Powerful Conspiracies & Open Secrets

Why do so many Americans, including the well educated, know so little about how power operates? There is a naivete that dominates the mainstream mind, in how the sociopolitical reality tunnel is mediated by way of corporate media, think tanks, perception management, etc.

The most powerful conspiracies often operate as open secrets. The conspirators, not that they think of themselves that way, don’t worry about exposure because the public is kept in a permanent state of apathetic ignorance. The alternative media and foreign media that investigates and reports on these conspiracies rarely reaches the American audience. Nor do those in domestic corporate media and among the domestic political elite necessarily get much exposure to other views, as they are as trapped in echo chambers and media bubbles as anyone else. It’s a shared condition of mediated reality.

If mainstream media reporting and the political narrative is controlled, then control can be maintained of public perception and opinion. Truth doesn’t matter when truth has been made invisible and irrelevant to most of the targeted population. As long as the official story is repeated enough, few will question it and the few who do will be dismissed as cranks and conspiracy theorists, not that most will even take notice. A news report might occasionally surface, barely touching upon it, only to disappear once again. The very casual and fleeting treatment of the incident communicates and reinforces its insignificance to the audience.

Conspiracies are easy, as long as there is an established system of persuasion and influence. It doesn’t require a secret cabal operating in a dark room. Those in positions of power and authority, including media personalities, live in the same world and share the same vested interests. Like the rest of the population, those in the upper classes come to believe the stories they tell. The first victim of propaganda are the propagandists, as any con man has to first con himself. And humans are talented at rationalizing.

Truth is easily sacrificed, just as easily as it is ignored, even for those who know better. We simultaneously know and don’t know all kinds of things. In a cynical age such as ours, a conspiracy doesn’t seem like a conspiracy when it operates out in the open. We take it as business as usual, the way power always operates. The greatest conspiracy is our collective blindness and silence.

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Daniel Ellsberg’s Advice for How to Stop Current and Future Wars
by Norman Solomon

Daniel Ellsberg has a message that managers of the warfare state don’t want people to hear.

“If you have information that bears on deception or illegality in pursuing wrongful policies or an aggressive war,” he said in a statement released last week, “don’t wait to put that out and think about it, consider acting in a timely way at whatever cost to yourself. … Do what Katharine Gun did.”

If you don’t know what Katharine Gun did, chalk that up to the media power of the war system.

Ellsberg’s video statement went public as this month began, just before the 15th anniversary of the revelation by a British newspaper, the Observer, of a secret NSA memo—thanks to Katharine Gun. At the UK’s intelligence agency GCHQ, about 100 people received the same email memo from the National Security Agency on the last day of January 2003, seven weeks before the invasion of Iraq got underway. Only Katharine Gun, at great personal risk, decided to leak the document.

If more people had taken such risks in early 2003, the Iraq War might have been prevented. If more people were willing to take such risks in 2018, the current military slaughter in several nations, mainly funded by U.S. taxpayers, might be curtailed if not stopped. Blockage of information about past whistleblowing deprives the public of inspiring role models.

That’s the kind of reality George Orwell was referring to when he wrote: “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.” […]

Katharine Gun foiled that plan. While scarcely reported in the U.S. media (despite cutting-edge news releases produced by my colleagues at the Institute for Public Accuracy beginning in early March of 2003), the revelations published by the Observer caused huge media coverage across much of the globe—and sparked outrage in several countries with seats on the Security Council.

“In the rest of the world, there was great interest in the fact that American intelligence agencies were interfering with their policies of their representatives in the Security Council,” Ellsberg noted. A result was that for some governments on the Security Council at the time, the leak “made it impossible for their representatives to support the U.S. wish to legitimize this clear case of aggression against Iraq. So the U.S. had to give up its plan to get a supporting vote in the UN.” The U.S. and British governments “went ahead anyway, but without the legitimating precedent of an aggressive war that would have had, I think, many consequences later.”

The BBC’s disgraceful attempt at a McCarthyist-style shaping public of perceptions and flouting impartiality rule
by Kitty S. Jones

One source of media bias is a failure to include a perspective, viewpoint or information within a news story that might be objectively regarded as being important. This is important because exclusion of a particular viewpoint or opinion on a subject might be expected to shift the ‘Overton Window’, defining what it is politically acceptable to say. This can happen in such a way that a viewpoint becomes entirely eliminated or marginalised from political discourse. Within academic media theory, there is a line of reasoning that media influence on audiences is not immediate but occurs more through a continual process of repeated arguments – the ‘steady drip’ effect.

A second potential source of bias is ‘bias by selection’. This might entail particular issues or viewpoints being more frequently covered, or certain guests or organisations being more likely to be selected. There are several others, for some of which the BBC has regularly been criticised.

Herman and Chomsky (1988) proposed a propaganda model hypothesising systematic biases of media from structural economic causes. Their proposition is that media ownership by corporations, (and in other media, funding from advertising), the use of official sources, efforts to discredit independent media (“flak”), and “anti-communist“ ideology as the filters that bias news in favour of corporate and partisan political interests.

Politically biased messages may be conveyed via visual cues from the sets as a kind of underhanded reference-dependent framing. A frame defines the packaging of an element of rhetoric in such a way as to encourage certain interpretations and to discourage others. It entails the selection of some aspects of a perceived reality and makes them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation and so on. […]

As Walter Lipman once noted, the news media are a primary source of those “pictures in our heads” about the larger world of public affairs, a world that for most citizens is “out of reach, out of sight, out of mind.” What people know about the world is largely based on what the media decide to show them. More specifically, the result of this mediated view of the world is that the priorities of the media strongly influence the priorities of the public. Elements prominent on the media agenda become prominent in the public mind.

Given the reduction in sophistication and rationality in government rhetoric, media news and current affairs presentation, (and reduction in democratic accountability, for that matter) we don’t currently have a climate that particularly encourages citizens to think critically and for themselves.

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On a related topic, Kitty S. Jones has another piece she just put up. It is about how we are influenced. This is also a bit of an open secret. There has been some leaks about it, along with some investigative reporting. Yet the average American remains uninformed and unaware or else not comprehending or taking seriously the threat.

The fact of the matter is that a conspiracy to influence is as easy to accomplish as anything else. We are surrounded by highly effective conspiracies to influence us, many that operate out in the open and still we rarely notice them. They are the air we breathe in a cynical society such as this. They have become normalized and so we have stopped being shocked by how far the powerful are willing to go.

It would be depressingly naive to dismiss this as the rantings of conspiracy theorists. This is one of the most central concerns of anyone who both understands what democracy is and why it matters. We either want a free society or not. When we find ourselves being kept in the dark, the first thing to do is to turn on a light and look around to see what is going on, no matter how ugly is the reality we see and no matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel.

Here is Jones’ most recent post:

Cambridge Analytica, the commodification of voter decision-making and marketisation of democracy
by Kitty S Jones

It’s not such a big inferential leap to conclude that governments are attempting to manage legitimate criticism and opposition while stage-managing our democracy.

I don’t differentiate a great deal between the behavioural insights team at the heart of the Conservative cabinet office, and the dark world of PR and ‘big data’ and ‘strategic communications’ companies like Cambridge Analytica. The political misuse of psychology has been disguised as some kind of technocratic “fix” for a failing neoliberal paradigm, and paraded as neutral “science”.

However, its role as an authoritarian prop for an ideological imposition on the population has always been apparent to some of us, because the bottom line is that it is all about influencing people’s perceptions and decisions, using psychological warfare strategies.

The Conservatives’ behaviour change agenda is designed to align citizen’s perceptions and behaviours with neoliberal ideology and the interests of the state. However, in democratic societies, governments are traditionally elected to reflect and meet public needs. The use of “behaviour change” policy involves the state acting upon individuals, and instructing them how they must be.

Last year, I wrote a detailed article about some of these issues, including discussion of Cambridge Analytica’s involvement in data mining and the political ‘dark’ advertising that is only seen by its intended recipients. This is a much greater cause for concern than “fake news” in the spread of misinformation, because it is invisible to everyone but the person being targeted. This means that the individually tailored messages are not open to public scrutiny, nor are they fact checked.

A further problem is that no-one is monitoring the impact of the tailored messages and the potential to cause harm to individuals. The dark adverts are designed to exploit people’s psychological vulnerabilities, using personality profiling, which is controversial in itself. Intentionally generating and manipulating fear and anxiety to influence political outcomes isn’t a new thing. Despots have been using fear and slightly less subtle types of citizen “behaviour change” programmes for a long time.

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In Kitty S. Jones’ above linked piece, she refers to an article that makes clear the dangerous consequences of covert anti-democratic tactics. This is reminiscent of the bad ol’ days of COINTELPRO, one of the many other proven government conspiracies. If this doesn’t wake you up, you must be deep asleep.

How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations
by Glenn Greenwald

One of the many pressing stories that remains to be told from the Snowden archive is how western intelligence agencies are attempting to manipulate and control online discourse with extreme tactics of deception and reputation-destruction. It’s time to tell a chunk of that story, complete with the relevant documents.

Over the last several weeks, I worked with NBC News to publish a series of articles about “dirty trick” tactics used by GCHQ’s previously secret unit, JTRIG (Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group). These were based on four classified GCHQ documents presented to the NSA and the other three partners in the English-speaking “Five Eyes” alliance. Today, we at the Intercept are publishing another new JTRIG document, in full, entitled “The Art of Deception: Training for Online Covert Operations.”

By publishing these stories one by one, our NBC reporting highlighted some of the key, discrete revelations: the monitoring of YouTube and Blogger, the targeting of Anonymous with the very same DDoS attacks they accuse “hacktivists” of using, the use of “honey traps” (luring people into compromising situations using sex) and destructive viruses. But, here, I want to focus and elaborate on the overarching point revealed by all of these documents: namely, that these agencies are attempting to control, infiltrate, manipulate, and warp online discourse, and in doing so, are compromising the integrity of the internet itself.

Among the core self-identified purposes of JTRIG are two tactics: (1) to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of its targets; and (2) to use social sciences and other techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes it considers desirable. To see how extremist these programs are, just consider the tactics they boast of using to achieve those ends: “false flag operations” (posting material to the internet and falsely attributing it to someone else), fake victim blog posts (pretending to be a victim of the individual whose reputation they want to destroy), and posting “negative information” on various forums. […]

These agencies’ refusal to “comment on intelligence matters” – meaning: talk at all about anything and everything they do – is precisely why whistleblowing is so urgent, the journalism that supports it so clearly in the public interest, and the increasingly unhinged attacks by these agencies so easy to understand. Claims that government agencies are infiltrating online communities and engaging in “false flag operations” to discredit targets are often dismissed as conspiracy theories, but these documents leave no doubt they are doing precisely that.

Whatever else is true, no government should be able to engage in these tactics: what justification is there for having government agencies target people – who have been charged with no crime – for reputation-destruction, infiltrate online political communities, and develop techniques for manipulating online discourse? But to allow those actions with no public knowledge or accountability is particularly unjustifiable.


Political Right Rhetoric

The following is an accurate description of the political rhetoric, the labels and language in its use on the political right (from a Twitter thread). It is by Matthew A. Sears, an Associate Professor of Classics and Ancient History at the University of New Brunswick.

1. “I’m neither a liberal nor a conservative.” = “I’m totally a conservative.”

2. “I’m a radical centrist.” = “I’m totally a conservative.”

3. “I’m a classical liberal.” = “I’m a neoliberal who’s never read any classical liberals.”

4. “I’m not usually a fan of X.” *Retweets and agrees with everything X says.*

5. “I’m a free speech absolutist.” = “I’m glad racists are now free to speak publicly.”

6. “I believe in confronting views one finds offensive.” *Whines about being bullied by lefties.*

7. “My views are in the minority and aren’t given a fair hearing.”*Buys the best-selling book in the world.*

8. “Where else would you rather live?” = “Canada is perfect for me, and it better not frigging change to be better for anyone else.”

9. “Nazis should be able to speak and given platforms so we can debate them.” *Loses mind if someone says ‘fuck’ to a Nazi.*

10. “The left has taken over everything.” *Trump is president and the Republicans control Congress.*

And, finally, the apex of Twitterspeak:

11. “The left are tyrants and have taken over everything and refuse to hear other perspectives and pose a dire threat to the republic and Western Civilization.” *Ben Shapiro has over a million followers.*

I’d say treat this thread as an Enigma Machine for Quillette-speak/viewpoint-diversity-speak/reverse-racism-speak/MRA-speak, but none of these chaps are enigmas.

I can’t believe I have to add this, but some are *outraged* by this thread: I don’t mind if you’re *actually* centrist or conservative. I just mind if you *pretend to be* left/centrist for rhetorical/media cred/flamewar purposes, while *only* taking conservative stances. Sheesh

Like, I’m pretty left-wing on many issues these days. It would be sneaky of me to identity as “conservative” or “classical liberal” or whatever only to dump on all their ideas and always support opposing ideas. A left-winger or centrist is what a left-winger or centrist tweets.

James Taoist added:

12. “I’m a strict Constitutionalist” = “I’m as racist as fuck.”

Trump Tower and the Public Square

In the past, a populist was someone who was popular or who held popular views. A populist, as such, was a man (or woman) of the people or at least one aligned with them. So, why do so many in the media, specifically in the corporate media, repeatedly call Trump a ‘populist’ when he isn’t popular among the populace? The majority of voters didn’t vote for him. And according to numerous polls, at no point have most Americans supported, agreed with, or had even a remotely positive view of him.

Trump was elected by the electoral college which was designed to suppress democracy by protecting the interests and power of the elite. And there are few Americans more elite than Trump, someone who not only has been a key figure among the capitalist class and within corporate media but also was close friends and major supporter of the Clintons as they took over the Democratic Party, shifting it toward the right-wing and reactionary.

Behind the scenes, Trump was one of the anti-populist forces that helped remove any remaining democracy within the Democratic Party. Having made Democrats democratically impotent, he then turned his sights on the Republican Party, taking it over and pushing it even further to the extreme. It was a brilliant one-two punch, a brash show of elitist machinations. Trump was triumphant by using the system to gain control of the system. He was no outsider hoping to tear it all down, much less drain the swamp.

What is Trump symbolized by? Trump Tower. Not Trump Square. He is the ultimate product and embodiment of the rigid hierarchy of late stage capitalism and plutocratic corporatocracy. The network is beginning to challenge that entrenched hierarchy, but it’s been slow process. Trump’s coup is the last gasp of hierarchy as the system becomes dysfunctional and deranged, turning on itself.

The tower, the hierarchy remains dominant. When the tower comes tumbling down, we will know about it. And it won’t come about by an anti-democratic economic, media, and political system placing into power a faux populist.

On a related note, I’ve spent the last couple of decades watching the local public space downtown be destroyed by local plutocratic business interests (and by the way, it is very much a Democratic stronghold). The pedestrian mall, built as part of a downtown renovation project, used to be a thriving public space and public forum where community members gathered and connected. But in recent years it was intentionally and systematically destroyed in service of the tower, quite literally as TIF-funded high-rises were built for the wealthy and the downtown was gentrified.

There was a public space informally known as The People’s Park and formally known as Blackhawk Park (Blackhawk being the native leader who fought to defend his home against powerful interests seeking to steal his people’s land). This park existed before the pedestrian mall’s construction. It was the center of the public space and gave expression to a thriving sense of community, but the tables and benches were removed. Now it is feels like a dead zone, an open space in front of a looming glass edifice that no longer welcomes public use.

This power grab at the local level is mirrored by the power grab at the national and international level, including within supposed networks as the internet increasingly comes under the control of hierarchical transnational corporations. Hierarchy is ascendant, like never before seen. We have barely begun to see the emergence of a network backlash. And the longer the backlash is suppressed, the more radical and revolutionary it will be once finally unleashed.


‘I expect things to get worse before they get better’, says historian Niall Ferguson
by Varghese K. George

Would it be useful to try to understand history as ongoing, cyclical, hierarchy-network swings?

It might be a little too neat. Large networks are complex systems, and they have emergent properties that are rather unpredictable. They are quite capable of sudden changes. The key here is that revolutionary networks like the Bolsheviks were capable of transforming, with amazing speed, into hierarchies of tremendous rigidity and centralisation. That hierarchical structure endured for 70 years, and then fell apart with extraordinary swiftness. I prefer to think of history as a somewhat erratic and chaotic process rather than as one characterised by cycles, or pendulum swings. That is why it is hard to predict history, and it does not operate in a way that submits to nice, neat laws.

You make some predictions and say the current phase of social and political chaos will last for some years.

If one compares our age with the period of the printing press, the striking thing is that there are many, many similarities, though the speed today is an order of magnitude faster. It took a hundred years in the 16th and 17th centuries, in the age of the printing press; now it takes 10 years. If you think about what happened in the 16th century, the printing press… when the Reformation started, it unleashed at least 130 years of religious conflict in Europe. It went on until the end of the Thirty Years’ War and the Peace of Westphalia. In my very rough analogy, we should expect our age’s ideological conflict to last about a tenth of that time. The age of the Internet, certainly the age of Facebook and Twitter, has given rise to a kind of ideological polarisation in many democracies. I would expect that process to continue and get worse for a whole period of conflict that is not as long as 130 years but perhaps 13 years. But this is a very rough analogy. This is about how these technological shocks, these innovations like the Internet or the printing press, change the structure of the public sphere and give rise to conflict, because of polarisation or violence… If you think of it in a rough way, we are having this 16th-17th century experience in the realm of democratic politics… but speeded up. That means I expect things to get worse before they get better. Because I don’t see any change in the state of affairs created by Facebook, YouTube and the rest soon.

Review: Even on the Internet, What’s Old Is New Again
by Jonathan A. Knee

The internet itself is a network of networks. The ability to communicate and transact across its vast reach is indeed unprecedented and represents the basic infrastructure of what has been termed the “network society.” Mr. Ferguson’s book does far more than simply track the use of the word “network” from its introduction in English language publications in the late 19th century, when it “was scarcely used,” to the modern day, when he points out that it appeared in 136 articles in The New York Times during just the first week of 2017. Rather he seeks to reframe the entirety of human history as an endless tug-of-war between eras in which powerful hierarchical institutions predominate (the Tower of the title) only to be undermined by the influence of emerging networks (the corresponding Square). In Professor Ferguson’s telling, these networks are invariably co-opted by reconstituted hierarchies and the process begins again.

For instance, Professor Ferguson argues it was the printing press that was largely responsible for three “network-based revolutions — the Reformation, the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment.” These were followed by a hundred-year period of hierarchical international order dominated by five hubs (Austria, Britain, France, Prussia and Russia) leading up to the First World War.

The new industrial, financial and communications networks that emerged during this time did not, however, overturn the hierarchical nature of things. This dominant structure survived both world wars, according to Professor Ferguson, with the mid-twentieth century actually representing the “zenith of hierarchy.” His account shows how the ability to navigate and influence these and other nascent networks determined which empires thrived in the reconfigured hierarchical orders.

Want to understand how history is made? Look for the networks
by David Marquand

Hierarchies, Ferguson argues, have been part of the human condition since the neolithic age. But in the 500 years since Gutenberg invented printing and Martin Luther pinned his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg church, hierarchies have been challenged again and again by networks, through which like-minded people communicate with each other, independently of those set in authority over them. Sometimes hierarchies have crushed networks; sometimes networks have undermined hierarchies. But the tension between them has been constant and inescapable. […]

But despite the complexity of Ferguson’s story, the basic argument is clear. Though he doesn’t say it in so many words, it is curiously reminiscent of Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan. For Ferguson, networks are more creative than hierarchies. Their members are more engaged than the hierarchies they confront. Without them, the world would be a harsher, bleaker and crueller place. But when hierarchies fall, and networks carry all before them, the result, too often, is an anarchic war of all against all—like Hobbes’s state of nature. Again and again, Ferguson reminds us, triumphant networks have run amok, plunging their societies into bloodshed. […]

The clear implication of these stories is that stable and legitimate rule depends on a symbiosis between Ferguson’s Square and his Tower: between networks and hierarchies. And half a millennium of human history shows that symbiosis is both extraordinarily difficult to achieve and extraordinarily difficult to maintain.

