Dark Triad Domination

It has been noted that some indigenous languages have words that can be interpreted as what, in English, is referred to as psychopathic, sociopathic, narcissistic, Machiavellian, etc. This is the region of the Dark Triad. One Inuit language has the word ‘kunlangeta‘, meaning “his mind knows what to do but he does not do it.” That could be thought of as describing a psychopath’s possession of cognitive empathy while lacking affective empathy. Or consider the Yoruba word ‘arankan‘ that “is applied to a person who always goes his own way regardless of others, who is uncooperative, full of malice, and bullheaded.”

These are tribal societies. Immense value is placed on kinship loyalty, culture of trust, community survival, collective well-being, and public good. Even though they aren’t oppressive authoritarian states, the modern Western notion of hyper-individualism wouldn’t make much sense within these close-knit groups. Sacrifice of individual freedom and rights is a given under such social conditions, since individuals are intimately related to one another and physically dependent upon one another. Actually, it wouldn’t likely be experienced as sacrifice at all since it would simply be the normal state of affairs, the shared reality within which they exist.

This got me thinking about psychopathy and modern society. Research has found that, at least in some Western countries, the rate of psychopathy is not just high in prison populations but equally as high among the economic and political elite. My father left upper management in a major corporation because of how ruthless was the backstabbing, a win at all costs social Darwinism. This is what defines a country like the United States, as these social dominators are the most revered and emulated individuals. Psychopaths and such, instead of being eliminated or banished, are promoted and empowered.

What occurred to me is the difference for tribal societies is that hyper-individualism is seen not only as abnormal but dangerous and so intolerable. Maybe the heavy focus on individualism in the modern West inevitably leads to the psychopathological traits of the Dark Triad. As such, that would mean there is something severely abnormal and dysfunctional about Western societies (WEIRD – Western Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic). Psychopaths and narcissists, in particular, are the ultimate individualists and so they will be the ultimate winners in an individualistic culture — their relentless confidence and ruthless competitiveness, their Machiavellian manipulations and persuasive charm supporting a narcissistic optimism and leading to success.

There are a couple of ways of looking at this. First off, there might be something about urbanization itself or a correlated factor that exacerbates mental illness. Studies have found, for example, an increase in psychosis across the recent generations of city-dwellers — precisely during the period of populations being further urbanized and concentrated. It makes one think of the study done on crowding large numbers of rats in a small contained cage until they turned anti-social, aggressive, and violent. If these rats were humans, we’d describe this behavior in terms of psychopathy or sociopathy.

There is a second thing to consider, as discussed by Barbara Oakley in her book Evil Genes (pp. 265-6). About rural populations, she writes that, “Psychopathy is rare in those settings, notes psychologist David Cooke, who has studied psychopathy across cultures.” And she continues:

“But what about more urban environments? Cooke’s research has shown, surprisingly, that there are more psychopaths from Scotland prisons of England and Wales than there are in Scottish prisons. (Clearly, this is not to say that the Scottish are more given to psychopathy than anyone else.) Studies of migration records showed that many Scottish psychopaths had migrated to the more populated metropolitan areas of the south. Cooke hypothesized that, in the more crowded metropolitan areas, the psychopath could attack or steal with little danger that the victim would recognize or catch him. Additionally, the psychopath’s impulsivity and need for stimulation could also play a role in propelling the move to the dazzling delights of the big city — he would have no affection for family and friends to keep him tethered back home. Densely populated areas, apparently, are the equivalent for psychopaths of ponds and puddles for malarial mosquitoes.”

As Oakley’s book is on genetics, she goes in an unsurprising direction in pointing out how some violent individuals have been able to pass on their genetics to large numbers of descendants. The most famous example being Genghis Khan. She writes that (p. 268),

“These recent discoveries reinforce the findings of the anthropologist Laura Betzig. Her 1986 Despotism and Differential Reproduction provides a cornucopia of evidence documenting the increased capacity of those with more power — and frequently, Machiavellian tendencies — to have offspring. […] As Machiavellian researcher Richard Christie and his colleague Florence Geis aptly note: “[H]igh population density and highly competitive environments have been found to increase the use of antisocial and Machiavellian strategies, and my in fact foster the ability of those who possess those strategies to reproduce.” […] Beltzig’s ultimte point is not that the corrupt attain power but that those corrupted individuals who achieved power in preindustrial agricultural societies had far more opportunity to reproduce, generally through polygyny, and pass on their genes. In fact, the more Machiavellian, that is, despotic, a man might be, the more polygynous he tended to be — grabbing and keeping for himself as many beautiful women as he could. Some researchers have posited that envy is itself a useful, possibly geneticall linked trait, “serving a key role in survival, motivating achievement, serving the conscience of self and other, and alerting us to inequities that, if fueled, can lead to esclaated violence.” Thus, genese related to envy — not to mention other more problematic temperaments — might have gradually found increased prevalence in such environments.”

That kind of genetic hypothesis is highly speculative, to say the least. Their could be some truth value in them, if one wanted to give the benefit of the doubt, but we have no direct evidence that such is the case. At present, these speculations are yet more just-so stories and they will remain so until we can better control confounding factors in order to directly ascertain causal factors. Anyway, genetic determinism in this simplistic sense is largely moot at this point, as the science is moving on into new understandings. Besides being unhelpful, such speculations are unnecessary. We already have plenty of social science research that proves changing environmental conditions alters social behavior — besides what I’ve already mentioned, there is such examples as the fascinating rat park research. There is no debate to be had about the immense influence of external influences, such as factors of socioeconomic class and high inequality: Power Causes Brain Damage by Justin Renteria, How Wealth Reduces Compassion by Daisy Grewal, Got Money? Then You Might Lack Compassion by Jeffrey Kluger, Why the Rich Don’t Give to Charity by Ken Stern, Rich People Literally See the World Differently by Drake Baer, The rich really DO ignore the poor by Cheyenne Macdonald, Propagandopoly: Monopoly as an Ideological Tool by Naomi Russo, A ‘Rigged’ Game Of Monopoly Reveals How Feeling Wealthy Changes Our Behavior [TED VIDEO] by Planetsave, etc.

Knowing the causes is important. But knowing the consequences is just as important. No matter what increases Dark Triad behaviors, they can have widespread and long-lasting repurcussions, maybe even permanently altering entire societies in how they function. Following her speculations, Oakley gets down to the nitty gritty (p. 270):

“Questions we might reasonably ask are — has the percentage of Machiavellians and other more problematic personality types increased in the human population, or in certain human populations, since the advent of agriculture? And if the answer is yes, does the increase in these less savory types change a group’s culture? In other words, is there a tipping point of Machiavellian and emote control behavior that can subtly or not so subtly affect the way the members of a society interact? Certainly a high expectation of meeting a “cheater,” for example, would profoundly impact the trust that appears to form the grease of modern democratic societies and might make the development of democratic processes in certain areas more difficult. Crudely put, an increase in successfully sinister types from 2 percent, say, to 4 percent of a population would double the pool of Machiavellians vying for power. And it is the people in power who set the emotional tone, perhaps through mirroring and emotional contagion, for their followers and those around them. As Judith Rich Harris points out, higher-status members of a group are looked at more, which means they have more influence on how a person becomes socialized.”

The key factor in much of this seems to be concentration. Simply concentrating populations, humans or rats, leads to social problems related to mental health issues. On top of that, there is the troubling concern of what kind of people are being concentrated and where they are being concentrated — psychopaths being concentrated not only in big cities and prisons but worse still in positions of wealth and power, authority and influence. We live in a society that creates the conditions for the Dark Triad to increase and flourish. This is how the success of those born psychopaths encourages others to follow their example in developing into sociopaths, which in turn makes the Dark Triad mindset into a dominant ethos within mainstream culture.

The main thing on my mind is individualism. It’s been on my mind a lot lately, such as in terms of the bundle theory of the mind and the separate individual, related to my long term interest in community and the social nature of humans. In relation to individualism, there is the millennia-old cultural divide between Germanic ‘freedom‘ and Roman ‘liberty‘. But because Anglo-American society mixed up the two, this became incorrectly framed by Isaiah Berlin in terms of positive and negative. In Contemporary Political Theory, J. C. Johari writes that (p. 266), “Despite this all, it may be commented that though Berlin advances the argument that the two aspects of liberty cannot be so distinguished in practical terms, one may differ from him and come to hold that his ultimate preference is for the defence of the negative view of liberty. Hence, he obviously belongs to the category of Mill and Hayek.”  He states this this “is evident from his emphatic affirmation” in the following assertion by Berlin:

“The fundamental sense of freedom is freedom from chains, from imprisonment, from enslavement by others. The rest is extension of this sense or else metaphor. To strive to be free is to seek to remove obstacles; to struggle for personal freedom is to seek to curb interference, exploitation, enslavement by men whose ends are theirs, not one’s own. Freedom, at least in its political sense, is coterminous with the absence of bullying or domination.”

Berlin makes a common mistake here. Liberty was defined by not being a slave in a slave-based society, which is what existed in the Roman Empire. But that isn’t freedom, an entirely different term with an etymology related to ‘friend’ and with a meaning that indicated membership in an autonomous community — such freedom meant not being under the oppression of a slave-based society (e.g., German tribes remaining independent of the Roman Empire). Liberty, not freedom, was determined by one’s individual status of lacking oppression in an oppressive social order. This is why liberty has a negative connotation for it is what you lack, rather than what you possess. A homeless man starving alone on the street with no friend in the world to help him and no community to support him, such a man has liberty but not freedom. He is ‘free’ to do what he wants under those oppressive conditions and constraints, as no one is physically detaining him.

This notion of liberty has had a purchase on the American mind because of the history of racial and socioeconomic oppression. After the Civil War, blacks had negative liberty in no longer being slaves but they definitely did not have positive freedom through access to resources and opportunities, instead being shackled by systemic and institutional racism that maintained their exploited status as a permanent underclass. Other populations such as Native Americans faced a similar dilemma. Is one actually free when the chains holding one down are invisible but still all too real? If liberty is an abstraction detached from lived experience and real world results, of what value is such liberty?

This point is made by another critic of Berlin’s perspective. “It is hard for me to see that Berlin is consistent on this point,” writes L. H. Crocker (Positive Liberty, p. 69). “Surely not all alterable human failures to open doors are cases of bullying. After all, it is often through neglect that opportunities fail to be created for the disadvantaged. It is initially more plausible that all failures to open doors are the result of domination in some sense or another.” I can’t help but think that Dark Triad individuals would feel right at home in a culture of liberty where individuals have the ‘freedom’ to oppress and be oppressed. Embodying this sick mentality, Margaret Thatcher once gave perfect voice to the sociopathic worldview — speaking of the victims of disadvantage and desparation, she claimed that, “They’re casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society.” That is to say, there is no freedom.

The question, then, is whether or not we want freedom. A society is only free to the degree that as a society freedom is demanded. To deny society itself is an attempt to deny the very basis of freedom, but that is just a trick of rhetoric. A free people know their own freedom by acting freely, even if that means fighting the oppressors who seek to deny that freedom. Thatcher intentionally conflated society and government, something never heard in the clear-eyed wisdom of a revolutionary social democrat like Thomas Paine“Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best stage, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one.” These words expressed the values of negative liberty as made perfect sense for someone living in an empire built on colonialism, corporatism, and slavery. But the same words gave hint to a cultural memory of Germanic positive freedom. It wasn’t a principled libertarian hatred of governance, rather the principled radical protest against a sociopathic social order. As Paine made clear, this unhappy situation was neither inevitable nor desirable, much less tolerable.

The Inuits would find a way for psychopaths to ‘accidentally’ fall off the ice, never to trouble the community again. As for the American revolutionaries, they preferred more overt methods, from tar and feathering to armed revolt. So, now to regain our freedom as a people, what recourse do we have in abolishing the present Dark Triad domination?

* * *

Here are some blog posts on individualism and community, as contrasted between far different societies. In these writings, I explore issues of mental health (from depression to addiction), and social problems (from authoritarianism to capitalist realism) — as well as other topics, including carnival and revolution.

Self, Other, & World

Retrieving the Lost Worlds of the Past:
The Case for an Ontological Turn
by Greg Anderson

“[…] This ontological individualism would have been scarcely intelligible to, say, the inhabitants of precolonial Bali or Hawai’i, where the divine king or chief, the visible incarnation of the god Lono, was “the condition of possibility of the community,” and thus “encompasse[d] the people in his own person, as a projection of his own being,” such that his subjects were all “particular instances of the chief’s existence.” 12 It would have been barely imaginable, for that matter, in the world of medieval Europe, where conventional wisdom proverbially figured sovereign and subjects as the head and limbs of a single, primordial “body politic” or corpus mysticum. 13 And the idea of a natural, presocial individual would be wholly confounding to, say, traditional Hindus and the Hagen people of Papua New Guinea, who objectify all persons as permeable, partible “dividuals” or “social microcosms,” as provisional embodiments of all the actions, gifts, and accomplishments of others that have made their lives possible.1

“We alone in the modern capitalist west, it seems, regard individuality as the true, primordial estate of the human person. We alone believe that humans are always already unitary, integrated selves, all born with a natural, presocial disposition to pursue a rationally calculated self-interest and act competitively upon our no less natural, no less presocial rights to life, liberty, and private property. We alone are thus inclined to see forms of sociality, like relations of kinship, nationality, ritual, class, and so forth, as somehow contingent, exogenous phenomena, not as essential constituents of our very subjectivity, of who or what we really are as beings. And we alone believe that social being exists to serve individual being, rather than the other way round. Because we alone imagine that individual humans are free-standing units in the first place, “unsocially sociable” beings who ontologically precede whatever “society” our self-interest prompts us to form at any given time.”

What Kinship Is-And Is Not
by Marshall Sahlins, p. 2

“In brief, the idea of kinship in question is “mutuality of being”: people who are intrinsic to one another’s existence— thus “mutual person(s),” “life itself,” “intersubjective belonging,” “transbodily being,” and the like. I argue that “mutuality of being” will cover the variety of ethnographically documented ways that kinship is locally constituted, whether by procreation, social construction, or some combination of these. Moreover, it will apply equally to interpersonal kinship relations, whether “consanguineal” or “affinal,” as well as to group arrangements of descent. Finally, “mutuality of being” will logically motivate certain otherwise enigmatic effects of kinship bonds— of the kind often called “mystical”— whereby what one person does or suffers also happens to others. Like the biblical sins of the father that descend on the sons, where being is mutual, there experience is more than individual.”

Music and Dance on the Mind

We aren’t as different from ancient humanity as it might seem. Our societies have changed drastically, suppressing old urges and potentialities. Yet the same basic human nature still lurks within us, hidden in the underbrush along the well trod paths of the mind. The hive mind is what the human species naturally falls back upon, from millennia of collective habit. The problem we face is we’ve lost the ability to express well our natural predisposition toward group-mindedness, too easily getting locked into groupthink, a tendency easily manipulated.

Considering this, we have good reason to be wary, not knowing what we could tap into. We don’t understand our own minds and so we naively underestimate the power of humanity’s social nature. With the right conditions, hiving is easy to elicit but hard to control or shut down. The danger is that the more we idolize individuality the more prone we become to what is so far beyond the individual. It is the glare of hyper-individualism that casts the shadow of authoritarianism.

Pacifiers, Individualism & Enculturation

I’ve often thought that individualism, in particular hyper-individualism, isn’t the natural state of human nature. By this, I mean that it isn’t how human nature manifested for the hundreds of thosands of years prior to modern Western civilization. Julian Jaynes theorizes that, even in early Western civilization, humans didn’t have a clear sense of separate individuality. He points out that in the earliest literature humans were all the time hearing voices outside of themselves (giving them advice, telling them what to do, making declarations, chastising them, etc), maybe not unlike in the way we hear a voice in our head.

We moderns have internalized those external voices of collective culture. This seems normal to us. This is not just about pacifiers. It’s about technology in general. The most profound technology ever invented was written text (along with the binding of books and the printing press). All the time I see my little niece absorbed in a book, even though she can’t yet read. Like pacifiers, books are tools of enculturation that help create the individual self. Instead of mommy’s nipple, the baby soothes themselves. Instead of voices in the world, the child becomes focused on text. In both cases, it is a process of internalizing.

All modern civilization is built on this process of individualization. I don’t know if it is overall good or bad. I’m sure much of our destructive tendencies are caused by the relationship between individualization and objectification. Nature as a living world that could speak to us has become mere matter without mind or soul. So, the cost of this process has been high… but then again, the innovative creativeness has exploded as this individualizing process has increasingly taken hold in recent centuries.

“illusion of a completed, unitary self”

The Voices Within: The History and Science of How We Talk to Ourselves
by Charles Fernyhough, Kindle Locations 3337-3342

“And we are all fragmented. There is no unitary self. We are all in pieces, struggling to create the illusion of a coherent “me” from moment to moment. We are all more or less dissociated. Our selves are constantly constructed and reconstructed in ways that often work well, but often break down. Stuff happens, and the center cannot hold. Some of us have more fragmentation going on, because of those things that have happened; those people face a tougher challenge of pulling it all together. But no one ever slots in the last piece and makes it whole. As human beings, we seem to want that illusion of a completed, unitary self, but getting there is hard work. And anyway, we never get there.”

Delirium of Hyper-Individualism

Individualism is a strange thing. For anyone who has spent much time meditating, it’s obvious that there is no there there. It slips through one’s grasp like an ancient philosopher trying to study aether. The individual self is the modernization of the soul. Like the ghost in the machine and the god in the gaps, it is a theological belief defined by its absence in the world. It’s a social construct, a statement that is easily misunderstood.

In modern society, individualism has been raised up to an entire ideological worldview. It is all-encompassing, having infiltrated nearly every aspect of our social lives and become internalized as a cognitive frame. Traditional societies didn’t have this obsession with an idealized self as isolated and autonomous. Go back far enough and the records seem to show societies that didn’t even have a concept, much less an experience, of individuality.

Yet for all its dominance, the ideology of individualism is superficial. It doesn’t explain much of our social order and personal behavior. We don’t act as if we actually believe in it. It’s a convenient fiction that we so easily disregard when inconvenient, as if it isn’t all that important after all. In our most direct experience, individuality simply makes no sense. We are social creatures through and through. We don’t know how to be anything else, no matter what stories we tell ourselves.

The ultimate value of this individualistic ideology is, ironically, as social control and social justification.

It’s All Your Fault, You Fat Loser!

Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative?
By Mark Fisher, pp. 18-20

“[…] In what follows, I want to stress two other aporias in capitalist realism, which are not yet politicized to anything like the same degree. The first is mental health. Mental health, in fact, is a paradigm case of how capitalist realism operates. Capitalist realism insists on treating mental health as if it were a natural fact, like weather (but, then again, weather is no longer a natural fact so much as a political-economic effect). In the 1960s and 1970s, radical theory and politics (Laing, Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari, etc.) coalesced around extreme mental conditions such as schizophrenia, arguing, for instance, that madness was not a natural, but a political, category. But what is needed now is a politicization of much more common disorders. Indeed, it is their very commonness which is the issue: in Britain, depression is now the condition that is most treated by the NHS . In his book The Selfish Capitalist, Oliver James has convincingly posited a correlation between rising rates of mental distress and the neoliberal mode of capitalism practiced in countries like Britain, the USA and Australia. In line with James’s claims, I want to argue that it is necessary to reframe the growing problem of stress (and distress) in capitalist societies. Instead of treating it as incumbent on individuals to resolve their own psychological distress, instead, that is, of accepting the vast privatization of stress that has taken place over the last thirty years, we need to ask: how has it become acceptable that so many people, and especially so many young people, are ill? The ‘mental health plague’ in capitalist societies would suggest that, instead of being the only social system that works, capitalism is inherently dysfunctional, and that the cost of it appearing to work is very high.”

There is always an individual to blame. It sucks to be an individual these days, I tell ya. I should know because I’m one of those faulty miserable individuals. I’ve been one my whole life. If it weren’t for all of us pathetic and depraved individuals, capitalism would be utopia. I beat myself up all the time for failing the great dream of capitalism. Maybe I need to buy more stuff.

“The other phenomenon I want to highlight is bureaucracy. In making their case against socialism, neoliberal ideologues often excoriated the top-down bureaucracy which supposedly led to institutional sclerosis and inefficiency in command economies. With the triumph of neoliberalism, bureaucracy was supposed to have been made obsolete; a relic of an unlamented Stalinist past. Yet this is at odds with the experiences of most people working and living in late capitalism, for whom bureaucracy remains very much a part of everyday life. Instead of disappearing, bureaucracy has changed its form; and this new, decentralized, form has allowed it to proliferate. The persistence of bureaucracy in late capitalism does not in itself indicate that capitalism does not work – rather, what it suggests is that the way in which capitalism does actually work is very different from the picture presented by capitalist realism.”

Neoliberalism: Dream & Reality

in the book Capitalist Realism by Mark Fisher (p. 20):

“[…] But incoherence at the level of what Brown calls ‘political rationality’ does nothing to prevent symbiosis at the level of political subjectivity, and, although they proceeded from very different guiding assumptions, Brown argues that neoliberalism and neoconservatism worked together to undermine the public sphere and democracy, producing a governed citizen who looks to find solutions in products, not political processes. As Brown claims,

“the choosing subject and the governed subject are far from opposites … Frankfurt school intellectuals and, before them, Plato theorized the open compatibility between individual choice and political domination, and depicted democratic subjects who are available to political tyranny or authoritarianism precisely because they are absorbed in a province of choice and need-satisfaction that they mistake for freedom.”

