Sunday, May 31, 2015


On LinkinIn Pulse this morning, I encountered a column titled "Forget About Humanity." It's a critique of modern society and how we've structured it. The overall tone, as I perceived it, is set by the final sentence of the opening paragraph:

But yes, hurray, by all means, let's all run out and buy another gadget to distract us, from anything actually meaningful or real.
To which I plead: Not Guilty. I am not distracted from the meaningful or real by gadgets. Instead, as the author notes, I ration out my "understandably limited humanity" (By which I think Mr. LoPraeste refers to my attention, time and resources.) as I see fit to do so. And I believe that other people do so as well. And "[m]ost of us suffer the lot of the bungled and botched" precisely because we live in a world where billions of people ration their limited means in a way that makes sense for them, rather than as a part of a grand worldwide enterprise of global uplift. Speaking for myself, when I choose to answer an e-mail or a text message rather than taking action to combat human suffering, the absolute degradation of the planet or bankers sucking $30 trillion out of the global economy, it's not because I don't know what's important, or I'm somehow not "awake." It's because that e-mail or that text IS what's important to me at that moment. I fully understand what I'm doing, and what purposes I'm serving. It's no different than when I choose to eat dinner, go to bed or donate to the food drive that the United States Postal Service holds every Spring. Yes, when I chose to purchase a tablet computer rather than spend that money to directly aid those less well off than myself or donate that money to a charity, I directly contributed to my own focus on what Mr. LoPraeste considers the wrong things. One of those "wrong things" it turns out, may very well be that judgement.

We can argue what is actually meaningful or real. We can argue it indefinitely. (Just as we can argue what the definitions of "meaningful" or "real" are in this context, or whether they have workable definitions at all.) But one of the cornerstones of our human-ness, if not necessarily our humanity, is that we choose these things for ourselves. It is one of the freedoms we have, and that cannot be taken away from us. Yes, it makes for a world were the things that certain people value are different than the things that other people (sometimes including ourselves) want them to value. If we don't like what others value, then it is our responsibility to demonstrate to them how the things that we value are also of value to them - and of greater value than the things that they already place value on. I note the irony of being told that we often have "a relentless focus on talking instead of doing." Because publicly judging via a column on a web site is just that - talking. It is not taking steps to correct the problem, nor is it leading by example. "Do as I would have you do" is not the same as "Follow me."

There is no shortage of people who have determined that the best way to secure themselves in their basic "humanity" is to question someone else's. But humanity is either a birthright or it isn't - when we come to the conclusion that some people are worthy of the term "human" and others are not - and that our judgments are an accurate reflection of some objective reality, we are doing the very thing we often decry.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Powers of Creation

If, as we're so often told by conservative pundits, think tanks and politicians, "The government can't create jobs," what does one call being a career member of the military? A hobby? Even if you narrow that a bit and say that "The government can't create private sector jobs," you still have tens, if not hundreds of thousands of contractors to contend with. Because the United States spends a lot of time doing, well, stuff, and it needs people to do that stuff.

Where the ideology starts to fray, I think is in the idea that a collective of people won't do anything more than all of the individuals in that group would do. But even if you use this (fairly generous) understanding of the statement "The government can't create jobs," it seems iffy. In my apartment complex, there is a service that, if you buy certain trash bags, will come to your door and take those bags to the dumpster for you every evening. Sure, you could make the point that someone could come to everyone's door and ask if they would like to subscribe, but I suspect that the complex stepping in and setting everything up made it much more likely that it would be worthwhile for someone to do this. Basically, it created some number of jobs that might not otherwise exist. So if an apartment complex management team can create a job by arranging for a service on behalf of its tenants, it seems that a government could create a job by arranging for a service on behalf of its constituents. Sure - the extra costs passed on, to either the tenants or the constituents, could go to something else in the absence of a rent or tax increase. But that money could just as easily have sat under someone's mattress, not doing anything. To the degree that organizations take a certain amount of money from their members and increase the velocity of that money, they can create jobs - because a job is simply the creation of a good or service in exchange for some remuneration, rather than for the producer's personal consumption.

In the end, jobs are "created" by someone wanting a good and/or service and being willing to pay someone to produce same. It's simply an outgrowth of the division of labor that societies devise. The idea that particular groupings of people within a society, simply by virtue of the label attached to what they do, can or cannot "create jobs" doesn't strike me as accurate.

