Browsing the archives for the Social Issues category.


Impulse and Ideology

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conservatism, firearms, Religion, Social Issues, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

Some guy at MSNBC argues that it makes “little sense” to call Jerad and Amanda Miller, the Las Vegas shooters, “right-wing extremists.”

He said right-wing extremists typically focus their anger on federal authorities, not local law enforcement officers like these.

“They weren’t the ATF, they weren’t the FBI. They couldn’t be seen as the representatives of a repressive government,” Levin told NBC News. “There are some militia group members who believe that the only valid authority is at the county sheriff level. In fact, many right-wing extremists love the police. They feel kinship to local law enforcement.”

So we’re just supposed to ignore the white supremacist literature, the shooters’ attempt to join the crew at the Bundy ranch and the “don’t tread on me” flag.

I wrote in my first post about the Las Vegas shooting that I doubted the shooters were working with the Bundy crew, who have decided only the federal government is evil. But the remarks at MSNBC reflect a basic misunderstanding of the connection between ideology/belief, whether political or religious, and violence.

This is something I spend a lot of time on in My Book, Rethinking Religion: Finding a Place for Religion in a Modern, Tolerant, Progressive, Peaceful and Science-affirming World, because I think understanding this connection and how it functions is critical to dealing not only with our ongoing domestic violence problem but also with understanding religious violence around the world.

My thinking on this issue is very much influenced by Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind. Very simply, Haidt makes a strong argument that our moral choices — including the choice to be violent — and our political and religious beliefs are rooted deeply in the subconscious. We are born pre-wired to interface with the world in particular ways, and this pre-wiring disposes us to leaning left or right, say, or determines whether we are likely to be dogmatists or open-minded. And, of course, the way we perceive, interpret and experience ourselves and the world also is very much influenced by cultural and other conditioning.

As we meander through our lives and bump into myriad phenomena, including religious and political beliefs and moral issues, all of this pre-wiring and conditioning and whatnot clanking around in our psyches churns up emotional responses. These include feelings of comfort and discomfort. We naturally want to affirm those things that make us feel good while denouncing the stuff that frightens or disgusts us. We then call on our rational minds to craft a narrative that justifies our feelings. These narratives are merged into our primary narrative, or personal myth, which is the ongoing story we tell ourselves about who we are and what the events in our lives might mean.

Another factor is what Buddhists call “mental formations,” or our states of mind, which can become habitual. This (in part) refers to the way some people tend to easily become defensive and critical, while others in the same situations are understanding and accepting. This also speaks to our basic orientation toward the world and whether we feel integrated with it or estranged from it.

By the time we are adults this wiring/conditioning “stuff” has become extremely complicated, and I doubt any two human beings who ever lived have identical inner stuff. But it’s important to understand that, ultimately, we are drawn to our beliefs and ideologies because of the stuff, not because it appeals to our rational mind. For this reason, what an ideology or political position represents to an individual on a subconscious or even metaphorical level is more critical than intellectual consistency.

This is what the guy on MSNBC doesn’t get. From their own words and actions, it’s obvious that right-wing anti-government rhetoric and the Bundy ranch drama resonated deeply with Jerad and Amanda Miller and represented something enormously significant to them, even if how they understood the “movement” differed in some particulars from most of the rest of the Bundyites.

More crudely, they wanted to kill police because they wanted to kill police, and in their minds the militia anti-government movement gave them permission, and even made killing police a righteous and praiseworthy act. They weren’t being logical, no. But does anyone seriously think the crew in the desert pretending to be at war with the federal government got there because of logic?

This is why the “he did it because of mental illness” excuse for Elliot Rodger didn’t fly for me. Crazy is a continuum, and we’re all on that continuum. None of us are entirely rational. Everyone feels a violent impulse now and then. But except for those who are demonstrably psychotic, we are capable of choosing to not act on those impulses. And Rodger was not psychotic. His writing was ordered and organized, even if the ideas he expressed were outrageous. This means he was rational enough to choose to not do what he did, as were the Millers. They all knew perfectly well they were breaking laws. Had they lived, it’s enormously unlikely they would have gotten off on an insanity plea.