“Extrapolating a little from Brown’s arguments, we might hypothesize that what held the bizarre synthesis of neoconservatism and neoliberalism together was their shared objects of abomination: the so called Nanny State and its dependents. Despite evincing an anti-statist rhetoric, neoliberalism is in practice not opposed to the state per se – as the bank bail-outs of 2008 demonstrated – but rather to particular uses of state funds; meanwhile, neoconservatism’s strong state was confined to military and police functions, and defined itself against a welfare state held to undermine individual moral responsibility.”

[…] what Robin describes touches upon my recent post about the morality-punishment link. As I pointed out, the world of Star Trek: Next Generation imagines the possibility of a social order that serves humans, instead of the other way around. I concluded that, “Liberals seek to promote freedom, not just freedom to act but freedom from being punished for acting freely. Without punishment, though, the conservative sees the world lose all meaning and society to lose all order.” The neoliberal vision subordinates the individual to the moral order. The purpose of forcing the individual into a permanent state of anxiety and fear is to preoccupy their minds and their time, to redirect all the resources of the individual back into the system itself. The emphasis on the individual isn’t because individualism is important as a central ideal but because the individual is the weak point that must be carefully managed. Also, focusing on the individual deflects our gaze from the structure and its attendant problems.

This brings me to how this relates to corporations in neoliberalism (Fisher, pp. 69-70):

“For this reason, it is a mistake to rush to impose the individual ethical responsibility that the corporate structure deflects. This is the temptation of the ethical which, as Žižek has argued, the capitalist system is using in order to protect itself in the wake of the credit crisis – the blame will be put on supposedly pathological individuals, those ‘abusing the system’, rather than on the system itself. But the evasion is actually a two step procedure – since structure will often be invoked (either implicitly or openly) precisely at the point when there is the possibility of individuals who belong to the corporate structure being punished. At this point, suddenly, the causes of abuse or atrocity are so systemic, so diffuse, that no individual can be held responsible. This was what happened with the Hillsborough football disaster, the Jean Charles De Menezes farce and so many other cases. But this impasse – it is only individuals that can be held ethically responsible for actions, and yet the cause of these abuses and errors is corporate, systemic – is not only a dissimulation: it precisely indicates what is lacking in capitalism. What agencies are capable of regulating and controlling impersonal structures? How is it possible to chastise a corporate structure? Yes, corporations can legally be treated as individuals – but the problem is that corporations, whilst certainly entities, are not like individual humans, and any analogy between punishing corporations and punishing individuals will therefore necessarily be poor. And it is not as if corporations are the deep-level agents behind everything; they are themselves constrained by/ expressions of the ultimate cause-that-is-not-a-subject: Capital.”

Sleepwalking Through Our Dreams

The modern self is not normal, by historical and evolutionary standards. Extremely unnatural and unhealthy conditions have developed, our minds having correspondingly grown malformed like the binding of feet. Our hyper-individuality is built on disconnection and, in place of human connection, we take on various addictions, not just to drugs and alcohol but also to work, consumerism, entertainment, social media, and on and on. The more we cling to an unchanging sense of bounded self, the more burdened we become trying to hold it all together, hunched over with the load we carry on our shoulders. We are possessed by the identities we possess.

This addiction angle interests me. Our addiction is the result of our isolated selves. Yet even as our addiction attempts to fill emptiness, to reach out beyond ourselves toward something, anything, a compulsive relationship devoid of the human, we isolate ourselves further. As Johann Hari explained in Chasing the Scream (Kindle Locations 3521-3544):

There were three questions I had never understood. Why did the drug war begin when it did, in the early twentieth century? Why were people so receptive to Harry Anslinger’s message? And once it was clear that it was having the opposite effect to the one that was intended— that it was increasing addiction and supercharging crime— why was it intensified, rather than abandoned?

I think Bruce Alexander’s breakthrough may hold the answer.

“Human beings only become addicted when they cannot find anything better to live for and when they desperately need to fill the emptiness that threatens to destroy them,” Bruce explained in a lecture in London31 in 2011. “The need to fill an inner void is not limited to people who become drug addicts, but afflicts the vast majority of people of the late modern era, to a greater or lesser degree.”

A sense of dislocation has been spreading through our societies like a bone cancer throughout the twentieth century. We all feel it: we have become richer, but less connected to one another. Countless studies prove this is more than a hunch, but here’s just one: the average number of close friends a person has has been steadily falling. We are increasingly alone, so we are increasingly addicted. “We’re talking about learning to live with the modern age,” Bruce believes. The modern world has many incredible benefits, but it also brings with it a source of deep stress that is unique: dislocation. “Being atomized and fragmented and all on [your] own— that’s no part of human evolution and it’s no part of the evolution of any society,” he told me.

And then there is another kicker. At the same time that our bonds with one another have been withering, we are told— incessantly, all day, every day, by a vast advertising-shopping machine— to invest our hopes and dreams in a very different direction: buying and consuming objects. Gabor tells me: “The whole economy is based around appealing to and heightening every false need and desire, for the purpose of selling products. So people are always trying to find satisfaction and fulfillment in products.” This is a key reason why, he says, “we live in a highly addicted society.” We have separated from one another and turned instead to things for happiness— but things can only ever offer us the thinnest of satisfactions.

This is where the drug war comes in. These processes began in the early twentieth century— and the drug war followed soon after. The drug war wasn’t just driven, then, by a race panic. It was driven by an addiction panic— and it had a real cause. But the cause wasn’t a growth in drugs. It was a growth in dislocation.

The drug war began when it did because we were afraid of our own addictive impulses, rising all around us because we were so alone. So, like an evangelical preacher who rages against gays because he is afraid of his own desire to have sex with men, are we raging against addicts because we are afraid of our own growing vulnerability to addiction?

In The Secret Life of Puppets, Victoria Nelson makes some useful observations of reading addiction, specifically in terms of formulaic genres. She discusses Sigmund Freud’s repetition compulsion and Lenore Terr’s post-traumatic games. She sees genre reading as a ritual-like enactment that can’t lead to resolution, and so the addictive behavior becomes entrenched. This would apply to many other forms of entertainment and consumption. And it fits into Derrick Jensen’s discussion of abuse, trauma, and the victimization cycle.

I would broaden her argument in another way. People have feared the written text ever since it was invented. In the 18th century, there took hold a moral panic about reading addiction in general and that was before any fiction genres had developed (Frank Furedi, The Media’s First Moral Panic). The written word is unchanging and so creates the conditions for repetition compulsion. Every time a text is read, it is the exact same text.

That is far different from oral societies. And it is quite telling that oral societies have a much more fluid sense of self. The Piraha, for example, don’t cling to their sense of self nor that of others. When a Piraha individual is possessed by a spirit or meets a spirit who gives them a new name, the self that was there is no longer there. When asked where is that person, the Piraha will say that he or she isn’t there, even if the same body of the individual is standing right there in front of them. They also don’t have a storytelling tradition or concern for the past.

Another thing that the Piraha apparently lack is mental illness, specifically depression along with suicidal tendencies. According to Barbara Ehrenreich from Dancing in the Streets, there wasn’t much written about depression even in the Western world until the suppression of religious and public festivities, such as Carnival. One of the most important aspects of Carnival and similar festivities was the masking, shifting, and reversal of social identities. Along with this, there was the losing of individuality within the group. And during the Middle Ages, an amazing number of days in the year were dedicated to communal celebrations. The ending of this era coincided with numerous societal changes, including the increase of literacy with the spread of the movable type printing press.

Another thing happened with suppression of festivities. Local community began to break down as power became centralized in far off places and the classes became divided, which Ehrenreich details. The aristocracy used to be inseparable from their feudal roles and this meant participating in local festivities where, as part of the celebration, a king might wrestle with a blacksmith. As the divides between people grew into vast chasms, the social identities held and social roles played became hardened into place. This went along with a growing inequality of wealth and power. And as research has shown, wherever there is inequality also there is found high rates of social problems and mental health issues.

It’s maybe unsurprising that what followed from this was colonial imperialism and a racialized social order, class conflict and revolution. A society formed that was simultaneously rigid in certain ways and destabilized in others. The individuals became increasingly atomized and isolated. With the loss of kinship and community, the cheap replacement we got is identity politics. The natural human bonds are lost or constrained. Social relations are narrowed down. Correspondingly, our imaginations are hobbled and we can’t envision society being any other way. Most tragic, we forget that human society used to be far different, a collective amnesia forcing us into a collective trance. Our entire sense of reality is held in the vice grip of historical moment we find ourselves in.

Social Conditions of an Individual’s Condition

A wide variety of research and data is pointing to a basic conclusion. Environmental conditions (physical, social, political, and economic) are of penultimate importance. So, why do we treat as sick individuals those who suffer the consequences of the externalized costs of society?

Here is the sticking point. Systemic and collective problems in some ways are the easiest to deal with. The problems, once understood, are essentially simple and their solutions tend to be straightforward. Even so, the very largeness of these problems make them hard for us to confront. We want someone to blame. But who do we blame when the entire society is dysfunctional?

If we recognize the problems as symptoms, we are forced to acknowledge our collective agency and shared fate. For those who understand this, they are up against countervailing forces that maintain the status quo. Even if a psychiatrist realizes that their patient is experiencing the symptoms of larger social issues, how is that psychiatrist supposed to help the patient? Who is going to diagnose the entire society and demand it seek rehabilitation?

Winter Season and Holiday Spirit

With this revelry and reversal follows, along with licentiousness and transgression, drunkenness and bawdiness, fun and games, song and dance, feasting and festival. It is a time for celebration of this year’s harvest and blessing of next year’s harvest. Bounty and community. Death and rebirth. The old year must be brought to a close and the new year welcomed. This is the period when gods, ancestors, spirits, and demons must be solicited, honored, appeased, or driven out. The noise of song, gunfire, and such serves many purposes.

In the heart of winter, some of the most important religious events took place. This includes Christmas, of course, but also the various celebrations around the same time. A particular winter festival season that began on All Hallows Eve (i.e., Halloween) ended with the Twelfth Night. This included carnival-like revelry and a Lord of Misrule. There was also the tradition of going house to house, of singing and pranks, of demanding treats/gifts and threats if they weren’t forthcoming. It was a time of community and sharing, and those who didn’t willingly participate might be punished. Winter, a harsh time of need, was when the group took precedence. […]

I’m also reminded of the Santa Claus as St. Nick. This invokes an image of jollity and generosity. And this connects to wintertime as period of community needs and interdependence, of sharing and gifting, of hospitality and kindness. This includes enforcement of social norms which easily could transform into the challenging of social norms.

It’s maybe in this context we should think of the masked vigilantes participating in the Boston Tea Party. Like carnival, there had developed a tradition of politics out-of-doors, often occurring on the town commons. And on those town commons, large trees became identified as liberty trees — under which people gathered, upon which notices were nailed, and sometimes where effigies were hung. This was an old tradition that originated in Northern Europe, where a tree was the center of a community, the place of law-giving and community decision-making. In Europe, the commons had become the place of festivals and celebrations, such as carnival. And so the commons came to be the site of revolutionary fervor as well.

The most famous Liberty Tree was a great elm near the Boston common. It was there that many consider the birth of the American Revolution, as it was the site of early acts of defiance. This is where the Sons of Liberty met, organized, and protested. This would eventually lead to that even greater act of defiance on Saturnalia eve, the Boston Tea Party. One of the participants in the Boston Tea Party and later in the Revolutionary War, Samuel Sprague, is buried in the Boston Common.

There is something many don’t understand about the American Revolution. It wasn’t so much a fight against oppression in general and certainly not about mere taxation in particular. What angered those Bostonians and many other colonists was that they had become accustomed to community-centered self-governance and this was being challenged. The tea tax wasn’t just an imposition of imperial power but also colonial corporatism. The East India Company was not acting as a moral member of the community, in its taking advantage by monopolizing trade. Winter had long been the time of year when bad actors in the community would be punished. Selfishness was not to be tolerated.

Those Boston Tea Partiers were simply teaching a lesson about the Christmas spirit. And in the festival tradition, they chose the guise of Native Americans which to their minds would have symbolized freedom and an inversion of power. What revolution meant to them was a demand for return of what was taken from them, making the world right again. It was revelry with a purpose.

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Edge of the Depths

“In Science there are no ‘depths’; there is surface everywhere.”
~ Rodolf Carnap

I was reading Richard S. Hallam’s Virtual Selves, Real Persons. I’ve enjoyed it, but I find a point of disagreement or maybe merely doubt and questioning. He emphasizes persons as being real, in that they are somehow pre-existing and separate. He distinguishes the person from selves, although this distinction isn’t necessarily relevant to my thoughts here.

I’m not sure to what degree our views diverge, as I find much of the text to be insightful and a wonderful overview. However, to demonstrate my misgivings, the author only mentions David Hume’s bundle theory a couple of times on a few pages (in a several hundred page book), a rather slight discussion for such a key perspective. He does give a bit more space to Julian Jaynes’ bicameral theory, but even Jaynes is isolated to one fairly small section and not fully integrated into the author’s larger analysis.

The commonality between Humes and Jaynes is that they perceived conscious identity as being more nebulous — no there there. In my own experience, that feels more right to me. As one dives down into the psyche, the waters become quite murky, so dark that one can’t even see one’s hands in front of one’s face, much less know what one might be attempting to grasp. Notions of separateness, at a great enough depth, fades away — one finds oneself floating in darkness with no certain sense of distance or direction. I don’t know how to explain this, if one hasn’t experienced altered states of mind, from extended meditation to psychedelic trips.

This is far from a new line of thought for me, but it kept jumping out at me as I read Hallam’s book. His writing is scholarly to a high degree and, for me, that is never a criticism. The downside is that a scholarly perspective alone can’t be taken into the depths. Jaynes solved this dilemma by maintaining a dual focus, intellectual argument balanced with a sense of wonder — speaking of our search for certainty, he said that, “Beyond that, there is only awe.

I keep coming back to that. For all I appreciate of Hallam’s book, I never once experienced awe. Then again, he probably wasn’t attempting to communicate awe. So, it’s not exactly that I judge this as a failing, even if it can feel like an inadequacy from the perspective of human experience or at least my experience. In the throes of awe, we are humbled into an existential state of ignorance. A term like ‘separation’ becomes yet another word. To take consciousness directly and fully is to lose any sense of separateness for, then, there is consciousness alone — not my consciousness and your consciousness, just consciousness.

I could and have made more intellectual arguments about consciousness and how strange it can be. It’s not clear to me, as it is clear to some, that there is any universal experience of consciousness (human or otherwise). There seems to be a wide variety of states of mind found across diverse societies and species. Consider animism that seems so alien to the modern sensibility. What does ‘separation’ mean in an animate world that doesn’t assume the individual as the starting point of human existence?

I don’t need to rationally analyze any of this. Rationality as easily turns into rationalization, justifying what we think we already know. All I can say is that, intuitively, Hume’s bundle theory makes more sense of what I know directly within my own mind, whatever that may say about the minds of others. That viewpoint can’t be scientifically proven for the experience behind it is inscrutable, not an object to be weighed and measured, even as brain scans remain fascinating. Consciousness can’t be found by pulling apart Hume’s bundle anymore than a frog’s soul can be found by dissecting its beating heart — consciousness having a similar metaphysical status as the soul. Something like the bundle theory either makes sense or not. Consciousness is a mystery, no matter how unsatisfying that may seem. Science can take us to the edge of the depths, but that is where it stops. To step off that edge requires something else entirely.

Actually, stepping off rarely happens since few, if any, ever choose to sink into the depths. One slips and falls and the depths envelop one. Severe depression was my initiation experience, the weight dragging me down. There are many possible entry points to this otherness. When that happens, thoughts on consciousness stop being intellectual speculation and thought experiment. One knows consciousness as well as one will ever know it when one drowns in it. If one thrashes their way back to the surface, then and only then can one offer meaningful insight but more likely one is lost in silence, water still choking in one’s throat.

This is why Julian Jaynes, for all of his brilliance and insight, reached the end of his life filled with frustration at what felt like a failure to communicate. As his historical argument went, individuals don’t change their mindsets so much as the social system that maintains a particular mindset is changed, which in the case of bicameralism meant the collapse of the Bronze Age civilizations. Until our society faces a similar crises and is collectively thrown into the depths, separation will remain the dominant mode of experience and understanding. As for what might replace it, that is anyone’s guess.

Here we stand, our footing not entirely secure, at the edge of the depths.

The Art of the Lost Cause

Many people are understandably disappointed, frustrated, or angry when they lose. It’s just not fun to lose, especially in a competitive society. But there are advantages to losing. And losses are as much determined by perspective. Certainly, in more cooperative societies, what may be seen as a loss by outsiders could be taken quite differently by an insider. Western researchers discovered that difference when using games as part of social science studies. Some non-Western people refused win-lose scenarios, at least among members of the community. The individual didn’t lose for everyone gained. I point this out to help shift our thinking.

Recently, the political left in the United States has experienced losses. Bernie Sanders lost the nomination to Hillary Clinton who in turn lost the presidency to Donald Trump. But is this an entirely surprising result and bad outcome? Losses can lead to soul-searching and motivation for change. The Republicans we know now have dominated the political narrative in recent decades, which forced the Democrats to shift far to the right with third way ‘triangulation’. That wasn’t always the case. Republicans went through a period of major losses before being able to reinvent themselves with the southern strategy, Reagan revolution, trickle down voodo economics, the two Santa Claus theory, culture wars, etc.

The Clinton New Democrats were only able to win at all in recent history by sacrificing the political left and, in the process, becoming the new conservative party. So, even when Democrats have been able to win it has been a loss. Consider Obama who turned out to be one of the most neoliberal and neocon presidents in modern history, betraying his every promise: maintaining militarism, refusing to shut down GITMO, passing pro-biz insurance reform, etc. Liberals and leftists would have been better off to have been entirely out of power these past decades, allowing a genuine political left movement to form and so allowing democracy to begin to reassert itself from below. Instead, Democrats have managed to win just enough elections to keep the political left suppressed by co-opting their rhetoric. Democrats have won by forcing the American public to lose.

In the Democratic leadership failing so gloriously, they have been publicly shamed to the point of no redemption. The party is now less popular than the opposition, an amazing feat considering how unpopular is Trump and the GOP at the moment. Yet amidst all of this, Bernie Sanders is more popular than ever, more popular among women than men and more popular among minorities than whites. I never thought Sanders was likely to win and so I wasn’t disappointed. What his campaign did accomplish, as I expected, was to reshape the political narrative and shift the Overton window back toward the political left again. This period of loss will be remembered as a turning point in the future. It was a necessary loss, a reckoning and re-envisioning.

Think about famous lost causes. One that came to mind is that of Jesus and the early Christians. They were a tiny unknown cult in a vast empire filled with hundreds of thousands of similar cults. They were nothing special, of no significance or consequence, such that no one bothered to even take note of them, not even Jewish writers at the time. Then Jesus was killed as a common criminal among other criminals and even that didn’t draw any attention. There is no evidence that the Romans considered Jesus even mildly interesting. After his death, Christianity remained small and splintered into a few communities. It took generations for this cult to grow much at all and finally attract much outside attention.

Early Christians weren’t even important enough to be feared. The persecution stories seem to have been mostly invented by later Christians to make themselves feel more important, as there is no records of any systematic and pervasive persecution. Romans killing a few cultists here and there happened all the time and Christians didn’t stand out as being targeted more than any others. In fact, early Christians were lacking in uniqueness that they were often confused with other groups such as Stoics. By the way, it was the Stoics who were famous at the time for seeking out persecution and so gaining street cred respectability, maybe causing envy among Christians. Even Christian theology was largely borrowed from others, such as natural law also having been taken from the Stoics — related to the idea that a slave can be free in their mind and being, their heart and soul because natural law transcends human law.

Still, this early status of Christians as losers created a powerful narrative that has not only survived but proliferated. Some of that narrative, such as their persecution, was invented. But that is far from unusual — the mythos that develops around lost causes tends to be more invented than not. Still, at the core, the Christians were genuinely pathetic for a couple of centuries. They weren’t a respectable religion in the Roman Empire, until long after Jesus’ death when an emperor decided to use them to shore up his own power. In the waning era of Roman imperialism, I suppose a lost cause theology felt compelling and comforting. It was also a good way to convert other defeated people, as they could be promised victory in heaven. Lost Causes tend to lead to romanticizing of a distant redemption that one day would come. And in the case of Christianity, this would mean that the ultimate sacrificial loser, Jesus himself, would return victorious! Amen! Praise the Lord! Like a Taoist philosopher, Jesus taught that to find oneself was to lose oneself but to lose oneself was to find oneself. This is a loser’s mentality and relates to why some have considered Christianity to be a slaver religion. The lowly are uplifted, at least in words and ideals. But I’d argue there is more to it than seeking comfort by rationalizing suffering, oppression, and defeat.

Winning isn’t always a good thing, at least in the short term. I sometimes wonder if America would be a better place if the American Revolution had been lost. When I compare the United States to Canada, I don’t see any great advantage to American colonists having won. Canada is a much more stable and well-functioning social democracy. And the British Empire ended up enacting sweeping reforms, including abolishing slavery through law long before the US managed to end slavery through bloody conflict. In many ways, Americans were worse off after the revolution than before it. A reactionary backlash took hold as oligarchs co-opted the revolution and turned it into counter-revolution. Through the coup of a Constitutional Convention, the ruling elite seized power of the new government. It was in seeming to win that the average American ended up losing. An overt loss potentially could have been a greater long term victory. In particular for women and blacks, being on the side of the revolutionaries didn’t turn out to be such a great deal. Woman who had gained the vote had it taken away from them again and blacks hoping for freedom were returned to slavery. The emerging radical movement of democratic reform was strangled in the crib.

