Punching Down

I read a very interesting article that I thought was worth sharing.  You can find it here.  But I wanted to add a little more to it and thought it would be worth sharing on my blog in addition Facebook which is probably where most of my blog hits come from.

Here are a couple of excerpts that caught my eye if you don’t have time to read the whole thing:

Any theory of being American must explain one salient and striking fact: cruelty. America is the most cruel nation among its peers — even among most poor countries todayIt is something like a new Rome. It has little, if any, functioning healthcare, education, transport, media, no safety nets, no stability, security. The middle class is collapsing, and life expectancy is falling.Young people die for a lack of insulin they cannot crowdfund. Elderly middle-class people live and die in their cars. Kids massacre each other in schools — when they’re not self-medicating the pain of it all away. The combination of these pathologies happens nowhere else — not a single place — in the world. Not even Pakistan, Costa Rica, or Rwanda. Hence, the world is aghast daily at the depths of American cruelty — yet somehow, they seem bottomless.

(Of course I don’t mean that all Americans are cruel. I just mean that in the same way we say countries have attitude, dispositions, that there’s such a thing as a French or German national attitude or disposition, so, too there is an American one. Nor do I mean America is “the most cruel society in the world”. Can we really ever judge that? But it is uniquely cruel — a kind of special example — in weird, needless, and singular ways.)

And this passage:

When we noted that the despised of England hated the newly arrived despised of France hated the newly arrived despised of Germany and so on, not to mentions natives, blacks, and Asians, in an endless vicious circle, we are also saying: America was learning to be cruel, by forever constructing greater heirachies to seize the fruits of a Promised Land. But greater hierarchies require greater cruelty to climb up, too. And the irony is that all this is what the despised came to America to escape.

(I’ll add peripheral point. The despised, when coming to a Promised Land, are the least likely, perversely, though we might not immediately think so, to want to share it — because they, at last, have something that they feel is theirs. Today’s servant wants to be tomorrow’s master. Today’s peasant wants to be tomorrow’s landlord. Today’s victim aspires to be tomorrow’s oppressor.)

The author’s thesis is that America was built on this idea of punching down the next wave of settlers in order for those who were despised in their country of origin to raise themselves up the hierarchical chain.  In essence by punishing and being cruel to others you win.  And this attitude is uniquely American.

This attitude towards immigration has been noted by many others, but in this essay it goes a step further to basically saying that our attitude towards the next wave of immigrants is the country’s defining personality characteristic that pervades many areas of policy.  He makes a compelling case, at least it’s worth thinking about.

I think there are some other things that I would add as being important to this historical narrative and that’s:

1.  Before America even became a country the first people to be punched down were the natives.  So we are even from the very first people who arrived on shore built out of cruelty.  Throw slavery into the mix and you have some scary beginnings in terms of values.

2.  Maybe we are to some degree a Christian nation.  The idea that punishing people is good for them is a very puritanical one, borne from the old testament.  We see it today in our justice system.  There isn’t a strong desire to raise each other up or to forgive, only to punish.

The irony of course, as the article points out, is that so many have to come to this country for the same reason.  To escape oppression and have opportunity that they didn’t have where they came from.  And rather than embracing what we have in common and reaching out with a helping hand, we instead want to become the oppressors and have the privileges we didn’t have where we came from.

I know many people have already turned the corner from this attitude, but it sure seems we have a long way to go.

24 thoughts on “Punching Down

  1. jim-

    Most American are pretty nice and good people. The system is tragic and brings out the worst of us. Massive illusions of divisions that are not real. If you go out and talk and meet people instead of reading slants about it, you find a completely different story. Great work Swarn. I like it!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I agree with your assessment here Jim. I think most people took a less than kind view of the article here, and I get that it was provocatively written, and maybe I was too charitable in my analysis of it, but I think that much of the harm that we all cause is not because we consciously want to cause harm. It is an illusion. In our little worlds we are all generally pretty nice and good people as you say. To break free from tribalism I think that we have to hack our tribal mentality into a realization that we are all one tribe. This country is a hodgepodge of so many immigrants over the years and yes slaves as well, and those that were here first. There is a uniqueness to be celebrated, not be lamented over. I think we can be uniquely cool over uniquely cruel. 🙂

      (Sorry for the late response…I saw your like on my latest post and I was like…ack I forgot to respond to Jim last time!)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I follow a guy from India and they are getting ready to celebrate Holi Day. The whole nation celebrates color. Pretty cool. Here we have to pretend it doesn’t exist. I prefer to celebrate. And you are spot on. All one tribe! Love that.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I would disagree that the author made a compelling argument. At the outset, cruelty implies our system is deliberately seeking the pain it inflicts on others. Cruelty in this sense is a conspiracy theory, believable because otherwise we’d have to admit that as a country, we make mistakes.

