I have been seeing people throwing around the statement “Defund the Police” in response to the Black Lives Matter protests lately. And without getting into the actual arguments for this, or whether this kind of response is what should be undertaken in response to systematic racism, or the assertion of systematic racism; instead it brought home for me the inherent problem we have in today’s society where people try and simplify complex issues. Especially when they try and distil them to slogans, or tweets.
This is especially relevant when Trump is insisting that Biden wants to defund the police, and his republican base start hearing this, and taking it as fact.
But this is a complex issue, and we need to ensure that complex issues, aren’t oversimplified. After all, what do we mean by defund the police? Without going to deep into it, you can imagine the two extremes here, the simple, or the complex. The simple explanation is that it means take all of the money away from the police. The police are the problem, stop funding them. Simple.
Then there is the more complex meaning. The police forces are being over-funded and relied upon to perform tasks, and enter situations, where they are not the best application of societal controls. Instead of throwing all this money at a bloated and semi-militarised police force, we should be taking some of the funds away, and focusing them in other more effectual areas. Better mental health support is one suggestion. In this sense defunding isn’t a total removal of funds but a reallocation of what is seen as the excessive and inappropriate funding of police forces. Complex.
If you put these arguments to people, they will respond differently to two different proposals. Yet when they are reduced to simple slogans and chants, opposing sides don’t understand which point they are either supporting, or opposing, without taking the time to really get involved.
They don’t agree with the other sides point of view, but they also wouldn’t agree with the other sides description of the problem. They are fighting two separate arguments.
I believe that many people who oppose ‘Defund the Police’ would actually support a lot of the initiatives it represents. But the opposition to defunding the police does not benefit from looking at this nuance, and discussing the problems, so they simplify it, and polarise it.
You can see a similar simplification and obfuscation with Trump’s announcement that he was going to build a wall, and Mexico would pay for it. Some people heard this to mean that Mexico would pay for the wall, as in literally be made to provide funding for the wall. Others insist that Mexico are paying for the wall through some other transnational or retributive terms, whether it be through favourable trade deals with the United States, or internal costs as Mexico has to change the way it deals with the United States. Either way there is the complex, and the simple.
Was Trump being purposefully obfuscatory when he said that Mexico would pay for the wall? Was he thinking complexly and meaning that they would pay in some other transactional way, but wanted the public to think that they would literally pay for it? I don’t think so. I don’t think Trump was thinking ahead, or thinking strategically. He was saying that Mexico would pay because he thought it could happen, and that people liked to hear this simplistic plan.
Trump is all surface, there is no deeper vane to try and unearth.
But at risk of spiralling into a Trump rant, I’ll leave that there.
So people can look at these things (Defund the Police, Mexico Will Pay) either way and say that Trump or Biden are lying, or telling the truth. Really what we need to take from this whole thing is that we need to speak clearer, and accept that things are complex.
Mexico isn’t paying for the wall, Biden won’t defund the police.
Mexico is no doubt feeling the effects of the Trump presidency, and simultaneously some wall is being built. Joe Biden does hope to address issues related top policing by changing he way the police force functions, and likely utilising current funding for other institutions.
The Simple, and the Complex.
I would argue that unlike in mathematics, the only way we are going to make these problems easier to solve is to avoid simplifying them, and focus on understanding the complexity.