Showing posts with label Violence. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Violence. Show all posts

26 January 2019

Not another Freaking Neurotic Narrator (and other books....)


(reaches for the gun in her stocking, and yes that is me and a Derringer)

I'm tired of downer books.  I don't want to be depressed after reading for three hours.  Bear with me: I'll explain.

The problem is, most of the downer elements of grim books involve women who are victims.  Either victims of crime, or victims of a patriarchal society.  Scandinavian Noir is full of the first.  In fact, most noir novels involve a female who is murdered and often hideously mutilated.  That's so much fun for women to read.

So here goes:

I don't want to read any more books about women who are abused or downtrodden.  I know there are several good books out there right now featuring such women.  Some are historical.  Some are current day.  It's not that they aren't good.  It's just that I don't want to read any more of them.  I've read plenty.

Imagine, men, if most of the books you had read involved men who had been victimized or relegated to second class status by another gender.  One or a few might be interesting to read.  But a steady diet of these?  Would you not find it depressing?  Not to mention, discouraging?

I don't want to read any more books about neurotic women, or women who can't get it together.  I dread more 'unreliable narrators.'  Particularly, I don't want to read a book ALL THE WAY THROUGH, and then find out at the very end that the protagonist has been lying to me.  (Are you listening, Kate Atkinson? *throws book across room*)  Who wants to be tricked by the author?  But there's something even worse about it:

Did you notice that most (okay, every single one I can think of) unreliable narrators on the bestseller lists recently are women?  Does that say something to you about how society views women? (reaches for gun in stocking...)  It does to me.  No more 'girl' books. (BLAM!...that felt good.)

I don't want to read any more books this year with female protagonists that are written by men.  Yes, this means some of the bestselling crime novels out there.  They may be very well written.  But these rarely sound like women's stories to me.  They aren't written with the same lens.

What I want:  books with intelligent female protagonists written by women.  I want more women's stories.  Books I can be proud to hand on to my daughters, and say, see what is possible?  She isn't a victim!  She's someone like you.

Trouble is, I can't FIND many books like that.  The bestseller lists today are filled with protagonists who are unstable, neurotic women.  Let me be clear:  a lot of people enjoy these books.  They may be very well written.  They wouldn't be on bestseller lists otherwise.

But I'm tired of them.  I want a ripping good story with a female protagonist, written by a woman.  Hell, I want to *be* the protagonist for a few hours.

And not come away feeling downtrodden.

Speaking of which...if you're looking for a female protagonist with wit and brains, this mob goddaughter rocks the crime scene in a very different way:
The Goddaughter Does Vegas - out this week from Orca Book Publishers!  
Book 6 in the multi-award winning caper series.
 On AMAZON

02 September 2018

Women in Peril


by Leigh Lundin

Janice Law’s article inspired today’s column…

Just the facts, ma’am.

Nancy Drew’s fan base loved women in peril. Encouraged by old man Stratemeyer, Mildred Wirt Benson (aka Carolyn Keene) wrote Nancy as an independent, impulsive, and headstrong 1930s girl. I'm not sure how this factors in, but when Edward Stratemeyer’s daughters took over in the 1960s, Harriet rewrote the first three dozen novels making Nancy less impetuous, less independent, and women-in-peril continued to attract readers. Why?

Evidence suggests we become more engaged and outraged when a pretty girl is killed. Outrage sells movies. It sells books. It stirs our emotions. Could The Virgin Suicides have been written about five brothers?

M-F homicide deaths 7:2
Besides violence toward women tearing at our hearts, we may take extra notice because, despite a plethora of movies and television shows to the contrary, female homicide victims are considerably less common. Of every nine people murdered, seven will be male. [2010] Perhaps it isn't fair to suggest Poe’s and Clark’s women-in-peril stories ramp up violence or actual homicide.

Edgar Allan Poe and Mary Higgins Clark apparently scored emotional bullseyes. They knew how to play upon our fears, male and female. Protectiveness of loved ones is hard-wired in male DNA. So often when one gender feels strongly about something, the opposite sex experiences the mirror image.

What if political, patriarchal, anger-against-women motives don’t drive the industry? Could something deeper be going on?

Our Inner Cave(wo)man

An explanation offered by psychologist Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity, offers spellbinding insight. She asserts the innermost mind is anything but politically correct. She articulates it in talks and texts better than I, but she says the secret pleasures that turn us on at night are the same we protest during the day.

Perel’s field centers upon our hidden, primitive, self-subversive psychology. When the lights go out, we change. We revert.

Biological components have been recognized since forever. Danger… fear… jeopardy fuel concupiscence. The underlying theory goes that great risk of life ignites a need to procreate, to ensure survival of the species.

