I’ve realized the same people who can’t fathom a world without a lot of police and long jail sentences and a heavy duty military presence are also the ones who can’t understand how you could raise a child without spanking them, and expect that there must be harsh economic incentives to keep people from being lazy. Most also are inclined to ask or at least try to determine “who is the man/woman?” of people in gay relationships. They get confused by interracial relationships like mine as well, never sure whether to defer to the white person or the man.

It is a set of schematics that is often held onto with good intentions, a desire to see structure and schedules, but it is nonetheless authoritarianism, typically borne of intergenerational trauma where our elders also held such views, or they got adopted because life seemed too hard to survive otherwise.

These views, taken to the extreme, underpin most religious fundamentalists and white supremacist groups and MRA types, although they’lll each typically pick and choose which “offenses” they find most egregious to their sense of order.

But they are all willing to shred other human beings in order to maintain their structural societal ideals, believing it is the person meant to uphold the structure rather than the structure to uplift the person. This is the conflict at the heart of any punitive culture. All of us instinctually want to mold structures around us to benefit ourselves, and that can either be seen as a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the angle you take.

We live in a formally punitive culture where it is typically seen as bad, with views that some people are “trash” or throwaway held almost as strongly on the political and cultural left as on the right, even if many non-punitive subcultures and belief systems do exist within our society and have since the beginning.

I think of the Quakers (the group, not the guy on the oats). I remember talking to someone about my age who went to a Quaker school (yes, they still exist) and she explained that Quakers believe everyone has a little bit of God in them, so a Quaker will look you in the eye and speak very respectfully to you, because it is part of their faith.

I had never heard this before, but it suddenly made a lot of sense. Quakers are pacifists because they believe everyone contains a little bit of the divine, not just for the sake of being pacifists.

But to people raised in our punitive culture, with its’ ideas of hierarchy and original sin and demonic temptation that underpin it, that idea seems both laughable and dangerous. Hippy-dippy and hard to wrap your mind around.

But if you really think about it, most of the people who have been the best to you in your life did seem to see some sort of divine spark in you, or at least had found one within themselves.

There’s the people who would buy a hungry person lunch. There’s the Cajun Navy. There’s people who love to share plant cuttings and baby clothes and YouTube videos on how to build or do things. These prosocial elements exist everywhere, including in the heart of punitive environments. In fact, the concept of the “Good Samaritan” is held even more strongly in many of those circles because it is treated as the highest ideal, a scarcity.

But the truth is that people being kind to you is as common as dirt. Most people you’d run into on the street are prosocial and kind. Most will smile at you if you smile at them. Most will tell you if you have dropped a glove or a paper falls from your pocket. Most children also really care a lot more about not disappointing a trusted elder or friend than they do about physical pain. It is baked into who we are.

We all see ourselves as the Good Samaritan, or want to, and much of the time we are right. Unless we are trying to “teach someone a lesson,” or someone else has taught us too many such damaging lessons (which is actually abuse), and then we generally are not.

A punitive mindset makes us all out to be monsters or wannabe monsters, if we don’t have a bigger monster to keep us in line. But it is this mindset that creates and aids and makes monsters, and at the same time makes keeping monsters around and enabled seem necessary, less monstrous than it is.

I see a shift in our society right now to where monsters are being called out for their uselessness, their moral bankruptcy, and told they aren’t needed anymore.

Whether it’s deciding not to laud vestiges of the antique systems of slavery and the statues of the men who built and upheld them, or realizing black people actually need the police much less than he rest of us (and none of us feel we personally need the police in the kind of way we might need an ambulance or a detective or a social worker), we are delving into something deep and important.

It started off with Me Too and men like Harvey Weinstein exposed as not being the kingmakers and creative geniuses but harming a generation of actresses and movie viewers alike. With him removed from power we are now getting some more interesting films.

We can continue that same housecleaning to many other elements of our society – remove the monsters from their pedestals and see what grows in their place.

The heart of this shift really happens quietly before anything else does. It is in deciding that we don’t need the monsters and we don’t need to pay tribute to them in the form of human carnage and pain. And the only way we can even think about that – really think about it – is to acknowledge that we really do walk among diamonds, people who are jewels of the earth, who each were born containing a little piece of the divine, but many of whom can expect to be treated like broken glass and some of whom then begin to act like it.