But what Rodger and the Millers had in common was that they had seduced themselves into believing that their impulses were righteous and justified. And this is where public rhetoric and hate-group subcultures really do get people killed. Within the misnamed “men’s rights” subculture, talk of violating and killing women meets with social approval. Women as a class are perceived as evil and dangerous; violence against women is therefore justified, even heroic. Likewise, the right-wing anti-government rhetoric permeating American society can make killing government officials seem justified, even if some are a little hazy about the distinction between state and federal government officials.

I don’t think extremist right-wingers are inherently more prone to violence than extremist left-wingers. But at this moment in American history, the “extremist” Left is the fringe of the fringe, and it is absent from mass media. I’m not even sure it has much in the way of an internet presence. The applicable political spectrum here goes from a liberal/progressive Left that is well within the mainstream of American political traditions to a Right that stretches deeply into the tin-foil-hat section of the Twilight Zone.

And while you can find individuals on the Left expressing violent impulses, on the Right it’s not just individuals; it’s major media personalities and politicians serving in high-level state and federal offices. It’s coming from positions of authority, in other words.

This is why public rhetoric has consequences (see, for example, Paul Waldman, “How much does right-wing rhetoric contribute to right-wing terrorism?“). We’ve been having this conversation since Columbine, and the hate-speakers on the Right simply refuse to acknowledge any responsibility for the ongoing right-wing domestic violence. I have no solution to this impasse. I fear it will have to get worse before it can get better.

But this is why splitting hairs over whether the Millers were truly “right-wing extremists” because they killed local cops instead of federal BLM agents is stupid.

I’m seeing the same misunderstanding among western “Buddhalogists” in academia. There is a faction of western religious studies professors who are combing through Buddhist doctrines to find the “cause” of the Buddhist violence against Muslims in Burma, and some other places. And they are “finding” it by misinterpreting scriptures and even projecting meaning into scriptures that just plain isn’t there; I walked through an example of this in My Book.

The plain fact is that the violence violates everything the Buddha taught. The impulse is not coming from Buddhist teachings, but from racism and jingoism, and it’s being fueled by political expedience. “Buddhism” is not just a religion to the majority in Burma; it’s part of their ethnic and national identity. And a faction of monks has been cranking out rhetoric that justifies violence as “defending Buddhism.” So in spite of what it teaches, Buddhism has become a symbolic permission slip for violence in Burma.

And weirdly, in America, “patriotism” has become a symbolic permission slip for sedition. Looking for logical reasons for this is a fool’s errand.

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Under the Crazy Rug

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Social Issues, Women's Issues

We’re now well into the “whose fault is it, anyway” phase of our standard post-shooting process, including our usual do-si-do over gun control versus gun rights. You know how that one goes.

A wrinkle in the Isla Vista shootings is that the alleged perp, Elliot Rodger, appears to have been deeply into the online “Men’s Rights” culture, which I think of as the He-Man Women Hater’s Club. Women are “targets” or “game” to this crew, although it would be wrong to say that they speak of women the same way a duck hunter speaks of mallards. Duck hunters are not seething with resentment of mallards. Duck hunters do not imagine that mallards are ruining their lives or plotting against them out of sheer inbred evil.

So on the one hand there are articles by Katie McDonough blaming “toxic male entitlement” and one by Amanda Hess calling out online “pick up” culture.

The counter-argument is expressed in a comment to McDonough’s article:

So if society were more respectful of women this would not have happened?

Misogyny played no role in this, mental illness did. Instead of addressing that issue, that is so clear you can see it from space. You turn it into a soap box for your favourite agenda.

Basically you are saying, misogyny turned this perfectly normal kid into a killer.

Wrong, mental illness did.

