Not All Men, And Not All Women, But Some

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intersectionalism is explained well at the Thinking Girl blog:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

Comment by rj paré

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

Not All Feminists

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

Not all Arabs!

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

Not all Blacks!

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

Not all Feminists!

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

Comment section of #YesAllWomen

ou812 writes:

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

Matt W writes:

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

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

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

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

wc4 writes:

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

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

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

Alf Fass writes:

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

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

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

People who think that way are respectively sexists and racists.

Colin Robinson writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let Black Kids Just Be Kids
by Rogin Bernstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who abuses children?
Australian Institute of Family Studies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Child sexual abuse
Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overview

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

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  363. Adams, E. M. (1988). Sex of the Victim, Offender, and Helper: The Effects of Gender Differences on Attributions and Attitudes in Cases of Incest. Columbus, OH: The Ohio State University.
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  365. Crewdson, J. (1988). Silence Betrayed; Sexual Abuse of Children in America. Little Brown, Boston, MA.
  366. Faller, K. C. (1988). The spectrum of sexual abuse in daycare: An exploratory study. Journal of Family Violence, 3(4), 283-298.
  367. Fehrenbach, P. A. & Monastersky, C. (1988). Characteristics of female adolescent sexual offenders. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 58(1), 148-151.
  368. Finkelhor, D., Williams, L. M. & Burns, N. (1988). Nursery crimes: Sexual abuse in day care. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.
  369. Hetherton, J. & Beardsall, L. (1988). Decisions and attitudes concerning child sexual abuse: Does the gender of the perpetrator make a difference to child protection professionals? Child Abuse & Neglect, 22(12), 1265-1283.
  370. Rowan, E. L., Langelier, P. & Rowan, J. B. (1988). Female pedophiles. Corrective and Social Psychiatry and Journal of Behavior Technology Methods and Therapy, 34(3), 17-20.
  371. Vander Mey, B. J. (1988). The sexual victimization of male children: A review of previous research. Child Abuse & Neglect, 12(1), 61-72.
  372. Allen, H. (1987). Justice unbalanced: Gender, psychiatry and judicial decisions.Philadelphia, PA: Open University Press.
  373. Brow, M. E., Knopp, F. H. & Lackey, L. B. (1987). Female Sexual Abusers: A Summary of Data from 44 Treatment Providers. Orwell: Safer Society Press.
  374. Burgess, A. W., Hartman, C. R. & McCormack, A. (1987). Abused to abuser: Antecedents of socially deviant behaviors. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 144, 1431-1436.
  375. Condy, S. R., Templer, D. I., Brown, R. & Veaco, L. (1987). Parameters of sexual contact of boys with women. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 16(5), 379-394.
  376. Eisenberg, N., Owens, R. G. & Dewey, M. E. (1987). Attitudes of health professionals to child sexual abuse and incest. Child Abuse & Neglect, 11(1), 109-116.
  377. Evert, K. (1987). When You’re Ready. A Woman’s Healing from Childhood Physical and Sexual Abuse by Her Mother. Walnut Creek, CA: Launch Press.
  378. Faller, K. C. (1987). Women who sexually abuse children. Violence & Victims, 2(4), 263-276.
  379. Holubinskyj, H. & Foley, S. (1987). Escape or rescue: Intervention in a case of mother-daughter incest, with an adolescent girl. Australian Journal of Sex, Marriage & Family, 8(1), 27-31.
  380. Knopp, F. H. & Lackey, L. B. (1987). Female Sexual Abusers: A Summary of Data from 44 Treatment Providers. Orwell, VT: The Safer Society Press.
  381. Larson, N. R. & Maison, S. R. (1987). Psychosexual Treatment Program for Female Sex Offenders: Training Manual. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Department of Corrections, Minnesota Correctional Facility, Stillwater.
  382. Mathews, R. (1987). Female Sexual Offenders: Treatment and Legal Issues.Orwell, VT: The Safer Society Press.
  383. O’Connor, A. (1987). Female sex offenders. British Journal of Psychiatry, 150, 615-620.
  384. Reinhart, M. A. (1987). Sexually abused boys. Child Abuse & Neglect, 11(2), 229-235.
  385. Risin, L. I. & Koss, M. P. (1987). The sexual abuse of boys: Prevalence and descriptive characteristics of childhood victimizations. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 2(3), 309-323.
  386. Cameron, P., Coburn Jr., W., Larson, H. & Proctor, K. (1986). Child Molestation and Homosexuality. Psychological Reports, 58(1), 327-337.
  387. Chasnoff, I. J., Burns. W. J., Schnoll, S. H., Burns, K., Chisum, G. & Kyle-Spore, L. (1986). Maternal neo-natal incest. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 56(4), 577-580.
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  389. Marvasti, J. (1986). Incestuous mothers. American Journal of Forensic Psychiatry, 7, 63-69.
  390. McCarty, L. M. (1986). Mother-child incest: Characteristics of the offender. Child Welfare, 65(5), 447-458.
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Endless Outrage

“Let me be clear: this by no means justifies the Isis-inspired attacks. But, until the leaders and opinion makers and talking heads in the U.S. and France and their allies, are willing to recognize the extent to which their own massive intervention in the Greater Middle East is also responsible for the terrible situation we find ourselves in today–then, this long, downward spiral to God knows where will only continue its bloody way.” –Barry Lando

“Atrocities breed atrocities. Or as Andrew Kopkind remarked in another context, the skies were dark in Orlando this past weekend with the chickens coming home to roost.” –John V. Walsh

The recent club shooting is one of those rare events that unites nearly all Americans.

Those on the political right can feel particular hate for the shooter because he was a Muslim of Middle Eastern descent who killed Americans, ignoring that he too was American and ignoring those he killed probably included minorities and surely many atheists as well. And those on the political have a similar response because the targets were gay, an official identity politics victim class. But if the shooter had been a white right-wing Christian who shot up a women’s health clinic or if it had been a poor struggling single black mother who shot up a convention of big biz lobbyists, many Americans would have had a more mixed reaction and the outrage would be less clear.

As always, the identity of the victimizer and the identity of the victims determines the responses heard from the general public, the mainstream media, and government officials. We live in a global world where victimizers and victims are dime a dozen, but most of the violence and death is ignored by most Americans and most Westerners. It depends on the value of those involved, and of course not all humans are seen as equal in value. At times like these, that is the thought that first comes to my mind. It was the same thought I had after 9/11, an event that had followed upon decades of terrorism worldwide, both of the state and non-state varieties.

The United States military actions, CIA covert activities, and government policies such as sanctions lead to the deaths of millions in my lifetime. Bin Laden even made it clear that the 9/11 attack was precisely about that fact, the nonchalant oppression and careless murder of poor brown people and non-Christians by Western powers. The US regularly invades countries, overthrows governments, assassinates leaders, collapses countries into chaos, and destabilizes entire regions; or else aids and abets those who do such morally depraved things.

Fifty innocent people dead is just another day’s work for a government like the United States. A single drone strike in an instant easily kills fifty innocent people. It happens all the time. The illegal and unconstitutional, immoral and unjustified Iraq War has already led to the death of probably at least a half million Iraqis and possibly over a million, most of those being civilians, many of whom were women and children, and surely way more than fifty gay people died in the process—not only that, it turned a stable secular society with a thriving economy and a strong middle class into a permanent war zone where Islamic extremists have taken over, creating yet one more stronghold for terrorists.

If you take the total death toll of the War On Terror, it is in the millions. Looking at one country alone, “total avoidable Afghan deaths since 2001 under ongoing war and occupation-imposed deprivation amount to around 3 million people, about 900,000 of whom are infants under five” and “Altogether, this suggests that the total Afghan death toll due to the direct and indirect impacts of US-led intervention since the early nineties until now could be as high 3-5 million.” More broadly: “According to the figures explored here, total deaths from Western interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan since the 1990s – from direct killings and the longer-term impact of war-imposed deprivation – likely constitute around 4 million (2 million in Iraq from 1991-2003, plus 2 million from the “war on terror”), and could be as high as 6-8 million people when accounting for higher avoidable death estimates in Afghanistan.”

