Ira Silver sheds light on mob mentality stoking social unrest

(Dr. Ira Silver answers audience questions following his lecture Tuesday in the Alumni Room. Photo by Zach Colten.)

This past week, the news has been abuzz with incessant coverage of the ongoing hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, centering on his alleged assault of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford more than 30 years ago. Almost simultaneously, Bill Cosby was sentenced for multiple sexual assaults, and is now in jail for his crimes. While these important cases continue to resonate, they are raising even more important discussions of social issues, and speaking up about the silence that often sweeps them under the proverbial rug. 

Framingham State Sociology professor Ira Silver’s Lyceum Lecture, “The Hidden Stories Behind Social Problems,” delivered on Oct. 1 in the Alumni Room, addressed these issues. Over 100 attendees from the student body and the Framingham community gathered to hear Silver speak on issues such as sexual assault, police brutality, and cheating.

The common thread among these three “cases,” as he called them, is the blame typically placed on the “bad people” who commit these crimes. With the rise of the #MeToo movement, many are worried about due process – seeing several men’s lives and careers ruined before they are even convicted of the crimes of which they are accused.

Silver used Brock Turner as an example – the “poster-child” of these “bad eggs.” He mentioned Turner to highlight the fact that while we often attribute these crimes to certain demographics, the people who actually commit sexual assault are more often our family members, friends, and others we are close to – this is the hidden story of the issue of sexual assault. Silver wanted to highlight the possibility of a more nuanced reality – challenging people’s biases and showing them the truth.

For the second case, Silver brought up Eric Garner. Garner’s brutal murder at the hands of an illegal police chokehold ignited much of the fervor for the Black Lives Matter movement, with the cry of “I can’t breathe” becoming a painful call out for the justice that is continuously denied to American citizens of color.

While Silver condemned the actions of the officers involved in Garner’s murder, he stressed that police are permitted and required to use force sometimes. He cautioned against the negative and fragmented portrayal of police-suspect interactions in clips showing police brutality, explaining that these only show a sliver of the whole picture. Again, the “bad eggs,” in this case, racist cops, are blamed, while the root issues of systemic racism and police training are rarely brought up.

Silver also discussed cheating, using Lance Armstrong as the example. While Armstrong was stripped of his titles and medals, he was used as a scapegoat, diverting attention from a larger issue. Silver identified this issue as the “winner-take-all” ideology that controls much of our society. This mode, in which the “best” get the most rewards, individuals are incentivized to boost their own performance by any means possible. When everyone else is also perceived to be doing something to give themselves an advantage, such as taking performance-enhancing drugs, corruption can quickly become normalized.

Freshman Ryan Sastrand said, “I liked getting a different view on the social problems that we all experience.”

Senior Marquise Bartley-Browne said he enjoyed the talk. He stressed the importance of looking deeper into complex social issues, which are “never black and white.”

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