Monday, May 25, 2015


The Polar Pioneer, docked in Seattle. In the foreground is a "protest barge."
Royal Dutch Shell has plans for Arctic drilling this year, and is using the Port of Seattle as a stopover point. This being called the Left Coast for a reason, there have been protests; and even the City Council and the Mayor are getting in on the act.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Column A and Column B

The story of Josh Duggar—of the whole Duggar family, really—is a tragedy. Duggar’s actions were absolutely appalling, as anyone with a well-tuned moral compass could understand. Of course we should condemn Josh and his crimes: Contra Mike Huckabee’s strange statement, publicly denouncing sex criminals sends a resounding message that our society won’t tolerate such abuse. But even as we reprove him, we should remember the odious lies that were forced down his throat as a child. As much as Josh deserves our scorn, the young teen who perpetrated these crimes also deserves a small measure of our pity. Josh was born into a world of subjugation and repression. That doesn’t excuse his monstrous behavior. But it does help to explain how a man who spends his days espousing family values lost his own sense of morality.
Mark Joseph Stern. "Of Course We Should Condemn Josh Duggar. We Should Also Pity Him."
First, apologies for the long quote. This is a situation where I wanted to make sure that I pulled in all of the necessary context for what follows.

I understand the call to both Condemn and Pity Josh Duggar. But it seems like a call to have it both ways, when I think that it would be healthier to make a choice - either one's "moral compass" is objectively self-calibrating and acting in reprehensible ways is a sign of insufficient commitment to proper behavior, or we do as we're taught to do, and people's sense of morality is personal.

Note that this doesn't touch on whether Josh Duggar's actions were criminal and/or harmful. They were both. But that's a separate issue from whether or not there is a greater moral issue at stake.

I've never seen _19 Kids and Counting_ because it strikes me, as does much of "reality" programming, as Freak-Show Television. And, to be honest, the Point-and-Stare/Laugh aesthetic of it all makes me uncomfortable. But the Duggars, like any other phenomenon popularly understood to be a train wreck, are impossible to get completely away from. I won't claim to have read the public conversation around the show entirely correctly, but I think I understand the discomfort that it provoked in America's political Left. The unabashedly Conservative Christian Duggars have been described multiple times as openly using their show to promote their particular values as the only correct ones. They were preaching to a choir of people who see themselves as kept out of the élite of the American mainstream, and the sermon seems to have been "'Society' is different, and that's Bad."

And so when Mr. Stern relates that: "[...] much of the left has greeted the news of [Josh Duggar's] molestation charges with a kind of derisive, jeering disgust," I get it. Like anyone, people on the Left want to believe that they're good people, with well-calibrated moral compasses, and so are always alert for a chance to point out when a mighty critic has fallen. But the idea that it was Josh's upbringing that helped shape him into someone who is worth of pity for being "born into a world of subjugation and repression" is designed to take a singular critique of a man and reshape into a broader, if milder, indictment of a culture. (This has been going on for a while - people on the Left( and the Right(, for instance, have leveled charges of child abuse for passing on one's beliefs to one's children.)

Which creates something of a paradox - as I first encountered the concept in college: "People are taught to behave in certain ways, but should held accountable for learning them." Our culture of making both the external what and the internal why of behavior important leads us to forget that for the most part, culpability doesn't matter. It makes sense to condemn the molestation of youth below the age of consent. This is a behavior that we have more or less collectively determined to be unacceptable. But once we've done that, why bother to condemn Josh Duggar? It may be satisfying to point at him and say (as is becoming popular): "You're a bad person and should feel bad." But what do we earn from that other than a sense of personal satisfaction?

Conversely, if we've decided that Josh Duggar is a monster, and fully responsible for what he has done, who cares what he was taught? A lot of people have been taught things that would appear to justify bad behavior on their part - yet they don't indulge in it. This is why the dueling accusations as to whether teaching creationism or evolution by natural selection constitute child abuse are completely irrelevant. Sure, they give people something to snipe at each other about, but Children and Family Services will never become involved over them.