That is a small sampling of the kinds of things the United States and its allies have done and continue to do in the Middle East along with many other areas of the world (e.g., Latin America). In some cases, it might be a severe undercount of deaths. That doesn’t even include the crippled, traumatized, orphaned, dislocated, etc. Much of the refugee crisis right now is the result of Western actions in non-Western countries.

Just imagine if some other country (or alliance of countries) over a period of decades invaded the United States multiple times, armed and trained paramilitary groups here, overthrew the government, propped up a dictator or left the country in chaos, sent drone or military strikes from across the national border, enforced economic sanctions, and on and on. Just imagine that these actions led to the harming and killing of millions of Americans, including hundreds of thousands innocents (women, children, and other civilians), maybe taking out a few gay clubs that were in the wrong place.

Yet we Americans have the arrogant audacity and willful ignorance to wonder why so many people hate America. Worse still, Americans go on voting into power the same kind of neocons that caused so much suffering and devastation for decades. And idiotic assholes on the political left will praise someone like Hillary Clinton for supposedly being a feminist and LGBT advocate and a voice for minorities, the very politician who has promoted policies around the world that have killed more innocent women, LGBTs, and minorities than all American right-wing hate groups combined. Who needs the evil hate-and-fear-mongering of the political right when we have the New Democrats to do the job for them.

If you want to be fully pissed off, right there is a good reason for righteous anger. And if you want to fight evil in the world, make sure sociopaths like that never get elected again. But if you get emotionally worked up every time fifty innocent people get killed for reasons of oppression and prejudice, you’d be in an endless state of outrage and much of it would be directed at the United States government.

Rationalizing the Rat Race, Imagining the Rat Park

I read an article the other day about the just-world hypothesis (or rather fallacy), Believing that life is fair might make you a terrible person by Oliver Burkeman. It is a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece.

The main point of the author is how the victimization of injustice leads to victim-blaming. That victim-blaming in turn rationalizes and encourages further victimization and injustice. It relates to the victimization cycle as well, where victims too often become victimizers, a topic I’ve written about endlessly.

It makes one want to throw one’s hands up in despair.

Another side of my personality kicks in, however. I wonder what are the exceptions to the rule (or better yet, the exceptions to who rules, to how they rule, to what ways we are ruled, which is to say the exceptions to the rules of the status quo). The author doesn’t explore that.

It is like the rat studies I recently discussed. There was a study done in the late 70s and published in 1980 that had quite an impact because it fit American beliefs about depraved humanity. The rats were put into horrific conditions of immense distress and then given the opportunity to consume drugs until they died, which unsurprisingly is what they did.

Around the same time, there were other researchers with other views on the issue. One researcher considered that, if he “were kept isolated in cramped metal cages, tethered to a self-injection apparatus”, he too might give into drug addiction until sweet death delivered him from the inescapable torment. He thought that maybe these were far from optimal conditions for rats or for humans. He designed research that, instead, would create the most optimal conditions. This was the rat park.

Mainstream science and academia were resistant to his questioning of the status quo. He couldn’t get published and lost funding. Americans didn’t want to know the truth… or rather the American ruling elite didn’t want Americans to know the truth. The truth was that if conditions change so do the responses, even with something so compelling as physical addiction.

The just-world hypothesis research shows that in an a society based on injustice people act according to and rationalize that injustice. That is unsurprising, as it fits our preconceptions, which maybe ought to make us suspicious for what if the research was designed and the conclusions developed to fit our preconceptions. If we look a bit deeper, we can see this research also implies that in a society based on justice people would act according to and rationalize justice (consider intolerance, which research shows does decrease when children are raised in diverse communities, neighborhoods, and schools). The author missed that implication because it didn’t fit into the cynical and fatalist American mainstream view of social reality.

This brings me to thoughts I’ve had about the morality-punishment link. Conservatism is utterly dependent on tis link. But I doubt this link is as inevitable as it seems. It can be broken and often is broken, every time a problem is solved, a sickness cured, etc.

It isn’t hard to imagine a world where justice prevails. Some of the best science fiction is about that very possibility (e.g., Star Trek: The Next Generation). We create what we imagine. This might give us pause in our collective obsession with imagining dystopian futures, but it also offers hope as we are free to imagine the future in any way we so choose. Our visions of the future can justify the status quo or they can challenge it. It is time we enter a new era of the radical imagination.

 

* * * *

Here are two videos and then some writings about the just-world hypothesis:

Shailene’s Hair, Unfair Monopoly, and the Just World Fallacy
by vlogbrothers

Social Psychology: Stereotype, Prejudice, Discrimination, and Just World Hypothesis/Belief
by Chris Dula (East Tennessee State University)

Vulnerability, Victim Blaming, and The Just World Fallacy
by Daniel Fincke

That Shouldn’t Happen: The Just World Fallacy and Autism
By Kim Wombles

White Privilege, Republicans, and the ‘Just World’ Fallacy
by Chauncey DeVega

Fatal Hypothesis: How Belief In A Just World Is Killing Us
by Katherine Cross

Poverty and the “Just World hypothesis”
by Nathan Pensky

The Just-World Fallacy
by David McRaney

The UNjust world
by Every Topic In The Universe(s?)

Modern American Libertarianism and the Just-World Fallacy
by Nolen

* * * *

Here are some of my previous posts on the issues of empathy, imagination, realism, and society:

Imagination, a Force to Be Reckoned With

Alternative Visions, Radical Imagination

Imagined Worlds, Radical Visions

Vision and Transformation

Culture of Paranoia, Culture of Trust

Liberal-mindedness, Empathetic Imagination, and Capitalist Realism

Social Order and Symbolic Conflation

It’s All Your Fault, You Fat Loser!

Who Is To Blame?

Identity politics too often distracts from the real issues and can even make problems worse. My focus is as much on the victimization cycle as on the victims and victimizers. The victimization cycle puts into context and so offers a larger vantage point.

All of us humans all over are caught up in a globally-connected system of victimization. That isn’t to say all suffer equally, but it is to say we all are equally fucked in the long term on a shared planet with limited resources. What goes around comes around.

I’ve been arguing with one racist guy who keeps saying that American blacks are more violent. I can argue with that on one level by pointing out that whites are more likely to be child molesters, school shooters, bombers, serial killers, etc. But that misses a bigger issue. Why is the entire American society violent? Why is the world in general such a violent place? Why are the wealthiest countries so war-mongering? Why are so many of the post-colonial countries troubled by near endless internal conflict?

Limiting our view to the US, blacks do commit high rates of homicides, although most of their victims are also blacks. It is violence within a community. But how did so many poor black communities become so violent? Before someone committed murder, they were a kid being raised in a particular environment in a particular society. Some thing shaped them.

We know what some of those factors are. We also know that most victimizers were once victims themselves. If we looked at most people arrested for violent crime, we’d probably most often find a personal history of violent victimization: friends, neighbors, and family members murdered; police targeting and brutality; systemic and institutional racism; oppressive poverty and economic hopelessness; et cetera.

We can extend this argument to Native Americans. Native American communities also have high rates of violent crime that goes hand in hand with being the victims of large-scale violence across recent centuries.

As far as that goes, this argument also applies to poor white communities such as in the rural South, specifically Appalachia. They also have high rates of violent crime. All poor communities in this country have high rates of social problems, especially in places of high economic inequality.

Most Americans forget that the raw numbers of poor whites is massive. There are more whites on welfare than any other race. Some of these populations have been in a permanent state of poverty for centuries or longer, going back to the British Isles and Europe.

Race becomes a proxy for class. We talk about the problems of poor blacks when we really mean the problems of poor people, the problems of poverty and economic inequality, which goes hand in hand with historically oppressed groups, even though oppressed in vastly different ways.

Here is my main point:

Every victim has a victimizer. And likely most victimizers were once victims. You can keep going back and back. Where you stop as the original source of victimization can be arbitrary or else ideologically biased.