For most of the 16th and 17th centuries, the main threat to that symbiosis came from the fanatical, intolerant and often bloodthirsty religious networks that devastated central Europe. For most of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries it came from more or less brutal hierarchists—Peter the Great, Napoleon, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Kim Il-Sung and the like. In his brilliantly provocative final chapters, Ferguson shows that the wheel has now come full circle. The frenzied religious networks of the 16th century flourished in what he calls the “first networked era”: the age ushered in by the astonishingly rapid diffusion of print technology all over Europe. Today, he argues, we are living in the second networked age. Ours is the age of the internet, of Tim Berners-Lee’s world wide web and giants such as Facebook and Google. The speedy diffusion of information that these websites facilitate allow individuals to form themselves into networks more easily, and more globally, than ever before. A development that is having profound consequences for once stable, or at least predictable, democracies.

By that very token, though, it is also the age of cyber-warfare, sometimes conducted by hierarchical states, like Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and sometimes by networked individuals like Julian Assange. […]

As in the past, though, the network has quickly been taken over by a hierarchy; the square has become the tower. The most astonishing feature of the second networked age is an explosion of inequality. The returns from the network, he points out, “flow overwhelmingly to the insiders who own it.” Thus, Google is worth $660bn; 16 per cent of its shares are owned by its founders. Facebook is worth $441bn; 28 per cent of its shares are owned by its founder, Mark Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg and his ilk are not alone. They are scooping up a massive rent; and, for decades, successful rent-seeking by the super-rich has been a feature of economic life right across the developed world.

The great question for the future is whether it will be possible to assemble a social coalition of Ferguson’s outsiders to challenge the dominance of the super-rich. In other words can the network strike back? The obstacles are formidable. But it is worth remembering that though left-wing insurgent Bernie Sanders lost the Democratic nomination, he might well have won the presidency if the race had been between him and Trump in his tower. Sanders’s populist campaign might yet turn out to have been the first swallow of a bright summer.

Networks and Hierarchies in the Trump Era: An Interview with Niall Ferguson
by Davis Richardson

You say that these companies in Silicon Valley are decentralized, but it seems they’re very consolidated regarding capital and the concentration of data.

The paradox of Silicon Valley is that it proclaims a very decentralized network era in which cyberspace is inhabited by free and equal netizens; yet in practice, it’s created its own extraordinarily unequal hierarchy personified by the FANG companies and the people who own them. The rhetoric of Silicon Valley has been that we’re going to be more democratized by connectedness, but the reality is that large social networks are not very democratic; they actually magnify the existing inequalities in our society.

Does social media reinforce power structures throughout history?

Or creates a new version. It was new people who became the titans of the 19th century, the Carnegies and Rockefellers. In one sense, the giants of Silicon Valley, like Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos, are the equivalent to Andrew Carnegie and his contemporaries.

But in our time, we now have a network inequality projected onto an existing market inequality that amplifies it. To give an example, those who are in a position to take big, speculative positions in Bitcoin are already quite wealthy from the last generation of technology.

It’s reminiscent of Marx’s philosophy that the bourgeoisie is never fixed and subject to renewal.

There’s a consolation offered by large monopoly companies which is, “Don’t worry, we won’t be monopolies for too long. New giants will come and displace this.” And that’s the standard way in which Google and Amazon have fended off the anti-trust movement from the Democratic Party. But there’s never really been such a concentration of power in content publishing as now exists.

In the age of the printing press, it was a decentralized public sphere. Whereas, what’s happened, thanks to how Google and Facebook have been run, is unique in that the public sphere is becoming highly concentrated through those network platforms. It does drive a real distortion of the public sphere because it doesn’t matter whether something’s true or false. William Randall Hearst never had that type of market share, even at the height of his power, and I find it oddly disconcerting that the people running those companies act as if they weren’t massive content publishers.

“The Square and the Tower” — Augmenting and Modularizing the Algorithm (a Review and Beyond)
by Richard Reisman

Drawing on a long career as a systems analyst/engineer/designer, manager, entrepreneur and inventor, I have recently come to share much of Ferguson’s fear that we are going off the rails. He cites important examples like the 9/11 attacks, counterattacks, and ISIS, the financial meltdown of 2008, and most concerning to me, the 2016 election as swayed by social media and hacking. However — discouraging as these are — he seems to take an excessively binary view of network structure, and to discount the ability of open networks to better reorganize and balance excesses and abuse. He argues that traditional hierarchies should reestablish dominance.

In that regard, I think Ferguson fails to see the potential for better ways to design, manage, use, and govern our networks — and to better balance the best of hierarchy and openness. To be fair, few technologists are yet focused on the opportunities that I see as reachable, and now urgently needed. […]

Ferguson’s title comes from his metaphor of the medieval city of Sienna, with a large public square that serves as a marketplace and meeting place, and a high tower of government (as well as a nearby cathedral) that displayed the power of those hierarchies. But as he elaborates, networks have complex architectures and governance rules that are far richer than the binary categories of either “network” ( a peer to peer network with informal and emergent rules) or “hierarchy” (a constrained network with more formal directional rankings and restrictions on connectivity).

The crucial differences among all kinds of networks are in the rules (algorithms, code, policies) that determine which nodes connect, and with what powers. While his analysis draws out the rich variety of such structures, in many interesting examples, with diagrams, what he seems to miss is any suggestion of a new synthesis. […]

As Ferguson points out, our vaunted high-tech networks are controlled by corporate hierarchies (he refers to FANG, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google, and BAT, Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent) — but subject to levels of government control that vary in the US, EU, and China. This corporate control is a source of tension and resistance to change — and a barrier to more emergent adaptation to changing needs and stressors (such as the Russian interference in our elections). These new monopolistic hierarchies extract high rents from the network — meaning us, the users — mostly in the form of advertising and sales of personal data.

‘The Square and the Tower’ a wobbly view of history
by Mike Fischer

In Ferguson’s hands, that disconnect covers everything and therefore explains nothing; his notion of hierarchy is so narrow and his definition of networks is so generic that the distinction between them becomes meaningless — particularly as Ferguson is forced to admit that “a hierarchy is just a special kind of network.”

What we get instead is a watered down survey of how “networks” spurred by the printing press enabled Luther’s reformation as well as ensuing secular revolution — before reactive “hierarchies” re-established precedence in the 19th century, thereafter themselves coming unglued following World War II.

Ferguson points to this more recent erosion in hierarchical power as cause rather than consequence of a new network revolution involving the Internet and social media, both of which make him nervous because of how readily they’ve been appropriated by populist demagogues on the left and right.

But as has been true of Ferguson before — one thinks of his insistence that the West’s “edge” can be explained by six “killer apps” — his hobby horse du jour sometimes rides roughshod over the facts.

How else, for example, to explain his bizarre view that because network analysis demonstrates that Paul Revere and Joseph Warren were more plugged in than their brethren, they “were the most important revolutionaries in Boston”? Or that it’s “doubtful” George Washington would have enjoyed the influence he did if he hadn’t been a Mason?

Neither claim is tested against the dense historical record suggesting that Washington — and Bostonians like the Adams cousins — were important because of their personal characteristics, unique talents, and ideas; for Ferguson, the content of one’s character and quality of one’s thought matter much less than being in the right place at the right time.

The Square and the Tower by Niall Ferguson review – a restless tour through power
by Andrew Anthony

The problem is that there are simply too many strands and too much disparate information for a coherent thesis to emerge. Indeed, such is Ferguson’s restless desire to uncover connectedness that he can sound like a conspiracy theorist, though he is at pains to distance himself from that perspective. As he notes in the preface, conspiracy theorists see networks as hidden elites in cahoots with the established power structure, while far more often, he argues, networks disrupt the status quo.

But in revisiting such conspiracist tales – the Illuminati and the Rothschilds, for example – he confuses as much as demystifies. The Illuminati, a small 18th-century German order that sought to disseminate Enlightenment ideals, came to be seen – falsely – as the orchestrators of the French Revolution, and, by the modern crank tendency, as the puppet-masters behind everything.

As Ferguson notes, the Illuminati survived by infiltrating the Freemasons, where they achieved little, ultimately collapsing and disappearing long before they were adopted by the lunatic fringe as the all-purpose sinister “they”. So what was their significance? Ferguson doesn’t really explain, other than to say that they were an example of the intellectual networks that were “an integral part of the complex historical process that led Europe from Enlightenment to Revolution to Empire”.

From someone who is not bashful about making bold statements, this is a deeply underwhelming conclusion. But it stands as the basis for his case about the ambiguous, not always progressive nature of networks. It’s an argument that takes in the house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the Cambridge Apostles, the Taiping revolt, Henry Kissinger, al-Qaida and so much else besides, right up to Twitter and Donald Trump.

The effect is dizzying more​ than​ stimulating. Ferguson’s breadth of learning is often impressive, but by the end of the book I was little more secure in my understanding of what ​he was trying to get at than at the beginning.


Eating the Poor

Early in their careers, the Wachowski brothers (or rather sisters) wrote a movie script about eating the rich. “The script was too disturbing,” Andy (now Lilly) Wachowski said, as quoted in a 1999 New York Times piece. “We showed it to some people in Hollywood who said: ‘This is a bad idea. I can’t make this. I’m rich.’ ” They never could find anyone to fund it and so it was never made.

What immediately occurred to me simply reversing the roles in the script make it perfectly acceptable to the moneyed interests in Hollywood. A quarter century earlier in 1973 the novel Soylent Green was made into a major movie with a well known lead actor, Charlton Heston. It received multiple awards and honors and, remaining popular, has had repeated releases in every format. At this point, it has made immense profit.

So, why is it that Hollywood is fine with portraying poor people being eaten but not rich people? Well, as one Hollywood figure explained, “I can’t make this. I’m rich.”

Hollywood is a business, but not everything is about profit. Even if a movie about eating the rich could make more money than hundreds of other movies that get made every year, the profit motive can only go so far. The rich are as or more concerned with maintaining their position in society, which means maintaining the image that the dirty masses can’t touch them, literally and metaphorically. The Wachowskis didn’t only make a movie about the rich being eaten but specifically eaten by the poor and homeless. That is a step too far in a capitalist plutocracy.

Fantasies are fine, except when they hit too close to home. Class war isn’t something we are supposed to talk about. Or rather we are only supposed to talk about it when it portrays the rich winning. Hollywood companies are fine with rich people being portrayed as evil, as long as they are also portrayed as dominant and powerful. But even making portraying the reality of plutocratic rule too starkly can be considered unacceptable.

When Jonathan Swift wrote “A Modest Proposal”, many criticized the eating of babies. In his defense, he pointed out that the killing of babies was what was already happening to the poor, specifically in Ireland, and he simply made it explicit. The sensitive souls in respectable society were fine with mass torture and murder. They simply didn’t want to be forced to acknowledge it. Even so, he was able to get his writing published and widely read. But if he had written a similar piece about eating the rich, he would have been censored, his career destroyed, and probably imprisonment following. Although considered in bad taste, it was acceptable for him to write about eating the poor. As true then, still true today.

In a talk, William McDonough spoke of a visit to Birkenau in Auschwitz: “I stood in the center Birkenau camp which is a mile in diameter three, miles in circumference. And I realized that engineers and architects had come together to design a giant killing machine. If design is the worst, the first signal of human intention, this was the signal of the worst of human intention. And I thought to myself at what point is a designer standing there say wait a minute you’re asking me to do this.”

He describes how every aspect of the camp and all that supported its functioning was carefully designed by architects, engineers, and scientists. This included how humans would be processed and used, including the bodies. From slave labor in the factories to stacking the bodies, it all had to be carefully calculated and planned out. Efficiency was key. It was a modern project embodying scientific principles. Many of the chemicals still in use today were first experimented on humans in these camps.

McDonough came to the realization that this mentality applied to the modern world in general. The way we design buildings and infrastructure is toxic and self-destructive. Our society is a highly efficient killing machine that results in illness, suffering, and early death. He wasn’t being merely dramatic for effect. We see this in the increasing use of carcinogenic chemicals and the rise of cancer. The modern world is designed to be efficient and profitable, not to be sustaining of life and well being.

One might note that the greatest victims, as always, are the poor. The rich can escape the pollution of old industrial centers, distance themselves from toxic dumps, and hide away from environmental destruction. The poor, on the other hand, are trapped. In the Swiftian sense, the poor are being eaten by this system that processes and uses their life and labor to build the beautiful world of the rich. According to the Social Darwininan aspirations and capitalist realism dreams of plutocrats, that is how it should be. But you won’t find a well-funded blockbuster Hollywood movie portraying this real world dystopia in all of its gory details, much less such a movie that radically imagines an inversion of power and a reversal of victimization.

To understand how this society operates, you have to notice not only what is present but also what is missing, what is allowable and what is not.


End of Nation-States

Nation-states have not been the dominant form of power for a long while. The United States gave up the nation-state model early on. The genuine alliance of nation-states formed in the Articles of Confederation was quickly scrapped for a new form of nation-imperialism, as declared in the (second) Constitution.

The Anti-Federalists (i.e., Real Federalists) warned against this pseudo-Federalism. But it’s too late now. It is here to stay and has taken on even more powerful forms with transnational corporatism. The remaining nation-states elsewhere in the world are increasingly subordinated to and controlled or owned by other interests. Wealth is one of the main outward symbols of power and, as inequality grows, global wealth is being concentrated and centralized among an emerging global plutocracy.

This new system isn’t beholden to democratic processes or national citizenries. Barring collapse or revolution, we will continue along this path. Still, authoritarianism isn’t inevitable. It could transform into something else, depending on the changing conditions and forces in the world. If we wish to kill or chain this beast, it will require that we the people on this planet to assert our authority and sovereignty by organizing. Either that or let it play itself out, giving into passive hope and apathetic cynicism.

We are already in a new world. Most people don’t yet realize it, though. Some event will trigger it all to come out into the open, likely mass global conflict involving war, civil war, and revolutions or maybe various existential crises of economics, environment, and refuges. Then raw power will assert itself seeking to re-enforce social control and political order. The average person won’t see it coming, until it is too late, as always. Then we will be presented with a choice in how to respond or react… or to continue to go along to get along and see what results.

The basic outline of emerging power, however, can already be seen.

* * *

How long will nation-states last?
answer by Elijah Kourt, Quora

I believe that supranational structures are bound to be the ruling system of our global society in the (perhaps not so distant) future. They will include not only the political but also all the other forces that govern the relations among peoples and societies, in which we will regard former nation-states with the same enthusiasm and fervor as we regard today the autonomous areas, provinces and regions of our countries.

The relevance of states is shifting from being an important individual actor to becoming an important part of a greater system. One can see that each day this is more and more the case in nearly all areas of international relations, and actors such as Google, Facebook, Coca Cola, Hollywood and FIFA have greater importance in shaping the international relations than many nation-states. The traditional role of the nation-states is therefore disappearing, together with their power and relevance in international matters. I saw this very clearly when I found out that in 2002 of the world’s 100 largest economies, 51 were corporations and 49 were countries. In 2014, the proportion might have changed to 63 – 37, which results very surprising and unexpected even to me:


21st Century American Violence and Authoritarianism

From Gods & Radicals, by Dr. Bones:

The rules of honor common among herding societies, marked by an aggressive stance towards the world and a wariness towards outsiders who might take what has been rightfully stolen — still remain as well. Southern white males commit murder at a rate of 2 to 1 when compared to the rest of the country; in small cities (pop. 10k-50k) the ratio is 3 to 1; in rural areas it is 4 to 1. Shiftless, fiddle-footed, they wander into the towns and outposts of the coast and become painfully aware they don’t belong, that somehow they’ve been left behind and they are angry about it.  As our time progresses and the old trades close down they are once again becoming abandoned, shuttered from the social standing they hold so dear. The old compacts are gone, Rhyd. High school and a knowledge of engines won’t cut it. The land and the money are going fast and by god they know it. […]

Trump knows his audience. He framed the government shutdown as the Democrats choosing “illegal immigrants” over paying the troops. The polls seem to show the people ate it up, which should come as no suprise. Trump strongholds in the South and rural America send a much higher proportion than the national average of their children into the armed forces, so any patriotic gesture is a sure winner among them. Recall too that polls indicate American troops continue to be stronger supporters of Trump than the public at large, U.S. veterans more pro-Trump than almost any other group. […]

Last year The Military Times conducted a confidential poll that revealed 42 percent of non-white troops polled had personally experienced examples of white nationalism in the military. When asked whether white nationalists pose a threat to national security, 30 percent of respondents labeled it a significant danger, more than many international hot spots, like Syria (27 percent), Pakistan (25 percent), Afghanistan (22 percent) and Iraq (17 percent).

Most disturbingly “a notable number of poll participants also bristled at the assertion that white power ideology is a real problem.”

“Nearly five percent of those polled left comments complaining that groups like Black Lives Matter — whose stated goal is to raise awareness of violence and discrimination towards black people — weren’t included among the options for threats to national security…

‘White nationalism is not a terrorist organization,’ wrote one Navy commander, who declined to give his name…

‘You do realize white nationalists and racists are two totally different types of people?’ wrote another anonymous Air Force staff sergeant.”

These ideas come home, not only in the soldiers but in the children they raise, spreading like the sound of laughter at a politician’s promise. Kathleen Belew, in her forthcoming book Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America, reveals a 2009 report by the Department of Homeland Security that states the single factor correlating most highly with surges in Ku Klux Klan membership (going all the way back to the 1860’s) is an influx of veterans returning from war. […]

4 in 10 Southerners still sympathize with the Confederacy. Those are the same people making up the majority of the military, which is to say a large amount of people with a lot of guns holding a certain fondness for the idea of a civil war. Imagine if they had the blessing of the president, the highest honor in the land…

Read full article here:
Trump’s Military Parade Isn’t Fascist. It’s Older and Much Worse.

And from The Violent Ink, by rauldukeblog:

While it’s true that the train will now move to the next station what matters is what has mattered since day one: Trump is not normal. Even Nixon was, by governmental standards, normal. A cursory look at the facts shows that Nixon was as much of a monster as any number of other people who were creatures of the system but he turned on the system and that’s when things went off the rails. It’s one thing to rattle the nuclear saber but to do it while drunk and high on pills and to seriously say you want to drop a fat one on someone is where the other goons start looking for the nearest exit and a tranquilizer dart in the shape of impeachment.

Which brings us to Trump. It’s not just that, as we’ve said elsewhere and repeatedly, he’s an unhinged professional demagogue and amateur fascist. It’s that he really is incapable of understanding how the system works and he really is in the grip of several out of control pathologies each of which is at any moment capable of causing him to do something truly dangerous. Like pick up the phone and order someone to drop a bomb somewhere setting in motion a catastrophic chain of events.

It is not a joke, though it is funny, that at various times senior military figures have said in not so coded language, that they will not obey crazy orders from a crazy man. While that is a relief, it should still be cause for alarm. […]

Or, there will be a very loud coup which will be called something else (like the 25th amendment). […]

The damage that he can do lays in his causing the thugs to actually have to remove him and in forcing the spineless whores and old ladies of both sexes in the House and Senate and judiciary and the media to do the dirty work of what amounts to, staging a coup.

One of the things that so far has gone more or less unremarked upon in regards to the utterly vile Harvey Weinstein mess is the look – a hard look – at complicity. […] the entire creaking mess ran on complicity because the entire system demands obedience and is corrupt. And when someone says I didn’t see anything it all depends on the definition of seeing and of things.

Trump did not arrive from another planet any more than Franco, Pinochet, Mussolini, Mao, Stalin, Hitler or Kissinger arrived from another planet. They were here all along.

That he is a monster is undeniable. That he is a symptom and not the disease is also undeniable but just look at all the complicit creeps lining up for their moment when he’s gone and the smouldering wreckage of the constitution and the limp remains of the shattered republic are on display and you’ll be able to hear them say (with unintended irony just as they did when they sent off Nixon) the magic words: the system worked.

Read full article here:
The Russians are Coming! And so is The Day of Reckoning.