Later on, the Confederates learned of the power of a lost cause. To such an extent that they have become the poster boys of The Lost Cause, all of American society having been transformed by it. Victory of the United States government, once again, turned out to be far from a clear victory for the oppressed. If Confederates had won or otherwise been allowed to secede, the Confederate government would have been forced to come to terms with the majority black population that existed in the South and they wouldn’t have had the large Northern population to help keep blacks down. It’s possible that some of the worst results could have been avoided: re-enslavement through chain gangs and mass incarceration, Jim Crow laws and Klan terrorism, sundown towns and redlining, etc —  all the ways that racism became further entrenched. After the Civil War, blacks became scattered and would then become a minority. Having lost their position as the Southern majority, they lost most of the leverage they might have had. Instead of weak reforms leading to new forms of oppression, blacks might have been able to have forced a societal transformation within a Confederate government or else to have had a mass exodus in order to secede and create their own separate nation-state. There were many possibilities that became impossible because of Union victory.

Now consider the civil rights movement. The leaders, Martin Luther King in particular, understood the power of a lost cause. They intentionally staged events of getting attacked by police and white mobs, always making sure there were cameras nearby to make it into a national event. It was in losing these confrontations to the greater power of white oppression that they managed to win public support. As a largely Christian movement, the civil rights activists surely had learned from the story of Jesus as a sacrificial loser and his followers as persecuted losers. The real failure of civil rights only came later on when it gained mainstream victories and a corrupt black leadership aligned with white power, such as pushing the racist 1994 Crime Bill which was part of the Democrats becoming the new conservative party. The civil rights movement might have been better able to transform society and change public opinion by having remained a lost cause for a few more generations.

A victory forced can be a victory lost. Gain requires sacrifice, not to be bought cheaply. Success requires risk of failure, putting everything on the line. The greatest losses can come from seeking victory too soon and too easily. Transformative change can only be won by losing what came before. Winning delayed sometimes is progress ensured, slow but steady change. The foundation has to be laid before something can emerge from the ground up. Being brought low is the beginning point, like planting a seed in the soil.

It reminds me of my habit of always looking down as I walk. My father, on the other hand, never looks down and has a habit of stepping on things. It is only by looking down that we can see what is underneath our feet, what we stand on or are stepping toward. Foundation and fundament are always below eye level. Even in my thinking, I’m forever looking down, to what is beneath everyday awareness and oft-repeated words. Just to look down, such a simple and yet radical act.

“Looking down is also a sign of shame or else humility, the distinction maybe being less relevant to those who avoid looking down. To humble means to bring low, to the level of the ground, the soil, humus. To be further down the ladder of respectability, to be low caste or low class, is to have a unique vantage point. One can see more clearly and more widely when one has grown accustomed to looking down, for then one can see the origins of things, the roots of the world, where experience meets the ground of being.”

Trauma, Embodied and Extended

One of the better books on trauma I’ve seen is by Resmaa Menakem. He is a trauma therapist with a good range of personal and professional experience, which allows him to persuasively combine science with anecdotes. I heard him speak at Prairie Lights bookstore. He was at the end of his book tour and, instead of reading from his book My Grandmother’s Hands, he discussed what inspired it.

He covered his experience working with highly traumatized contract workers on military bases in Afghanistan. And he grounded it with stories about his grandmother. But more interestingly, he mentioned a key scientific study (see note 15 below). Although I had come across it before, I had forgotten about it. Setting up his discussion, he asked the audience, “Have any of you been to Washington, DC and smelled the cherry blossoms?” He described the warm, pleasant aroma. And then he gave the details of the study.

Mice were placed in a special enclosure. It was the perfect environment to fulfill a mouse’s every need and desire. But the wire mesh on the bottom was connected to electrical wires. The researchers would pump in the smell of cherries and then switch on the electricity. The mice jumped, ran around, clambered over each other, and struggled to escape — what any animal, including humans, would do in a similar situation. This was repeated many times, until finally the mice would have this Pavlovian response to cherry smell alone without any electric shock.

That much isn’t surprising. Thousands of studies have demonstrated such behavioralism. Where it gets intriguing is that the mice born to these traumatized mice also responded the same way to the cherry smell, despite never having been shocked. And the same behavior was observed with the generation of mice following that. Traumatic memory to something so specific as a smell became internalized and engrained within the body itself, passed on through genetics (or, to be specific, epigenetics). It became free-floating trauma disconnected from its originating source.

Menakem asked what would another scientist think who came in after the initial part of the study. The new scientist would not have seen the traumatizing shocks, but instead would only observe the strange response to the smell of cherries. Based on this limited perspective, this scientist would conclude that there was something wrong with those mice. From the book, here is how he describes it in human terms:

“Unhealed trauma acts like a rock thrown into a pond; it causes ripples that move outward, affecting many other bodies over time. After months or years, unhealed trauma can appear to become part of someone’s personality. Over even longer periods of time, as it is passed on and gets compounded through other bodies in a household, it can become a family norm. And if it gets transmitted and compounded through multiple families and generations, it can start to look like culture.”

This is a brilliant yet grounded way of explaining trauma. It goes beyond a victimization cycle. The trauma gets passed on, with or without a victimizer to mediate the transmission, although typically this process goes hand in hand with continuing victimization. Trauma isn’t a mere psychological phenomenon manifesting as personal dysfunction. It can become embodied and expressed as a shared experience, forming the background to the lives, relationships, and communities within an entire society — over the centuries, it could solidify into a well-trod habitus and entrenched social order. The personal becomes intergenerational becomes historical.

This helps explain the persistence of societal worldviews and collective patterns, what most often gets vaguely explained as ‘culture’. It’s not just about trauma for anything can be passed on in similar ways, such as neurocognitive memes involving thought, perception, and behavior — and it is plausible that, whether seeming harmful or beneficial, much of this is supported by epigenetic mechanisms in contributing to specific expressions of nature-nurture dynamics. Related to this, Christine Kenneally offers a corroborating perspective (The Invisible History of the Human Race, Kindle Locations 2430-2444):

“It seemed that both families and social institutions matter but that the former is more powerful. The data suggested that a region might develop its own culture of distrust and that it could affect people who moved into that area, even if their ancestors had not been exposed to the historical event that destroyed trust in the first place. But if someone’s ancestors had significant exposure to the slave trade, then even if he moved away from the area where he was born to an area where there was no general culture of mistrust, he was still less likely to be trusting. Indeed, Nunn and Wantchekon found evidence that the inheritance of distrust within a family was twice as powerful as the distrust that is passed down in a community.”

Kenneally doesn’t frame this according to epigenetics. But that would be a highly probable explanation, considering the influence happens mostly along familial lines, potentially implying a biological component. Elsewhere, the author does mention it in passing, using the same mouse study along with a human study (Kindle Locations 4863-4873):

“The lives that our parents and grandparents lived may also affect the way genetic conditions play out in our bodies. One of the central truths of twentieth-century genetics was that the genome is passed on from parents to child unaffected by the parents’ lives. But it has been discovered in the last ten years that there are crucial exceptions to this rule. Epigenetics tells us that events in your grandfather’s life may have tweaked your genes in particular ways. The classic epigenetics study showed that the DNA of certain adults in the Netherlands was irrevocably sculpted by the experience of their grandparents in a 1944 famine. In cases like this a marker that is not itself a gene is inherited and plays out via the genes. More recent studies have shown complex multigenerational effects. In one, mice were exposed to a traumatic event, which was accompanied by a particular odor. The offspring of the mice, and then their offspring, showed a greater reactivity to the odor than mice whose “grandparents” did not experience such conditioning. In 2014 the first ancient epigenome, from a four-thousand-year-old man from Greenland, was published. Shortly after that, drafts of the Neanderthal and Denisovan epigenomes were published. They may open up an entirely new way to compare and contrast our near-relatives and ancestors and to understand the way that they passed down experiences and predispositions. As yet it’s unclear for how many generations these attachments to our genes might be passed down.”

In emphasizing this point, she continues her thought with the comment that (Kindle Locations 4874-4876), “Even given our ability to read hundred of thousands of letters in the DNA of tens of thousands of people, it turns out that— at least for the moment— family history is still a better predictor of many health issues. For example, it is the presence of a BRCA mutation plus a family history of breast cancer that most significantly raises a woman’s risk of the disease.”

Much of that ‘family history’ would be epigenetic or else other biological mechanisms such as stress-induced hormones within the fetal environment of the womb. Also, microbiomes are inherited and have been proven to alter epigenetics, which means the non-human genes of bacteria can alter the expression of human genes (this can be taken a further step back, since presumably bacterial genetics also involve epigenetics). Besides all of this, there is much else that gets passed on by those around us, from viruses to parasites.

Another pathway of transmission would be shared environmental conditions, specifically considering that people tend to share environments to the degree their relationships are close. Those in the same society would have more shared environment than those in other societies, those in the same community moreso than those in other communities in the same society, those in the same neighborhood moreso than those in other neighborhoods in the same community, and those in the same family moreso than those in other families in the same neighborhood. The influence of environments is powerfully demonstrated with the rat park research. And the environmental factors easily remain hidden, even under careful laboratory conditions.

What we inherit is diverse and complex. But inheritance isn’t fatalism. Consider another mouse study involving electric shocks (Genetic ‘switch’ for memories, The Age), showing that the effects of trauma can be epigenetically reversed within the body:

“Both sets of mice were trained to fear a certain cage by giving them a mild electric shock every time they were put inside.
“Mice whose Tet1 gene was disabled learned to associate the cage with the shock, just like the normal mice. However, when the mice were put in the cage without an electric shock, the two groups behaved differently.
“To the scientists’ astonishment, mice with the Tet1 gene did not fear the cage because their memory of being hurt had already been replaced by new information. The mice with the disabled gene, whose memories had not been replaced, were still traumatised by the experience.”

Trauma isn’t a personal failing or weakness. In a sense, it isn’t even personal. It’s a biological coping mechanism, passed on from body to body, across generations and centuries. Trauma is a physical condition, based on a larger context of environmental conditions. And maybe one day we will be able to as easily treat it as any other physical condition. In turn, this could have a profound impact on so much of what has been considered ‘psychological’ and ‘cultural’. There are immense implications for the overlap of personal healthcare and public health.

* * *

My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies
by Resmaa Menakem
Chapter 3 Body to Body, Generation to Generation
pp. 23-34

Not to know what happened before you were born is to remain forever a child.
Cicero

No man can know where he is going unless he knows exactly where he has been and exactly how he arrived at his present place.
Maya Angelou

Most of us think of trauma as something that occurs in an individual body, like a toothache or a broken arm. But trauma also routinely spreads between bodies, like a contagious disease. […]

It’s not hard to see how trauma can spread like a contagion within couples, families, and other close relationships. What we don’t often consider is how trauma can spread from body to body in any relationship.

Trauma also spreads impersonally, of course, and has done so throughout human history. Whenever one group oppresses, victimizes, brutalizes, or marginalizes another, many of the victimized people may suffer trauma, and then pass on that trauma response to their children as standard operating procedure. 13 Children are highly susceptible to this because their young nervous systems are easily overwhelmed by things that older, more experienced nervous systems are able to override. As we have seen, the result is a soul wound or intergenerational trauma. When the trauma continues for generation after generation, it is called historical trauma. Historical trauma has been likened to a bomb going off, over and over again.

When one settled body encounters another, this can create a deeper settling of both bodies. But when one unsettled body encounters another, the unsettledness tends to compound in both bodies. In large groups, this compounding effect can turn a peaceful crowd into an angry mob. The same thing happens in families, especially when multiple family members face painful or stressful situations together. It can also occur more subtly over time, when one person repeatedly passes on their unsettledness to another. In her book Everyday Narcissism, therapist Nancy Van Dyken calls this hazy trauma: trauma that can’t be traced back to a single specific event.

Unhealed trauma acts like a rock thrown into a pond; it causes ripples that move outward, affecting many other bodies over time. After months or years, unhealed trauma can appear to become part of someone’s personality. Over even longer periods of time, as it is passed on and gets compounded through other bodies in a household, it can become a family norm. And if it gets transmitted and compounded through multiple families and generations, it can start to look like culture.

But it isn’t culture. It’s a traumatic retention that has lost its context over time. Though without context, it has not lost its power. Traumatic retentions can have a profound effect on what we do, think, feel, believe, experience, and find meaningful. (We’ll look at some examples shortly.)

What we call out as individual personality flaws, dysfunctional family dynamics, or twisted cultural norms are sometimes manifestations of historical trauma. These traumatic retentions may have served a purpose at one time—provided protection, supported resilience, inspired hope, etc.—but generations later, when adaptations continue to be acted out in situations where they are no longer necessary or helpful, they get defined as dysfunctional behavior on the individual, family, or cultural level.

The transference of trauma isn’t just about how human beings treat each other. Trauma can also be inherited genetically. Recent work in genetics has revealed that trauma can change the expression of the DNA in our cells, and these changes can be passed from parent to child. 14

And it gets weirder. We now have evidence that memories connected to painful events also get passed down from parent to child—and to that child’s child. What’s more, these experiences appear to be held, passed on, and inherited in the body, not just in the thinking brain. 15 Often people experience this as a persistent sense of imminent doom—the trauma ghosting I wrote about earlier.

We are only beginning to understand how these processes work, and there are a lot of details we don’t know yet. Having said that, here is what we do know so far:

  • A fetus growing inside the womb of a traumatized mother may inherit some of that trauma in its DNA expression. This results in the repeated release of stress hormones, which may affect the nervous system of the developing fetus.
  • A man with unhealed trauma in his body may produce sperm with altered DNA expression. These in turn may inhibit the healthy functioning of cells in his children.
  • Trauma can alter the DNA expression of a child or grandchild’s brain, causing a wide range of health and mental health issues, including memory loss, chronic anxiety, muscle weakness, and depression.
  • Some of these effects seem particularly prevalent among African Americans, Jews, and American Indians, three groups who have experienced an enormous amount of historical trauma.

Some scientists theorize this genetic alteration may be a way to protect later generations. Essentially, genetic changes train our descendants’ bodies through heredity rather than behavior. This suggests that what we call genetic defects may actually be ways to increase our descendants’ odds of survival in a potentially dangerous environment, by relaying hormonal information to the fetus in the womb.

The womb is itself an environment: a watery world of sounds, movement, and human biochemicals. Recent research suggests that, during the last trimester of pregnancy, fetuses in the womb can learn and remember just as well as newborns. 16 Part of what they may learn, based on what their mothers go through during pregnancy, is whether the world outside the womb is safe and healthy or dangerous and toxic. […]

Zoë Carpenter sums this up in a simple, stark observation:

Health experts now think that stress throughout the span of a woman’s life can prompt biological changes that affect the health of her future children. Stress can disrupt immune, vascular, metabolic, and endocrine systems, and cause cells to age more quickly. 17 […]

These are the effects of trauma involving specific incidents. But what about the effects of repetitive trauma: unhealed traumas that accumulate over time? The research is now in: the effects on the body from trauma that is persistent (or pervasive, repetitive, or long-held) are significantly negative, sometimes profoundly so. While many studies support this conclusion, 19 the largest and best known is the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES), a large study of 17,000 people 20 conducted over three decades by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the healthcare conglomerate Kaiser Permanente. Published in 2014, ACES clearly links childhood trauma (and other “adverse childhood events” involving abuse or neglect 21) to a wide range of long-term health and social consequences, including illness, disability, social problems, and early death—all of which can get passed down through the generations. The ACE study also demonstrates a strong link between the number of “adverse childhood events” and increased rates of heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, chronic lung disease, alcoholism, depression, liver disease, and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as illicit drug use, financial stress, poor academic and work performance, pregnancy in adolescence, and attempted suicide. People who have experienced four or more “adverse events” as children are twice as likely to develop heart disease than people who have experienced none. They are also twice as likely to develop autoimmune diseases, four and a half times as likely to be depressed, ten times as likely to be intravenous drug users, and twelve times as likely to be suicidal. As children, they are thirty-three times as likely to have learning and behavior problems in school.

Pediatrician Nadine Burke-Harris offers the following apt comparison: “If a child is exposed to lead while their brain is developing, it affects the long-term development of their brain . . . It’s the same way when a child is exposed to high doses of stress and trauma while their brain is developing . . . Exposure to trauma is particularly toxic for children.” In other words, there is a biochemical component behind all this.

When people experience repeated trauma, abuse, or high levels of stress for long stretches of time, a variety of stress hormones get secreted into their bloodstreams. In the short term, the purpose of these chemicals is to protect their bodies. But when the levels of these chemicals 22 remain high over time, they can have toxic effects, making a person less healthy, less resilient, and more prone to illness. High levels of one or more of these chemicals can also crowd out other, healthier chemicals—those that encourage trust, intimacy, motivation, and meaning. […]

The results of the ACE study are dramatic. Yet it covered only fifteen years. How much more dramatic might the results be for people who have experienced (or whose ancestors experienced) centuries of enslavement or genocide? 23

Historical trauma, intergenerational trauma, institutionalized trauma (such as white-body supremacy, gender discrimination, sexual orientation discrimination, etc.), and personal trauma (including any trauma we inherit from our families genetically, or through the way they treat us, or both) often interact. As these traumas compound each other, or as each new or recent traumatic experience triggers the energy of older experiences, they can create ever-increasing damage to human lives and human bodies.

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Notes:

13 Over time, roles can switch and the oppressed may become the oppressors. They then pass on trauma not only to their children, but also to a new group of victims. 14 This research has led to the creation of a new field of scientific inquiry known as epigenetics, the study of inheritable changes in gene expression. Epigenetics has transformed the way scientists think about genomes. The first study to clearly show that stress can cause inheritable gene defects in humans was published in 2015 by Rachel Yehuda and her colleagues, titled “Holocaust Exposure Induced Intergenerational Effects n FKBP5 Methylation” ( Biological Psychiatry 80, no. 5, September, 2016: 372–80). (Earlier studies identified the same effect in animals.) Yehuda’s study demonstrated that damaged genes in the bodies of Jewish Holocaust survivors—the result of the trauma they suffered under Nazism—were passed on to their children. Later research confirms Yehuda’s conclusions.

15 A landmark study demonstrating this effect in mice was published in 2014 by Kerry Ressler and Brian Dias (“Parental Olfactory Experience Influences Behavior and Neural Structure in Subsequent Generations,” Nature Neuroscience 17: 89–96). Ressler and Dias put male mice in a small chamber, then occasionally exposed them to the scent of acetophenone (which smells like cherries)—and, simultaneously, to small electric shocks. Eventually the mice associated the scent with pain; they would shudder whenever they were exposed to the smell, even after the shocks were discontinued. The children of those mice were born with a fear of the smell of acetophenone. So were their grandchildren. As of this writing, no one has completed a similar study on humans, both for ethical reasons and because we take a lot longer than mice to produce a new generation.

16 A good, if very brief, overview of these studies appeared in Science: http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2013/08/babies-learn-recognize-words-womb .

17 This quote is from an eye-opening article in The Nation, “What’s Killing America’s Black Infants?”: https://www.thenation.com/article/whats-killing-americas-black-infants . Carpenter also notes that in the United States, Black infants die at a rate that’s over twice as high as for white infants. In some cities, the disparity is much worse: in Washington, DC, the infant mortality rate in Ward 8, which is over 93 percent Black, is ten times the rate in Ward 3, which is well-to-do and mostly white. […]

19 See, for example: “Early Trauma and Inflammation” ( Psychosomatic Medicine 74, no. 2, February/March 2012: 146–52); “Chronic Stress, Glucocorticoid Receptor Resistance, Inflammation, and Disease Risk” ( Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109, no. 16, April 17, 2012: 5995–99); and “Adverse Childhood Experiences and Adult Risk Factors for Age-Related Disease: Depression, Inflammation, and Clustering of Metabolic Risk Markers” ( Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 163, no. 12, December 2009: 1135–43).

20 Of the people studied, 74.8 percent were white; 4.5 percent were African American; 54 percent were female; and 46 percent were male.

21 The ten “adverse childhood events” are divorced or separated parents; physical abuse; physical neglect; emotional abuse; emotional neglect; sexual abuse; domestic violence that the child witnessed; substance abuse in the household; mental illness in the household; and a family member in prison.

22 These chemicals are cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine. They are secreted by the adrenal gland.

23 Please don’t imagine that we African Americans claim to have cornered the market on adverse childhood experiences. In fact, in his brilliant book Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (New York: HarperCollins, 2016), white Appalachian J. D. Vance cites the ACE study in reference to himself, his sister Lindsay, and “my corner of the demographic world”: working-class Americans. As Vance notes, “Four in every ten working-class people had faced multiple instances of childhood trauma. If you want to deeply understand the hearts, psyches, and bodies of many Americans today, you can do no better than to read both Hillbilly Elegy and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me (New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2015).