    Indifference might be a better word to use. As a society, we haven’t found a way to tap into caring for every member. Neighborhoods are about the extent of that caring, with some exceptions made possible through mass media and social networking. This process is completely organic, fraught with missteps and mistakes, and vexatious to people who are ahead of the curve.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I guess I would disagree. As the author says at the outset he’s not talking on an individual level. An act can be said to be evil even if a person is not. A system can treat people cruel even if those who make up the system aren’t cruel. Telling gay people they are sinners who are going to burn in hell is cruel, but not cruel from the perspective of the person saying the words because from their point of view they think they may actually be helping.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. To be fair, I’m not talking about an individual level, either. An important question, I think, is: does the society require individuals to do these awful acts? The answer isn’t yes for a lot of the examples that the author provided.

        For example, there was no constitutional provision requiring people to denounce gay people as going to hell. Instead, we had a system which didn’t prohibit that kind of behavior. So, our system didn’t promote it or stop it; it just kind of shrugged its shoulders and waits for people to work it out.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I guess I would argue that a system that allows atrocities to continue even if no law enforces is just as culpable. But I don’t really disagree with your philosophy, just think we maybe have some sort of sensitive difference here.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Swarn,

    I honestly had quite a difficult time reading your post and that article Why America is the World’s Most Uniquely Cruel Society, and for the longest time could not figure out what or how I wanted to comment, or even if I should. I was that bothered by it and that TIRED of these… what’s the right word(?)… human character flaws? These human disorders? These perpetual human transgenerational habits of punching down others. That in what seems the last 10-20-30 years of my life I’ve been dealing with these inhumane indecent acts by a person, a people, a culture, or a nation. It is exhausting and if allowed can push a person into a form of depression. (a big, deep sigh comes out of my heart & lungs)

    And then it hit me. The part I was bothered by most was the true ULTIMATE source of all this anxiety, the struggles and heirarchies constructed to punch people, the cruelty both blatant or covert, all stems from humans, a person, and/or a group of persons.

    Short List of Past and Present Hierarchies/Oppression:

    • Native American Indians — as you’ve mentioned
    • African-Americans — as you’ve mentioned
    • Albinos in Sub-Saharan Africa
    • Muslims in China (and the U.S.?)
    • Handicapped, crippled, disabled — around the world; this includes mentally-ill
    • Indians and Pakistanis in Sub-Saharan Africa
    • Kurds in Turkey & Iraq
    • Women & girls in Islamic nations (and others)
    • Palestinians in Israel
    • Catholics, blacks & Jews in the U.S. (by the KKK & other hate groups)
    • Members of the LGBTQ community in many countries

    Honorable mention: the elderly/geriatric in some nations including the U.S.

    So after considering all of these above punching hierarchies/oppressive constructs, can it be so strictly defined as a problem within national borders? Or is it a HUMAN problem and a human GROUP/PEER problem?

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you so much for your comment professor. I agree with you that I don’t think America represents some unique group of humans, but it is a unique history. When the author compares the attitude in other countries of raising each other up (like in Scandinavia) as opposed to punching down, I think we have to ask why there is this contrast? Now it could be that those places are just far older in terms of civilization and they’ve already grown through growing pains. But I think there is something unique about the U.S. in that it is waves and waves of immigrants all poor and persecuted, escaping oppression, yearning for freedom from that oppression. So the building blocks seem quite different here, and it seems that the author’s assertion is that this has created a unique culture. He doesn’t make the claim that America is very cruel or the cruelest, only that there is a unique cruelness to our society that might be a result of our unique history. I am not saying that I fully buy into it all, but it’s an interesting perspective and I would simply say that there may be some truth to what he’s saying. It’s sort of a “big history” perspective, and the details are important as well, but this explanation seems to match a lot of our values as a country.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. I am surprised that you forwarded this article, Swarn, to be honest, as I thought it was by and large the antithesis to what you tend to promote here in terms of rational inquiry. To say the author doesn’t claim that America is very cruel or the cruelest , as you noted in your reply above to Professor Taboo, is perhaps the most generous interpretation possible. Mr. Haque not only wrote, America is the most cruel nation among its peers he also wrote How funny, when describing that unique brand of cruelty America possesses. As if to say, (with the voice of genuine pity), those poor things. They just couldn’t help themselves. I wouldn’t say the author’s point is all that ambiguous, or that he offered any mitigating counterpoints that would lead one to believe he found America to be anything but cruel. He said cruelty is the point of its institutions, the purpose of its norms, and linchpin of its perverse idea of virtue…