Using Free Speech Rhetoric to Silence Opponents

There is a recent case at the University of Iowa. A conservative Christian group sued for its right to demand that the university financially support their activities in excluding gay people. They thought it unfair that the university discriminated against their right to discriminate against others. Only they have the right to discriminate in their bigotry, but others don’t have a right to discriminate against their bigotry.

The university administration didn’t disallow the group to exist or to operate on campus. The only decision made was that they didn’t want to use state resources, as it is a state college, to directly support and promote anti-gay activities. Still, the anti-gay group was free to privately fund their anti-gay activities and even to be openly anti-gay on campus without any problems with university administration. It was simply about whether the government should support specific religious beliefs on a college campus that are hateful and harmful to other students.

This is what goes for ‘freedom’ on the political right. It relates to the whole ‘free speech’ outrage. It’s not enough that an anti-gay group has the right to speak freely about their prejudice against gays, on campus and elsewhere. Their freedom of speech requires we the taxpayers have to pay for a platform for their hate speech. By the same logic, we the taxpayers also have to fund campus groups that are white supremacist, pro-pederasty, misogynist, and on and on. Everyone who has an opinion, no matter how distasteful, can demand public funding.

That is as long as they claim it is a central part of their belief system. This is the argument this Christian group made. The claim was that they couldn’t be required to not hate gays because the Christian tradition they inherited taught them to hate gays. Their homophobia wasn’t a belief they invented but came from God. Supposedly, this justifies their prejudice. So, I guess Neo-Nazis simply have to claim that God told them to discriminate against Jews and every college across the country would be required to use our taxpayer money to promote antisemitism.

The right-wing argument is that freedom means a society enforces no moral standards or social norms. It’s a Social Darwinian free-for-all. It’s actually worse than that. Not just freedom to speak but a demand to be heard. Everyone must be given a platform, whether or not the audience wants to hear it, much less be forced to pay to hear it. Taxpayers don’t have the right to determine how their own money is spent. What if a majority of Iowans don’t want to financially support an anti-gay group with money out of their own pockets? Does that matter? Or should an anti-gay group be free to reach into the taxpayer’s pocket and take that money from hardworking citizens no matter what anyone else thinks?

It goes even further. James Damore was upset that a private corporation decided not to support his misogynistic prejudice. He thought it was his right to speak freely and use a corporation as his personal platform. Like it or not, corporations aren’t democratic institutions. Corporate suppression of democratic rights has been happening in far worse ways for generations to left-wingers (most Cold War oppression came from the private sector, not from the government). And many right-wingers used to believe that censorship and other forms of oppression was as American as apple pie. But suddenly there is a supposedly populist movement on the political right that is concerned about freedom and liberty for all.

There is still a law on the book that makes belonging to the communist party illegal. In the right-wing media, there is talk about enforcing this law to silence opponents. Some petitions have been started for this purpose, specifically in the hope that Trump will back this attack on the political left. It’s nonsense, of course, and wouldn’t hold up in court. But I have yet to hear of any conservative, right-wing, or alt-right free speech advocate complain about, much less protest against, these authoritarian right-wingers. It’s the same reason why conservative colleges can get away with far more egregious silencing of free speech than can mainstream colleges, even though those conservative colleges also receive public funding.

Censorship of speech was far more dangerous and damaging in the past when it mostly targeted the political left. And censorship continues to target the political left, targeting workers, students and professors. If you don’t hear about censorship against left-wingers in corporate media, that is because corporate media is the mouthpiece of capitalism and doesn’t tend to bend over backwards to create a platform for Marxists, communists, and their fellow travelers (e.g., Palestinian rights advocates).

Those on the political right act as if there is a conspiracy against them, as if they are the only Americans who know oppression. They pretend that white conservatives are the ultimate oppressed minority in a country that is and always has been majority white and majority Christian. They apparently have no clue about the harsh realities that others face on a daily basis or else they are pretending to be ignorant. It’s mind-boggling. How could they be so obliviously ignornant to not know about the prejudices and hate crimes directed at minorities, the difficulty of being a Muslim or Middle Easterner (or mistaken for one), the professors who lose their jobs when they defend the rights of Palestinians and such, the historical and ongoing attack on left-wingers?

Sure, free speech is under attack, as it always has been. But it is a psychotic disconnection from reality to genuinely believe that this is all about the political right. Why the constant playing of the victim card when the tactics the political right has used against others are turned back the other way?

They should learn some history. Even in the past, some right-wing groups found themselves on the wrong side of political and corporate power. The government didn’t only systematically attack communist partisans, anti-war protesters, black radicals, and hippy drug users? The Second Klan was destroyed by the FBI, although the KKK had become quite corrupt at that point and was flaunting its own power through such things as political bribery and tax evasion.

The point is that those in the centers of power will always seek to silence and eliminate any individual or group that too effectively challenges the status quo or otherwise becomes problematic to establishment agendas and interests. That is true of those in power within the private sector. A company like Google would have been misogynistic in the past as most companies were in the past because misogyny was the norm, but times have changed and so all companies increasingly support gender equality because it is all about what is good for business (studies show that diverse companies have higher levels of innovation, profit, etc). Even the University of Iowa has as its president a guy from the business world, not some left-wing political activist. Colleges these days are run like businesses and having an anti-gay group causing trouble on campus isn’t good for business.

We live in a capitalist society, after all. Everything is about the flow of money. That pretty much sums up the entirety of American history.

As for all the protesters and counter-protesters, that also is nothing new. America has a long history of public outrage going back to not just protests but riots and revolts even before the American Revolution. We Americans are a vocal people about our opinions on public matters. And it occasionally turning to violence is even less of a shock. Actions committed by individuals and groups in the past, more often directed at left-wingers and minorities, were far more violent than what tends to be seen these days. If anything, it is amazing how non-violent of a time we live in, at least in the Western world (ignoring the violence we export to the rest of the world).

Besides, the most violent actions in recent history have not come from the political left. There is no American left-wing equivalent to generations of right-wing violence — the bombings, arson, assassinations, driving cars into crowds, etc (if you are unaware of this recent history, just ask some blacks, gays, Muslims, clinic doctors, etc about it and they can enlighten you). Not even the Weather Underground, terrorist bombers as they were, ever targeted people as there bombings were carefully planned to avoid human casualties. The government has officially labeled certain environmentalist groups such as Earth First! as terrorists, despite there never having killed a single person nor ever attempted to do so.

For decades, health clinics and doctors were targeted by anti-abortion militants. Even right-wingers in the mainstream media promoted this violent movement such as Bill O’Reilly’s helping to incite the murder of Dr. George Tiller, and O’Reilly never apologized or expressed remorse, much less got fired from his job. Sure, since Fox News backs this hateful bigotry, then those who spew it have their free speech protected. But what about the free speech of the victim who was silenced with a bullet? And what about all the thousands of other victims of prejudice, oppression, hate crimes, and right-wing terrorism?

Here is another point that gets lost in all of this. No matter how often the political right repeats its ignorance and lies, the conflation of liberals and left-wingers remains false and misleading. Going back to the early 20th century, there has rarely been love lost between these two ideological groups. Some of the gravest attacks on left-wingers have come from liberals or those pretending to be liberals. That is what Phil Ochs was going on about in his satirical song, “Love Me, I’m a Liberal”. Some of the most vocal and strident Cold War warriors were liberals, having done everything in their power to destroy the political left.

Even though the Cold War has ended, liberals continue to attack everyone to the left of them which is why the right-wing ‘liberals’ such as the Clinton Democrats are always seeking to eliminate and discredit all left-wing challengers, from Ralph Nader to Bernie Sanders. Where was most of the political right in defending Sanders’ free speech when Hillary Clinton and big biz media sought to silence him and keep him out of public awareness until late in the campaign season? And that isn’t even to get into how the alliance between big gov and big biz silences all of us Americans, not just outsider candidates… while the corporatists arguing for corporate ‘free speech’. As for campuses, left-wingers are no more safe there than anywhere else.

The only reason that Americans don’t hear more about oppression and censorship of left-wingers is because corporate media in a corporatist society, whether supposedly liberal MSNBC or conservative Fox News, rarely reports on it. But it not being regularly discussed in the mainstream is not the same thing as it not happening. Capitalist realism is the dominant ideology of our entire society and as such is taken as a given with protest against it being almost impossible — in the words of H. Bruce Franklin: “It is now easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.” We can’t have the freedom that we can’t imagine and we can’t fight against the oppression what we can’t see, which is why oppression of the mind is the worst possible oppression. That is what this is all about, the right-wing attempt to suppress all alternatives by censoring public debate, which first requires controlling the frame of allowable debate.

This touches upon the difference between negative liberty and positive freedom, the former allows for censorship of the powerless while the latter promotes free speech for all. The political right in the past advocated the one and dismissed the other, but now they are coming to realize or pretending to care that maybe positive freedom matters after all, at least when they portray themselves as oppressed and victimized minorities (that is why the anti-gay student group at the UI didn’t merely argue for negative liberty to be able to speak freely on campus but a positive freedom in demanding the university and taxpayer support and promote their free speech by giving them an official platform). A genuine public debate about free speech and freedom in general is needed. Unfortunately, that isn’t what the political right wants. It is simply a political game about power and influence, amplifying one’s own voice at the cost of others.

Even more problematic is that the same political and economic elites who own our government are seeking to own every aspect of our society, including colleges that because of loss of public funding have increasingly turned to corporate funding. The right-wingers funding the campus ‘free speech’ movement are also those who operate think tanks, lobbyist groups, front organizations, etc that promote the corporate ‘free speech’ of Citizens United, the neoliberal ‘free trade’ agreements of big biz corporatism, the  protection of ‘freedom’ through voter ID laws that suppress voting rights, and the ‘freedom’ of the right-to-work which means the right for workers to have no protections. The whole point is to make ‘freedom’ a meaningless word.

The sadly amusing part is how these very powerful right-wingers are spreading conspiracy theories about how the political left is trying to destroy our rights and freedoms, to take away our guns and freedom, to attack free markets and the God-given American way of life. And unsurprisingly they spread these conspiracies precisely to hide the actual conspiracies they are involved in. There is no better place to hide a conspiracy than behind a conspiracy theory. One thing is certain. This has nothing to do with free speech.

* * *

Never let it be said that being anti-free speech is an explicitly left-wing college thing
by Becket Adams

At least, that’s one takeaway from a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, which found a distressing 46 percent of self-professed GOP respondents said the government should “have the power to revoke broadcast licenses of major news organizations it says are fabricating news stories about a President and his administration.”

Thankfully, the overall number of respondents who said the federal government should have this power is quite small. Only 28 percent of total survey respondents said they would support the federal government quashing the rights of the free press. Fifty-one percent said they would oppose it, and 21 percent of respondents said “don’t know” or “no opinion.”

But of the 28 percent who said they would support it, 46 percent of them were self-described Republicans. Twenty-three percent were self-avowed Independents, and only 17 percent were Democrats.

* * *

Framing Free Speech

Does Your Right to Free Speech Extend to the Workplace?
by Amirah Bey

The Stereotypes About College Students And Free Speech Are False
by Nathan J. Robinson

Is the Threat to Free Speech on Campus Overblown?
by Jonathan Marks

Debate on free speech alone means little for minorities
by John Budarick

Why Berkeley’s Battle Against White Supremacy Is Not About Free Speech
by Meleiza Figueroa and David Palumbo-Liu

Political Conservatives Suddenly Embrace Free Speech On Campus
by Geoffrey R. Stone

Weaponizing Free Speech
by Victor Ray

Inside the Bizarre Right-Wing Political Correctness Movement That Threatens Free Speech
by Zaid Jilani

There is a campus war on free speech — but it’s not being waged by “snowflake” students
by David Masciotra

How the Right Stifles Speech With Threats and Violence
by Aaron R. Hanlon

I’m on the ‘professor watchlist.’ It’s a ploy to undermine free speech
by Anthea Butler

Masking Oppression as Free Speech: An Anarchist Take
by Tariq Khan

The Campus Free Speech Battle You’re Not Seeing
by Peter Moskowitz

The Real Free-Speech Threat
by Radhika Sainath

Towards A Real Defense of Free Speech
by Daphna Thier

Charges Against Muslim Students Prompt Debate Over Free Speech
by Jennifer Medina

An Illinois College Sued Over ‘Free Speech Zone’
by Associated Press

Who’s behind the free speech crisis on campus?
by Dorian Bon

Making free speech a crime
by Nicole Colson

The free speech of fools
by Danny Katch

Silencing protest in the name of free speech
by Alex Buckingham


Technological Fears and Media Panics

“One of the first characteristics of the first era of any new form of communication is that those who live through it usually have no idea what they’re in.”
~Mitchell Stephens

“Almost every new medium of communication or expression that has appeared since the dawn of history has been accompanied by doomsayers and critics who have confidently predicted that it would bring about The End of the World as We Know It by weakening the brain or polluting our precious bodily fluids.”
~New Media Are Evil, from TV Tropes

“The internet may appear new and fun…but it’s really a porn highway to hell. If your children want to get on the internet, don’t let them. It’s only a matter of time before they get sucked into a vortex of shame, drugs, and pornography from which they’ll never recover. The internet…it’s just not worth it.”
~Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories

“It’s the same old devil with a new face.”
~Rev. George Bender, Harry Potter book burner

Media technology is hard to ignore. This goes beyond it being pervasive. Our complaints and fears, our fascination and optimism are mired in far greater things. It is always about something else. Media technology is not only the face of some vague cultural change but the embodiment of new forms of power that seem uncontrollable. Our lives are no longer fully our own, a constant worry in an individualistic society. With globalization, it’s as if the entire planet has become a giant company town.

I’m not one for giving into doom and gloom about technology. That response is as old as civilization and doesn’t offer anything useful. But I’m one of the first to admit to the dire situation we are facing. It’s just that in some sense the situation has always been dire, the world has always been ending. We never know if this finally will be the apocalypse that has been predicted for millennia, an ending to end it all with no new beginning. One way or another, the world as we know it is ending. There probably isn’t much reason to worry about it. Whatever the future holds, it is beyond our imagining as our present world was beyond the imagining of past generations.

One thing is clear. There is no point in getting in a moral panic over it. The young who embrace what is new always get blamed for it, even though they are simply inheriting what others have created. The youth today aren’t any worse off than any other prior generation at the same age. Still, it’s possible that these younger generations might take us into a future that us old fogies won’t be able to understand. History shows how shocking innovations can be. Talking about panics, think about Orson Welles’s radio show, War of the Worlds. The voice of radio back then had a power that we no longer can appreciate. Yet here we are with radio being so much background noise added to the rest.

Part of what got me thinking about this were two posts by Matt Cardin, at The Teeming Brain blog. In one post, he shares some of Nathaniel Rich’s review, Roth Agonistes, of Philip Roth’s Why Write?: Collected Nonfiction 1960–2013. There is a quote from Roth in 1960:

“The American writer in the middle of the twentieth century has his hands full in trying to understand, describe, and then make credible much of American reality. It stupefies, it sickens, it infuriates, and finally it is even a kind of embarrassment to one’s own meager imagination. The actuality is continually outdoing our talents, and the culture tosses up figures almost daily that are the envy of any novelist.”

Rich comments that, “Roth, despite writing before the tumult of the Sixties, went farther, suggesting that a radically destabilized society had made it difficult to discriminate between reality and fiction. What was the point of writing or reading novels when reality was as fantastic as any fiction? Such apprehensions may seem quaint when viewed from the comic-book hellscape of 2018, though it is perversely reassuring that life in 1960 felt as berserk as it does now.”

We are no more post-truth now than back then. It’s always been this way. But it is easy to lose context. Rich notes that, “Toward the end of his career, in his novels and public statements, Roth began to prophesy the extinction of a literary culture — an age-old pastime for aging writers.” The ever present fear that the strangeness and stresses of the unknown will replace the comforting of the familiar. We all grow attached to the world we experienced in childhood, as it forms the foundation of our identity. But every now and then something comes along to threaten it all. And the post-World War era was definitely a time of dramatic and, for some, traumatic change — despite all of the nostalgia that has accrued to its memories like flowers on a gravestone.

The technological world we presently live in took its first form during that earlier era. Since then, the book as an art form is far from being near extinction. More books have been printed in recent decades than ever before in history. New technology has oddly led us read even more books, both in their old and new technological forms. My young niece, of the so-called Internet Generation, prefers physical books… not that she is likely to read Philip Roth. Literacy, along with education and IQ, is on the rise. There is more of everything right now, what makes it overwhelming. Technologies of the past for the  most part aren’t being replaced but incorporated into a different world. This Borg-like process of assimilation might be more disturbing to the older generations than simply becoming obsolete.

The other post by Matt Cardin shares an excerpt from an NPR piece by Laura Sydell, The Father Of The Internet Sees His Invention Reflected Back Through A ‘Black Mirror’. It is about the optimists of inventors and the consequences of inventions, unforeseen except by a few. One of those who did see the long term implications was William Gibson: “The first people to embrace a technology are the first to lose the ability to see it objectively.” Maybe so, but that is true for about everyone, including most of those who don’t embrace it or go so far as to fear it. It’s not in human nature to see much of anything objectively.

Gibson did see the immediate realities of what he coined as ‘Cyberspace’. We do seem to be moving in that general direction of cyberpunk dystopia, at least here in this country. I’m less certain about the even longer term developments, as Gibson’s larger vision is as fantastical as many others. But it is the immediate realities that always concern people because they can be seen and felt, if not always acknowledged for what they are, often not even by the fear-mongers.

I share his being more “interested in how people behave around new technologies.” In reference to “how TV changed New York City neighborhoods in the 1940s,” Gibson states that, “Fewer people sat out on the stoops at night and talked to their neighbors, and it was because everyone was inside watching television. No one really noticed it at the time as a kind of epochal event, which I think it was.”

I would make two points about.

First, there is what I already said. It is always an epochal event when a major technology is invented, going back to the many inventions before that such as media technology (radio, films, telegraph, printing press, bound book, etc) but also other technologies (assembly lines, cotton gin, compass, etc). Did the Chinese individual who assembled the first firework imagine the carnage of bombs that made castles easy targets and led to two world wars that transformed all of human existence? Of course not. Even the simplest of technologies can turn civilization on its head, which has happened multiple times over the past few millennia and often with destructive results.

The second point is to look at something specific like television. It happened along with the building of the interstate highway system, the rise of car culture, and the spread of suburbia. Television became a portal for the outside world to invade the fantasyland of home life that took hold after the war. Similar fears about radio and the telephone were transferred to the television set and those fears were directed at the young. The first half of the 20th century was constant technological wonder and uncertainty. The social order was thrown askew.

We like to imagine the 1940s and 1950s as a happy time of social conformity and social order, a time of prosperity and a well behaved population, but that fantasy didn’t match the reality. It was an era of growing concerns about adolescent delinquency, violent crime, youth gangs, sexual deviancy, teen pregnancy, loose morals, and rock ‘n roll — and the data bears out that a large number in that generation were caught up in the criminal system, whether because they were genuinely a bad generation or that the criminal system had become more punitive, although others have argued that it was merely a side effect of the baby boom with youth making up a greater proportion of society. Whatever was involved, the sense of social angst got mixed up with lingering wartime trauma and emerging Cold War paranoia. The policing, arrests, and detention of wayward youth became a priority to the point of oppressive obsession. Besides youth problems, veterans from World War II did not come home content and happy (listen to Audible’s “The Home Front”). It was a tumultuous time, quite opposite of the perfect world portrayed in those family sitcoms of the 1940s and 1950s.

The youth during that era had a lot in common with their grandparents, the wild and unruly Lost Generation corrupted by family and community breakdown from early mass immigration, urbanization, industrialization, consumerism, etc. Starting in the late 1800s, youth gangs and hooliganism became rampant, as moral panic became widespread. As romance novels earlier had been blamed and later comic books would be blamed, around the turn of the century the popular media most feared were the violent penny dreadfuls and dime novels that targeted tender young minds with portrayals of lawlessness and debauchery, so it seemed to the moral reformers and authority figures.

