Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Add this to the growing list of things I don't quite know how to feel about.

The city nearest me, Allentown, PA (population: 107,000), has never been an especially robust, upscale urban showpiece. But nowadays, like many inner cities, Allentown is faced with soaring unemployment, poverty and crime. Further, like many second- or third-tier American cities, Allentown also finds itself belatedly grappling with the scourge that blighted Los Angeles, New York and other first-tier cities during the '80s and '90s: a massive uptick in gang activity. The Latin Kings appear particularly fond of the Allentown area these days.

As part of his cou
nterattack, Mayor Ed Pawlowski, who seems like a good guy, has decided to do what some of his counterparts in other embattled cities have done: In addition to telling cops to be as aggressive as necessary in rooting out gang violence, Pawlowski has authorized street patrols to issue citations that commemorate so-called random acts of kindness. Last I heard, they were still working out the details of what the citations would be redeemed for, but other cities have made arrangements with local retailers, and have even offered fairly substantial cash awards to kids who accumulated several of these "positive tickets," as they're known.

I don't think anyone is naive enough to expect such a ticket to persuade a Latin King assassin to trade his 9mm for a copy of Plato's Republic. But the theory goes that if you're dealing with a kid who's sitting on the fence, unsure of which way to go, maybe this will be the fateful nudge that puts him on the right track. Such plans also are expected to improve the general relationship between cops and citizens, thus encouraging more of the normally reticent locals to forsake "don't snitch" culture and come forward with tips that put more bad guys away.

Me? I don't know what to think about all this. I agree that in today's world, with all the sinister influences that are already out there, acting upon kids daily, every bit of positive reinforcement helps. But then I think of those scholastic programs, now, where they're actually paying kids, in cash, to do homework and even merely to show up for classes. Should we really be conditioning kids to think that good behavior must be (literally) compensated? (The scholastic initiative, at least, strikes me as just another form of the bolt-on self-esteem that has failed so miserably at "elevating" American schoolchildren.) Or to put it in more sinister terms, by undertaking such initiatives, aren't we also sending the message that if we don't pay kids, we can expect them to keep right on doing what they're doing...which is to say, thumbing their noses at orthodoxy and community standards? Somehow I think we shouldn't have to bribe people not to shoot at us.

Oh wait...I forgot...that's what we're doing in Iraq, huh.


STOP INSULTING MY INTELLIGENCE, MR. POLITICIAN, CHAPTER 56: OK, Barack. You've got my vote. So please, no more long-distance "hi honey" video sessions with the wife & kids from the home of your new BFFs, the Lily-White Family of Caucasius, Kansas. I get it: You're just like me. You are me, even. Please stop now. And while you're at it, stop with the political ads wherein everybody around you, every last person shown, is white. Maybe I'm wrong, but I figure you have to have met some other black folk during your lifetime besides Rev. Wright. Right?

Jesus. Does everything in this country have to be drenched in symbolism and artifice? Can't we just be real?


Stever said...

I just finished reading the book "Sway." In it, the authors discuss MRI research that shows that money-based motivation activates the same brain region associated with addiction and DEactivates the altruistic and social areas of the brain.

The behavioral results in the experiments show that when you pay someone for something, you may get increased compliance, but you get decreased motivation as well as decreased quality of doing the task.

I recall a social psych book (Influence by Cialdini?) from college that also claimed that if you start paying someone for something they're intrinsically motivated to do, they transfer their motivation from intrinsic to extrinsic. Then, remove the reward and you'll extinguish the behavior even if it used to be done for intrinsic rewards.

If this research is true and generalizable, this pay-for-kindness behavior could, indeed, override and extinguish intrinsic altruistic behavior.

Steve Salerno said...

That is a fascinating point, Stever. And come to think of it, here's a true (corroborative?) story: When my youngest son was a small boy, he used to help mow the lawn "for fun." Then I started paying him for it as part of his allowance. Then one day a few years later I explained to him that he was getting a bit old to be paid allowance, but it remained his "familial duty" to help out his aging dad.

Suddenly he never seemed to be around on mowing day anymore. ;)

Anonymous said...

The closet racist strikes again, eh Steve?

Steve Salerno said...

You know what tickles me, Anon (and I'm assuming this is the same anon from last time)? Over the past year I've heard myself described as a flaming racist as well as by another hyphenated term that I won't dignify by using it here, except to say it ends in "-lover." I've been called a right-wing lunatic (back when I was blogging about 9/11) as well as a bleeding-heart lib (more recently, since I started blogging favorably about Obama). When is it going to occur to people that (a) I spend much of my time looking for holes in pompous or sanctimonious arguments, (b) I never trouble myself about adhering to a "foolish consistency," and therefore (c) you can't tell anything about me by reading just one or two (or 10) posts?

