White-on-White Violence, Cultural Genocide, and Historical Trauma

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

How Racism Began as White-on-White Violence
by Resmaa Menakem

Yet this brutality did not begin when Black bodies first encountered white ones. This trauma can be traced back much further, through generation upon generation of white bodies, to medieval Europe.

When the Europeans came to America after enduring 1000 years of plague, famine, inquisitions, and crusades they brought much of their resilience, much of their brutality, and, I believe, a great deal of their trauma with them. Common punishments in the “New World” English colonies were similar to the punishments meted out in England, which included whipping, branding, and cutting off ears. People were routinely placed in stocks or pillories, or in the gallows with a rope around their neck. In America, the Puritans also regularly murdered other Puritans who were disobedient or found guilty of witchery.

In such ways, powerful white bodies routinely punished less powerful white bodies. In 1692, during the Salem witch trials, eighty-year-old Giles Corey was stripped naked and, over a period of two days, slowly crushed to death under a pile of rocks.

We know that the English in America, and their descendants, dislodged brains, blocked airways, ripped muscle, extracted organs, cracked bones, and broke teeth in the bodies of many Black people,Native peoples and other white colonists. But what we often fail to recognize about this “New World” murder, cruelty, oppression, and torture is that, until the second half of the seventeenth century, these traumas were inflicted primarily on white bodies by other white bodies — all on what would become US soil. […]

Throughout the United States’ history as a nation, white bodies have colonized, oppressed, brutalized, and murdered Black and Native ones. But well before the United States began, powerful white bodies colonized, oppressed, brutalized, and murdered other, less powerful white ones.

The carnage perpetrated on Black people and Native Peoples in the “New World” began, on the same soil, as an adaptation of longstanding white-on-white traumatic retention strategies and brutal class practices. This brutalization created trauma that has yet to be healed among American bodies of all hues today.

Chinese Social Political Stability Rests in “Dual Faceted Identity System” (A Model Societal System Analysis based on Recent Rise of White Nationalism in US)
by killingzoo

Equally interesting, while some minority groups in US seem to become more unhappy as they gained power, Asians in general still has little political influence in US, and yet remained very calm.

The clue laid in some worst examples: Kevin Yee, the 3rd Generation Chinese American neo-Nazi supporter, and Adolf Hitler himself (who had a Jewish grandmother).

1 friend said to me: These neo-Nazi “White nationalists”. They don’t even know who they are (where they came from)

Same problem with Yee and Hitler: They forgot (or never knew) their own heritage, so they convinced themselves to follow/worship a mythical “White” identity that really never existed. “White” is just the color of their skin, it doesn’t tell them anything about where their ancestors came from.

Heck, some neo-Nazis probably also had Native American and African slave bloodlines in their families!

The Monolithic “assimilation” in America has forced too many Americans to integrate and forget their own native culture and their native languages of many sides.

The opposite examples are the “hyphenated Americans”, Chinese Americans, Jewish Americans, etc..

The “hyphenation” denoted a multi-faceted identity of these groups. Chinese Americans are known for strongly preserving their Chinese culture and language, even as they integrated into US political economic processes.

Being “hyphenated” multi-faceted in identity has the benefit of greater tolerance for the “others”. As such groups recognize that they came from elsewhere, they tend to give higher tolerance to those who are different, or who are new to US, because a Chinese American himself is also different from many other Americans.

It’s hardly sensible for a Chinese American to demand a new immigrant to “speak proper English”, when others could easily make jokes about his accent. (Though Kevin Yee might do so).

For this reason, many hyphenated American groups with strong multi-faceted identities tend to be very tolerant, less inclined to feel that they are under threat from other groups, and more likely to be liberals in political social views, even if they are conservative in fiscal beliefs. For example, Jewish Americans are typically conservative fiscally but liberal socially. Similarly, Mormons (with their religious enclaves in Utah), tend to be conservative, but very welcome of immigrants. Mennonites of Dutch origin, also tend to be conservative in lifestyle, and yet hold some very liberal tolerant and very friendly views of others.

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Fearful Cops and Gun Culture

What should I absolutely not do when visiting the USA?
Quora

Don’t get out of your car if you get pulled over by police.
by Charlie Knoles
(I have lived in 5 countries and am an Aussie expat in the USA.)

I was pulled over by a police officer while driving in Iowa. It was one week after I had arrived in the USA for the first time. I had accidentally made a minor mistake disobeying a traffic sign. Back home in Australia it’s considered polite to get out of your car and walk over to the police officer’s car and hand him your license* so he doesn’t have to get out of his seat. I wanted to be extra polite so I immediately jumped out of my car and walked towards his car while reaching into my back pocket.

I’m lucky to be alive.

If you come from a gun-free country like the UK or Australia you don’t have any natural instinct for gun culture. You don’t realize that police assume that everyone is armed.

Things got immediately serious. The police officer’s hand went to his weapon and I responded by dropping to my knees with my hands up. He yelled a bunch of things at me but my memory is vague because my heartbeat was suddenly pulsing in my ears blotting out all sound. I don’t know if he drew his weapon or not. I was staring intently at the ground, shaking and trying to project non-threatening vibes. My next memory is that there were three police cars around me and a bunch of cops who’d been called for backup. They were all keeping their hands close to their guns. After some time passed (a minute? 30 minutes? I have no idea) the tensions de-escalated and they told me to get up. I gave the officer my license and tried to explain why I’d approached him. It was completely incomprehensible to him that there was a place where people don’t fear cops and vice versa at traffic stops. It was as though I was trying to tell him that I came from Narnia and our cops were all talking animals.

I’ve spoken to several British people, New Zealanders, and Australians who have shared almost identical stories. They really need to put signs up in all major US airports.

Don’t get out of your car if stopped by police. They will assume you are armed and they might shoot you.

Comment
by Bill Null

As the country has gotten safer the police have become more aggressive. It’s now at the point where you are far more likely to die by interacting with a police officer than they are to die by interacting with you.

In 2015, out of the 980,000 police employed nation wide, there were 26 recorded cases of homicide against a police officer, 4 of which occurred during a traffic stop. By contrast, 1093 people were killed in the same year; more than half of which didn’t have a firearm, and 170 were completely unarmed at the time.

Policing in the US has never really been a dangerous job, at least not in comparison to other outdoor occupations. The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the job of police and sheriff’s deputy as the 16th most dangerous job, right below grounds maintenance workers. That figure however, includes all officer related fatalities, including traffic and health related incidents. If you compare on-the-job injury rates, the numbers aren’t much higher.

21st Century American Violence and Authoritarianism

From Gods & Radicals, by Dr. Bones:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And from The Violent Ink, by rauldukeblog:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12 Rules for Potential School Shooters

In response to the Parkland school shooting, Jared Sichel takes a different perspective. He puts it into the context of Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life.

I’m not sure of my opinion on this article, as might be noted by the title of this post. We should take Peterson seriously, but it is hard to know how his message applies to extreme cases of young males that are struggling to such an extent that they might commit mass violence. That is a lot to ask of a public intellectual, even when he has experience in clinical psychology as does Peterson.

The article begins with a general description of American school shooters, the implication being that by knowing who these people are we could help them before they turn violent (via the sage advice of a professorial father figure):

“He, like every one of America’s other young, school shooters since Columbine, is male. And like many, he grew up without a father present, is not socialized, is a loner, is not religious, sees himself as a victim, is angry and depressed, wants to get even, is attracted to violence, and meticulously planned his final, redemptive, act of chaos.”

I wanted to break this down a bit (although in less detail than I did with an earlier post on the demographics of violence). Let me start with the religious component. Whatever they identify or don’t identify as, many and maybe most school shooters were raised Christian and one wonders if that plays a role in their often expressing a loss of meaning, an existential crisis, etc. Birgit Pfeifer and Ruard R. Ganzevoort focus on the religious-like concerns that obsess so many school shooters and note that many of them had religious backgrounds:

“Traditionally, religion offers answers to existential concerns. Interestingly, school shootings have occurred more frequently in areas with a strong conservative religious population (Arcus 2002). Michael Carneal (Heath High School shooting, 1997, Kentucky) came from a family of devoted members of the Lutheran Church. Mitchell Johnson (Westside Middle School shooting, 1998, Arkansas) sang in the Central Baptist Church youth choir (Newman et al. 2004). Dylan Klebold (Columbine shooting, 1999, Colorado) attended confirmation classes in accordance with Lutheran tradition. However, not all school shooters have a Christian background. Some of them declare themselves atheists…” (The Implicit Religion of School Shootings).

Princeton sociologist Katherine Newman, in studying school shootings, has noted that, “School rampage shootings tend to happen in small, isolated or rural communities. There isn’t a very direct connection between where violence typically happens, especially gun violence in the United States, and where rampage shootings happen” (Common traits of all school shooters in the U.S. since 1970).

It is quite significant that these American mass atrocities are concentrated in “small, isolated or rural communities” that are “frequently in areas with a strong conservative religious population”. That might more precisely indicate who these school shooters are and what they are reacting to. Also, one might note that rural areas in general and specifically in the South do have high rates of gun-related deaths, although many of them are listed as ‘accidental’ which is to say most rural shootings involve people who know each other; also true of school shootings.

Sichel goes onto focus one particular descriptor of so many school shooters, that they are young males: “America is in the midst of a well-documented crisis of young males. […] “Boys are suffering in the modern world,” Peterson writes. […] Thus “toxic masculinity.” […] The combination of a toxic culture and broken homes has produced millions of anxious, confused, and even angry, teenage and young adult males.”

I’d put it more simply. America is in the midst of a well-documented crisis. Full stop. The crisis is found in every demographic and area of American society, even though it impacts and manifests in diverse ways of dysfunction and unhappiness.

But I might emphasize the point that some of the worst harmed are GenXers, which is to say middle agers, especially among certain demographics of white males such as in the lower classes and rural areas (the most harm in the relative sense of having experienced the greatest decline, the only demographic with worsening mortality rates). And I could add that GenXers — a generation with high rates of violent crime and social problems — are probably the majority of young parents right now, which is to say the parents of these school shooters and other struggling young men (and young women).

James Gilligan, among other issues, discusses this in terms of loss of status and loss of hope. This leads to stress and short term thinking, shame and frustration. Et cetera. It’s a whole mess of factors, across multiple generations, especially in considering how GenXers were the first mass incarcerated generation which caused much devastation, from absentee fathers to impoverished communities. It’s not only individuals who are hurting but also families and communities.

It just so happens that yesterday I wrote a post about American violence. Based on extensive data, I made the argument that lead toxicity and inequality are the most strongly proven explanations of violence, both in its increase and decrease. And it must be noted that violence in the US has been on a steep decline since the 1990s.