It was the same old fear rearing its ugly head. This pattern has repeated on a regular basis. What new technology does is give an extra push to the swings of generational cycles. So, as change occurs, much remains the same. For all that William Gibson got right, no one can argue that the world has been balkanized into anarcho-corporatist city-states (Snow Crash), although it sure is a plausible near future. The general point is true, though. We are a changed society. Yet the same old patterns of fear-mongering and moral panic continue. What is cyclical and what is trend is hard to differentiate as it happens, it being easier to see clearly in hindsight.

I might add that vast technological and social transformations have occurred every century for the past half millennia. The ending of feudalism was far more devastating. Much earlier, the technological advancement of written text and the end of oral culture had greater consequences than even Socrates could have predicted. And it can’t be forgotten that movable type printing presses ushered in centuries of mass civil unrest, populist movements, religious wars, and revolution across numerous countries.

Our own time so far doesn’t compare, one could argue. The present relative peace and stability will continue until maybe World War III and climate change catastrophe forces a technological realignment and restructuring of civilization. Anyway, the internet corrupting the youth and smart phones rotting away people’s brains should be the least of our worries.

Even the social media meddling that Russia is accused of in manipulating the American population is simply a continuation of techniques that go back to before the internet existed. The game has changed a bit, but nations and corporations are pretty much acting in the devious ways they always have, except they are collecting a lot more info. Admittedly, technology does increase the effectiveness of their deviousness. But it also increases the potential methods for resisting and revolting against oppression.

I do see major changes coming. My doubts are more about how that change will happen. Modern civilization is massively dysfunctional. That we use new technologies less than optimally might have more to do with pre-existing conditions of general crappiness. For example, television along with air conditioning likely did contribute to people not sitting outside and talking to their neighbors, but as great or greater of a contribution probably had to do with diverse social and economic forces driving shifts in urbanization and suburbanization with the dying of small towns and the exodus from ethnic enclaves. Though technology was mixed into these changes, we maybe give technology too much credit and blame for the changes that were already in motion.

It is similar to the shift away from a biological explanation of addiction. It’s less that certain substances create uncontrollable cravings. Such destructive behavior is only possible and probable when particular conditions are set in place. There already has to be breakdown of relationships of trust and support. But rebuild those relationships and the addictive tendencies will lessen.

Similarly, there is nothing inevitable about William Gibson’s vision of the future or rather his predictions might be more based on patterns in our society than anything inherent to the technology itself. We retain the choice and responsibility to create the world we want or, failing that, to fall into self-fulfilling prophecies.

The question is what is the likelihood of our acting with conscious intention and wise forethought. All in all, self-fulfilling prophecy appears to be the most probable outcome. It is easy to be cynical, considering the track record of the present superpower that dominates the world and the present big biz corporatism that dominates the economy. Still, I hold out for the chance that conditions could shift for various reasons, altering what otherwise could be taken as near inevitable.

* * *

Fear of the new - a techno panic timeline

11 Examples of Fear and Suspicion of New Technology
by Len Wilson

New communications technologies don’t come with user’s manuals. They are primitive, while old tech is refined. So critics attack. The critic’s job is easier than the practitioner’s: they score with the fearful by comparing the infancy of the new medium with the perfected medium it threatens. But of course, the practitioner wins. In the end, we always assimilate to the new technology.

“Writing is a step backward for truth.”
~Plato, c. 370 BC

“Printed book will never be the equivalent of handwritten codices.”
~Trithemius of Sponheim, 1492

“The horrible mass of books that keeps growing might lead to a fall back into barbarism..”
~Gottfried Wilhelm, 1680

“Few students will study Homer or Virgil when they can read Tom Jones or a thousand inferior or more dangerous novels.”
~Rev. Vicemius Know, 1778

“The most powerful of ignorance’s weapons is the dissemination of printed matter.”
~Count Leo Tolstoy, 1869

“We will soon be nothing but transparent heaps of jelly to each other.”
~New York Times 1877 Editorial, on the advent of the telephone

“[The telegraph is] a constant diffusion of statements in snippets.”
~Spectator Magazine, 1889

“Have I done the world good, or have I added a menace?”
~Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of radio, 1920

“The cinema is little more than a fad. It’s canned drama. What audiences really want to see is flesh and blood on the stage.”
~Charlie Chaplin, 1916

“There is a world market for about five computer.”
~Thomas J. Watson, IBM Chairman and CEO, 1943

“Television won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.”
~Daryl Zanuck, 20th Century Fox CEO, 1946

Moral Panics Over Youth Culture and Video Games
by Kenneth A. Gagne

Several decades of the past century have been marked by forms of entertainment that were not available to the previous generation. The comic books of the Forties and Fifties, rock ‘n roll music of the Fifties, Dungeons & Dragons in the Seventies and Eighties, and video games of the Eighties and Nineties were each part of the popular culture of that era’s young people. Each of these entertainment forms, which is each a medium unto itself, have also fallen under public scrutiny, as witnessed in journalistic media such as newspapers and journals – thus creating a “moral panic.”

The Smartphone’s Impact is Nothing New
by Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Any invention that we see as a benefit to society was once an upstart disruption to the status quo. Television was terrible because when listened to the radio, we used our imaginations instead of being spoon-fed. Radio was terrible because families used to sit around telling stories. Moveable type was terrible because if books become available to the masses, the lower classes will become educated beyond their level. Here’s a newsflash: Socrates objected to writing! In The Phaedrus (by his disciple Plato), Socrates argues that “this discovery…will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. … (Y)ou give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.”

When the Internet and the smartphone evolved, society did what we always do: we adapted. Every new technology has this effect. Do you know why songs on the radio are about 3½ minutes long? Because that’s what a 45-rpm record would hold. Despite the threat some perceived in this radical format, we adapted. (As it turns out, 45s are now a thing of the past but the pop song endures. Turns out we like 3½-minute songs!)

What parallels do you see between the invention of the internet – the ‘semantic web’ and the invention of the printing press?
answer by Howard Doughty

Technology, and especially the technology of communication, has tremendous consequences for human relations – social, economic and political.

Socrates raged against the written word, insisting that it was the end of philosophy which, in his view, required two or more people in direct conversation. Anything else, such as a text, was at least one step removed from the real thing and, like music and poetry which he also despised, represented a pale imitation (or bastardization) of authentic life. (Thank goodness Plato wrote it all down.)

From an oral to a written society was one thing, but as Marshall McLuhan so eruditely explained in his book, The Gutenberg Galaxy, the printing press altered fundamantal cultural patterns again – making reading matter more easily available and, in the process, enabling the Protestant Reformation and its emphasis on isolated individual interpretations of whatever people imagined their god to be.

In time, the telegraph and the telephone began the destruction of space, time and letter writing, making it possible to have disembodied conversations over thousands of miles.

Don’t Touch That Dial!
by Vaughan Bell

A respected Swiss scientist, Conrad Gessner, might have been the first to raise the alarm about the effects of information overload. In a landmark book, he described how the modern world overwhelmed people with data and that this overabundance was both “confusing and harmful” to the mind. The media now echo his concerns with reports on the unprecedented risks of living in an “always on” digital environment. It’s worth noting that Gessner, for his part, never once used e-mail and was completely ignorant about computers. That’s not because he was a technophobe but because he died in 1565. His warnings referred to the seemingly unmanageable flood of information unleashed by the printing press.

Worries about information overload are as old as information itself, with each generation reimagining the dangerous impacts of technology on mind and brain. From a historical perspective, what strikes home is not the evolution of these social concerns, but their similarity from one century to the next, to the point where they arrive anew with little having changed except the label.

 These concerns stretch back to the birth of literacy itself. In parallel with modern concerns about children’s overuse of technology, Socrates famously warned against writing because it would “create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories.” He also advised that children can’t distinguish fantasy from reality, so parents should only allow them to hear wholesome allegories and not “improper” tales, lest their development go astray. The Socratic warning has been repeated many times since: The older generation warns against a new technology and bemoans that society is abandoning the “wholesome” media it grew up with, seemingly unaware that this same technology was considered to be harmful when first introduced.

Gessner’s anxieties over psychological strain arose when he set about the task of compiling an index of every available book in the 16th century, eventually published as the Bibliotheca universalis. Similar concerns arose in the 18th century, when newspapers became more common. The French statesman Malesherbes railed against the fashion for getting news from the printed page, arguing that it socially isolated readers and detracted from the spiritually uplifting group practice of getting news from the pulpit. A hundred years later, as literacy became essential and schools were widely introduced, the curmudgeons turned against education for being unnatural and a risk to mental health. An 1883 article in the weekly medical journal the Sanitarian argued that schools “exhaust the children’s brains and nervous systems with complex and multiple studies, and ruin their bodies by protracted imprisonment.” Meanwhile, excessive study was considered a leading cause of madness by the medical community.

When radio arrived, we discovered yet another scourge of the young: The wireless was accused of distracting children from reading and diminishing performance in school, both of which were now considered to be appropriate and wholesome. In 1936, the music magazine the Gramophone reported that children had “developed the habit of dividing attention between the humdrum preparation of their school assignments and the compelling excitement of the loudspeaker” and described how the radio programs were disturbing the balance of their excitable minds. The television caused widespread concern as well: Media historian Ellen Wartella has noted how “opponents voiced concerns about how television might hurt radio, conversation, reading, and the patterns of family living and result in the further vulgarization of American culture.”

Demonized Smartphones Are Just Our Latest Technological Scapegoat
by Zachary Karabell

AS IF THERE wasn’t enough angst in the world, what with the Washington soap opera, #MeToo, false nuclear alerts, and a general sense of apprehension, now we also have a growing sense of alarm about how smartphones and their applications are impacting children.

In the past days alone, The Wall Street Journal ran a long story about the “parents’ dilemma” of when to give kids a smartphone, citing tales of addiction, attention deficit disorder, social isolation, and general malaise. Said one parent, “It feels a little like trying to teach your kid how to use cocaine, but in a balanced way.” The New York Times ran a lead article in its business section titled “It’s Time for Apple to Build a Less Addictive iPhone,” echoing a rising chorus in Silicon Valley about designing products and programs that are purposely less addictive.

All of which begs the question: Are these new technologies, which are still in their infancy, harming a rising generation and eroding some basic human fabric? Is today’s concern about smartphones any different than other generations’ anxieties about new technology? Do we know enough to make any conclusions?

Alarm at the corrosive effects of new technologies is not new. Rather, it is deeply rooted in our history. In ancient Greece, Socrates cautioned that writing would undermine the ability of children and then adults to commit things to memory. The advent of the printing press in the 15th century led Church authorities to caution that the written word might undermine the Church’s ability to lead (which it did) and that rigor and knowledge would vanish once manuscripts no longer needed to be copied manually.

Now, consider this question: “Does the telephone make men more active or more lazy? Does [it] break up home life and the old practice of visiting friends?” Topical, right? In fact, it’s from a 1926 survey by the Knights of Columbus about old-fashioned landlines.

 The pattern of technophobia recurred with the gramophone, the telegraph, the radio, and television. The trope that the printing press would lead to loss of memory is very much the same as the belief that the internet is destroying our ability to remember. The 1950s saw reports about children glued to screens, becoming more “aggressive and irritable as a result of over-stimulating experiences, which leads to sleepless nights and tired days.” Those screens, of course, were televisions.

Then came fears that rock-n-roll in the 1950s and 1960s would fray the bonds of family and undermine the ability of young boys and girls to become productive members of society. And warnings in the 2000s that videogames such as Grand Theft Auto would, in the words of then-Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, “steal the innocence of our children, … making the difficult job of being a parent even harder.”

Just because these themes have played out benignly time and again does not, of course, mean that all will turn out fine this time. Information technologies from the printed book onward have transformed societies and upended pre-existing mores and social order.

Protruding Breasts! Acidic Pulp! #*@&!$% Senators! McCarthyism! Commies! Crime! And Punishment!
by R.C. Baker

In his medical practice, Wertham saw some hard cases—juvenile muggers, murderers, rapists. In Seduction, he begins with a gardening metaphor for the relationship between children and society: “If a plant fails to grow properly because attacked by a pest, only a poor gardener would look for the cause in that plant alone.” He then observes, “To send a child to a reformatory is a serious step. But many children’s-court judges do it with a light heart and a heavy calendar.” Wertham advocated a holistic approach to juvenile delinquency, but then attacked comic books as its major cause. “All comics with their words and expletives in balloons are bad for reading.” “What is the social meaning of these supermen, super women … super-ducks, super-mice, super-magicians, super-safecrackers? How did Nietzsche get into the nursery?” And although the superhero, Western, and romance comics were easily distinguishable from the crime and horror genres that emerged in the late 1940s, Wertham viewed all comics as police blotters. “[Children] know a crime comic when they see one, whatever the disguise”; Wonder Woman is a “crime comic which we have found to be one of the most harmful”; “Western comics are mostly just crime comic books in a Western setting”; “children have received a false concept of ‘love’ … they lump together ‘love, murder, and robbery.’” Some crimes are said to directly imitate scenes from comics. Many are guilty by association—millions of children read comics, ergo, criminal children are likely to have read comics. When listing brutalities, Wertham throws in such asides as, “Incidentally, I have seen children vomit over comic books.” Such anecdotes illuminate a pattern of observation without sourcing that becomes increasingly irritating. “There are quite a number of obscure stores where children congregate, often in back rooms, to read and buy secondhand comic books … in some parts of cities, men hang around these stores which sometimes are foci of childhood prostitution. Evidently comic books prepare the little girls well.” Are these stores located in New York? Chicago? Sheboygan? Wertham leaves us in the dark. He also claimed that powerful forces were arrayed against him because the sheer number of comic books was essential to the health of the pulp-paper manufacturers, forcing him on a “Don Quixotic enterprise … fighting not windmills, but paper mills.”

When Pac-Man Started a National “Media Panic”
by Michael Z. Newman

This moment in the history of pop culture and technology might have seemed unprecedented, as computerized gadgets were just becoming part of the fabric of everyday life in the early ‘80s. But we can recognize it as one in a predictable series of overheated reactions to new media that go back all the way to the invention of writing (which ancients thought would spell the end of memory). There is a particularly American tradition of becoming enthralled with new technologies of communication, identifying their promise of future prosperity and renewed community. It is matched by a related American tradition of freaking out about the same objects, which are also figured as threats to life as we know it.

The emergence of the railroad and the telegraph in the 19th century and of novel 20th century technologies like the telephone, radio, cinema, television, and the internet were all similarly greeted by a familiar mix of high hopes and dark fears. In Walden, published in 1854, Henry David Thoreau warned that, “we do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us.” Technologies of both centuries were imagined to unite to unite a vast and dispersed nation and edify citizens, but they also were suspected of trivializing daily affairs, weakening local bonds, and worse yet, exposing vulnerable children to threats and hindering their development into responsible adults.

These expressions are often a species of moral outrage known as media panic, a reaction of adults to the perceived dangers of an emerging culture popular with children, which the parental generation finds unfamiliar and threatening. Media panics recur in a dubious cycle of lathering outrage, with grownups seeming not to realize that the same excessive alarmism has arisen in every generation. Eighteenth and 19th century novels might have caused confusion to young women about the difference between fantasy and reality, and excited their passions too much. In the 1950s, rock and roll was “the devil’s music,” feared for inspiring lust and youthful rebellion, and encouraging racial mixing. Dime novels, comic books, and camera phones have all been objects of frenzied worry about “the kids these days.”

The popularity of video games in the ‘80s prompted educators, psychotherapists, local government officeholders, and media commentators to warn that young players were likely to suffer serious negative effects. The games would influence their aficionados in the all the wrong ways. They would harm children’s eyes and might cause “Space Invaders Wrist” and other physical ailments. Like television, they would be addictive, like a drug. Games would inculcate violence and aggression in impressionable youngsters. Their players would do badly in school and become isolated and desensitized. A reader wrote to The New York Times to complain that video games were “cultivating a generation of mindless, ill-tempered adolescents.”

The arcades where many teenagers preferred to play video games were imagined as dens of vice, of illicit trade in drugs and sex. Kids who went to play Tempest or Donkey Kong might end up seduced by the lowlifes assumed to hang out in arcades, spiraling into lives of substance abuse, sexual depravity, and crime. Children hooked on video games might steal to feed their habit. Reports at the time claimed that video kids had vandalized cigarette machines, pocketing the quarters and leaving behind the nickels and dimes. […]

Somehow, a generation of teenagers from the 1980s managed to grow up despite the dangers, real or imagined, from video games. The new technology could not have been as powerful as its detractors or its champions imagined. It’s easy to be captivated by novelty, but it can force us to miss the cyclical nature of youth media obsessions. Every generation fastens onto something that its parents find strange, whether Elvis or Atari. In every moment in media history, intergenerational tension accompanies the emergence of new forms of culture and communication. Now we have sexting, cyberbullying, and smartphone addiction to panic about.

But while the gadgets keep changing, our ideas about youth and technology, and our concerns about young people’s development in an uncertain and ever-changing modern world, endure.

Why calling screen time ‘digital heroin’ is digital garbage
by Rachel Becker

The supposed danger of digital media made headlines over the weekend when psychotherapist Nicholas Kardaras published a story in the New York Post called “It’s ‘digital heroin’: How screens turn kids into psychotic junkies.” In the op-ed, Kardaras claims that “iPads, smartphones and XBoxes are a form of digital drug.” He stokes fears about the potential for addiction and the ubiquity of technology by referencing “hundreds of clinical studies” that show “screens increase depression, anxiety and aggression.”
We’ve seen this form of scaremongering before. People are frequently uneasy with new technology, after all. The problem is, screens and computers aren’t actually all that new. There’s already a whole generation — millennials — who grew up with computers. They appear, mostly, to be fine, selfies aside. If computers were “digital drugs,” wouldn’t we have already seen warning signs?

No matter. Kardaras opens with a little boy who was so hooked on Minecraft that his mom found him in his room in the middle of the night, in a “catatonic stupor” — his iPad lying next to him. This is an astonishing use of “catatonic,” and is almost certainly not medically correct. It’s meant to scare parents.

by Alison Gopnik

My own childhood was dominated by a powerful device that used an optical interface to transport the user to an alternate reality. I spent most of my waking hours in its grip, oblivious of the world around me. The device was, of course, the book. Over time, reading hijacked my brain, as large areas once dedicated to processing the “real” world adapted to processing the printed word. As far as I can tell, this early immersion didn’t hamper my development, but it did leave me with some illusions—my idea of romantic love surely came from novels.
English children’s books, in particular, are full of tantalizing food descriptions. At some point in my childhood, I must have read about a honeycomb tea. Augie, enchanted, agreed to accompany me to the grocery store. We returned with a jar of honeycomb, only to find that it was an inedible, waxy mess.

Many parents worry that “screen time” will impair children’s development, but recent research suggests that most of the common fears about children and screens are unfounded. (There is one exception: looking at screens that emit blue light before bed really does disrupt sleep, in people of all ages.) The American Academy of Pediatrics used to recommend strict restrictions on screen exposure. Last year, the organization examined the relevant science more thoroughly, and, as a result, changed its recommendations. The new guidelines emphasize that what matters is content and context, what children watch and with whom. Each child, after all, will have some hundred thousand hours of conscious experience before turning sixteen. Those hours can be like the marvellous ones that Augie and I spent together bee-watching, or they can be violent or mindless—and that’s true whether those hours are occupied by apps or TV or books or just by talk.

New tools have always led to panicky speculation. Socrates thought that reading and writing would have disastrous effects on memory; the novel, the telegraph, the telephone, and the television were all declared to be the End of Civilization as We Know It, particularly in the hands of the young. Part of the reason may be that adult brains require a lot of focus and effort to learn something new, while children’s brains are designed to master new environments spontaneously. Innovative technologies always seem distracting and disturbing to the adults attempting to master them, and transparent and obvious—not really technology at all—to those, like Augie, who encounter them as children.

The misguided moral panic over Slender Man
by Adam Possamai

Sociologists argue that rather than simply being created stories, urban legends represent the fear and anxieties of current time, and in this instance, the internet culture is offering a global and a more participatory platform in the story creation process.

New technology is also allowing urban legends to be transmitted at a faster pace than before the invention of the printing press, and giving more people the opportunity to shape folk stories that blur the line between fiction and reality. Commonly, these stories take a life of their own and become completely independent from what the original creator wanted to achieve.