Once in an agony column, a husband wrote in, worried about his wife. Immediately following a car accident, she wanted to rush home and make love– cuts and scrapes be damned. Had the accident damaged her mentally? Of course not. Faced with mortality, her survival instinct kicked into gear, a strong, healthy response.

Wars embody the most frightening fears. They’re irrational, society has gone mad, the rules have shattered. Death could arrive in an instant. Population figures show a leveling of growth when heading into a war, but once existence is somewhat assured, survivors mate— often. The term ‘Baby Boomers’ wasn’t idly selected.

US population growth chart

Movie makers discovered early on a simplistic formula: fear=aphrodisiac. Teens didn’t flock to drive-in horror movies for the production qualities, but reproduction qualities.

My friend Crystal Mary, the staunchest feminist I know, loves slasher films, flicks I, God help me, can barely watch between my fingers. Her eyes brighten, her neck flushes, and she bounces home in an ebullient mood. Never for a second would she approve of violence toward women. What’s happening? Me, a diet of slasher movies would give me nightmares, but Crystal Mary’s able to connect with an uncomplicated, elemental part of her being. The premises of Mary Higgins Clark and Edgar Allan Poe she could understand.

What is your take? Could Clark and Poe have stumbled upon the secret that our fears drive the most rousing plots? Can you stomach blood-n-guts horror films better than Leigh? Are you able to serve as designated driver?

22 June 2017

Bullying 101


DISCLAIMER: Almost 40 years ago, a dear friend of mine
committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in his running vehicle.
I claim no objectivity in what follows.

Earlier this week, Leigh Lundin posted The Wickedest Woman in the World, a great blog post about the Michelle Carter case. A lot of us chimed in. During the discussions, I agreed that an article about Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome would be valuable, along with a little thing on hybristophilia, but later, later, later… And I will. But after I listened, briefly, to Rush Limbaugh (I try to keep an ear on what the self-proclaimed Doctor of Democracy is up to) and got ticked off, I've decided that the REAL description of Ms. Carter's behavior is bullying.

You see, Rush was defending Michelle Carter, saying that the case against her is nothing but liberal BS, because liberals don't believe in free speech (oh, Rush, if you only knew!). He said, "this woman, Michelle Carter, she may be just downright mean. She may have no heart. She may just be brutal, getting on the phone and telling this guy to kill himself, ’cause he said he was going to, and if he doesn’t now he’s a coward and whatever. But she didn’t kill him. And yet so many people are coming along thinking he didn’t do, he’s a victim, she did it. This is 180 degrees out of phase. If we’re gonna start penalizing people for things they say or things that they think, but don’t actually do — now, I know what some of you think. “But, Rush, you just got through saying that the Democrats turned this Hodgkinson guy into a lunatic.” I do believe that. But..." (See full Transcript for more of the typical Rush twist on how it's different when…)

Well, first off, sorry, Rush, but we already penalize people for things they say. We have freedom of speech, not freedom from consequences of said speech. But more on that later.

Secondly, what Rush presented was the standard bully's defense:
  • "I didn't MAKE them do anything."
  • "It's THEIR fault if they can't take a joke."
  • "Can I help it if they're a loser?"
  • "I didn't do anything wrong."
  • "Hey, 'sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me'. So what's the problem?"
Okay, show of hands, how many people out there have ever been bullied? How many felt helpless? How many felt afraid?

Scut Farkus
Scut Farkus
Let's use Scut Farkus (of "A Christmas Story") as an example: Scut had all the neighborhood boys terrorized to the point that, when he came up and yelled at them "Come here!" they came. No, he didn't lasso them or hold a gun, he just yelled and they did it. And there's at least one scene where a boy turns around and gives him his arm to twist. They were thoroughly cowed.

But it can get infinitely worse than that.

When we first moved up to South Dakota, I subbed at the high school for a while, and a student there committed suicide because of the constant, non-stop bullying that he received. That was before internet and cellphones. Google bullying and suicide and see the number of hits you come up with. And cyber-bullying, with teens and adolescents, is pushing the number of suicides up.

According to PEW research on teens and cellphones, one in three teens sends 100 text messages a day. 15% send 200 text messages a day. And a certain percentage of that is cyber-bullying. And a certain percentage of that leads to suicides. Michelle Carter exchanged over 1000 text messages with Conrad Roy, encouraging him, telling him, badgering him to commit suicide. What makes it worse is that she knew that he had attempted suicide already, back in 2012, and that he was battling anxiety and depression. After learning that he was planning to kill himself she repeatedly discouraged him from committing suicide in 2012 and 2014 and encouraged him to "get professional help". But then her attitude changed and in July 2014, she started thinking that it would be a "good thing to help him die" (Wikipedia) Thus the 1000 text messages. That's cyber-bullying, and it worked. She even admitted it, in an infamous text to a friend - “I was on the phone with him and he got out of the [truck] because it was working and he got scared and I f***ing told him to get back in."