School shootings and other mass murder, however, is a different kind of action. Even though lead toxicity has been dealt with to some degree, although less so in poor communities (both inner city and rural communities full of old lead pipes and old buildings with lead paint), inequality keeps rising and that is one of the clearest predictors of a wide variety of social problems. And James Gilligan, as I discuss in that post, goes into great detail about why high inequality affects males differently than females. As part of his analysis of the stresses of inequality, he speaks of a culture of shame that particularly hits young men hard. To his credit, Jordan Peterson does admit that inequality is an important factor (as I recall, he discusses it in an interview with Russell Brand).

I’ll respond to one last bit from Sichel’s article: “And the aim of your life, Peterson argues, should not be happiness. He does not belittle it as a worthy pursuit among many, but “in a crisis, the inevitable suffering that life entails can rapidly make a mockery of the idea that happiness is the proper pursuit of the individual.””

I wonder what Jordan Peterson would think of Anu Partanen’s The Nordic Theory of Everything. She clarifies the issue of individualism. The United States is simultaneously too individualistic and not individualistic enough. Or one could say that few Americans take seriously what individualism means or could mean, instead being mired in the pseudo-individualistic rhetoric that authoritarianism hides behind.

Partanen argues that the Nordic social democracies, on a practical level, have greater individual rights and freedoms. Individual happiness can only be attained through the public good. Nordic laws treat people as individuals, whereas US law prioritizes family which Partanen sees as being oppressive in how it is used to undermine public responsibility. The American nuclear family is expected to hold up the entirety of society, an impossible task.

This relates to the difference between the cultural notion of Germanic freedom (etymologically related to ‘friend’) and the legalistic tradition of Roman liberty (simply meaning one isn’t a slave). But I don’t think Partanen discusses this distinction. Maybe American (pseudo-)individualism is too legalistic. And maybe precisely because individualism is less of a political football in Nordic countries that genuine individualism is possible. Individualism can be a result of a functioning social democracy, but not a starting point as an abstract ideal.

 

* * *

Here is a relevant section from my violence post where I share a passage from Gilligan’s book. He goes into more detail about other factors influencing males, specifically young males. But this particular passage fits in with Partanen’s view. Simply put, it can’t so easily be blamed on family breakdown, missing fathers, and single mothers.

Preventing Violence
by James Gilligan
Kindle Locations 1218-1256

Single-Parent Families Another factor that correlates with rates of violence in the United States is the rate of single-parent families: children raised in them are more likely to be abused, and are more likely to become delinquent and criminal as they grow older, than are children who are raised by two parents. For example, over the past three decades those two variables—the rates of violent crime and of one-parent families—have increased in tandem with each other; the correlation is very close. For some theorists, this has suggested that the enormous increase in the rate of youth violence in the U.S. over the past few decades has been caused by the proportionately similar increase in the rate of single-parent families.

As a parent myself, I would be the first to agree that child-rearing is such a complex and demanding task that parents need all the help they can get, and certainly having two caring and responsible parents available has many advantages over having only one. In addition, children, especially boys, can be shown to benefit in many ways, including diminished risk of delinquency and violent criminality, from having a positive male role-model in the household. The adult who is most often missing in single-parent families is the father. Some criminologists have noticed that Japan, for example, has practically no single-parent families, and its murder rate is only about one-tenth as high as that of the United States.

Sweden’s rate of one-parent families, however, has grown almost to equal that in the United States, and over the same period (the past few decades), yet Sweden’s homicide rate has also been on average only about one-tenth as high as that of the U.S., during that same time. To understand these differences, we should consider another variable, namely, the size of the gap between the rich and the poor. As stated earlier, Sweden and Japan both have among the lowest degrees of economic inequity in the world, whereas the U.S. has the highest polarization of both wealth and income of any industrialized nation. And these differences exist even when comparing different family structures. For example, as Timothy M. Smeeding has shown, the rate of relative poverty is very much lower among single-parent families in Sweden than it is among those in the U.S. Even more astonishing, however, is the fact that the rate of relative poverty among single-parent families in Sweden is much lower than it is among two-parent families in the United States (“Financial Poverty in Developed Countries,” 1997). Thus, it would seem that however much family structure may influence the rate of violence in a society, the overall social and economic structure of the society—the degree to which it is or is not stratified into highly polarized upper and lower social classes and castes—is a much more powerful determinant of the level of violence.

There are other differences between the cultures of Sweden and the U.S. that may also contribute to the differences in the correlation between single-parenthood and violent crime. The United States, with its strongly Puritanical and Calvinist cultural heritage, is much more intolerant of both economic dependency and out-of-wedlock sex than Sweden. Thus, the main form of welfare support for single-parent families in the U.S. (until it was ended a year ago) A.F.D.C., Aid to Families with Dependent Children, was specifically denied to families in which the father (or any other man) was living with the mother; indeed, government agents have been known to raid the homes of single mothers with no warning in the middle of the night in order to “catch” them in bed with a man, so that they could then deprive them (and their children) of their welfare benefits. This practice, promulgated by politicians who claimed that they were supporting what they called “family values,” of course had the effect of destroying whatever family life did exist. Fortunately for single mothers in Sweden, the whole society is much more tolerant of people’s right to organize their sexual life as they wish, and as a result many more single mothers are in fact able to raise their children with the help of a man.

Another difference between Sweden and the U.S. is that fewer single mothers in Sweden are actually dependent on welfare than is true in the U.S. The main reason for this is that mothers in Sweden receive much more help from the government in getting an education, including vocational training; more help in finding a job; and access to high-quality free childcare, so that mothers can work without leaving their children uncared for. The U.S. system, which claims to be based on opposition to dependency, thus fosters more welfare dependency among single mothers than Sweden’s does, largely because it is so more miserly and punitive with the “welfare” it does provide. Even more tragically, however, it also fosters much more violence. It is not single motherhood as such that causes the extremely high levels of violence in the United States, then; it is the intense degree of shaming to which single mothers and their children are exposed by the punitive, miserly, Puritanical elements that still constitute a powerful strain in the culture of the United States.

* * *

After writing this post, another factor occurred to me related to this.

There aren’t only the chemicals kids get accidentally exposed to — including far from being limited to heavy metal toxins for there also such things as estrogen-like chemicals in plastics and the food supply, not to mention a thousand other largely untested chemicals that surround us on a daily basis — but also those we intentionally prescribe them such as the increasing use of psychiatric medications on the entire population, more problematically prescribed to the still developing youth. A relevant example are the ADD/ADHD medications that are given mostly to boys to get them, as some argue, to act less like boys and more like girls. And these drugs have been proven to permanently alter neurocognitive development, specifically affecting areas of the brain related to motivation.

Dr. Leonard Sax in Boys Adrift (see my post) argues that, by way of chemicals and drugs along with schools constraining and punishing typical male behavior, we have now raised two generations of boys who are stunted (physiologically, cognitively, and psychologically). This is seen in the growing gender disparity of sexual development, girls maturing earlier than ever before and boys reaching puberty later than seen with previous generations. The consequence of this is that more young women are now attending and graduating college, including in many fields (e.g., business management) that used to be dominated by males.

It’s even a wider problem than this. The dramatic changes are also seen in the larger ecosystem. Males of other species showing the effects of shrinking testicles and egg-laying, the latter being particularly non-typical for males of all species, in fact one of the defining features of not being male. It appears to be a multi-species gender problem. Boys aren’t just adrift but stunted and maybe mutating. Why would anyone be surprised that there is something severely problematic going on and that it is pervasive? Simplistic psychological and social explanations, especially of the culture war variety, are next to worthless.

Take the challenges targeting the young, especially boys, and combine them with the worsening problems of inequality and segregation, classism and racism, climate change and late stage capitalism, and all the rest. The worst cases of lost young males are indicators of deeper troubles coursing through our entire society. The stresses in the world right now are immense, leaving many to feel overwhelmed. If anything, I’m surprised there isn’t far more violence. With the increasingly obvious decline and dysfunction of the United States, I keep waiting for a massive wave of social turmoil, riots, revolts, assassinations, and terrorist attacks. The occasional school shooting is maybe just a sign of what is to come.

Connecting the Dots of Violence

When talking to people or reading articles, alternative viewpoints and interpretations often pop up in my mind. It’s easy for me to see multiple perspectives simultaneously, to hold multiple ideas. I have a creative mind, but I’m hardly a genius. So, why does this ability seem so rare?

The lack of this ability is not simply a lack of knowledge. I spent the first half of my life in an overwhelming state of ignorance because of inferior public education, exacerbated by a learning disability and depression. But I always had the ability of divergent thinking. It’s just hard to do much with divergent thinking without greater knowledge to work with. I’ve since then remedied my state of ignorance with an extensive program of self-education.

I still don’t know exactly what is this ability to see what others don’t see. There is an odd disconnect I regularly come across, even among the well educated. I encountered a perfect example of this from Yes! Magazine. It’s an article by Mike Males, Gun Violence Has Dropped Dramatically in 3 States With Very Different Gun Laws.

In reading that article, I immediately noticed the lack of any mention of lead toxicity. Then I went to the comments section and saw other people noticed this as well. The divergent thinking it takes to make this connection doesn’t require all that much education and brain power. I’m not particularly special in seeing what the author didn’t see. What is strange is precisely that the author didn’t see it, that the same would be true for so many like him. It is strange because the author isn’t some random person opinionating on the internet.

This became even stranger when I looked into Mike Males’ previous writing elsewhere. In the past, he himself had made this connection between violent crime and lead toxicity. Yet  somehow the connection slipped from his mind in writing this article. This more recent article was in response to an event, the Parkland school shooting in Florida. And the author seems to have gotten caught up in the short term memory of the news cycle, not only unable to connect it to other data but failing to connect it to his own previous writing on that data. Maybe it shows the power of context-dependent memory. The school shooting was immediately put into the context of gun violence and so the framing elicited certain ways of thinking while excluding others. Like so many others, the author got pulled into the media hype of the moment, entirely forgetting what he otherwise would have considered.

This is how people can simultaneously know and not know all kinds of things. The human mind is built on vast disconnections, maybe because there has been little evolutionary advantage to constantly perceive larger patterns of causation beyond immediate situations. I’m not entirely sure what to make of this. It’s all too common. The thing is when such a disconnect happens the person is unaware of it — we don’t know what we don’t know and, as bizarre as it sounds, sometimes we don’t even know what we do know. So, even if I’m better than average at divergent thinking, there is no doubt that in other areas I too demonstrate this same cognitive limitation. It’s hard to see what doesn’t fit into our preconception, our worldview.

For whatever reason, lead toxicity has struggled to become included within public debate and political framing. Lead toxicity doesn’t fit into familiar narratives and the dominant paradigm, specifically in terms of a hyper-individualistic society. Even mental health tends to fall into this attitude of emphasizing the individual level, such as how the signs of mental illness could have been detected so that intervention could have stopped an individual from committing mass murder. It’s easier to talk about someone being crazy and doing crazy things than to question what caused them to become that way, be it toxicity or something else.