Yet if we were to listen to social commentary this change in the story creation process is opening the door to deviant acts.

Last century, people were already anxious about children accessing VHS and Betamax tapes and being exposed to violence and immorality. We are now likely to face a similar moral panic with regards to the internet.

Sleepwalking Through Our Dreams

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.

The Media’s First Moral Panic
by Frank Furedi

When cultural commentators lament the decline of the habit of reading books, it is difficult to imagine that back in the 18th century many prominent voices were concerned about the threat posed by people reading too much. A dangerous disease appeared to afflict the young, which some diagnosed as reading addiction and others as reading rage, reading fever, reading mania or reading lust. Throughout Europe reports circulated about the outbreak of what was described as an epidemic of reading. The behaviours associated with this supposedly insidious contagion were sensation-seeking and morally dissolute and promiscuous behaviour. Even acts of self-destruction were associated with this new craze for the reading of novels.

What some described as a craze was actually a rise in the 18th century of an ideal: the ‘love of reading’. The emergence of this new phenomenon was largely due to the growing popularity of a new literary genre: the novel. The emergence of commercial publishing in the 18th century and the growth of an ever-widening constituency of readers was not welcomed by everyone. Many cultural commentators were apprehensive about the impact of this new medium on individual behaviour and on society’s moral order.

With the growing popularity of novel reading, the age of the mass media had arrived. Novels such as Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740) and Rousseau’s Julie, or the New Heloise (1761) became literary sensations that gripped the imagination of their European readers. What was described as ‘Pamela-fever’ indicated the powerful influence novels could exercise on the imagination of the reading public. Public deliberation on these ‘fevers’ focused on what was a potentially dangerous development, which was the forging of an intense and intimate interaction between the reader and literary characters. The consensus that emerged was that unrestrained exposure to fiction led readers to lose touch with reality and identify with the novel’s romantic characters to the point of adopting their behaviour. The passionate enthusiasm with which European youth responded to the publication of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s novel The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) appeared to confirm this consensus. […]

What our exploration of the narrative of Werther fever suggests is that it acquired a life of its own to the point that it mutated into a taken-for-granted rhetorical idiom, which accounted for the moral problems facing society. Warnings about an epidemic of suicide said more about the anxieties of their authors than the behaviour of the readers of the novels. An inspection of the literature circulating these warnings indicates a striking absence of empirical evidence. The constant allusion to Miss. G., to nameless victims and to similarly framed death scenes suggests that these reports had little factual content to draw on. Stories about an epidemic of suicide were as fictional as the demise of Werther in Goethe’s novel.

It is, however, likely that readers of Werther were influenced by the controversy surrounding the novel. Goethe himself was affected by it and in his autobiography lamented that so many of his readers felt called upon to ‘re-enact the novel, and possibly shoot themselves’. Yet, despite the sanctimonious scaremongering, it continued to attract a large readership. While there is no evidence that Werther was responsible for the promotion of a wave of copycat suicides, it evidently succeeded in inspiring a generation of young readers. The emergence of what today would be described as a cult of fans with some of the trappings of a youth subculture is testimony to the novel’s powerful appeal.

The association of the novel with the disorganisation of the moral order represented an early example of a media panic. The formidable, sensational and often improbable effects attributed to the consequences of reading in the 18th century provided the cultural resources on which subsequent reactions to the cinema, television or the Internet would draw on. In that sense Werther fever anticipated the media panics of the future.

Curiously, the passage of time has not entirely undermined the association of Werther fever with an epidemic of suicide. In 1974 the American sociologist Dave Phillips coined the term, the ‘Werther Effect’ to describe mediastimulated imitation of suicidal behaviour. But the durability of the Werther myth notwithstanding, contemporary media panics are rarely focused on novels. In the 21st century the simplistic cause and effect model of the ‘Werther Effect is more likely to be expressed through moral anxieties about the danger of cybersuicide, copycat online suicide.

The Better Angels of Our Nature
by Steven Pinker
Kindle Locations 13125-13143
(see To Imagine and Understand)

It would be surprising if fictional experiences didn’t have similar effects to real ones, because people often blur the two in their memories. 65 And a few experiments do suggest that fiction can expand sympathy. One of Batson’s radio-show experiments included an interview with a heroin addict who the students had been told was either a real person or an actor. 66 The listeners who were asked to take his point of view became more sympathetic to heroin addicts in general, even when the speaker was fictitious (though the increase was greater when they thought he was real). And in the hands of a skilled narrator, a fictitious victim can elicit even more sympathy than a real one. In his book The Moral Laboratory, the literary scholar Jèmeljan Hakemulder reports experiments in which participants read similar facts about the plight of Algerian women through the eyes of the protagonist in Malike Mokkeddem’s novel The Displaced or from Jan Goodwin’s nonfiction exposé Price of Honor. 67 The participants who read the novel became more sympathetic to Algerian women than those who read the true-life account; they were less likely, for example, to blow off the women’s predicament as a part of their cultural and religious heritage. These experiments give us some reason to believe that the chronology of the Humanitarian Revolution, in which popular novels preceded historical reform, may not have been entirely coincidental: exercises in perspective-taking do help to expand people’s circle of sympathy.

The science of empathy has shown that sympathy can promote genuine altruism, and that it can be extended to new classes of people when a beholder takes the perspective of a member of that class, even a fictitious one. The research gives teeth to the speculation that humanitarian reforms are driven in part by an enhanced sensitivity to the experiences of living things and a genuine desire to relieve their suffering. And as such, the cognitive process of perspective-taking and the emotion of sympathy must figure in the explanation for many historical reductions in violence. They include institutionalized violence such as cruel punishments, slavery, and frivolous executions; the everyday abuse of vulnerable populations such as women, children, homosexuals, racial minorities, and animals; and the waging of wars, conquests, and ethnic cleansings with a callousness to their human costs.

Innocent Weapons:
The Soviet and American Politics of Childhood in the Cold War

by Margaret E. Peacock
pp. 88-89

As a part of their concern over American materialism, politicians and members of the American public turned their attention to the rising influence of media and popular culture upon the next generation.69 Concerns over uncontrolled media were not new in the United States in the 1950s. They had a way of erupting whenever popular culture underwent changes that seemed to differentiate the generations. This was the case during the silent film craze of the 1920s and when the popularity of dime novels took off in the 1930s.70 Yet, for many in the postwar era, the press, the radio, and the television presented threats to children that the country had never seen before. As members of Congress from across the political spectrum would argue throughout the 1950s, the media had the potential to present a negative image of the United States abroad, and it ran the risk of corrupting the minds of the young at a time when shoring up national patriotism and maintaining domestic order were more important than ever. The impact of media on children was the subject of Fredric Wertham’s 1953 best-selling book Seduction of the Innocent, in which he chronicled his efforts over the course of three years to “trace some of the roots of the modern mass delinquency.”71 Wertham’s sensationalist book documented case after case of child delinquents who seemed to be mimicking actions that they had seen on the television or, in particular, in comic strips. Horror comics, which were popular from 1948 until 1954, showed images of children killing their parents and peers, sometimes in gruesome ways—framing them for murder—being cunning and devious, even cannibalistic. A commonly cited story was that of “Bloody Mary,” published by Farrell Comics, which told the story of a seven-year-old girl who strangles her mother, sends her father to the electric chair for the murder, and then kills a psychiatrist who has learned that the girl committed these murders and that she is actually a dwarf in disguise.72 Wertham’s crusade against horror comics was quickly joined by two Senate subcommittees in 1954, at the heads of which sat Estes Kefauver and Robert Hendrickson. They argued to their colleagues that the violence and destruction of the family in these comic books symbolized “a terrible twilight zone between sanity and madness.”73 They contended that children found in these comic books violent models of behavior and that they would otherwise be law abiding. J. Edgar Hoover chimed in to comment that “a comic which makes lawlessness attractive . . . may influence the susceptible boy or girl.”74

Such depictions carried two layers of threat. First, as Wertham, Hoover, and Kefauver argued, they reflected the seeming potential of modern media to transform “average” children into delinquents.75 Alex Drier, popular NBC newscaster, argued in May 1954 that “this continuous flow of filth [is] so corruptive in its effects that it has actually obliterated decent instincts in many of our children.”76 Yet perhaps more telling, the comics, as well as the heated response that they elicited, also reflected larger anxieties about what identities children should assume in contemporary America. As in the case of Bloody Mary, these comics presented an image of apparently sweet youths who were in fact driven by violent impulses and were not children at all. “How can we expose our children to this and then expect them to run the country when we are gone?” an agitated Hendrickson asked his colleagues in 1954.77 Bloody Mary, like the uneducated dolts of the Litchfield report and the spoiled boys of Wylie’s conjuring, presented an alternative identity for American youth that seemed to embody a new and dangerous future.

In the early months of 1954, Robert Hendrickson argued to his colleagues that “the strained international and domestic situation makes it impossible for young people of today to look forward with certainty to higher education, to entering a trade or business, to plans for marriage, a home, and family. . . . Neither the media, nor modern consumerism, nor the threat from outside our borders creates a problem child. But they do add to insecurity, to loneliness, to fear.”78 For Hendrickson these domestic trends, along with what he called “deficient adults,” seemed to have created a new population of troubled and victimized children who were “beyond the pale of our society.”79

The End of Victory Culture:
Cold War America and the Disillusioning of a Generation

by Tom Engelhardt
Kindle Locations 2872-2910

WORRY, BORDERING ON HYSTERIA, about the endangering behaviors of “youth” has had a long history in America, as has the desire of reformers and censors to save “innocent” children from the polluting effects of commercial culture. At the turn of the century, when middle-class white adolescents first began to take their place as leisure-time trendsetters, fears arose that the syncopated beat of popular “coon songs” and ragtime music would demonically possess young listeners, who might succumb to the “evils of the Negro soul.” Similarly, on-screen images of crime, sensuality, and violence in the earliest movies, showing in “nickel houses” run by a “horde of foreigners,” were decried by reformers. They were not just “unfit for children’s eyes,” but a “disease” especially virulent to young (and poor) Americans, who were assumed to lack all immunity to such spectacles. 1 […]

To many adults, a teen culture beyond parental oversight had a remarkably alien look to it. In venues ranging from the press to Senate committees, from the American Psychiatric Association to American Legion meetings, sensational and cartoonlike horror stories about the young or the cultural products they were absorbing were told. Tabloid newspaper headlines reflected this: “Two Teen Thrill Killings Climax City Park Orgies. Teen Age Killers Pose a Mystery— Why Did They Do It?… 22 Juveniles Held in Gang War. Teen Age Mob Rips up BMT Train. Congressmen Stoned, Cops Hunt Teen Gang.” After a visit to the movies in 1957 to watch two “teenpics,” Rock All Night and Dragstrip Girl, Ruth Thomas of Newport, Rhode Island’s Citizen’s Committee on Literature expressed her shock in words at least as lurid as those of any tabloid: “Isn’t it a form of brain-washing? Brain-washing the minds of the people and especially the youth of our nation in filth and sadistic violence. What enemy technique could better lower patriotism and national morale than the constant presentation of crime and horror both as news and recreation.” 3

You did not have to be a censor, a right-wing anti-Communist, or a member of the Catholic Church’s Legion of Decency, however, to hold such views. Dr. Frederick Wertham, a liberal psychiatrist, who testified in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education desegregation case and set up one of the first psychiatric clinics in Harlem, publicized the idea that children viewing commercially produced acts of violence and depravity, particularly in comic books, could be transformed into little monsters. The lurid title of his best-selling book, Seduction of the Innocent, an assault on comic books as “primers for crime,” told it all. In it, Dr. Wertham offered copious “horror stories” that read like material from Tales from the Crypt: “Three boys, six to eight years old, took a boy of seven, hanged him nude from a tree, his hands tied behind him, then burned him with matches. Probation officers investigating found that they were re-enacting a comic-book plot.… A boy of thirteen committed a lust murder of a girl of six. After his arrest, in jail, he asked for comicbooks” 4

Kindle Locations 2927-2937

The two— hood and performer, lower-class white and taboo black— merged in the “pelvis” of a Southern “greaser” who dressed like a delinquent, used “one of black America’s favorite products, Royal Crown Pomade hair grease” (meant to give hair a “whiter” look), and proceeded to move and sing “like a negro.” Whether it was because they saw a white youth in blackface or a black youth in whiteface, much of the media grew apoplectic and many white parents alarmed. In the meantime, swiveling his hips and playing suggestively with the microphone, Elvis Presley broke into the lives of millions of teens in 1956, bringing with him an element of disorder and sexuality associated with darkness. 6†

The second set of postwar fears involved the “freedom” of the commercial media— record and comic book companies, radio stations, the movies, and television— to concretize both the fantasies of the young and the nightmarish fears of grown-ups into potent products. For many adults, this was abundance as betrayal, the good life not as a vision of Eden but as an unexpected horror story.

Kindle Locations 2952-2979

Take comic books. Even before the end of World War II, a new kind of content was creeping into them as they became the reading matter of choice for the soldier-adolescent. […] Within a few years, “crime” comics like Crime Does Not Pay emerged from the shadows, displaying a wide variety of criminal acts for the delectation of young readers. These were followed by horror and science fiction comics, purchased in enormous numbers. By 1953, more than 150 horror comics were being produced monthly, featuring acts of torture often of an implicitly sexual nature, murders and decapitations of various bloody sorts, visions of rotting flesh, and so on. 9

Miniature catalogs of atrocities, their feel was distinctly assaultive. In their particular version of the spectacle of slaughter, they targeted the American family, the good life, and revered institutions. Framed by sardonic detective narrators or mocking Grand Guignol gatekeepers, their impact was deconstructive. Driven by a commercial “hysteria” as they competed to attract buyers with increasingly atrocity-ridden covers and stories, they both partook of and mocked the hysteria about them. Unlike radio or television producers, the small publishers of the comic book business were neither advertiser driven nor corporately controlled.

Unlike the movies, comics were subject to no code. Unlike the television networks, comics companies had no Standards and Practices departments. No censoring presence stood between them and whoever would hand over a dime at a local newsstand. Their penny-ante ads and pathetic pay scale ensured that writing and illustrating them would be a job for young men in their twenties (or even teens). Other than early rock and roll, comics were the only cultural form of the period largely created by the young for those only slightly younger. In them, uncensored, can be detected the dismantling voice of a generation that had seen in the world war horrors beyond measure.

The hysterical tone of the response to these comics was remarkable. Comics publishers were denounced for conspiring to create a delinquent nation. Across the country, there were publicized comic book burnings like one in Binghamton, New York, where 500 students were dismissed from school early in order to torch 2,000 comics and magazines. Municipalities passed ordinances prohibiting the sale of comics, and thirteen states passed legislation to control their publication, distribution, or sale. Newspapers and magazines attacked the comics industry. The Hartford Courant decried “the filthy stream that flows from the gold-plated sewers of New York.” In April 1954, the Senate Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency convened in New York to look into links between comics and teen crime. 10

Kindle Locations 3209-3238

If sponsors and programmers recognized the child as an independent taste center, the sight of children glued to the TV, reveling in their own private communion with the promise of America, proved unsettling to some adults. The struggle to control the set, the seemingly trancelike quality of TV time, the soaring number of hours spent watching, could leave a parent feeling challenged by some hard-to-define force released into the home under the aegis of abundance, and the watching child could gain the look of possession, emptiness, or zombification.

Fears of TV’s deleterious effects on the child were soon widespread. The medical community even discovered appropriate new childhood illnesses. There was “TV squint” or eyestrain, “TV bottom,” “bad feet” (from TV-induced inactivity), “frogitis” (from a viewing position that put too much strain on inner-leg ligaments), “TV tummy” (from TV-induced overexcitement), “TV jaw” or “television malocclusion” (from watching while resting on one’s knuckles, said to force the eyeteeth inward), and “tired child syndrome” (chronic fatigue, loss of appetite, headaches, and vomiting induced by excessive viewing).

However, television’s threat to the child was more commonly imagined to lie in the “violence” of its programming. Access to this “violence” and the sheer number of hours spent in front of the set made the idea that this new invention was acting in loco parentis seem chilling to some; and it was true that via westerns, crime shows, war and spy dramas, and Cold War-inspired cartoons TV was indiscriminately mixing a tamed version of the war story with invasive Cold War fears. Now, children could endlessly experience the thrill of being behind the barrel of a gun. Whether through the Atom Squad’s three government agents, Captain Midnight and his Secret Squadron, various FBI men, cowboys, or detectives, they could also encounter “an array of H-bomb scares, mad Red scientists, [and] plots to rule the world,” as well as an increasing level of murder and mayhem that extended from the six-gun frontier of the “adult” western to the blazing machine guns of the crime show. 30

Critics, educators, and worried parents soon began compiling TV body counts as if the statistics of victory were being turned on young Americans. “Frank Orme, an independent TV watchdog, made a study of Los Angeles television in 1952 and noted, in one week, 167 murders, 112 justifiable homicides, and 356 attempted murders. Two-thirds of all the violence he found occurred in children’s shows. In 1954, Orme said violence on kids’ shows had increased 400 percent since he made his first report.” PTAs organized against TV violence, and Senate hearings searched for links between TV programming and juvenile delinquency.

Such “violence,” though, was popular. In addition, competition for audiences among the three networks had the effect of ratcheting up the pressures for violence, just as it had among the producers of horror comics. At The Untouchables, a 1960 hit series in which Treasury agent Eliot Ness took on Chicago’s gangland (and weekly reached 5-8 million young viewers), ABC executives would push hard for more “action.” Producer Quinn Martin would then demand the same of his subordinates, “or we are all going to get clobbered.” In a memo to one of the show’s writers, he asked: “I wish you would come up with a different device than running the man down with a car, as we have done this now in three different shows. I like the idea of sadism, but I hope we can come up with another approach to it.” 31


Paradoxes of State and Civilization Narratives

Below is a passage from a recent book by James C. Scott, Against the Grain.

The book is about agriculture, sedentism, and early statism. The author questions the standard narrative. In doing so, he looks more closely at what the evidence actually shows us about civilization, specifically in terms of supposed collapses and dark ages (elsewhere in the book, he also discusses how non-state ‘barbarians’ are connected to, influenced by, and defined according to states).

Oddly, Scott never mentions Göbekli Tepe. It is an ancient archaeological site that offers intriguing evidence of civilization preceding and hence not requiring agriculture, sedentism, or statism. As has been said of it, “First came the temple, then the city.” That would seem to fit into the book’s framework.

The other topic not mentioned, less surprisingly, is Julian Jaynes’ theory of bicameralism. Jaynes’ view might complicate Scott’s interpretations. Scott goes into great detail about domestication and slavery, specifically in the archaic civilizations such as first seen with the walled city-states. But Jaynes pointed out that authoritarianism as we know it didn’t seem to exist early on, as the bicameral mind made social conformity possible through non-individualistic identity and collective experience (explained in terms of the hypothesis of archaic authorization).

Scott’s focus is more on external factors. From perusing the book, he doesn’t seem to fully take into account social science research, cultural studies, anthropology, philology, etc. The thesis of the book could have been further developed by exploring other areas, although maybe the narrow focus is useful for emphasizing the central point about agriculture. There is a deeper issue, though, that the author does touch upon. What does it mean to be a domesticated human? After all, that is what civilization is about.

He does offer an interesting take on human domestication. Basically, he doesn’t see that most humans ever take the yoke of civilization willingly. There must be systems of force and control in place to make people submit. I might agree, even as I’m not sure that this is the central issue. It’s less about how people submit in body than how they submit in mind. Whether or not we are sheep, there is no shepherd. Even the rulers of the state are sheep.

The temple comes first. Before civilization proper, before walled city-states, before large-scale settlement, before agriculture, before even pottery, there was a temple. What does the temple represent?

