Gladwell - The Power of Context

Gladwell - The Power of Context - 232 DANIEL GILBERT...

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Unformatted text preview: 232 DANIEL GILBERT because people typically fail to recognize the conditions that will really make them happy? Does Gilbert’s work suggest that Thomas Jefferson’s proclamation was based on a false assumption? Is the pursuit of happi- ness properly understood as belonging in the same category as the rights guaranteed by the US. Constitution—namely, the rights of free speech and assembly, trial by jury, and so on? Or is the idea that the pursuit of happiness is an unalienable right itself an expression of a mistaken under- standing of the necessary conditions for bringing about happiness? 2. What are the economic implications of Gilbert’s argument? If people began to choose ”action over inaction, pain over annoyance, and commitment over freedom,” would the consumer economy survive? That is, is con- , sumerism dependent upon our collective ignorance about the path to hap- piness, or is the hope that one’s life will be improved by increased purchas— ing power itself a path to happiness? Is trying to be happy with what one has a form of action or inaction? If Gilbert is right that ”explanation robs events of their emotional impact,” what role does explanation play in con- sumer economy? Is a healthy economy dependent upon consumers who are well informed or consumers who are "immune to reality”? I QUESTIONS FOR MAKING CONNECTIONS BETWEEN READINGS I 1. In ”The Enhanced and the Unenhanced,” Gregory Stock argues for a free market in what he calls ”advanced germinal choice.” Essentially, Stock means that people in the near future should have the freedom to provide their children with the genetic enhancements they deem to be most desir— able. When we stop to consider Gilbert’s argument, though, it may influ— ence our response to Stock. Even if genetic technology can deliver on its bright promises, are the results likely to be as rewarding as Stock seems to believe? Is scientific progress driven by the workings of the psycholog- ical immune system, which ”makes us strangers to ourselves”? Or, con- versely, does genetic technology have the potential to redefine the work- ings of the psychological immune system, putting happiness at last within our reach? ' 2. What are the connections between the quest for happiness as Gilbert de- scribes it and the cultivation of wisdom that Robert Thurman outlines? Is the Buddhist experience of nothingness a way of freeing people from the hot states in which We overestimate our own capacity to find satisfaction through changes in external conditions? Or is the notion of wisdom itself an example of the kind of unconscious fact cooking Gilbert describes, which generates happiness only if it feels ”like a discovery and not like a snow job”? Is there a way to determine, finally, if another person is happy or wise? Can one know oneself with certainty in either of these systems? MALCOLM GLADWELL How DO CULTURES CHANGE? Is it possible to control and direct cultural change? These are the questions that most interest Malcolm Gladwell, author of the best- selling books, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference (2000) and Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (2005). Gladwell first be- came interested in the notion that ideas might spread through culture like an epidemic while he was covering the AIDS epidemic for The Washington Post. In epidemiology, the ”tipping point” is the moment when a virus reaches critical mass; AIDS, as Gladwell learned while doing his research, reached its tipping point in 1982, ”when it went from a rare disease affecting a few gay men to a worldwide epidemic.” Fascinated by this medical fact, Gladwell found himself wondering whether it also applied to the social world. That is, is there some spe- cific point where a fad becomes a fashion frenzy? Where delinquency and mis- chief turn into a crime wave? Where repetition leads to understanding? The Tipping Point is the result of Gladwell’s effort to understand why some ideas catch on and spread like wildfire and others fail to attract widespread attention and wither on the vine. Drawing on psychology, sociology, and epidemiology, Gladwell examines events as diverse as Paul Revere’s ride, the success of Sesame Street and Blue’s Clues, and the precipitous decline in the crime rate in New York City, which is discussed in ”The Power of Context,” the chapter included here. Working across these wide—ranging examples, Gladwell develops an all—encompassing model of how cultural change occurs, a model that high- lights the influential role that context plays in shaping and guiding human acts and intentions. Gladwell returns to the idea of the tipping point from a different direction in Blink, his second book. Prompted by his experience with racial profiling (a fact he does not reveal until the book’s conclusion), Gladwell delves into the Gladwell, Malcolm. ”The Power of Context: Bernie Goetz and the Rise and Fall of New York City Crime,” The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 2000. 