequently, if that’s our lived experience, then we see ourselves as inhabiting a crime free space where law and order prevail and the experience of vulnerability is kept at bay.  If, on the other hand, we are frequently assaulted with experiences that puts our vulnerability in our face then nothing will convince us that order prevails and the system works.  For many, but by no means all Americans, the armed police force is experienced as functioning well enough to enable us to generally feel comfortable with our level of vulnerability.  The barriers are holding and the level of fear tolerable. 

Being a "barrier" is tough anywhere but in some places here in the U.S. it's probably worse than my combat experience.  Policing in big American cities must feel a lot like being on the front lines of a war.  Officers must go to work knowing there is a real danger of encountering mortal threat every day.  Every encounter with almost anyone may feel like it has the potential to turn violent at any moment.  No matter how hardened an officer may become, having their vulnerability shoved in their face frequently requires effort on their part to cope with it.  I still experience occasional reverberations from my one year in Vietnam.  I can only wonder about the effects of years of this on big city police officers.

Historically, mainstream American society has held a very positive view of the police force.  The invaluable service police provide us by standing between us and violent lawlessness put us in their debt, we "owe" them.  We “pay” that debt by our “support” of the police in the courtroom.  Police testimony is almost always taken at face value and incontrovertible evidence is required before jurors will abandon their belief in police veracity.  We see them as doing a difficult job we need done, we trust them, and so we give them the benefit of every possible doubt.  As much sense as this makes, the truth is, however, that by our refusal to hold them accountable for their excesses, we have in abandoned them to corruption.  We have given them great power but fail to provide the checks and balances necessary to ensure the safe exercise of that power.

“Power corrupts,” we say, and it’s true almost always.  For the police officer repeatedly confronting potentially dangerous situations, the power of a firearm is an ever-present temptation.  They don’t have to tolerate those awful feelings of vulnerability.  It takes strength of will to resist that temptation and most officers do.  But for some, depending on their exposure and their history, the threshold for use of deadly force lowers to below dire necessity and firearms are drawn when they shouldn’t have been.  And when a gun is pulled, fear skyrockets, rational thought impaired, and mistakes made with deadly consequence.

We understand the corrupting possibility of power and that’s why our political system is based on checks and balances.  In policing, however, the system of checks and balances is severely compromized.  Having ceded to the police the power to use deadly force, we cannot, or should not, relinquish our responsibility for how they use it.  But the evidence suggests we have.  As more videos come to light, we have become aware of how unrestrained the police use of power actually is.  In these videos we clearly see the failures of selection, training, supervision, on-site oversight, and accountability that are directly attributable to our “washing our hands” of the whole business of policing.  In the interest of protecting ourselves from the harsh realities of policing (and the vulnerability it stirs in us), we have abandoned them to the streets, relentlessly exposing them to what we now call “moral injury” i.e., having done something they shouldn't have, something "immoral".  What this really means is the intense shame felt when our behavior radically differs from how we believe we “should” act, based on our idealized version of our best self.

The police live in a world where the myth of the “rational man” is shattered by the daily reality of how easily we are all overcome by fear, rage, shame, and distress.  In many of the videos we have seen, we frequently see a moment when the officer is suddenly overcome by some emotion.  We watch as in that second he or she abandons proper, professional conduct and, instead, acts out of their personal feelings stirred by the interaction.  They know this too and later will likely feel some shame about their own "failure."  But the defenses against feeling and acknowledging shame are every bit as well developed as those holding back vulnerability.  Plus, acknowledging mistakes on the job can get you fired or worse.  Then, add to that the estrangement from society that police feel when they are so often attacked and vilified and it's no surprise,that we rarely see police risking further vulnerability by admitting to mistakes.

In shielding ourselves from experiencing our vulnerability by ceding power to the police, we have also protected ourselves from knowing about the corrupting effect of facing life or death situations while having access to deadly force.  Watching the videos of police in action show us what happens then, and what could happen to us.  What’s new now is we are beginning to realize the price we pay for abandoning the police.  We see now, and are beginning to be forced to acknowledge, that their exercise of power harms some of our most vulnerable citizens, destroying the sense of equality and shared purpose necessary for democracy and civil society.  Unfortunately, we are at risk of disowning this new knowledge.  We see that when we either demonize the offending police officer, self-righteously calling for severe punishment, or when we make excuses for them, refusing to hold them accountable.  Either option is a continuation of our attempt to disown our own responsibilities in how power is exercised in our name.

This new attending to how policing is done is forcing us to recognize that policing stands at the nexus of fundamental issues threatening our democracy: income inequality, racism, mental health treatment, poverty, gun culture, drug use, immigration policy, terrorism, and the entire criminal justice system of courts and prisons.  Although police play a vital role in all these arenas, police forces - local, state, and national - are woefully under resourced, over tasked, and insufficiently supervised to be able to meet these multiple demands.  The citizens of the U.S. must transfer substantially more of their time, effort, money, and attention to the problems we have so recently become aware of if we are going to have a police force that protects and promotes democracy rather than one in danger of subverting it.  If we are going to have a police force willing to endure the vulnerability they must in order to truly serve and protect, we must become a society worthy of such a sacrifice on their part by owning our own duty to provide them the necessary and appropriate working conditions they need in order for them to be protected from the multiple risks and dangers of doing their job, including the risk of abuse of power.

The police, however, are neither the only ones experiencing vulnerability nor the only ones with firearms in our society.  In the next section of this paper I will examine how these same forces play out to produce our gun culture. To continue reading this section, CLICK HERE.