As such, Males’ article focuses narrowly without even entertaining fundamental causes, not limited to his overlooking lead toxicity. This is odd. We already know so much about what causes violence. The author himself has written multiple times on the topic, specifically in his professional capacity as a Senior Research Fellow at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ). It’s his job to look for explanations and to communicate them, having written several hundred articles for CJCJ alone.

The human mind tends to go straight to the obvious, that is to say what is perceived as obvious within conventional thought. If the problem is gun violence, then the solution is gun control. Like most Americans (and increasingly so), I support more effective gun control. Still, that is merely dealing with the symptoms and doesn’t explain why someone wants to kill others. The views of the American public, though, don’t stop there. What the majority blames mass gun violence on is mental illness, a rather nebulous explanation. Mental illness also is a symptom.

That is what stands out about the omission I’m discussing here. Lead toxicity is one of most strongly proven causes of neugocognitive problems: stunted brain development, lowered IQ, learning disabilities, autism and Asperger’s, ADHD, depression, impulsivity, nervousness, irritability, anger, aggression, etc. All the heavy metals mess people up in the head, along with causing physical ailments such as hearing impairment, asthma, obesity, kidney failure, and much else. And that is talking about only one toxin among many, mercury being another widespread pollutant but there are many beyond that — this being directly relevant to the issue of violent behavior and crime, such as the high levels of toxins found in mass murderers:

“Three studies in the California prison system found those in prison for violent activity had significantly higher levels of hair manganese than controls, and studies of an area in Australia with much higher levels of violence as well as autopsies of several mass-murderers also found high levels of manganese to be a common factor. Such violent behavior has long been known in those with high manganese exposure. Other studies in the California prison and juvenile justice systems found that those with 5 or more essential mineral imbalances were 90% more likely to be violent and 50% more likely to be violent with two or more mineral imbalances. A study analyzing hair of 28 mass-murderers found that all had high metals and abnormal essential mineral levels.”

(See also: Lead was scourge before and after Beethoven by Kristina R. Anderson; Violent Crime, Hyperactivity and Metal Imbalance by Neil Ward; The Seeds that Give Birth to Terrorism by Kimberly Key; and An Updated Lead-Crime Roundup for 2018 by Kevin Drum)

Besides toxins, other factors have also been seriously studied. For example, high inequality is strongly correlated to increased mental illness rates along with aggressive, risky and other harmful behaviors (as written about in Keith Payne’s The Broken Ladder; an excerpt can be found at the end of this post). And indeed, even as lead toxicity has decreased overall (while remaining a severe problem among the poor), inequality has worsened.

There are multiple omissions going on here. And they are related. Where there are large disparities of wealth, there are also large disparities of health. Because of environmental classism and racism, toxic dumps are more likely to be located in poor and minority communities along with the problem of old housing with lead paint found where poverty is concentrated, all of it being related to a long history of economic and racial segregation. And I would point out that the evidence supports that, along with inequality, segregation creates a culture of distrust — as Eric Uslaner concluded: “It wasn’t diversity but segregation that led to less trust” (Segregation and Mistrust). In post-colonial countries like the United States, inequality and segregation go hand in hand, built on a socioeconomic system ethnic/racial castes and a permanent underclass that has developed over several centuries. The fact that this is the normal conditions of our country makes it all the harder for someone born here to fully sense its enormity. It’s simply the world we Americans have always known — it is our shared reality, rarely perceived for what it is and even more rarely interrogated.

These are far from being problems limited to those on the bottom of society. Lead toxicity ends up impacting a large part of the population. In reference to serious health concerns, Mark Hyman wrote, “that nearly 40 percent of all Americans are estimated to have blood levels of lead high enough to cause these problems” (Why Lead Poisoning May Be Causing Your Health Problems). The same thing goes for high inequality that creates dysfunction all across society, increasing social and health problems even among the upper classes, not to mention breeding an atmosphere of conflict and divisiveness (see James Gilligan’s Preventing Violence; an excerpt can be found at the end of this post). Everyone is worse off in a high amidst the unhappiness and dysfunction of a highly unequal society, far beyond homicides but also suicides, along with addiction and stress-related diseases.

Let’s look at the facts. Besides lead toxicity remaining a major problem in poor communities and old industrial inner cities, the United States has one of the highest rates of inequality in the world and the highest in the Western world, and this problem has been worsening for decades with present levels not seen since the Wall Street crash that led to the Great Depression. To go into the details, Florida has the fifth highest inequality in the United States, according to Mark Price and Estelle Sommeiller, with Florida having “all income growth between 2009 and 2011 accrued to the top 1 percent” (Economic Policy Institute). And Parkland, where the school shooting happened, specifically has high inequality: “The income inequality of Parkland, FL (measured using the Gini index) is 0.529 which is higher than the national average” (DATA USA).

In a sense, it is true that guns don’t kill people, that people kill people. But then again, it could be argued that people don’t kill people, that entire systemic problems triggers the violence that kills people, not even to talk about the immensity of slow violence that slowly kills people in even higher numbers. Lead toxicity is a great example of slow violence because of the 20 year lag time to fully measure its effects, disallowing the direct observation and visceral experience of causality and consequence. The topic of violence is important taken on its own terms (e.g., eliminating gun sales and permits to those with a history of violence would decrease gun violence), but my concern is exploring why it is so difficult to talk about violence in a larger and more meaningful way.

Lead toxicity is a great example for many reasons. It has been hard for advocates to get people to pay attention and take this seriously. Lead toxicity momentarily fell under the media spotlight with the Flint, Michigan case but that was just one of thousands of places with such problems, many of them with far worse rates. As always, as the media’s short attention span turned to some new shiny object, the lead toxicity crisis was forgotten again, as the poisoning continues. You can’t see it happening because it is always happening, an ever present tragedy that even when known remains abstract data. It is in the background and so has become part of our normal experience, operating at a level outside of our awareness.

School shootings are better able to capture the public imagination and so make for compelling dramatic narratives that the media can easily spin. Unlike lead toxicity, school shootings and their victims aren’t invisible. Lead toxins are hidden in the soil of playgrounds and the bodies of children (and prisoners who, as disproportionate victims of lead toxicity, are literally hidden away), whereas a bullet leaves dead bodies, splattered blood, terrified parents, and crying students. Neither can inequality compete with such emotional imagery. People can understand poverty because you can see poor people and poor communities, but you can’t see the societal pattern of dysfunction that exits between the dynamics of extreme poverty and extreme wealth. It can’t be seen, can’t be touched or felt, can’t be concretely known in personal experience.

Whether lead toxicity or high inequality, it is yet more abstract data that never quite gets a toehold within the public mind and the moral imagination. Even for those who should know better, it’s difficult for them to put the pieces together.

* * *

Here is the comment I left at Mike Males’ article:

I was earlier noting that Mike Males doesn’t mention lead exposure/toxicity/poisoning. I’m used to this being ignored in articles like this. Still, it’s disappointing.

It is the single most well supported explanation that has been carefully studied for decades. And the same conclusions have been found in other countries. But for whatever reason, public debate has yet to fully embrace this evidence.

Out of curiosity, I decided to do a web search. Mike Males works for Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. He writes articles there. I was able to find two articles where he directly and thoroughly discusses this topic:
http://www.cjcj.org/news/5548
http://www.cjcj.org/news/5552

He also mentions lead toxicity in passing in another article:
http://www.cjcj.org/news/9734

And Mike Males’ work gets referenced in a piece by Kevin Drum:
https://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2016/03/kids-are-becoming-less-violent-adults-not-so-much/

This makes it odd that he doesn’t even mention it in passing here in this article. It’s not because he doesn’t know about the evidence, as he has already written about it. So, what is the reason for not offering the one scientific theory that is most relevant to the data he shares?

This seems straightforward to me. Consider the details from the article.

“Over the last 25 years—though other time periods show similar results—New York, California, and Texas show massive declines in gun homicides, ones that far exceed those of any other state. These three states also show the country’s largest decreases in gun suicide and gun accident death rates.”

The specific states in question were among the most polluting and hence polluted states. This means they had high rates of lead toxicity. And that means they had the most room for improvement. It goes without saying that national regulations and local programs will have the greatest impact where there are the worst problems (similar to the reason, as studies show, it is easier to increase the IQ of the poor than the wealthy by improving basic conditions).

“These major states containing seven in 10 of the country’s largest cities once had gun homicide rates far above the national average; now, their rates are well below those elsewhere in the country.”

That is as obvious as obvious can be. Yeah, the largest cities are also the places of the largest concentrations of pollution. Hence, one would expect to find the highest rates and largest improvements in lead toxicity, which has been proven to directly correlate to violent crime rates (with causality proven through dose-response curve, the same methodology used to prove efficacy of pharmaceuticals).

“The declines are most pronounced in urban young people.”

Once again, this is the complete opposite of surprising. It is exactly as what we would expect. Urban areas have the heaviest and most concentrated vehicular traffic along with the pollution that goes with it. And urban areas are often old industrial centers with a century of accumulated toxins in the soil, water, and elsewhere in the environment. These specific old urban areas are also where old houses are found which are affordable for the poor, but unfortunately are more likely to have old lead paint that is chipping away and turning into dust.

So, problem solved. The great mystery is no more. You’re welcome.

https://www.epa.gov/air-pollution-transportation/accomplishments-and-success-air-pollution-transportation

“Congress passed the landmark Clean Air Act in 1970 and gave the newly-formed EPA the legal authority to regulate pollution from cars and other forms of transportation. EPA and the State of California have led the national effort to reduce vehicle pollution by adopting increasingly stringent standards.”

https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doh/downloads/pdf/lead/lead-2012report.pdf

The progress has been dramatic. For both children and adults, the number and severity of poisonings has declined. At the same time, blood lead testing rates have increased, especially in populations at high risk for lead poisoning. This public health success is due to a combination of factors, most notably commitment to lead poisoning prevention at the federal, state and city levels. New York City and New York State have implemented comprehensive policies and programs that support lead poisoning prevention. […]

“New York City’s progress in reducing childhood lead poisoning has been striking. Not only has the number of children with lead poisoning declined —a 68% drop from 2005 to 2012 — but the severity of poisonings has also declined. In 2005, there were 14 children newly identified with blood lead levels of 45 µg/dL and above, and in 2012 there were 5 children. At these levels, children require immediate medical intervention and may require hospitalization for chelation, a treatment that removes lead from the body.