And why did Michelle Carter want Conrad Roy dead? Because she wanted to receive the sympathy of her classmates as the grieving girlfriend, who only wanted the best for her boyfriend, and the best was that he die.
Defense attorney Joseph Cataldo talks to Michelle Carter in court.
Michelle Carter - from CNN,
"Text Messages Michelle Carter Used
How many of you have been or have known the victim of domestic abuse? There's often more verbal than physical, because it's all about control. Here are some of the many signs of domestic abuse, a/k/a bullying (from the Domestic Violence and Abuse Checklist.):

Does the abuser:
  • humiliate or yell at you?
  • criticize you and put you down?
  • treat you so badly that you’re embarrassed for your friends or family to see?
  • ignore or put down your opinions or accomplishments?
  • blame you for their own abusive behavior?
  • see you as property or a sex object, rather than as a person?
  • act excessively jealous and possessive?
  • control where you go or what you do?
  • keep you from seeing your friends or family?
  • limit your access to money, the phone, or the car?
  • constantly check up on you?
Notice that I did not include any physically violent act. All of the above are verbal, emotional abuse; and they're enough to leave the victim answering "yes" to, Do you:
Ingrid Bergman in "Gaslight"
  • feel afraid of your partner much of the time?
  • avoid certain topics out of fear of angering your partner?
  • feel that you can’t do anything right for your partner?
  • believe that you deserve to be hurt or mistreated?
  • wonder if you’re the one who is crazy?
  • feel emotionally numb or helpless?
Domestic abuse is bullying, carried on into adulthood. There's a direct link between bullying in childhood and domestic abuse in adulthood (Psychiatry Online): "Men who had bullied schoolmates once in a while were twice as likely to have engaged in violence against a female partner within the previous year as were men who said they had never bullied their school peers. And men who had admitted bullying frequently in school were four times as likely to have done so as were men who had never bullied in school."

On top of that, there's a direct link between domestic abuse and mass shootings (see here and here, too.) Because bullying is all about control and fear. Domestic abuse is all about control and fear. Mass shooting is all about control and fear.

Okay, that was quite a long and winding road. And not every bully, cyber-bully, or just narcissist is going to end up a mass shooter. But I noticed this in the Wikipedia article cited above: This decision "could set legal precedent for whether it's a crime to tell someone to commit suicide." My response?

I CERTAINLY HOPE SO.

Why wouldn't it be a crime to tell someone to kill themselves? Why wouldn't it be a crime to gaslight a person? Why wouldn't it be a crime to do your best to INCREASE someone's mental illness? Or to use their mental illness to your advantage?

Here's the deal, Rush and followers: I believe 100% in free speech. You can say anything you please, anywhere, any time. But I also believe that free speech has consequences. After all,
  • If you yell "FIRE!" in a crowded theater, you're liable for the results.
  • If you threaten the President's life, you're going to get a visit from the Secret Service.
So why, if you badger someone who's battling depression and mental illness with over 1000 texts telling them to kill themselves, and they do it, why wouldn't you be culpable?
Of course, the bullies would totally disagree: to a bully, all the consequences flow one way, onto the victim, who is solely responsible for what happens to her/him. And so we have Michelle Carter, new icon of free speech, who told her boyfriend to "get back in the f*****g truck" so that she could go cry about his death to her friends.

Next time, Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome and hybristophilia, or why Erik Menendez has a wife.

18 March 2017

On Killing and Consequences


Thomas Pluck
Thomas Pluck
Thomas Pluck is the author of Bad Boy Boogie, a Jay Desmarteaux crime thriller coming from Down & Out Books in 2017, and Blade of Dishonor, an action adventure which Mystery People called “the Raiders of the Lost Ark of pulp paperbacks.” He has slung hash, worked on the docks, and even swept the Guggenheim Museum (but not as part of a clever heist). He hails from Nutley, New Jersey, also home to criminal masterminds Martha Stewart and Richard Blake, but has so far evaded capture.

NOTE: I met Thomas at Bouchercon 2015, and have been a fan of his novels and stories ever since. Please join me in welcoming him to SleuthSayers!
— John Floyd


by Thomas Pluck

Normal people don't like violence, but they sure enjoy reading about it. And those of us who write violent stories are often called hypocrites when we decry violence in the real world. If you glorify violence, you may be inspiring it. But then again, you can inspire violence with a story that includes little. Just ask Salinger.