We often appear to have difficulty deciding who to blame for bad things that happen. So we don't decide. We spread the blame around to anyplace we think it will stick. Which is understandable, but it doesn't solve the problems at hand.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Right Side

It will be okay when I do it...
When it comes to crimes like murder, I don't believe that our biggest problem is our willingness to kill. Instead, it's our willingness to tell ourselves that our reasons for killing are the right ones.
[Art] Caplan draws a wise lesson from the Nazi doctors: Beware the human weakness for moral rationalization. But part of that weakness is the illusion in each of us that we have escaped it.
William Saletan. "Natural-Born Killers" Slate Magazine, 4 April, 2005
In the end, our weakness for rationalization doesn't lead many of us to violence - despite the tough talk, I doubt that Mr. Shaw would shoot down an unsuspecting person for the "sin" of hunting for sport. It's, likely just words. Instead, it leads us to look the other way when people we dislike are subject to violence. Or, perhaps worse, engage in character assassination.

There is nothing wrong, as far as I'm concerned, with backing things that suit one's purposes, even if those same actions would otherwise trigger protest. Where we fail is in owning up to our biases. Which gives us the idea that our moral sentiments are objective reflections of reality, and thus superior to those of people who disagree with us. And there is no price to high for others to pay in the pursuit of a higher ideal.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

It's Never Basic

I was reading The Atlantic, and came across an interesting article on the idea of a guaranteed basic income. At one point, it mentions a German experiment in crowdfunding that has given about a dozen people, chosen by a lottery:

Indeed, the stories told by the winners are inspiring. For example, one recipient is using his newfound freedom to write his dissertation. Another winner quit his job at a call center to study and become a teacher.
And while this is a small sample within a small sample, it raises one of the fundamental issues with a guaranteed basic income that isn't backed up by a command economy - how does one ensure that the basic goods and services that people need to get by will be provided if they're not making them themselves?

Consider a small community of ten people. Alice and Bob are farmers and are capable of producing enough food to feed the entire community. Carol and Don are clothiers, and again, are capable of outfitting the entire community. And finally, we have Edith and Fred, who are homebuilders - and they have the ability to house the entire community. Now, back in the day, the three couples relied on themselves or each other for the basics (food, clothing and shelter) and the other four members of the community provided luxuries - things that Alice, Bob, Carol, Don, Edith and Fred wanted, but didn't need to live. But now, machines can do the things for Alice, et al that the other four community members did more cheaply. If Greg owns the machines, there is a problem. One can talk about giving the remaining three members of the community a basic income that they don't have to work for in order to buy goods and services from the other members of the community, but if we remove money from the equation for a moment, you can see the problem. Unless Alice, et al continue to produce enough to supply everyone, you don't have anything to give the remaining three members of the community. And if they do, they're basically giving it away, because Greg's automation can do whatever they would have done for the farmers, clothiers or builders.

Of course, in a larger community, things become much more complicated, and very quickly, but the basic problem remains the same. If producers make goods and services to meet the demand of the people who can afford to pay for them directly by trading value for value, if you have a number of people on a basic income who aren't necessarily making goods and services that the producers of necessities want, what do they do to justify producing things for them? At some level, a basic income only works if there is a predictable surplus of goods and services for them. But in a society where people can chose, how do you get there?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Act One

In the end, the problem with pragmatism is that it slides into cynicism. And even if it doesn’t then metastasize into despair, it can create sense of futility. After a tip-off from a fellow Google+ user, I read Malcolm Gladwell’s “Million-Dollar Murray,” about homelessness and the “power law” distribution thereof. Picture a graph where, as you move from left to right along the X axis, the Y axis rises only slowly - until you come up on the far right edge of the distribution, at which point the Y axis suddenly rockets into the stratosphere. That’s a “power law” distribution. You see it in such things as wealth distribution in the United States or use-of-force complaints against police officers. And you see it in homelessness, where, as the article points out, most people who are homeless at some point are only in that condition for a short period of time. But then there are a comparatively few people for whom homelessness is a way of life - and that’s where all of the money goes. Removing these people from the streets and putting them into supportive housing would save us millions of dollars a year (assuming we didn’t redirect the savings into services for the less catastrophically homeless). And it would remove people from a situation that Americans are constantly decrying.

It is very much ingrained in me that you do not manage a social wrong. You should be ending it.
Philip Mangano, former executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness
Seems logical. I don’t know that I could find anyone who would sincerely say that a social wrong should be allowed to persist indefinitely. But before you ask yourself why we don’t seem committed to ending the social wrong we are confronted with, ask yourself what social wrong people perceive.