“Forty years ago, tackling childhood lead poisoning seemed a daunting task. In 1970, when New York City established the Health Department’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, there were over 2,600 children identified with blood lead levels of 60 µg/dL or greater — levels today considered medical emergencies. Compared with other parts of the nation, New York City’s children were at higher risk for lead poisoning primarily due to the age of New York City’s housing stock, the prevalence of poverty and the associated deteriorated housing conditions. Older homes and apartments, especially those built before 1950, are most likely to contain lead­based paint. In New York City, more than 60% of the housing stock — around 2 million units — was built before 1950, compared with about 22% of housing nationwide.

“New York City banned the use of lead­based paint in residential buildings in 1960, but homes built before the ban may still have lead in older layers of paint. Lead dust hazards are created when housing is poorly maintained, with deteriorated and peeling lead paint, or when repair work in old housing is done unsafely. Young children living in such housing are especially at risk for lead poisoning. They are more likely to ingest lead dust because they crawl on the floor and put their hands and toys in their mouths.

“While lead paint hazards remain the primary source of lead poisoning in New York City children, the number and rate of newly identified cases and the associated blood lead levels have greatly declined.

“Strong Policies Aimed at Reducing Childhood Lead Exposure

“Declines in blood lead levels can be attributed largely to government regulations instituted in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s that banned or limited the use of lead in gasoline, house paint, water pipes, solder for food cans and other consumer products. Abatement and remediation of lead­based paint hazards in housing, and increased consumer awareness of lead hazards have also contributed to lower blood lead levels.

“New York City developed strong policies to support lead poisoning prevention. Laws and regulations were adopted to prevent lead exposure before children are poisoned and to protect those with elevated blood lead levels from further exposure.”

https://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/02/lead-exposure-gasoline-crime-increase-children-health/

“But if all of this solves one mystery, it shines a high-powered klieg light on another: Why has the lead/crime connection been almost completely ignored in the criminology community? In the two big books I mentioned earlier, one has no mention of lead at all and the other has a grand total of two passing references. Nevin calls it “exasperating” that crime researchers haven’t seriously engaged with lead, and Reyes told me that although the public health community was interested in her paper, criminologists have largely been AWOL. When I asked Sammy Zahran about the reaction to his paper with Howard Mielke on correlations between lead and crime at the city level, he just sighed. “I don’t think criminologists have even read it,” he said. All of this jibes with my own reporting. Before he died last year, James Q. Wilson—father of the broken-windows theory, and the dean of the criminology community—had begun to accept that lead probably played a meaningful role in the crime drop of the ’90s. But he was apparently an outlier. None of the criminology experts I contacted showed any interest in the lead hypothesis at all.

“Why not? Mark Kleiman, a public policy professor at the University of California-Los Angeles who has studied promising methods of controlling crime, suggests that because criminologists are basically sociologists, they look for sociological explanations, not medical ones. My own sense is that interest groups probably play a crucial role: Political conservatives want to blame the social upheaval of the ’60s for the rise in crime that followed. Police unions have reasons for crediting its decline to an increase in the number of cops. Prison guards like the idea that increased incarceration is the answer. Drug warriors want the story to be about drug policy. If the actual answer turns out to be lead poisoning, they all lose a big pillar of support for their pet issue. And while lead abatement could be big business for contractors and builders, for some reason their trade groups have never taken it seriously.

“More generally, we all have a deep stake in affirming the power of deliberate human action. When Reyes once presented her results to a conference of police chiefs, it was, unsurprisingly, a tough sell. “They want to think that what they do on a daily basis matters,” she says. “And it does.” But it may not matter as much as they think.”

* * *

The Broken Ladder:
How Inequality Affects the Way We Think, Live, and Die

by Keith Payne
pp. 69-80

How extensive are the effects of the fast-slow trade-off among humans? Psychology experiments suggest that they are much more prevalent than anyone previously suspected, influencing people’s behaviors and decisions in ways that have nothing to do with reproduction. Some of the most important now versus later trade-offs involve money. Financial advisers tell us that if we skip our daily latte and instead save that three dollars a day, we could increase our savings by more than a thousand dollars a year. But that means facing a daily choice: How much do I want a thousand dollars in the bank at the end of the year? And how great would a latte taste right now?

The same evaluations lurk behind larger life decisions. Do I invest time and money in going to college, hoping for a higher salary in the long run, or do I take a job that guarantees an income now? Do I work at a regular job and play by the rules, even if I will probably struggle financially all my life, or do I sell drugs? If I choose drugs, I might lose everything in the long run and end up broke, in jail, or dead. But I might make a lot of money today.

Even short-term feelings of affluence or poverty can make people more or less shortsighted. Recall from the earlier chapters that subjective sensations of poverty and plenty have powerful effects, and those are usually based on how we measure ourselves against other people. Psychologist Mitch Callan and colleagues combined these two principles and predicted that when people are made to feel poor, they will become myopic, taking whatever they can get immediately and ignoring the future. When they are made to feel rich, they would take the long view.

Their study began by asking research participants a long series of probing questions about their finances, their spending habits, and even their personality traits and personal tastes. They told participants that they needed all this detailed information because their computer program was going to calculate a personalized “Comparative Discretionary Income Index.” They were informed that the computer would give them a score that indicated how much money they had compared with other people who were similar to them in age, education level, personality traits, and so on. In reality, the computer program did none of that, but merely displayed a little flashing progress bar and the words “Calculating. Please wait . . .” Then it provided random feedback to participants, telling half that they had more money than most people like them, and the other half that they had less money than other people like them.

Next, participants were asked to make some financial decisions, and were offered a series of choices that would give them either smaller rewards received sooner or larger rewards received later. For example, they might be asked, “Would you rather have $ 100 today or $ 120 next week? How about $ 100 today or $ 150 next week?” After they answered many such questions, the researchers could calculate how much value participants placed on immediate rewards, and how much they were willing to wait for a better long-term payoff.

The study found that, when people felt poor, they tilted to the fast end of the fast-slow trade-off, preferring immediate gratification. But when they felt relatively rich, they took the long view. To underscore the point that this was not simply some abstract decision without consequences in the real world, the researchers performed the study again with a second group of participants. This time, instead of hypothetical choices, the participants were given twenty dollars and offered the chance to gamble with it. They could decline, pocket the money, and go home, or they could play a card game against the computer and take their chances, in which case they either would lose everything or might make much more money. When participants were made to feel relatively rich, 60 percent chose to gamble. When they were made to feel poor, the number rose to 88 percent. Feeling poor made people more willing to roll the dice.

The astonishing thing about these experiments was that it did not take an entire childhood spent in poverty or affluence to change people’s level of shortsightedness. Even the mere subjective feeling of being less well-off than others was sufficient to trigger the live fast, die young approach to life.

Nothing to Lose

Most of the drug-dealing gang members that Sudhir Venkatesh followed were earning the equivalent of minimum wage and living with their mothers. If they weren’t getting rich and the job was so dangerous, then why did they choose to do it? Because there were a few top gang members who were making several hundred thousand dollars a year. They made their wealth conspicuous by driving luxury cars and wearing expensive clothes and flashy jewelry. They traveled with entourages. The rank-and-file gang members did not look at one another’s lives and conclude that this was a terrible job. They looked instead at the top and imagined what they could be. Despite the fact that their odds of success were impossibly low, even the slim chance of making it big drove them to take outrageous risks.

The live fast, die young theory explains why people would focus on the here and now and neglect the future when conditions make them feel poor. But it does not tell the whole story. The research described in Chapter 2 revealed that rates of many health and social problems were higher, even among members of the middle class, in societies where there was more inequality. One of the puzzling aspects of the rapid rise of inequality over the past three decades is that almost all of the change in fortune has taken place at the top. The incomes of the poor and the middle class are not too different from where they were in 1980, once the numbers are adjusted for inflation. But the income and wealth of the top 1 percent have soared, and those of the top one tenth of a percent dwarfed even their increases. How are the gains of the superrich having harmful effects on the health and well-being of the rest of us? […]

As Cartar suspected, when the bees received bonus nectar, they played it safe and fed in the seablush fields. But when their nectar was removed, they headed straight for the dwarf huckleberry fields.

Calculating the best option in an uncertain environment is a complicated matter; even humans have a hard time with it. According to traditional economic theories, rational decision making means maximizing your payoffs. You can calculate your “expected utility” by multiplying the size of the reward by the likelihood of getting it. So, an option that gives you a 90 percent chance of winning $ 500 has a greater expected utility than an option that gives you a 40 percent chance of winning $ 1,000 ($ 500 × .90 = $ 450 as compared with $ 1,000 × .40 = $ 400). But the kind of decision making demonstrated by the bumblebees doesn’t necessarily line up well with the expected utility model. Neither, it turns out, do the risky decisions made by the many other species that also show the same tendency to take big risks when they are needy.

Humans are one of those species. Imagine what you would do if you owed a thousand dollars in rent that was due today or you would lose your home. In a gamble, would you take the 90 percent chance of winning $ 500, or the 40 percent chance of winning $ 1,000? Most people would opt for the smaller chance of getting the $ 1,000, because if they won, their need would be met. Although it is irrational from the expected utility perspective, it is rational in another sense, because meeting basic needs is sometimes more important than the mathematically best deal. The fact that we see the same pattern across animal species suggests that evolution has found need-based decision making to be adaptive, too. From the humble bumblebee, with its tiny brain, to people trying to make ends meet, we do not always seek to maximize our profits. Call it Mick Jagger logic: If we can’t always get what we want, we try to get what we need. Sometimes that means taking huge risks.

We saw in Chapter 2 that people judge what they need by making comparisons to others, and the impact of comparing to those at the top is much larger than comparing to those at the bottom. If rising inequality makes people feel that they need more, and higher levels of need lead to risky choices, it implies a fundamentally new relationship between inequality and risk: Regardless of whether you are poor or middle class, inequality itself might cause you to engage in riskier behavior. […]

People googling terms like “lottery tickets” and “payday loans,” for example, are probably already involved in some risky spending. To measure sexual riskiness, we counted searches for the morning-after pill and for STD testing. And to measure drug- and alcohol-related risks, we counted searches for how to get rid of a hangover and how to pass a drug test. Of course, a person might search for any of these terms for reasons unrelated to engaging in risky behaviors. But, on average, if there are more people involved in sex, drugs, and money risks, you would expect to find more of these searches.

Armed with billions of such data points from Google, we asked whether the states where people searched most often for those terms were also the states with higher levels of income inequality. To help reduce the impact of idiosyncrasies related to each search term, we averaged the six terms together into a general risk-taking index. Then we plotted that index against the degree of inequality in each state. The states with higher inequality had much higher risk taking, as estimated from their Google searches. This relationship remained strong after statistically adjusting for the average income in each state.