I have experienced violence, witnessed violence, and trained in violence. And I write stories that often depict violence. Yet I do not support violence, except in defense. You can call me a hypocrite if you like, that's your prerogative. But the difference is that I know the consequences of violence, and if anything, I write about those consequences more than the violence itself.

On Twitter, director Jeremy Saulnier recently got into a tiff (which seems to be what Twitter is best for, lately) when he supported a woman's charity run that was against gun violence. He writes violent films, such as Blue Ruin and Green Room. The troll said that audiences just see violence and react with "awesome! His head blew up!" To paraphrase, Saulnier replied "have you seen my movies?"

Truffaut famously said that there were no antiwar films because "to show something is to ennoble it" and later amended it, saying he never saw an antiwar film, because in the end they are all pro-war. Violence is exciting, and no matter how brutal you make it, someone will be titillated. In fact, you may only jade the audience. We're a long way from when Derek Raymond made readers flinch with the opening to I Was Dora Suarez. We've seen war films and crime films with limbs dangling by a thread. Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, Don Winslow's The Cartel, both dare the reader to continue, as the bloodshed mounts. I don't recall anyone swearing off crime fiction or westerns after reading them. Because they show the consequences.

It's a kind of shell shock. The adrenaline scours your veins and leaves you feeling empty. Everyone loves a good revenge tale, but there's a reason Sicilians say "when you set out for revenge, dig two graves." The other one is for yourself. Because revenge is a fantasy of justice. The only justice that would truly satisfy us requires a time machine. We can't be the person we were before we were victimized, and the dead can't be brought back. And as Gandhi said "an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind." Revenge, if unchecked, would eventually kill us all. The Vikings had the blood price, to end such disputes. If only it were so easy.

Violence is not pretty and it always has a price. My great-uncle Butch (to whom I dedicated Blade of Dishonor) never spoke about his time in World War 2, except once. With tears in his eyes, he wept for the enemies he had killed. "They were just kids forced off to war, just like us." He was years past ninety when he came to that conclusion, and I am grateful he taught it to me. Because we stop glorifying violence by making our villains human. They can be evil humans, but they must be humans. Rare is the person who wakes up and says, "what evil can I do today?" Even the people we would classify as evil, the utterly selfish, who seem to take glee in trampling others on their route to success, have to say that their victims were weak, and deserved it. They couldn't face it otherwise. Psychopaths without empathy, cannot feel other's pain, but they feel their own acutely. They are not superhuman. The psychopath we perhaps know the most about, Carl Panzram, refused to believe that anyone thought differently than he did. That we were all out for ourselves, that we were just good at hiding it. There was no proving Panzram wrong; it's not as if he would have broken down in the face of true altruism. His mind simply would not permit such a belief to exist.

In Bad Boy Boogie, I studied "killology," as Lt. Dan Grossman calls it, which is the study of killing and how it affects professional soldiers and police. I also researched victims of abuse and bullying. Having experienced it myself, I wanted to know how those who avenged themselves felt. And it was no cure. As one character says, "It doesn't get better. It gets bitter." And Jay Desmarteaux, who begins as an acolyte of vengeance, who sincerely believes "some people just need killing," undergoes a journey of discovery that not only exposes the evil that people will commit to protect their deepest inner selves, but how killing affects the psyche, no matter how just a killing we tell ourselves it is.

One reader called Jay "Parker on steroids." For a fan of Don Westlake's work, that's as great a compliment as I may ever receive, Jay will crack a joke, and worse, he will regret the killing he's done, two things the outlaw demigod Parker would never do. But even Parker is more than a shell, though we don't see much evidence until the later books with Claire. He isn't a true sociopath. Once Claire comes into the picture he extends his circle of empathy to include her, and views attacks on her as if they are attacks on himself. This is a brilliant, subdued portrayal of how a killer deals psychologically with the world, and Westlake does it with incredibly entertaining stories that still have a large following.

And while Parker leaves a trail of bodies through the series, often for revenge or "to set things straight," the deaths put him and Claire at risk. The birds come home to roost. And it doesn't take away from the entertainment, or turn it into a "message story." The violent world of Parker always cuts both ways, just as in the real world.

23 April 2015

The Better Angels of Our Nature?


The Better Angels of Our Nature.jpgIn 2011 Steven Pinker wrote a book called "The Better Angels of Our Nature" which might put us crime-writers out of business.  Why?  Because the subtitle is "Why Violence Has Declined."  It's a huge book - over 700 pages - and chock-full of statistics and historical evidence for a dramatic decline in little things like murder and assault. And if you haven't read it, it's worth a read.  That, or check out my book report:

Basically, Pinker's argument is that violence has not only been in decline over the last five hundred years, but that the present is probably the most peaceful time in the history of the human species. The decline is enormous and widespread, including declines in war, homicide, genocide, torture, criminal injustice, as well as the treatment of animals, children, women, homosexuals, and racial and ethnic minorities.  He stresses that "The decline, to be sure, has not been smooth; it has not brought violence down to zero; and it is not guaranteed to continue."  In other words, enjoy it while it lasts, and work hard to keep it going.

