Because the usual suspects (aka. our own governments) will use this as an excuse for more domestic surveillance and to fund the police state more.
This is the ACTUAL effect on most ordinary westerners lives. Your odds of being killed by an “Islamic Terrorist” are very low if you live in the West (infinitesimal). But the freedom you will lose will be real freedom.
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Everyone has to prove their moral rectitude by acting as horrified as possible and saying things like “there was no excuse”.
There are worse things happening around the world every day. Mass murders, rape, torture, starvation. A lot of these things are the result of government policy and affect far more people, systematically.
We don’t run around screaming “no excuse” about most of that, we get on with our lives: eating well, having sex, doing our jobs.
(And do we all remember when the US was targeting journalists in Iraq? Hmmmm?)
There is no excuse for much of what happens in the world, including much graver crimes like, oh, the Iraq war, or jailing non-violent drug offenders, or systematic racism, or shoveling money to the rich causing inequality which has been proven to have devastating effects on people’s health and happiness (and which thus, for the statistically impaired, kills far more people.)
All of these things are far more serious than the Charlie Hebdo attack. (Moral Moment disclaimer: yes, they were horrible and inexcusable.)
These moments are used to rally us around shit that is not as important as systematic injustice: more people are dying or suffering because of government policies and wars; because of corporate malfeasance, than are dying because of Jihadists in Europe, who kill hardly anyone in comparison. (If you don’t believe this, you don’t understand basic statistics.)
These moments distract people from what matters; from the people who will really kill them or impoverish them or enact policies which will see them raped or tortured: the rulers of their own countries.
As for the Charlie Hebdo attackers, while nothing excuses what they did, note that without the Iraq war (a far more inexcusable act which killed and is still killing far more people), they would probably never have been radicalized and the Charlie cartoonists would still be publishing cartoon sodomy.
(That’s a reason; and a probable cause, not an excuse. But half the people who read this won’t be able to understand the distinction.)
If you want peace, work for Justice. – Paul VI
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One of the most important ethical questions is what the value of life is. Are all lives equal, or are some lives worth more?
This seems like an airy-fairy question, but it’s not. It under-girds how we dole out punishments for crime, how we spend money on healthcare and public services and when and how we go to war. It is at the heart of the NYPD turning their back on New York’s mayor and in their reaction to the killing of two police officers.
And it is at the heart of our societies reaction to the murders at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
What Charlie was doing was clearly political commentary. It was also clearly intended to be offensive.
As a result three young Muslims killed twelve people. And we are having a collective freakout over it.
I note that during the 90s hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children died, and we did not freak out this much.
More people die in car accidents, electrocution or by falling from ladders than die due to “terrorism” in Western nations. Certainly more people die of the flu. Police kill far far more Americans than are killed by terrorists. (Though French policemen are far less trigger happy.) The French led invasion of Libya killed many, and the deaths are ongoing, deaths which quite likely would not have occurred without that invasion. In Syria the insurrection against Assad led to far more deaths than would have occurred otherwise, and that insurrection was supported materially by many Western nations.
9/11 was a huge tragedy, but the western blockade of Iraq in the 90s had killed far, far more people without anyone in the West getting nearly as worked up over it.
Some lives are clearly worth more than others. Our lives, the lives of those we identify with are worth more than their lives, the lives of those we don’t identify with.
So one American life is worth, what, fifty Iraqi lives? A hundred. What’s the metric?
To the police, and most Americans, a police life is worth more than a civilian life. Certainly a police life is worth more than an African-American’s life. And I think it’s clear that to most whites a white life is worth more than a black one.
We are intensely tribal, and we care far more about the deaths of people “like us” than the deaths of people “not like us.”
So, in part, the deaths of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists and other workers cause so much outrage because they were white and European.
We spend our time killing brown people and black people and Muslims in large numbers, using paramilitary weapons domestically, and military weapons and economic warfare internationally, killing far more of them than us, then act surprised when, deeply offended, they strike back. (Yes, yes, this was a symbolic target and they really should have killed French politicians or military, but it’s not like we are discriminate (don’t even pretend we are.)) Somehow our outrage is valid, but we don’t grant them the right to theirs, including their vengeance. We attacked Afghanistan and Iraq for 9/11, but bin Laden explicitly said that he attacked the US because of American killings of Muslims, including all those dead Iraqi children.