    That aside, while blog posts are admittedly not academic papers, the piece reads more like a rant than the diagnosis of modern violence he asserts it to be. Without a single attempt to reference any data whatsoever that would substantiate the claim, he relies solely on the reader’s credulous acceptance of his contention that American history is defined by cruelty to carry his piece. I’m not a huge fan of nationalism, and I’ve never been one to wave the flag all that much. I’m not interested in any of the unnecessary tribal identities that lead us to marginalize one another, but I thought this was a singular piece of hogwash. The reason why is this: I’m not a fan of anyone saying people are inherently cruel, and leaving it at that—as if to suggest that is all there is to the story—concerning people of any nation, or tribe or creed. It’s an oversimplification, and it’s childish in my opinion to present it as sophisticated conversation. It’s also profoundly unproductive.

    All that said, the reason I’m responding is to point out that I thought it was uniquely cruel on the author’s part to imply as he did that the tragic school shootings we’ve experienced recently are, basically, a case of getting what we deserve. (With a snide laugh for good measure.) One could always say that we get what we deserve, if one is a believer in cause and effect, I suppose. Which I am. So I don’t disagree that present social difficulties are the manifestation of past events, reactions and policies. But I don’t believe America, in the sense of historical causation, stands isolated from the world in what it means to be human. I read two or three other pieces by the author, and find I agree with many of his goals regarding human values and well-being, as well as his criticisms of collective values in the world today. I’d likely agree on many of his criticisms of America. But I don’t believe that anyone deserves to be victimized by such tragedies, of any nation, or place, or time. Mr. Hague writes as though he stands apart from this mess–he is not implicated in any way in our checkered human history, so he is free to say, See? Look what you dumb bastards did…

    And even if Mr. Hague has precisely diagnosed the problem, and it is a uniquely American cruelty come home to roost–a spirit of cruelty not found anywhere else in human history or the world today–he’s offered no solution to what I would argue is a human problem. Other than to point at it. Instead, he has set himself up as someone from another land entirely, one utterly unrelated–one of the gentrified, perhaps, who didn’t come here back in the day because he wasn’t being bitterly oppressed at the time–who has the luxury to sit back and comment upon what a mess those generations of exported thugs have made of things.

    Thank you, Mr. Hague. And may I say, that is so very helpful. I know exactly how to proceed now.

    I can think of far, far better arguments to make against violence than this one. So can you, Swarn, as you did the other day. You can think of a thousand better reasons, all of which will be more powerful because they will be logical. And so, undoubtedly, can Mr. Hague, who is certainly an intelligent human, but those weren’t what he wanted to write about.


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    1. I appreciate your point of view as always and can even understand your reaction. I guess I simply didn’t interpret his message as you did. I didn’t see him saying we deserved any shootings. Cruelest amongst peers was a statement I assumed in comparison with Western nations. When you look at our prison population alone, it’s hard to to disagree. He says clearly at the end: “I don’t say any of this to blame, shame, or judge. But only so that, perhaps, this history of violence can at last be reckoned with.”

      This is all I got from the article is that it’s a call to be honest about our history. He does sort of stand apart at as a non-American although I am sure he would have similar negative criticisms about the British Empire and the atrocities that they committed, so to say he isn’t self critical at all isn’t really a fair statement either. Yes this is an opinion piece and one person’s perspective, but I still believe that, as I said to the professor, there is a unique history here that perhaps has worked it’s way into culture, likely unconsciously, because as the professor correctly points out none of it is outside the norm of human behavior. But the people and the way things have unfolded in this country is unique. This is likely only a piece of a puzzle, but it is said in a way that usually doesn’t get said and thus I thought it was provocative and worth a read even if one doesn’t agree with all of it.