Pinker admits that humans, like any animal, are always capable of violence, especially if there's a fight for survival.  But he says there have been some historical forces that have changed the dynamic to make us less violent:

Louis XIV of France.jpg
From "L'etat, c'est moi"
To Parliamentary rule
The Leviathan - It used to be, up until the 1600's, that justice was a local affair.  When "l'etat, c'est moi" was the rule, the only thing l'etat, i.e., the king, did for his people was make war, take their money, and occasionally "touch" them for scrofula.

There were no police, and only the wealthy had bodyguards or a hearing from the king.  For the rest of the population, well - the circuit court came once a year, and the rest of the time you were on your own.  The trouble was that, if the state provides no services, the state gets no loyalty, and the bodyguards were really private armies.

So, with the rise of the modern nation-state with parliamentary monarchies and rising democracies - and with the rise, let it be faced, of gunpowder and guns - states decided that only the state should have "a monopoly on the legitimate use of force".  In order to do this, though, the state had to actually provide justice on a regular basis, so that people would give up their need for private revenge, protection, justice, etc. and trust that the state would take care of that for them.

Marco Porcio Caton Major.jpg
Cato the Elder
Commerce - Increased trade led to (1) seeing at least some foreigners as human and (2) made people more important as customers than as slaves. Let's never forget the immortal words of Cato the Elder, 234-149 BCE, who said that it was better and cheaper to work slaves to death and buy more than to treat them decently.  These were words to live by for many a slave-holder and, later, many a serf-holder as well.  (There's more to the joke in Gogol's masterpiece Dead Souls than first meets the eye.)  And slavery, followed by serfdom, was the norm for many thousands of years.  But, finally, as slavery came to a slow end, and people had money, war as total conquest became inefficient.  (Actually, when Hitler said that he was only interested in other peoples as they became slaves for the German culture, besides being a megalomaniac, he was strongly out of touch with economic fact.)  In other words, rather than conquering a country militarily (which costs money) the idea was to conquer a country with trade goods (which made money).  At long last, people - as consumers, factory hands, and tax payers - were worth more alive than dead.

Fragonard - "A Young Girl Reading"
Feminization - Basically, random and/or extreme violence has always been mostly the preserve of men. Women have generally been the civilizing force in societies, because they want more than to hide in the basement while the houses burn.  Women want education and clean clothes, culture and good food, and safety for their children. All of these things flourish better during peace than war.  As societies show greater respect for "the interests and values of women" things get better, more peaceful, more prosperous, as a whole.  Ironically, we're currently trying to masculinize women both in business and entertainment, where the ideal woman is now presented as a slim, beautiful, brilliant, athletic ninja warrior.  Even though no one can achieve this (outside of the movies), this "ideal" may not a good thing.

Cosmopolitanism - Basically, it's easy to hate what you don't know, the foreign, the alien.  But, as literacy and mobility increased, and mass media rose to entertain and educate that literate mobile population, people's sympathy and empathy expanded to embrace different ideas.  There was a recent study that showed that the more fiction a person read, the more empathetic they were.  Because fiction (in any form) lures you into stepping into someone else's shoes - and the next thing you know, you no longer want to hurt, maim, torture, or kill people who are different from you.  It really works.

The Escalator of Reason - Calling on people to apply knowledge and reason to government, politics, economics, etc., can, "force people to recognize the futility of cycles of violence, to ramp down the privileging of their own interests over others', and to reframe violence as a problem to be solved rather than a contest to be won."  In other words, if you can get people to stop reacting emotionally and instead think rationally about how to handle conflicts, they usually step back from violence and start trying to negotiate their way.

SIX HISTORICAL TRENDS

The Pacification Process - Pinker describes this as the transition from "the anarchy" of hunter/gatherer/herder societies, which are largely honor societies, to the first agricultural civilizations, which are more apt to be based on law.  The trouble with honor societies is that they are "touchy" - easily led to duels and honor killings, which can travel down the generations in cycles of revenge.  (My rebuttal:  law-based societies can fight wars till the cows come home, too.)

The Civilizing Process of the Leviathan - see above.

The Humanitarian Revolution - During the 17th and 18th centuries, i.e., the Age of Reason and the European Enlightenment, came the "first organized movements to abolish slavery, dueling, judicial torture, superstitious killing, sadistic punishment, an cruelty to animals, together with the first stirrings of systematic pacifism."