His vengeance is evil. (It is, actually.) Ours, not so much apparently.
So let us be clear “our lives are worth more than theirs”. A lot more.
If you die a “wrongful death”, and the time comes for monetary compensation, how much your relatives receive will be based on what your income was. The more you made made, the more your relatives have lost in monetary terms, and they will receive more.
People who earn more, are worth more to us, in hard monetary terms. The life of a minimum wage worker just isn’t as big a deal as the death of someone who makes a lot of money. This is based on our actions, not our words.
That doesn’t have anything to do with the Charlie dead, they earned virtually nothing. Apparently the French didn’t feel like paying for the sort of satire they engaged in. Nonetheless, the lives of those who make more money are worth more to us.
In the old days there used to be the idea of “woman and children first” — that their lives were worth more than male lives. That may have been honored more in the breach, as with the Titanic, but one can also find occasions where captains of ships did insist that women and children went on the lifeboats first.
We see children as innocent, and we calculate that they lose more years than adults, so we value their lives more highly. And, perhaps, it also has to do with a parental instinct which most of us have. As for women, the biological “realists” would claim that those who can create new humans are more valuable, but whatever the reason most societies hate the idea of them being killed in war or raped far more than they dislike the idea of either of those fates happening to men.
Many feminists would argue that there are many ways we show that we value women’s lives less than mens—we certainly pay them less and for most of history we gave them less rights.
But tribalism trumps the women and children exception. Half a million dead Iraqi children speak loud and clear on this.
Our children are precious and worth anything. Their children. Whatever.
Is the value of someone’s life based on what they do? Or what they were doing? We would certainly feel more outraged at the death of a search and rescue worker than a gangster. Large parts of our society value police lives over civilian lives, and certainly our legal system, which almost never tries police for killing civilians does.
The Charlie Hebdo victims were engaged in “free speech”. Satire. They were mocking those who values they disagreed with, and doing so in a way intended to offend them as much as possible. (Take a look at those cartoons and try and argue otherwise.)
We claim to value free speech greatly, and since the Charlie victims were engaged in mocking people who didn’t appreciate it, and since that’s “a fundamental value of Western society” we class their deaths and more tragic than those of Iraqi children who died due to lack of medicine they would have had if the West hadn’t been sanctioning and blockading their country.
One might, however, question our commitment to freedom of speech. Oh, the French themselves are pretty good on free speech these days, but Americans with their Free Speech zones and punitive whistleblower prosecutions; the British with their draconian libel law, Official Secrets Act and anti-terrorism legislation; and Australians with their obscene internet censorship laws (to highlight just a few) seem hardly to be icons of “free speech”.
So, are some lives worth more depending on what people are doing? To be sure. But, the French themselves aside, perhaps what the Charlie writers were doing that makes them martyrs wasn’t just “free speech” but the target of their free speech, some of whose members responded violently to the insults: Ilsam. And that isn’t “free speech”, it is “Us vs. Them.”
And, as wonderful as France is on free speech these days, one remembers the Evo Morales incident, when France denied the Bolivian President’s plane right of way because of suspicion that Edward Snowden might be on board, so that the plane was forced down in Austria in an attempt to apprehend the famous whistleblower.
Some free speech is more important than others. Cartoons mocking Islam and Christianity are far more important to protect than a man who has revealed wholesale spying on the citizens of
But perhaps it is more simple, Snowden was only going to be locked up in a maximum security American prison after a trial whose result we all know, in effective isolation, till that drove him insane. The Charlie victims were killed.
And that leads to the final category: are some deaths worse just because of how they happen? Is being beheaded worse than dying in a car accident? Is being shot by terrorists worse than being shot by police? Is death from starvation worse than—oh why bother.
Yes, some deaths are clearly worse than others. I’d rather be shot than tortured to death, or die of starvation. But really what we mean are “deaths out of their time” or perhaps “deaths by violence”. The Charlie victims weren’t “due” to die yet. But then, neither were those Iraqi children, or all the Irakis who died of being shot in a war based lies (no WMD, no ties to 9/11).
