A while ago, I published a long and poorly-titled article about New York’s current mayor as he was assuming office.
Since then, some of the retrospectives about the upsurge in reported violent crime have been trickling in – especially about the so-called ‘slashing’ attacks, of which there were more than 550 in 2015 alone. The pace in 2016, according to reports, looks to be at over 10 attacks per day.
In a typical slashing — which often but not always occurs along racial lines in a pattern that good people who think correctly won’t notice — a young man aims to disfigure a woman with a knife.
So, what explains these ‘puzzling’ attacks? The safe explanation is that the attackers are ‘crazy’ or that it’s a result of the pullback of policies like stop-and-frisk and the increased caution that the police forces have towards any action that has a disparate impact across racial lines.
The way to solve the mystery is to recognize that it isn’t actually a mystery: you’re just supposed to be befuddled by it to remain in polite society. To express puzzlement is to show that you are a good person, even if by being a good person who supports the new direction of the state, you result in the disfigurement and traumatization of hundreds of innocent people per year or more.
Let us imagine that there are some groups of people that can win more through violence than they can through trade. This isn’t hard to imagine because there are countless examples that we see in our own lives and in history. Pirates hit the high seas in search of booty because it’s both more fun and more effective for them to rob boats and kidnap people for ransom than it is for them to go to trade school to learn how to weld.
Similarly, there are entire classes of people who can get more from the world by being unstable and dangerous – like the political leadership of North Korea.
By attacking civilians with impunity, you demonstrate in blood that the current political authority is incapable of providing effective security even at an inordinately high price.
When animals attack other animals in a bid to solidify their claims over territory, we rarely call the attacks ‘random’ or ‘senseless’ — instead we aim to understand the behavior in a detached way.
Humans, also, are intensely territorial and have many complex means of cooperation and coordination. One way that humans and many, many other species assert dominance over territory is to use limited violence to demonstrate control. What the laws say about who owns what is much less relevant than who can use violence with impunity in what territories.
Behaviors always have reasons motivating them, even if those reasons don’t meet high standards of rationality.
The press – and even articles like this one – also encourage more symbolic attacks, because effective countermeasures are forbidden and alternative security arrangements are some combination of illegal, infeasible, and culturally taboo for modern New Yorkers.
The reason why people use violence to achieve their political goals is because under the right conditions, it’s both cheaper and more effective than the alternatives. The slashers slash because it gets them and their fellows what they want for a couple dollars in hardware and a flick of the wrist.
Similar to the motivated incomprehension that people show in regards to terrorism, the better sort of educated person knows to make themselves stupid in how they think about ‘random’ violence between groups.