Order out of Chaos

George Kelling and Ester Fuchs

Order out of Chaos

George Kelling and Ester Fuchs

Order out of Chaos
An email conversation about the news of the day.
Sept. 30 1999 3:45 PM

George Kelling and Ester Fuchs

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Dear Ester:

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Sorry you had trouble with your e-mail account. Actually, last night I had trouble getting at an open line. But, today, I made a second pot of coffee and am settling into my office at home.

Like you, I read Safire's piece on the Brooklyn Museum issue in the New York Times. It was on the mark. The museum's ad on Page B10 of the Times only confirmed his point. It's as if everybody has their script and dutifully follows it--including the media and pundits. In my own experience, including with courts, I am stunned by how willing people are to trivialize the concept of free speech in order to exploit it for some form of political advantage. But, it is only the beginning of the season.

The stunner in today's news was the atrocities by some U.S. troops in Korea. As tragic as it is to hear, finding out about it at least serves the purpose of demonstrating that monstrous evil is not only to be found in the former Yugoslavia or African countries. The capacity of "good" people to do, or at least tolerate, evil things should never surprise us.

Finally, for now, I have continued to think about the discussion I attended the other night about Fukuyama's book The Great Disruption. I think that we are slowly beginning to understand the dynamics of why the disruption occurred: the changing role of women; the interaction of that change with "the pill"; the "freedom" that resulted for some men (no longer "responsible" for being a parent); the excesses that accompanied the moral "freedom" that many felt from normative setting institutions such as the church; and many of the other powerful ideas that caught on so very quickly (e.g., that mental illness did not exist) and shaped social policy. (I think that I wrote you about the conversation among, Fukuyama, Adam Wolfe, Norman Podhoretz, and others.) The part of the discussion that didn't begin, and which I would have enjoyed even more, was why things now seem to be turning around now. I can write what I did the other night about why and how crime was reduced in New York City, but it still begs the question of why suddenly (and a decade is suddenly) individuals and organizations could commit themselves to successful strategies and collaborations. Although I haven't finished Fukuyama's book, he seems to suggest a biological drive toward order and that humans are rational, can see their mistakes, and can correct themselves. I wonder.

So, I hope your e-mail problems are solved.

George Kelling

George Kelling teaches at Rutgers and Harvard and is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute. He and his wife, Catherine M. Coles, are co-authors of Fixing Broken Windows: Restoring Order and Reducing Crime in Our Communities. (Clickhereto buy the book.) Ester Fuchs is director of the Center for Urban Research and Policy at Columbia University and teaches at Barnard College. She is currently editing New York City: The End of the Liberal Experiment.