To focus on those in power: Who is to blame for the world’s present system of imperialism? The first empires who invented this social order? The later empires that introduced it to new populations such as into tribal Europe? The even later empires that turned it into colonialism? Can anyone today take responsibility for the past, whether imperialism forced onto Native Americans or imperialism forced onto earlier Europeans?

Instead of blame, who will take responsibility? What does it even mean to take responsibility for problems so far beyond any individual, for cycles of victimization that extend across centuries and millennia?

Us versus them mentalities are how authoritarian social orders maintain their power. Even many people who fight imperialism and oppression end up internalizing the dysfunction. This is why so many revolutions fail and end up with authoritarian states, sometimes worse than what came before.

All I know is that the world is a lot more complex and a lot more fucked up than most people want to admit. The world is complex. Humans are complex. It is impossible to put people into neat little boxes. We all have immense potential, for both good and evil. That is what many people are afraid to confront, the immense potential that lurks within.

Authoritarians couldn’t get away with most of what they do if not for all those complicit, including among the victimized groups. Take for example the history of blacks. The slave trade was dependent on Africans selling other Africans into slavery, not unusually people selling their neighbors or even family members in hope of saving themselves. Later on, many blacks who, after being freed following the Civil War, became Indian fighters and in doing so violently and genocidally promoted US imperial expansion across the continent.

Both poor whites and poor blacks have been willing participants in American power. These disadvantaged people have always been the majority of the soldiers who fight the wars for the rich and powerful. That is the power of nationalism, of patriotism and propaganda. Even the rich end up buying the rhetoric they use to manipulate others for their minds get warped by the same basic media that warps the minds of all of us. We are all stuck in the same reality tunnel, unable to see beyond it.

If not blame, how is responsibility to be taken? Who will take the first step?

Western Society and Collective Trauma

I see Western society as possibly the most traumatized society on the planet.

Europe was once a place of tribal people with polytheistic and animistic religions. Almost everything we think of as Western was introduced to the West from elsewhere, mostly from North Africa and the Middle East, but also from Asia: imperialism, colonialism, high art, philosophy, mathematics, astrology, science, etc. None of that originated in Europe.

Instead, Europe’s native society was destroyed through genocide. What was left was a wounded people. Europe is a war-ravaged land and the scars of violence have never healed. Even war-ravaged Africa has survived more intact with its original cultures than Europe has. The East as well has maintained more of its native culture. Few populations on the planet were as utterly decimated by cultural genocide as happened with Europeans.

The dysfunction seen in Western society is that it is a traumatized society. Trauma at that scale doesn’t heal easily, if ever. There is no way to turn back. The cultural genocide was so complete that almost all of the native traditions have been lost forever. When cultural genocide is committed, the soul of a people is murdered. Europeans are the walking wounded, the descendents of the victims of one of the world’s largest genocides.

I’m very serious about that. The past millennia of war and occupation really fucked up Europe. America then inherited that fucked up society. We Westerners are a maimed and scarred people.

Unspoken Connection: Fundamentalism and Punishment

In this passage from Michael Tonry’s Punishing Race, an insight is offered, a key to the American mind. Fundamentalism is a powerful force, especially in the Republican Party, but also in mainstream society in general. Fundamentalism isn’t just about Southern Baptists. It is a larger worldview that seeps into every pore of American society.

Most of the time, crime is discussed ‘objectively’. It is as if one could understand victimization, violence, and mass incarceration simply by analyzing numbers. We Americans love data. We keep records almost religiously. Reality is messy, but numbers are clean and simple. The data, as some claim, speaks for itself. But the data also can hide that which we would rather not see, since data is only as good as the methods for gathering it.

What is the dark shadow cast by this data? What is left unspoken? What is the belief that motivates punitive crime policy?

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Kindle Locations 2271-2296:

The sizable political science and religion literatures on religion and politics in the United States are silent, except in passing, on the influence of Protestant fundamentalism on American crime policy generally. They focus on abortion, women’s and gay rights, and separation of church and state. None of the major recent works includes the terms crime or capital punishment in its index (e.g., Layman 2001; Green 2007). One leading work, however, Religion and Politics in the United States (Wald and Calhoun-Brown 2007), explains how and why Protestant fundamentalism shaped American crime control and punishment policies for three decades. Whereas Catholics and mainstream Protestants espouse a commitment to social welfare consonant with their belief in “a warm, caring god,” the fundamentalist “image of a cold and authoritative deity lends support to government’s role in securing order and property” (121). Richard Snyder, a former dean at New York Theological Seminary, explains the fundamentalist vision this way: “If we believe that all persons are essentially corrupt save for the extraordinary intervention of God’s grace in their lives, it is a simple step to think that those who are poor, or sick, or in trouble with the law, or different from us in any way are somehow evil. The redeemed are God’s children; the unrepentant are children of Satan” (2001, 14).

Fundamentalists are “characterized by a quest for certainty, exclusiveness, and unambiguous boundaries” and attempt “to chart a morally black and white path out of the gray zones of intimidating cultural and religious complexity” (Nagata 2001, 481). In its 1995 Contract with the American Family Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition accordingly called for increased penalties for convicted criminals (Wald and Calhoun-Brown 2007, 351). A year later Bennett, DiIulio, and Walters (1996) produced the fullest elaboration of fundamentalist crime control policy analysis ever published.

The near absence of crime control and punishment from the politics and religion literature is odd. The nexus seems self-evident. The Republican resurgence of the past forty years is attributable in large part to the Southern Strategy. The political influence of the religious right on Republican politics is well known (e.g., Green 2007). As one major review of the literature on fundamentalism and conservative politics observed, “The [religious right] enjoys something like a veto power in the Republican Party” (Woodberry and Smith 1998, 48).

By contrast the criminology literature, though small, has ferreted out the connection. Unnever, Cullen, and Applegate’s examination of attitudes toward capital punishment concludes that those fundamentalists “who have a rigid and moralistic approach to religion and who imagine God as a dispassionate, powerful figure who dispenses justice are more likely to harbor punitive sentiments toward offenders” (2005, 304). A slight but fascinating article based on a representative survey of Oklahoma City residents showed that Protestant conservatives viewed nearly all crimes as “very wrong” and thus did not differentiate among them in terms of seriousness (Curry 1996, 462). This finding goes a long way toward explaining why traditional ideas about proportionality in punishment are irreconcilable with many modern three-strikes, mandatory minimum, and life without the possibility of parole laws.

Shadow of the Golden Rule

Mass incarceration isn’t just about criminals. Racism isn’t just about minorities. Economic inequality isn’t just about the poor. Animal abuse isn’t just about animals. Et cetera.

This touches upon a fundamental truth, a truth that has been stated in many ways by many people, from Jesus to Gandhi: You can tell a lot about a society by how are treated the least powerful and privileged, the most unfortunate and disenfranchized.

There is no such thing as a moral society that doesn’t treat all citizens justly and fairly. There is no such thing as a free people that denies basic rights and freedoms to a permanent underclass. There is no such thing as a democratic country that is also a police state and a military empire.

Any rhetoric to the contrary is blatant hypocrisy and self-deluded rationalization.

These issues are never about a single demographic. This is for two reasons. 

First, these problems are shared by everyone who is one way or another implicated or even complicit. No person goes unaffected. These are social problems in the largest sense.

Second, these issues are representative of a vast web of issues. They are symbolic of something fundamental to a culture and political system. How the least among us are treated speaks to how we are all treated. It gives hint to how a society is actually structured and operates.

This is the reason that as mass incarderation increases the U.S. increasingly takes on characteristics of a police state such as a militarized police force. A prison shows starkly something that is true about all of U.S. society. The more citizens are imprisoned the larger and more pervasive the entire system of social control becomes.

The Golden Rule states that we should treat others as we’d like to be treated. There is a shadow cast by this nice-sounding aphorism. How we choose to treat others is how we ourselves will be treated. Or to state it colloquially, what goes around comes around. We can’t escape the consequences of our own actions, which is even more true on the collective level.

Moral Accounting Versus Shared Suffering

There is a game humans play. It is about counting wrongdoings and measuring suffering. Whoever has had the worst experience, whoever has suffered the most wins. You get extra points for being a victim.