      As I said, I simply didn’t interpret this piece in the same way as you, so while you felt it was not very positive, I felt it was very much in style with my message which is to note our common differences, and a call for unity. Because in the U.S. the common thread among all of us is that all of us came here for a better life, usually from places that didn’t have opportunities for us, and in most cases were the oppressed and forgotten. A country of outcasts is a good thing to rally around in my opinion.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I guess to put it another way. Do I agree with the entirety of what is said in the piece? No. Do I think it is an entire explanation for where we find ourselves as a nation? No. Do I think it makes some interesting points and provides a unique perspective? Yes. But I still don’t see the author’s intent in the same light as you do, and perhaps that is my own failing, but I do I took this article from Facebook where a few friends, who I would say are similar to me thought it was an interesting read. Sometimes it’s good to read a piece that makes you think about all the reasons why it’s wrong, as it seems you did.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Swarn, I think this is important because in my opinion your interpretation remains quite generous in the sense that I don’t think it correlates well with the evidence, and also because, in my opinion, the point of view expressed by the author is an unhealthy and opportunistic one.

        When you say you interpreted Cruelest amongst peers was a statement I assumed in comparison with Western nations you are ignoring the fact that explicit comparisons were made in his opening arguments to Costa Rica, Pakistan and Rwanda. While he is admittedly speaking at the time about a specific cocktail of tragedies—the unique American recipe, if you will—if it is truly unique I’m unclear as to why he takes it upon himself to ensure comparisons are drawn to these nations in particular. I find the conclusion that he is really trying to say America is doing alright overall, in a worldwide sense, but is worse than its Western peers, to be at odds with not only what he explicitly said, but with the tone and stance of his entire piece. He does draw one comparison to Scandinavia, but no comparisons to any other Western European nation.

        Second, when you say I didn’t see him saying we deserved any shootings I think this is expressly implied. The banner image for Mr. Haque’s article is of high school age children crying with grief at a vigil. My reaction was that the photograph was not taken following a volleyball game. Given the timing of this piece, and the image chosen to carry the theme in a single snapshot, I would say first of all he is attempting to communicate that this article is written in response to the recent shootings. In addition, he writes, So, today, here we are. Punching down has become a national institution, a norm, and a way of life. School shootings? Can’t ban guns — let the kids have ‘active shooter drills’. We are punching all the way down to our little five years olds. He may not imply that America deserves this, but he certainly implies we’ve earned it. When I couple this with the sardonic tone he takes in places, and the manner in which he distances himself from this issue so that he can point blithely at a particular community’s social shortcomings, it strikes me as the obvious implication. If it’s not his intent, he certainly took no great pains to avoid the insinuations.

        My earlier opinion remains: he was particularly cruel to point this out and deliberately connect it to recent tragedies that are affecting families and communities in real-time. That connection was obvious from the article. If making the connection wasn’t an attempt to imply Americans are reaping what they’ve sewn, I don’t understand the point of it at all. While I have sympathy for the idea that present difficulties are the product of past mores, decisions and choices, as I stated above, the manner in which he goes about this piece, and the timing of it, are far more derisive than unifying. And I feel his need to singularly paint one nation as uniquely cruel among all other nations far exceeds that initial point, the timing aside.

        That said, I think his general contention is unhealthy because it suggests America is not somewhat cruel, or cruel in ways that are common to human beings, or even a unique expression of a cruelty common to what it is to be human, but he said America specifically, is predominately and pandemically cruel, in ways that no other nation or people is. He made sure to state that cruelty is what makes America American. To assert this as being true of any particular, isolable group of people is to devalue them. And there are consequences, as I will suggest we know, about the devaluing of human beings. Your opinion may be that, like a laboratory researcher or a medical doctor, he is merely pointing to a unique array of causative factors that explain current events. As I noted above, I’m not opposed to some of those arguments. I agree with them. Our past choices absolutely contribute to our current condition. But he certainly didn’t approach the subject in that manner. He was hardly dispassionate, and this was not a reasoned argument. This was a pot shot. He painted with a broad brush, offered no evidence of his claims, branded a nation as singularly cruel by isolating it from any others, then dropped the microphone and walked away.