The problem with the “mental illness” theory is that there’s no indication the shooter was psychotic. Maladjusted, yes. A walking catalog of personality disorders, no doubt. Badly socialized, certainly. But he was not “insane.” He didn’t believe he was being controlled by Alpha Waves from Mars. He was capable of knowing right from wrong. Had he lived, he would have been fit to stand trial.

So, to all those who would sweep any motivation for the shootings under the crazy rug — I don’t think so.

The “Men’s Rights” culture really is a toxic soup of misogyny, and as with many online cultures there’s a tendency for participants to push each other into becoming more and more extreme. If Rodger was “mentally ill” so are a lot of the other jerks who write stuff like this:

I’m trying to think of ways our enemies will come after us because of this, but if anything, we’re the solution to this sort of murder rampage. This is the society that progressives wanted, where women are fully able to choose the top 10% of alpha males while shaming masculinity, leaving beta males with modest resources in the dust. Of course they will simply push a ban on guns, but this wholly neglects the cause. Seven people died because this guy couldn’t get laid, at the same time the Federal government is pursuing kangaroo courts to kick men out of college for “rape” that doesn’t need to be proved in a court of law. How can they not see this connection?

Society gave beta males a bargain—they work hard with the expectation of a wife and family. That bargain no longer exists so we can’t be surprised when one loses his mind and starts shooting. At the very least, prostitution should be legalized as a release valve. If the killer had access to some high quality hookers for $150 a pop, it would have given him some meaning.

This is an in-group culture that encourages the sexual objectification of women while also nurturing a fanatical grievance against them. In my book I argue that the combination of “holy cause” and “fanatical grievance” is at the root of most mass violence in the world. I’m not sure about the holy cause part, but these guys have got the fanatical grievance in spades.

This is a culture that not only winks at misogyny; it’s also one that makes oppressing women seem heroic. A guy who can somehow demean women is scoring one for the team. Of course, other men, the ones who get along with women, are resented as well.

If you combine that toxic culture with someone with a personality or socialization disorder, anything is possible. And I suspect most of these guys have personality or socialization disorders, or they wouldn’t be drawn to the culture. And their online interaction sets up a feedback loop that makes them all worse. I don’t think most of them will become mass murderers, but that’s only because most of them aren’t suicidal. If they weren’t concerned about repercussions they would be very dangerous, indeed.

See also Steve M.

Update: See also Strangely Blogged.

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Because Martyrdom Feels So Good

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Social Issues

Via Ed Kilgore (“The South and the Cult of Phony Victimhood“) see Jelani Cobb, “Melissa Harris-Perry and the Contrition Complex.” Excellent stuff.

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Life Expectancy of Poorly Educated White Women Drops a Lot

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Social Issues

Apparently there has been a significant decline in life expectancy of poor white women who dropped out of high school. In the past 18 years they have lost 5 years of life expectancy. They now have a lower life expectancy than African American women who have dropped out of high school. In many ways the article is frustrating, but here’s the meat of it:

The journal Health Affairs reported the five-year drop in August. The article’s lead author, Jay Olshansky, who studies human longevity at the University of Illinois at Chicago, with a team of researchers looked at death rates for different groups from 1990 to 2008. White men without high-school diplomas had lost three years of life expectancy, but it was the decline for women like Crystal that made the study news. Previous studies had shown that the least-educated whites began dying younger in the 2000s, but only by about a year. Olshansky and his colleagues did something the other studies hadn’t: They isolated high-school dropouts and measured their outcomes instead of lumping them in with high-school graduates who did not go to college.

The last time researchers found a change of this magnitude, Russian men had lost seven years after the fall of the Soviet Union, when they began drinking more and taking on other risky behaviors. Although women generally outlive men in the U.S., such a large decline in the average age of death, from almost 79 to a little more than 73, suggests that an increasing number of women are dying in their twenties, thirties, and forties. “We actually don’t know the exact reasons why it’s happened,” Olshansky says. “I wish we did.”

One factor the article barely mentions is access to health care. That’s the first thing I wanted to know — do these women have access to health care? It’s unlikely they’ll find jobs with benefits, so are they on Medicaid? The article doesn’t say. Duh.