But many deaths are preventable: easily preventable, and we fail to do so. Effective public transportation in the US, reducing the use of cars, would prevent a lot of deaths. But Americans like cars, or something, and so those deaths are considered acceptable. More effective restrictions on guns meant for killing people (as opposed to hunting rifles, say) and on ammunition would save a lot of American lives, but many Americans value their guns highly and think the deaths are a worthwhile price to pay.
All of this has been about what lives we, demonstrably, value more than others. It hasn’t been about what lives we should value more.
Perhaps the answer is simple. All lives have equal value, and in the event we are forced to choose between lives in a situation which doesn’t involve self-defense, we should indeed choose the young over the old. Or maybe not even that, the old perhaps not being willing to volunteer.
I, myself, don’t know. But I do know this. As long as Western lives are valued at something approaching infinity to one versus Muslim lives, Muslims are going to continue to be radicalized. John Paul VI once said that those who value peace should work for justice. I believe that. The Charlie killers appear to have been radicalized by the Iraq war. No Iraq war, no radicalization, no Charlie victims.
But that’s a pragmatic argument. The human argument is simpler: those Iraqi children’s lives were worth as much as any white child’s life. Anyone who believes otherwise is a monster acting on tribalism. And one day your tribe will be the weak one, because all Empires fall. And when that day comes, members of your tribe will rail at those who kill your children and don’t care, because your skin is white and theirs isn’t, and they can and you can’t do anything about it.
The only clear justification for killing is self-defense. More on that, perhaps, in another article. But if you must kill, let me suggest some old-fashioned mores: kill military not civilians, kill adults not children; kill those who have actually harmed you (politicians who decided on wars which devastated your country), not those who haven’t.
If you want vengeance, shoot at the guilty and shoot at those who can shoot back.
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It’s time to talk technology, and the catastrophic futures it makes possible—and how to avoid them. This isn’t just about climate change, which, if it goes really wrong, could wipe out humanity (if, for example, the oxygen cycle gets screwed up: entirely possible.) It is about a wild variety of technologies, from ubiquitous surveillance to genetic engineering, to nanotechnology. It is not hard to forsee the possibility of creating a totalitarian state in which revolt is impossible. The new neuroscience, which is becoming more and more reliable at telling when people are lying and seeing decision points before we are consciously aware of them, combined with implants and surveillance, makes it possible to envision a society in which revolt not only couldn’t succeed, it couldn’t even be thought about, or not for long enough to do anything about it.
(Kicked back to the top as it’s important and timely given the work that I will be doing over the next few months.)
Likewise, the Galts may one day decide, with improved methods of production, that 99% of humanity is superfluous to requirements, and get rid of the useless eaters.
We can also imagine a world of tailored humans: through genetic engineering, nanotech, cybertech and so on, in which some people are really are so superior to the rest of humanity that the mass are ants. We forget that in much of history it was so. The old Punch comics, with the small, twisted, deformed poor people were not caricature, that’s what people who worked hard and had inadequate nutrition all their lives looked like. They were weaker, stupider and uglier than the nobility. This wasn’t innate, but it was real. The nobility saw themselves as better than their inferiors because they were.
That superiority was environmental, but if we decide to ration transhuman technologies based on who can pay, well, it will be more than environmental, especially after multiple generation of artificial selection.
All of these technologies are vastly dangerous, and all of them suggest the possibility of the creation of catastrophic end states: the complete end of humanity, the creation of totalitarian states, the creation of a new untouchable aristocracy; surveillance societies in which the very possibility of even mental privacy does not exist.
We could turn away from them; we could reject them. Those who say that is impossible are wrong. A world state could probably pull it off, in the same way that the Tokugawa Shogunate was able to control key technologies for centuries; a system which ended only because it was upset from the outside. Absent the possibility of an outside shock, a world state could run for a very long time.
But these technologies also offer the ability to create radically better ways of living: truly affluent societies with what amount to replicators; humans who suffer far less from pain, disease and mental infirmity; an end to aging; and wondrous possibilities for creation of artifacts and life forms we can’t even imagine today. There are those who feel that anything “unnatural” is to be avoided: I say that the historical and pre-historical record is one of mass rape, mass murder and mass extinctions, of violence and cruelty and want. I am not willing to put aside transhuman technologies from fear, because the human condition is suffering and fear, and I want that to end.
