Focus: The Problem With Diffusion

Was the killing of Tamir Rice not enough?  What about Michael Brown?  Or Eric Garner. Or Akai Gurley. Or . . . wait a moment.  While each of these stories bear common threads of death at the hands of police, each is worthy of its own, individual, independent examination.  They may be similar, but each is different. Each involves one human being, its unique set of facts and circumstances, its specific cry for attention.

Too often, a post here about a specific case gives rise to someone who feels compelled to focus not on the content of the post, but all the others.  There are always others. So many others.

The thing is, Conor Friedersdorf posted a whole slew of videos of cases like this that were equally as bad, and all of which seemed not to result in police officers being indicted. I’m also confused as to exactly why Michael Brown became the cause celebre as opposed to these cases with clearcut video (yet still, as you note, defended by a disturbing percentage of the population). It’s not as though in these cases with the clearcut video justice was done.

It seems like the more ambiguous and disputed the evidence, the more likely it is to be the one that becomes national news. There’s a partial exception for Randall Kerrick shooting the FAMU football player Jonathan Ferrell who was knocking on someone’s door for directions, but even that one seemed to go away quickly. (Granted, in that case he was fired and arraigned for manslaughter quickly, thanks to NC having no collective bargaining for police, but then it totally dropped off the media radar.)

Not to suggest that the shooting of Jonathan Ferrell isn’t important and worthy of attention, but this comment came on a post about 12-year-old Tamir Rice. “The thing is” that I chose to write, in that particular post, about one particular person, and it wasn’t Ferrell.

My response to such comments is sometimes one word, “focus.”  Other times, it’s more verbose, though inadequate, to explain how raising other cases, many cases, a million other cases, not only fails to enhance a point, but actually undermines the point.  Sure, there are other cases.  There are always other cases, always other sympathetic victims, always people who one commenter or another will think more worthy of mention.

Why won’t you write about all of them?  Why won’t you write about all of them every time? Why won’t you write about the one I think is most important?

By focusing on individual cases, individual human beings, it enables us to consider what happened in some small amount of depth.  If we’re lucky, and I’m not totally off the rails, we can bring some small amount of sunlight to the situation, some illumination to how our wonderful world went so horribly wrong.

So when the cry from the cheap seats is, “look everybody, there’s something else shiny over there;  go look, LOOK,” the only thing it accomplishes is to distract attention from one matter, the one that is the subject of a post and, for better or worse, is being offered for some depth, and diffuse attention with other situations.  It spreads out focus over too broad an area, and nothing gets the attention it deserves.  Quantity versus quality, or at least as much quality as I can muster.

More examples have their place, particularly when the reaction is the “one bad apple” argument.  That would be an excellent place to note that the bushel is filled with bad apples, and a laundry list of examples to prove the point would not only be appropriate, but very persuasive.

When we’re trying to do more than a shallow survey of examples, however, adding more names to the mix doesn’t help. It hurts. In fact, it’s a threat to depth of thought, which is already hard enough to come by in this time when the attention span of gnats are viewed as something to aspire to.  One of the best, yet worst, features of the internet is that we can access too much data, too much information, such that we can’t stick with any one bit long enough to make it matter.  Focus.  We’re losing it.

Worse still, we reach a point of saturation, where we become inured to tragedy because we’re exposed to it too often.  One death is a tragedy.  One hundred is a data set.  We can work up enough outrage over the killing of one person to be moved to act, to have an epiphany that our police may not be nearly as good at protecting and serving as we want them to be.  But when we’re deluged with names disconnected from any depth of knowledge or caring, it washes over us and we shrug.

Oh. Another black man who did nothing wrong killed by a cop. Pass the peas, please.

You may think that the quantity must be noted. You may think that another case, another human being, is more important or more worthy than the one I decided to write about.  You are entitled to disagree with me.  But not here, and not in a way that undermines whatever force my post is supposed to bring to my readers.  This is my soapbox, and this is how and why I don’t applaud your efforts, even though you may think we’re fighting for the same cause.

If you do this, my reaction will be decidedly unpleasant. If you can’t stop yourself from doing this, then you can’t comment here. If you think I’m wrong about how I handle this and feel compelled to say so, do it elsewhere.  Otherwise, focus.