This is something all people do, left and right, women and men, young and old. Everyone has something that has hurt them or something they fear will hurt them. Some of these ’causes’ seem more objectively valid than others, but they all are real within the person’s experience.

This is the game of moral accounting. I don’t mean to judge this game as wrong. I’m one to do moral accounting when it comes to social problems. And I’ve been known to do it on a personal level. My long-term severe depression is the cross I bear. Through it, my understanding of the world feels justified. I have suffered. I know suffering. But so have almost everyone, one way or another. We all need to remind ourselves that we aren’t special, that our suffering isn’t unique.

How can I say my suffering is greater or less? There is no way to compare suffering. Suffering is suffering is suffering, the great equalizer. Obviously, in this life, suffering hits some people far worse than others. Yet we are incapable of being objective about it. Our own suffering is always worse, in our own experience.

Too easily, suffering can shut us down, close us off, isolate us from the world and from other people. Suffering, sadly, often divides us from the larger experience of shared human suffering, an experience that would lead us to compassion, even when we can never truly understand the suffering of another.

Why is this embracing of compassion so difficult? Why do we nurse our wounds as if from them we could shape weapons and armor to defend ourselves with? What do we fear would happen if others discovered our secret pain, if we just let our suffering be?

 

12 Years a Slave, 4 Centuries an Oppression

I watched, along with some friends, the movie 12 Years a Slave. We all enjoyed it or rather appreciated it, in spite of the depressing and horrifying quality of the narrative. Part of its impact is knowing it is based on an autobiography which is being portrayed with as much historical accuracy as is possible in a mainstream film, gruesome whippings and lynchings included.

There is great power in a story. Even a fictional story like Uncle Tom’s Cabin was able to spark a political transformation across an entire nation. An autobiographical narrative is able to cut even deeper.

It put into context the books I’ve been reading about race and racism. Many of them are great books, but even the most insightful analysis can’t compete with a compelling and heart-rending personal narrative. Only Black Like Me by Griffin comes close to 12 Years a Slave and it does so by coming from a very personal angle.

This is the challenge of non-fiction. I love knowledge. There is nothing greater than truth expressed, most especially an uncomfortable truth and even moreso when it challenges power or breaks a oppressive silence. At times something can be explained and given voice so as to make it tangible and real, something that was only vaguely felt before.

A book as I describe can be found in the example of The New Jim Crow which is one of the most important books I’ve read in a long while, but I wonder how many people it will reach simply because it is a dense book filled with data. If the world was just or if most people cared enough about trying to make the world more just, The New Jim Crow would be read far and wide. Yes, it is dense with data, but oh what mind-blowing data it is and what a damning case the author makes with that data. What many only suspected before is made absolutely clear with this book.

Still, even that book doesn’t even come close to the soul-despairing indictment made in the best books by Derrick Jensen, an author not part of my present reading project. He doesn’t as directly focus on the issue of race and racism for his scope is more broad while also being more personal. I was thinking that only Jensen has ever touched me as deeply as a movie like 12 Years a Slave, more deeply actually in that he shows how the horror of violence and oppression isn’t a thing of the past or even just an issue of a single race.

We need someone equivalent to Jensen with a more direct focus on race and racism. A closer equivalent would be What’s the Matter with White People? by Joan Walsh. She connects personal experience and larger issues in a way that is useful, but nowhere near as profound or insightful as Jensen.

There are many good books and movies out there. If anything, we are swamped in worthy works. In the past, many people were ignorant because of a lack of info or lack of access to info. But that is no longer the case. No one has an excuse to not understand the problems of our society, the racism and other prejudices, the oppression and violence, the victimization and impoverishment, etc.

One of my friends I went to the movie with made a comment that I thought was problematic or misses something important. She said that those slave-owners had to have been insane. No, they weren’t insane, well no more insane than most people at that time and I’d argue no more insane than most people today. We all are largely blind and indifferent to the immoralities and injustices all around us, even when they directly involve us. If we were to face the immense suffering of our society, we’d be overwhelmed by despair (or that is the fear). But maybe there is no way forward except through that despair, scary as it seems.

Even more than that, we are afraid of the guilt that would follow, guilt about what has been done and continues to be done, guilt about what hasn’t yet been done and should be done. This is our shared society. We are all responsibility for the way things are. None of us are innocent. There is no place in this world for innocents. Only those who are able to feel guilt will be able take moral action. As there is power in a story, there is power in guilt. Shame is disempowering, but guilt when deeply felt creates a moral imperative.

How do we as a society move past shame and denial? How do we let go of our fears and face what must be faced? We are filled with potential more immense than any despair. We can continue to re-create the same old problems and failures or we can find a new path forward. I’m not alone in understanding this choice. In many different contexts, I hear people saying the same thing across the political spectrum. We feel stuck, but the necessary insight is to realize that we are stuck in a trap of our own making. If whites were to let go of their shame and blacks to let go of their anger, how might we redirect our focus on solving our shared problems?

Public Good vs Splintered Society (pt 3)

I’ve been in a mood of retreat recently, less spiritual retreat and more battle retreat. I’m fed up with the whole shebang. Even NPR is pissing me off (NPR: Liberal Bias?“This is the type of issue I’m tired of posting about. But I’m posting it because the lying pundits and deceiving political strategists never tire… and, more annoying to my everyday interactions, because the un-/mis-/disinformed followers never tire.”).

It’s not just about disagreeing. It’s more fundamental. I want truth, authenticity. I want to know what is real, feel it in my gut. All the spin and rhetoric is getting to me. I’ve hit breaking points before, but this one is different. I’ve been studying history and politics in great detail for a number of years now. I’m not entirely giving up on that, but I can feel a part of me beginning to back off from it all.

Various things clarified this for me recently. What really pushed me over the edge was actually reading something inspiring, something that felt authentically real. The book in question is Homegrown Democrat by Garrison Keillor, the inspiration then led to sadness when I watched and listened to some mainstream media and politics. A while back, I was similarly inspired and saddened by reading Harvey J. Kaye’s Thomas Paine and the Promise of America (Thomas Paine was a classical liberal I could respect).

Inspiration and depression have always gone hand in hand for me. I’ve always thought that if modern society doesn’t make you feel suicidally depressed, then there is something seriously wrong with you. I say that only half humorously.

“From a certain point onward, there is a no turning back. That is the point that must be reached.”
 ~ Franz Kafka 

– – – 

Here is a long comment from a recent post where I expressed my feelings:

What Paine and many others realized is that civilization is built on and dependent on violence. All the good of our modern lives is inseparable form horrible violence. It’s a conundrum, but one that must be faced. The worst violence doesn’t come from a gun or not in a direct sense. There is no choice between violence or no violence in this world. A completely peaceful world is a nice utopia, but for right now we have to deal with the reality in front of us.

As for guns democratically controlled, this happened because they were controlled undemocratically in the past. The world is violent. That is just the way reality is, like it or not (which isn’t to say we shouldn’t aspire toward peace). It’s just that a gun controlled democratically is better than a gun controlled by a tyrant or a gang or a corporation. I’m not a fan of choosing between the lesser of two evils, but in this case there is no other choice… except by either fundamentally altering human nature or fundamentally altering all of human civilization (both being very long term projects that certainly won’t see fruition in our lifetimes, if ever).

Freedom from violence is an abstract ideal. The land you live on is made of the corpses of Native Americans who unwillingly sacrificed their freedom for yours. The products you buy are made through an oppressively violent global economy. If you own property, you are participating in the continuation of a history of colonial genocide and oppression. The land you own is theft from the indigenous and theft from the commons. The landless peasants, many who are homeless, still suffer because of an ownership class that defends it’s stolen land by use of violence, both public and private. How many more people have to die and how much longer does oppression have to last for the sake of these abstract ideals?

“I might disagree, for example if you were asserting that the label “socialism” can be interpreted to mean MERELY valuing the collective good, and fairness.”

I’m not asserting anything in describing what socialism is. I didn’t invent socialism. What I was doing is pointing out the fact that many people are misinformed about socialism. Many of the criticisms of socialism are against views that many socialists don’t advocate. ‘Socialism’ is a favorite straw man of American society, In response to this sad state of affairs, I was offering accurate definitions of socialism.