If the index of risky googling tracks real-life risky behavior, then we would expect it to be associated with poor life outcomes. So we took our Google index and tested whether it could explain the link, reported in Chapter 2, between inequality and Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s index of ten major health and social problems. Indeed, the risky googling index was strongly correlated with the index of life problems. Using sophisticated statistical analyses, we found that inequality was a strong predictor of risk taking, which in turn was a strong predictor of health and social problems. These findings suggest that risky behavior is a pathway that helps explain the link between inequality and bad outcomes in everyday life. The evidence becomes much stronger still when we consider these correlations together with the evidence of cause and effect provided by the laboratory experiments.

Experiments like the ones described in this chapter are essential for understanding the effects of inequality, because only experiments can separate the effects of the environment from individual differences in character traits. Surely there were some brilliant luminaries and some dullards in each experimental group. Surely there were some hearty souls endowed with great self-control, and some irresponsible slackers, too. Because they were assigned to the experimental groups at random, it is exceedingly unlikely that the groups differed consistently in their personalities or abilities. Instead, we can be confident that the differences we see are caused by the experimental factor, in this case making decisions in a context of high or low inequality. […]

Experiments are gentle reminders that, in the words of John Bradford, “There but for the grace of God go I.” If we deeply understand behavioral experiments, they make us humble. They challenge our assumption that we are always in control of our own successes and failures. They remind us that, like John Bradford, we are not simply the products of our thoughts, our plans, or our bootstraps.

These experiments suggest that any average person, thrust into these different situations, will start behaving differently. Imagine that you are an evil scientist with a giant research budget and no ethical review board. You decide to take ten thousand newborn babies and randomly assign them to be raised by families in a variety of places. You place some with affluent, well-educated parents in the suburbs of Atlanta. You place others with single mothers in inner-city Milwaukee, and so on. The studies we’ve looked at suggest that the environments you assign them to will have major effects on their futures. The children you assign to highly unequal places, like Texas, will have poorer outcomes than those you assign to more equal places, like Iowa, even though Texas and Iowa have about the same average income.

In part, this will occur because bad things are more likely to happen to them in unequal places. And in part, it will occur because the children raised in unequal places will behave differently. All of this can transpire even though the babies you are randomly assigning begin life with the same potential abilities and values.

pp. 116-121

If you look carefully at Figure 5.1, you’ll notice that the curve comparing different countries is bent. The relatively small income advantage that India has over Mozambique, for example, translates into much longer lives in India. Once countries reach the level of development of Chile or Costa Rica, something interesting happens: The curve flattens out. Very rich countries like the United States cease to have any life expectancy advantage over moderately rich countries like Bahrain or even Cuba. At a certain level of economic development, increases in average income stop mattering much.

But within a rich country, there is no bend; the relationship between money and longevity remains linear. If the relationship was driven by high mortality rates among the very poor, you would expect to see a bend. That is, you would expect dramatically shorter lives among the very poor, and then, once above the poverty line, additional income would have little effect. This curious absence of the bend in the line suggests that the link between money and health is not actually a reflection of poverty per se, at least not among economically developed countries. If it was extreme poverty driving the effect, then there would be a big spike in mortality among the very poorest and little difference between the middle- and highest-status groups.

The linear pattern in the British Civil Service study is also striking, because the subjects in this study all have decent government jobs and the salaries, health insurance, pensions, and other benefits that are associated with them. If you thought that elevated mortality rates were only a function of the desperately poor being unable to meet their basic needs, this study would disprove that, because it did not include any desperately poor subjects and still found elevated mortality among those with lower status.

Psychologist Nancy Adler and colleagues have found that where people place themselves on the Status Ladder is a better predictor of health than their actual income or education. In fact, in collaboration with Marmot, Adler’s team revisited the study of British civil servants and asked the research subjects to rate themselves on the ladder. Their subjective assessments of where they stood compared with others proved to be a better predictor of their health than their occupational status. Adler’s analyses suggest that occupational status shapes subjective status, and this subjective feeling of one’s standing, in turn, affects health.

If health and longevity in developed countries are more closely linked to relative comparisons than to income, then you would expect that societies with greater inequality would have poorer health. And, in fact, they do. Across the developed nations surveyed by Wilkinson and Pickett, those with greater income equality had longer life expectancies (see Figure 5.3). Likewise, in the United States, people who lived in states with greater income equality lived longer (see Figure 5.4). Both of these relationships remain once we statistically control for average income, which means that inequality in incomes, not just income itself, is responsible.

But how can something as abstract as inequality or social comparisons cause something as physical as health? Our emergency rooms are not filled with people dropping dead from acute cases of inequality. No, the pathways linking inequality to health can be traced through specific maladies, especially heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and health problems stemming from obesity. Abstract ideas that start as macroeconomic policies and social relationships somehow get expressed in the functioning of our cells.

To understand how that expression happens, we have to first realize that people from different walks of life die different kinds of deaths, in part because they live different kinds of lives. We saw in Chapter 2 that people in more unequal states and countries have poor outcomes on many health measures, including violence, infant mortality, obesity and diabetes, mental illness, and more. In Chapter 3 we learned that inequality leads people to take greater risks, and uncertain futures lead people to take an impulsive, live fast, die young approach to life. There are clear connections between the temptation to enjoy immediate pleasures versus denying oneself for the benefit of long-term health. We saw, for example, that inequality was linked to risky behaviors. In places with extreme inequality, people are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, more likely to have unsafe sex, and so on. Other research suggests that living in a high-inequality state increases people’s likelihood of smoking, eating too much, and exercising too little.

Taken together, this evidence implies that inequality leads to illness and shorter lives in part because it gives rise to unhealthy behaviors. That conclusion has been very controversial, especially on the political left. Some argue that it blames the victim because it implies that the poor and those who live in high-inequality areas are partly responsible for their fates by making bad choices. But I don’t think it’s assigning blame to point out the obvious fact that health is affected by smoking, drinking too much, poor diet and exercise, and so on. It becomes a matter of blaming the victim only if you assume that these behaviors are exclusively the result of the weak characters of the less fortunate. On the contrary, we have seen plenty of evidence that poverty and inequality have effects on the thinking and decision making of people living in those conditions. If you or I were thrust into such situations, we might well start behaving in more unhealthy ways, too.

The link between inequality and unhealthy behaviors helps shed light on a surprising trend discovered in a 2015 paper by economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton. Death rates have been steadily declining in the United States and throughout the economically developed world for decades, but these authors noticed a glaring exception: Since the 1990s, the death rate for middle-aged white Americans has been rising. The increase is concentrated among men and whites without a college degree. The death rate for black Americans of the same age remains higher, but is trending slowly downward, like that of all other minority groups.

The wounds in this group seem to be largely self-inflicted. They are not dying from higher rates of heart disease or cancer. They are dying of cirrhosis of the liver, suicide, and a cycle of chronic pain and overdoses of opiates and painkillers.

The trend itself is striking because it speaks to the power of subjective social comparisons. This demographic group is dying of violated expectations. Although high school– educated whites make more money on average than similarly educated blacks, the whites expect more because of their history of privilege. Widening income inequality and stagnant social mobility, Case and Deaton suggest, mean that this generation is likely to be the first in American history that is not more affluent than its parents.

Unhealthy behaviors among those who feel left behind can explain part of the link between inequality and health, but only part. The best estimates have found that such behavior accounts for about one third of the association between inequality and health. Much of the rest is a function of how the body itself responds to crises. Just as our decisions and actions prioritize short-term gains over longer-term interests when in a crisis, the body has a sophisticated mechanism that adopts the same strategy. This crisis management system is specifically designed to save you now, even if it has to shorten your life to do so.

* * *

Preventing Violence
by James Gilligan
Kindle Locations 552-706

The Social Cause of Violence

In order to understand the spread of contagious disease so that one can prevent epidemics, it is just as important to know the vector by which the pathogenic organism that causes the disease is spread throughout the population as it is to identify the pathogen itself. In the nineteenth century, for example, the water supply and the sewer system were discovered to be vectors through which some diseases became epidemic. What is the vector by which shame, the pathogen that causes violence, is spread to its hosts, the people who succumb to the illness of violence? There is a great deal of evidence, which I will summarize here, that shame is spread via the social and economic system. This happens in two ways. The first is through what we might call the “vertical” division of the population into a hierarchical ranking of upper and lower status groups, chiefly classes, castes, and age groups, but also other means by which people are divided into in-groups and out-groups, the accepted and the rejected, the powerful and the weak, the rich and the poor, the honored and the dishonored. For people are shamed on a systematic, wholesale basis, and their vulnerability to feelings of humiliation is increased when they are assigned an inferior social or economic status; and the more inferior and humble it is, the more frequent and intense the feelings of shame, and the more frequent and intense the acts of violence. The second way is by what we could call the “horizontal” asymmetry of social roles, or gender roles, to which the two sexes are assigned in patriarchal cultures, one consequence of which is that men are shamed or honored for different and in some respects opposite behavior from that which brings shame or honor to women. That is, men are shamed for not being violent enough (called cowards or even shot as deserters), and are more honored the more violent they are (with medals, promotions, titles, and estates)—violence for men is successful as a strategy. Women, however, are shamed for being too active and aggressive (called bitches or unfeminine) and honored for being passive and submissive—violence is much less likely to protect them against shame.

Relative Poverty and Unemployment

The most powerful predictor of the homicide rate in comparisons of the different nations of the world, the different states in the United States, different counties, and different cities and census tracts, is the size of the disparities in income and wealth between the rich and the poor. Some three dozen studies, at least, have found statistically significant correlations between the degree of absolute as well as relative poverty and the incidence of homicide, Hsieh and Pugh in 1993 did a meta-analysis of thirty-four such studies and found strong statistical support for these findings, as have several other reviews of this literature: two on homicide by Smith and Zahn in 1999; Chasin in 1998; Short in 1997; James in 1995; and individual studies, such as Braithwaite in 1979 and Messner in 1980.

On a worldwide basis, the nations with the highest inequities in wealth and income, such as many Third World countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, have the highest homicide rates (and also the most collective or political violence). Among the developed nations, the United States has the highest inequities in wealth and income, and also has by far the highest homicide rates, five to ten times larger than the other First World nations, all of which have the lowest levels of inequity and relative poverty in the world, and the lowest homicide rates. Sweden and Japan, for example, have had the lowest degree of inequity in the world in recent years, according to the World Bank’s measures; but in fact, all the other countries of western Europe, including Ireland and the United Kingdom, as well as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, have a much more equal sharing of their collective wealth and income than either the United States or virtually any of the Second or Third World countries, as well as the lowest murder rates.

