I just finished reading “Are Prisons Obsolete?” by Angela Davis and found notes from a few weeks ago on statements that Tom Ricks made on Fresh Air and it got me thinking. First off, these two people might have the most opposite histories you can imagine. Some highlights from Ms. Davis’ past are: ties to the Black Panthers, was nominated twice to run as the vice presidential candidate the communist party, the 3rd woman ever on the FBI’s most wanted list for reasons related to the kidnapping and murdering of a superior court judge, and, you know, a professorship at U.C. Santa Cruze. Tom Ricks on the other hand is a Pulitzer prize winning journalist specializing in military reporting for the Wall Street Journal. He grew up in Scarsdale, NY (my home town) and Afghanistan (not my home town) and is currently a member of a defense policy think tank.
I can hear you asking, where the poop do these two people’s thoughts and ideologies cross, and how on earth could this be related to psychology? I’ll tell you! It’s all about their ideas on the need to reform massive coercion based systems into humanistic systems to actually meet the goals they say they’re reaching for! Ha!
Angela Davis makes a very strong case for illustrating how modern prisons are essentially based off a 100+ year old idea that wasn’t very good to start with and in its continuing incarnations really serves to continue racism, classism and misogyny with its main aim to control minorities and provide cheep labor. Tom Ricks argued that a main problem with the military is that it was currently using strategies based on English and French colonial strategies used to put down uprisings, but maintain the dependence on mother country also for easy control.
What’s the problem with both? Control. As both systems currently stand in opposition to helping people learn better ways to meet their needs. In essence they perpetuate and increase the dissidence that people feel by not listening to the needs they are expressing causing more crime, hatred, and violence instead of making the world a safer place.
Interestingly, both thinkers have very similar solutions to these problems, at least from a humanistic psych perspective. Tom Ricks related an change in style where officers used active listening (he described this psych skill set to a T with out using the words) with the locals which resulted in the people being heard, and a much more successful campaign towards helping them reclaim their country and be less dependent on the U.S. military.
Angela Davis argues that abolishing prisons and using large scale active listening to focus on the social ills that cause crime and solving them work better. Controlling criminal behavior in a cell block does nothing. Going for “reparation instead of retribution” helping violent offenders meet their needs for better social integration, allowing them to make amends, grow and continue on with their life to help the their communities grow which is the core of humanism.
All of this was pretty glib, but really, its pretty powerful to me that both these people, probably without formal training in humanism, have independently come to see it as the answers to such different problems with such different scales.