* * *

What white bodies did to Black bodies they did to other white bodies first.
Janice Barbee

* * *

From Genetic Literacy Project:

Childhood trauma: The kids are not alright and part of the explanation may be linked to epigenetics
Your DNA may have been altered by childhood stress and traumas
Childhood trauma leaves mark on DNA of some victims
Is the genetic imprint of traumatic experiences passed on to our children?
Do parents pass down trauma to their children?
Was trauma from Holocaust passed on to children of survivors?
Holocaust survivors studied to determine if trauma-induced mental illness can be inherited
Epigenetics, pregnancy and the Holocaust: How trauma can shape future generations
Epigenetic inheritance: Holocaust survivors passed genetic marks of trauma to children
How epigenetics, our gut microbiome and the environment interact to change our lives
Skin microbiomes differ largely between cultures, more diverse sampling is needed
Cities have unique microbiome ‘fingerprint,’ study finds
Your microbiome isn’t just in you: It’s all around you
Microbes, like genes, pass from one generation to next
Microbiome profile highlights diet, upbringing and birth
Baby’s microbiome may come from mom’s mouth via placenta

State and Non-State Violence Compared

There is a certain kind of academic that simultaneously interests me and infuriates me. Jared Diamond, in The World Until Yesterday, is an example of this. He is knowledgeable guy and is able to communicate that knowledge in a coherent way. He makes many worthy observations and can be insightful. But there is also naivete that at times shows up in his writing. I get the sense that occasionally his conclusions preceded the evidence he shares. Also, he’ll point out the problems with the evidence and then, ignoring what he admitted, will treat that evidence as strongly supporting his biased preconceptions.

Despite my enjoyment of Diamond’s book, I was disappointed specifically in his discussion of violence and war (much of the rest of the book, though, is worthy and I recommend it). Among the intellectual elite, it seems fashionable right now to describe modern civilization as peaceful — that is fashionable among the main beneficiaries of modern civilization, not so much fashionable according to those who bear the brunt of the costs.

In Chapter 4, he asks, “Did traditional warfare increase, decrease, or remain unchanged upon European contact?” That is a good question. And as he makes clear, “This is not a straightforward question to decide, because if one believes that contact does affect the intensity of traditional warfare, then one will automatically distrust any account of it by an outside observer as having been influenced by the observer and not representing the pristine condition.” But he never answers the question. He simply assumes that that the evidence proves what he appears to have already believed.

I’m not saying he doesn’t take significant effort to make a case. He goes on to say, “However, the mass of archaeological evidence and oral accounts of war before European contact discussed above makes it far-fetched to maintain that people were traditionally peaceful until those evil Europeans arrived and messed things up.” The archaeological and oral evidence, like the anthropological evidence, is diverse. For example, in northern Europe, there is no evidence of large-scale warfare before the end of the Bronze Age when multiple collapsing civilizations created waves of refugees and marauders.

All the evidence shows us is that some non-state societies have been violent and others non-violent, no different than in comparing state societies. But we must admit, as Diamond does briefly, that contact and the rippling influences of contact across wide regions can lead to greater violence along with other alterations in the patterns of traditional culture and lifestyle. Before contact ever happens, most non-state societies have already been influenced by trade, disease, environmental destruction, invasive species, refugees, etc. That pre-contact indirect influences can last for generations or centuries prior to final contact, especially with non-state societies that were more secluded. And those secluded populations are the most likely to be studied as supposedly representative of uncontacted conditions.

We should be honest in admitting our vast ignorance. The problem is that, if Diamond fully admitted this, he would have little to write about on such topics or it would be a boring book with all of the endless qualifications (I personally like scholarly books filled with qualifications, but most people don’t). He is in the business of popular science and so speculation is the name of the game he is playing. Some of his speculations might not hold up to much scrutiny, not that the average reader will offer much scrutiny.

He continues to claim that, “the evidence of traditional warfare, whether based on direct observation or oral histories or archaeological evidence, is so overwhelming.” And so asks, “why is there still any debate about its importance?” What a silly question. We simply don’t know. He could be right, just as easily as he could be wrong. Speculations are dime a dozen. The same evidence can and regularly is made to conform to and confirm endless hypotheses that are mostly non-falsifiable. We don’t know and probably will never know. It’s like trying to use chimpanzees as a comparison for human nature, even though chimpanzees have for a long time been in a conflict zone with human encroachment, poaching, civil war, habitat loss, and ecosystem destabilization. No one knows what chimpanzees were like pre-contact. But we do know that bonobos that live across a major river in a less violent area express less violent behavior. Maybe there is a connection, not that Diamond is as likely to mention these kinds of details.

I do give him credit, though. He knows he is on shaky ground. In pointing out the problems he previously discussed, he writes that, “One reason is the real difficulties, which we have discussed, in evaluating traditional warfare under pre-contact or early-contact conditions. Warriors quickly discern that visiting anthropologists disapprove of war, and the warriors tend not to take anthropologists along on raids or allow them to photograph battles undisturbed: the filming opportunities available to the Harvard Peabody Expedition among the Dani were unique. Another reason is that the short-term effects of European contact on tribal war can work in either direction and have to be evaluated case by case with an open mind.” In between the lines, Jared Diamond makes clear that he can’t really know much of anything about earlier non-state warfare.

Even as he mentions some archaeological sites showing evidence of mass violence, he doesn’t clarify that these sites are a small percentage of archaeological sites, most of which don’t show mass violence. It’s not as if anyone is arguing mass violence never happened prior to civilization. The Noble Savage myth is not widely supported these days and so there is no point in his propping it up as a straw man to knock down.

From my perspective, it goes back to what comparisons one wishes to make. Non-state societies may or may not be more violent per capita. But that doesn’t change the reality that state societies cause more harm, as a total number. Consider one specific example of state warfare. The United States has been continuously at war since it was founded, which is to say not a year has gone by without war (against both state and non-state societies), and most of that has been wars of aggression. The US military, CIA covert operations, economic sanctions, etc surely has killed at least hundreds of millions of people in my lifetime — probably more people killed than all non-states combined throughout human existence.

Here is the real difference in violence between non-states and states. State violence is more hierarchically controlled and targeted in its destruction. Non-state societies, on the other hand, tend to spread the violence across entire populations. When a tribe goes to war, often the whole tribe is involved. So state societies are different in that usually only the poor and minorities, the oppressed and disadvantaged experience the harm. If you look at the specifically harmed populations in state societies, the mortality rate is probably higher than seen in non-state societies. The essential point is that this violence is concentrated and hidden.

Immensely larger numbers of people are the victims of modern state violence, overt violence and slow violence. But the academics who write about it never have to personally experience or directly observe these conditions of horror, suffering, and despair. Modern civilization is less violent for the liberal class, of which academics are members. That doesn’t say much about the rest of the global population. The permanent underclass lives in constant violence within their communities and from state governments, which leads to a different view on the matter.

To emphasize this bias, one could further note what Jared Diamond ignores or partly reports. In the section where he discusses violence, he briefly mentions the Piraha. He could have pointed out that they are a non-violent non-state society. They have no known history of warfare, capital punishment, abuse, homicide, or suicide — at least none has been observed or discovered through interviews. Does he write about this evidence that contradicts his views? Of course not. Instead, lacking any evidence of violence, he speculates about violence. Here is the passage from Chapter 2 (pp. 93-94):

“Among still another small group, Brazil’s Piraha Indians (Plate 11), social pressure to behave by the society’s norms and to settle disputes is applied by graded ostracism. That begins with excluding someone from food-sharing for a day, then for several days, then making the person live some distance away in the forest, deprived of normal trade and social exchanges. The most severe Piraha sanction is complete ostracism. For instance, a Piraha teen-ager named Tukaaga killed an Apurina Indian named Joaquim living nearby, and thereby exposed the Piraha to the risk of a retaliatory attack. Tukaaga was then forced to live apart from all other Piraha villages, and within a month he died under mysterious circumstances, supposedly of catching a cold, but possibly instead murdered by other Piraha who felt endangered by Tukaaga’s deed.”

Why did he add that unfounded speculation at the end? The only evidence he has is that their methods of social conformity are non-violent. Someone is simply ostracized. But that doesn’t fit his beliefs. So he assumes there must be some hidden violence that has never been discovered after generations of observers having lived among them. Even the earliest account of contact from centuries ago, as far as I know, indicates absolutely no evidence of violence. It makes one wonder how many more examples he ignores, dismisses, or twists to fit his preconceptions.

This reminds me of Julian Jaynes’ theory of bicameral societies. He noted that these Bronze Age societies were non-authoritarian, despite having high levels of social conformity. There is no evidence of these societies having written laws, courts, police forces, formal systems of punishment, and standing armies. Like non-state tribal societies, when they went to war, the whole population sometimes was mobilized. Bicameral societies were smaller, mostly city-states, and so still had elements of tribalism. But the point is that the enculturation process itself was powerful enough to enforce order without violence. That was only within a society, as war still happened between societies, although it was limited and usually only involved neighboring societies. I don’t think there is evidence of continual warfare. Yet when conflict erupted, it could lead to total war.

It’s hard to compare either tribes or ancient city-states to modern nation-states. Their social orders and how they maintained them are far different. And the violence involved is of a vastly disparate scale. Besides, I wouldn’t take the past half century of relative peace in the Western world as being representative of modern civilization. In this new century, we might see billions of deaths from all combined forms of violence. And the centuries earlier were some of the bloodiest and destructive ever recorded. Imperialism and colonialism, along with the legacy systems of neo-imperialism and neo-colonialism, have caused and contributed to the genocide or cultural destruction of probably hundreds of thousands of societies worldwide, in most cases with all evidence of their existence having disappeared. This wholesale massacre has led to a dearth of societies left remaining with which to make comparisons. The survivors living in isolated niches may not be representative of the societal diversity that once existed.

Anyway, the variance of violence and war casualty rates likely is greater in comparing societies of the same kind than in comparing societies of different kinds. As the nearby bonobos are more peaceful than chimpanzees, the Piraha are more peaceful than the Yanomami who live in the same region — as Canada is more peaceful than the US. That might be important to explain and a lot more interesting. But this more incisive analysis wouldn’t fit Western propaganda, specifically the neo-imperial narrative of Pax Americana. From Pax Hispanica to Pax Britannica to Pax Americana, quite possibly billions of combatants have died in wars and billions more of innocents as casualties. That is neither a small percentage nor a small total number, if anyone is genuinely concerned about body counts.

* * *

Rebutting Jared Diamond’s Savage Portrait
by Paul Sillitoe & Mako John Kuwimb, iMediaEthics

Why Does Jared Diamond Make Anthropologists So Mad?
by Barbara J. King, NPR

In a beautifully written piece for The Guardian, Wade Davis says that Diamond’s “shallowness” is what “drives anthropologists to distraction.” For Davis, geographer Diamond doesn’t grasp that “cultures reside in the realm of ideas, and are not simply or exclusively the consequences of climatic and environmental imperatives.”

Rex Golub at Savage Minds slams the book for “a profound lack of thought about what it would mean to study human diversity and how to make sense of cultural phenomena.” In a fit of vexed humor, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for anthropological research tweeted Golub’s post along with this comment: “@savageminds once again does the yeoman’s work of exploring Jared Diamond’s new book so the rest of us don’t have to.”

This biting response isn’t new; see Jason Antrosio’s post from last year in which he calls Diamond’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel a “one-note riff,” even “academic porn” that should not be taught in introductory anthropology courses.

Now, in no way do I want to be the anthropologist who defends Diamond because she just doesn’t “get” what worries all the cool-kid anthropologists about his work. I’ve learned from their concerns; I’m not dismissing them.

In point of fact, I was startled at this passage on the jacket of The World Until Yesterday: “While the gulf that divides us from our primitive ancestors may seem unbridgably wide, we can glimpse most of our former lifestyle in those largely traditional societies that still exist or were recently in existence.” This statement turns small-scale societies into living fossils, the human equivalent of ancient insects hardened in amber. That’s nonsense, of course.

Lest we think to blame a publicist (rather than the author) for that lapse, consider the text itself. Near the start, Diamond offers a chronology: until about 11,000 years ago, all people lived off the land, without farming or domesticated animals. Only around 5,400 years ago did the first state emerge, with its dense population, labor specialization and power hierarchy. Then Diamond fatally overlays that past onto the present: “Traditional societies retain features of how all of our ancestors lived for tens of thousands of years, until virtually yesterday.” Ugh.

Another problem, one I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere, bothers me just as much. When Diamond urges his WEIRD readers to learn from the lifeways of people in small-scale societies, he concludes: “We ourselves are the only ones who created our new lifestyles, so it’s completely in our power to change them.” Can he really be so unaware of the privilege that allows him to assert — or think — such a thing? Too many people living lives of poverty within industrialized nations do not have it “completely in their power” to change their lives, to say the least.

Patterns of Culture by Ruth Benedict (1934) wins Jared Diamond (2012)
by Jason Antrosio, Living Anthropologically

Compare to Jared Diamond. Diamond has of course acquired some fame for arguing against biological determinism, and his Race Without Color was once a staple for challenging simplistic tales of biological race. But by the 1990s, Diamond simply echoes perceived liberal wisdom. Benedict and Weltfish’s Races of Mankind was banned by the Army as Communist propaganda, and Weltfish faced persecution from McCarthyism (Micaela di Leonardo, Exotics at Home 1998:196,224; see also this Jon Marks comment on Gene Weltfish). Boas and Benedict swam against the current of the time, when backlash could be brutal. In contrast, Diamond’s claims on race and IQ have mostly been anecdotal. They have never been taken seriously by those who call themselves “race realists” (see Jared Diamond won’t beat Mitt Romney). Diamond has never responded scientifically to the re-assertion of race from sources like “A Family Tree in Every Gene,” and he helped propagate a medical myth about racial differences in hypertension.

And, of course, although Guns, Germs, and Steel has been falsely branded as environmental or geographical determinism, there is no doubt that Diamond leans heavily on agriculture and geography as explanatory causes for differential success. […]

Compare again Jared Diamond. Diamond has accused anthropologists of falsely romanticizing others, but by subtitling his book What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies, Diamond engages in more than just politically-correct euphemism. When most people think of a “traditional society,” they are thinking of agrarian peasant societies or artisan handicrafts. Diamond, however, is referring mainly to what we might term tribal societies, or hunters and gatherers with some horticulture. Curiously, for Diamond the dividing line between the yesterday of traditional and the today of the presumably modern was somewhere around 5,000-6,000 years ago (see The Colbert Report). As John McCreery points out:

Why, I must ask, is the category “traditional societies” limited to groups like Inuit, Amazonian Indians, San people and Melanesians, when the brute fact of the matter is that the vast majority of people who have lived in “traditional” societies have been peasants living in traditional agricultural civilizations over the past several thousand years since the first cities appeared in places like the valleys of the Nile, the Tigris-Euphrates, the Ganges, the Yellow River, etc.? Talk about a big blind spot.

Benedict draws on the work of others, like Reo Fortune in Dobu and Franz Boas with the Kwakiutl. Her own ethnographic experience was limited. But unlike Diamond, Benedict was working through the best ethnographic work available. Diamond, in contrast, splays us with a story from Allan Holmberg, which then gets into the New York Times, courtesy of David Brooks. Compare bestselling author Charles Mann on “Holmberg’s Mistake” (the first chapter of his 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus):

The wandering people Holmberg traveled with in the forest had been hiding from their abusers. At some risk to himself, Holmberg tried to help them, but he never fully grasped that the people he saw as remnants from the Paleolithic Age were actually the persecuted survivors of a recently shattered culture. It was as if he had come across refugees from a Nazi concentration camp, and concluded that they belonged to a culture that had always been barefoot and starving. (Mann 2005:10)

As for Diamond’s approach to comparing different groups: “Despite claims that Diamond’s book demonstrates incredible erudition what we see in this prologue is a profound lack of thought about what it would mean to study human diversity and how to make sense of cultural phenomenon” (Alex Golub, How can we explain human variation?).

Finally there is the must-read review Savaging Primitives: Why Jared Diamond’s ‘The World Until Yesterday’ Is Completely Wrong by Stephen Corry, Director of Survival International:

Diamond adds his voice to a very influential sector of American academia which is, naively or not, striving to bring back out-of-date caricatures of tribal peoples. These erudite and polymath academics claim scientific proof for their damaging theories and political views (as did respected eugenicists once). In my own, humbler, opinion, and experience, this is both completely wrong–both factually and morally–and extremely dangerous. The principal cause of the destruction of tribal peoples is the imposition of nation states. This does not save them; it kills them.

[…] Indeed, Jared Diamond has been praised for his writing, for making science popular and palatable. Others have been less convinced. As David Brooks reviews:

Diamond’s knowledge and insights are still awesome, but alas, that vividness rarely comes across on the page. . . . Diamond’s writing is curiously impersonal. We rarely get to hear the people in traditional societies speak for themselves. We don’t get to meet any in depth. We don’t get to know what their stories are, what the contents of their religions are, how they conceive of individual selfhood or what they think of us. In this book, geographic and environmental features play a much more important role in shaping life than anything an individual person thinks or feels. The people Diamond describes seem immersed in the collective. We generally don’t see them exercising much individual agency. (Tribal Lessons; of course, Brooks may be smarting from reviews that called his book The Dumbest Story Ever Told)

[…] In many ways, Ruth Benedict does exactly what Wade Davis wanted Jared Diamond to do–rather than providing a how-to manual of “tips we can learn,” to really investigate the existence of other possibilities:

The voices of traditional societies ultimately matter because they can still remind us that there are indeed alternatives, other ways of orienting human beings in social, spiritual and ecological space. This is not to suggest naively that we abandon everything and attempt to mimic the ways of non-industrial societies, or that any culture be asked to forfeit its right to benefit from the genius of technology. It is rather to draw inspiration and comfort from the fact that the path we have taken is not the only one available, that our destiny therefore is not indelibly written in a set of choices that demonstrably and scientifically have proven not to be wise. By their very existence the diverse cultures of the world bear witness to the folly of those who say that we cannot change, as we all know we must, the fundamental manner in which we inhabit this planet. (Wade Davis review of Jared Diamond; and perhaps one of the best contemporary versions of this project is Wade Davis, The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World)

[…] This history reveals the major theme missing from both Benedict’s Patterns of Culture and especially missing from Diamond–an anthropology of interconnection. That as Eric Wolf described in Europe and the People Without History peoples once called primitive–now perhaps more politely termed tribal or traditional–were part of a co-production with Western colonialism. This connection and co-production had already been in process long before anthropologists arrived on the scene. Put differently, could the Dobuan reputation for being infernally nasty savages have anything to do with the white recruiters of indentured labour, which Benedict mentions (1934:130) but then ignores? Could the revving up of the Kwakiutl potlatch and megalomaniac gamuts have anything to do with the fur trade?

The Collapse Of Jared Diamond
by Louis Proyect, Swans Commentary

In general, the approach of the authors is to put the ostensible collapse into historical context, something that is utterly lacking in Diamond’s treatment. One of the more impressive record-correcting exercises is Terry L. Hunt and Carl P. Lipo’s Ecological Catastrophe, Collapse, and the Myth of “Ecocide” on Rapa Nui (Easter Island). In Collapse, Diamond judged Easter Island as one of the more egregious examples of “ecocide” in human history, a product of the folly of the island’s rulers whose decision to construct huge statues led to deforestation and collapse. By chopping down huge palm trees that were used to transport the stones used in statue construction, the islanders were effectively sealing their doom. Not only did the settlers chop down trees, they hunted the native fauna to extinction. The net result was a loss of habitat that led to a steep population decline.

Diamond was not the first observer to call attention to deforestation on Easter Island. In 1786, a French explorer named La Pérouse also attributed the loss of habitat to the “imprudence of their ancestors for their present unfortunate situation.”

Referring to research about Easter Island by scientists equipped with the latest technologies, the authors maintain that the deforestation had nothing to do with transporting statues. Instead, it was an accident of nature related to the arrival of rats in the canoes of the earliest settlers. Given the lack of native predators, the rats had a field day and consumed the palm nuts until the trees were no longer reproducing themselves at a sustainable rate. The settlers also chopped down trees to make a space for agriculture, but the idea that giant statues had anything to do with the island’s collapse is as much of a fiction as Diamond’s New Yorker article.

Unfortunately, Diamond is much more interested in ecocide than genocide. If people interested him half as much as palm trees, he might have said a word or two about the precipitous decline in population that occurred after the island was discovered by Europeans in 1722. Indeed, despite deforestation there is evidence that the island’s population grew between 1250 and 1650, the period when deforestation was taking place — leaving aside the question of its cause. As was the case when Europeans arrived in the New World, a native population was unable to resist diseases such as smallpox and died in massive numbers. Of course, Diamond would approach such a disaster with his customary Olympian detachment and write it off as an accident of history.

While all the articles pretty much follow the narrowly circumscribed path as the one on Easter Island, there is one that adopts the Grand Narrative that Jared Diamond has made a specialty of and beats him at his own game. I am referring to the final article, Sustainable Survival by J.R. McNeill, who describes himself in a footnote thusly: “Unlike most historians, I have no real geographic specialization and prefer — like Jared Diamond — to hunt for large patterns in the human past.”

And one of those “large patterns” ignored by Diamond is colonialism. The greatest flaw in Collapse is that it does not bother to look at the impact of one country on another. By treating countries in isolation from one another, it becomes much easier to turn the “losers” into examples of individual failing. So when Haiti is victimized throughout the 19th century for having the temerity to break with slavery, this hardly enters into Diamond’s moral calculus.

Compassion Sets Humans Apart
by Penny Spikins, Sapiens

There are, perhaps surprisingly, only two known cases of likely interpersonal violence in the archaic species most closely related to us, Neanderthals. That’s out of a total of about 30 near-complete skeletons and 300 partial Neanderthal finds. One—a young adult living in what is now St. Césaire, France, some 36,000 years ago—had the front of his or her skull bashed in. The other, a Neanderthal found in Shanidar Cave in present-day Iraq, was stabbed in the ribs between 45,000 and 35,000 years ago, perhaps by a projectile point shot by a modern human.