133—68. Quotations come from Author Q&A at <http://www.gladwell.com/book32.html> and interview by Toby Lester, The Atlantic Unbound <http://wwwtheatlantic.com/unbound/ interviews /ba2000—03—29.htm>. 234 MALCOLM GLADWELL tipping point of human expertise. When, he asks, do we stop being tIz‘iJJs-rriateur's and become experts, and what are the psychological consequences of tran51 tion? As in The Tipping Point, Gladwell’s journalistic skill allows hurt to wleacv: together examples from every human endeavor, from art cr1t1c1sm to s1mu a e t relationshi thera yto taste testing. . warférl:d:vell was boIrjn in EEgland, grew up in Canada, and graduated With a ’ degree in history from the University of Toronto in 1984. After spending mgr : decade as a science writer and New York bureau chief for The Washmgton os , Gladwell joined the staff of The New Yorker in 1996. At The New YorkerzlGla-dvgel: is able to continue exploring his diverse interests; he sees himself as a km 0 translator between the academic and nonacadernic worlds. There s just all SCI-:51 of fantastic stuff out there, but there’s not nearly enough time and attention paid to that act of translation. Most people leave college in their early twenties, an that ends their exposure to the academic world. To me that s a tragedy. The Power of Context Bernie Goetz and the Rise and Fall of New York City Crime ‘ WJU & OQW 1. wwwaw On December 22, 1984, the Saturday before Christmas, Bernhard G332 1:: his apartment in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village and walked to the d su way station at Fourteenth Street and Seventh Avenue. He was a s :1 te; ma; in his late thirties, with sandy-colored hair and glasses, dressed a Clay — jeans and a Windbreaker. At the station, he boarded the number two owne town express train and sat down next to four young black men. Thai-[Wife about twenty people in the car, but most sat at the other end, av01 g rs, because the were, as eyewitnesses would say later, ”hors; 3:351:21? and ”acting roZvdy.” Goetz seemed oblivious. ”How arelya? one of the four, Troy Canty, 'said to Goetz, as he walked in. CantyIiINas 37$: almost prone on one of the subway benches. Canty and an: erdonalrs teenagers, Barry Allen, walked up to Goetz and asked him for :31 (1)3111 E; A third youth, Iames Ramseur, gestured toward a susp1c10us-loo g g in his pocket, as if he had a gun in there. ”What do you want?” Goetz asked. ”Give me five dollars,” Canty repeated. The Power of Context 235 Goetz looked up and, ash/e— would say later, saw that Canty’s ”eyes were shiny, and he was enjoying himself. . . . He had a big smile on his face,” and somehow that smile and those eyes set him off. Goetz reached into his pocket and pulled out a chrome-plated five-shot Smith and Wesson .38, fir- ing at each of the four youths in turn. As the fourth member of the group, Darrell Cabey, lay screaming on the ground, Goetz walked over to him and said, ”You seem all right. Here’s another,” before firing a fifth bullet into Cabey’s spinal cord and paralyzing him for life. In the tumult, someone pulled the emergency brake. The other passen- gers ran into the next car, except for two women who remained riveted in panic. ”Are you all right?” Goetz asked the first, politely Yes, she said. The second woman was lying on the floor. She wanted Goetz to think she was dead. ”Are you all right?” Goetz asked her, twice. She nodded yes. The con- ductor, now on the scene, asked Goetz if he was a police officer. ”No,” said Goetz. ”I don’t know why I did it.” Pause. ”They tried to rip me off.” The conductor asked Goetz for his gun. Goetz declined. He walked through the doorway at the front of the car, unhooked the safety chain, and jumped down onto the tracks, disappearing into the dark of the tunnel. In the days that followed, the shooting on the IRT caused a national sen- sation. The four youths all turned out to have criminal records. Cabey had been arrested previously for armed robbery, Canty for theft. Three of them had screwdrivers in their pockets. They seemed the embodiment of the kind of young thug feared by nearly all urban—dwellers, and the mysterious gun- man who shot them down seemed like an avenging angel. The tabloids dubbed Goetz the ”Subway Vigilante” and the ”Death Wish Shooter.” On radio call-in shows and in the streets, he was treated as a hero, a man who had fulfilled the secret fantasy of every New Yorker who had ever been mugged or intimidated or assaulted on the subway. On New Year ’s Eve, a week after the shooting, Goetz turned himself in to a police station in New Hampshire. Upon his extradition to New York City, the New York Post ran two pictures on its front page: one of Goetz, handcuffed and head bowed, being led into custody, and one of Troy Canty—black, defiant, eyes hooded, arms folded—being released from the hospital. The headline read, ”Led Away in Cuffs