So we come to points of failure. While we all live on Earth, to these technologies, we are one society, no matter what our apparent divisions. We are going to move towards something much closer to world government in the next century, not because we want to, but because without it we are not going to be able to mitigate and reverse climate change, and if we don’t do that, well, we could have an extinction event. No individual country can manage the earth’s ecosphere, there will be international organizations capable of using force to ensure compliance, or we will lose billions of people.
Earth is a bad place to experiment. Changes spread too easily, too uncontrollably. Nanotech in the wild, genetic changes on a mass scale, neuro-monitoring technology, and so on, cannot be contained to one society, one geographic region, not least because if one group does obtain a decisive advantage they WILL use it to subjugate others.
This is why I support, and have long supported, getting off the rock: spaceflight, and colonization. Get out into space, into the Oort cloud: learn how to live not just on other planets but in space itself, and we can experiment to our heart’s content, separated from each other by the vast gulfs of vacuum. If one society goes bad, it doesn’t have to take everyone else down with it. Add (ideally) a caveat that societies can run themselves as they want, but can’t prevent emigration (they can prevent immigration) and you have a model which no longer has a single point of failure, has a frontier for the discontents to go to, and allows us to experiment with radical changes to who and what we are.
There are two tasks for the next cycle, the next ideological and technological age. The first is to stabilize the earth, and provide a good living to everyone without destroying the ecosphere. The second is to create workable space colonization so that humanity is no longer vulnerable to having a single point of failure, and can experiment to find the full possibilities of our new sciences and technologies, fully knowing that many of those societies will go bad, in horrible ways, but hoping that some of them will create radically better ways of living and of being human.
Perhaps we could do all this on Earth, but if we blow it the consequences are too high. And anyone who has read or lived history knows that eventually we WILL blow it. Run Earth, the storehouse of virtually all life, conservatively, let the experimentation take place of off-world.
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Prince Andrew has been accused of having sex with a 17 year old prostitute. Worse than her age (17 is above the age of consent in many many countries), she claims to have been a sex slave; aka coerced.
This is why I’ve always had a personal rule that I don’t sleep with prostitutes. While in principle I agree that women and men should have the right to sell sex, it is hard to know what is going on in their life: even at levels lower than sex-slavery there can be some ugly stuff, and you can easily be contributing to their degradation or abuse.
Looking back, last year’s writing that hit big was mostly about the Ukrainian crisis. The year before had been about ideology.
Though I intend to write about technology and its effect on society this year, I find I’m slightly at sea.
There is a tendency when writing about society, either analytically or from the viewpoint of improving (not reforming) it, to fall into one of two camps. “Everything Is Specific” OR “One Ring to Rule Them All.”
I haven’t come to disagree with that stance: the sardonic comment that everyone knows that the US needs real universal healthcare remains—it produces better health and costs less. Only the corrupt, the stupid or the propagandized think otherwise. The same is true of many other problems, from climate change to plastic clogging the seas to fracking, to marginal tax rates and so on.
We know what would produce a world which was better for the vast majority of people (and animals) living on it. We don’t do those things, except when it becomes profitable. (Solar will start replacing coal because it is cheaper, but it should have and could have been cheaper at least fifteen years ago.)
What I have come to understand is that explaining what needs to be done, and why, is brutally difficult. Getting people to a position where they both want to act on it, and will, is nearly impossible.
You explain one thing (climate change), but it means nothing if you do not link it to other things (industrialization, globalization, financial production incentives, the history of post WWII trade, development economics, inequality). The problems are, in that tired word, “interconnected”.
Most people will never commit to doing the necessary learning to understand how the world works in any meaningful way.
Worse, even if they do, they will likely be mis-educated. They will go to existing intellectual systems like economics and they will be taught theories that are at best partially true and at worse are outright lies. Disciplines, especially academic disciplines, exist because someone is willing to fund them, and whoever that someone is, they have expectations. Business theory; economics; organizational theory, produce what those who are willing to pay for them want. Most of the time, what they want is rationalizations for why they should have more, and let everyone else rot.
So you spend 10 years studying economics, get your PhD, and then get most of everything wrong. Your neo-liberal prescriptions make those parts of the world that take them worse off. (Note, poverty reduction is due to China, China’s success is due to old fashioned mercantalism, not neoliberalism.)