The Long Peace - After WW2, the Western World (by and large), stopped waging war on each other. (My rebuttal:   At least directly.  Let's not forget proxy wars...)

The New Peace - Since the end of the Cold War in 1989, there has been a decline of organized conflicts everywhere.  (My rebuttal:  More terrorism, less outright war.)

The Rights Revolution - Post WW2 increase of human rights for all.

FIVE INNER DEMONS

"Murder in the House" -
Jakub Schikaneder
All of that's great news, but Pinker is no fool about the dark side of human nature.  He says that humans have five inner demons.  These come from a lot of psychological and sociological studies that basically say that violence comes in certain specific forms with certain specific triggers.  BTW, I totally believe this; just as I think we should be studying successful marriages rather than divorce (which is always depressingly the same), I think we should be studying peaceful societies and peaceful periods rather than violent societies and wars.  Anyway, here's the list:




Predatory or Practical Violence - Because it's there and you want it.  Greed, gluttony, lust.

Dominance - the "urge for authority, prestige, glory and power"; at any level, even the most minor.
Revenge - self-explanatory.
Sadism - thankfully, far rarer than our societal obsession with serial killers would lead one to expect.
Ideology - "a shared belief system, usually involving a vision of utopia, that justifies unlimited violence in pursuit of unlimited good."  Or, as Peter Finley Dunne put it back in the early 1900s, "A fanatic is a man that does what he thinks the Lord would do if He knew the facts of the case."  Like behead people.


FOUR BETTER ANGELS

But lest we be too discouraged, there are "four better angels" that "can orient us away from violence and towards cooperation and altruism":

Empathy -  Read more fiction.
Self-Control -  There have been scientific studies of nursery school children - offered 1 marshmallow now or 2  if they could wait 15 minutes - that those who were able to wait showed later in life significantly "better life outcomes" of all kinds.
The Moral Sense - Pinker admits these can cut both ways, either to govern a culture extremely well OR lead to increased violence when a set of moral norms are designed to keep people unified through fear.
Reason - Pinker is very big on reason.  I am, too, but then, I'm Greek.

Sanzio 01.jpg

Anyway, while we SleuthSayers are never likely to be put out of business, it's still nice to know that education, cooperation, and societal change have made - and hopefully, will continue to make the world a more peaceful place.




09 October 2014

Anatomy of Revolution, Part 1


by Eve Fisher

As well as a writer and omnivorous reader, I'm an historian by trade, and I love patterns in history. Searching down and matching up cross-cultural, cross-chronological patterns is my specialty.  And there are a lot more patterns than people are aware of, because (1)  we always like to think that we (our generation, country, tribe, religion, etc.) are unique and (2) we often get the pattern wrong.  And we generally get it wrong because we're trying to get the pattern to match a predetermined belief system.

For example:  There's an illusion that revolutions are started by the poor and downtrodden masses, who have finally had enough and Rise Up! against the oppressor, and all hell breaks loose.  Sorry. That's not how it works.   As Leon Trotsky once said, "The mere existence of privations is not enough to cause an insurrection:  if it were, the masses would always be in revolt."

Delacroix - Liberty Leading the People

Nor do revolutions erupt when societies are at their lowest, economically/socially/morally.  Actually, when things are at their worst, no one has time for revolution.  Survival takes up everyone's time and energy. Instead, revolutions occur just as things are, finally, getting better.  And they are launched not by the masses, but by a thin wedge - actually many thin wedges - of which the most common are intellectuals (sometimes, but not always, of the upper classes, socially and/or economically), grumbling property owners, radicals, and extremists who - SPOILER ALERT - would not be satisfied if God came down from heaven and gave them everything they claim to be their heart's desire.

Crane Brinton (1898-1968)
Back in 1938, Crane Brinton, a history professor at Harvard University, wrote a book called "Anatomy of Revolution".  He revised it in 1965, and I only wish he had lived long enough to incorporate the Chinese Cultural Revolution in it as well.  Basically, he compared the English Civil war of 1642-1651, the American Revolution of 1765-1783, the French Revolution of 1789-1799, and the Russian Revolution of 1917-1922, and found significant patterns that ran through all of these.  He compared revolution to a fever, and he wasn't far wrong.  I'm not going to use all of his jargon, and I am going to simplify some things and add others, but here's the general run-down, in case something strikes you as familiar, or potential, or possible.  Personally, I find predicting revolutions far more practical, although much less hilarious, than predicting apocalypses.

The Pre-conditions of Most Major Revolutions:

In every revolution  (Britain, Colonial America, France, Mexico, Russia, and China), the economy was actually improving before the revolution.  BUT as things got better, people felt more discontented than they did when they were starving to death and could only focus on food.  Now they had food, and they started wanting more.  They were hopeful for the future, but they felt they were forced to accept less RIGHT NOW than what they hoped for.  And (sorry if this comes as a shock) they always blamed it on the government in power.