It’s just a fact that socialists care more about the common good than any other group. It’s the very heart of socialism: social good, social concerns, social-ism. Socialists merely point out that in an interconnected world as we live in it’s literally impossible to separate individual good from collective good, private good from public good. The distinctions between these things only exist in the human mind and in human language, but they don’t exist in the actual lived reality of the world we all share. I know many Americans don’t want to accept these facts. Still, the facts remain.

The distinction I put forth is that anyone who cares will always put people before ideology, including the ideology of ‘freedom’. The question is: Freedom from what and towards what? Whose freedom at whose cost? Too many people want to defend their own freedom while trampling on the freedom of others and then rationalizing that it isn’t their fault that their freedom is built on violence and oppression. People suffer, there are winners and losers, some are just inferior and deserve the horrible fate an oppressive society forced on them. In my heart of hearts, I hope such people one day experience the suffering of those they look down upon or simply ignore. The distinction I put forth is between those who know suffering in the marrow of their bones and those who live comfortable, contented lives.

I’m tired of ideology. I really don’t know how to communicate what I feel other than to say I feel frustrated. The freedom to be poor and oppressed isn’t a freedom I want. The freedom to live in a dog eat dog world is a freedom that makes me want to commit suicide, not joking. If that is freedom, then I’m with Derrick Jensen and I want to see civilization be demolished.

I’m tired of people who, while seemingly meaning well, promote an ugly view of society and of human nature. I’m tired of people who act patriotic about ‘America’ when it’s obvious they have little faith in what America stands for. To them, America just means an attitude of ‘me and my own’ (“Real Americans”).

And I’m tired of people who righteously defend freedom while not acknowledging that most people still live without basic rights and opportunities, that the freedom they defend is in reality just the denial of the freedom of others. Freedom can’t be taken away when it has yet to exist in our society (yes there is some freedom for some people, but even that limited freedom is mostly held by a minority… when freedom means wealth and power, then freedom no longer has any valid meaning).

I’m just plain tired. The worldview that America has come to stand for is something I feel compelled to stand against. Freedom has become a choice between Coke or Pepsi, between Republican or Democrat, between America or the Commies. It’s a simpleminded, black/white conception of freedom. It’s an empty, superficial freedom… just propaganda for mass control.

What inspires me is very simple: people caring about people. Not people caring about people because they think it will boost their own self-interest. Just people caring about people because it’s the right thing to do. We can worry about abstract ideals later… after the starving are fed, the freezing are housed, the sick and dying are cared for. Jesus didn’t ask for money before healing someone, didn’t wonder if such actions conformed to some abstract ideal of liberty. Jesus just helped people.

Basically, what I’m proposing is Midwestern liberalism which partly originates from the early settlers who brought along with them a pragmatic socialism (from Northern Europe). Midwestern liberalism/socialism is just basic Heartland values. The Milwaukee socialists were known as the Sewer Socialists because they were concerned about very practical issues of community life such as making sure there was clean air and water so that people didn’t get sick (which was a major problem with the rise of industrialization). The Sewer Socialists were proud of having a sewer system that actually worked (quite an achievement at the time), to have public services that actually served the public. They didn’t give a damn about ideology. They just wanted people in their community to be healthy and cared for.

Such simple pride in having a healthy community seems almost odd today, but such Midwestern liberalism/socialism still exists… at least in some parts of the Midwest. I was just reminded of this tonight while reading Garrison Keillor’s Homegrown Democrat:

“The state was settled by no-nonsense socialists from Germany and Sweden and Norway who unpacked their trunks and planted corn and set about organizing schools; churches; libraries; lodges; societies and benevolent associations; brotherhoods and sisterhoods, and raised their children to Mind Your Manners, Be Useful, Pay Attention, Make Something of Yourself, Turn Down the Thermostat (If You’re Cold, Go Put on a Sweater), Share and Share Alike, Be Satisfied with What You Have—a green Jell-O salad with mandarin oranges, miniature marshmallows, walnuts, and Miracle Whip is by God good enough for anybody. I grew up in the pure democracy of a public grade school where everybody brought a valentine for everybody on Valentine’s Day so we should feel equally loved though of course some valentines are more equal than others, some have lace and little flaps under which special endearments are written, and others are generic, printed six to a page with bumpy edges where they were torn on the dotted line. But you should be happy with what you get and Don’t Think You’re Special Because You’re Not. (Those people on daytime TV talking about how their parents never gave them the positive feedback they needed and that’s why they shot them—those are not Minnesotans. Nor are the people who go to court to win their children the right to not say the Pledge of Allegiance or not be in the room when other children are saying it.) We take pains to not be Special. If there is one meatball left on the platter, you do not take it, you take half of it, and someone else takes half of that and so it is endlessly divided down to the last crumb. Not a state of showboats or motor-mouths.

“[ . . . ] there is a high value placed on public services. If you call 911 in St. Paul, the cops or the EMTs will arrive within four minutes. In the Republican suburbs, where No New Taxes is the beginning and end of politics and emergency services depend on volunteers, the response time can be anywhere between ten or fifteen and thirty minutes.”

Keillor is the first person I’ve come across in a long while who captures that down-to-earth sense of the common good. It’s very Midwestern thing and so I’m not sure people from other parts of the country can fully understand it. In the Midwest, community has more centrality than individuality. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First, it’s farming country. When it was first settled, farmers were fairly isolated and were dependent on their neighbors. They shared their resources to have schools, roads, bridges, hospitals, etc. They truly had a government for and by the people.

Second, it’s partly the religion of the first settlers. They were largely Catholics and Quakers who are very community-oriented. Catholics and Quakers built public schools, orphanages and hospitals where ever they settled. They put collective action and collective benefit above individual freedom and self-interest. It’s why the Catholic Church has often had an uneasy relationship to unbridled capitalism and it’s why the areas of the US with the highest rates of Catholic membership are also the same areas with the highest rates of union membership.

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In case you didn’t notice from that comment, let me state it obviously: I’M TIRED! Lordy Lordy!

But, more importantly, I was impressed by Garrison Keillor. He is what is known as ‘good people’. I just finished reading his book. It made me so happy… well, while reading it. Paine made me proud to be an American. And Keillor makes me proud to be a Midwestern liberal. Keillor is so down-to-earth and easygoing. Reading Keillor’s words, I felt a genuine attitude of emotional honesty, an open-hearted sense of humanity. Whatever it is, it’s a rare thing. Some people thought Bush jr was the type of guy you could have a beer with by which I assume they were referring to his past as an alcoholic frat boy. Well, Keillor is the kind of guy you imagine having breakfast with in a cheap diner while discussing important issues such as weather, town gossip and last Sunday’s sermon.

However, it’s more than just that friendly, down-to-earth midwestern sensibility that values people over ideology and community over politics, that emphasizes the enjoyment of the simple things in life, that looks for the good in others while emphasizing that one is no better than anyone else. All of that is there in Keillor, but he also comes off as having great self-awareness and social insight. You can tell he has thought deeply and carefully. He isn’t expressing his opinions for the sake of proving that he is right and that those who disagree with him are wrong.

In thinking about Keillor, I was thinking of others of a similar authentic, easygoing bent. Some obvious examples are Jim Wallis, Noam Chomsky and Thom Hartmann. I might also add people like Henry David Thoreau, Philip K. Dick and Terrence McKenna. The common theme among all of these is a basic quality of humanness rather than ideology or ulterior motive. All of these people seem to genuinely like people, something I admire for the reason I too often fail at it. I realize I would be a better person if I was able to feel and express such empathy and compassion.

  – – – 

There is one part of Keillor’s attitude that is most relevant to my own recent focus. I described it somewhat in the above blog comment when I mentioned community as a traditional Midwestern value.

Community is such a simple thing, but these days it can seem like a strange alien artifact. Some American citizens are so messed up in the head that they think hating the American government is patriotic. Instead of being about people and community, patriotism has been made into self-righteous folk religiosity. Instead of being about democracy and public service, patriotism has become about partisan self-interest and xenophobic fear-mongering.