The earliest possible evidence of what might be considered warfare or feuding doesn’t show up until some 13,000 years ago at a cemetery in the Nile Valley called Jebel Sahaba, where many of the roughly 60 Homo sapiens individuals appear to have died a violent death.

Evidence of human care, on the other hand, goes back at least 1.5 million years—to long before humans were anatomically modern. A Homo ergaster female from Koobi Fora in Kenya, dated to about 1.6 million years ago, survived several weeks despite a toxic overaccumulation of vitamin A. She must have been given food and water, and protected from predators, to live long enough for this disease to leave a record in her bones.

Such evidence becomes even more notable by half a million years ago. At Sima de los Huesos (Pit of Bones), a site in Spain occupied by ancestors of Neanderthals, three of 28 individuals found in one pit had severe pathology—a girl with a deformed head, a man who was deaf, and an elderly man with a damaged pelvis—but they all lived for long periods of time despite their conditions, indicating that they were cared for. At the same site in Shanidar where a Neanderthal was found stabbed, researchers discovered another skeleton who was blind in one eye and had a withered arm and leg as well as hearing loss, which would have made it extremely hard or impossible to forage for food and survive. His bones show he survived for 15 to 20 years after injury.

At a site in modern-day Vietnam called Man Bac, which dates to around 3,500 years ago, a man with almost complete paralysis and frail bones was looked after by others for over a decade; he must have received care that would be difficult to provide even today.

All of these acts of caring lasted for weeks, months, or years, as opposed to a single moment of violence.

Violence, Okinawa, and the ‘Pax Americana’
by John W. Dower, The Asia-Pacific Journal

In American academic circles, several influential recent books argue that violence declined significantly during the Cold War, and even more precipitously after the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991. This reinforces what supporters of US strategic policy including Japan’s conservative leaders always have claimed. Since World War II, they contend, the militarized Pax Americana, including nuclear deterrence, has ensured the decline of global violence.

I see the unfolding of the postwar decades through a darker lens.

No one can say with any certainty how many people were killed in World War II. Apart from the United States, catastrophe and chaos prevailed in almost every country caught in the war. Beyond this, even today criteria for identifying and quantifying war-related deaths vary greatly. Thus, World War II mortality estimates range from an implausible low of 50 million military and civilian fatalities worldwide to as many as 80 million. The Soviet Union, followed by China, suffered by far the greatest number of these deaths.

Only when this slaughter is taken as a baseline does it make sense to argue that the decades since World War II have been relatively non-violent.

The misleading euphemism of a “Cold War” extending from 1945 to 1991 helps reinforce the decline-of-violence argument. These decades were “cold” only to the extent that, unlike World War II, no armed conflict took place pitting the major powers directly against one another. Apart from this, these were years of mayhem and terror of every imaginable sort, including genocides, civil wars, tribal and ethnic conflicts, attempts by major powers to suppress anti-colonial wars of liberation, and mass deaths deriving from domestic political policies (as in China and the Soviet Union).

In pro-American propaganda, Washington’s strategic and diplomatic policies during these turbulent years and continuing to the present day have been devoted to preserving peace, defending freedom and the rule of law, promoting democratic values, and ensuring the security of its friends and allies.

What this benign picture ignores is the grievous harm as well as plain folly of much postwar US policy. This extends to engaging in atrocious war conduct, initiating never-ending arms races, supporting illiberal authoritarian regimes, and contributing to instability and humanitarian crises in many part of the world.

Such destructive behavior was taken to new levels in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon by nineteen Islamist hijackers. America’s heavy-handed military response has contributed immeasurably to the proliferation of global terrorist organizations, the destabilization of the Greater Middle East, and a flood of refugees and internally displaced persons unprecedented since World War II.

Afghanistan and Iraq, invaded following September 11, remain shattered and in turmoil. Neighboring countries are wracked with terror and insurrection. In 2016, the last year of Barack Obama’s presidency, the US military engaged in bombing and air strikes in no less than seven countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, and Syria). At the same time, elite US “special forces” conducted largely clandestine operations in an astonishing total of around 140 countries–amounting to almost three-quarters of all the nations in the world.

Overarching all this, like a giant cage, is America’s empire of overseas military bases. The historical core of these bases in Germany, Japan, and South Korea dates back to after World War II and the Korean War (1950-1953), but the cage as a whole spans the globe and is constantly being expanded or contracted. The long-established bases tend to be huge. Newer installations are sometimes small and ephemeral. (The latter are known as “lily pad” facilities, and now exist in around 40 countries.) The total number of US bases presently is around 800.

Okinawa has exemplified important features of this vast militarized domain since its beginnings in 1945. Current plans to relocate US facilities to new sites like Henoko, or to expand to remote islands like Yonaguni, Ishigaki, and Miyako in collaboration with Japanese Self Defense Forces, reflect the constant presence but ever changing contours of the imperium. […]

These military failures are illuminating. They remind us that with but a few exceptions (most notably the short Gulf War against Iraq in 1991), the postwar US military has never enjoyed the sort of overwhelming victory it experienced in World War II. The “war on terror” that followed September 11 and has dragged on to the present day is not unusual apart from its seemingly endless duration. On the contrary, it conforms to this larger pattern of postwar US military miscalculation and failure.

These failures also tell us a great deal about America’s infatuation with brute force, and the double standards that accompany this. In both wars, victory proved elusive in spite of the fact that the United States unleashed devastation from the air greater than anything ever seen before, short of using nuclear weapons.

This usually comes as a surprise even to people who are knowledgeable about the strategic bombing of Germany and Japan in World War II. The total tonnage of bombs dropped on Korea was four times greater than the tonnage dropped on Japan in the US air raids of 1945, and destroyed most of North Korea’s major cities and thousands of its villages. The tonnage dropped on the three countries of Indochina was forty times greater than the tonnage dropped on Japan. The death tolls in both Korea and Indochina ran into the millions.

Here is where double standards enter the picture.

This routine US targeting of civilian populations between the 1940s and early 1970s amounted to state-sanctioned terror bombing aimed at destroying enemy morale. Although such frank labeling can be found in internal documents, it usually has been taboo in pro-American public commentary. After September 11, in any case, these precedents were thoroughly scrubbed from memory.

“Terror bombing” has been redefined to now mean attacks by “non-state actors” motivated primarily by Islamist fundamentalism. “Civilized” nations and cultures, the story goes, do not engage in such atrocious behavior. […]

Nuclear weapons were removed from Okinawa after 1972, and the former US and Soviet nuclear arsenals have been substantially reduced since the collapse of the USSR. Nonetheless, today’s US and Russian arsenals are still capable of destroying the world many times over, and US nuclear strategy still explicitly targets a considerable range of potential adversaries. (In 2001, under President George W. Bush, these included China, Russia, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Libya.)

Nuclear proliferation has spread to nine nations, and over forty other countries including Japan remain what experts call “nuclear capable states.” When Barack Obama became president in 2009, there were high hopes he might lead the way to eliminating nuclear weapons entirely. Instead, before leaving office his administration adopted an alarming policy of “nuclear modernization” that can only stimulate other nuclear nations to follow suit.

There are dynamics at work here that go beyond rational responses to perceived threats. Where the United States is concerned, obsession with absolute military supremacy is inherent in the DNA of the postwar state. After the Cold War ended, US strategic planners sometimes referred to this as the necessity of maintaining “technological asymmetry.” Beginning in the mid 1990s, the Joint Chiefs of Staff reformulated their mission as maintaining “full spectrum dominance.”

This envisioned domination now extends beyond the traditional domains of land, sea, and air power, the Joint Chiefs emphasized, to include space and cyberspace as well.

 

The Violent Narcissism of Small Differences

There are “many features of… warfare that turn out to be shared with wars in many other traditional societies… Those shared features include the following ones… So-called tribal warfare is often or usually actually intra-tribal, between groups speaking the same language and sharing the same culture, rather than inter-tribal. Despite that cultural similarity or identity between the antagonists, one’s enemies are sometimes demonized as subhuman.” (Jared Diamond, The World Until Yesterday, p. 120)

That isn’t something I’ve heard before. I’m surprised it isn’t a point brought up more often. It entirely undermines the case for racism being biological and instinctual. This intra-tribal warfare involves people who are extremely similar — in terms of ethnicity/culture, linguistics, lifestyle, diet, health, genetics, etc (and one would presume also in terms of epigenetics and microbiome). They are more similar to one another than is the rather diverse population of white Americans. Yet these basically identical tribal bands are able to not just see each other as different but even as subhuman, not that ‘subhuman’ has a scientific meaning in this context. It gives credence to Freud’s theory of the narcissism of small differences.

In modern nation-states, we forget how abnormal is every aspect of our society. Based on unrepresentative WEIRD research, we’ve come to some strange conclusions about human nature. Looking at the anthropological record demonstrates how far off from reality is our modern understanding. We think of warfare as only or primarily occurring between nation-states and we think of nation-states in ethno-racial terms. The world wars were fought with rhetoric declaring the other side to be of a different race or not fully human. That happened between the English and Germans who today are thought of as being so similar, what we now think of as white Westerners. But perceived differences has never had much to do with objective reality.

We should also put violence in perspective. We obsess over some violence while ignoring other violence. Most killings happen within societies, not between societies (unless your one of the populations historically targeted by Western imperialism). And most killings happen within specific demographics, not between demographics. For example, most American whites are killed by American whites, not by foreign terrorists or American blacks. About terrorism, most of it is committed by Americans against Americans; in fact, often whites against whites.

Race is as much a rationalization of violence than it is a cause. Westerners wanted to steal land and resources, to exploit populations. So, they invented racial ideology to justify it. But this basic tendency toward justification of violence is nothing new. As Jared Diamond describes, even groups that are essentially the same will use othering language in order to psychologically distance themselves. Otherwise, it would be harder to kill people. But creating perceived differences is quite simple (as shown numerous times: Jane Elliott’s eye color experiment, Rebecca Bigler’s shirt color experiment, Muzafer Sherif’s Robbers Cave experiment, etc).

Race is a social construct and a rather recent invention at that — for certain, it didn’t exist in the ancient world. There is nothing in human nature that demonstrates an instinct for racism. Rather, what humans are talented at is seeing differences and turning them into categories. This could be as simple as where one lives, such as two tribal bands or two neighborhood gangs fighting. Or it could be based on what clothes are worn and, when people are too similar, they will create artificial differences such as gang colors. But once we’ve created these differences, our minds treat them as essential. We need to learn to step back from our learned biases.

Percentages of Suffering and Death

Steven Pinker’s theory of decreasing violence is worth taking seriously. There is an element of truth to what he says. And I do find compelling what he calls the Moral Flynn Effect. But I’ve long suspected violent death rates are highly skewed. Depending on what is being measured and how, it can be argued that there has been a decrease in the rate of homicides and war fatalities. But there are others that argue these numbers are inaccurate or deceiving.

Even accepting the data that Pinker uses, it must be noted that he isn’t including all violent deaths. Consider economic sanctions and neoliberal exploitation, vast poverty and inequality forcing people to work long hours in unsafe and unhealthy conditions, covert operations to overthrow governments and destabilize regions, anthropogenic climate change with its disasters, environmental destruction and ecosystem collapse, loss of arable land and food sources, pollution and toxic dumps, etc. All of this would involve food scarcity, malnutrition, starvation, droughts, rampant disease, refugee crises, diseases related to toxicity and stress, etc; along with all kinds of other consequences to people living in desperation and squalor.

This has all been intentionally caused through governments, corporations, and other organizations seeking power and profit while externalizing costs and harm. In my lifetime, the fatalities to this large scale often slow violence and intergenerational trauma could add up to hundreds of millions or maybe billions of lives cut short. Plus, as neoliberal globalization worsens inequality, there is a direct link to higher rates of homicides, suicides, and stress-related diseases for the most impacted populations. Yet none of these deaths would be counted as violent, no matter how horrific it was for the victims. And those like Pinker adding up the numbers would never have to acknowledge this overwhelming reality of suffering. It can’t be seen in the official data on violence, as the causes are disconnected from the effects. But why should only a small part of the harm and suffering get counted as violence?

It’s similar to how one looks at all kinds of data. In the US, blacks now have freedom as they didn’t in the past. Yet there are more blacks in US prisons right now than there once were blacks in slavery. And in the world, slavery is officially abolished which is a great moral victory. Yet there are more people in slavery right now than there were during the height of slavery prior to the American Civil War. Sure, the imprisoned and enslaved at present are a smaller percentage of the total population. But for those imprisoned and enslaved, that is no comfort. For each person harmed, that harm is 100% in their personal experience.

It’s hard to argue that an increasing number of the oppressed is a sign of the moral arc of history bending toward justice. Morality isn’t measured in percentages. Suffering is a total experience.

* * *

Sex at Dawn
by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá
p. 185 (from A Fistful of Science)

Only one of the seven societies cited by Pinker (the Murngin) even approaches being an immediate-return foraging society … The Murngin had been living with missionaries, guns, and aluminum powerboats for decades by the time the data Pinker cites were collected in 1975 — not exactly prehistoric conditions.

None of the other societies cited by Pinker are immediate-return hunter-gatherers, like our ancestors were. They cultivate yams, bananas, or sugarcane in village gardens, while raising domesticated pigs, llamas, or chickens. Even beyond the fact that these societies are not remotely representative of our nomadic, immediate-return hunter-gatherer ancestors, there are still further problems with the data Pinker cites. Among the Yanomami, true levels of warfare are subject to passionate debate among anthropologists… The Murngin are not typical even of Australian native cultures, representing a bloody exception to the typical Australian Aborigine pattern of little to no intergroup conflict. Nor does Pinker get the Gebusi right. Bruce Knauft, the anthropologist whose research Pinker cites on his chart, says the Gebusi’s elevated death rates had nothing to do with warfare. In fact, Knauft reports that warfare is “rare” among the Gebusi, writing, “Disputes over territory or resources are extremely infrequent and tend to be easily resolved.”

Steven Pinker: This Is History’s Most Peaceful Time–New Study: “Not So Fast”
by Bret Stetka, Scientific American

Still, there are many ways to look at the data—and quantifying the definition of a violent society. A study in Current Anthropology published online October 13 acknowledges the percentage of a population suffering violent war-related deaths—fatalities due to intentional conflict between differing communities—does decrease as a population grows. At the same time, though, the absolute numbers increase more than would be expected from just population growth. In fact, it appears, the data suggest, the overall battle-death toll in modern organized societies is exponentially higher than in hunter–gatherer societies surveyed during the past 200 years.

The study—led by anthropologists Dean Falk at The Florida State University and Charles Hildebolt at Washington University in Saint Louis—cut across cultures and species and compared annual war deaths for 11 chimpanzee communities, 24 hunter–gatherer or other nonstate groups and 19 and 22 countries that fought in World Wars I and II, respectively. Overall, the authors’ analysis shows the larger the population of a group of chimps, the lower their rate of annual deaths due to conflict. This, according to the authors, was not the case in human populations. People, their data show, have evolved to be more violent than chimps. And, despite high rates of violent death in comparison with population size, nonstate groups are on average no more or less violent than those living in organized societies.

Falk and Hildebolt point out Pinker’s claims are based on data looking at violent death rates per 100,000 people. They contend such ratios don’t take into account how overall population size alters war death tallies—in other words how those ratios change as a population grows, which their findings do. There is a strong trend for larger societies to lose smaller percentages of their members to war, Falk says, but the actual number of war deaths increases with growing population sizes.

Slow Violence
by Rob Nixon, The Chronicle

We are accustomed to conceiving violence as immediate and explosive, erupting into instant, concentrated visibility. But we need to revisit our assumptions and consider the relative invisibility of slow violence. I mean a violence that is neither spectacular nor instantaneous but instead incremental, whose calamitous repercussions are postponed for years or decades or centuries. I want, then, to complicate conventional perceptions of violence as a highly visible act that is newsworthy because it is focused around an event, bounded by time, and aimed at a specific body or bodies. Emphasizing the temporal dispersion of slow violence can change the way we perceive and respond to a variety of social crises, like domestic abuse or post-traumatic stress, but it is particularly pertinent to the strategic challenges of environmental calamities. […]

The long dyings—the staggered and staggeringly discounted casualties, both human and ecological—are often not just incremental but exponential, operating as major threat multipliers. They can spur long-term, proliferating conflicts that arise from desperation as the conditions for sustaining life are degraded in ways that the corporate media seldom discuss. One hundred million unexploded land mines lie inches beneath our planet’s skin, from wars officially concluded decades ago. Whether in Cambodia, Laos, Somalia, or Angola, those still-active mines have made vast tracts of precious agricultural land and pastures no-go zones, further stressing oversubscribed resources and compounding malnutrition.

To confront slow violence is to take up, in all its temporal complexity, the politics of the visible and the invisible. That requires that we think through the ways that environmental-justice movements strategize to shift the balance of visibility, pushing back against the forces of temporal inattention that exacerbate injustices of class, gender, race, and region. For if slow violence is typically underrepresented in the media, such underrepresentation is exacerbated whenever (as typically happens) it is the poor who become its frontline victims, above all the poor in the Southern Hemisphere. Impoverished societies located mainly in the global South often have lax or unenforced environmental regulations, allowing transnational corporations (often in partnership with autocratic regimes) the liberty to exploit resources without redress. […]

Our temporal bias toward spectacular violence exacerbates the vulnerability of ecosystems treated as disposable by capitalism, while simultaneously intensifying the vulnerability of those whom the human-rights activist Kevin Bales has called “disposable people.”

Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World
by Timothy Morton
Kindle Locations 2154-2174

When we can see that far into the future and that far around Earth, a curious blindness afflicts us, a blindness far more mysterious than simple lack of sight, since we can precisely see so much more than ever. This blindness is a symptom of an already-existing intimacy with all lifeforms, knowledge of which is now thrust on us whether we like it or not.

Parfit’s assault on utilitarian self-interest takes us to the point at which we realize that we are not separate from our world. Humans must learn to care for fatal substances that will outlast them and their descendants beyond any meaningful limit of self-interest. What we need is an ethics of the other, an ethics based on the proximity of the stranger. The decision in the 1990s, rapidly overturned, to squirrel plutonium away into knives and forks and other domestic objects appears monstrous, and so would any attempt to “work” it into something convenient. Hyperobjects insist that we care for them in the open. “Out of sight, out of mind” is strictly untenable. There is no “away” to throw plutonium in. We are stuck with it, in the same way as we are stuck with our biological bodies. Plutonium finds itself in the position of the “neighbor” in Abrahamic religions— that awkward condition of being alien and intimate at the very same time.

The enormity of very large finitude hollows out my decisions from the inside. Now every time I so much as change a confounded light bulb, I have to think about global warming. It is the end of the world, because I can see past the lip of the horizon of human worlding. Global warming reaches into “my world” and forces me to use LEDs instead of bulbs with filaments. This aspect of the Heideggerian legacy begins to teeter under the weight of the hyperobject. The normative defense of worlds looks wrongheaded. 39 The ethical and political choices become much clearer and less divisive if we begin to think of pollution and global warming and radiation as effects of hyperobjects rather than as flows or processes that can be managed. These flows are often eventually shunted into some less powerful group’s backyard. The Native American tribe must deal with the radioactive waste. The African American family must deal with the toxic chemical runoff. The Nigerian village must deal with the oil slick. Rob Nixon calls this the slow violence of ecological oppression. 40 It is helpful to think of global warming as something like an ultra slow motion nuclear bomb. The incremental effects are almost invisible, until an island disappears underwater. Poor people— who include most of us on Earth at this point— perceive the ecological emergency not as degrading an aesthetic picture such as world but as an accumulation of violence that nibbles at them directly.

The Fantasy of Creative Destruction

An interesting take on the Nazis and their sympathizers comes from Jorge Luis Borges. What motivates a certain variety of reactionary authoritarianism isn’t straightforward politics. The vision is grander than that, almost a cosmic battle. Issues of who is victorious in war is maybe secondary.

In moments of honest admission, Adolf Hitler explained that the struggle he envisioned went beyond mere national interest. He wouldn’t allow German soldiers in Russia to retreat. Either Germans were superior and would succeed or they were inferior and would lose. His only purpose was to test the German race against foreign races. Let the best people win, that was his attitude. It had apocalyptic implications. Other races had to be destroyed and subjugated. Failing that, the German population must be sacrificed in the attempt. It was total war requiring total commitment.

This is similar to Karen Armstrong’s interpretation of Islamic jihadis. She has pointed out that the 9/11 terrorists seemed to intentionally flout Islamic law, as if they were demanding Allah’s attention and forcing the Divine Hand to intervene. They were trying to call down apocalypse, not unlike American evangelicals hoping to incite violent attack on Israel as they believe must happen prior to the Second Coming. It isn’t mere nihilism.

Some would argue that a similar attitude is held by Trump supporters. Not even those who voted for him, according to polls, thought he would do what he promised. But the one thing that he could accomplish was to destroy a corrupt system. Electing Donald Trump as president was like lobbing a grenade into a bunker. It may be an act of desperation, although it makes perfect sense as an all too human motivation. Studies have shown that individuals are willing to punish perceived wrongdoers even at great costs to themselves. It is what morality becomes when morality has been denied for too long.