* * *

Against the Grain
by James C. Scott
pp. 22-27


A foundational question underlying state formation is how we ( Homo sapiens sapiens ) came to live amid the unprecedented concentrations of domesticated plants, animals, and people that characterize states. From this wide-angle view, the state form is anything but natural or given. Homo sapiens appeared as a subspecies about 200,000 years ago and is found outside of Africa and the Levant no more than 60,000 years ago. The first evidence of cultivated plants and of sedentary communities appears roughly 12,000 years ago. Until then—that is to say for ninety-five percent of the human experience on earth—we lived in small, mobile, dispersed, relatively egalitarian, hunting-and-gathering bands. Still more remarkable, for those interested in the state form, is the fact that the very first small, stratified, tax-collecting, walled states pop up in the Tigris and Euphrates Valley only around 3,100 BCE, more than four millennia after the first crop domestications and sedentism. This massive lag is a problem for those theorists who would naturalize the state form and assume that once crops and sedentism, the technological and demographic requirements, respectively, for state formation were established, states/empires would immediately arise as the logical and most efficient units of political order. 4

These raw facts trouble the version of human prehistory that most of us (I include myself here) have unreflectively inherited. Historical humankind has been mesmerized by the narrative of progress and civilization as codified by the first great agrarian kingdoms. As new and powerful societies, they were determined to distinguish themselves as sharply as possible from the populations from which they sprang and that still beckoned and threatened at their fringes. In its essentials, it was an “ascent of man” story. Agriculture, it held, replaced the savage, wild, primitive, lawless, and violent world of hunter-gatherers and nomads. Fixed-field crops, on the other hand, were the origin and guarantor of the settled life, of formal religion, of society, and of government by laws. Those who refused to take up agriculture did so out of ignorance or a refusal to adapt. In virtually all early agricultural settings the superiority of farming was underwritten by an elaborate mythology recounting how a powerful god or goddess entrusted the sacred grain to a chosen people.

Once the basic assumption of the superiority and attraction of fixed-field farming over all previous forms of subsistence is questioned, it becomes clear that this assumption itself rests on a deeper and more embedded assumption that is virtually never questioned. And that assumption is that sedentary life itself is superior to and more attractive than mobile forms of subsistence. The place of the domus and of fixed residence in the civilizational narrative is so deep as to be invisible; fish don’t talk about water! It is simply assumed that weary Homo sapiens couldn’t wait to finally settle down permanently, could not wait to end hundreds of millennia of mobility and seasonal movement. Yet there is massive evidence of determined resistance by mobile peoples everywhere to permanent settlement, even under relatively favorable circumstances. Pastoralists and hunting-and-gathering populations have fought against permanent settlement, associating it, often correctly, with disease and state control. Many Native American peoples were confined to reservations only on the heels of military defeat. Others seized historic opportunities presented by European contact to increase their mobility, the Sioux and Comanche becoming horseback hunters, traders, and raiders, and the Navajo becoming sheep-based pastoralists. Most peoples practicing mobile forms of subsistence—herding, foraging, hunting, marine collecting, and even shifting cultivation—while adapting to modern trade with alacrity, have bitterly fought permanent settlement. At the very least, we have no warrant at all for supposing that the sedentary “givens” of modern life can be read back into human history as a universal aspiration. 5

The basic narrative of sedentism and agriculture has long survived the mythology that originally supplied its charter. From Thomas Hobbes to John Locke to Giambattista Vico to Lewis Henry Morgan to Friedrich Engels to Herbert Spencer to Oswald Spengler to social Darwinist accounts of social evolution in general, the sequence of progress from hunting and gathering to nomadism to agriculture (and from band to village to town to city) was settled doctrine. Such views nearly mimicked Julius Caesar’s evolutionary scheme from households to kindreds to tribes to peoples to the state (a people living under laws), wherein Rome was the apex, with the Celts and then the Germans ranged behind. Though they vary in details, such accounts record the march of civilization conveyed by most pedagogical routines and imprinted on the brains of schoolgirls and schoolboys throughout the world. The move from one mode of subsistence to the next is seen as sharp and definitive. No one, once shown the techniques of agriculture, would dream of remaining a nomad or forager. Each step is presumed to represent an epoch-making leap in mankind’s well-being: more leisure, better nutrition, longer life expectancy, and, at long last, a settled life that promoted the household arts and the development of civilization. Dislodging this narrative from the world’s imagination is well nigh impossible; the twelve-step recovery program required to accomplish that beggars the imagination. I nevertheless make a small start here.

It turns out that the greater part of what we might call the standard narrative has had to be abandoned once confronted with accumulating archaeological evidence. Contrary to earlier assumptions, hunters and gatherers—even today in the marginal refugia they inhabit—are nothing like the famished, one-day-away-from-starvation desperados of folklore. Hunters and gathers have, in fact, never looked so good—in terms of their diet, their health, and their leisure. Agriculturalists, on the contrary, have never looked so bad—in terms of their diet, their health, and their leisure. 6 The current fad of “Paleolithic” diets reflects the seepage of this archaeological knowledge into the popular culture. The shift from hunting and foraging to agriculture—a shift that was slow, halting, reversible, and sometimes incomplete—carried at least as many costs as benefits. Thus while the planting of crops has seemed, in the standard narrative, a crucial step toward a utopian present, it cannot have looked that way to those who first experienced it: a fact some scholars see reflected in the biblical story of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

The wounds the standard narrative has suffered at the hands of recent research are, I believe, life threatening. For example, it has been assumed that fixed residence—sedentism—was a consequence of crop-field agriculture. Crops allowed populations to concentrate and settle, providing a necessary condition for state formation. Inconveniently for the narrative, sedentism is actually quite common in ecologically rich and varied, preagricultural settings—especially wetlands bordering the seasonal migration routes of fish, birds, and larger game. There, in ancient southern Mesopotamia (Greek for “between the rivers”), one encounters sedentary populations, even towns, of up to five thousand inhabitants with little or no agriculture. The opposite anomaly is also encountered: crop planting associated with mobility and dispersal except for a brief harvest period. This last paradox alerts us again to the fact that the implicit assumption of the standard narrative—namely that people couldn’t wait to abandon mobility altogether and “settle down”—may also be mistaken.

Perhaps most troubling of all, the civilizational act at the center of the entire narrative: domestication turns out to be stubbornly elusive. Hominids have, after all, been shaping the plant world—largely with fire—since before Homo sapiens. What counts as the Rubicon of domestication? Is it tending wild plants, weeding them, moving them to a new spot, broadcasting a handful of seeds on rich silt, depositing a seed or two in a depression made with a dibble stick, or ploughing? There appears to be no “aha!” or “Edison light bulb” moment. There are, even today, large stands of wild wheat in Anatolia from which, as Jack Harlan famously showed, one could gather enough grain with a flint sickle in three weeks to feed a family for a year. Long before the deliberate planting of seeds in ploughed fields, foragers had developed all the harvest tools, winnowing baskets, grindstones, and mortars and pestles to process wild grains and pulses. 7 For the layman, dropping seeds in a prepared trench or hole seems decisive. Does discarding the stones of an edible fruit into a patch of waste vegetable compost near one’s camp, knowing that many will sprout and thrive, count?

For archaeo-botanists, evidence of domesticated grains depended on finding grains with nonbrittle rachis (favored intentionally and unintentionally by early planters because the seedheads did not shatter but “waited for the harvester”) and larger seeds. It now turns out that these morphological changes seem to have occurred well after grain crops had been cultivated. What had appeared previously to be unambiguous skeletal evidence of fully domesticated sheep and goats has also been called into question. The result of these ambiguities is twofold. First, it makes the identification of a single domestication event both arbitrary and pointless. Second, it reinforces the case for a very, very long period of what some have called “low-level food production” of plants not entirely wild and yet not fully domesticated either. The best analyses of plant domestication abolish the notion of a singular domestication event and instead argue, on the basis of strong genetic and archaeological evidence, for processes of cultivation lasting up to three millennia in many areas and leading to multiple, scattered domestications of most major crops (wheat, barley, rice, chick peas, lentils). 8

While these archaeological findings leave the standard civilizational narrative in shreds, one can perhaps see this early period as part of a long process, still continuing, in which we humans have intervened to gain more control over the reproductive functions of the plants and animals that interest us. We selectively breed, protect, and exploit them. One might arguably extend this argument to the early agrarian states and their patriarchal control over the reproduction of women, captives, and slaves. Guillermo Algaze puts the matter even more boldly: “Early Near Eastern villages domesticated plants and animals. Uruk urban institutions, in turn, domesticated humans.” 9


Violence: Categories & Data, Causes & Demographics

Not all violence is the same. There are specific demographics for specific kinds of violence and other harmful behaviors: homicide, suicide, drunk driving, accidental shootings, hate crimes, rapes, etc. But one category that stands out in the public mind is that of mass violence, specifically mass murder. And mass violence, depending on how it is defined and measured, does have a specific demographic profile. Before I get to that, let me take a broad approach.

Most violent crime correlates to social problems in general. Most social problems in general correlate to economic factors such as poverty but even moreso inequality. And in a country like the US, most economic factors correlate to social disadvantage and racial oppression, from economic segregation (redlining, sundown towns, etc) to environmental racism (ghettos located in polluted urban areas, high toxicity rates among minorities, etc) — consider how areas of historically high rates of slavery at present have higher levels of poverty and inequality, impacting not just blacks but also whites living in those communities.

The main difference among the races is that privilege within the racial order makes it easier for poor whites to escape poverty (and hence escape the related health problems, social problems, and criminal problems) because of a long and continuing history of racialized housing and employment practices, as seen in how more poor minorities than poor whites face intergenerational poverty in being trapped within poor communities. Compare this to the higher percentage of poor whites living in economically well off communities, one way that racial privilege allows whites to take advantage of wealth and resources unavailable to others by using their whiteness to cross class boundaries.

Historical legacies, intergenerational trauma, and epigenetic effects powerfully shape our entire society. Bad conditions lead to bad results. It’s unsurprising that poor minorities have experienced the worst oppression and have experienced the worst social problems, have been the most disadvantaged in the economy and most impoverished, have been most affected by the violence and have been more likely to get caught up in a racially-biased criminal system. When external factors are controlled for, racial disparities in violent crime mostly disappear as do racial disparities in IQ and much else — for similar reasons such as how racially disparate rates of lead toxicity is a proven contributing factor to racially disparate rates of aggressive behavior and neurocognitive impairment.

But what stands out is that specific categories of violent and dangerous behavior are to a greater extent found among whites, such as abuse and bullying, not to mention drunk driving and suicide. Even more interesting is that not all of it can be explained by economics, in scapegoating poor ‘white trash’ (related to this, it was middle-to-upper class whites and not poor whites who were the strongest, loudest, and largest group of supporters for Donald Trump). It is specifically middle class whites, not poorest of the poor, who appear to be predisposed to becoming violently radicalized in American society (militias, neo-Nazis, etc) and committing violent rampages, specifically public mass murder. By the way, it isn’t only middle class whites who join right-wing militant groups as was seen with the Second Klan for middle class whites also join left-wing militant groups like the Weather Underground, although the latter never sought to kill people. Middle class whites in general are the most politically engaged demographic and, when they become outraged, they are the most politically violent demographic. The violence of poor people, on the other hand, doesn’t tend to be politically-oriented and so is less often publicly enacted as terrorism.

Speaking more generally, no one knows the actual racial breakdown of total crime and other dangerously deviant behavior. What we do know is that minorities are disproportionately targeted and more harshly treated by the police and judicial system. FBI statistics only show arrests and not convictions or anything else. Besides, most crimes including most violent crimes (along with most mass killings) don’t lead to arrest or conviction. And because of racial profiling and greater police patrolling in minority areas, whites more easily get away with crimes. Whites, especially middle-to-upper class whites, are less likely have to deal with legal and criminal consequences such as the low prosecution rate of whites for drug addiction, white collar crime, and other illegal behavior.

Even many crimes that whites commit at higher rates (e.g., per capita of whites using, carrying, and selling illegal drugs) are prosecuted at higher rates among non-whites. Studies show that police are more likely to perceive blacks as carrying guns when they’re not and more likely to perceive whites as not carrying guns when they are, which unsurprisingly leads to large numbers of innocent blacks being victimized, brutalized, and killed by cops (and no official records are nationally kept for homicides by police, maybe the single largest category of serial killers, whether or not one thinks it is justified serial killing). Some data from stop and frisk shows that whites are more likely to carry illegal weapons just as they are more likely to carry illegal drugs, likely for the reason that whites for good reason are less afraid of being targeted by police. Also, even when arrested for homicide, whites are more likely than blacks to be deemed justified in their killing others such as with stand your ground laws, in particular when those killed aren’t white. This relates to how white killers tend to be portrayed positively or sympathetically by the media — called mentally ill rather than thugs or terrorists, although sometimes called heroes depending on who they kill such as the race, religion, or politics of their victim (e.g., right-wing media praised and celebrated the targeted assassination of Dr. George Tiller, a doctor at a women’s clinic).

The main thing I was thinking about is the varieties of violence, how we label crime and how we divide up the data. The US is a more violent country than comparable Western countries. It’s not that there is more overall crime in the US but that crime is more likely to end in violence, partly because US laws incentivize criminals to kill their victims so as to leave no witnesses — one of the sad consequences of emphasizing punishment over rehabilitation. But such general criminal violence is in some ways less interesting because the motivations are more obvious.

Large-scale violence tends to get more attention. There is gang violence and drive-by shootings, of course. Some prefer to separate that out from other forms of major violence: school attacks, homicidal rampages, terrorist bombings, etc. Does the purpose and method matter or should all violence be thrown together? Are harmed bystanders to be treated as the same as intended victims? Is the focus on mass acts of violence in how many are targeted or in how many are actually killed? Should we exclude violent actions that lead to large numbers of injuries but few if any deaths? Yet if it is specifically the success rate of killing we are concerned about, then how many victims do there need to be: 2 or more deaths, 3 or more deaths, 4 or more deaths? Also, does it matter if it is a private act such as someone killing their family versus a public act such as someone plowing their car into a crowd?

Much of the decrease in killings, individual and mass, has to do with improved emergency healthcare. And emergency healthcare has improved the most in wealthy white communities and the least in poor minority communities, which is to say for the exact same injury a poor minority is more likely to die than a wealthier white, a significant issue considering minorities have a higher rates of poverty and residence in poor communities. Racial disparities in criminal victimhood in terms of mortality rates is directly correlated to racial disparities in healthcare, which is to say that our society considers some people more worth saving, and that would directly contribute to the violent crime data since it isn’t a homicide or mass murder when the victims don’t die. That is ignoring the issue that higher rates of lead toxicity among poor minorities also contributes to brain damage and violent crime, a lack of healthcare being exacerbated by a lack of public health concern. And on top of that, the poor are also less likely to get the mental health services to deal with the consequences. So, both victimizers and victims among the poor are affected by physical and mental health issues, which contributes to the victimization cycle.

Depending on the focus of concern and frame of interpretation, depending on how violence is being defined and measured, depending on the source of data and how it is analyzed, the demographic breakdown varies immensely. There is rarely any media reporting on the inaccuracy and unreliability of much of the data itself, such as the bias in the very criminal system that records the data. This goes beyond who the police primarily target and who the courts treat unfairly. It also is about how the arresting officer records the details, such as they’re more likely to list the race of a black suspect than the race of a white suspect since in a racist society being black is central to being accused of a crime, which affects how the accused is perceived such as more likely to be seen as threatening and so to get shot or more likely to be judged guilty and so arrested, convicted, and imprisoned. Even black jurors are more likely to deem blacks to be guilty and more likely to do so the darker their skin. Racism is pervasive not only within the system but also within our psyches, all of it probably more often than not operating unconsciously.

Here is a clear example. The New York Times used the loosest definition of mass shooting possible and found the majority of alleged shooters who had their race recorded were black. They took the data at face value and concluded that most mass shooters were black. But if we were to be honest, all this can tell us is that blacks are the majority of people arrested, whether or not convicted, who are then judged according to their race. This says nothing at all about those within communities that are less heavily policed, those who weren’t arrested, weren’t convicted, or didn’t have their race recorded which is to say the majority of shooters and alleged shooters. We should keep in mind that most violent victimizations remain unreported (3.4 million from 2006 to 2010, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics) and much that is reported goes unsolved because in most cases no one is caught in the act and so little of gets investigated; the proportion of violent crime investigated in poor minority communities is even lower as the victims are considered of low value in our society (the higher rates of black arrests is caused by higher rates of patrolling in black communities, not higher rates of investigating crime in black communities). The fact of the matter is most violent criminals aren’t arrested and a large number of the arrested are innocent, even though many take plea deals because of immoral and anti-democratic threats made by prosecutors in their piling on charges that they know won’t stick, while few of the accused ever get legal counsel (studies have found that upwards of 7% of prisoners are innocent of the crimes they were convicted of).

Furthermore once in the criminal system, the lives of ex-cons are under careful scrutiny which increases the likelihood of further arrests. And because of discrimination, ex-cons have a hard time finding work which leads to recidivism. And because ex-cons are legally disallowed to receive welfare or live in assisted housing, they are often faced with the option of turning to the black market or becoming homeless. That combined with the fact that poor minorities, even compared to poor whites, are already disproportionately affected by high unemployment, economic segregation, environmental racism, heavy metal toxicity, inadequate healthcare, lack of public funding, etc. To add insult to injury, blacks without a criminal record are less likely to get hired than whites with a criminal record, similar to how blacks with a college degree are less likely to get hired than whites with only a high school diploma. This is a sad state of affairs since unemployment is an obvious risk factor for criminal activity. So, it is easier for a white person to escape poverty and to escape their own criminal pasts, while blacks even when they do everything right have lower rates of socioeconomic mobility.

About a specific category of violent crime, consider serial killings that is defined by the FBI as “The unlawful killing of two or more victims by the same offender(s), in separate events.” That is so broad as to be meaningless, as it has no correlation whatsoever to how most people think about serial killers. Someone living in a dangerous neighborhood who kills two people in separate acts of defense but gets convicted of homicide because of racism will be categorized as a serial killer, whereas a white person who does the same thing is less likely to get arrested, convicted, and labeled in the same manner (it is a similar problem to including someone with a public exposure charge for publicly urinating on a sex offender list along with pedophiles and rapists; labels socially construct public perception with those controlling the former controlling the latter). One set of data from Radford University found that most serial killers were blacks according to this broad definition, although it should be noted that other analyses of data shows the complete opposite pattern with the vast majority of serial killers being white (see below: African Americans and the Criminal Justice System by Marvin D. Free). Depending on what purpose or bias one has, it will determine the results one finds for there is a lot of data out there that can be diced and spliced in so many ways. And as researchers admit, there is little agreement about how to define specific categories of violence: mass murder, serial killing, terrorism, etc. What definition one uses will determine which data one uses and how one analyzes it.

That is even more problematic considering that homicides committed by whites, specifically against minorities, are more likely to be deemed as legally justified within the criminal system (along with socially and morally justified within the media) and so less likely to lead to a criminal charge, not to mention white criminals being less likely to be arrested in the first place. But if all killings were included and if whites were policed and arrested, prosecuted and convicted to the same degree as blacks for the exact same crimes, the percentage of whites in the violent criminal data would increase drastically no matter the definitions and measure used.

A violent crime is still a violent crime, even when it doesn’t lead to prosecution and punishment. If a loved one was killed by a white guy who isn’t arrested or else isn’t convicted such as his claiming justification through racially-biased stand your ground laws, would you feel better than a loved one having been killed by a black guy who was imprisoned? Probably not. Yet according to the data, the former is perfectly legal and only the latter is a violent crime. That is why a violent killer like George Zimmerman is still walking free. All of us should be worried about this for we are all less safe with violent people out in the general population, as seen with the continued violence that Zimmerman has been involved in. This is the moral hazard of racial privilege.

Some would like to dismiss the fact that violent crime taken as a whole is largely caused by whites, arguing that it is comparable to their proportionate numbers. Nonetheless, it remains problematic that, in a white dominant society, most of the violence is committed by whites. What doesn’t get acknowledged or appreciated is that these white dangerous perpetrators, for the most part, aren’t only whites but almost entirely white men who as a demographic are less than a third of the total population and represent an even more specific sub-group(s) among white men. Besides, it’s not just any violence we are talking about since this white male violence includes several of the largest terrorist attacks in US history and involves political and religious radicalization, from bombings of abortion clinics to bombing of the trade center, not to mention the likes of the Ted Kaczynski and Joe Stack. One might note that these are part of the same general white male demographic that is primarily responsible for passing, enacting, and enforcing laws; not to mention that is disproportionately culpable for most state-sanctioned violence, from police committing brutality on the public to politicians starting wars of aggression against poor brown people.