All of this got me thinking about individualism, specifically the American variety of hyper-individualism that became increasingly popular in recent decades. Although clearly popular among conservatives, it isn’t limited to conservatives. It’s not unusual for me to come across liberals who promote their own kind of hyper-individualism. There is a type of person who is so concerned about individual liberty and rights that everything else, at best, becomes of secondary value or, at worst, becomes entirely occluded from their vision of reality.

Basically, such a person can’t see the forest for the trees. You can point at the trees and they will see the trees and they might go on about the value of each and every tree. They might be sad as tree after tree is cut down or infested by insects or strangled by kudzu or becomes sickly from pollution, but they won’t put it all together, won’t see an entire ecosystem dying, won’t understand that when this particular ecosystem dies the entire life-supporting biosphere is further weakened. A rainforest, for example, can take hundreds of thousands or even millions of years to form. But once destroyed they can’t be replanted. They’re just gone, a major source of the very oxygen we breathe gone forever (or at least gone forever as far as the human species is concerned).

 – – – 

I had an insight about where hyper-individualism came from in American history. I see two major factors.

Right from the beginning America has been a favorite destination of people escaping oppression, violence and various other kinds of suffering and horror. Many first generation immigrants were psychologically traumatized which led to a rootlessness. These people had a mentality of escape and Americans are always getting away and moving on, always planning escape routes. The Native Americans also were traumatized, but we hid their trauma by sending them off to places we didn’t have to see them.

The history of America has been trauma, victim becoming victimizer creating new victims. It’s our founding mythology, told and retold: slavery, religious persecution, indigenous genocide, revolution, etc. After independence was declared, there soon followed the Civil War which was in many ways just re-opening old wounds of revolutionary era conflicts. The Civil War ripped America apart and we’ve never really healed from it. We are still a divided people.

This is where the second factor comes in. The symbol of American (hyper-)individualism is the lone cowboy, sometimes fighting the good fight but reluctantly, always escaping a haunted past. Have you ever wondered what the haunted past was that caused movie cowboys to often be silent and at other times violent. In reality, many Wild West gunslingers (such as Jesse James) were Civil War veterans, quite a few Southerners. They saw many friends die in the war. A lot of them lost their homes and their livelihood. For a few, the entire town they left behind was burned to the ground. Some lost family members or even whole families (My dad was telling me about one of our neighbors in South Carolina who told him about how on one side of his family every male had been killed in the Civil War; and he explained to my dad that, after losing a war of that magnitude, such personal losses aren’t forgotten even generations later).

These were severely traumatized veterans and they didn’t go to therapy to heal their trauma. They were real men, and as real men they turned to booze and prostitutes, guns and adventure. Many went West because of their haunted pasts that were driving them to get as far away as possible. As the first immigrants escaped the horrors of other countries, the Civil War veterans were escaping the horrors of America.

Here is a clear description of the horrors, both collective and personal, of the Civil War and its aftermath (from Rebirth of a Nation by Jackson Lears):

“EARLY AS April 1862 Americans had a sense of what happened when massive assaults provoked massive counterassaults. Near Shiloh Church in Tennessee, Generals Beauregard and Grant threw armies at each other for thirty-six hours. As reports of the battle filtered back to the home front, the staggering losses mounted, eventually up to 24,500 killed, wounded, or missing on both sides. The numbers were numbing; in any case there was little popular protest, North or South. A few Democratic newspaper editors in the North, never too keen on the war in the first place, deplored the losses and demanded Grant’s scalp. No one knew that they had seen the future. Shiloh was only the first of many bloodbaths—the first of many indications that the most successful Union commanders would be the ones most willing to sacrifice unprecedented numbers of men. The West Point Code was on the way out.

“Neither side sought to avoid bloodbaths; both seemed addicted to frontal assaults (preferably uphill) on entrenched fortifications. The casualties were fearful, in the mass and in detail. The failed assault on Fort Wagner in July 1863 by the Massachusetts Fifty-fourth, the black regiment under the command of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, left an eyewitness aghast: “The ditch was literally choked up with dead bodies and it was possible to walk upon them for fifty yards without touching ground.” Those who survived often faced their own protracted horrors, as Walt Whitman reported from a Washington hospital: a Union soldier shot through the bladder, marinating in his own piss; a Confederate soldier the top of whose head had been blown off and whose brains were suppurating in the sun, surviving for three days while he dug a hole in the ground with his heel. These scenes were repeated by the hundreds of thousands. And there were many witnesses.

“Looking back on the war in Specimen Days, Whitman strained to capture the enormity of the evil unleashed by raw rage. After describing John Mosby’s Confederate guerrillas gunning down the Union wounded they had captured near Upperville, Virginia, Whitman then recalled the Union cavalry’s counterattack, capture, and summary execution of seventeen guerrillas in the Upperville town square, where they left the bodies to rot. “Multiply [this scene] by scores, aye hundreds,” Whitman wrote, “light it with every lurid passion, the wolf’s, the lion’s lapping thirst for blood—the passionate volcanoes of human revenge for comrades, brothers slain—with the light of burning farms, and heaps of smutting, smouldering black embers—and in the human heart everywhere black, worse embers—and you have an inkling of this war.”

“Whitman’s recollection of “the light of burning farms” underlined the other major feature of total war: the treatment of civilians as belligerents. Early in the war, Confederates fantasized about bombarding Northern cities, and Stonewall Jackson was always champing at the bit to bring the war to the Northern people. But despite Jackson’s murderous ferocity, the Confederates did not have the resources to sustain an aggressive war. Apart from the two abortive invasions that ended at Antietam and Gettysburg, the main damage done by the Confederate Army to the Yankee population was the tactically pointless burning of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, in 1864. The chief Southern war on civilians was conducted in Missouri, by guerrillas and other irregulars who resisted the Union army of occupation and terrorized its civilian sympathizers, torching their property and gunning them down at random. William Quantrell and his guerrilla band in Missouri, along with John Mosby and his raiders in Virginia, led what might today be characterized as the terrorist wing of the Confederate insurgency.

“Confederate guerrillas practiced insurgent terrorism, the Union Army gradually embraced a policy that can accurately be characterized as state terrorism. By 1865, fifty thousand Southern civilians had been killed as a direct result of Northern combat operations. The policy was embodied in Lincoln’s General Order #100, authored by Francis Lieber, a German émigré, romantic nationalist, and erstwhile professor at the University of South Carolina. The first part of the order aimed to restrict “savage” behavior, such as the bombardment of civilian areas in cities or the pillage of farms; the second part eviscerated those restrictions by stating that any of them could be ignored in the event of “military necessity.” In a counterinsurgency campaign, the phrase justified shelling cities and torching farms. Like other insurgencies, the secessionist movement depended for its support on the local population. The recognition of that fact was behind Grant’s famous order to Philip Sheridan: “turn the Shenandoah into a barren waste so that crows flying over it for the balance of the season will have to carry their own provender.” Other rationales for treating civilians as belligerents foreshadowed contemporary excuses for “collateral damage.” Sherman bombarded Atlanta neighborhoods, he said, because the Confederates were using civilians as human shields. The mass of the Southern population was neither armed nor dangerous. But they were in the war, whether they wanted to be or not. Total war swept all before it.

“Conventional accounts of Appomattox and its aftermath have everyone rolling up his sleeves and getting ready to pitch into an expansive economy. But given the ravages of total war, North and South, one could just as easily describe a postwar landscape littered with lost souls. Consider, for example, how the war shaped the lives of two James boys: Garth Wilkinson James and Jesse James.