Brinton said that, in each case, the Old Regime was:
  • Economically weak - the government had deficits and/or debts and had to enforce taxes, which everyone hated.  
  • Louis XVI of France
    • NOTE:  In most countries, taxes were paid almost entirely by the poor, even though, throughout pre-revolutionary history the 5% wealthy/middle class owning 95% of the wealth was the norm. One of the purposes, and major achievements, of revolutions was to change those statistics significantly.  For one thing, today we EXPECT there to be a substantial middle class, and are worried when there isn't.  Thank the American and French Revolutions for that one, folks.  
  • Politically weak - the government was ineffective and could not enforce policy.  
    • NOTE:  this was especially true in governments that were based on hereditary royalty, which almost always eventually run out of steam, not to mention genetic material. 
  • Intellectually deserted - the intelligentsia (scholars, thinkers, some artists) gave up on the way their society operated and joined the reformers, speaking out against the government, often (especially in France and Russia) sawing off the branch they were sitting on.  
  • Riddled with class antagonism - there was a growing bitterness between the social/economic classes, with the classes closest to one another being the most hostile to each other.  (Basically, the poor don't have the time to hate the rich, they're just trying to survive; and the rich can easily ignore the poor, because they hardly ever see them.)
The Revolution Begins

Zapata in Cuernevaca
So all this is stewing away, and then a symbolic action rallies the people against the old regime.  The Boston Tea Party; the taking of the Bastille; the Petrograd strikes in February, 1917; Viva Zapata!; the Guangzhou Uprising in China of 1927; the mass rallies of the Cultural Revolution.  These are followed by planned "spontaneous" revolts (usually carefully orchestrated by the intellectual elite), and the government can't repress the rebellion without a level of violence that they fear will lead to total revolution. But total revolution happens anyway.  And the government... succumbs.

Change to Moderates

Charles I on trial for his life in 1649
In France, the Legislative Assembly ruled until 1792; in China, in 1911, the Qing Dynasty fell and Sun-Yat Sen became first President of the Republic; Charles I of England was held prisoner by Parliament, which ruled the country; Francisco Madero, a wealthy reformer, became President of Mexico; in Russia, Alexander Kerensky took over the Provisional Government.  In all of these and more the moderates quickly took over the mechanism of government.  Everyone celebrates!  "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!" (Wordsworth)  Everything is changing!  New constitutions!  New institutions!  Sometimes a new war!

BUT there's always somebody who isn't happy, whether you want to call them radicals or extremists or what ever other name is popular. Two VERY important facts:
  • The moderates fail to - and indeed cannot - satisfy those who insist on further changes because
  • the moderates want to/must maintain government, and the radicals want to destroy it. (Or at least the radicals want to destroy the moderates' government.) 
The honeymoon period is brief, sometimes as brief as a heartbeat.  In Mexico, President Madero was assassinated by his generalissimo successor Huerta, who claimed that the former President had gotten caught in an accidental crossfire; In 1911 China, Sun Yat-Sen was ousted by the old warlord Yuan Shi-kai in a matter of days.  (Sun Yat-Sen, no fool, resigned rather than stick around to be killed.)  In 1917 Russia, Lenin and the Bolsheviks got rid of Kerensky's government within months. In France, Robespierre took over the Committee of Public Safety...

And in all cases, any members of the former royal house still in the country get imprisoned and/or executed.

And now the Extremists, self-righteous, self-assured, irreproachable, illimitable and insatiable, are coming...

More next time.

16 January 2014

Peace, the Elusive


by Eve Fisher

I swear to God, I wrote most of this before I heard the story of the Florida theater shooter who is claiming that he had a right to stand his ground and shoot to death a man who threatened him by...  throwing popcorn at him.  So...

As you regular readers know, I do Alternatives to Violence Project workshops that at the state penitentiary.  Most people think I do them in order to help the prisoners - which I do - but what most people can't grasp is that I've learned an awful lot about violence and non-violence from these workshops:  violence and non-violence in my world, my state, my town, my self.  And as I say to the guys, each and every workshop, I need all the help I can get.


There's a lot of talk about peace - in the Middle East, in Africa, on our streets, and during the recent holidays the whole "peace on earth, good will to men" thing was, as usual, trotted out regularly and OH, how I wish there was more hope of its coming.  Every time I hear about another shooting, massacre, war, double-homicide, mass shooting, etc., all I can say is "How long, O Lord?  How long?"  To which the Lord might very well reply, "How long, O people?  How long will you keep beating your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears?"  Because we could stop.  We could try to stop.