22 thoughts on “Focus: The Problem With Diffusion

  1. MS

    You don’t have to post this if you don’t want to, but I have a somewhat different question about comments. The other day, someone asked a snarky question about how the Garner grand jury worked. Instead of answering, you gave him a spanking. Someone else then gave an answer to his question, who I think was a NY criminal defense lawyers. You then deleted the lawyer’s answer to the question. Why?

    1. SHG Post author

      First, thank you for giving me permission not to post your comment. That makes me feel warm and fuzzy. While your comment is obviously off-topic, which is one of the point of this post, I like irony so I’m going to respond anyway.

      I remember the comment you write about. There are different views, philosophies, about how to handle comments. The one that asked the question is here, and prefaces the question with this: “My question does not reflect practical reality, but merely idle curiosity…”

      My view is to discourage this type of comment/question. SJ isn’t a legal Q&A site, and it’s offensive that a commenter ask a question not out of need, or sincere interest, but “idle curiosity.” I’m not interested in wasting my time to satisfy some jerk’s idle curiosity, and this type of comment is unwelcome.

      The lawyer who responded, and gave a concise and accurate answer to his question notwithstanding my reply which reflected my position that this sort of question was unwelcome, had a different philosophy than I do. He chose to inform, regardless of the idle curiosity piece. That’s certainly a fair philosophy, but it’s not mine. His would encourage people to come here, ask questions out of idle curiosity, and waste everyone’s time. But since this is my blawg and not his, I win and his comment got trashed. It wasn’t his place to decide how to handle comments here, and he overstepped his bounds.

      Every blog and website has its own way of dealing with comments. I have mine. Others may disagree, but they don’t get a vote here. And that’s why. And if you don’t like it, bear this in mind: Volenti non fit injuria. There are a million other places to go on the internets. No one makes you come here.

  2. Scott Henson

    Often other examples are raised because you’ve cherrypicked a case to make a point and other examples contradict it. In those instances, you’re not so much saying “focus” as “don’t say out loud that the blog emperor is naked.” The tell was that you don’t want examples offered “in a way that undermines whatever force my post is supposed to bring to my readers.” Easier to win arguments that way, I guess, or at least appear to.

    1. SHG Post author

      How nice of you to show up to try to find a way to attack, Scott. Didn’t you say I bored you and it wasn’t worth your valuable time reading SJ? Well, whatever.

      You have managed to draw a bizarre inference from my post. By undermine, I mean via diffusion, not contradiction. Hence, the title of the post. I know, it’s really hard for you to follow all the big words when blinded by a chance to play the asshole, but good try. You never know, one day you might get something right if you keep trying.

      1. Wheeze the People™

        I don’t usually speak up for SHG, but in this case I feel compelled to set the record crooked. Greenfield hates sycophants even more than bad cops, lousy lawyers, and jackass judges. SHG’s “Number 1 Fanboy” won’t cut it, not even the cheese . . . Maybe “Number 2 Fanboy” would sit better with him; he might even invite you over to handle some of his shit . . . Go Number 2!! . . .

        1. SHG Post author

          But for the fact that SS is so totally full of shit, I would scorn him. If I slip up, he’s among the first to let me know in colorful language.

          1. Wheeze the People™

            When someone is constantly full of shit, I often wonder whether they are chronically constipated, don’t drink enough water, or just eat way too much cheese and too little fiber. . .

  3. Wheeze the People™

    All we are saying is give ‘peas’ a chance . . . Or if not that, then at least a heaping helping, please . . .

  4. Wrongway

    “When we’re trying to do more than a shallow survey of examples, however, adding more names to the mix doesn’t help. It hurts. In fact, it’s a threat to depth of thought, which is already hard enough to come by in this time when the attention span of gnats are viewed as something to aspire to. One of the best, yet worst, features of the internet is that we can access too much data, too much information, such that we can’t stick with any one bit long enough to make it matter. Focus. We’re losing it.”

    The old saying that, “the devil is in the details” means nothing if it’s obscured by hundreds of opinions, theories, misinformation, etc. Then add emotion to the mix & the truth really starts to be obscured behind the trees in the forest.