Those are cross-sectional studies, which analyze the populations being studied at one point in time. Longitudinal studies find the same result: violence rates climb and fall over time as the disparity in income rises and decreases, both in the less violent and the more violent nations. For example, in England and Wales, as Figures 1 and 2 show, there was an almost perfect fit between the rise in several different measures of the size of the gap between the rich and the poor, and the number of serious crimes recorded by the police between 1950 and 1990. Figure 1 shows two measures of the gradual widening of income differences, which accelerated dramatically from 1984 and 1985. Figure 2 shows the increasing percentage of households and families living in relative poverty, a rate that has been particularly rapid since the late 1970s, and also the number of notifiable offences recorded by the police during the same years. As you can see, the increase in crime rates follows the increase in rates of relative poverty almost perfectly. As both inequality and crime accelerated their growth rates simultaneously, the annual increases in crime from one year to the next became larger than the total crime rate had been in the early 1950s. If we examine the rates for murder alone during the same period, as reported by the Home Office, we find the same pattern, namely a progression from a murder rate that averaged 0.6 per 100,000 between 1946 and 1970, increased to 0.9 from 1971–78, and increased yet again to an average of 1.1 between 1979 and 1997 (with a range of 1.0 to 1.3) To put it another way, 1.2 and 1.3, the five highest levels since the end of World War II, were recorded in 1987, 1991, 1994, 1995 and 1997, ail twice as high as the 1946–70 average.

The same correlation between violence and relative poverty has been found in the United States. The economist James Galbraith in Created Unequal (1997) has used inequity in wages as one measure of the size and history of income inequity between the rich and the poor from 1920 to 1992. If we correlate this with fluctuations in the American homicide rate during the same period, we find that both wage inequity and the homicide rate increased sharply in the slump of 1920–21, and remained at those historically high levels until the Great Crash of 1929, when they both jumped again, literally doubling together and suddenly, to the highest levels ever observed up to that time. These record levels of economic inequality (which increase, as Galbraith shows, when unemployment increases) were accompanied by epidemic violence; both murder rates and wage inequity remained twice as high as they had previously been, until the economic leveling effects of Roosevelt’s New Deal, beginning in 1933, and the Second World War a few years later, combined to bring both violence and wage inequity down by the end of the war to the same low levels as at the end of the First World War, and they both remained at those low levels for the next quarter of a century, from roughly 1944 to 1968.

That was the modern turning point. In 1968 the median wage began falling, after having risen steadily for the previous three decades, and “beginning in 1969 inequality started to rise, and continued to increase sharply for fifteen years,” (J. K. Galbraith). The homicide rate soon reached levels twice as high as they had been during the previous quarter of a century (1942–66). Both wage inequality and homicide rates remained at those relatively high levels for the next quarter of a century, from 1973 to 1997. That is, the murder rate averaged 5 per 100,000 population from 1942 to 1966, and 10 per 100,000 from 1970 to 1997. Finally, by 1998 unemployment dropped to the lowest level since 1970; both the minimum wage and the median wage began increasing again in real terms for the first time in thirty years; and the poverty rate began dropping. Not surprisingly, the homicide rate also fell, for the first time in nearly thirty years, below the range in which it had been fluctuating since 1970–71 (though both rates, of murder and of economic inequality, are still higher than they were from the early 1940s to the mid-1960s).

As mentioned before, unemployment rates are also relevant to rates of violence. M. H. Brenner found that every one per cent rise in the unemployment rate is followed within a year by a 6 per cent rise in the homicide rate, together with similar increases in the rates of suicide, imprisonment, mental hospitalization, infant mortality, and deaths from natural causes such as heart attacks and strokes (Mental Illness and the Economy, 1973, and uPersonal Stability and Economic Security,” 1977). Theodore Chiricos reviewed sixty-three American studies and concluded that while the relationship between unemployment and crime may have been inconsistent during the 1960s (some studies found a relationship, some did not), it became overwhelmingly positive in the 1970s, as unemployment changed from a brief interval between jobs to enduring worklessness (“Rates of Crime and Unemployment,” 1987). David Dickinson found an exceptionally close relationship between rates of burglary and unemployment for men under twenty-five in the U.K. in the 1980s and 1990s (“Crime and Unemployment,” 1993). Bernstein and Houston have also found statistically significant correlations between unemployment and crime rates, and negative correlations between wages and crime rates, in the U.S. between 1989 and 1998 (Crime and Work, 2000).

If we compare Galbraith’s data with U.S. homicide statistics, we find that the U.S. unemployment rate has moved in the same direction as the homicide rate from 1920 to 1992: increasing sharply in 1920–21, then jumping to even higher levels from the Crash of 1929 until Roosevelt’s reforms began in 1933, at which point the rates of both unemployment and homicide also began to fall, a trend that accelerated further with the advent of the war. Both rates then remained low (with brief fluctuations) until 1968, when they began a steady rise which kept them both at levels higher than they had been in any postwar period, until the last half of 1997, when unemployment fell below that range and has continued to decline ever since, followed closely by the murder rate.

Why do economic inequality and unemployment both stimulate violence? Ultimately, because both increase feelings of shame (Gilligan, Violence). For example, we speak of the poor as the lower classes, who have lower social and economic status, and the rich as the upper classes who have higher status. But the Latin for lower is inferior, and the word for the lower classes in Roman law was the humiliores. Even in English, the poor are sometimes referred to as the humbler classes. Our language itself tells us that to be poor is to be humiliated and inferior, which makes it more difficult not to feel inferior. The word for upper or higher was superior, which is related to the word for pride, superbia (the opposite of shame), also the root of our word superb (another antonym of inferior). And a word for the upper classes, in Roman law, was the honestiores (related to the word honor, also the opposite of shame and dishonor).

Inferiority and superiority are relative concepts, which is why it is relative poverty, not absolute poverty, that exposes people to feelings of inferiority. When everyone is on the same level, there is no shame in being poor, for in those circumstances the very concept of poverty loses its meaning. Shame is also a function of the gap between one’s level of aspiration and one’s level of achievement. In a society with extremely rigid caste or class hierarchies, it may not feel so shameful to be poor, since it is a matter of bad luck rather than of any personal failing. Under those conditions, lower social status may be more likely to motivate apathy, fatalism, and passivity (or “passive aggressiveness”), and to inhibit ambition and the need for achievement, as Gunnar Myrdal noted in many of the caste-ridden peasant cultures that he studied in Asian Drama (1968). Caste-ridden cultures, however, may have the potential to erupt into violence on a revolutionary or even genocidal scale, once they reject the notion that the caste or class one is born into is immutable, and replace it with the notion that one has only oneself to blame if one remains poor while others are rich. This we have seen repeatedly in the political and revolutionary violence that has characterized the history of Indonesia, Kampuchea, India, Ceylon, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and many other areas throughout Asia during the past half-century.

All of which is another way of saying that one of the costs people pay for the benefits associated with belief in the “American Dream,” the myth of equal opportunity, is an increased potential for violence. In fact, the social and economic system of the United States combines almost every characteristic that maximizes shame and hence violence. First, there is the “Horatio Alger” myth that everyone can get rich if they are smart and work hard (which means that if they are not rich they must be stupid or lazy, or both). Second, we are not only told that we can get rich, we are also stimulated to want to get rich. For the whole economic system of mass production depends on whetting people’s appetites to consume the flood of goods that are being produced (hence the flood of advertisements). Third, the social and economic reality is the opposite of the Horatio Alger myth, since social mobility is actually less likely in the U.S. than in the supposedly more rigid social structures of Europe and the U.K. As Mishel, Bernstein and Schmitt have noted:

Contrary to widely held perceptions, the U.S. offers less economic mobility than other rich countries. In one study, for example, low-wage workers in the U.S. were more likely to remain in the low-wage labor market five years longer than workers in Germany, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden (all the other countries studied in this analysis). In another study, poor households in the U.S. were less likely to leave poverty from one year to the next than were poor households in Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom (all the countries included in this second analysis).
(The State of Working America 2000–2001, 2001)

Fourth, as they also mention, “the U.S. has the most unequal income distribution and the highest poverty rates among all the advanced economies in the world. The U.S. tax and benefit system is also one of the least effective in reducing poverty.” The net effect of all these features of U.S. society is to maximize the gap between aspiration and attainment, which maximizes the frequency and intensity of feelings of shame, which maximizes the rates of violent crimes.

It is difficult not to feel inferior if one is poor when others are rich, especially in a society that equates self-worth with net worth; and it is difficult not to feel rejected and worthless if one cannot get or hold a job while others continue to be employed. Of course, most people who lose jobs or income do not commit murders as a result; but there are always some men who are just barely maintaining their self-esteem at minimally tolerable levels even when they do have jobs and incomes. And when large numbers of them lose those sources of self-esteem, the number who explode into homicidal rage increases as measurably, regularly, and predictably as any epidemic does when the balance between pathogenic forces and the immune system is altered.

And those are not just statistics. I have seen many individual men who have responded in exactly that way under exactly these circumstances. For example, one African-American man was sent to the prison mental hospital I directed in order to have a psychiatric evaluation before his murder trial. A few months before that, he had had a good job. Then he was laid off at work, but he was so ashamed of this that he concealed the fact from his wife (who was a schoolteacher) and their children, going off as if to work every morning and returning at the usual time every night. Finally, after two or three months of this, his wife noticed that he was not bringing in any money. He had to admit the truth, and then his wife fatally said, “What kind of man are you? What kind of man would behave this way?” To prove that he was a man, and to undo the feeling of emasculation, he took out his gun and shot his wife and children. (Keeping a gun is, of course, also a way that some people reassure themselves that they are really men.) What I was struck by, in addition to the tragedy of the whole story, was the intensity of the shame he felt over being unemployed, which led him to go to such lengths to conceal what had happened to him.

Caste Stratification

Caste stratification also stimulates violence, for the same reasons. The United States, perhaps even more than the other Western democracies, has a caste system that is just as real as that of India, except that it is based on skin color and ethnicity more than on hereditary occupation. The fact that it is a caste system similar to India’s is registered by the fact that in my home city, Boston, members of the highest caste are called “Bsoston Brahmins” (a.k.a. “WASPs,” or White Anglo-Saxon Protestants). The lowest rung on the caste ladder, corresponding to the “untouchables” or Harijan, of India, is occupied by African-Americans, Native Americans, and some Hispanic-Americans. To be lower caste is to be rejected, socially and vocationally, by the upper castes, and regarded and treated as inferior. For example, whites often move out of neighborhoods when blacks move in; blacks are “the last to be hired and the first to be fired,” so that their unemployment rate has remained twice as high as the white rate ever since it began being measured; black citizens are arrested and publicly humiliated under circumstances in which no white citizen would be; respectable white authors continue to write books and articles claiming that blacks are intellectually inferior to whites; and so on and on, ad infinitum. It is not surprising that the constant shaming and attributions of inferiority to which the lower caste groups are subjected would cause members of those groups to feel shamed, insulted, disrespected, disdained, and treated as inferior—because they have been, and because many of their greatest writers and leaders have told us that this is how they feel they have been treated by whites. Nor is it surprising that this in turn would give rise to feelings of resentment if not rage, nor that the most vulnerable, those who lacked any non-violent means of restoring their sense of personal dignity, such as educational achievements, success, and social status, might well see violence as the only way of expressing those feelings. And since one of the major disadvantages of lower-caste status is lack of equal access to educational and vocational opportunities, it is not surprising that the rates of homicide and other violent crimes among all the lower-caste groups mentioned are many times higher, year after year, than those of the upper-caste groups.