        While I appreciate his contention that he was only trying to help, and not to blame, shame or judge, but to point out the history of violence so that it could be reckoned with, it is absurd given the very history he describes to suggest a history of violence is a uniquely American problem (and not a human problem). You may be sure, for your part, that he has similar criticisms of other countries, including his own, but that’s not what he wrote. I could presume all sorts of ideas about what he might think off the page. Though I never said he wasn’t self-critical, I understand your point regarding what I wrote. Yet I was working with what Mr. Haque actually said to the fullest extent I could muster. He didn’t say that a universal sort of cruelty derives a unique form in America. He said to be American is to be cruel. That is the spirit of the nation. I don’t know why I should be considering his article on the merits of what he didn’t say and really meant, as compared to what he clearly did.

        I thought the reason you lobbied for rationalism, Swarn, was precisely so that ad hoc commentaries like these wouldn’t contribute to our collective thinking. I can think of a thoughtful way to make this author’s point. I can think of a way to make this point that is truly unifying, while noting that the American experiment provides a unique vantage point or lens into humanity’s propensity for tribalism and cruelty to outsiders. But he didn’t do any of those things. I didn’t read the article explicitly to find out what’s wrong with it. I don’t even know what to make of that statement, Swarn. I pointed out agreement with a version of its central claim: that current events are related to prior causes, and so it’s true we are responsible for our societies. But I think the author went far beyond that. He did so distastefully, and unreasonably in my opinion. On the basis of what the author chose to present, and when to present it, I don’t find the article to be a call for unity in any tangible sense whatsoever.



        1. I guess we will simply agree to disagree then, because again I don’t see the same things you do. I don’t see the evidence you point to as implying what you say it implies. Just because it was written in response to a great tragedy I see no wording where the author implies it is deserved. Perhaps a consequence of our history, not deserved because of our history. To me that’s different.

          It’s not an overly scholarly work, no question, it’s an opinion piece for certain, but that doesn’t mean that it’s void of reason. As I said it’s a perspective from outside America looking in, and that’s a perspective most of us don’t read. I am also an outsider who has lived here long enough to become an insider, so perhaps I am more critical of the U.S. and perhaps wrongly so, but we actually do, do a lot of things worse here than countries that are far less just in other areas. I think that matters. I think it’s absolutely fair to say that there are ways in which we are crueller than a country like Pakistan who has numerous problems of its own certainly, but part of American exceptionalism is that we often think no country has anything to teach. No country has values that might want to take more seriously. I take your thoughts seriously and have read the article several times over to see what you’re seeing. And I just don’t. Maybe that means it’s not a good piece, because something that was more reasonably articulated should lead to the same conclusion, but I also know that when it comes to commentary we can have different senses of style and walk into it with a different world view and words can appear to have two different meanings to two different people even when the words are reasonably written. I have noted this before in other articles that I have posted on Facebook, specifically when the topics are divisive. What I can say is that you assume as much about the attitude behind those words as I apparently do, and maybe you’re right, maybe I’m right. It’s certainly open to interpretation. He didn’t say America was predominantly, specifically, or pandemically cruel, these are all words you’ve read into it. He said uniquely. Just like anybody with a unique history will have a unique personality, values, and attitudes.

          If we look at the way in which America is cruel, could this not be a function of it’s unique history? Perhaps like SB you define cruelty in a way that implies some sort of conscious evil. I think the weather of Antarctica cruel though I no there is no agency behind it. I don’t find that he implies that there is any conscious agency behind the cruelty, he is only analyzing what has actually happened in our history and now.

          Well I don’t think I am going to sway you any, but just as you feel I am being too charitable, I think you are taking the least charitable view here. It happens and I thank you for expressing your opinion about it.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Swarn,

            I can see both readings. I think they’re both in there, and you’re right, the article is muddled in that regard. I can see that my use of the word deserved is not explicit and requires some interpretation. I said deserved as a way of restating Haque’s observation that Americans (they) did this to themselves (the point of his article). This language is part of the vernacular that a self-righteous person might use when pointing out the problems you’re experiencing derive from your behavior. It is commonly said, he/she got what he/she deserved. His point was essentially that this is the bed America made, and now you’re lying in it. In a sense, this is precisely the American perspective he is trying to argue against, for it has little to do with lifting up, and all to do with saying the problem is you. The problem is who you are. I said I agree to a large extent with the cause and effect of history, but that I don’t like the manner in which he omits the universality of human difficulties, and points to America as a nation whose fundamental essence was cruelty. That was explicit in his writing.