One of the important points that Mr. Gladwell makes about a problem with a power law distribution is a simple one: “But from a moral perspective it doesn’t seem fair.” Being in a difficult spot abd managing it to the best of one’s ability, so as to stay out of the right-hand spike at the end of the distribution means, when there are not enough resources to go around, not receiving the help that the hard cases get - even when the hard cases seem singularly disinterested in helping themselves. As a result, Mr. Gladwell notes, “Our usual moral intuitions are little use, then, when it comes to a few hard cases. Power-law problems leave us with an unpleasant choice. We can be true to our principles or we can fix the problem. We cannot do both.”
Thousands of people in the Denver area no doubt live day to day, work two or three jobs, and are eminently deserving of a helping hand—and no one offers them the key to a new apartment. Yet that’s just what the guy screaming obscenities and swigging Dr. Tich gets. When the welfare mom’s time on public assistance runs out, we cut her off. Yet when the homeless man trashes his apartment we give him another.
The pragmatic solution is a simple one. We simply jettison our “usual moral intuitions” around concepts of fairness and deserving. After all, these are not physical traits of the world around us. The world is full of unfairness, and bad things happen to presumably undeserving good people all the time. It’s part of the reason why so many people refer to the Just-World Hypothesis as a fallacy. Or, to be a bit more colorful about it, “Believing that life is fair might make you a terrible person(” There is a whole segment of religious study devoted to Theodicy, defined by Merriam-Webster as “: defense of God’s goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil.” We worry about the “goodness and omnipotence” of a deity, rather than our own commitment and effectiveness. Because instead, the common impulse is to reject Mr. Gladwell’s contention, and believe that, regardless of how great a gulf a neutral observer might see between following our principles and the solution to the problem, that they are one in the same thing - that close adherence to our principles of fairness and deserving will inevitably lead to the solution we want. Or, to be more precise, if other people were to adhere to our principles, they would solve the problem. It’s a brilliant strategy, one that allows for a self-proclaimed commitment to the issue, but that also places the responsibility in the hands of people who are in dire straits to begin with.

That idea isn’t going away any time soon, and the pragmatic thing to do is to understand that. But doing that means understanding that what we are doing now is futile. In doing a little bit for every homeless person in the name of being fair, we’re not solving the problem. And oftentimes, our standards of who we consider deserving are so stringent that we can hardly be said to be living up to our principles - after all, even when we’re not simply handing the keys to subsidized apartments to the chronically homeless, we’re not giving them to the person working three jobs, either.

The conclusion that one draws from Mr. Gladwell’s piece, one that Mr. Gladwell himself appears to draw, is that we’re not invested in solutions. We’re invested in our own comfort; we’re invested in making sure that we feel good about what’s going on. And we’re willing to pay a high monetary price for that - and for others to pay a high price in suffering. But that’s the way it is - it’s part of human nature. Right and wrong are often invisible to us. But we understand what feels right and what feels wrong, and with no other way by which to judge, we place our feelings at the top of our priority list. And so we find ourselves trapped in Solutions Theater, where the appearance of marrying “our usual moral intuitions” and workable solutions to the problem becomes a cover for the fact that none of it is real.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Counting Eggs

I was reading a critique of Marco Rubio's foreign policy positions in The Atlantic,when I came across the following:

But what all these doctrines had in common was that they constituted an effort to define, and answer, the specific challenge of a given time. For Monroe, it was hemispheric independence. For Truman, it was communist expansion. For Carter, it was threats to America’s oil supply.
The last sentence jumped out at me for a moment, because it strikes me as a particular way of using the possessive. Were you to ask me, "Where are your supplies?" you would be treated to a quick tour of my apartment, so that could show you were I keep food, water, emergency batteries, flashlights, radios, et cetera. But I wouldn't take you to the canned food aisle of the local grocery store. Because while they most certainly have supplies there - they aren't mine in any real sense of the word - they're merchandise for sale to whomever comes along.

In that sense, the idea of referring to the oil reserves of the Persian Gulf states as "America's oil supply" seems premature, at best. But I wonder to what degree policymakers have already counted those particular chickens, as it were. And what the policy implications of that are.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

None's Fair

Yet, we keep trying...
There is a part of me that doesn't understand our societal attachment to the idea that something abundant enough for everyone to have what they need must be somehow completely lacking in any sort of worth.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Found Wisdom