Why don't we?

That's why I do AVP.  Because I'm wrestling with why we do not stop.  Why I don't stop.  Don't get me wrong.  I don't own any guns, and it's been years since I punched anyone.  But I can rage, inwardly, with the best of them, with the worst of them, and that troubles me deeply.  Why can't I stop?

Now back when I was a child, in the late 50's, early 60's, there were significant differences in how boys and girls were raised, especially about emotions, especially about anger.  We little girls were rigidly trained to NOT express anger.  We didn't have the right to yell and scream, throw temper tantrums or hit people - it wasn't nice, or feminine, or ladylike, and if we did, we'd get punished for it, usually by being yelled and screamed at and being hit.  Whereas the guys - well, they were brought up to "prove they were a man", by standing up for themselves, which often meant everything from verbal sparring to fighting to assault to killing.

Now you get a bunch of guys sitting in prison, they usually know they messed up somewhere, because they're there.  If nothing else, they got caught.  But if their crime was violence - say, beating someone to death or shooting someone who pissed them off - it takes a very long time for a lot of them to realize that killing that person was actually wrong.  That they didn't have the right to do that.  After all, they were just expressing their anger and/or standing up for themselves and/or defending themselves and/or their loved ones and/or the guy had it coming.  It takes a long, long, long time for some of them to grasp the concept that just because you are experiencing anger does not mean you have the right to take it out - verbally or physically - on someone else.  And your anger definitely does NOT mean you have the right to, say, kill the person who pisses you off.  (Yes, that includes people who text inappropriately and/or throw popcorn at you.)

That's why I enjoy doing AVP workshops:  because at least we discuss these issues and other issues of fear, jealousy, violence, pride, manhood, control, and what to do about it.  And I mean a real discussion.  Political and religious platitudes, slogans, etc., break down very quickly.  Instead we walk the guys through it:
For example.  I am angry.  At that person over there.  I have the RIGHT to make him/her aware of my anger, and change what they're doing to piss me off.  What do you mean, I don't?  What do you mean, I don't have the right to tell them to obey me, and if not to yell at them, cuss them out, hit them or kill them?  Why not?  What are the options?  What can I do?  I can't just sit here, feeling all this anger and fear and crap, I've got to DO something about it, right?  I'm a man, a man's supposed to DO something.  What do you mean, walk away?  Suck it up?  Think about it?  Work through what I can actually change and what I can't?  I'm a man.  Men don't do that.  Yeah, I'm sick of getting jumped, shoved, pushed, decked, punched...  I'm even scared of it.  But what the hell else am I supposed to DO?

Walk away.  Turn away.  Move on.  Suck it up.  Do something different.  Lead with your mind, instead of your emotions, at least until you have more emotions on tap than fear and anger.

The very idea that there is such a thing as a non-violent alternative is alien to almost everyone in the pen (unless they've been to our workshops), and it is, apparently, alien to a whole lot of people who have not yet reached incarceration.  We revere Gandhi and Mandela and King - but you know, our society reveres them the way you would admire saints in a niche.  Nobody studies them.  Nobody takes a look and analyzes how they managed to choose an alternative to violence.  We don't teach our children how to practice non-violence.  We don't teach our children self-control, or meditation, or how to recognize the emotions and thoughts that are running through their minds and how to deal with them.  

AVP has lots of exercises, from role-playing to community building to meditation.  In one exercise, we're divided up into pairs, A and B, and for two whole minutes, A tells B the things they like about themselves.  B has to listen, no comments.  Then they switch and repeat the exercise, with A listening to B.  99.9% of the time, what they say they like about themselves is what they do.  "I like to hunt, to fish, to play sports, to draw, to play music, to read, to watch TV, to hang out with friends, to work on cars, to..."  It's all about doing.  Almost never do you hear anyone say, "I like that I'm a loyal person, that I'm brave, loving, kind, hopeful, a dreamer, a hard worker..."  And never yet have I heard something like, "I like that I am a human being.  A child of God.  A man.  A woman.  Alive."

I think this holds true for all of us, not just people in prison.  We do not believe in being, we believe in doing. And yet, that's the most important part, isn't it?  Why is it so hard to talk about who we are?  And how can we change ourselves if we don't know who we are?  If we are running away from the reality of ourselves all the time?  How can we have peace if we do not understand the roots and ribbons and cables of violence that run through not just the world but ourselves?  Our own minds and hearts?

I do AVP workshops because I am working on all of this, and it suits my personality better than meditation or Freudian therapy.  Sometimes I see amazing breakthroughs.  (I'm still waiting for one of those for myself...)  Sometimes I don't.  But at least there the conversation is real.