That isn’t to say we should use this as an excuse to instead overlook violence found in other demographics (besides violent neocon politicians like Hillary Clinton, women as mothers and caretakers do commit high rates of child abuse and neglect which no doubt contributes to the system and cycle of victimization). Still, we aren’t likely to improve our society by focusing on the lesser problems caused by the rest of the population with the least representation, advantages, and influence — specifically racial, ethnic, and religious minorities but also in terms of gender (and all of those within an intersectional understanding). No one is denying that poor minorities are dealing with problems and when involving crime should be held accountable, but even then many of those problems are part of a larger history of problems caused and benefited by mostly white men from the comfortable classes: colonial imperialism, genocide, slavery, re-enslavement through trumped-up charges and chain gangs, Jim Crow, KKK, sundown towns, redlining, housing covenants, racially-biased New Deal programs, race wars, COINTELPRO, war on drugs, tough-on-crime laws, mass incarceration, school-to-prison pipeline, ghettoization, environmental racism, neoliberal exploitation, and the list could go on and on. More importantly, it is an issue of leverage and impact. Because of the white majority and white dominance, white male violence has a greater and wider impact across society and so decreasing white male violence would decrease overall violence more than decreasing any other demographic of violence.

The fact remains that most Americans aren’t white men, even as most violent criminals are white men. It is hard for the rest of the citizenry to not notice this fact. And pointing out per capita isn’t always helpful, even though it is certainly relevant, specifically when we consider the total violence including slow violence and state violence. As a white man myself, I take racial problems as a personal issue. But the consequences are far beyond the mere personal. It’s about responsibility, not blame. Since white men have most of the power and authority, privilege and influence, resources and opportunities in our society, white men also have the most capacity to effectively deal with the problems of our society when those problems primarily involve white men like themselves. And if you are one of the many white men far from the echelons of the ruling elite, don’t make excuses for those seeking to manipulate you to their own advantage.

I must admit that I’m wary about putting too much emphasis on the male aspect, as it isn’t limited to men being the majority of violent criminals but also the majority of police, soldiers, firemen, paramedics, etc; any activity or occupation involving the risk of life, one’s own or others, including while saving lives. If men in general get most of the blame, then men in general also get most of the credit. But such simplistic generalizations aren’t entirely helpful, albeit sometimes necessary to emphasize in making a point about systemic patterns and biases.

The issue is that, no matter how it is analyzed, white men in particular including the wealthier are far from being above these problems of violence and other crimes even as they are better positioned to evade consequences. Not that white male privilege is all that much of a comfort to poor white guys. The purpose isn’t to scapegoat white men, even as it is to clarify the historical legacies of racism and patriarchy. I realize, as a working class white guy, I have little direct influence over systemic problems and yet I also realize that if enough white guys spoke out along with others speaking out then the systemic problems would begin to change. Still, let’s be honest in acknowledging that the system is rather shitty all around, including for most white guys which is all the more reason for the average white guy to not defend the system.

Data is a great thing when used well. But what is the purpose of the data we are keeping? And does the data we keep say more about specific sub-populations described in the data or does it simply express the biased worldview of the data-keepers along with the vested interests of the system that is being served? White men are disproportionately found among professional positions within police forces, courts, the FBI, academia, think tanks, corporate media, etc  — all of the places where data gets collected and disseminated, analyzed and interpreted. That might be a relevant detail to consider in discussing that data.

I’m not arguing you can’t find some data that supports any particular argument, including prejudices of race realists and white supremacists. It is unsurprising to find all kinds of social problems in a problematic society and it is equally unsurprising to find those social problems disproportionately found among those disproportionately oppressed, victimized, and disadvantaged. We live in a society that has been continuously racist, not to mention sexist and classist, for centuries and that is going to leave massive consequences on the victimized populations, such as being caught up in every aspect of violence coming from within and outside specific communities.

The question is what does any of this mean. Ignoring the most horrific public violence typically committed by more economically comfortable whites such as radicalized terrorism and state violence, most general violence happens in the most impoverished and desperate communities — as true for poor whites as for poor blacks. But that is like pointing out that Afghanistan and Iraq are violent places, after the US destroyed the government, infrastructure, and economy through mass bombing and ongoing military actions, one of those wars clearly being an internationally illegal war of aggression and crime against humanity. Why don’t the millions of innocent people killed in those countries by the US get counted as victims of violent crime with the politicians behind it prosecuted as war criminals? And why doesn’t the 40% of worldwide deaths of mostly poor dark-skinned people by pollution get labeled as violence? The same goes for the high mortality rates of racial minorities in the US not only because of similar problems but also because of toxicity, poverty, lack of healthcare, police violence, and much else.

Who keeps the data gets to decide what data gets kept and how it gets kept. The same system of power and authority decides who is guilty and who is innocent, who is a victimizer and who a victim. They decide whose suffering gets recorded, whose existence even gets acknowledged. They control the media narrative and political debate. As such, what does the data show and what does it hide? What does it distort and spin toward what end?

* * *

Study shows disparity in how media portray mass shooters of different races
by Brendan Crowley

She studied 170 stories printed from 2008 to 2017 that focused on lone, mass shooters. The stories came from the Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, St. Louis Post-Dispatch and USA Today. She defined a mass shooter as someone who kills four or more people in a public place.

Frisby’s study broke the stories into four possible frames: the shooter was mentally ill; the shooter was a thug; the shooter was a terrorist; and the shooter was heroic, meaning the violence was portrayed as a justified way to resolve conflict and blame wasn’t put on the shooter.

The study showed how often each frame was used to talk about shooters of different races.

  • Mental illness: 80 percent referred to white shooters, 16 percent to black shooters, 4 percent to Muslim shooters.
  • Thug: 53 percent referred to black shooters, 28 percent to Hispanic shooters, 16 percent to white shooters and 3 percent to Muslim shooters.
  • Terrorist: 37 percent referred to Muslim shooters, 34 percent to black shooters, 17 percent to white shooters, and Hispanic and Asian shooters were each referred to in 6 percent of the stories.
  • Hero: 75 percent of stories referred to white shooters, 16 percent to black shooters and 9 percent referred to Hispanic shooters.

Frisby said how the news media frames a story may cause readers to make false associations.

Killings of Black Men by Whites are Far More Likely to be Ruled “Justifiable”

by Daniel Lathrop and Anna Flagg

When a white person kills a black man in America, the killer often faces no legal consequences.

In one in six of these killings, there is no criminal sanction, according to a new Marshall Project examination of 400,000 homicides committed by civilians between 1980 and 2014. That rate is far higher than the one for homicides involving other combinations of races.

In almost 17 percent of cases when a black man was killed by a non-Hispanic white civilian over the last three decades, the killing was categorized as justifiable, which is the term used when a police officer or a civilian kills someone committing a crime or in self-defense. Overall, the police classify fewer than 2 percent of homicides committed by civilians as justifiable.

The disparity persists across different cities, different ages, different weapons and different relationships between killer and victim.

[…] killings of black males by white people are labeled justifiable more than eight times as often as others. This racial disparity has persisted for decades and is hard to explain based solely on the circumstances reported by the police data.

In comparison, when Hispanics killed black men, about 5.5 percent of cases were called justifiable. When whites killed Hispanics, it was 3.1 percent. When blacks killed whites, the figure was just 0.8 percent. When black males were killed by other blacks, the figure was about 2 percent, the same as the overall rate. […]

Still, the disparities in how police classify these cases remain across widely different circumstances and causes of death. Whether the killer and victim were married, lovers, neighbors or complete strangers, whether they were shot, stabbed or beaten, the trend holds. The killings of black men by whites were two to 10 times as likely to be called justifiable.

Even after adjusting for the ages of the killer and victim, their relationship and the weapon used, the likelihood of a white-on-black-male case being called justifiable was still 4.7 times higher than in other cases.

Black Crime Rates: What Happens When Numbers Aren’t Neutral
by  Kim Farbota

(1) If a black person and a white person each commit a crime, the black person is more likely to be arrested. This is due in part to the fact that black people are more heavily policed.
Black people, more often than white people, live in dense urban areas. Dense urban areas are more heavily policed than suburban or rural areas. When people live in close proximity to one another, police can monitor more people more often. In more heavily policed areas, people committing crimes are caught more frequently. This could help explain why, for example, black people and white people smoke marijuana at similar rates, yet black people are 3.7 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession. (The discrepancy could also be driven by overt racism, more frequent illegal searches of black people, or an increased willingness to let non-blacks off with a warning.)

(2) When black people are arrested for a crime, they are convicted more often than white people arrested for the same crime. 
An arrest and charge does not always lead to a conviction. A charge may be dismissed or a defendant may be declared not guilty at trial. Whether or not an arrestee is convicted is often determined by whether or not a defendant can afford a reputable attorney. The interaction of poverty and trial outcomes could help explain why, for example, while black defendants represent about 35% of drug arrests, 46% of those convicted of drug crimes are black. (This discrepancy could also be due to racial bias on the part of judges and jurors.)

(3) When black people are convicted of a crime, they are more likely to be sentenced to incarceration compared to whites convicted of the same crime. 
When a person is convicted of a crime, a judge often has discretion in determining whether the defendant will be incarcerated or given a less severe punishment such as probation, community service, or fines. One study found that in a particular region blacks were incarcerated for convicted felony offenses 51% of the time while whites convicted of felonies were incarcerated 38% of the time. The same study also used an empirical approach to determine that race, not confounded with any other factor, was a key determinant in judges’ decisions to incarcerate.

Black And White Homicide Rates: Who’s Killing Whom?
comment from steven tucker

why is nobody apparently aware that the fbi data is for ARRESTS, and is not the number of crimes or criminals? Just arrests.

In 2014, a full 1/3 of murders (higher percentage for other violent crimes) did not even result in a known suspect. of ~12,500 murders (reported to fbi…) only 8200 arrests were made.

of these, only 5800 convictions were had, and 4100 of those were plea bargains. a full 30% of arrestees, race undocumented, were acquitted or case dismissed…

So – 35% of murderers unknown. 30% of supposedly known murderers arrested but not convicted. That means we have stats showing that of 12,500 homicides in 2014, 4100 people plea bargained, 1700 were convicted in court, 2450 were arrested and released, and so (at least) about 6700 killers are still at large, race unknown.

5800 killers in jail. A few no doubt wrongly, but 5800 nonetheless. but 6700 unknown.

The conclusions being drawn about crime and race from such data are, in total, without the slightest validity. They are neither right nor wrong, they are pure nonsense.

Why Counting Mass Shootings is a Bad Way to Understand Gun Violence in America
by Lois Beckett

Counting “mass shootings” is notoriously complicated and contested, since there is no standard definition of what they are. Is it best to count shootings that injure or kill a certain number of people? Or should the definition focus more narrowly on attacks in which the motivation of the shooter “appears to be indiscriminate killing”?

Which race does the most mass shootings per capita in the US?
by Brady Postma

There is no generally accepted definition of a “mass shooting.” Without one, we can’t count how many there are or the races of the shooters

The most obvious definition is a certain number of deaths from a single shooting; three perhaps, or four. But should a shooting with 20 victims none of whom die be excluded from the definition? What if two people are shot and two are stabbed; does that count as a shooting with four deaths? Is a case where someone kills their whole family in their home the same as a shooter killing strangers in a public place? Should a shootout between rival gangs count?

These questions alter the answer to your question, so they must be answered first.

School shootings are primarily (though not exclusively) white, as data from Mother Jones’ list of mass shootings by their definition shows. Gang shootings tend otherwise. There are other clusters of mass violence with different perpetrator demographics. Scaling perp counts to racial proportions of the population, as you’ve asked for, skews the data away from whites and toward minorities.

Ultimately, though, the results depend on your methodology

What makes a ‘mass shooting’ in America
by Christopher Ingraham

For starters, it’s important to realize that there has never been one universally accepted definition of a “mass shooting.” The government has never even defined “mass shooting” as a stand-alone category.

The FBI used to consider someone a “mass murderer” if they killed four or more people during one event, regardless of weapons used. But starting in 2013, federal statutes defined “mass killing” as three or more people killed, regardless of weapons. And unlike the tracker, the tally doesn’t include the killer if he or she is eventually killed by law enforcement or takes his or her own life.

But, according to the tracker’s users, that definition has a bit of a problem. It includes non-gun killings, for instance, and it excludes cases in which a lot of people are shot but few of them die.

Most victims of US mass shootings are black, data analysis finds
by Lois Beckett

A new analysis of 358 mass shootings in America in 2015 found that three-quarters of the victims whose race could be identified were black.

Roughly a third of the incidents with known circumstances were drive-by shootings or were identified by law enforcement as gang-related. Another third were sparked by arguments, often among people who were drunk or high.

About one in 10 of the shootings were identified as related to domestic violence. In these shootings the majority of victims and perpetrators were white. Domestic violence incidents were also much more likely to be fatal. The 39 domestic violence cases represented 11% of the total incidents but 31% of victims who died.

The analysis, conducted by the New York Times with data collected by Reddit’s mass shooting tracker and the Gun Violence Archive, used law enforcement reports on shootings that left four or more people injured or dead in 2015.

Few of the incidents resembled the kinds of planned massacres in schools, churches and movie theaters that have attracted intense media and political attention. Instead, the analysis, defined purely by the number of victims injured, revealed that many were part of the broader burden of everyday gun violence on economically struggling neighborhoods.

Nearly 90% of the zip codes that saw mass shootings had higher-than-average poverty rates. […]

Only about half of the mass shootings had been solved, the Times found. In some cities, the number was lower. Chicago had made arrests in only two of 16 mass shootings, while Baltimore had 11 incidents in 2015 and had not solved one.

Mass Shooters Aren’t Disproportionately White
by Daniel Engber

According to the study, white and Asian mass murderers perpetrated crimes with more victims, on average, and they were more likely to carry out those crimes in public places. Nearly one-fourth of the white mass murderers and one-fifth of the Asians in the group engaged in public killings. Among the black mass murderers, this proportion was just 6 percent. Lankford suggests the relative whiteness of public killings, in particular, could indeed result from structural advantage and “aggrieved entitlement.”

by Tiffany Xie

Although White individuals made up 69.2% of arrests for crimes in 20111, Black men still account for the majority of the prison population, more than six times as likely to be incarcerated than White men. Black men are also subjected, according to Lawrence Grossman, former President of CBS News and PBS, to media stereotyping where TV newscasts “disproportionately show African Americans under arrest, living in slums, on welfare, and in need of help from the community.” However, men of color do not represent the majority of school shooters or mass murderers.

Recent studies reveal that most school shooters are White males, with 97 percent being male and 79 percent White. Over the last three decades, 90 percent of high school or elementary school shootings were the result of White, often upper-middle class, perpetrators.

White-On-White Crime Strikes Again In Waco
by Julia Craven

Around 83 percent of white victims in 2011 were murdered by other whites, based on the most recent FBI homicide data.

As many as 3,172 white people were killed in 2011 — and 2,630 of them lost their lives at the hands of another white person. This is compared to 2,695 black people, 2,447 of whom were killed by another black person. […]

Whites lead when it comes to gang violence too: 53.3 percent of gang-related murders between 1980 and 2008 were committed by white people, according to the Justice Department, compared to 42.2 percent committed by blacks. Victims of gang-related violence were also mostly white.

White on White Crime: An Unspoken Tragedy
by Kerry Coddett

In America, whites commit the majority of crimes. What’s even more troubling is that they are also responsible for a vast majority of violent crimes. In 2013, whites led all other groups in aggravated assault, larceny-theft, arson, weapons-carrying, and vandalism. When it comes to sexual assault, whites take the forcible rape cake. They are also more likely to kill children, the elderly, family members, their significant others, and even themselves! They commit more sex-related crimes, gang related crimes, and are more likely to kill at their places of employment. In 2013, an estimated 10,076 people died in the U.S. due to drunk driving crashes. Driving while drunk is almost exclusively a white crime because everyone knows black people prefer to drink on their porches or inside their homes.

So why is white on white crime so prevalent, one may ask? Is it the music they listen to? Is it the white divorce rate, resulting in more white children coming from broken homes? Perhaps it’s the TV shows they watch or the violent sports they play. More than likely, it is a combination of all of those things, with the exact root cause unclear. What is clear, though, is that not enough people are talking about the crime plaguing the white community. We need to spread the word, holding protests and demonstrations that call attention to this growing matter. Because, after all—-white lives matter, too.

White Men Commit Mass Shootings More Than Any Other Group — Why Aren’t We Talking About That?
by Cate Carrejo

Yet there is little public discourse about how to address this longstanding problem, because in large part, people aren’t ready to fully admit the problem exists. White men commit more mass shootings than any other demographic, but their white privilege prevents people from approaching the problem from a systemic perspective. […]

But the narrative surrounding white men are simply different than that of other groups. Even after the anecdotal and statistical evidence connecting white men to violence, people are disinclined to readjust their thinking about white men, in part because it would be so triggering all the time. If Americans walked around being as terrified of white men as many are of Muslims, society wouldn’t be able to function.

Arguably though, people, and particularly women, have every reason to walk around being terrified of white men. It’s proof positive of white men’s privilege that people still go about their lives under the constant threat of white men as a whole. White men commit the vast majority of rapes and murders, and according to some studies, they commit the most violent crimes in this country. Six in 10 sex offenders are white men, and white men kill more people in America every year than international terrorists. You can say all you want that it’s “Not All (White) Men,” but the statistics point to white men being the most dangerous of all other groups in the country.

How common are African-American mass shooters?
by TheGrio

Of the approximately 62 mass shootings (in which four or more people were killed) in the U.S. since 1982, including 25 since 2006 (and seven in 2012 alone), according to figures compiled by Mother Jones, “more than half of the cases involved school or workplace shootings (12 and 20, respectively); the other 30 cases took place in locations including shopping malls, restaurants, and religious and government buildings. Forty four of the killers were white males. Only one of them was a woman.”

The percentage of black assailants who kill on a scale such as Monday’s Navy Yard shootings is about equal to the percentage of black Americans, says former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt.

“African-American shooters tend to at least represent their statistical portion of the U.S. population and include past killers like like Omar S. Thornton, Maurice Clemmons, Charles Lee Thornton, William D. Baker, Arthur Wise, Clifton McCree, Nathan Dunlap, Colin Ferguson, and the DC Snipers, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo,” Van Zandt told theGrio.

Hunting Serial Predators
by Grover Maurice Godwin

[…] most likely victims of serial murderers are White (Caucasian). This finding is given importance when coupled with the fact that in this study of 107 serial murderers, 81% of the offenders were White. This finding supports the claims by other researchers that suggest that serial murder is primarily intra-racial. […]

82% of the serial murderers in this study were White. In research by James, he found that 86% of his offender sample was White (Caucasian).154 Also, in Hanfland’s study of child murderers, 80% of the child killers were White.

Race Matters: Study Claims White Men Are More Likely To Commit Mass Murders Than Blacks Or Any Other Racial Group
by Bossip Staff

Is there something about the white, male, middle-class experience that makes it easier for sick young men to turn schools and movie theaters into graveyards? Some studies say, yes.

Via LAWSONRY News And Analysis reports:

While the majority of all violent crimes are perpetuated by men, American mass murders in particular seem to be the territory of white men. The Encyclopedia of Murder and Violent Crime writes that, “Compared with assailants who kill but one victim, mass murderers are overwhelmingly likely to be male, [and] are far more likely to be white,” and the numbers prove it. According to Wikipedia, 75% of the rampage killings on US record were perpetrated by white males, as were 71% of massacres in schools, and 60% of workplace rampages – a seriously disproportionate number for the number of white males that make up the general population. Clearly, there is more at play here than the advantage of opportunity.

Historically, the focus on serial killers and mass murderers has been on the individual motives for the crimes, and little on the overarching trend. It’s plausible that the elevated social status of white males combined with isolation, desperation, opportunity, and mental illness has led the white men who have gone on rampages to make their pain felt by those around them in a very violent way.