In The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred Pennyworth describes the Joker in saying, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” But that isn’t quite right. In his own words, the Joker explains himself: “Introduce a little anarchy – upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos. And you know the thing about chaos – it’s fair.” Exactly! It’s fair. Death and destruction is the last refuge of fairness, what is necessary to bring on justice, even if it is the justice of a mad man’s chaos. The slate must be wiped clean. Then something new can emerge from the ashes. An apocalypse is a revelation.

To the reactionary mind, sacrifice of self can be as acceptable as sacrifice of others. It’s the fight, the struggle itself that gives meaning — no matter the costs and consequences, no matter how it ends. The greatest sin is boredom, the inevitable result of victory. As Irving Kristol said to Corey Robin, the defeat of the Soviet Union “deprived us of an enemy.” It was the end of history for, without an enervating battle of moral imagination, it was the end of the world.

There is a balance point in this, though. It is the fantasy of violence that matters most, the glorious battle that transcends mundane reality. The other way victory threatens is by making the violence all too immediately real. It was easy for Hitler, safely back in Germany, to play out his ideological visions on distant battlefields. When violence gets too close, it simply becomes terrifying. The Nazi sympathizers Borges described had the advantage of cheering on Hitler from a continent across the ocean. But even for them, the possibility of the Nazis actually winning caused trepidation.

* * *

The metal vultures and the dragon
by Alec Nevala-Lee

In another essay, Borges remembers the man who came to his house to proudly announce that the Germans had taken Paris: “I felt a confusion of sadness, disgust, malaise. Then it occurred to me that his insolent joy did not explain the stentorian voice or the abrupt proclamation. He added that the German troops would soon be in London. Any opposition was useless, nothing could prevent their victory. That was when I knew that he, too, was terrified.” This speaks for itself. But what troubles me the most is Borges’s conclusion:

Nazism suffers from unreality, like Erigena’s hell. It is uninhabitable; men can only die for it, lie for it, wound and kill for it. No one, in the intimate depths of his being, can wish it to triumph. I shall risk this conjecture: Hitler wants to be defeated. Hitler is blindly collaborating with the inevitable armies that will annihilate him, as the metal vultures and the dragon (which must have known that they were monsters) collaborated, mysteriously, with Hercules.

After the war, Borges explored these themes in one of his most haunting stories, “Deutsches Requiem,” in which he attempted to write from the point of view of “the ideal Nazi.” Its narrator, the subdirector of a concentration camp, writes out his confession as he prepares to face the firing squad, and his closing words feel like a glimpse of our own future, regardless of the names of those in power: “Now an implacable age looms over the world. We forged that age, we who are now its victim. What does it matter that England is the hammer and we the anvil? What matters is that violence, not servile Christian acts of timidity, now rules. If victory and injustice and happiness do not belong to Germany, let them belong to other nations. Let heaven exist, though our place be in hell.”

The Reactionary Mind
by Corey Robin
pp. 243-245

As Orwell taught, the possibilities for cruelty and violence are as limitless as the imagination that dreams them up. But the armies and agencies of today’s violence are vast bureaucracies, and vast bureaucracies need rules. Eliminating the rules does not Prometheus unbind; it just makes for more billable hours.

“No yielding. No equivocation. No lawyering this thing to death.” That was George W. Bush’s vow after 9/ 11 and his description of how the war on terror would be conducted. Like so many of Bush’s other declarations, it turned out to be an empty promise. This thing was lawyered to death. But, and this is the critical point, far from minimizing state violence— which was the great fear of the neocons— lawyering has proven to be perfectly compatible with violence. In a war already swollen with disappointment and disillusion, the realization that inevitably follows— the rule of law can, in fact, authorize the greatest adventures of violence and death, thereby draining them of sublimity— must be, for the conservative, the greatest disillusion of all.

Had they been closer readers of Burke, the neoconservatives— like Fukuyama, Roosevelt, Sorel, Schmitt, Tocqueville, Maistre, Treitschke, and so many more on the American and European right— could have seen this disillusion coming. Burke certainly did. Even as he wrote of the sublime effects of pain and danger, he was careful to insist that should those pains and dangers “press too nearly” or “too close”— that is, should they become realities rather than fantasies, should they become “conversant about the present destruction of the person”— their sublimity would disappear. They would cease to be “delightful” and restorative and become simply terrible. 64 Burke’s point was not merely that no one, in the end, really wants to die or that no one enjoys unwelcome, excruciating pain. It was that sublimity of whatever kind and source depends upon obscurity: get too close to anything, whether an object or experience, see and feel its full extent, and it loses its mystery and aura. It becomes familiar. A “great clearness” of the sort that comes from direct experience “is in some sort an enemy to all enthusiasms whatsoever.” 65 “It is our ignorance of things that causes all our admiration, and chiefly excites our passions. Knowledge and acquaintance make the most striking causes affect but little.” 66 “A clear idea,” Burke concludes, “is therefore another name for a little idea.” 67 Get to know anything, including violence, too well, and it loses whatever attribute— rejuvenation, transgression, excitement, awe— you ascribed to it when it was just an idea.

Earlier than most, Burke understood that if violence were to retain its sublimity, it had to remain a possibility, an object of fantasy— a horror movie, a video game, an essay on war. For the actuality (as opposed to the representation) of violence was at odds with the requirements of sublimity. Real, as opposed to imagined, violence entailed objects getting too close, bodies pressing too near, flesh upon flesh. Violence stripped the body of its veils; violence made its antagonists familiar to each other in a way they had never been before. Violence dispelled illusion and mystery, making things drab and dreary. That is why, in his discussion in the Reflections of the revolutionaries’ abduction of Marie Antoinette, Burke takes such pains to emphasize her “almost naked” body and turns so effortlessly to the language of clothing—“ the decent drapery of life,” the “wardrobe of the moral imagination,” “antiquated fashion,” and so on— to describe the event. 68 The disaster of the revolutionaries’ violence, for Burke, was not cruelty; it was the unsought enlightenment.

Since 9/ 11, many have complained, and rightly so, about the failure of conservatives— or their sons and daughters— to fight the war on terror themselves. For those on the left, that failure is symptomatic of the class injustice of contemporary America. But there is an additional element to the story. So long as the war on terror remains an idea— a hot topic on the blogs, a provocative op-ed, an episode of 24— it is sublime. As soon as the war on terror becomes a reality, it can be as cheerless as a discussion of the tax code and as tedious as a trip to the DMV.

Not All Men, And Not All Women, But Some

Now that the title has caught your attention, let me set up the context for the central point I want to make. After that, I’ll make clear what I mean and fully articulate my argument. This post has been in the writing process for several years. Simmering on the back burner, I finally decided it was ready to be served. The main motivation for completing this project had to do with data I found all those years ago, data that I rarely if ever see mentioned. So, if you are interested to know what largely inspired this post, go to the very end where you will find that data. But if you are hankering for a lengthy detailed analysis, I promise not to disappoint.

Before I begin, let me put the context into context. The following discussion of gender issues is part of a decades-long project to put all issues into an ever larger context, to put humanity in the context of the collective and intersectional, to put society in the context of the systemic and institutional, and much else along those lines — involving social justice and civil rights, social sciences and culture, socioeconomic inequality and environmentalism. Et cetera. It is only in taking the broad view that we can hope to glimpse the big picture. As always, my guiding principle is to push further beyond.

* * *

What civilization has done to women’s bodies is no different than what
it’s done to the earth, to children, to the sick, to the proletariat;
in short, to everything that isn’t supposed to “talk.”
— Tiqqun, “Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl” 

There have been more sex scandals in the news lately than at any other point in recent history, maybe in living memory. Many powerful men have had their careers ended and their personal lives destroyed. There is no doubt that many and probably most of them deserve it, especially the sexual predators like Harvey Weinstein. But I do feel wary about all of the cases and potential future cases being jumbled together as if they are equal, similar to my concern about someone criminally charged for public urination (or even an 18 year old high schooler who had sex with his/her 17 year old girlfriend/boyfriend) being put on the sex offender list along with serial rapists and child molesters.

Witch hunts quickly form when public shaming determines a guilty judgment before any legal trial and democratic process is allowed to begin. There is a long history of innocent people getting caught up in false accusations, not to say that is what is going on now. It’s just that there is blood in the water and a feeding frenzy of righteous outrage has begun. Of course, there is plenty of reason for righteous outrage. I might argue that, in some ways, it doesn’t go far enough. Our society needs a moral reckoning of the highest order. We are long past the point where we either need a truth commission or a revolution, for all the moral rot at the heart of America.

What also is concerning is the hypocrisy of moral condemnation in our society. There are forms of power and oppression all around us that do far more harm than even sexual predators, but these other acts of wrongdoing and injustice are more socially acceptable and with many legal loopholes that protect the victimizers. Take for example the illegal and unconstitutional wars of aggression that kill millions of innocents, mostly poor brown people. Or as another example, consider the profit made by corporations that pollute the water and air, leading to high toxicity rates primarily harming poor brown people in the US and abroad. The harm caused by these is surely far greater than all of the sexual abuse combined. Why is righteous outrage and public shaming so selective? It ends up feeling more like scapegoating that evades our collective guilt about the even vaster moral failure and social injustice in our society.

Also, I can’t help but notice that corporate media in promoting this situation prefers to focus on both victims and victimizers who just so happen to be wealthier and whiter than most Americans. It becomes yet another soap opera to distract from darker truths and harsher realities. Do they think by sacrificing a few rich white guys that populist anger will be appeased? Is this an attempt to prevent the coming political storm by diverting it? Or is it simply, in our collective frustration about our collective failure, we are seeking an outlet for the pressure building up that otherwise would erupt in mass protests, maybe even riots and revolts? We should be mad. If anything, we aren’t yet mad enough. The worst guilty parties among the ruling elite remain mostly unchallenged and unscathed.

No matter how bad the sexual abuse is among wealthy whites, the oppression among the poor and minorities is far worse. There is no comparison. This greater oppression doesn’t spare poor men and minority men for reasons of male privilege. And let us not forget that most men are poor and/or minority, not powerful plutocrats wielding their patriarchical authority. When we speak of violence and abuse by men, there is a long history of racism behind it. Black boys are more likely to be perceived, treated, and prosecuted as adults while black males in general are more likely to be perceived as scarier, more dangerous, and less innocent. That is on top of the fact that blacks, mostly black males, are more likely than whites to be stopped and frisked, arrested and prosecuted, punished and imprisoned in relation to crimes that whites commit at higher rates. Plus, men are more likely get prison time than women for the same crimes. The issue of ‘Not All Men’ can mean life or death for poor minorities facing a system and social order of racial violence that has benefited not just white men but also white women, especially the wealthier.

I take victimization as a serious issue, far more than do most people. But it must be understood as a system and cycle of victimization, as I’ve pointed out before (A Fucked Up World). The victims and victimizers are disproportionately determined by privileges as much if not more related to race and class than to gender. Certainly, the compounded impact of intersectionality involving race and class is a one-two punch that destroys more lives than most privileged white feminists would care to think about.

* * *

Some women like to criticize men as violent and blame all of violent society on men, but the overwhelming data doesn’t make women look all that better than men. Depending on the specific data in terms of which forms of harm and which demographics, female perpetrators often are a higher percentage than male perpetrators. A lot of child abuse also comes from women, much of it sexual abuse and sometimes leading to death, although most of it is neglect. Women could make excuses for this fact such as “not all women.” Though true women disproportionately spend more time with children, it still doesn’t explain why so many women choose to abuse and harm children when given the opportunity.

Also, it doesn’t explain why we have heard so little about wide-scale maltreatment, including sexual abuse, of boys by women. It took generations for larger number of male perpetrators to be brought to justice, beginning with Catholic priests and now focused on celebrities and politicians. How long will we have to wait for more female perpetrators to be forced to face justice? What will it take for boys and men to be supported enough to not fear coming forward? With recent cases, we might be barely seeing the tip of an iceberg. One would like to believe that, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” But does it?

Consider the consequences and what they mean. Does child abuse by women lead to a more violent society? Hell yes. And does victimization lead to ever more victimization, in an endless cycle of vast suffering? No doubt about it. So, does scapegoating a particular demographic help in dealing with the problem? Not in the slightest. Such scapegoating is as much a part of the problem, in that it helps evade the real issues of how bad it all is, how systemic and pervasive. Instead of child maltreatment dividing the genders, it unites us all in a common problem with large numbers of perpetrators found in all demographics. The saddest part is how many victims grow up to become victimizers. This isn’t about blaming victims or excusing vicitmizers. But it is depressing truth, as studies show, that many victims grow up to be victimizers. And, specifically, I suspect that many (how many?) male victimizers of female victims were earlier in life child victims of female victimizers. This is suggesting that we live in a far more fucked up world than most people want to admit. Our collective problems are collective sins. It is never just about those other people.

Claims of male privilege has a major kernel of truth and yet, as a generalization, it is easily taken too far. What about poor men? And what about minority men? Poor and minority men (the two demographics combined being the vast majority of men) are disproportionately in military and on the front-lines and so disproportionately injured and killed in war. And black males are disproportionately stopped and frisked, harassed and killed, prosecuted and imprisoned compared to whites, even for crimes that whites commit more often (e.g. whites are more likely than blacks to carry, use, and sell illegal drugs, while blacks are more likely to be arrested, prosecuted harshly, and imprisoned longer for illegal drug crimes).

Consider an African-American woman who is a daughter, wife, and mother to black men. If she were to say not all black men are bad and don’t deserve what they get in our society, why should she listen to or care about what privileged white feminists have to say in broad brushing men? Why should she care more about anything that detached white activists say than she cares about the problems of racism and poverty that do more harm to her and her family on a daily basis than maybe all the gender bias combined? The idea of “not all men” might have a different meaning as she worries about her son heading off to school, in a world that is harshly unfair and violently unforgiving. Implied in the white feminists’ outrage is an unstated belief about “not all whites,” as if the sins of racism can be separated from gendered oppression.

There are a number of great books on racism. One of my favorites so far is Racial Paranoia by John L. Jackson. The author points out how the rhetoric of colorblindness and political correctness has made open debate very difficult and fraught. It is an improvement over slavery and Jim Crow, but in the place of overt racism there is now a paralyzing racial paranoia. This is harmful for all involved. Similarly, one could teach right-wingers and reactionaries how to speak in politically correct ways such as not saying “not all men,” but that would simply hide the problem and allow it to proliferate. Reactionaries, in particular, are more talented in using political correctness than liberals will ever be. There are few more powerful tools of manipulative rhetoric than politically correct language, behind which dark motives and cynical views can be hidden. The more politically correct someone is, the less you should automatically trust them.

I’ve read more books on racism than on feminism. But there is much crossover between the two. I was reading a recent book by Angela Davis who is a famous black feminist. Even my conservative dad knew who she was from her activism of past decades. I like her perspective of intersectionalism, where multiple oppressive forces meet. In her case, that involved being both a woman and being black. Intersectional feminism arose in response to and criticism of mainstream feminism. These other feminists saw that racial and class privilege dominated even within feminism.

These are difficult issues to understand, to communicate, and to discuss. Emotions tend to run high and there are always good reasons for people to feel angry and frustrated. I was wondering also if there isn’t a challenge of gender paranoia similar to the racial paranoia. We obsess so much about speaking politically correct that we don’t easily trust that people actually mean what they say. We need more consideration for not just demanding that others say the right things but also, for all involved, to communicate well and honestly. Communication is a two-way street that demands mutual respect and understanding, and a whole lot of intellectual humility and personal humility.

Several people I know have, in the past, posted about the “not all men” meme. I’ve found myself resistant to writing about it, even though it is important, for the meme itself doesn’t particularly interest me. The entire debate on both sides has been a distraction from the real issues. Over these past several years, I’ve given this topic way more thought and consideration than I planned. Maybe it is worth the trouble or maybe not. People get upset, angry, and exasperated for good reason. But this leads people often getting the better of themselves and so pushing for attitudes that are ultimately counterproductive.

I don’t identify as feminist and I’m certainly not an anti-feminist. If I were to pick a label, I’d go with humanist or maybe something even broader than that. I’ve never overtly thought of myself as a women’s rights advocate, not that I’m against women’s rights, and I would find no inspiration in being a men’s rights advocate. First and foremost, I’m simply a human rights advocate, no matter the gender, race, or any other identity of the humans in question. I try to not favor one demographic of identity politics over any other, although I can’t help myself in being particularly saddened by the most desperate of poverty. My capacity for sympathy is fairly large and inclusive — there is plenty of compassionate concern to go around. As far as that goes, I’m also an animal rights advocate, ecosystem rights activist, and biosphere rights advocate. I’m generally in favor of all varieties and arrangements of life forms. If you are some combination of animate, aware, and responsive, if you are capable of growing and reproducing, then consider me a strong ally. I’m more pro-life than most self-described pro-lifers.

I hold this position because human reality is complex, reality in general actually. Our lives involve overlapping identities and influences. This is what is referred to as intersectionality — what might get talked about as systems theory, complexity theory, etc when focusing on anything besides individual humans. The study of intersectionality originates from feminism, but the theory more broadly applies to any “intersections between forms or systems of oppression, domination or discrimination.” Outside of feminism, some might refer to this as an “extended self” or something along those lines, in that self-identity and subjective experience don’t easily fit into the classical liberal’s hyper-individualism (upon which is built the social Darwinian pseudo-meritocracy of capitalist realism). The basic idea is an old understanding, and I’m fairly sure I’ve come across versions of it going at least back to the Enlightenment thinkers (it definitely was understood by some like Thomas Paine during the American Revolution, a conflict that was as much about economics and class as politics and governance, as much about social identity as civil rights). The basic motivation behind this broader understanding of humanity and society is that people who begin by fighting one type of problem end up fighting against a whole web of problems. There are few if any isolated problems in the world.

Take the Elliot Rodger’s incident. It involved the intersectionality of ethno-racism, self-hatred, mental health, misogyny, and gun violence. Probably other issues could be added as well. The broader context could also be thrown in. When a disadvantaged minority male in an underdeveloped country does the exact same thing, it doesn’t attract the attention of most Westerners, particularly not most comfortable Western feminists who are well-educated, middle class, and white. The division of privilege and power between countries is greater than the division of privilege and power within most countries. Saying that someone is a woman or a feminist doesn’t say much about that person or their experience. Likewise saying someone is a man doesn’t say much either.

Intersectionalism is explained well at the Thinking Girl blog:

“It turns out that not all women have the same experience, thus making it impossible to universalize the experiences of women under one group title “woman”. […] Crenshaw also uses an analogy she calls the “Basement Analogy”. Imagine a room in which the most well-off members of society reside. Below is is a basement, filled with all the people whose identity prevents them from being able to access the room. There is a trap-door in the floor of the room, and the people in the basement are scrambling for access. Those on top, or most likely to be granted access to the room, are those who only have one factor of their identity working against them: white women, disabled white men, non-white men, white non-christian men, white poor men, and so on. These people are standing on the shoulders of those who have two factors against them: black women, gay non-white men, poor white women, disabled women, etc. And so on, and so on. These analogies, while perhaps not perfect, provide a great visual, yes? […] Because we are not just one thing, but a compilation of many facets that make up a whole person, it is next to impossible to talk about women as if we are a homogenous group.”

Take that explanation of society and magnify it by the demographic and geographic differences, the economic and political inequalities of the entire global society. This larger view can be overwhelming and so the typical activist more often than not focuses narrowly on their own local area, their society or their country or just their community. This is also why so many activists focus on single issues and ignore the complications of an intersectional understanding. But for obvious reasons this omission of a greater context can be problematic.

What forms the lived experience of oppression and victimization isn’t a single issue. It isn’t just about being a woman, being homosexual, being handicapped, being a minority, being poor, or being in a post-colonial underdeveloped country. Where it gets really bad is when a number of these intersect in the lives of individuals, and so act as compounding factors. This is why the average well-educated middle class white American feminist is better off (less oppressed and victimized) than most people in the world, including most men in the world. But you might assert that not all self-identified feminists are well-educated white women in wealthy countries. True, but quite probably most are.

I would argue that the real derailing of much-needed discussion is this lack of awareness and appreciation for intersectionality. The enemies of human rights are strengthened when activists separate their identity politics and special interests from that of everyone else. There are no successful movements without allies. There are no allies without alliances. And there are no alliances without mutual respect and understanding. Some feminists are demanding that others listen to them, but there is no genuine listening that only goes one way. Everyone wants to be listened to. Minorities want to be listened to. Poor people want to be listened to. The mentally ill want to be listened to. Victims of war want to be listened to. Numerous other groups could be named that all want to be listened to. But that doesn’t give the right of any of these people to tell everyone else to shut up and only listen to them.

It’s because such issues as feminism are so important that those who self-identify as feminist shouldn’t sell themselves short. They should radically push feminism to its limits, broaden it to touch upon all aspects of human experience and all of the issues of human rights infringement. They should seek mutually beneficial alliances with other activists from across the board. The criticisms I’m making here of mainstream feminism are the same criticisms that radical feminists themselves have made. Intersectionality studies comes specifically out of the black feminist movement. The criticisms came from black women who saw white privilege and other privileges as remaining dominant within the leadership of the feminist movement.