While Wounded Mugger Walks to Freedom.” When the case came to trial, Goetz was easily acquitted on charges of assault and at— tempted murder. Outside Goetz’s apartment building, on the evening of the verdict, there was a raucous, impromptu street party. / 236 MALCOLM GLADWELL 2,000 murders and 600,000 serious felonies a year. Underground, on the sub— ways, conditions could only be described as chaotic. Before Bernie Goetz boarded the number two train that day, he would have waited on a dimly lit platform, surrounded on all sides by dark, damp, graffiti-covered walls. . Chances are his train was late, because in 1984 there was a fire somewhere on the New York system every day and a derailment every other week. Pictures of the crime scene, taken by police, show that the car Goetz sat in was filthy, its floor littered with trash and the walls and ceiling thick with graffiti, but that Wasn’t unusual because in 1984 every one of the 6,000 cars in the Transit Authority fleet, with the exception of the midtown shuttle, was covered with graffiti—top to bottom, inside and out. In the winter, the cars were cold be- cause few were adequately heated. In the summer, the cars were stiflingly hot because none were air-conditioned. Today, the number two train accelerates to over 40 miles an hour as it rumbles toward the Chambers Street express stop. But it’s doubtful Goetz’s train went that fast. In 1984, there were 500 l’red tape” areas on the system—places where track damage had made it unsafe for trains to go more than 15 miles per hour. Fare-beating was so commonplace that it was costing the Transit Authority as much as $150 million in lost rev- enue annually. There were about 15,000 felonies on the system a year—a num— ber that would hit 20,000 a year by the end of the decade—and harassment of riders by panhandlers and petty criminals was so pervasive that ridership of the trains had sunk to its lowest level in the history of the subway system . William Bratton, who was later to be a key figure' in New York’s successful fight against violent crime, writes in his autobiography of riding the New York subways in the 19805 after living in Boston for years, and being stunned at what he saw: After waiting in a seemingly endless line to buy a token, I tried to put a coin into a turnstile, and found it had been purposely jammed. Unable to pay the fare to get into the system, we had to enter through a slam gate . being held open by a scruffy-looking character with his hand out; having disabled the turnstiles, he was now demanding that riders give him their tokens. Meanwhile, one of his cohorts had his mouth on the coin slots, sucking out the jammed coins and leaving his slobber. Most people were . too intimidated to take these guys on: Here, take the damned token, what do I care? Other citizens were going ‘over, under, around, or through the stiles for free. It was like goinginto the transit version of Dante’s Inferno. This was New York City in the 19805, a city in the grip of one of the worst crime epidemics in its history. But then, suddenly and without warning, the epidemic tipped. From a high in 1990, the crime rate went into precipitous decline. Murders dropped by two-thirds. Felonies were cut in half. Other cities saw their crime drop in the same period. But in no place did the level of violence fall farther or faster. On the subways, by the end of the decade, $Oll/(jIOVlS T ”6mm (/0me The Power of Context 237 there were 75 percent fewer felonies than there had been at the decade’s start. In 1996, when Goetz went to trial a second time, as the defendant in a civil suit brought by Darrell Cabey, the case was all but ignored by the press, and Goetz himself seemed almost an anachronism 3. During the 1990s violent crime declined across the United States for a num- ber of fairly straightforward reasons. The illegal trade in crack cocaine, which had spawned a great deal of violence among gangs and drug dealers, began to decline. The economy’s dramatic rec':overy meant that many people who might have been lured into crime got legitimate jobs instead, and the general aging of the populatiOn meant that there were fewer people in the age range—males between eighteen and twenty-four—that is responsi- ble for the majority of all violence. The question of why crime declined in New York City, however, is a little more complicated. In the period when the New York epidemic tipped down, the city’s economy hadn’t improved. It was still stagnant. In fact, the city’s poorest neighborhoods had just been hit hard by the welfare cuts of the early 19905. The waning of the crack cocaine epidemic in New York was clearly a factor, but then again, it had been in steady decline well before crime dipped. As for the aging of the population, because of heavy immigration to New York in the 19805, the city was getting younger in the 19905, not older. In any case, all of these trends are long—term changes that one would expect to have gradual effects. In New York the decline was anything but