The “example” the article focuses on, a morbidly obese woman who died at 38 of natural causes, had been told by a doctor that she was diabetic, and she was “waiting to get medicine.” How long had she been waiting? What was the holdup? See what I mean by frustrating?

I also wanted to know if there was a difference between women in this demographic who lived in cities/suburbs and those who lived in rural areas. It’s so much easier to become really isolated if you live in rural America.

The story focuses on a family in northern Arkansas. I know the area slightly, and it’s not much different from where I grew up. The girls who get pregnant in high school drop out and spend the rest of their lives taking care of children and maybe a neglectful husband or a succession of boyfriends, and no one takes care of them. Often the family/community support that sustained their grandmothers is pretty much gone. If there is any part of our population that constitutes a canary in a coal mine, it’s them.

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The Man Problem

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firearms, Social Issues

At Salon, a fellow named Joe Scott points out that many of our domestic mass shooters begin their shooting spree by killing their mothers or another female family member — a wife, a sister. He says,

On a practical level, these female victims represent potential barriers to commission of the crime—people who could talk down the perpetrator, contact authorities, or otherwise interfere. In the mind of the killer, these women also may have posed a symbolic barrier to a conscious or subconscious self-image as the perpetually wronged party, a man with No Other Options, the prodigal avenger called to teach the world a drastic lesson.

Unfortunately, whether racking up points for piles of bodies in a videogame or assassinating terrorists with drones, to kill in the West is to win. And in order to win, on some level, regardless of biological sex, a person must purge barriers to winning by suppressing characteristics perceived as culturally feminine: softness and gentleness, submission and openness, sympathy, mercy, or hesitation.

You know: Shoot first and ask questions later. Make my day. Don’t be a pussy.

The private killing of particular women who could stand in the way of multiple public murders embodies an extreme and ultimately violent suppression of any force, internal or external, that might temper or “domesticate” the code of take-no-prisoners cowboy manliness.

The pattern doesn’t always hold true, but IMO he’s onto something. It strikes me a number of these guys still lived with their mothers or female family members, or were still dependent on them in some way, and that dominant female was the first person he shot.

Adolescent girls famously go through a Hate Mother phase that sometimes leads them to self-destructive behavior, like anorexia, running away or getting pregnant. But if they survive adolescence, they usually get over it. Too many men drag themselves through their whole lives with Mother Issues, and they usually transfer their resentments onto wives. Indeed, show me a guy who is chronically angry and abusive toward his wife and I’ll show you a guy who never worked through his issues with his mother.

Reminded me of something I wrote about ten years ago –

A few years ago, following the publication of Robert Bly’s visionary book Iron John (Addison-Wesley, 1990), there was a men’s movement. The men’s movement started out with progressive intentions but was soon taken over by various troglodytes and misogynists and flamed out. I want to go back to early men’s movement lit for a minute, though, because what it originally tried to do was a very worthwhile thing that still needs doing. It is also essential to seeing what lies beneath our current political landscape.

In Iron John, Robert Bly tried to reconnect manhood with nature and civilization — with building and creation and husbandry instead of destruction, war, and waste. Bly used fairy-tale metaphors to describe a way for males to grow into a mature manhood rather than remain stuck in the perpetual adolescence that passes for “manhood” in our culture, currently represented by “The Man Show” on cable television.

Bly’s premise (picked up from Joseph Campbell) is that in our culture boys grow up lacking contact with men. Therefore, they are uninitiated into true manhood, and beneath their bravado — often subconsciously — they are fearful and insecure. This in turn causes men to be prone to violence and fearful of intimacy. (Iron John was a revelation because a man was saying this; however, nearly any woman over the age of 40 will tell you the same thing.)

The faux masculinity celebrated by our culture equates violence with strength and power with potency. It is a rogue thing that does not honor the principles of civilization or the processes of governance. Like most John Wayne characters, or Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry, following the rules is for girls and sissies. Why bother with a justice system when you’ve got a gun?