Anonymous said...

I want to see Biden doing a video blog in say...Compton. Let's see who Biden is friends with. Then Biden and Obama can spend the day with some of Hillary's feminist friends in corporate America. It will be like a political "Sesame Street."

Steve Salerno said...

Now, now... You don't want to forget to include a "special" or "differently abled" person, do you? Say, someone from the crowd that Ben Stiller is getting such flak from right about now?

Anonymous said...

"Now, now... You don't want to forget to include a 'special' or 'differently abled' person, do you?"

How could I forget Biden/Obama's "special needs" friends! Where is Bill Brady when you need him? Do you think Ted Kennedy would count?

After their "special needs" friends, they could do a commercial with Bill Clinton, who will state he is a recovering sex addict then their new friend John Edwards who has his fill in the blank addiction. They'll have every group covered, except the Native Americans, East Asians, and Asians.

We should go into political advertising.

Steve said,
"I've been called a right-wing lunatic (back when I was blogging about 9/11) as well as a bleeding-heart lib (more recently, since I started blogging favorably about Obama)."

You are just like Obama! You are all things to all people. What an endorsement. Do rainbows and lollypops come out of your butt too?

Anonymous said...

Sarcasm and cynicism are overrated. As are cheap shots.

Steve Salerno said...

Leaving glibness and magical butts aside, I think you miss the point, Anon 5:20; it's not that I am all things to all people. Rather, I am nothing to no one. (That's ungrammatical, but you get my drift.) I reserve the right to endorse someone on Monday and attack him or her on Tuesday--including myself.

Steve Salerno said...

And Anon 5:25, I basically agree. I guess it's just a human foible, especially among those of us who consider ourselves "enlightened," right?

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's a foible. Or maybe saying that it is a foible is just an excuse to be mean. Only you can decide.

By the way, when did you ever attack yourself?

Anonymous said...

"Sarcasm and cynicism are overrated. As are cheap shots."

I disagree. Sarcasm and cynicism are not rated high enough in my book. There are no “cheap shots” in the U.S. The U.S. pays daily.

mikecane2008 said...

Steve, the kind of bizarre altruism -- ok, dammit, *bribery* -- you point out is really nothing new. I have several posters (as JPEGs) exhorting "better housing to reduce crime."

Judging from some of the twisted celebs I've seen miserable in their mansions, that doesn't seem to work out.

Things will get so bad at some point, the new manual for behavior will be The Art of War by Sun Tzu. Know that story where he picks someone at random to behead them -- it gets all the rest's attention right quick and they start with the required behavior.

Hmmm ... in fact, isn't that the same motivation a gangstah uses when he points a gun in your face?

See, *they* know what works!

mikecane2008 said...

Oh, and at @stever at top. The book for *this* campaign season is called "Nudge." I was going to blog about it but never did. Steve, He Who Must Be Obeyed, should get it. He'd do a better job.

Steve Salerno said...

When do I attack myself? Well, I don't actually attack myself, because I don't generally believe in (or countenance) ad hominem attacks. However, I think my present endorsement of Obama is, in effect, an attack on myself, since I was so hard on the guy just a matter of months ago.

If you look back through the blog, anon, you will often see that I appear to be espousing one position one day and then appear to be espousing the opposite (or at least a not-quite-aligned) position another day. The truth is, it's quite seldom that I ever actually espouse any position; rather, I'm constantly analyzing all of the positions (and revisiting my prior analysis) to see if everything still adds up based on new evidence, new ideas, a new context, etc.

My basic stance--and how many times do I have to repeat this?--is that no position is inherently, inviolably "right." I like to hold things up to scrutiny. And I never assume that my assessment of a given situation is, ipso facto, correct. (Except when I do. Wink.)

Anonymous said...

Get used to it -- politicians and advertisers both rake in big bucks for insulting intelligent people and preying on stupid ones. Get over yourself already.

And if you're claiming to advocate, as you say, "that no position is inherently, inviolably 'right'," you are lying, because you take potshots at the recovery movement every chance you get, ignoring evidence that it actually *HELPS* some people. Hypocrite.

Steve Salerno said...

Geez, Anon. Why do I get the feeling this is the same Anon dripping such venom on several different threads today? Your comments are obviously personal attacks, but I'm in a generous, self-effacing mood.

Anyway, re my "potshots" vs. my feelings on no inherent value, see my comment about "doublethink" on at least two other threads. It makes sense if you give it just a little bit more thought.