“James was the younger brother of William and Henry James, one of the two less favored sons in a talented, ambitious family. Plump, good-natured, and fervently antislavery, Wilky enlisted in the Forty-fourth Massachusetts regiment in September 1862. Both his older brothers managed to avoid the army, with their father’s approval and connivance. Henry James Sr. showed no such solicitude for his younger boys. But war would be Wilky’s one chance to step out of his brothers’ shadow. Transferred to Shaw’s Fifty-fourth, Wilky became one of the white officers who led the black regiment’s doomed charge on Fort Wagner. He was seriously wounded, hit by a shell in the side and a canister ball in the foot. After months of convalescence he returned to the Fifty-fourth, but he never really recovered from his wounds. He survived for eighteen years after Appomattox, in nearly constant pain from rheumatism in his wounded foot. He bumped from one bad business venture to another, beginning with the failure of his idealistic plan to provide recently freed black families an economic foothold by employing them on his farm in Florida. Having run through many thousands of his father’s dollars, he was finally disinherited and died in poverty in Milwaukee, where he and his family had been scraping by after several failed business ventures. For Wilky the war brought not regeneration but ruin. He was one of many men whose physical and emotional wounds never healed.

“James, in contrast, was not physically wounded but psychologically brutalized by the war. Coming of age amid the white-hot hatreds of wartime Missouri, he grew up in a world where casual murder was a manly sport and a rite of passage, the only conclusive proof that you had become (and remained) a man. He proved himself many times during the war, when he rode with Quantrell’s raiders. After Appomattox new opportunities presented themselves. In Missouri, ten years of blood feuds had bred widespread longings for retribution. Many returning veterans could not give up the habit of violence and helped to swell a postwar crime wave. Gunslinging became a way of life.

“Much of the violence was rooted in Reconstruction politics. Bushwhackers wanted revenge against Radical Republicans and money from the companies the Republicans financed. That was enough, among embittered Confederates, to make the James gang seem more than mere bandits and killers. But that is what they were. For fifteen years, they took money at gunpoint from banks and later from express companies, whose monies were being transported on the expanding network of railroads. They also killed a lot of innocent people. Throughout his short life, Jesse remained irresistibly attracted to arbitrary violence.

“Wilkinson James and Jesse James were both permanently scarred by the war, though in profoundly different ways. Wilky limped through the postwar period, failing at everything he tried, knowing that nothing he did would ever match the heroism of storming Fort Wagner. Jesse was filled with partisan rage and vicious notions of manhood that transformed him into a driven killer. The war ravaged lives in unpredictable ways and left a wounded nation.”

In the years following the Civil War, some gunslingers became idolized as heroic lawmen and others became idolized as anti-heroic lawless gunslingers. Jesse James, mentioned above, is a good example of the latter. And Virgil Earp is a good example of the former:

“Private Virgil Earp was still a teenager when marched off to war in 1862 leaving his wife with a baby girl just two weeks old. He would not see his wife or daughter again for thirty-seven years because in the summer of 1863, Ellen was told that Virgil had been killed in Tennessee. Heartbroken, Ellen took her daughter and headed west with her parents. Unaware of the reports of his death, Virgil served throughout the Civil War seeing action in Tennessee and Kentucky. His regiment was assigned to the Army of the Cumberland commanded by Major General George H. Thomas. By the end of the war, the 83rd Illinois had lost one hundred twenty-one men and officers. Private Earp was not among those who died. He returned home in the summer of 1865, three years after he left, to find his wife and baby gone and no way to contact them.

“Like tens of thousands of Civil War veterans, the Earp brothers headed west for a fresh start and new opportunities. For the next ten years, Virgil Earp moved around the country holding various jobs such as farming, railroad construction, and stagecoach driver. He married, divorced, and married again.”

Whether lawman or lawless, it was a popular romantic myth of violent justice where the individual determined his own sense of justice. There was not much if any government in the Wild West. Both heroic lawmen and anti-heroic lawless gunslingers were uneasy of the encroachment of civilization with a new brand of lawmen who were a privatized law and military force, the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. There were more Pinkerton agents than there were US soldiers, and probably quite a few Civil War veterans were hired as Pinkerton agents. The lawless gunslingers were seen as heroes because they were fighting big businesses that used violence and oppression to get their way. This was an era that was fomenting the public unrest eventually leading to the Populist Era.

At the same time, this was the era of the Indian Wars which continued into the early 20th century. The Native Americans were fighting their last battles as the unions were fighting their first battles. Between Indians and Pinkertons, the Wild West cowboy was in the middle of enemies. It was a time of violence that created a culture of violence.

 – – –

Furthermore, this violence became the mythology which was permanently emblazoned on the collective psyche through early publications of the exploits of gunfighters and later on with movies.

After those earliest cowboy movies, the lone cowboy myth was being modernized during the Reagan Era when hyper-individualism took on new meaning. Reagan was the actor pretending to be a cowboy who pretended to be a corporate spokesperson and then a president. The romanticized myth of the lone cowboy helped get Reagan elected. It was at that time when macho hyper-individualism fully became the new American mythos: the lone cowboy, the lone rogue cop, the lone businessman. And I suppose it was no accident that the rise of hyper-individualism came at the high point of communist paranoia, communism after all being the antithesis of hyper-individualism.

It was the death knell of liberalism. Rambo was one of the first modernized versions of the lone cowboy. There is the book The Spitting Image by Jerry Lembcke which analyzes how a legend formed around the claim that many Vietnam vets were spit upon by protesters (Damn hippies!) when they came home. In that book, he attributes the origins of this legend to movies such as Rambo: First Blood where there is a scene of Rambo raging about the injustices he met upon his return:

Colonel Trautman: It’s over Johnny. It’s over!

Rambo: Nothing is over! Nothing! You just don’t turn it off! It wasn’t my war! You asked me I didn’t ask you! And I did what I had to do to win, for somebody who wouldn’t let us win! Then I come back to the world, and I see all those maggots at the airport, protestin’ me, spittin’, callin’ me a baby killer and all kinds of vile crap! Who are they to protest me?! Huh?! Who are they?! Unless they been me and been there and know what the hell they yellin’ about!

Of course, this ignores that the anti-war protesters directed their anger and criticism at the political leaders and not the soldiers. It also ignores the fact that a fair number of Vietnam vets became anti-war protesters. But facts never get in the way of a good story.

Obviously, the Vietnam War was traumatizing to the American psyche similar to the Civil War. Both wars created a generation of physically and psychologically battered veterans many of whom felt victimized and resentful. And out of that trauma was born a sense of isolation and a sense of the individual being against the world. Rambo describes this in his words directly following the above speech about “all those maggots”:

Colonel Trautman: It was a bad time for everyone Rambo. It’s all in the past now.

Rambo: For you! For me civilian life is nothin’! In the field without a code of honor. You watch my back I watch yours. Back here there’s nothin’! Col. Trautman: You’re the last of an elite group. Don’t end it like this. Rambo: Back there I could fly a gunship, I could drive a tank, I was in charge of million dollar equipment. Back here I can’t even hold a job PARKING CARS!!!! UUHHHH!!!!! (Throws M-60 at wall and then slight emotional pause. He drops to the ground in a crouched position out of breath and very upset) Wha…I can’t…oh, I jus–omigod. Where is everybody? Oh God…I…I had a friend, who was Danforth. Wha–I had all these guys man. Back there I had all these fucking guys. Who were my friends. Cause back here there’s nothin’. Remember Danforth? He wore this black head band and I took one of those magic markers and I said to Feron, ‘Hey mail us to Las Vegas cause we were always talkin’ about Vegas, and this fucking car. This uh red ’58 Chevy convertible, he was talkin’ about this car, he said we were gonna cruise till the tires fall off. (upset pause) We were in this bar in Saigon. And this kid comes up, this kid carryin’ a shoe shine box, and eh he says uh ‘shine please, shine.’ I said no, eh an’ uh, he kept askin’ yeah and Joey said ‘yeah,’ and I went to get a couple beers and the ki–the box was wired, and he opened up the box, fuckin’ blew his body all over the place. And he’s layin’ there and he’s fuckin’ screamin’, there’s pieces of him all over me, jus like–! (frustrated he grabs at his bullet chain strapped around his chest and yanks it off) like this. And I’m tryin’ to pull em off you know? And ehe.. MY FRIEND IT’S ALL OVER ME! IT’S GOT BLOOD AND EVERYTHING! And I’m tryin’ to hold him together I put him together his fucking insides keep coming out, AND NOBODY WOULD HELP!! Nobody help me. He sayin’ plea I wanna go home I wanna go home. He keeps callin’ my name, I wanna go home Johnny, I wanna drive my Chevy. I said well (upset and breaking down) WHY I can’t find your fucking legs. I can’t find you legs. (softly now) I can’t get it out of my head. I fuc..I dream of seven years. Everyday I have this. And sometimes I wake up and I dunno where I am. I don’t talk to anybody. Sometimes a day–a week. (Almost inaudible) I can’t put it out of my mind…fucking…I can’t…….(totally sobbing now)

For the Rambo at the heart of our culture, the past is never past. The violence is continually relived.