As Sara Salem explains in Decolonial Intersectionality and a Transnational Feminist Movement:

“One example of such an approach would be to conceptualize feminism as a project that views patriarchy as a system oppressing both women and men. Rather than view gender justice as an individualistic goal to be attained by every woman — a view that sometimes views men as ‘the enemy’ — alternative visions in which patriarchy is conceptualized as a system that oppresses everyone can be more useful. This is not to say that men do not benefit from patriarchy — all men do. Rather it is to complicate ideas of masculinity by showing that not all men benefit equally. Work on masculinities has shown that men who fit the ideal type are in a power relation not only with women but also with men who are outside of what is considered ‘masculine.’ Pushing this conceptualization further, it is also more applicable to societies in which individualism is not the norm. For many women in postcolonial societies, the aim is not to challenge men, but rather to challenge the system and structures that allow men to become dominant. This will lead to justice not only for women but for men as well. This is why many postcolonial feminists focus on class so extensively, because they see the ways in which other structures — such as class — intersect with patriarchy in ways that oppress everybody. Thus ‘reforming’ men or even ‘reforming’ gender relations will never be enough: entire structures that intersect and depend upon one another need to be dismantled. There can be no feminism without anti-imperialism, anti-capitalism, and so on, because patriarchy does not exist in isolation from imperialism, capitalism and other structures.”

* * *

For years, I’ve heard the statistics on male violence. I don’t doubt that we live in a violent society and that men participate in it to a greater degree. This is true on the victimizing end and, in many cases, on the victimized end.

More men than women commit rape, more men than women get in fights, more men than women shoot others, more men than women belong to gangs, etc. At the same time, more men than women are injured in industrial accidents, more men than women are sent off to die in wars, more men than women are harmed in the line of police duty, more men than women are burned horribly as firemen, etc. Men are generally more likely to kill and be killed, more likely to harm and be harmed, both when involved in morally reprehensible acts and when involve in morally honorable acts. I’m not arguing that each harmful act by a man is balanced by a beneficial act by a man. That would be too simplistic of an analysis. This data just is what it is, whatever is one’s final judgment.

My interest in violence has been less about gender, though. What original motivated my research was discussions of race and racism, largely because of having spent so many years living in and observing the racial order of the Deep South. The debate on violence almost always is degraded to arguments over which race, ethnicity, regional population, or other demographic commits the most violent crime. The answer one comes to depends on how one slices up the data. And too often one slices up the data in the way that gives one the answer one wants to find.

Minorities, in terms of mainstream identity politics and ignoring radical intersectional feminism, tend to get portrayed as a more complex demographic than that of women and with a more complicated history. Minorities have historically been exploited, oppressed, and victimized in almost endless ways. They experience high rates of poverty and prejudice which inevitably correlates to all kinds of social problems, violence and sexual abuse included, and health problems as well such as environmental racism (e.g., toxic dumps disproportionately located in poor minority communities). However, there obviously is much crossover between the two demographics. Both minorities and women are marginalized. And minority women are marginalized the most. The more marginalized a demographic the more closely the issue of violence crops up. Minority women are more likely to be victims of violence, but going by a brief perusal of the data they are with some categories of violence sometimes more likely also to be the perpetrators. This all goes along with poor people having more untreated addictions and mental health issues because of less access to healthcare and addiction programs, and a million other factors involving stress and trauma. Life can massively suck if you are poor and, if you are a poor minority women, it can be worse than anything most others could ever imagine.

I remember growing up in South Carolina during the 1980s and 1990s. It was far from uncommon to see black parents, typically mothers and of the lower class, hit their kids and yell at them. That is just anecdotal evidence, but some data shows there is higher rates of such things as child abuse among that demographic, as among any other demographic of greater poverty. It can’t be doubted that poverty, especially in a high inequality and racist society, is a harsh and unhappy condition. It’s hard to know what to think about abuse in that kind of situation. A hard life tends to make people hard, sad as that may sound. Also, there is fear among poor minority parents that if they don’t forcefully get their children in line, the consequences could be much worse when their kids aren’t given the benefit of the doubt by dangerous authority figures such as cops. It isn’t an excuse for child abuse, but it is what it is.

One of the issues I’ve been returning to over the years is gender and violence. What is the actual data on the gender gap of violence? Besides commonly repeated statistics, I really didn’t know what to expect when I first began researching it. But it immediately became apparent that the issue would be a challenge to make sense of. For some reason, extensively detailed data hasn’t been kept about gender and violence, especially not about women as perpetrators. It has been assumed men commit most of the violence, and so apparently most of the data-gathering and studies have focused on male victimizers and female victims. Male victims have been wary about coming forward and often dismissed when they do come forward. And female victimizers (along with female criminals in general) are prosecuted less often and less harshly than men, since they are often perceived as mentally ill (or whatever) rather than personally responsible and legally culpable. We don’t have a good way to make clear comparisons, but there is beginning to be better data that is showing up.

Men are the main culprits in most categories of violence, in how the criminal system operates and the data is kept. But even ignoring the complications of limited reporting and prosecution, women still don’t have a lot to be proud of — particularly when it comes to the surprising rates of women committing child abuse, child neglect, and child homicide. Partly, if one wishes to make excuses for bad behavior, this can be explained by the fact that women spend more time alone with children and so simply have more opportunity. As always, there is more violence committed by all involved than should exist. I wonder what would be the feminist critique of the high rates of women abusing children, especially boys. I’m not a feminist. I don’t tend to put victimization and suffering into the categories of identity politics. But for the most vocal feminists I come across online, identity politics are recruited to explain so much.

Feminists refer to abuse data all the time, and for good reason. Violence tends to be directed toward the disadvantaged, which in many cases in our society means women. Still, if you are a poor under-educated minority boy, you might not feel much male privilege compared to the middle class college-educated white feminist. In identity politics, it easily becomes a contest about whose victimization is bigger and whose suffering is more worthy, a pointless game to play but such is human nature. For my purposes, I was initially and have been primarily interested in what the data might show, without any clear expectations or preconceptions. Yes, I was already aware that women in general experience much rape, spousal abuse, and other similar atrocities — not something I was ever questioning or doubting. That data taken alone can’t be debated for it points to an unhappy truth, which explains the defensiveness of the “Not All Men” meme.

But as far as that goes, neither are all women the same, for the experience of a wealthier white woman is not the same as that of a poor minority woman. So, what about situations where women are at more or less of a disadvantage? Is violence specifically and necessarily about masculinity, either as biology or patriarchy? Or is violence simply about the power and opportunity to do so? And why are wealthier white women given a greater voice about victimization even though it is poor minority women who are more likely to be abused, raped, etc? Heck, even poor black males are more likely to experience oppression and maltreatment than wealthier white women. If the police show up to a scene involving a middle-to-upper class white woman and a lower class black male, which one is more likely to be harassed, arrested, or shot (no matter which party is guilty)?

* * *

There are those trying to command and shame others to listen. Too many people wanting to be heard and too few willing to listen. One might suggest that the best way to get people to listen is by modeling the behavior in listening to others, an admittedly difficult task when so many people feel silenced and are struggling to be heard.

Feminism isn’t or shouldn’t be limited to women and their victimization, as strange as that might initially sound. Patriarchy, paternalism, male violence, etc effects men as much as women. Actually, men probably experience violence of the patriarchy more than women. War zones, prisons, and homeless camps are filled with the male victims of a cruelly unjust society that has been supported and promoted by privileged women as much as privileged men.

It’s about our inability to think or discuss anything with complexity. As with racism, there is always more going on. A major factor with racism is skin tone bias, even blacks being racist against darker-skinned blacks (i.e., blacks who are stereotypically blacker) along with whites being racist against darker-skinned whites such as the historical prejudice against swarthy Americans of southern European ethnicity, such that racism is so pervasive that it crosses the color line. Blacks, as research shows, internalize racism. And likewise, women internalize patriarchy. What about boys who are abused and told to toughen up by mothers, female teachers, and other female authority figures in a patriarchy in order to raise these boys with patriarchal values? What about boys who are shamed by sisters, girlfriends, and wives to go off to war and do other horrific acts? Then who is the oppressor and who the oppressed? When women often have the most direct and everyday influence in instilling values in young children, why is it that patriarchy continues to be learned by each new generation long before kids enter the larger world ruled by men? When each generation is victimized and enculturated into the victimization cycle, there are too few innocent people left untraumatized and without dysfunction. Innocence is hard to find and complicity is near unavoidable. No matter how much we struggle against it, we all get caught up the social order we are born into.

Complaining about people who say not all men are rapists, abusers, misognynists, etc is pointless and counterproductive. Most importantly, stating “not all men” is simply pointing out a fact. It is true that not all men or even most men are those things, even though at the same time more men are those things than is good for society. No one should ever complain, though, about someone pointing out an obvious truth. I’d add that not all women (fill in the blank) either, but some are. As with men, women are part of this same patriarchal society. It’s like complaining about a white person who says that not all white people are racists, bigots, white supremacists, and Klansmen. It is true, even as we all carry unconscious prejudices. I’m willing to bet that research would also show that most women, in our society, harbor gender bias against women. Not all men are male chauvinists, just as not all women are angry feminists and not all feminists are privileged activists. Nor are all feminists misandrists and dogmatic ideologues. Not all feminists seek to shut down open dialogue through thought police dismissals of men who dare to point out the obvious fact about “not all men”. And as not all women are feminists of whatever variety, not all feminists are women.

If you dismiss others, that will predispose people to dismiss you. If you listen to others, that will predispose people to listen to you. It is basic psychology. It is also a corollary to the Golden Rule. You do unto others as you’d like them to do unto you because it is a worthy moral guide to action, but also because it is pragmatic way to get beneficial results. I despise anything that closes down fair debate and open dialogue. It’s one thing to call someone names, but it’s another thing to tell someone what they can and cannot say. If you call me a name, I can argue about whether the label is accurate and we can discuss that. But if you simply refuse to acknowledge my position at all and dismiss me based on assumptions you make about me, that is problematic for all involved… and it is extremely irritating. It doesn’t encourage me to respond with sympathy, when I receive none. Why should I submit myself to your cause? Sure, in your own private space and in your own private meetings, you can argue about having a safe space where you choose who is invited in and who is allowed to say what. But don’t pull that bullshit in open discussions on the internet or in public forums.

It derails conversations by alleging others are derailing conversations. Oddly and sadly, some assume conversations can only be one way and controlled by one person or one group. Others go with the more traditional notion that conversations happen as a dialogue between and inclusive of two or more parties. Telling people to “shut up” about anything isn’t an invitation to dialogue or even a request for them to listen. It is blatant dismissal, a rude condescension, treating the other the way a short-tempered parent would a child. It isn’t seeking mutual respect and understanding, that is for sure. It is a command to be submissive and do as told.

This makes people feel unwelcome and uninterested in participating. This is the perfect recipe for making feminism irrelevant to most of the population. The average American isn’t interested in being shamed and bullied, no matter the claims of good intentions, higher purpose, and greater cause. It’s not that such things as public shaming aren’t sometimes necessary tools, but we must keep in mind that they are powerful and easily abused. Authoritarians will always be better at using shame than liberals. Consider how public shame, often with a focus on sexual issues, was used to attack the political left during the Cold War. And consider how false sexual accusations have destroyed numerous lives, such as the daycare fiasco that led to a number of innocent people being sent to prison for several years. Guilty until proven innocent is no way to promote morality and justice, much less democracy and freedom from oppression.

None of this is to claim that there aren’t men who are dangerous. My basic point is that we need to take these problems even more seriously by looking at them more carefully and fully, without fearing what we might see when looking in the mirror of our society. Too many women, like too many men, seem reluctant to honestly confront these problems. Those trying to over-generalize and blame a single demographic are part of the problem, not part of the solution. By default, they are codependently rationalizing away the wrongdoing of those they identify with and making excuses for the systemic moral failure of our society. This is a collective problem, far beyond being limited to one population or sector. That is probably what scares people so much. Scapegoating is easier than taking social responsibility that would require that we acknowledge that, as members of this society, we are all complicit.

We need to be as concerned with the rights and well being of others as we are for our own rights and well being. Mutual concern and compassion leads to mutual respect and understanding, mutual trust and cooperation, mutual support and alliance. There is strength in numbers, when seeking larger changes. Why do some self-righteous activists want to divide their own supporters and potential supporters? Isn’t divide and conquer usually a technique used by one’s enemies, rather than promoted from within a movement itself? Let us place justice for all above identity politics for some. If that means we have to go through a difficult phase of social conflict, public shaming, moral outrage, etc, then so be it. But instead of stopping short, we would make sure to push it as far as it can go, until full justice is attained. None of us will remain untouched by the changes that will follow.

* * *

The following are some of the sources for my thinking. I’ll begin with some of what I consider to be obvious observations about the “Not All Men” meme. Below that, there is much fascinating data about race and gender in terms of social forces and the legal system, victims and victimizers, etc. Much of the info is about what data we so far have about female perpetrators of child maltreatment.

Comment by rj paré

I would say that any complaint generalizing all of a given gender, or a particular ethnicity, faith or orientation is flawed to begin with. I don’t think anyone who points that out is ever saying that the particular complaint never happens – just that it is always wrong to paint with broad strokes.

Not All Feminists

There you are, explaining how we could simplify airport screening procedures by using racial profiling, and suddenly-

Not all Arabs!

Or you and your friends are just making some really good progress on figuring out the racial origins of our society’s crime and unemployment problems when-

Not all Blacks!

Then you think you can at least have a conversation about how women with a massive sense self importance and entitlement end up shifting everything into gender war terms when-

Not all Feminists!

It’s almost like you can’t sit around making generalizations about groups you don’t like without someone showing up to introduce a qualifier? If reasoned discourse doesn’t exist in order for us to draw massive negative generalizations about groups of people we don’t like, what exactly is it for?

Comment section of #YesAllWomen

ou812 writes:

Phil, how do you respond to people who say “Not all Muslims are terrorists” after a suicide bombing?

Matt W writes:

“Fourth—and this is important, so listen carefully—when a woman is walking down the street, or on a blind date, or, yes, in an elevator alone, she doesn’t know which group you’re in.”

Hence, group stereotyping is a useful practice that has gotten much undeserved bad press. The HBD folks will be thrilled that we’ve come around on this.

My only point is that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. If you support sex-stereotyping, then you’ve gone and supported other stereotyping as well, such as racial. See a black guy, cross the street. You don’t know which group of black guys he is in, after all.

I don’t deny, stereotyping is useful. We should just stop berating everyone for doing it in ways we don’t approve of.

wc4 writes:

I have a little food for thought. When Westboro Baptist started receiving remarkable attention for its activities, Christianity almost in its entirety stepped back and marginalized (at least in my humble observation) them with little more than finger-pointing and “not all Christians are like that” allegory. We already knew that; this wasn’t the latest breaking news story. However, it seemed to work. That’s the important aspect. Christians pushed away and shunned their most deplorable effectively, simply by getting together openly and candidly, and saying, “No, we will NOT be THAT.”

So, I’m compelled to posit these questions. What happens when, in the midst of this immense and pivotal gender conflict, a bloody million men get up and marginalize misogynists and misogyny? Is it not possible that the “not all men” phenomenon as a demand of men by men that we will NOT be THAT, as well as a reassurance to women, no matter how weak?

I choose to speak up primarily because I really, genuinely want to see something constructive come out of the conflict. It’s the only way the conflict ever really ends with all parties on equal footing. That M&M analogy is remarkable and profound, and should disseminate with reckless abandon. However, it doesn’t tell me – an anti-misogynistic male – how to help you get what you want and need. When I look at a woman, I see a human being, an individual, and my equal; and that’s not enough for me either, as not enough men see the same. So, I offer the perspective that allows this “movement” to be a demand as well. I offer it in hopes that, even if I’m completely, mind-bogglingly wrong, something constructive will come of it.

Alf Fass writes:

“Why is it not helpful to say “not all men are like that”? For lots of reasons. For one, women know this. They already know not every man is a rapist, or a murderer, or violent. They don’t need you to tell them.”

As I read the argument Phil makes he’s saying “sure, not all men are rapists, but there is a group of women who think that all men are potential rapists”

Such women I think are equivalent to people who think “sure not all black men are muggers, but all black men are potential muggers”

People who think that way are respectively sexists and racists.

Colin Robinson writes:

40 years ago, Susan Brownmiller published her influential book “Against our Will: Men, Women and Rape”. There she described rape as “a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear”. Note the words “all men”.

Still today, she quotes that statement on her website. http://www.susanbrownmiller.com/susanbrownmiller/html/against_our_will.html

I’d agree that it shouldn’t be necessary to say “not all men”. Unfortunately, because of feminists like Brownmiller, it is necessary.

Young Mice, Like Children, Can Grow Up Too Fast
by Alison Gopnik, WSJ (see To Grow Up Fast)

In the new experiment, published in 2015 in the same journal, the researchers looked at how the young mice reacted to early stress. Some of the mice were separated from their mothers for 60 or 180 minutes a day, although the youngsters were kept warm and fed just like the other mice. Mice normally get all their care from their mother, so even this brief separation is very stressful.

The stressed mice actually developed more quickly than the secure mice. As adolescents they looked more like adults: They were less exploratory and flexible, and not as good at reversal learning. It seemed that they grew up too fast. And they were distinctive in another way. They were more likely to drink large quantities of ethanol—thus, more vulnerable to the mouse equivalent of alcoholism.

These results fit with an emerging evolutionary approach to early stress. Childhood is a kind of luxury, for mice as well as men, a protected period in which animals can learn, experiment and explore, while caregivers look after their immediate needs.

Early stress may act as a signal to animals that this special period is not a luxury that they can afford—they are in a world where they can’t rely on care. Animals may then adopt a “live fast, die young” strategy, racing to achieve enough adult competence to survive and reproduce, even at the cost of less flexibility, fewer opportunities for learning and more vulnerability to alcohol.

This may be as true for human children as it is for mouse pups. Early life stress is associated with earlier puberty, and a 2013 study by Nim Tottenham and colleagues in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that children who spent their early years in orphanages prematurely developed adultlike circuitry in the parts of the brain that govern fear and anxiety.

Yes, Preschool Teachers Really Do Treat Black And White Children Totally Differently
by Rebecca Klein, Huffington Post

Black children are 3.6 times more likely to receive a suspension in preschool than their white classmates, according to 2013-2014 data from the Department of Education. But, “until now, no research existed to explain why boys or black preschoolers are at greatest risk for expulsion,” Gilliam said on a call with reporters.

According to Gilliam, a teacher’s implicit biases can have a big impact on a child’s future.

“Implicit bias is like the wind, you can’t see it but you can sure see its effects,” Gilliam said. “Implicit biases do not begin with black men and police, they begin with young black boys and their preschool teachers, if not earlier.”

Let Black Kids Just Be Kids
by Rogin Bernstein

George Zimmerman admitted at his 2012 bail hearing that he misjudged Trayvon Martin’s age when he killed him. “I thought he was a little bit younger than I am,” he said, meaning just under 28. But Trayvon was only 17.

What may be most tragic about Mr. Zimmerman’s miscalculation is that it’s widespread. To many people, black boys seem older than they are: In one study, people overestimated their ages by 4.5 years. This contributes to a false perception that black boys are less childlike than white boys.

Black girls are subject to similar beliefs, according to a recent study by the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality. A group of 325 adults viewed black girls as needing less nurturing, support and protection than white girls, and as knowing more about sex and other adult topics.

People of all races see black children as less innocent, more adultlike and more responsible for their actions than their white peers. In turn, normal childhood behavior, like disobedience, tantrums and back talk, is seen as a criminal threat when black kids do it. Social scientists have found that this misperception causes black children to be “pushed out, overpoliced and underprotected,” according to a report by the legal scholar Kimberlé W. Crenshaw.

That’s why we must create a future in which children of color are not disproportionately caught up in the criminal justice system, a world in which a black 17-year-old can wear a hoodie without being assumed to be a criminal.

The Race Factor in Trying Juveniles as Adults
by Jennifer L. Eberhardt & Aneeta Rattan, NYT

But as our society has scrutinized this line between juvenile and adult, there has been little discussion of how race might influence people’s perceptions of juvenile status, despite widespread and substantial racial disparities in juvenile sentencing. Consider Florida, which is the state that had most often assigned juveniles life without parole sentences in cases other than homicide. As of 2009, 84 percent of the juvenile offenders who received this sentence were African-American.

In our own work, we find that race can have a sweeping effect even when people consider the same crime. Prompting people to think of a single black (rather than white) juvenile offender leads them to express greater support for sentencing all juveniles to life without parole when they have committed serious violent crimes. Thinking about a black juvenile offender also makes people imagine that juveniles are closer to adults in their blameworthiness. Remarkably, this was true for both people who were low in prejudice and those who were high in prejudice and for both liberals and conservatives.

Thus, race has the power to dampen our desire to be merciful. This is why race must be considered in discussions about how we protect juveniles and what punishments are deemed appropriate for them. Though often overlooked, perhaps race is key to helping us understand people’s support for punitive policies more generally.

Kids in Prison: Getting Tried as An Adult Depends on Skin Color
by Sarah Gonzalez, WNYC

The WNYC Data News Team went through state records of every person who is currently in a New Jersey prison, and isolated those who were minors on the date they committed their crime. Here’s what we found:

  • At least 152 inmates are still in prison today for crimes they committed as kids in the past five years
  • 93 percent of them are black or Latino
  • The most common crime they committed was robbery
  • 20 percent of them have sentences of 10 or more years
  • 2 are female inmates

Men Sentenced To Longer Prison Terms Than Women For Same Crimes, Study Says
Huffington Post

If you’re a convicted criminal, the best thing you can have going for you might be your gender.

A new study by Sonja Starr, an assistant law professor at the University of Michigan, found that men are given much higher sentences than women convicted of the same crimes in federal court.

