David Hoppe

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:: Analog or digital?

The answer matters

by David Hoppe

The hand-wringing continues.

What, asks an Indianapolis Star editorial, are we to do about the spike in urban violence? Change policing tactics? Better arm our cops? Create longer prison sentences for criminals who use guns? Identify specific steps to restore order in neighborhoods riddled with unemployment, drugs and poverty?

The point of questions like these is to provoke answers. We put a lot of faith in answers. The right answers, we think, should help us make things better.


Indianapolis is not alone in its desperation to make its bleeding stop. In Chicago, the long Fourth of July weekend turned certain parts of that city into urban war zones. There were 82 shootings, 16 deaths.

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre still has a ring to it in Chicago and wherever old movies are shown. It’s become a part of that city’s folklore. An incident, where seven, I repeat seven, mobsters were lined up in a garage and gunned down in 1929 has entered the collective consciousness as a kind of icon for urban lawlessness.

But as a recent Chicago Tribune headline comparing then and now understatedly points out, what happened over the Fourth of July weekend was (and I quote): “worse.” 

The Tribune editorial makes a larger point, though. “It's time,” it says, “to begin fundamentally rethinking how we spend money for schools, social services and police, and encourage more local experimentation.”   

In other words, it may be that both the questions and the answers we’ve been wrestling with on the subject of urban violence are beside the point.

Bringing up the Saint Valentine’s Massacre is apt. It’s a way of pointing out the extent to which times have changed. Those murders, and the communal shock they inspired, took place in an analog society.

The recent shootings in Chicago and Indianapolis, by contrast, seem definitely digital.

Just what, exactly, does this mean?

For one thing, being digital implies an interconnectedness that, while daunting to deal with from a bureaucratic standpoint, is probably an essential first principle to be embraced if things are ever going to get better.

So yes, we need to address unemployment, drugs and poverty. And, while we’re at it, schools and social services and policing and gun laws.

We need to look at how the various silos in state and local government, through their divisions of responsibility and reliance on specialized expertise, inhibit social clarity, information sharing and common sense.

Ultimately, we need to ask ourselves whether government itself, on any level, is keeping up with the ways in which we understand ourselves, create identities, pursue livelihoods and raise families — or has become like the last one in the room who gets a joke.

This isn’t about arguing, as so many politicians of both parties do, for more or less regulation, taxes or moral fiber. It has nothing to do with having big government or small; digital conflates and swallows both in a single dose.

It’s about having the courage to make something new — before events make it for us.