You have an entire discipline based on clearly wrong propositions like humans being utility maximizing machines (and can’t even define utility in a way that doesn’t make it a metaphysical entity). And, applying these theories, you go wrong.
And looking on this edifice; looking on all the ways that people fool themselves or are fooled, is like looking at a jungle and holding only a machete. You aren’t going anywhere without a lot of sweat, and the jungle is just going to close in behind you.
So people turn to one off solutions. If only everyone participates in the gains of an economy it’ll do well. (Well, mostly, but how do you get to that nirvana? This is saying “the world is good if the world is good”.) If only everyone obeys contacts freely entered into, life will be good. (Let’s just completely ignore power imbalances). If only we let markets set prices, the market will produce what we need (but what type of market, we’ve never had free markets setting prices?) If only we have more and better education everyone will be prosperous (so, if everyone has a PhD the economy will be great? What about the half of the population who is below-average intelligence? Fuck’em? And would it work anyway? (No.))
Feel free to insert any “one thing” theory above. They don’t work, or they beg the question. If we had better people, for example, we’d have a better world. But how do we get better people, and what does better even mean?
There have been many attempts to get around these issues. Confucius, Buddha, Jesus, Smith, Marx, Keynes and so many many more have tried.
Some have succeeded for a time: Keynesian economics of the type practices after WWII produced about 25 good years for much of the world (even Africa saw better real growth in that period.) Confucianism, as run by the early Emperors really did make China better till the State co-0pted it. Christianity was the religion of slaves and foreigners and outcasts for centuries, giving their lives meaning, before it became a regressive scourge used to increase the power of Chieftains who wanted to be Kings, take away the rights of women, and be used for justification of mass murder in Europe and the New World.
The solutions which have been effective (which doesn’t always mean making the world a better place) have all spoken to how people should act. We don’t recognize that in modern theories like those of economics, but be clear, homo ec0nomicus is a prescription. The idea that we should act primarily on self interest was not something that was respectable for most of history and the idea that markets should be the primary price setting mechanism and effectively the primary policy mechanism was also considered insane.
The industrial revolution is not old. A little over a couple centuries, for England, a lot less for most other countries. In the course of human existence, this is nothing. The outcome of it, whether it is good or bad, is not yet clear, despite what most believe. If industry and capitalism kill half the population of the world in avoidable climate crises, hunger and drought, while causing a great die-off of non-human plants and animals, can it be said to be good? If, as there is some evidence, it leads to material affluence while increasing rates of depression and unhappiness, is it successful?
The hydraulic revolution, and to a lesser extent the first agricultural revolution (which did not occur along the river valleys) lead to shorter more disease ridden lives and a massive rise in chronic disease and afflictions like having your teeth rot out of your mouth by the time you were 40. In exchange, we received great monuments and lots of things, but I doubt that peasants on the Nile under the Pharoahs were as happy as their ancestors who had lived on the Nile as hunter-gatherers, as close to the Garden of Eden as one can imagine.
I do not believe in going back to technology from before industrialization: it’s not possible or desirable, and if it were, we’d have to reduce our population by two-thirds to three-quarters. Feel free to volunteer to be among the dead.
Pandora’s box is open, and we must deal with the results.
The irony is that we have, again, produced a cornucopia. We have the potential to create an abundance society, the world over and eventually off this world.
We have much of the technology necessary, and we could direct our research and development towards the remaining technology we need.
Instead, we rely on markets controlled by oligarchs and central banks captured by oligarchs to make most of our decisions about our future.
We have systematically dis-empowered ourselves. Going from mass conscription armies and industrial warfare and mass markets driven by relatively egalitarian citizen-consumers in democracies, to oligarchies with unrepresentative armies increasingly filled with drones (and effective ground combat drones will be here in 10 to 20 years), surveillance states bordering on police states, and democracies which are hollow, where we can choose from Oligarchical faction one, two or maybe three. The differences between them, while real, are within the broad agreement to keep giving the rich more.
And so, we come back to, how do we change the direction of our societies? Our society, for the world is more and more one society.
How do we even explain what is wrong, and present a solution, or solutions?
I will posit here that while we may have problems with Confucius’s solution in terms of specifics, in general he was right. We create a new society based on a new ethics (not morality, but ethics); and that ethics is attached to a way of creating a people who can create and maintain that society; and a way of picking the people to run that society who will do so in the interests of everyone else, and not mainly in their own interest.
