Civic Vandalism

One of the consequences of publishing a blog is that people send you information–sometimes to share, sometimes requesting comment, often just to commiserate about a particularly depressing bit of news.

The other day, a friend shared a particularly offensive comment by one of our less-enlightened politicians, and asked the recurring question: what is wrong with people like that? It is a question I am totally unable to answer.

I can understand differences of opinion among people trying to solve problems (people of good will trying to improve education can argue over the school reforms most likely to achieve that goal; people all of whom genuinely want to see the economy improve may disagree on the role of government debt, etc. ), but I simply can’t fathom what drives the naysayers and haters–the people who simply oppose efforts to provide healthcare to the uninsured, or reduce poverty, or insure that citizens are treated equally. It’s one thing to argue about the wisdom of the means being chosen, it’s another thing entirely to reject the legitimacy of the effort, to insist that nothing should be done.

It’s sort of like theft and vandalism: I “get” theft—it’s unacceptable, but I can understand the thief’s motive; he wants something he doesn’t have, so he steals it. It’s comprehensible. What I can’t understand, and have never understood, is vandalism—destruction for destruction’s sake.

Right now, we have people of good will who are arguing–as people have always done–over the best way to conduct the nation’s business. Citizens can and do disagree about policy, and are often disagreeable about it, but that sort of political conflict is unavoidable. And comprehensible.

What isn’t comprehensible (at least to me) is another contemporary phenomenon–one that is different in kind from the normal political fights of the past: behavior that can appropriately be described as civic vandalism. It’s as though a significant percentage of our political class is throwing a prolonged tantrum, with no purpose other than expressing rage and preventing the rest of us from conducting the nation’s business.

It’s beyond troubling–and beyond my feeble attempts at understanding.


  1. When it’s obvious that the ruling group is inevitably losing power, the last capability they retain until the end of their power is the capability to destroy. It becomes their only way of exercising any power at all.

  2. Here Here! Well said. I saw an SUV the other day with 4 or 5 anti-“welfare” bumper stickers and thought, how nice for you that life has always gone exactly your way and you have never needed help from anyone at anytime.

  3. Why is Indiana vandalizing the healthcare system on all levels. I commented on an earlier blog about my son and daughter-in-law attempting to find health care that does not have a $9,600 annual deductible. She began attempting to apply when ACA was activated; took until January to complete her application which she learned had been lost after waiting and making phone calls to learn their status. She then reapplied by phone; the results from Indiana healty care system is that she is not allowed to apply to ACA till all state systems have denied them coverage. She was told that she, her husband and two younger sons MAY qualify for state health care but their 20 year old son does NOT. The state of Indiana refuses to give them acceptance or denial information till April or May; the final date to apply for ACA is March 31st. She then called ACA and was told to apply for state coverage immediately to move the application along faster. Their response was that the will not begin accepting applications for state health care till AFTER March 31st. One would think this state would want applicant’s money if nothing else was factored into their system. To me this is political vandalism; it is also thievery of Indiana resident’s possibility of reasonable health care coverage. I have spoken with two friends who were able to obtain health care insurance through the state and ACA a few months ago; no idea when they ceased accepting applications and/or notifiying applicants of their status.

  4. Amen, Sheila. The lit major in me references John Milton’s “Paradise Lost ” in which he mentions “man’s cruelty to man.” Evil for the sake of evil makes no sense to me.

  5. Quote: “The other day, a friend shared a particularly offensive comment by one of our less-enlightened politicians, and asked the recurring question: what is wrong with people like that? It is a question I am totally unable to answer.”

    I haven’t articulated that particular question, “What is wrong w/people like that?” for a very long, long time, for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve discovered this particular question generally is rhetorical regardless of the identity of or the descriptors assigned to the ‘people like that’. Next, this question usually is posed to a person or to a group of persons who invariably are guaranteed to agree that something indeed is wrong with ‘people like that.’ For me, hearing “What is wrong w/people like that?” is an invitation to play a conversational game of “Ain’t It Awful” in which no one is a winner.

  6. I read this post after reading a different post that I think relates. Iain DeJong is a homeless expert at the international level (Canada and US) that really believes in evidence based policies and practices. I hope it is OK the entire post because I want readers to read it, and it fits this post.

    (There is kind of an awkward worded example, but I know from his other posts, that DeJong is saying that despite long term evidence that same-sex marriages/relationships work out fine, people believe the fauxpinions that try to blame other failures on it.)

    Ultracrepidarianism and Fauxpinions

    “The first is a real word. The second one is made up. They are both related.

    The first is to have opinions outside of one’s area of expertise or knowledge.

    The second is to present opinions as facts when the opinion is not based upon fact.

    In the world of social change, both hamper and thwart efforts to be effective.

    Consider that most public policy is crafted and approved by legislators that do not have subject matter expertise regarding the matter that they are enshrining into law, funding, rights, etc. But they do have opinions. Regardless of what the public service may have put before them by way of data, research, experience of other jurisdictions, framing of pros and cons, financial impacts, etc., it is always the prerogative in a democracy for elected officials to deviate from the advice they are given and craft an approach based upon opinions alone.

    This is the wretched, recurring uhtceare moment for the skeptical empiricist that would rather see evidence drive us to discussion and deliberation rather than opinion. Examples: mandatory minimums do not deter crime, but we seem to have an opinion that they do so and legislators create more reasons and longer sentences; sobriety is not a precondition for success in housing, but we seem to still fund and support a litany of recovery services that masquerade as homeless services and reinforce a false notion that people can only remain housed if they are sober; countries that have a long history of same-sex marriages and unions have seen a deterioration of their moral fabric or destruction of opposite-sex marriages and unions, yet there remain some circles that fear-monger and suggest that such a thing will occur.

    While we can see the snollygoster making such opinions possible in the realm of policy – and the populace is mumbudget – perhaps it is worse when fauxpinion takes fervent root. Another way of looking at the fauxpinion – the repeat of a lie enough times that people come to accept it as truth.

    The master of the fauxpinion exists in just about every community. I find they are often long-term disciples within the service they work. They are held with reverence or placated rather than challenged. They hold power because they have woven their fauxpinions into some semblance of truth that has actually formed the foundation of the approach to addressing the social issue. Examples: the provision of survival supports like sleeping bags and food as a necessary ingredient to get people off the streets; addressing economic poverty is the only true way to combat housing instability; chronically homeless people (or a large subset thereof) prefers to be homeless than housed.

    We need to shine a light on data in meaningful ways to get it into the discussion of public policy and social change. We need to present it with certainty and in terms that lay people can understand and use immediately. And we need to be assured because we can prove it that decisions based upon sound data and research is better than approaches founded solely on opinions that are beyond the subject matter expertise of the decision-maker, or based solely upon false facts that have tried to translate opinions into sounding like facts.”

  7. I was behind a SUV this week
    Lots of gun nut bumper stickers
    One said “Stand & Fight”
    I wondered just WHO or WHAT is this dunce fighting?
    I wanted to ask him if he joined the US Army during one of our frequent wars so he got really get his macho on and REALLY stand and fight
    I am sure I already know the answer though

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