Now, consider the meatballs who participated in the recent Gun Appreciation Day. Does that fit, or what?

What’s connecting with me today is that many of the mass shooters as well as the 2nd Amendment absolutist who equate disarmament with castration are products of the same social pathology. They are not opposites (good guys/bad guys) at all, but variations on the same theme.

What say you?

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Taking Responsibility

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Social Issues

Here’s another must read — “I Was a Welfare Mother.” Outstanding.

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We’re All Evolving

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Mittens, Social Issues

One of the most interesting things I’ve seen all weekend is that a prominent Republican pollster is warning the GOP to back off of outrage over marriage equality. Apparently polls are saying gay bashing is not the winner wedge issue it used to be.

John Stewart notes that a few years ago the Fox Bobbleheads were screaming that marriage equality would allow humans to marry turtles. Now they’re saying that Obama only is embracing marriage equality to get re-elected, a tacit admission that the tides have turned.

Still, Mittens can’t find a sweet spot to stand on anywhere. Last week he said he thought adoption by same-sex couples was a “right”; then the next day he “clarified” that he doesn’t actually support gay adoption; he was just saying it is legal in most states, like it or not.

See also Zandar, “International House of Pain Cakes.”

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Federal Court Nixes Prop 8!

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Social Issues

We’re two for two today. A federal court just found California’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional.

Excuse me while I go out and buy a lottery ticket.

Update: Wowzer of the day, spotted at Little Lulu’s place:

This kind of behavior by the court is exactly the same thing that enabled the rise of the Third Reich.

Seriously?

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Albany Passes a Bill

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Social Issues

Yes, New York just passed the same-sex marriage bill. New York is now the largest state in which gay marriage is unambiguously legal. It’s always a wonder to me when Albany does anything useful, so it’s all quite astonishing and gratifying.

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Is It Their Hormones?

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Social Issues

Every time some male politician is brought down by a tawdry sex scandal, I think about the old arguments that women shouldn’t hold high public office (or high private office, for that matter) because we’re so hormonal. This was said back in 1970

Dr. Edgar Berman, Hubert Humphrey’s personal physician and confidant, sees plenty wrong with a female Chief Executive. When he said so to the Congresswoman from Hawaii at a meeting of the Democratic Party’s Committee on National Priorities, he set Washington abuzz and feminists afire.

Dr. Berman argued that women are limited in their leadership potential by physiological and psychological factors, especially during the menstrual cycle and menopause. “Suppose,” he speculated, “that we had a menopausal woman President who had to make the decision of the Bay of Pigs or the Russian contretemps with Cuba at the time?” She might be “subject to the curious mental aberrations of that age group.’”

And in 2009 G. Gordon Libby said this of Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court:

Let’s hope that the key conferences aren’t when she’s menstruating or something, or just before she’s going to menstruate. That would really be bad. Lord knows what we would get then.

Granted, G. Gordon Libby is a relic from a bygone age that should be even more bygone. But if you go back 50 or more years, the crazy hormonal women thing was conventional wisdom.

But y’know what? It’s men that get crazy in their middle years. How many successful men can you think of who blew off their careers and personal lives because of some stupid stunt involving sex? We could spend all day coming up with names of public figures who qualify. And I bet most of you out there are acquainted personally with at least a couple of middle-age guys who burned marriages and careers over an affair.

Now, think about how often women do the same thing? Anybody?

I’m sorry, fellas, but I just don’t get it. When someone has so much to lose, why wouldn’t the fresh examples of Eliot Spitzer, Mark Sanford, John Edwards, John Ensign, etc. etc., be a big honking neon warning side to not do anything stupid that would ruin your career if the public found out about it? I mean, how hard is it to not upload photos of your crotch to the Internet?

Sure there are plenty of women in public life who seem a tad unbalanced. But in their cases, it’s not like they are only crazy every 28 days, or were perfectly sensible until they turned 50, which is usually about when the hot flashes start.

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