The thousand and one specific solutions to each problem (housing, energy, health care, climate change) are important, but they are technical questions guided by ideology. A people led by those who do not want to do these things (or not more than they want to do other things), never will.
So is this my “one thing”?
No. It is backed by an understanding of real world power dynamics; an understanding of human nature and how it is and can be shaped; and it is backed by an understanding of the field of ideas and how those ideas are created by the environment and technology: how that tech and environment creates us.
That grouping of ideas is where I believe a solution lies.
Like all solutions, it will not last. The best we can hope for from any solution set, so long as human nature remains as it is, is perhaps a hundred and fifty years. Sixty to eighty is far more typical, and as with the post WWII solution, you may only get two to three decades.
During that time any solution needs to do two things. It need to fix the environment, and it needs to get us off the planet so we don’t have a single point of failure. Doing so will best be done by a system which produces real prosperity, because both of those projects will require vast productive surpluses.
We have or can reach the technology required for both these projects. The challenge of mastering our destiny is the challenge of mastering ourselves, and that challenge is, as it has always been, both the hardest thing anyone can do, and the most worthwhile.
In the New Year I will continue the project of discovering how to do it. I hope you’ll join me.
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and that includes paramilitary forces. The NYPD are definitely a paramilitary force.
This is “how to keep your democracy” 101, along with “don’t allow oligarchs”, and “don’t let money printing get of hand.”
Those in military or paramilitary forces who interfere with politics should be removed from their positions and relegated to civilian life, where they may demonstrate to their hearts content.
I note, also, that NYPD protesters somehow to don’t get beaten and arrested like other protests.
N.Y. ELN. LAW § 17-110 : NY Code – Section 17-110: Misdemeanors concerning police commissioners or officers or members of any police force -Any person who, being a police commissioner or any officer or member of any police force in this state: 1. Uses or threatens or attempts to use his official power or authority, in any manner, directly or indirectly, in aid of or against any political party, organization, association or society, or to control, affect, influence, reward or punish, the political adherence, affiliation, action, expression or opinion of any citizen; or 2. Appoints, promotes, transfers, retires or punishes an officer or member of a police force, or asks for or aids in the promotion, transfer, retirement or punishment of an officer or member of a police force because of the party adherence or affiliation of such officer or member, or for or on the request, direct or indirect, of any political party, organization, association or society, or of any officer, member of a committee or representative official or otherwise of any political party, organization, association or society; or 3. Solicits, collects or receives any money for, any political fund, club, association, society or committee, is guilty of a misdemeanor.
I hope all my readers have a good Christmas day, whether you celebrate or not.
For much of this blog’s tenure it existed only because I knew there were people who still wanted me to write, so y’all are why this blog is around.
In the New Year I’ll be picking up the pace. That will include some theoretical pieces on technology, and probably some articles on rituals, social selection and so on.
Until then, enjoy your Christmas holidays. If you don’t get them, I hope you earn plenty of overtime.
Among the most notable victims of torture was Sayeed Qutb, the founding father of modern political jihadism. His 1964 book, “Milestones,” describes a journey towards radicalization that included rape and torture, sometimes with dogs, in an Egyptian prison. He left jail burning with the determination to wage transnational jihad to destroy these regimes and their backers, calling for war against all those who used these methods against Muslims
“Milestones” remains one of the Arab world’s most influential books. Indeed, it was the lodestar of Al Qaeda leaders like Ayman Al-Zawahiri (who was also tortured in Egyptian jails) and the late Osama Bin Laden.
In other words, it was torture which drove the founder of modern jihad to terrorism in the first place.
The article goes on to list a variety of other, very important people, radicalized by torture.
I mean, if I were thrown in prison, tortured and raped, and got out, you can damn well bet when I got out I’d want the order that did that to me destroyed.
I will note also that drone warfare/assassination warfare does the same thing. It is very rare that assassination programs do anything but bring more radical leaders to the fore. The only prominent exception I can think of is the probable assassination of Arafat.
at least ostensibly for the police murders of Garner and Brown has ignited a frenzy. The murderer, Brinsley, was a violent man who had committed other crimes.
I will simply note that such tragic events are the inevitable result of systemic injustice. Those who wish less murders, should work for justice.
That includes police.