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Respect the Establishment

The right to blaspheme is not a right most of us make much use of these days, and for excellent reason. In modern Western free societies, we take it absolutely for granted that nobody can enforce religious dogma on anybody else.
David Frum, "The Right to Blaspheme"
I disagree. The right to blaspheme is one that most of us don't care about because, as much as the United States is often described as a Puritanical nation, we simply don't give a rip about blasphemy. When Mr. Frum describes grabbing a consecrated communion wafer, breaking it, and tossing it to the floor as blasphemy, it was news to me, and I took four years of Roman Catholic theology in high school. For us in the 1980s (I graduated high school about three years before the incident Frum recounts) blasphemy was something that went out of style when the Crusades did. We'd heard of it, but I doubt that anyone in my graduating class, had you put them on the spot, could have told you how to commit it. Given that, it's easy for me "to imagine a more brutal affront to the most cherished beliefs of faithful Catholics." For me, Mr. Frum's focus on Americans' relatively non-existent concern with issues of blasphemy as means of making the point that we're not in the business of enforcing religious dogma demonstrates how an apples-to-apples comparison can be misleading. When we look at things that the Christian community does seem to concern itself with, we find a concerted effort to enforce religious dogma on others who don't believe in it - and the real difference between radical Islam and radical Christianity.

When one looks at efforts to restrict access to elective (and in some cases, medically necessary) abortions, or to stop/roll back marriage rights for same-sex couples, you see prominent conservative Christian groups leading these efforts, which are mainly aimed at altering the legislative landscape in the country. Yes, assaults and murders in the name of "pro-life" and/or "traditional marriage" are rare. But that's because most people in the United States are not in the business of deciding that if secular law and "natural law" come into conflict, that natural law needs rough men ready to do violence on its behalf. Which is something of a change from the first half of the previous century, when extrajudicial killing, to either supplement or supplant the legal system, was more en vogue. Yes, one can make the point that even staunch Christians put forward (supposedly) secular reasons for why abortions should be outlawed and marriage restricted to heterosexual couples, but this is because the United States is no longer at a point where blatant appeals to Christian teaching can pass muster as not representing "an establishment of religion." It strikes me that someone who understands the legalization of abortion and oral/anal sex as "dark, tragic pages in our history" or says that "Government Has No Right to Renounce its Natural Law Duty to Uphold Morality in the Pursuit of the Common Good" does not, in fact, "take it absolutely for granted that nobody can enforce religious dogma on anybody else." Their expectation that secular laws will enforce their preferred religious dogma seems pretty front-and-center.

It's true that American Christians are at peace with the idea that if civil/criminal law doesn't line up with their religious sentiments, they're simply out of luck. They blame it on "society," and go on about their business. Sure, some grouse when something tragic happens, blaming it in whole or in part on the United States not being Christian enough. But for the most part, there is a certain confidence that the divine can take care of itself, and while they'd prefer that secular law codes their dogmas into public policy, they see no reason to use violence to support that preference.

But I also think that Americans simply don't take it as personally as some people in the Islamic world do, in large part because Americans don't feel terribly marginalized on the basis of religion. There is some complaining about Christians being the only acceptable targets left in the United States - but men, women, Hispanics and likely goldfish complain about the same thing. Coupled with the typical American's ability to ignore most of what's happening in the world at large and our general lack of concern with religious issues this lack of feeling directly assaulted likely goes a long way to explaining why no-one freaks out (assuming they even know what's going on) when someone desecrates the host.

There is a desire for legally-enforced lip service to particular understandings of Christianity. It's simply aimed in a different direction than that of radical Islam.

Friday, May 8, 2015

But Not TOO Good

[...] I thought that [Janet Yellen] was stating the obvious. I thought we knew for a while that the stock market has been feeding off this low interest rate policy, and that they were excited and rallied on the fact that this was a lukewarm jobs report, which means that [a] rate hike could be pushed out even further I think is evidence that, you know, there's some credibility into what Janet Yellen is saying.
Nela Richardson, "Marketplace" for Friday, May 8, 2015
When people grouse about the America economy, one of the complaints that comes up quite often is about "Capitalism," or, rather, what people understand Capitalism to be about. One can argue about whether or not people understand Capitalism or economics more broadly, but the actual problem can really be boiled down to a very simple issue: divergent incentives. The quote from Nela Richardson illustrates this. Investors liked the 223,000 new non-farm jobs for the month of April because it was good, especially compared to the 85,000 or so jobs created in March. But they also liked it because it wasn't great - the unemployment rate is still high enough that there's little upward pressure on wages, which would, in turn, boost inflation, and lead to the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates. And when money costs more, the profits from that money are lower.