Rambo, of course, was overly simplistic melodramatic violence porn. Maybe for that reason it had such an impact on the American psyche. Rambo expressed something that Americans felt, something that Americans wanted to believe. It gave all of the conflicts and doubts an emodied form. It put it all into the context of a story. And stories have a way of informing our perceived reality, our shared sense of identity.

 – – – 

I touched upon these issues in my book review of David Sirota’s Back to the Future. Here is the relevant section:

First, Sirota argues that the 80s was when violence became normalized. Violence became a central part of our collective psyche: movies, video games, etc. Part of this had to do with the Vietnam War, the first major military loss that shook America’s collective confidence and righteous nationalism. Americans had internalized the violence from the Vietnam War footage and were now trying to come to terms with the sense of national failure that came after the withdrawl from Vietnam. It was maybe something like a collective Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sirota does mention the Vietnam War. He talks about the explanations given such as what he calls the “hands tied behind their backs” myth. I guess the idea was that if the soldiers weren’t held back, they could’ve demonstrated some real violence that would’ve forced the enemy into submission.

Second, the obsession with violence was inseparable from the obsession with hyper-individualism. This partly was represented by fear and hatred of government, the belief that the government can’t do anything right, that the government is the enemy of the people, of local governance, the enemy of communities, of religions, of capitalism, the enemy of all that is good. In general, all collective action and activism was looked upon with suspicion. Nothing good could come from people working together cooperatively toward the common good. Only individuals (or else individuals working together for the purpose of profit, i.e., private contractors: The A-Team, Ghostbusters, etc) could solve problems. People couldn’t rely on government, the FBI, or the police to solve their problems… and, so, people instead had to hope for a hero figure to come to town. And it was considered admirable when things got done, even if it meant breaking laws and committing violence.

In that same post, I gave an example that resonates with my having been a child in the 80s, a child who watched all of those 80s shows and absorbed their lessons. The 80s didn’t make me into a conservative, but the scars of cynical hyper-individualism are upon me.

Reagan considered Family Ties one of his favorite shows and offered to be in an episode. Sirota considers that show to have been central. Many young conservatives took inspiration from the Alex P. Keaton’s rebellion against his liberal former hippie parents. Alex stated a classic line when he complained about his parents being arrested for protesting nuclear weapons:

“You know what’s wrong with parents today? They still think they can change the world.”

Many Republican and Tea Party conservatives still feel that way today. It’s something like a Calvinist sense of fatalism combined with the self-assurance of a car salesman. Nothing good can be accomplished collectively and so you might as well narrowly focus on your own self-interest. Rambo’s despicable spitting protesters became Alex’s naive yuppie parents.

As I recall, in that episode Alex’s parents were protesting nucler weapons in an attempt to revive the memories of their past activism. Even if well intentioned, these old former hippies are almost pitiful. Alex maybe correctly perceives them as having sold out for careers and a middle class lifestyle. And so maybe he reasons that it would save time by going straight to the selling out.

What is the point of trying to make the world a better place? What did the hippies accomplish? The answer from conservatives is that at best hippies accomplished nothing and at worst they helped destroy everything that was good about America. Specifically, the 60s hippies are the archetypal enemy of the idyllic 50s. It was all going so well until the hippies came along. Never mind the fact that the 50s was the era when liberalism reigned unchallenged. Never mind the fact that what ended the idyllic liberal 50s was the rising neo-conservatism of the 60s. Never mind inconvenient facts.

To me, facts matter. But in the culture wars, story matters even more. It saddens me that there is such a dark and ugly story at the heart of American culture. It’s a festering wound that needs to be opened in order to let out the puss and be cleansed. There is a conflict of narratives, a conflict that I feel like a knot in my chest. It’s scary to believe in something as great as the collective good. It’s so much easier to be cynical or merely focused one’s own individual life, one’s own private concerns. Why stick one’s head out onto what might turn out to be a chopping block? The veterans who fought the wars know that there is rarely much reward offered for their sacrifices. Most homeless people are veterans, forgotten and uncared for. The conservative politicians campaign on sending young men to war and upon their return they seek to cut benefits for veterans.

It’s hard to blame anyone in feeling cynical after such treatment. And it’s not just veterans. Recent decades have been an endless parade of lies and deceit, an endless betrayal by politicians who serve their corporate masters and their ideological bases. As I write, Washington elites are discussing how far they can get away with balancing the budget on the backs of the average Americans. Tax cuts for the rich and bailouts to the banks received less discussion than this.

 – – – 

Nonetheless, I refuse to believe that it has to be this way.

I know in my heart of hearts that humanity has such great potential. I want to believe in what America stands for. I want to believe in it in the way Thomas Paine believed in it. Yes, to believe so passionately is foolhardy. Even so, if there were no fools, there would never have been an American Revolution in the first place. If the founding generation didn’t foolishly believe in the common good they shared with their countrymen, they wouldn’t have fought for and won their independence. And none of us would be here to argue about the potential of the American Dream.

But I realize that my cynicism too often wins out. My cynicism is constantly confirmed and what little hope I have is constantly dashed. Still, I want to believe. I don’t want to live in a world where I have to fear of losing my job and becoming homeless, of going bankrupt because of health problems, of one day becoming yet another forgotten and lonely elderly person who barely gets by eating God knows what. I’m tired of it all. It’s so depressing because there is no practical reason it has to be this way.

It reminds me of how there is enough food in the world to feed every single person and yet hunger, starvation and malnutrition are widespread. If we spent even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percentage of our military budget on medical research, we probably could have found cures or improvements for all of the major illnesses. If instead of spending money on fighting over oil we spent that money investing in R&D, we would already have viable, cost effective alternative energies. Rather than helping the poor, we build prisons to house the poor. Rather than funding public education, we fund the military-industrial complex.

In heartfelt despair and bewilderment, Derrick Jensen writes (The Culture of Make Believe, pp. 140-1),

“As this dawning dissonance began to tear at my insides, again and again I considered that the confusion must come from within, that I must be missing some simple point: No one could be so stupid as to kill their own planet, all the while chatting breezily about golf, “reality-based TV” (whatever that means), bulging stock portfolios, and How ’bout them Cubbies? What seemed profoundly important to me seemed of no importance whatsoever to most people, and what seemed important to so many people seemed trivial to me. I couldn’t wrap my my mind aroundit. Lawrence Summers promotes the poisoning of poor people, and is elevated to secretary of the treasury. People profess concern over child prostitution as they continue to promulgate the economic and familial conditions that lead to it. The United states bombs Vietnam to save the Vietnamese people, it arms death squads through Latin America to save the people there, it bombs Iraq to save the people there. I kept thinking: Is there something I’m missing?”

Endless violence. Endless stupidity.

I sympathize with those who seek to escape into stories detached from reality. But I also understand that stories have the capacity touch upon deeper truths.

“There is a language older by far and deeper than words. It is the language of the earth, and it is the language of our bodies. It is the language of dreams, and of action. It is the language of meaning, and of metaphor. This language is not safe, as Jim Nollman said of metaphor, and to believe in its safety is to diminish the importance of the embodied. Metaphors are dangerous because id true they open us to our bodies, and thus to action, and because they slip – sometimes wordlessly, sometimes articulated – between the seen and unseen. This language of symbol is the umbilical cord that binds us to the beginning, to whatever is the source of who we are, where we come from, and where we return. To follow this language of metaphor is to trace words back to our bodies, back to the earth.”
~ A Language Older Than Words, Derrick Jensen, p. 311

In the end, maybe I’m just hoping to find a story I can believe in.