Archive for July 23rd, 2014

by lizard

Fact: crime rates have been going down for decades. There are plenty of theories why, but nothing conclusive. If I had to go with one, though, it would be the decline of lead exposure. They say correlation is not causation, but there this a ton of data backing up this theory. From the first link:

Rick Nevin, a Virginia economist who consults with the National Center for Healthy Housing (among other studious pursuits) maintains that the decline in crime can be traced to the U.S. ban on lead in gasoline and house paints. In a series of graphs he demonstrates how the drop in the crime rate coincides perfectly with the coming-of-age of the first generation protected from lead exposure. The theory has not been widely researched because how do you study a group that has not been exposed to something? But, lead has long been associated with violent behavior and Nevin insists his research proves a link between the lead ban and a drop in crime not only here in the U.S. but in nine other countries as well.

What makes the decline in crime rates hard to believe is the result, I would argue, of a different kind of exposure: media. Or, to be more specific, the lead-with-what-bleeds 24 hour news cycle.

Any mass-casualty shooting, for example, gets hyper-amplified. As does any horrific incident of violence. The result is our threat perception becomes skewed. I also can’t overstate the vast changes in the media landscape during my lifetime. I was born in 1978. CNN launched two years later. 34 years after that, I can carry instantaneous access to breaking global events in the palm of my hand.

Those of us who choose to expose ourselves to the unhealthy media landscape can try to counter the impact, but it’s difficult. Add an actual personal threat, and it’s nearly impossible.

When I was a kid growing up in the suburbs outside of Seattle, my brother and I had free range of the woods behind our house. My mom has since told me she can’t believe she just let us bike around the neighborhood like there weren’t child rapists hiding behind every tree.

Even here, in idyllic Missoula, I’m acutely aware of potential threats. We have added a puppy to our family, and my wife and I are happy at the thought of her becoming a big, protective girl who will be a badass bitch if given the opportunity to protect the young members of her pack.

I also have that handgun I wrote about buying a few months ago, but it’s mostly kept in the safe to keep the kids safe from the new threat I brought into the home.

What exacerbates my skewed sense of danger is watching the horrors unfolding in other parts of the world. The thought of US exported chaos erupting domestically is something I probably spend too much time worrying about. That said, based on the outcomes of other imperial projects of world domination, I don’t think there’s a chance in hell America is truly exceptional in its ability to be the one lasting empire not susceptible to collapse.

And how to empires collapse? According to Zerohedge, it’s kinda like trickle down corruption:

Before an empire collapses, it first erodes from within. The collapse may appear sudden, but the processes of internal rot hollowed out the resilience, resolve, purpose and vitality of the empire long before its final implosion.

What are these processes of internal rot? Here are a few of the most pervasive and destructive forces of internal corrosion:

1. Each institution within the system loses sight of its original purpose of serving the populace and becomes self-serving. This erosion of common purpose serving the common good is so gradual that participants forget there was a time when the focus wasn’t on gaming the system to avoid work and accountability but serving the common good.

2. The corrupt Status Quo corrupts every individual who works within the system.Once an institution loses its original purpose and becomes self-serving, everyone within either seeks to maximize their own personal share of the swag and minimize their accountability, or they are forced out as a potentially dangerous uncorrupted insider.

The justification is always the same: everybody else is getting away with it, why shouldn’t I? Empires decline one corruptible individual at a time.

3. Self-serving institutions select sociopathic leaders whose skills are not competency or leadership but conning others into believing the institution is functioning optimally when in reality it is faltering/failing.

The late Roman Empire offers a fine example: entire Army legions in the hinterlands were listed as full-strength on the official rolls in Rome and payroll was issued accordingly, but the legions only existed on paper: corrupt officials pocketed the payroll for phantom legions.

Self-serving institutions reward con-artists in leadership roles because only con-artists can mask the internal rot with happy-story PR and get away with it.

4. The institutional memory rewards conserving the existing Status Quo and punishes innovation. Innovation necessarily entails risk, and those busy feathering their own nests (i.e. accepting money for phantom work, phantom legions, etc.) have no desire to place their share of the swag at risk just to improve sagging output and accountability.

So reforms and innovations that might salvage the institution are shelved or buried.

5. As the sunk costs of the subsystems increase, the institutional resistance to new technologies and processes increases accordingly. Those manufacturing steam locomotives in the early 20th century had an enormous amount of capital and institutional knowledge sunk in their factories. Tossing all of that out to invest in building diesel-electric locomotives that were much more efficient than the old-tech steam locomotives made little sense to those looking at sunk costs.
As a result, the steam locomotive manufacturers clung to the old ways and went out of business. The sunk costs of empire are enormous, as is the internal resistance to change.

6. Institutional memory and knowledge support “doing more of what worked in the past” even when it is clearly failing. I refer to this institutional risk-avoidance and lack of imagination as doing more of what has failed spectacularly.

Inept leadership keeps doing more of what once worked, even when it is clearly failing, in effect ignoring real-world feedback in favor of magical-thinking. The Federal Reserve is an excellent example.

7. These dynamics of eroding accountability, effectiveness and purpose lead to systemic diminishing returns. Each failing institution now needs more money to sustain its operations, as inefficiencies, corruption and incompetence reduce output while dramatically raising costs (phantom legions still get paid).

8. Incompetence is rewarded and competence punished. The classic example of this was “Good job, Brownie:” cronies and con-artists are elevated to leadership roles to reward loyalty and the ability to mask the rot with good PR. Serving the common good is set aside as sychophancy (obedient flattery) to incompetent leaders is rewarded and real competence is punished as a threat to the self-serving leadership.

There are more factors cited if you follow the link, but I think you get the point.

And what is the point?

Maybe the point is a cautionary tale. Paying attention to world events by consuming media produces a kind of hyperawareness of threat that doesn’t necessarily correlate with the objective data regarding crime rates.

Or, to state it in even simpler terms, ignorance is bliss.

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