            I did say predominately, specifically and pandemically. To say that any theory of America must address one singular fact, and that fact is cruelty, covers predominance. To single America out amongst all other nations is specificity. And to suggest that the very nature of what it means to be American is cruelty, is the exact definition of a pandemic–a condition which applies to a whole country (or world).

            I think we should be able to agree the two sentences below are different:

            1) Cruelty and might-makes-right are troubling human norms that manifest to varying degrees throughout the world. While some societies have largely minimized the influence of these tragic tendencies, America has not in ways that are uniquely troubling. In America, these tendencies have manifested in ways that are unique, and are based upon the nation’s history, and they have sadly come to dominate the current political strife.

            2) Any theory of being American must explain one salient and striking fact–cruelty. What it means to be American, to really think, see and feel as an American, is to put people down.

            You’re reading the first, and I’m placing emphasis on the second. But I’m not omitting the first. I acknowledge it’s in there. The author may even have been trying to write more of the first than the second, but he ended up of two minds if he did. I just thought he failed, and in ways that matter.

            I’ll accept criticism of American policy and society and even values because I think it’s deserved. I’m not of the belief America has this nailed by any means. This is not a criticism of policy–it is an assessment of who people are and that is why I feel he has overstepped.


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            1. Good points Michael. I think I’ll concede that I am focused on the first point and not as much on the second. As I said before I think what I was looking at too is the idea of a country as a person, whose unique history gives it a certain personality. For instance we can say other countries have a lot of people in prison. Other countries have gun violence. Other countries oppress people. But each country has a unique set of values, and this article certainly focused on the negative ones, and it’s not that I don’t think that there aren’t a lot of positive ideals that the the Founding Fathers had as well when they framed the constitution. It has simply taken a long time for some of them to actually come into practice. I mean the American idea of taking in the oppressed and given them an opportunity to prosper is breathtakingly beautiful and it is something to be proud of. Yet it seems like this hasn’t really been the case.

              And I see what you’re saying with regards to deserve. Although not a popular opinion I think America’s foreign policy decisions led to 9/11. But I don’t think we deserved it. I don’t think innocent people deserve to die because of the decisions of others, or the decisions of the past. And it’s quite possible that 9/11 would have happened in some other country if America had a different attitude towards the middle east and Israel. In the end the terrorists were bad men, not people exacting justice of any kind. They weren’t even actual victims of injustice. Just rich Saudis willing to be martyrs for their cause. But I think it’s also possible to make decisions that seem right at the time and because we can’t predict very far into the future, we could have negative outcomes. As Pink says below, it’s more about the cognition that maybe the way we’re treating people is cruel and acknowledging it, rather than the way it’s framed by our political leaders such that we don’t notice. We are led to believe that our laws are just, yet we have 22% of the world’s prison population. There is a disconnect there, and there are certainly a lot of people in the U.S. that acknowledge it, but there is no momentum to do anything about it. Obama tried, but he did it on his own, with no support from Congress. That’s worrying to me.

              Liked by 1 person

            2. Swarn,

              Your restatement of my how I was using the term deserved is right on.

              This is too much to explore in a comment, but what would be interesting is to look at some the issues you and Mr. Haque have raised, both to understand them more deeply and to perhaps better identify solutions. The quantity of prisoners in the US is, based on what I know is a limited and potentially beguiling Google search, a relatively recent phenomenon. It appears the number of incarcerated persons in the US jumped from 300-400k in the 1970’s to the 2 million or so persons it is today. Does a 300 year history of punching down explain this? I will agree it is a factor, but if the stats are right not a highly illuminating one. One article I read based on an interview with a sociology professor who studies the field suggested that an increase in sentencing rigidity had a lot to with it–perhaps a fear of increasing violence, and the desire to see law enforcement “doing something about it.” What was most interesting in my quick reading was that Texas is leading or led at one time recently in prison reform, and opened up close to 175 new treatment centers for particular offenses to avoid lengthy prison stays, and was able to close 20 prisons.

              So I was surprised you forwarded this for this type of reason. What is the article really telling us? I agree it makes an interesting and legitimate point, (item 1 of 2 in my last comment), but it would be interesting to see if cruelty is really the causative factor in current conditions, and if so, how it manifests particularly.