Kindle Locations 1218-1256

Single-Parent Families Another factor that correlates with rates of violence in the United States is the rate of single-parent families: children raised in them are more likely to be abused, and are more likely to become delinquent and criminal as they grow older, than are children who are raised by two parents. For example, over the past three decades those two variables—the rates of violent crime and of one-parent families—have increased in tandem with each other; the correlation is very close. For some theorists, this has suggested that the enormous increase in the rate of youth violence in the U.S. over the past few decades has been caused by the proportionately similar increase in the rate of single-parent families.

As a parent myself, I would be the first to agree that child-rearing is such a complex and demanding task that parents need all the help they can get, and certainly having two caring and responsible parents available has many advantages over having only one. In addition, children, especially boys, can be shown to benefit in many ways, including diminished risk of delinquency and violent criminality, from having a positive male role-model in the household. The adult who is most often missing in single-parent families is the father. Some criminologists have noticed that Japan, for example, has practically no single-parent families, and its murder rate is only about one-tenth as high as that of the United States.

Sweden’s rate of one-parent families, however, has grown almost to equal that in the United States, and over the same period (the past few decades), yet Sweden’s homicide rate has also been on average only about one-tenth as high as that of the U.S., during that same time. To understand these differences, we should consider another variable, namely, the size of the gap between the rich and the poor. As stated earlier, Sweden and Japan both have among the lowest degrees of economic inequity in the world, whereas the U.S. has the highest polarization of both wealth and income of any industrialized nation. And these differences exist even when comparing different family structures. For example, as Timothy M. Smeeding has shown, the rate of relative poverty is very much lower among single-parent families in Sweden than it is among those in the U.S. Even more astonishing, however, is the fact that the rate of relative poverty among single-parent families in Sweden is much lower than it is among two-parent families in the United States (“Financial Poverty in Developed Countries,” 1997). Thus, it would seem that however much family structure may influence the rate of violence in a society, the overall social and economic structure of the society—the degree to which it is or is not stratified into highly polarized upper and lower social classes and castes—is a much more powerful determinant of the level of violence.

There are other differences between the cultures of Sweden and the U.S. that may also contribute to the differences in the correlation between single-parenthood and violent crime. The United States, with its strongly Puritanical and Calvinist cultural heritage, is much more intolerant of both economic dependency and out-of-wedlock sex than Sweden. Thus, the main form of welfare support for single-parent families in the U.S. (until it was ended a year ago) A.F.D.C., Aid to Families with Dependent Children, was specifically denied to families in which the father (or any other man) was living with the mother; indeed, government agents have been known to raid the homes of single mothers with no warning in the middle of the night in order to “catch” them in bed with a man, so that they could then deprive them (and their children) of their welfare benefits. This practice, promulgated by politicians who claimed that they were supporting what they called “family values,” of course had the effect of destroying whatever family life did exist. Fortunately for single mothers in Sweden, the whole society is much more tolerant of people’s right to organize their sexual life as they wish, and as a result many more single mothers are in fact able to raise their children with the help of a man.

Another difference between Sweden and the U.S. is that fewer single mothers in Sweden are actually dependent on welfare than is true in the U.S. The main reason for this is that mothers in Sweden receive much more help from the government in getting an education, including vocational training; more help in finding a job; and access to high-quality free childcare, so that mothers can work without leaving their children uncared for. The U.S. system, which claims to be based on opposition to dependency, thus fosters more welfare dependency among single mothers than Sweden’s does, largely because it is so more miserly and punitive with the “welfare” it does provide. Even more tragically, however, it also fosters much more violence. It is not single motherhood as such that causes the extremely high levels of violence in the United States, then; it is the intense degree of shaming to which single mothers and their children are exposed by the punitive, miserly, Puritanical elements that still constitute a powerful strain in the culture of the United States.

Kindle Locations 1310-1338

Social and Political Democracy Since the end of the Second World War, the homicide rates of the nations of western Europe, and Japan, for example, have been only about a tenth as high as those of the United States, which is another way of saying that they have been preventing 90 per cent of the violence that the U.S. still experiences. Their rates of homicide were not lower than those in the U.S. before. On the contrary, Europe and Asia were scenes of the largest numbers of homicides ever recorded in the history of the world, both in terms of absolute numbers killed and in the death rates per 100,000 population, in the “thirty years’ war” that lasted from 1914 to 1945. Wars, and governments, have always caused far more homicides than all the individual murderers put together (Richardson, Statistics of Deadly Quarrels, 1960; Keeley, War Before Civilization, 1996.) After that war ended, however, they all took two steps which have been empirically demonstrated throughout the world to prevent violence. They instituted social democracy (or “welfare states,” as they are sometimes called), and achieved an unprecedented decrease in the inequities in wealth and income between the richest and poorest groups in the population, one effect of which is to reduce the frequency of interpersonal or “criminal” violence. And Germany, Japan and Italy adopted political democracy as well, the effect of which is to reduce the frequency of international violence, or warfare (including “war crimes”).

While the United States adopted political democracy at its inception, it is the only developed nation on earth that has never adopted social democracy (a “welfare state”). The United States alone among the developed nations does not provide universal health insurance for all its citizens; it has the highest rate of relative poverty among both children and adults, and the largest gap between the rich and the poor, of any of the major economies; vastly less adequate levels of unemployment insurance and other components of shared responsibility for human welfare; and so on. Thus, it is not surprising that it also has murder rates that have been five to ten times as high as those of any other developed nation, year after year. It is also consistent with that analysis that the murder rate finally fell below the epidemic range in which it had fluctuated without exception for the previous thirty years (namely, 8 to II homicides per 100,000 population per year), only in 1998, after the unemployment rate reached its lowest level in thirty years and the rate of poverty among the demographic groups most vulnerable to violence began to diminish—slightly—for the first time in thirty years.

Some American politicians, such as President Eisenhower, have suggested that the nations of western Europe have merely substituted a high suicide rate for the high homicide rate that the U.S. has. In fact, the suicide rates in most of the other developed nations are also substantially lower than those of the United States, or at worst not substantially higher. The suicide rates throughout the British Isles, the Netherlands, and the southern European nations are around one-third lower than those of the U.S.; the rates in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as Norway and Luxembourg, are about the same. Only the remaining northern and central European countries and Japan have suicide rates that are higher, ranging from 30 per cent higher to roughly twice as high as the suicide rate of the U.S. By comparison, the U.S. homicide rate is roughly ten times as high as those of western Europe (including the U.K., Scandinavia, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria), southern Europe, and Japan; and five times as high as those of Canada, Australia and New Zealand. No other developed nation has a homicide rate that is even close to that of the U.S.

Violence: Categories & Data, Causes & Demographics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Daniel Lathrop and Anna Flagg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ultimately, though, the results depend on your methodology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mass Shooters Aren’t Disproportionately White
by Daniel Engber

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

MASS SHOOTERS HAVE A GENDER AND A RACE
by Tiffany Xie

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

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

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

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

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

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

White on White Crime: An Unspoken Tragedy
by Kerry Coddett

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

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

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

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

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

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

How common are African-American mass shooters?
by TheGrio

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

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

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

Hunting Serial Predators
by Grover Maurice Godwin

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

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

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

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

Via LAWSONRY News And Analysis reports:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Josiah Hesse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

The Moral Arc
by Michael Shermer
Kindle Locations 6724-6737

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

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

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

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

Regional distribution of lead in human brains
by Philippe Grandjean

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

Environmental Policy As Social Policy?
by Jessica Wolpaw Reyes

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

The decline in crime among black youths
by Max Brantley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children, Brain Damage and Lead
from The Franklin Institute

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

Violent Behavior: A Solution in Plain Sight
by Sylvia Onusic

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

Environmental racism
from Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

Worse Than Slavery
by David M. Oshinsky

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

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

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

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

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

The Many Colors of Crime
by John Hagan

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

Punishing Race: A Continuing American Dilemma
by Michael Tonry

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race to Incarcerate
by Marc Mauer

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

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

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

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

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

The Culture of Punishment
by Michelle Brown

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

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

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

American Homicide
by Randolph Roth

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

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

The Anatomy of Racial Inequality
by Glenn C. Loury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority
by Tom Burrell

What Is Intelligence?
by James R. Flynn

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

The Myth of Inteligence
by Patrick Winn

State and Non-State Violence Compared

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Collapse Of Jared Diamond
by Louis Proyect, Swans Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compassion Sets Humans Apart
by Penny Spikins, Sapiens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is where double standards enter the picture.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Violent Narcissism of Small Differences

“As a kid, I saw the 1968 version of Planet of the Apes. As a future primatologist, I was mesmerized. Years later I discovered an anecdote about its filming: At lunchtime, the people playing chimps and those playing gorillas ate in separate groups.”
~ Robert Sapolsky

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

* For additional insight, there is more recent analysis of the Robbers Cave experiment. It is The Lost Boys: Inside Muzafer Sherif’s Robbers Cave Experiment by Gina Perry. Along with a book excerpt at The Guardian, David Shariatmadari has a book review of it, A real-life Lord of the Flies: the troubling legacy of the Robbers Cave experiment.

It isn’t only that the researchers were partly, albeit questionably, successful in creating perceived differences but that it took a second attempt in highly manipulating the boys to finally get them to see the others as ‘other’. The moral of the story is it can require immense effort to creative divisiveness and conflict because, without intervening factors such as severe external stressors, humans naturally seek to bond with one another. Separate identities based on social categories often don’t emerge organically but typically have to be enforced upon a population by those with power, authority, and influence.

As Shariatmdari wrote:

The robustness of the boy’s “civilised” values came as a blow to Sherif, making him angry enough to want to punch one of his young academic helpers. It turned out that the strong bonds forged at the beginning of the camp weren’t easily broken. Thankfully, he never did start the forest fire – he aborted the experiment when he realised it wasn’t going to support his hypothesis. […]

If Middle Grove and Robbers Cave aren’t scientifically rigorous, does that mean they’re of no value? Perry doesn’t think so. “There was a kind of breadth of vision about Robbers Cave that is very much missing in that tightly controlled laboratory deception of something like Milgram. He was trying to tackle big issues.”