And so you have tension in incentives. If too many people are able to find new jobs, the cheap money from the Federal Reserve goes away. So while investors want people to be working and generating income, they don't want the general public to be doing well enough that the returns from capital drop. It's no surprise that people distrust Capitalism.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Carry On

A pretty good distance from Wal-Mart.
A random observation:

When I was a child, my grandmothers had small carts that they would take with them to the grocery store. Large enough to carry maybe four paper grocery bags, the carts were useful in trundling purchases back to the house or to the bus stop. And when you weren't using it to carry groceries, it folded up and could be placed out of the way. When I drive by bus tops near stores today and see abandoned store carts there, I wonder what ever happened to those small personal carts. A quick search online reveals that they're still available, but I rarely see anyone ever use one.

To be honest, I almost never saw them outside of urban neighborhoods like those my grandparents lived in. They seem to be non-existent in the suburban cities in which I grew up, and now live and work in.

I don't know how much stolen or damaged shopping carts cost stores to replace. Although I suppose it's more accurate to as how much they cost us to replace - stores likely simply pass the cost along. I can see the logic for an urban shopper to not spend the money - if they can lug their groceries to the bus stop (or their home) in the store's cart, why spend the money to have a cart of one's own? After all, there will be other cart thieves, so it's not like prices would be lower or anything.

But this sort of cost shifting, and the justifications (Rationalizations?) we make for it, seem to be indicative of our society at large. The perception of one's own poverty drives choices that are individually rational and largely invisible, but aggregated over time, become expensive for everyone involved.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Out For a Bite

A rabbit, out for breakfast in the morning.

Sunday, May 3, 2015


The difference between saying:

  • A woman who places herself in a situation where she may be vulnerable is unwise.
  • A cartoonist who drawings cartoons depicting (let alone interpretable as disrespectful to) the Prophet Mohammed is unwise.
  • A Black American who is contemptuous or disrespectful to police officers is unwise.
  • A person who leaves the door to their home unlocked when they go out is unwise.
is both simple and complex at the same time.

All four of these admonitions are similar in that they tell someone not to do something that there is no prohibition against, as a precaution against another party choosing to engage in what we understand to be an illegal act - sexual assault, religious violence, police brutality and burglary are all crimes. The point that it seems (or simply is) unfair for a person to need to refrain from lawful activity to protect themselves from unlawful activity is well taken.

But burglary is indifferent to race, creed or gender, and thus not freighted with overtones of oppression, control and historical injustice. And it is that freighting, moreso than the perceived unfairness of it all that leads to the first three risking the label of "victim-blaming" in a way that the fourth does not. Rapists, religious fanatics and law-enforcement officers are expected, within circles that empathize with the broader groups to which they belong, to be simply responding to a perceived opportunity and/or provocation in a way that burglars are not, while this is not to say that people don't make excuses for burglary suspects, the argument that a burglarized person brought the action upon themselves is much rarer.

We are all familiar with the idea that our choices and actions have consequences. And we are capable of discerning the differences between intrinsic consequences (like being burned by a hot stovetop) and imposed ones (such as going to jail after a burglary conviction). But in situations were a person behaves in way that another person finds inappropriate, and thus worthy of sanction, they often tend to muddy the waters by referring to imposed consequences as "natural," when they are sole result of the choices of another.
  • A man may chose to rape a woman who has not placed herself in a situation where she may be vulnerable.
  • A religious extremist may chose to murder a cartoonist who has not drawn a depiction of the Prophet Mohammed.
  • A police officer may severely beat a Black American who has not been contemptuous or disrespectful.
  • A jury or judge may convict a person of burglary who has not burglarized a home.
Like "A burglar may chose to burglarize a person who has not left the door to their home unlocked," all of those statements have constituencies that fundamentally believe them. But they also understand their safety and well-being to be predicated on others sharing in that belief in the way that someone who understands that burglary as driven by the actions of burglars does not.

The problem is that there isn't a good way to make the point that it's possible to insulate oneself against the decisions made by others in a such a way that it cannot be mistaken for making the point that one shouldn't do things the speaker disapproves of. And this is because that determination is made by the listener and not the speaker. "A person who brings home items of dubious provenance is unwise," can just as easily be taken as "There are things you can do to protect yourself against legal errors" as it can that "People who are convicted of burglary brought it on themselves." Especially when historical precedent is involved.

Problems of human communication are difficult to solve, especially so when they are laden with history and emotion. But this is not to say that they are insoluble. Only that understanding requires a lot of work, perhaps more than we are accustomed to.