    I mentioned the other day about what network you listen to = receiving your daily crap.. & it’s still happening on a very wide scale.. the details are getting skewed day after day.. One program I listen to stated,”Mr. Garner was a large man, at least 300lbs.”.. in 45mins, Mr Garner was up to 450lbs according to callers.. blah blah..

    I’m pretty sure if you were in court representing a client on “anything”, you couldn’t reference the JFK movie as evidence.. (but it’d be funny..)

    1. SHG Post author

      Facts matter. When reportage sucks, the thought that relies upon it sucks, and we all suffer. People often send me links to stories that are interesting, but either lack adequate and necessary facts or just lack the facial credibility that makes me comfortable relying on them. And even so, I screw up the facts once in a while, and rely upon corrections from readers, which I deeply appreciate as the facts matter.

  5. Patrick Maupin

    Making connections and sharing them is what people do. Unfortunately, the quality of the connections that people make is highly variable. Combine that with your own high standards for useful connections, and the resulting interactions are often high in frustration or entertainment — sometimes both simultaneously.

    I like that you keep the rules pithy, but if the frustration overwhelms the entertainment, maybe you should consider linking from the rules to a longer disclosure document that describes some of the things you discuss here. It probably wouldn’t actually help all that much, but it could give you some additional material to alternate with the facepalm, and there are a few readers (I hope I am among them) who might actually learn a few things and get better because of it.

      1. Patrick Maupin

        See, there’s a great start!

        1. Don’t suggest, even if you couch it in weasel words like “if” and “maybe”, that I should ever do anything that I could possibly construe as extra work, even if you are absolutely certain that it would immeasurably improve the quality of my life.

        The thing practically writes itself. Heck, I could probably write 10 more rules just based on my own limited observations. Get Barleycorn to write a few, too, and who knows how much the quality of writing here will improve?

        1. SHG Post author

          Patrick, no matter what I say, how much I write, how well I explain things, it will fall short. As I’ve explained before, you have no idea what I see on my end of the comments, the things that don’t get posted, the insanity, the anger, the stupidity, the cluelessness. Some people see what gets published and think it’s bad. They have no idea.

          And then there’s the irate emails, the crazy phone calls, just like the angry, butthurt entitled assholes here whose CRITICALLY IMPORTANT THOUGHTS MUST BE PUBLISHED, AND MUST BE PUBLISHED HERE BECAUSE PEOPLE MUST KNOW THE TRUTH!!!

          And then, once it seems like people get the idea, new people show up and it starts all over again, as if it never happened before.

  6. nidefatt

    For an encore, you might want to change your name to Greensinglebladeofgrass. I’m sure you don’t want people to think you’re supporting something as confusing as a whole field! Scott Singlebladeofgrass, he’ll never lose sight of the trees for the forest. Hell, you even dare mention another tree and he will freak the fuck out.

    1. SHG Post author

      Meh. If you know better, why would you care what I do. Do it for yourself and don’t bother with silly old me.

  7. Anne Krone

    I come here because unlike the vast majority of the intertubes, when SHG is talking about one thing in a post, he’s talking about ONE thing. I appreciate the focus. Far too many blogs are incoherent and the comments more so , because every discussion ends up sidetracked. ADD is not a good thing. Call me crazy, but I prefer rifles to shotguns.

  8. John Barleycorn

    You can vent so eloquently when you so desire esteemed one.

    It is frightfully easy to take your SJ efforts for granted and I doubt there are more than a handful or two of the SJ back page readers (I am certainly not one of them) who can truly empathize to any educated degree the “stuff” that you the “usher” and “performer” have to deal with to keep the “show”(or whatever it is you like to call your grand wazoo) on the stage.

    All I have to say is, if you ever decide to give Gold Stars a try (because your cardiovascular system is important to “us” all especially those of us who proudly call the cheap seats our home) drop me a note and I will FedEx a few thousand to you even if I can’t figure out a way to pick the pockets of all your readers that dislike me, while they are standing in the beer line or wondering through the lobby between innings to take a piss to pay for them.

    P.S. I got first dibs on the URL and might even consider parting with a few
    dozen original action figure molds to intimidate any competition with my opening bid.

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