The study found that men receive sentences that are 63 percent higher, on average, than their female counterparts.

Starr also found that females arrested for a crime are also significantly more likely to avoid charges and convictions entirely, and twice as likely to avoid incarceration if convicted.

Other research has found evidence of the same gender gap, though Starr asserts that the disparity is actually larger than previously suspected because other studies haven’t looked at the role of plea bargains and other pre-sentencing steps in the criminal justice system.

A 2009 study suggested the difference in sentencing might arise because “judges treat women more leniently for practical reasons, such as their greater caretaking responsibility.”

Past studies have also found that minority men are, on average, given longer prison sentences than white men convicted of the same crimes.

5 Bizarre Realities of Being a Man Who Was Raped by a Woman
Amanda Mannen, Cracked

a 2012 survey of 40,000 households found that a staggering 38 percent of sexual-assault victims were male. Nearly half of those men reported that their attacker was a woman.

Current evidence on sexual abuse by women
from Breaking the last taboo: sexual abuse by female perpetrators
Renee Koonin, South Eastern CASA

While it is essential to work with the most recent available research and not inflate figures through dint of emotion or ideology, it must be remembered that a couple of decades ago, abuse by men was considered rare. At least we have to be open to the possibility that sexual abuse by women may be more prevalent than we currently understand, and hence provide the opportunity for disclosure (Renvoize 1993). Is there any evidence to challenge current thinking on the prevalence of female sexual abusers?

It was courageous women speaking out about their abuse as children that first alerted us to the staggering incidence of sexual victimisation of children. Similarly, adult survivors of sexual abuse by women are coming forward, saying that until now they have felt doubly silenced. After the National Conference on Female Sexual Abuse in London, the radio program, ‘This Morning’ opened a hotline inviting callers to talk about abuse by women. In one day, they received over 1,000 calls, 90 per cent of whom stated they had never told anyone (Elliott 1993). In April 1993, a television program called ‘Unspeakable Acts’, was screened by the BBC. The Broadcasting Support Services Helpline received I60 calls by women abused as children by females immediately after the screening. National self-help groups for survivors of female abuse have been established in America and the United Kingdom. Closer to home, a group for women abused by females in childhood was established after the Incest Confest held in Sydney in July 1992. None of this gives us incidence or prevalence figures, but we are hearing from people who were silent until now.

Claims of sex abuse by women grow
Hannah Richardson, BBC News

Childline’s report did not claim that sexual abuse by women was on the rise.

It instead suggested that, as more boys were tending to call its helpline, more cases were being reported.

Female Perpetrators and Male Victims of Sexual Abuse: Facts and Resources 
Loree Cook‐Daniels, Forge

Of the studies listed, between of 37-53.8% of male children abused by female perpetrators

Sexual Abuse By Women: The Crime No One Wants To Investigate
Anna North, Jezebel

Reliable data on the prevalence of sexual abuse by women is almost impossible to come by. Philby cites one UK abuse hotline, ChildLine — 11% of its callers in 2004 reported being abused by a woman. But women make up only 1% of convicted sex offenders in England and Wales. The picture is just as complicated in the US, according to an article by Lisa Lipshires in Moving Forward Newsjournal. One report found that women were responsible in 20% of US abuse cases between 1973 and 1987, but states report their data differently, and not all divide abusers by gender.

Sharp rise reported in child abuse by women
Sam Marsden, U.K. Independent

New figures show a 132 per cent rise in complaints of female sexual assaults to the helpline service in this period, compared with a 27 per cent increase in reports of abuse by men. […]

The disturbing statistics follow the recent high-profile case of nursery worker Vanessa George, who was a member of an internet paedophile ring along with another woman.

Last year ChildLine heard from 1,311 children who said they had been sexually assaulted by their own mother, representing 61 per cent of all calls about abuse by females.

Research for the helpline found that boys were more likely to say they had been abused by a woman (1,722 cases) than by a man (1,651).

Child Maltreatment 2006
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

In 2006, nearly 80 percent (79.9%) of perpetrators of child maltreatment were parents, and another 6.7 percent were other relatives of the victim. Women comprised a larger percentage of all perpetrators than men, 57.9 percent compared to 42.1 percent. More than 75 percent (77.5%) of all perpetrators were younger than age 40. […]

For FFY 2006, 48.2 percent of child victims were boys, and 51.5 percent of the victims were girls. The youngest children had the highest rate of victimization. […]

Nearly three-quarters of child victims (72.2%) ages birth to 1 year and age group of 1–3 (72.9%) were neglected compared with 55.0 percent of victims ages 16 years and older. For victims in the age group of 4–7 years 15.3 percent were physically abused and 8.2 percent were sexually abused, compared with 20.1 percent and 16.5 percent, respectively, for victims in the age group of 1 2–15 years old. […]

Nearly 83 percent (82.4%) of victims were abused by a parent acting alone or with another person. Approximately, 40 percent (39.9%) of child victims were maltreated by their mothers acting alone; another 17.6 percent were maltreated by their fathers acting alone; and 17.8 percent were abused by both parents. 19 Victims abused by nonparental perpetrators accounted for 10.0 percent (figure 3–5). […]

Three-quarters (75.9%) of child fatalities were caused by one or more parents (figure 4–2). More than one-quarter (27.4%) of fatalities were perpetrated by the mother acting alone. Nonparental perpetrators (e.g., other relative, foster parent, residential facility staff, “other,” and legal guardian) were responsible for 14.7 percent of fatalities. […]

Given the definition of child abuse and neglect, which largely pertains to caregivers, not to persons unknown to a child, most perpetrators of child maltreatment are parents. Also included are relatives, foster parents, and residential facility staff. During Federal fiscal year (FFY) 2006:
■ Nearly 80 percent (79.9%) of perpetrators were parents of the victim;
■ Approximately 60 percent (60.4%) of perpetrators were found to have neglected children; and
Approximately 58 percent (57.9%) of perpetrators were women, and 42 percent (42.1%) of perpetrators were men.

Who abuses children?
Australian Institute of Family Studies

Findings from the ABS Personal Safety Survey (2005) indicated that of participants who had experienced physical abuse before the age of 15, 55.6% experienced abuse from their father/stepfather and 25.9% experienced abuse from their mother/stepmother. A further 13.7% experienced abuse from another known person and the remainder were family friends, other relatives or strangers (ABS, 2005).

A British retrospective prevalence study of 2,869 young adults aged 18-24 (May-Chahal & Cawson, 2005) found that mothers were more likely than fathers to be responsible for physical abuse (49% of incidents compared to 40%). However, part of the difference may be explained by the greater time children spend with their mothers than fathers. Violence was also reported to be perpetrated by stepmothers (3%) or stepfathers (5%), grandparents (3%) and other relatives (1%) (May-Chahal & Cawson, 2005).

Further research shows that when taking issues of severity into consideration, fathers or father surrogates are responsible for more severe physical abuse and fatalities than female perpetrators (US Department of Health and Human Services [US DHHS], 2005). Other researchers such as Daly and Wilson (1999) have argued that biological parents are less likely than step-parents to physically abuse their biological offspring due to their greater investment in the genetic continuity of their family.

Understanding Violence by Women: A Review of the Literature
Correctional Service of Canada

As noted earlier the interpretation of gender differences is difficult in this area because women are more likely to have care of children, often as single mothers, and to spend more time with them. In the US Reiss and Roth (1993) report that infants and small children are more likely to be killed by their mothers than their fathers, in part as a result of the mother’s greater caretaking role. Child deaths are also likely to result from combinations of circumstances and actors eg. an individual parent, both parents, boy-friends, step parents and grandparents, foster parents and babysitters (Greenland 1987). They may result from a single event or an extended history of battering or neglect. In very rare cases they may be identified with severe pathology (eg. the Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome, Schreier & Libow 1993).

A detailed study of deaths from child abuse and neglect in Canada, the United Kingdom and the USA, and of the many problems of research in this field, was undertaken by Greenland (1987). Of the 100 cases examined in Ontario, he found that slightly more women than men were responsible for a child’s death, they tended to be younger than male perpetrators, and the child more likely to die as a result of neglect than abuse. Male perpetrators were more likely to have injured the child physically. In the United Kingdom, among 68 deaths, there was a higher frequency of male perpetrators.

Greenland stresses the variety of circumstances in such deaths and the importance of studying a total population rather than the most extreme cases. In both samples he attributed the largest proportion of deaths to the `battered child syndrome’, followed by child neglect and homicide (ie. a single event not related to a history of abuse). In both countries he also identified baby-sitters and temporary carers as a specific group. Some of the factors associated with high risk children and their parents were also identified. He concluded that the proportion of deaths attributable to mental illness was rare, and that there is an indisputable link between child abuse and neglect deaths, and poverty and family stress in all three countries.

Morris and Wilcznski (1993) in their study of mothers who kill their children report that children under one year of age made up 12% of all deaths in England and Wales in 1989. Most of those children were killed by parents. An analysis of all such cases where the suspect was a parent between 1982 and 1989, a total of 493, indicated that almost half of the children were killed by their mothers. As they underline, this is in marked contrast to other types of homicide where women are usually well outnumbered by men.

What is also evident from the work of Wilcznicki and Morris as well as other writers (eg. Allen, 1987a & b) is the differential way in which such men and women were treated by the courts. Of those originally charged with murder, more than half of the fathers were sentenced to imprisonment, compared with under 10% of the mothers. The great majority of those mothers were subsequently convicted on a lesser charge and received probation or (psychiatric) hospital orders. This was generally on the grounds of diminished responsibility (that at the time of the crime they suffering from an abnormality of the mind). Of those cases where the initial charge was manslaughter, just over half the mothers received a sentence of imprisonment, compared with the majority of the fathers. Thus overall, the criminal justice system in England and Wales is less likely to convict mothers who kill their children for murder, and less likely to sentence them to prison. In the USA the authors suggest, such mothers are more likely to receive a sentence of imprisonment.

Those mothers who do receive a prison sentence tend to be seen as ‘bad’ mothers in contrast to otherwise ‘good’ mothers who were seen to be suffering from some form of personality disorder or depressive illness. Morris and Wilczynski conclude that this tendency to see women’s violent behaviour as unnatural is not in the end helpful to women. Like Greenland (1987) they argue that the reasons mothers may kill their children are ‘many and varied’, and ‘normal’ women can kill their children when they are confronted by social and economic circumstances which are severe enough’ (p. 215). The focus on the pathology of the mother diverts attention away from the poverty and isolation in which such mothers often live and, they argue, their lack of social and economic power in a society which regards all women as natural mothers.

Husain, Anasseril and Harris (1983) in a study of 23 homicidal women admitted for pre-trial psychiatric evaluation found those who had killed a child were much younger than other women. Korbin (1989) in a study of nine women imprisoned for killing their child suggests that the deaths followed a pattern of abuse of the child, that the women had provided warning signals to professionals, family members and neighbours after previous incidents, and had rationalized and minimized the abuse to themselves. Her work confirms that of other researchers in the field in highlighting the `plethora of adverse conditions and risk factors’ in the life histories and current circumstances of the women, including their own histories of abuse. On the basis of other work in the field (eg. Daro 1987; Fontana & Alfaro 1987) she suggests that prediction of such fatal incidents may be impossible, but that intervention and education should be directed beyond individual families to community networks which can support them, and research, at the circumstances leading to such events.

Child sexual abuse
Wikipedia

“Research attention is now being directed towards women who sexually abuse children.”[4] It is not uncommon for a male who has been sexually abused by a woman in his youth to receive positive or neutral reactions when he tells people about the abuse.[5] Males and females sexually abused by male offenders, on the other hand, are more readily believed.[6]

According to a study done by Cortoni and Hanson in 2005, 4-5% of all recorded sexual abuse victims were abused by female offenders.[6] However, the Cortoni study numbers don’t match the official statistics by The United States Department of Justice which found a rate of 8.3% for “Other sexual offenses” for females and The Australian Bureau of Statistics found a rate of 7.9% for “Sexual assault and related offences” for females.[citation needed]

Other studies have found rates to be much higher. For example:

In a study of 17,337 survivors of childhood sexual abuse, 23% had a female-only perpetrator and 22% had both male and female perpetrators.[7]

The sexual abuse of children by women, primarily mothers, constituted 25% (approximately 36 000 children) of the sexually abused victims. This statistic is thought to be underestimated due to the tendency of non-disclosure by victims.[8]

According to a major 2004 study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education – In studies that ask students about offenders, sex differences are less than in adult reports. The 2000 American Association of University Women (AAUW) data indicate that 57.2 percent of all students report a male offender and 42.4 percent a female offender with the Cameron et al. study reporting nearly identical proportions as the 2000 AAUW data (57 percent male offenders vs. 43 percent female offenders).[9]

Some have even suggested that a greater degree of child molesters are female, estimating as many as 63% of sex abusers may be female.[10]

According to a 2011 CDC report there are an estimated 4,403,010 female victims of sexual violence that had a female perpetrator.[11]

[Criminology] Review: Sexual Abuse of Children (by Women)
J. H. Nomer

Overview

  • Accounting for self-reports bring the victimization rates to an alarming 58% (Kramer, 2011 & 2012).
  • In 1992, a hotline program hosted by the British children’s charity Kidscape, it was discovered that 90% of the victims of female rapists had never reported their abuse to anyone, making it the most under-reported crime of all time. The majority of the callers were women. (Elliot, 1994).
  • Women committed at least 25% of all child sexual abuse in the U.K — an estimated 250,000 children were victimized by women in the with 86% of their victims being met with disbelief when attempting to report (Elliot, 1994).
  • BBC1 broadcasted the documentary, “The Ultimate Taboo: Child Sexual Abuse by Women” in 1994. The sheer cruelty and sadism of female rapists portrayed was, at that time, beyond belief.
  • In 1996, a national report published by U.S Department of Health and Human Services found women perpetrated 28% of child sexual abuse. Similar examinations were also reported by Health Canada (Mathews, 1996).
  • “The sexual abuse of children by women, primarily mothers, once thought to be so rare it could be ignored, constituted at least 25% of the sexually abused victims. This statistic is thought to be underestimated due to the tendency of non-disclosure by victims.” (Boroughs, 2004).
  • In 2004, the U.S Department of Education (USDE) compiled known studies of educator sexual misconduct to find at least 43% of the perpetrators were women.
  • In a large-scale school survey in South Africa, 41% reported a female perpetrator while 27% reported both male and female perpetrators (Andersson, et al, 2008).
  • In the majority of cases, women who sexually abuse children, do so completely alone (O’Connor, 1987; Kalders, et al, 1997 & Aylward, 2002). The Correctional Service of Canada (CCS) reports similar findings in their 2008 case study.
  • Arrest report data are meaningless, as female rapists are generally either not arrested, not prosecuted or not sentenced to jail time (Finkelhor, et al, 1988; Vandiver, et al, 2006). A British Home Office study, found that the average sentence length for sex crimes for males was 41.2 months. This was twice the sentence length for females, averaging 22.2 months (Grey, et al, 2001). Feminist criminologists reported similar discrimination in sentencing (Embry, et al, 2012).
  • In cases that do result in incarceration, female rapists were not required to seek sexual deviance treatment (Aylward, et al, 2002).
  • Female offenders do not have an unusually high rate of mental illness (Faller, 1987; Saradjian, 1996).
  • It’s also important to note that in cases involving those who do have diagnosable psychiatric illnesses, it cannot be automatically concluded that this caused their offense. (Faller, 1995) reports that out of 23 women, who were coded as being mentally ill, only 3 showed that mental illness was related to offending behaviour.
  • Sexual sadism is unusually high among female perpetrators (Fedoroff, et al, 1999). (Kelley, et al, 1993) investigated sexual abuse of children in day care centers and found female pedophiles often forced children into watching them rape other children. (Kaufman, et al, 1995) reports women often used foreign objects to penetrate their victims. (Aylward, et al, 2002) reports female pedophiles were more likely to have the child engage in sexual behavior with another adult while they watched. (Wiegel, 2009) compared women who molested children, to women with other sexual deviances and reported that the women child molesters abused multiple children.
  • The First National Conference on Female Sexual Abuse, hosted by Kidscape founder Michelle Elliot, was violently disrupted by feminists in an attempt to block their discussions (Elliot, 1994). Feminist organizations continue to attack researchers who refuse to conform to biased scales of “patriarchal dominance”. Funds acquired for the “welfare of women” are instead funneled into extremism.
  • Feminist pedophiles. “The validity of three assumptions about self-esteem, sex-role identity, and feminism in female offenders was empirically investigated in a study of 73 women awaiting trial (ATU) in Massachusetts. ATU and a comparison group of women were administered several paper-and-pencil questionnaires measuring self-esteem, personal autonomy, psychological masculinity and femininity, and feminism. Despite age and educational differences, ATU women were similar to non-offender women. The results did not support assumptions regarding low self-esteem and increased masculinity in female offenders. The third assumption about feminism in young female offenders received slight support.” (Widom, 1979).

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Don’t Get Mad, Get Even

Here is a nice thought about walking off anger. It’s a poem by Rosemerry at A Hundred Falling Veils blog. The title is “I’m Not Saying We Shouldn’t Be Angry.”

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be angry.
Anger seems reasonable. But perhaps
we will do what I’ve heard the Inuit do—
spend the emotion on walking, walk a line
until all the anger has left our bodies.

There is truth to that. Physical exertion does help an individual to release stress. There are biological reasons one could give, if one wanted to be scientific about it. But the advice stands alone and can be verified in one’s experience. Maybe that relates to a main problem with the internet, too much inactivity. For reasons of mental and physical health, people should get up once in a while to physically move around, which probably is a good prevention for the buildup of anxiousness and frustration that can lead to bad moods.

I’m a curious person, though. The anthropological angle interests me for its own sake. I was wondering about the source that is the basis of the poem. I came across two references to it. In Overlay, Lucy R. Lippard writes that, An Eskimo custom offers an angry person release by walking the emotion out of his or her system in a straight line across the landscape; the point at which the anger is conquered is marked with a stick, bearing witness to the strength or length of the rage.” And here is something from the UAB Department of Anthropology“When conflicts do arise, people often express their feelings with hints. Anger occasionally erupts, but when it does the angry person simply walks away. The community may ostracize people who develop a tendency to anger, though that would be done subtly, with the people doing the ostracizing acting more nurturing and warmer than ever.”

It almost makes one want to sing a round of “Kumbaya My Lord, Kumbaya.” Or maybe belt out an old Unity Church favorite, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” I can feel the love already. I grew up with New Age spirituality. I dig it. But… there is always a ‘but’…

There is something in me (cynicism? contrarianism?) that can’t help noting a related piece of info. The Inuit weren’t hippy pacifists. Humans have to be as tough as the frozen tundra to survive in such icy bleakness. They didn’t express their anger because they didn’t tolerate anyone expressing their anger. Walking it off was an act of suppression. Don’t come back until you either are in a better mood or regained enough self-control to pretend to be in a better mood. There wasn’t much room for tolerance of misbehavior and deviance of any sort: betraying community values and social norms, taking advantage and harming others. The Inuit rule was to keep your problems to yourself or else. And you didn’t want to find out what ‘or else’ might mean. Individuals who failed to play by the rules and be members in good standing… well, those people were taken care of, one way or another. As Barbara Oakley explained (Evil Genes, p. 265):

Prior to the advent of agriculture, human groups were small — perhaps made up of fifty or fewer, and perfectly capable of “voting with their feet” to escape unfair treatment. Psychopathic or self-serving Machiavellian behavior would be obvious in such a restricted environment and would be difficult to tolerate long-term. There is evidence that when such behavior arose in those small, ancestral nomadic groups, it was eliminated in straightforward fashion. Harvard anthropologist Jane Murphy, for example, notes that the Yupic-speaking Eskimos of northwest Alaska have a word, kunlangeta, which means “his mind knows what to do but he does not do it.” This word

might be applied to a man who, for example, repeatedly lies and cheats and steals things and does not go hunting and, when the other men are out of the village, takes sexual advantage of many women — someone who does not pay attention to reprimands and who is always being brought to the elders for punishment. One Eskimo among 499 on their island was called kunlangeta. When asked what would have happened to such a person traditionally, an Eskimo said that probably “somebody would have pushed him off the ice when nobody else was looking.”

Murphy goes on to describe a similar word, arankan, used by Yorubas of Africa. It is applied to a person who always goes his own way regardless of others, who is uncooperative, full of malice, and bullheaded. Interestingly, neither kunlangeta nor arankan were thought to be curable by native healers. Psychopathy is rare in those settings, notes psychologists David Cooke, who has studied psychopathy across cultures.

They didn’t get lost in anger. Instead, they took direct action to solve the problem or eliminate the cause of their anger. Walking it off was just the first step. Don’t act in anger. But be sure to take action. The problem still needs to be solved.

Consider the ancient Japanese story of the Samurai. His master was murdered and it was his duty to seek vengeance. Having tracked down the assassin and with sword aloft, the cornered man spit in the Samurai’s face. Anger having taken hold of his mind, he immediately stopped and sheathed his sword. It would have been dishonorable to have killed the man out of anger. His act of righteousness needed to be an act of dispassionate duty, not of personal emotion. So, he left the killer there and walked away. My friend who told me this story gave it a different ending that I prefer. In his version, after the Samurai calmed down and regained composure, he once again tracked down the evildoer. With a calm heart and a clear mind, he honorably slayed the guilty party and justice was done.

Don’t get mad. Get even. It is ancient wisdom.