Of course, it isn’t just male privilege that makes men more prone to violent crime than their female counterparts. From the time they are toddlers, men are socialized to express their emotions through violence. Western culture – and especially American culture – teaches boys that emotional intelligence and expression is worthless and effeminate, and that the acceptable masculine response to anger, sadness, and/or frustration is to act out physically. If this mentality is particularly deeply rooted in an individual man, he may find it incredibly difficult to form an emotional support system, leading to more self-inflicted and outwardly motivated violence among men.

 News outlets have a also broken down by demographic, shooter’s identities, weapons and number of victims of these shooters. The most common denominator, most of these killers were white men…Via MotherJones reports:

Since 1982, there have been at least 62 mass murders* carried out with firearms across the country, with the killings unfolding in 30 states from Massachusetts to Hawaii. We’ve mapped them below, including details on the shooters’ identities, the types of weapons they used, and the number of victims they injured and killed.

*Mass Murder- The shooter took the lives of at least four people. An FBI crime classification report identifies an individual as a mass murderer—as opposed to a spree killer or a serial killer—if he kills four or more people in a single incident (not including himself), and typically in a single location.

Here is a sample of the timeline of mass murders. Only 6 of the 62 mass muderers featured were people of color…

Why Are So Many Mass Shootings Committed by Young White Men?

by Josiah Hesse

When trying to decipher gun violence, it’s tempting to focus on impoverished minority neighborhoods defined by structural woes like mass incarceration, poverty, lack of education, and so on. But research shows that mass shootings are primarily committed by white males—the most privileged class in society. So why are they the ones who snap? And is calling them “mentally ill” a way to avoid talking about race?

“If you look at how the James Holmes case has played out, it’s amazing how the themes [of other shootings] line up,” true-crime author Stephen Singular, who collaborated with his wife, Joyce, on the new book The Spiral Notebook: The Aurora Theater Shooter and the Epidemic of Mass Violence Committed by American Youth, tells VICE. “Most of these young white shooters—they’re not underprivileged, they have so many advantages, particularly in the Holmes case. He was dealing with an inner reality that he didn’t know how to contend with.”

As Mother Jones reported, “Since 1982, there have been at least 70 mass shootings across the country… Forty four of the killers were white males. Only one of them was a woman.” So white men have been responsible for about 63 percent of mass shootings in that span, despite comprising a far smaller portion of the total population. And while the motives for mass murder vary from perpetrator to perpetrator, since the Columbine school shooting in 1999, there has been a remarkable consistency—if not uniformity—in the age, gender, and race of the people who carry out these egregious crimes. […]

A 2013 study at the University of Washington looked at the disproportionately high numbers of mass killings—defined as having at least three or more victims during a single episode—committed by young white men in America, and found a correlation between feelings of entitlement among white males and homicidal revenge against a specific demographic.

“Among many mass killers, the triple privileges of white heterosexual masculinity which make subsequent life course losses more unexpected and thus more painfully shameful ultimately buckle under the failures of downward mobility and result in a final cumulative act of violence to stave off subordinated masculinity,” the authors wrote. […]

“There’s a feeling of entitlement that white men have that black men don’t,” Alan Fox, a professor at Northeastern University and co-author of Extreme Killing, told the Washington Post in a 2012 interview. “They often complain that their job was taken by blacks or Mexicans or Jews. They feel that a well-paid job is their birthright. It’s a blow to their psyche when they lose that.”

African Americans and the Criminal Justice System
by Marvin D. Free
pp. 58-60

The preceding theories also tend to ignore the possibility that some of the discrepancy in black-white rates of offending may be due to differential patrolling by the police. Because many lower-class African Americans live in heavily patrolled ares of the city, any transgression of the law is more likely to result in a police contact than a similar violation of the law occurring in suburban or rural areas. Using arrest data for 1975, Hawkins (1983, p. 410) observed that African Americans living in rural areas comprised 10 percent of the rural population and 10 percent of the arrests for all types of crimes. African Americans living in suburbs were actually slightly underrepresented in arrest statistics (15 percent of the suburban population and 12 percent of all arrests). Only in the heavily patrolled urban areas were African Americans disproportionately arrested.

Coramae Mann (1993, p. 103), in commenting on mainstream theories of minority crime, notes the irony “that so many of the explanations of minority crime focus on minority violence when American history is filled with violence, particularly as directed against its minority citizens.” And despite the preoccupation of some sociological theories with African American violence, Hickey (1991, p. 77) found that black serial murderers constituted only 10 percent of the offenders in is study. In fact, 97 percent of the female serial killers and 85 percent of the male serial killers were white (pp. 110 & 133). […]

Despite these condemnations of the theory, conflict theory (along with labeling theory) has helped criminology to overcome its preoccupation with criminal actors by redirecting its attention to the role of law enforcement in the creation of crime. It has also served the purpose of reminding criminologists of the fallacy involved in assuming that laws always reflect a consensus in society. Moreover, there is some empirical support for the basic tenets of the theory. Jackson and Carroll (1981), for example, examined the relationship between race and police expenditures for 90 nonsouthern U.S. cities. Because conflict theory asserts that the law is an instrument of oppression used by the dominant group against subordinate groups, they hypothesized that “the amount of resources devoted to policing will vary directly with the threat posed by subordinate to dominant groups (p. 293). If African Americans (the subordinate group) are viewed as a treat by whites (the dominant group), then conflict theory would predict that expenditures for police should be related to the racial composition of the city, the number of race riots during the 1960s, and the level of civil rights mobilization activity. The authors found general support of their hypothesis.

Violent Offenders
by Matt DeLisi and Peter J. Conis
pp. 106-17

It is plausible to suggest that race predicts homicide offenders and victims because African American and Caucasian boys differ on predictive risk factors. According to this hypothesis, race should not predict homicide offenders and victims after controlling for predictive risk factors. Indeed, after entering the eight significant explanatory risk factors in a logistic regression analysis, race did not significantly predict homicide offenders. After entering the nine significant explanatory risk factors in a logistics regression analysis, race was still a significant predictor of homicide victims (LRCS=4.61, p=.032). However, the predictive power of race was considerably reduced after controlling for other risk factors. It might be concluded that race predicts homicide offenders and victims primarily because of racial differences in predictive risk factors. The most important risk factors that were significantly associated with race and that predicted homicide offenders and/or victims were a bad neighborhood, a broken family, the family on welfare, and a young mother.

* * *

The Moral Arc
by Michael Shermer
Kindle Locations 6724-6737

[C]riminals— especially psychopathic criminals (which, recall, make up at least half of the prison population of violent offenders)— show different physiological responses to such emotions as distress or sadness when compared to noncriminal brains. “They failed to show the emotions required; they failed to show the physical response. It was as though they knew the words but not the music of empathy.” Brain scans revealed that “Our population of inmates had a deficient amygdala, which likely led to their lack of empathy and their immoral behavior.” 26

One avenue of treatment for these neurologically impaired psychopaths is neurogenesis, or the birth of new neurons in the adult brain. Take mice. If you raise them in a prison-cell-like environment devoid of stimulation, they lose their capacity to form bonds with their fellow mice when they are reintroduced to them. But if you raise mice in an enriched environment, they not only form normal attachments with their fellow group members, they also experience the growth of new brain cells and connections, which not only leads them to “perform better on a range of learning and memory tasks,” says Reisel, but also “their improved environment results in healthy, sociable behavior.” Reisel then draws the analogy with prison: “When you think about it, it is ironic that our current solution for people with dysfunctional amygdalas is to place them in an environment that actually inhibits any chance of further growth.” Of course, our natural propensity to punish wrongdoers results in a system of retributive justice, but Reisel would like us to also consider the treatment of these broken brains through rehabilitation programs and restorative justice programs,

Neuronal depletion of the amygdala resembles the learning deficits induced by low level lead exposure in rats.
Munoz, Garbe, Lilienthal, and Winneke

The behavioral deficits observed after lead exposure have been related to limbic system dysfunction. In a previous study it was shown that the neurotoxicity of lead could not be explained by the damage of the hippocampus alone. The purpose of the present investigation was to use behavioral comparisons to test the hypothesis that the intrinsic neurons of several nuclei of the amygdala, where lead has been found to accumulate, can be a target of the effects of the metal as well. A group of rats were maternally and permanently exposed to lead (750 ppm in the diet as lead acetate). Another group of equally aged and housed rats, never experimentally exposed to lead, were injected ibotenic acid into the amygdala. All groups plus sham-operated and unoperated controls were tested in the open field, the radial arm maze, and a passive avoidance task. The results showed that lead exposure (both permanent and maternal) and amygdalectomy produced a) no effect on locomotor activity, b) impairments in the acquisition phase of the radial maze, and c) impairments in passive avoidance. These results suggest an involvement of the amygdala in the neurotoxic action of lead, but not as the only brain structure. The deficits in permanently lead-exposed rats are more pronounced than in only maternally-exposed animals suggesting a longlasting, but not totally irreversible effect of early lead exposure.

Regional distribution of lead in human brains
by Philippe Grandjean

Brains from four adult males without occupational exposure to lead have been analyzed for lead. The highest lead levels were found in the hippocampus and the amygdala, while lower lead concentrations were present in the medulla oblongata and the cerebellum. The corpus callosum and the optic tract were lowest in lead. The lead concentrations were significantly correlated to the potassium concentrations in the regions studied. This indicates that lead is mostly accumulated in cell-rich parts of the brain. Differences in the vulnerability of brain regions in lead poisoning is, therefore, possibly a result of differences in cellular sensitivity to lead.

Environmental Policy As Social Policy?
by Jessica Wolpaw Reyes

This paper argues that the removal of lead from gasoline in the late 1970s under the Clean Air Act is an additional important factor in explaining the decline in crime in the 1990s. The main result of the paper is that changes in childhood lead exposure are responsible for a 56% drop in violent crime in the 1990s. This paper argues that the removal of lead from gasoline in the late 1970s under the Clean Air Act is an additional important factor in explaining the decline in crime in the 1990s. The main result of the paper is that changes in childhood lead exposure are responsible for a 56% drop in violent crime in the 1990s.

The decline in crime among black youths
by Max Brantley

In the last 20 years in particular, the FBI reports, rates of crime among African American youth have plummeted: All offenses (down 47%), drug offenses (down 50%), property offenses (down 51%), serious Part I offenses (down 53%), assault (down 59%), robbery (down 60%), all violent offenses (down 60%), rape (down 66%), and murder (down 82%).

New, 2012 figures from California’s Criminal Justice Statistics Center reveal that the state’s black youth show the lowest level of homicide arrest since statewide racial tabulations were first assembled in 1960. Nearly every type of offense—felony, misdemeanor, and status—is much rarer among black youth today than in past generations.

Did removing lead from petrol spark a decline in crime?
by Dominic Casciani

Dr Bernard Gesch says the data now suggests that lead could account for as much as 90% of the changing crime rate during the 20th Century across all of the world.

Crime Is at its Lowest Level in 50 Years. A Simple Molecule May Be the Reason Why.
by Kevin Drum

If this curve were the only bit of evidence we had, the connection between lead and violent crime would be pretty thin. But it’s not. You should read the story to understand just how many different studies confirm this relationship. In addition, over the last decade there’s been a tsunami of new medical research about just what lead poisoning—even at very low levels—does to children. […]

We now have a huge amount of evidence linking lead to violent crime. We have evidence not just at the national level, but also at the state level, the city level, and the international level. We have longitudinal studies that track children from birth to adulthood to find out if higher blood lead levels lead to more arrests for violent crimes. And perhaps most important, this is a theory that just makes sense. Everything we now know about the effects of lead on the brain tells us that even moderately high levels of lead exposure are associated with aggressivity, impulsivity, ADHD, and lower IQ. And right there, you’ve practically defined the profile of a violent young offender.

Lead and Crime: Some New Evidence From a Century Ago
by Kevin Drum

Cities with at least some lead piping had murder rates that were, on average, 8.6 percent higher than cities with galvanized iron or wrought iron pipes. Other causes of death were mostly unrelated. Only the murder rates changed1.

Red Barns and White Barns: Why Rural Crime Skyrocketed in the Late 1800s
by Kevin Drum

In the post-World War II era, lead exposure came mainly from automobile exhausts, but in the post-Civil War era it came mainly from the growth in the use of lead paint. And when lead paint became available in rural areas, farmers found it just as useful as everyone else. Given what we now know about the effects of lead, it should come as no surprise that a couple of decades later the murder rate in rural areas went up substantially.

Are Big Cities More Dangerous Than Small Ones?
by Kevin Drum

So where did we see the most exposure to gasoline lead? Answer: in places with the densest concentration of automobiles. And that’s in the inner core of big cities. In the early ’60s, big cities had double the ambient air lead levels of midsize cities, which in turn had air lead levels 40 percent higher than small cities. (Nevin, p. 316.) So if lead exposure produces a rise in crime, you’d expect to see a bigger rise in big cities than in small ones. Over time, big cities would become increasingly more dangerous than small ones.

Likewise, when lead was removed from gasoline, and children started to grow up normally, you’d expect to see a bigger crime decrease in big cities. Over time, crime rates would start to converge.

And that’s exactly what we see in the data.

Children, Brain Damage and Lead
from The Franklin Institute

Low-income children are eight times more likely to be exposed to lead paint, and African-American children are five times more likely than Anglo children to suffer from lead poisoning.

Violent Behavior: A Solution in Plain Sight
by Sylvia Onusic

Heavy metal exposure compromises normal brain development and neurotransmitter function, leading to long-term deficits in learning and social behavior. Studies show that hyperactive children and criminal offenders have significantly elevated levels of lead, manganese or cadmium compared to controls; high blood lead at age seven predicts juvenile delinquency and adult crime.

Environmental racism
from Wikipedia

The study revealed, “ Three of the four commercial hazardous waste landfills in the Southeast United States were located in majority black communities.” The General Accounting Office Study, or GAO study, solely studied off-site hazardous waste landfills in the Southeastern United States limiting the scope of the study.[60] In response to this limitation the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice, or CRJ, directed a comprehensive national study on demographic patterns associated with the location of hazardous waste sites.[60] The CRJ national study conducted two examinations of areas surrounding commercial hazardous waste facilities and the location of uncontrolled toxic waste sites.[60] The first study examined the association between race and socio-economic status and the location of commercial hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal facilities.[60] After statistical analysis, the first study concluded that “the percentage of community residents that belonged to a racial or ethnic group was a stronger predictor of the level of commercial hazardous waste activity than was household income, the value of the homes, the number of uncontrolled waste sites, or the estimated amount of hazardous wastes generated by industry”.[61] The second study examined the presence of uncontrolled toxic waste sites in ethnic and racial minority communities, and found that 3 out of every 5 African and Hispanic Americans lived in communities with uncontrolled waste sites.[62]

Other studies like the 1987, “Toxic Waste and Race in the United States,” by the Commission for Racial Justice, found race to be the most influential variable in predicting where waste facilities were located.[63]

Freddie Gray’s life a study on the effects of lead paint on poor blacks
by Terrence McCoy

“A child who was poisoned with lead is seven times more likely to drop out of school and six times more likely to end up in the juvenile justice system,” Norton said. She called lead poisoning Baltimore’s “toxic legacy” — a still-unfolding tragedy with which she says the city has yet to come to terms. Those kids who were poisoned decades ago are now adults. And the trauma associated with lead poisoning ­“creates too much of a burden on a community,” she said.

* * *

The Desperate Acting Desperately
Are White Appalachians A Special Case?
Opportunity Precedes Achievement, Good Timing Also Helps
Facing Shared Trauma and Seeking Hope
Society: Precarious or Persistent?

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
by Michelle Alexander

Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistance of Racial Inequalit in America
by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva

More than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City
by William Julius Wilson

Worse Than Slavery
by David M. Oshinsky

Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism
James W. Loewen

Slavery by another Name: the Re-enslavement of Black Americans from the Civll War to World War II
by Douglas A. Blackmon

Locked Out: Felon Disenfranchisement and American Democracy
by Jeff Manza and Christopher Uggen

Who Are the Criminals?: The Politics of Crime Policy from the Age of Roosevelt to the Age of Reagan
by John Hagan

Imprisoning Communities: How Mass Incarceration Makes Disadvantaged Neighborhoods Worse
by Todd R. Clear

The Many Colors of Crime
by John Hagan

Race, Incarceration, and American Values
by Glenn C. Loury

Punishing Race: A Continuing American Dilemma
by Michael Tonry

Marked: Race, Crime, and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration
by Devah Pager

Invisible Punishment: The Collateral Consequences of Mass Imprisonment
by Marc Mauer and Meda Chesney-Lind

Crime Is Not the Problem: Lethal Violence in America
by Franklin E. Zimring and Gordon Hawkins

The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America
by Khalil Gibran Muhammad

Daedalus 140:2 (Spring 2011) – Race, Inequality & Culture, Vol. 2

Unequal Under Law: Race in the War on Drugs
by Doris Marie Provine

Race to Incarcerate
by Marc Mauer

Doing Time on the Outside: Incarceration and Family Life in Urban America
by Donald Braman

When Prisoners Come Home: Parole and Prisoner Reentry
by Joan Petersilia

Thinking About Crime: Sense and Sensibility in American Penal Culture
by Michael Tonry

Making Crime Pay: Law and Order in Contemporary American Politics
by Katherine Beckett

Banished: The New Social Control in Urban America
by Katherine Beckett and Steve Herbert

The Culture of Punishment
by Michelle Brown

Harsh Justice: Criminal Punishment and the Widening Divide between America and Europe
by James Q. Whitman

The Perils of Federalism: Race, Poverty, and the Politics of Crime Control
by Lisa L. Miller

The Politics of Imprisonment: How the Democratic Process Shapes the Way America Punishes Offenders
by Vanessa Barker

American Homicide
by Randolph Roth

Disciplining the Poor: Neoliberal Paternalism and the Persistent Power of Race
by Joe Soss, Richard C. Fording and Sanford F. Schram

Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity
by Loic Wacquant

The Anatomy of Racial Inequality
by Glenn C. Loury

Stuck in Place: Urban Neighborhoods and the End of Progress Toward Racial Equality
by Patrick Sharkey

Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor
by Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh

Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys
by Victor M. Rios

Ghosts of Jim Crow: Ending Racism in Post-Racial America
by F. Michael Higginbotham

Daedalus 139:3 (Summer 2010) – On Mass Incarceration

The Color of Wealth: The Story Behind the U.S. Racial Wealth Divide
by Barbara J. Robles, Betsy Leondar-Wright, Rose M. Brewer, Rebecca Adamson and Meizhu Lui

When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold Story of Racial Inequality in the Twentieth-Century
by Ira Katznelson

The Segreated Origins of Social Security: African Americans and the Welfare State
by Mary Poole

Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life
by Annette Lareau

The Moynihan Report Revisited: Lessons and Reflections after Four Decades
by Douglas S. Massey and Robert J. Sampson

The Sociology of Discrimination: Racial Discrimination in Employment, Housing, Credit, and Consumer Markets
by Devah Pager and Hana Shepherd

Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do About It
by Claude M. Steele

Race and Reality: What Everyone Should Know About Our Biological Diversity
by Guy P. Harrison

Genetics and the Unsettled Past: The Collision of DNA, Race, and History
by Keith Wailoo, Alondra Nelson and Catherine Lee

Race Decoded: The Genomic Fight for Social Justice
by Catherine Bliss

Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-First Century
by Dorothy Roberts

The Emperor’s New Clothes: Biological Theories of Race at the New Millennium
by Joseph L. Graves Jr.

Race?: Debunking a Scientific Myth
by Ian Tattersall and Rob DeSalle

Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in Ameican Life
by Barbara J. Fields and Karen Fields

White Out: The Continuing Significance of Racism
by Ashley W. Doane and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva

State of White Supremacy: Racism, Governance, and the United States
by Moon-Kie Jung, Joao Costa Vargas and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva

Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority
by Tom Burrell

What Is Intelligence?
by James R. Flynn

Intelligence and How to Get it: Why Schools and Cultures Count
by Richard E. Nisbett

The Myth of Inteligence
by Patrick Winn