              I am glad we agree we’re seeing different emphasis of a multidimensional topic. And also enjoy the conversation as always.


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            3. I used prison as just one example, and if we look at specifically the history of black America we can see that prison itself was unnecessary for a lot of our history because black people simply didn’t have equal rights and couldn’t get many of the same jobs white people could get. And a lot of the prison population is minorities. We know the Nixon administration intentionally changed laws to imprison more black people. https://www.cnn.com/2016/03/23/politics/john-ehrlichman-richard-nixon-drug-war-blacks-hippie/index.html

              And the strength of our history in taking in immigrants is trying to be erased by the current administration. This was just a couple of days ago:


              There is a lot of historical documentation about how each wave of immigrants has been treated by the people that were already here. I don’t think that’s really in dispute. I think also the strictness of prison sentencing is an answer to laws that tried to protect people from the type of discrimination that was allowed for a good portion of our history.

              Liked by 1 person

            4. I agree with your fundamental points here, Swarn. Completely. I agree the United States has a big problem with racism as it relates to prison populations. We have an ongoing problem with racism in general. Second, I agree there is a movement in the country to restrict immigration—and to place existing Americans first ahead of the recent/next waves of immigrants, so to speak. I think the country has “grown-up” a bit over the last two hundred years, in the sense that the progeny of those initial waves of German, English, Irish, French and other founding populations identify more as American now than they do as representatives of their ancestors’ points of origin. In that sense I’m not clear that a nationalist movement within the US makes us unique from other countries, or uniquely cruel.

              My previous note was simply in response to what I found reading about US prison populations, which I hadn’t understood previously. Without more information, I wasn’t able to form an opinion about whether or not the fact that the US has a disproportionate quantity of the world’s prison population today necessarily implies that the US is uniquely cruel, or that the quantity of prisoners is traceable to the theory of punching down.

              What seems obvious is that present challenges in American prisons are traceable to historical forms of fear and hatred, and to racism in particular. It is possible the data would show that following a wave of German or British or Irish immigration, the quantity of representation of that ethnic group in the prison population rose excessively, until they punched their way down. I’m not saying it doesn’t or won’t, but what I do see is that racism appears to be at least one of the primary driver with the prisons, based on my limited reading. The challenge of racism is of course exacerbated by the history of slavery in the US, which began under the flags of Great Britain, France and Spain predominately. We are their child, so to speak, to keep with your viewpoint of America as a person.

              My point was merely that there are lots of interesting things to see here when we look deeper. It is more enjoyable for me to look deeper, and more meaningful. And I know I’m belaboring the point, but I’m loathe to concede any ground on the notion that American human beings are expressly cruel in ways that other human beings are not, without a closer look. Racism, for example, strikes me as a problem that lives well enough on its own beyond American shores.

              Here are some links about the existence of racism in Sweden. Not saying it is the same magnitude or type of problem as in the US, given they have a different history, a different social context, etc. But just to make the point that (perhaps?)it is not as black and white as Haque painted it to be: Link One, Link Two, Link Three, and Link Four.


            5. Also, for some reason two of the links I sent seemed to load incorrectly. Once following them, if you remove the extra set of quotations at the end of the address and reload them, they appear to work fine. Not sure what happened there…


  5. I think what’s distinctly American isn’t the cruelty itself, but the way politicians have managed to frame the cruelty so it’s socially acceptable. In the rest of the civilised world there’s a certain shame attached to xenophobia and the like – meanwhile it’s become part of the mainstream discourse in America.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think that’s a very fair point. And I think the author of the piece would agree with you, because I think the author makes the point that we aren’t facing this behavior and if we did, we might change it. We might feel ashamed and work to change things. And clearly there are some Americans who do so. I think all countries aren’t as introspective as they could be but perhaps America a little more so, because the prevalent attitude I see in government and a lot of people on both sides of the aisle is that nobody else does it better, and if we do have problems we don’t need to look at anybody else on how to solve them. I agree those in power have the responsibility to change how we frame our problems. But look at how angry conservatives were when they felt Obama was apologetic. What’s wrong with apologizing? America can be a bit of bastard. We all can. I don’t know it’s unsettling.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. It’s an interesting article. I don’t know if I agree with the author that the source of the current cruelty is directly related to the cruelty experienced by and practiced by waves of immigrants. Perhaps there is a common source.

    Liked by 1 person

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