And, from today’s perspective, perhaps there is some reassurance to be gleaned from boys’ behaviour at Middle Grove. Despite attempts to influence them that a Russian troll farm would be proud of, they remained independent-minded and did what they thought was best.

“I do think it is a kind of optimistic view,” says Perry. “It makes you smile, doesn’t it? The fact that they mutinied against these guys, really, and refused to be drawn into it.”

* * *

Why Your Brain Hates Other People
by Robert Sapolsky, Nautilis

We all have multiple dichotomies in our heads, and ones that seem inevitable and crucial can, under the right circumstances, evaporate in an instant.

Lessening the Impact of Us/Them-ing

So how can we make these dichotomies evaporate? Some thoughts:

Contact: The consequences of growing up amid diversity just discussed bring us to the effects of prolonged contact on Us/Theming. In the 1950s the psychologist Gordon Allport proposed “contact theory.” Inaccurate version: bring Us-es and Thems together (say, teenagers from two hostile nations in a summer camp), animosities disappear, similarities start to outweigh differences, everyone becomes an Us. More accurate version: put Us and Thems together under narrow circumstances and something sort of resembling that happens, but you can also blow it and worsen things.

Some of the effective narrower circumstances: each side has roughly equal numbers; everyone’s treated equally and unambiguously; contact is lengthy and on neutral territory; there are “superordinate” goals where everyone works together on a meaningful task (say, summer campers turning a meadow into a soccer field).

Even then, effects are typically limited—Us-es and Thems quickly lose touch, changes are transient and often specific—“I hate those Thems, but I know one from last summer who’s actually a good guy.” Where contact really causes fundamental change is when it is prolonged. Then we’re making progress.

Approaching the implicit: If you want to lessen an implicit Us/Them response, one good way is priming beforehand with a counter-stereotype (e.g., a reminder of a beloved celebrity Them). Another approach is making the implicit explicit—show people their implicit biases. Another is a powerful cognitive tool—perspective taking. Pretend you’re a Them and explain your grievances. How would you feel? Would your feet hurt after walking a mile in their shoes?

Replace essentialism with individuation: In one study, white subjects were asked about their acceptance of racial inequalities. Half were first primed toward essentialist thinking, being told, “Scientists pinpoint the genetic underpinnings of race.” Half heard an anti-essentialist prime—“Scientists reveal that race has no genetic basis.” The latter made subjects less accepting of inequalities.

Flatten hierarchies: Steep ones sharpen Us/Them differences, as those on top justify their status by denigrating the have-nots, while the latter view the ruling class as low warmth/high competence. For example, the cultural trope that the poor are more carefree, in touch with and able to enjoy life’s simple pleasures while the rich are unhappy, stressed, and burdened with responsibility (think of miserable Scrooge and those happy-go-lucky Cratchits). Likewise with the “they’re poor but loving” myth of framing the poor as high warmth/low competence. In one study of 37 countries, the greater the income inequality, the more the wealthy held such attitudes.

Some Conclusions

From massive barbarity to pinpricks of microaggression, Us versus Them has produced oceans of pain. Yet, I don’t think our goal should be to “cure” us of all Us/Them dichotomizing (separate of it being impossible, unless you have no amygdala).

I’m fairly solitary—I’ve spent a lot of my life living alone in a tent in Africa, studying another species. Yet some of my most exquisitely happy moments have come from feeling like an Us, feeling accepted, safe, and not alone, feeling part of something large and enveloping, with a sense of being on the right side and doing both well and good. There are even Us/Thems that I—eggheady, meek, and amorphously pacifistic—would kill or die for.

If we accept that there will always be sides, it’s challenging to always be on the side of angels. Distrust essentialism. Remember that supposed rationality is often just rationalization, playing catch-up with subterranean forces we never suspect. Focus on shared goals. Practice perspective taking. Individuate, individuate, individuate. And recall how often, historically, the truly malignant Thems hid themselves while making third parties the fall guy.

Meanwhile, give the right-of-way to people driving cars with the “Mean people suck” bumper sticker, and remind everyone that we’re in this together against Lord Voldemort and House Slytherin.

 

Percentages of Suffering and Death

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slow Violence
by Rob Nixon, The Chronicle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Minorities, Less Crime

The conservative obsession with the ‘other’ always amazes me. It seems to be endless.

The same fears and arguments are repeated for generations, even as the ‘other’ changes over time. The specific population in question is mostly irrelevant, just as long as they are perceived as somehow foreign or different. In the present, those on the political right obsess about Blacks, Hispanics, and Muslims (sometimes Asians get attention, especially on the West Coast). But in the past, the same obsessiveness was often directed elsewhere: poor whites, Southern whites migrating to Northern cities, unassimilated ethnics (Scots-Irish, Italians, Germans, Irish, etc), various religious minorities (Catholics, Jews, Quakers, Mormons, Pietists, etc), and on and on.

Even as such people obsess over those others, they typically claim to not be racist and prejudiced. It just so happens that they have disproportionate interest in those people different from them immigrating from another country or moving from another city, state, or wherever. And, of course, they just so happen to like to look at the data on crime, education, IQ… any and all data, as long as it is cherrypicked and put into the proper culture war narrative and dog whistle rhetoric.

Unsurprisingly, the conclusion is always that those others are somehow a threat to the social fabric, to our way of life, and to our children. This kind of conclusion is always there in the background, even when only implied by the framing of public discussion. But outwardly, these conservatives are simply concerned in a respectable manner. They aren’t bigots, after all. Just interested and concerned.

It is a complete random situation that they so happen to focus on some data while ignoring other data, interpret the data in one way while ignoring the larger context. They are curious about the data, that is all.

Having a straight discussion is near impossible. What these people actually believe is rarely stated. They know their beliefs are politically incorrect and so they’ve learned to hide them. They may even have learned to deceive themselves. I suspect many of them genuinely believe they aren’t biased or prejudiced in any way, even as it is obvious that they are. Only bad people are bigots and they know they aren’t bad people — therefore, how could they be bigots? Many of them have internalized political correct rhetoric because that is what they were told to do. Almost everyone wants to be thought of as a good person, according to the prevailing social norms.

The problem is that, whether or not they are good people, some of what they promote is clearly not good. It’s also often not rational, sometimes even outright absurd. But interestingly, those on the political left rarely make the equivalent argument in the opposite direction. As conservatives argue that more racial and religious minorities leads to increased problems, liberals rarely argue that more racial and religious minorities leads to decreased problems. This is because liberals simply don’t make those kinds of arguments, not typically, as they tend to see this kind of focus as irrelevant and unhelpful.

Whatever the reason, this creates an imbalance. Maybe the political left should make equally strong counter-arguments, even if absurd, just for the sake of evening out the extremism on the other end. That way, the perceived ‘middle’ of mainstream public debate wouldn’t be shifted so far right.

In recent decades, there has been a steady increase in the total number and per capita of foreign-b0rns, racial/ethnic minorities, religious minorities, religious nones, and other similar demographics. Over the same time period, many of the problems conservatives focus on have been improving. Crime, violence, and drug use has decreased among the population in general, across the country, even among minorities and especially among the young. Average IQ has increased for the general population and nearly all demographics, and the racial IQ gap has shrunk. College attendance has grown. Teen sex, STDs, and abortions are down. These days, teens in general are so well behaved as to be boring prudes, just as conservatives claim they’re supposed to be.

These seemingly positive trends have been happening across the country. And, in many cases, it’s even going on across the world. Some consider this to be a Moral Flynn Effect, lending much evidence against racism, racialism and race realism. The same trends are seen in most cities, at least some of it related to environmental regulations that have decreased lead toxicity.

I hear conservatives in the town I live in. They have reasons to complain, as it is a liberal town. But if they don’t like this liberal town, they can’t blame it on the blacks, from Chicago or elsewhere.

Yes, there has been an increase in the minority population, including but not limited to blacks. The University of Iowa has also increasingly attracted a foreign-born population. The town is growing in diversity, which is magnified in the local public schools with minority students increasing from 29% to 36% over the past decade. That is probably at least in part having to do with white flight, as many white families have moved out to the bedroom communities in nearby small towns. Still, it is true that within the entire county the minority population has been continuously growing, even if not any drastic jump at any given point in time.

But none of this fits into the conservative narrative. While the racial and religious minority population has been growing (i.e., the WASP population shrinking), specifically within the city itself, the violent crime rate has been steadily dropping like a rock. If we were forced to make an argument based on this data, we’d have to conclude that whites were causing the higher crime rate in the past and now minorities are bringing moral order back, saving the whites from themselves.

So, why does no one make this argument? Not even many liberals here in town and around the country would think of such an argument, much less take it seriously and speak it out loud. You won’t see this argument made in liberal news media or by liberal politicians. Yet conservatives will make the opposite argument all the time, no matter what the data does or does not show. Why is that? Why is there this imbalance in public debate where conservatives can make the most extreme nonsense arguments while liberals try to be rational and moderate? I can tell you this much. Rational and moderate does not consistently win debates, elections, or public opinion.

Some conservatives might point to Chicago. There has been a recent uptick in crime, even if it still is lower than it used to be. Ignoring the larger trend, that uptick doesn’t support the conservative worldview. What people in towns like this near Chicago have been complaining about is that all those blacks are leaving Chicago to come here, ruining our good cities. Yet as they leave Chicago to come here, crime there in Chicago went up and the crime in many of the cities where the blacks moved to has gone down.

Why doesn’t anyone point this out? It’s not hard to see, just by looking at the data. People are constantly looking for causation in correlation. Why does this particular correlation get ignored? Anyway, in terms of per capita, much of rural America is far more dangerous to your life than Chicago. Few people talk about the crime wave of poor rural white people and how that crime is trickling into the cities, such as all that meth that gets made out in rural America. Data shows that most drugs (both in total numbers and per capita) are used, carried, and sold by white people. Why has the War On Drugs targeted mostly minorities? Why don’t we have a War On Whites, as we presently have a War On Minorities?

If conservatives genuinely cared about any of these issues, why don’t they focus on all the data that would help us deal with the real problems we are facing? And if liberals cared as well, why won’t they hit conservatives with the best arguments available? Why are the culture war debates so one-sided? It seems like few Americans on either side want to deal with any of this, as it touches too many raw nerves. I can’t blame it all on conservatives. In this liberal town, it was the local liberal media that has been shown to have a strong racial bias and it is the local police force that has one of the largest racial disparities in drug arrests in the country.

Obviously, liberals are part of the problem, sometimes in a more direct way but often through apathy and complicity. It makes one wonder that the reason liberals don’t argue strongly back against conservatives is because many of them on some level agree with the conservative claims, even if they wouldn’t admit it or maybe aren’t even conscious of it. Conservatives will stop making these worthless arguments when liberals finally get the moral courage to stop being part of the problem.