Tag Archives: respect

Connect The Dots!

It’s not just easy access to guns–although that access certainly facilitates rising American homicide rates.

As the Guardian recently reports, there is a strong–if surprising– connection between income inequality, respect, and increases in violence.

A 17-year-old boy shoots a 15-year-old stranger to death, apparently believing that the victim had given him a dirty look. A Chicago man stabs his stepfather in a fight over whether his entry into his parents’ house without knocking was disrespectful. A San Francisco UPS employee guns down three of his co-workers, then turns his weapon on himself, seemingly as a response to minor slights.

These killings may seem unrelated – but they are only a few recent examples of the kind of crime that demonstrates a surprising link between homicide and inequality.

The article cites emerging research that strongly suggests that inequality plays a pivotal role in escalating passions in encounters that might otherwise end with some profanity and fisticuffs–that it raises the stakes of fights for status among men.

The connection is so strong that, according to the World Bank, a simple measure of inequality predicts about half of the variance in murder rates between American states and between countries around the world. When inequality is high and strips large numbers of men of the usual markers of status – like a good job and the ability to support a family – matters of respect and disrespect loom disproportionately.

Inequality predicts homicide rates “better than any other variable”, says Martin Daly, professor emeritus of psychology and neuroscience at McMaster University in Ontario and author of Killing the Competition: Economic Inequality and Homicide.

Other studies show that rates of gun ownership rise when inequality does. Rising inequality also predicts the re-emergence of cultural traits like placing more emphasis on “honor.”

“About 60 [academic] papers show that a very common result of greater inequality is more violence, usually measured by homicide rates,” says Richard Wilkinson, author of The Spirit Level and co-founder of the Equality Trust.

Why would financial inequality lead to a renewed emphasis on status and respect? Researchers explain:

When someone bumps into someone on the dance floor, looks too long at someone else’s girlfriend or makes an insulting remark, it doesn’t threaten the self-respect of people who have other types of status the way it can when you feel this is your only source of value.

“If your social reputation in that milieu is all you’ve got, you’ve got to defend it,” says Daly. “Inequality makes these confrontations more fraught because there’s much more at stake when there are winners and losers and you can see that you are on track to be one of the losers.”

Social science is methodically enumerating the negative social consequences of extreme inequality. Most reasonably well-educated people recognize that inequality produces social instability–history teaches us that growing anger from those with nothing to lose leads to riots, even revolutions–but most of us are less familiar with other ancillary effects.

There is ample evidence that large gaps between the rich and poor retard economic growth, depress marriage rates, and raise crime and homicide rates. (Ignoring the 41 million Americans who live in abject poverty in order to gift your already obscenely wealthy donors with a tax cut also implicates that pesky little thing called morality.) Historical precedent suggests that these effects–left unaddressed– ultimately destroy societies.

None of that evidence, evidently, is persuasive to the Paul Ryans and Mitch McConnells of this world. Or perhaps they know and just don’t care. They are perfect examples of what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil.”

 

Walking in that Other Guy’s Shoes

Martin Marty is an eminent religious scholar at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago. He also issues a weekly newsletter, called Sightings because it “sights” public reports with religious or spiritual dimensions. His most recent reflection was thought-provoking, to say the least:

What if the Sioux Nation decided to build a pipeline through Arlington Cemetery? This question from Faith Spotted Eagle—who lacks a Ph.D. in comparative religion and who would never be employed to teach the phenomenology of burial ritual—got at the heart of at least one of the three main issues in the prolonged debate over the Dakota Access Pipeline project.

The other two issues, of course, were environmental degradation and the behavior of Big Oil, and those issues certainly generate a significant percentage of the opposition to the pipeline. Marty’s focus, however, was on the religious importance of the site to the Sioux–and the lack of appreciation of its sanctity by Americans who would have been horrified by a similar proposed desecration of their holy sites.

Why the comparison to a sacred place like Arlington Cemetery? Or the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, or key monuments at Gettysburg? What makes this Sioux site sacred, inviolable in the eyes of those for whom this place in North Dakota has drawn so much national attention? The environmental concerns alone would have been ominous enough to agitate the Native Americans on the scene. But the Cannonball River, which flows nearby, and the complex of tributaries connected to the Missouri River, are not merely sources of water. No, Spotted Eagle has said, water is “the best medicine,” the sustainer of life from a mother’s womb until its issue, years later, breathes no longer. Water is necessary for the sweat lodge, so important in Sioux worship, and it serves as a purifier and calmer in sacred ceremonies. And much more.

What motivates her and her fellow worshippers, above all, is concern that the pipeline will profane the burial sites over and around and through which it will flow. All of the governmental action is thus, in the eyes of the Native Americans, a profanation.

Sightings spends so many lines on this one out of many contested revered sites in the “flyover country” of the Great Plains—my homeland—in the interest of giving attention to the rites of some of the peoples who have been plundered, exploited, silenced, and murdered for more than 500 years by us newcomers, who now make the rules, establish the rituals, and bring the edicts and the guns to enforce them. Weekly, if not daily, we hear and read of the ins and outs, the ups and downs, of this most recent conflict. We observe how readily disdained the protesters are. But we are moved by the fact that leaders and sympathizers of many religious bodies, including Jews and Muslims, Catholics at the highest level, mainline Protestants, and some Evangelicals, have publicly sided with the Sioux.

There may be perfectly valid, even persuasive arguments for building the pipeline and for  its chosen route. I don’t know enough to evaluate those arguments. Ultimately, however, those arguments are irrelevant to the injustice being perpetrated here.

The undeniable fact is that a pipeline routed through a site designated as holy by a more privileged, more powerful, more “established” religious constituency would have received far different–and far less dismissive– treatment. At the very least, the claims of such a constituency would have met with more official respect.

It has been–and remains– difficult to ensure the constitutionally-required equal protection and application of the laws. I wonder if we will ever achieve–or even approach– equal civic respect for the rights of people who don’t look or worship like us.

Respect and Civility

I know it will come as a real shock to those who read this blog, but I have opinions. A point of view. And admittedly, a regrettable tendency toward snark. (A Republican colleague at the University regularly greets me with “Hi, Snarky!)

I know those things about myself. At my age, I should.

Nevertheless, I was taken aback by a recent email from a reader agreeing with a column I’d written for the Indianapolis Business Journal. He informed me that such agreement with me was rare, and chided me for what he perceived to be a lack of respect for those holding contrary positions.

I thought about that accusation, and I decided that he is half right. Although I hope that I “walk the talk” with respect to my frequent calls for greater civility, civility is not respect. It is possible to be perfectly polite–perfectly civil– to someone for whom you have no regard.

So, what about the “respect” allegation?

I do have respect–great respect–for people who clearly share a commitment to important social goals (equal treatment under law, amelioration of injustice, official accountability and the like) but who disagree, sometimes strongly, about way we define those goals, or the policies most likely to achieve them. They are well-intentioned people with a perspective that is contrary to mine–a perspective I try  (not always successfully) to understand.

But it is true that I do not have respect for people who are self-serving and intellectually dishonest, the self-aggrandizing and/or antagonistic types we all come across–the “look at me!” know-it-alls who clearly aren’t interested in leaving the world a bit better than they found it, or making things any easier for those having a hard time. They are the trolls, the race-baiters, the angry name-callers, the people who don’t engage with the specifics of any discussion but seem only to be looking for a fight. My lack of respect for them undoubtedly comes through, because I tend to simply ignore such people. There is no point in feeding animus.

In my own defense, I think respect has to be earned.

Everyone is entitled to be treated civilly. Not everyone is entitled to be respected.