gradual. Something else clearly played a role in reversing New York’s crime epidemic. The most intriguing candidate for that ”something else” is called the Broken Windows theory. Broken Windows was the brainchild of the crimi— nologists James Q. Wilson and George Kelling. Wilson and Kelling argued that crime is the inevitable result of disorder. If a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon, more windows will be broken, and the sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street on which it faces, sending a signal that anything goes. In a city, relatively minor problems like graffiti, public disorder, and aggressive panhandling, they write, are all the equivalent of broken windows, invitations to more serious crimes: Muggers and robbers, whether opportunistic or professional, believe they reduce their chances of being caught or even identified if they operate on streets where potential Victims are already intimidated by prevailing 238 MALCOLM GLADWELL conditions. If the neighborhood cannot keep a bothersome panhandler from annoying passersby, the thief may reason, it is even less likely to call the po— lice to identify a potential mugger or to interfere if the mugging actually takes place. This is an epidemic theory of crime. It says that crime is contagious—just as a fashion trend is contagious—that it can start with a broken window and spread to an entire community. The Tipping Point in this epidemic, though, isn’t a particular kind of person. . . . It’s something physical like graffiti. The impetus to engage in a certain kind of behavior is not coming from a certain kind of person but from a feature of the environment. In the mid—1980s Kelling was hired by the New York Transit Authority as a consultant, and he urged them to put the Broken Windows theory into practice. They obliged, bringing in a new subway director by the name of David Gunn to oversee a multibillion—dollar rebuilding of the subway system. Many subway advocates, at the time, told Gunn not to worry about graffiti, to focus on the larger questions of Crime and subway reliability, and it seemed like reasonable advice. Worrying about graffiti at a time when the entire system was close to collapse seems as pointless as scrubbing the decks of the Titanic as it headed toward the icebergs. But Gunn insisted. ”The graf- fiti was symbolic of the-collapse of the system,” he says. ”When you looked at the process of rebuilding the organization and morale, you had to win the battle against graffiti. Without winning that battle, all the management re- forms and physical changes just weren’t going to happen. We were about to put out new trains that were worth about ten million bucks apiece, and un- less we did something to protect them, we knew just what would happen. They would last one day and then they would be vandalized.” V ‘ Gunn drew up a new management structure and a precise set of goals and timetables aimed at cleaning the system line by line, train by train. He started with the number seven train that connects Queens to midtown Manhattan, and began experimenting with new techniques to clean off the paint. On stainless—steel cars, solvents were used. On the painted cars, the graffiti were simply painted over. Gunn made it a rule that there should be no retreat, that once a car was ”reclaimed” it should never be allowed to be vandalized again. ”We were religious about it,” Gunn said. At the end of the number one line in the Bronx, where the trains stop before turning around and going back to Manhattan, Gunn set up a cleaning station. If a car came in with graffiti, the graffiti had to be removed during the changeover, or the car was removed from service. ”Dirty” cars, which hadn’t yet been cleansed of graffiti, were never to be mixed with “clean” cars. The idea was to send an unambiguous message to the vandals themselves. “We had a yard up in Harlem on one hundred thirty—fifth Street where the trains would lay up over night,” Gunn said. "The kids would come the first night and paint the side of the train white. Then they would memmm_mw_w_. W E ' . . The Power of Context 239 come the next night, after it was dry, and draw the outline. Then they would come the third night and color it in. It was a three-day job. We knew the kids would be working on one of the dirty trains, and what we would do is wait for them to finish their mural. Then we’d walk over with rollers and paint it over. The kids would be in tears, but we’d just be going up and down, up and down. It was a message to them. If you want to spend three nights of your tiine vandalizing a train, fine. But it’s never going to see the light of day.” Gunn’s graffiti cleanup took from 1984 to 1990. At that point, the Transit Authority hired William Bratton to head the transit police, and the second stage of the reclamation of the subway system began. Bratton was, like Gunn, a disciple of Broken Windows. He describes Kelling, in fact, as his intellectual...
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