Last night, I caught you up on the crime and celebrity-chaos stories from the past week, and that rundown was getting a little long, so here, tonight, is a rundown of recent Lawpsyc stories and observations of other types:
Sadly, dozens of Americans were killed over the weekend, not because they were fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Libya, not because of a collective series of car wrecks across the nation, no, because of…tornadoes. It’s tragic, of course, and my heart goes out to those who lost loved ones, but am I the only observer who followed this news and wondered, “How are people — not just one or two, but dozens — still getting killed by tornadoes in the United States of America in the year 2011?” I don’t mean to sound insensitive here, and if there are good explanations, I really want to know them so I can think about how we should fix them, but come on, don’t people watch weather forecasts? I’ve written before about how amazed I am when people, even in “third-world” nations, still die in hurricanes that were known to have been coming for days, even weeks. When it comes to tornadoes, the warning isn’t that great, I know, but an elevated risk is generally identified hours before they develop, and then when one is imminent, everyone in the immediate vicinity (except maybe someone unlucky enough to be right underneath it when it comes down) generally can get at least several minutes’ notice in which to take cover. Now I can imagine you saying, “But what about people who live out in the middle of nowhere and don’t have tornado warning sirens in their areas?” Ok, but radios, televisions, and weather radios are available even in the remotest areas, and Internet-connected computers and cell phones are available in all but the remotest areas, so I’m not buying the, “Nobody knew it might be coming” argument. Sadly, I’m inclined to think that this many deaths occurring due to a predictable — in fact predicted — threat indicate that some people just simply ignored the risk, which wouldn’t bother me as much if only adults were involved but bothers me greatly when kids are involved. I could be wrong, and if I am, we obviously need to improve and expand our severe-weather warning system, which brings me to my second story/observation — what happens if/when we reach a point where we simply cannot afford to improve/expand our public-safety equipment (air traffic control systems, disaster warning systems, etc.) or to even respond in the aftermath of disasters?
The credit-rating organization Standard & Poors warned on Monday that the security of investments in the United States’ government-issued debt (i.e. the degree of confidence that purchasers of U.S. Treasury bonds can have that they’ll be paid on time and in full) may not be what it once was. In the face of a massive and mounting national debt and massive deficits as far into the future as the eye can see, S&P anticipates downgrading its ratings of U.S. bonds, which would make it harder and more costly for the U.S. government to borrow money, resulting in inflation and damage to our already-shaky economy. Guess what? I’ve been predicting this, writing about it and about the psychology involved in it, for years. See my archived blog posts dated 11/18/08, 3/4/09, and 6/1/10. Nevertheless, President Obama recently stated that drastic budget cuts proposed by some in Congress would violate the “social compact” between Americans. I assume that the President is referring to the same thing that many of us, and many political scientists and philosophers, call a social “contract.” It’s the idea that a government is formed and given legitimacy by the consent of the governed because, in the people’s judgment, it’s in their individual best interests to come together with their peers and make some mutual promises whereby they can live peaceably amongst one another. I’ve written about this, too! See my archived blog post dated 10/9/08, wherein I explain it in detail. I’m glad to hear the President mentioning this concept because, as I’ve been saying for years, we must take a very hard look back at what exactly is in our nation’s social contract, as embodied in the Constitution of the United States. We must now look all the way back at why exactly the inhabitants of the 13 colonies that became the original United States decided to federate, to form a national government, in the first place. It was largely for the same reason why the first inhabitants of smaller communities, like frontier towns here in Kansas, generally came together and agreed on a set of rules by which to live. It’s for protection, from one another primarily. For example, you can’t leave your house if you have to fear that your peers will come and take your stuff while you’re gone, so you promise not to take their stuff if they promise not to take your stuff, and you also promise that if anyone takes anyone else’s stuff, you’ll join a posse with everyone else to go get the stolen stuff back and punish the thief. In that example, you give up some freedom, but it’s freedom to do something that your morals wouldn’t have allowed you to do anyway, to steal, so it’s not a big sacrifice, and in return, you get a lot of security, so you actually end up more free than you were when you had to stay home and guard your stuff all the time. At the national level, the analogous purpose is again defense, not from our next-door neighbors, but from our global neighbors, i.e. from foreign invaders. We all agree to participate in preserving the existence of our nation. But protection isn’t the only reason why our founding fathers federated. They federated also because they knew that each individual colony would be far more likely to survive and succeed as an individual state if it cooperated, not only in their mutual defense, but also in infrastructural ways, like making it possible for people, goods, and mail to travel easily between the states, to transact trade between the states using a common currency, etc. I’ve also written before about the psychology of President Obama (4/11/09), and based on his formative experiences and education as well as his statements and actions, I think he believes that the American social contract included far more than I believe it included. I think the President believes that the colonists federated also, for example, to make sure that everyone in every state had medical care when they got sick. I don’t doubt that the earliest Americans cared about one another, but I think that’s why they joined churches and formed charitable societies — I don’t think there’s any evidence that it was among the reasons why they formed a federal government. After they had just fought a bloody war over oppressive taxation, I don’t think they would ever have agreed to set up a federal government that could keep expanding its purposes to encompass social as well as existential/infrastructural responsibilities and could progressively tax and obligate them accordingly. The good news is that the President seems to be acknowledging that we need to be having a national debate about what exactly it is that the federal government exists to do. While I think he and I are light years apart in our answers to that question, at least we agree that it must again be asked.
A couple of other stories/observations before I sign off for tonight:
First up, retail clothing chain Abercrombie and Fitch is accused once again of marketing sexualized children’s clothing. This time, A&F apparently is marketing a bikini swimsuit for girls as young as eight years old that features a padded top. Psychologically speaking, it’s a little scary to think about whom the designers had in mind when they came up with this idea. I’ve written many times about how our popular culture seems to be promoting the “sexualization” of children at younger and younger ages. Normally, though, eight-year-old girls generally aren’t trying to appeal sexually to boys yet, and if they are, they shouldn’t be. Likewise, eight-year-old boys still generally aren’t looking at girls in sexual ways yet, and again, if they are, they shouldn’t be. Certainly, hopefully at least, the designers didn’t have older boys or men in mind when they came up with the idea of the stuffed bikini top for eight-year-olds (but when I recall pedophiles whom I’ve interviewed as a court expert, even the unintended consequence of arousing them is a particularly-frightening possibility). So whom did A&F’s designers really have in mind? I’m not sure, but I’m afraid that the target market may actually be…mothers. I’ve written about this before (11/4/07 and 5/23/10). As I said in the latter piece, “Too many mothers can’t wait to be Sex and the City gal-pals with their daughters, so they’re treating the daughters like little sexually-active adults while the girls are still just children. Job 1 is to be a parent, not a friend.”
And finally, a 16-year-old girl reportedly survived a leap from the Golden Gate Bridge on Monday. Of course I’m glad that she survived, but the fact that she left the bridge in the first place calls to mind pieces that I’ve written about efforts to make the Golden Gate and other famous structures “jump-proof.” If you’re interested, see my archived blog posts dated 10/14/08 and 3/30/10.