Solutions to the sexual violence epidemic

Before I begin, this post is about sexual violence, as the title implies.

Even if the current paradigm is shifting towards believing victims of sexual violence, which may or may not be true, it doesn’t alter the fact that justice for victims is rare. When I learned that Harvey Weinstein (whom I’d never even heard of prior to a few weeks ago) was being investigated by the NYPD I was stunned. I didn’t even consider that there would be legal ramifications, and obviously there still may not be. Though disgusted, I was satisfied that he is probably miserable due to losing his career and prestige. It’s not nearly enough but at least it’s something.

Some time back, Aeon had two thought-provoking articles on actually solving this persistent, endemic problem: one describes boosting conviction rates via better funding and systemic tinkering, the other pushes for radical legal changes.

Sandra Newman suggests that men may chose not to rape if they have reason to expect consequences. Currently, to say nothing of the last few millennia, there aren’t sufficient reasons to expect meaningful consequences. Sure accusations may accrue and cause discomfort or annoyance, maybe even prompting acquaintances to look askance at alleged perpetrators, but the minuscule chance of legal punishment is a huge reason victims don’t come forward:

[T]he overwhelming majority of the men assumed that they would never be punished. As one rapist said: ‘I knew I was doing wrong. But I also knew most women don’t report rape, and I didn’t think she would either.’ As Scully put it, her subjects saw rape as ‘a rewarding, low-risk act’.

It’s worth pausing here to underscore just what this implies. For a man to commit sexual assault, he must be a relatively, but not strikingly, antisocial person – enough that he isn’t too constrained by empathy for his victims. These seem like preconditions for any crime that has a victim; and indeed, the measured character traits of convicted rapists are identical to those of muggers and burglars. But a man who is capable of rape generally commits the crime only if he believes it will be excused by his peers, and that punishment can be evaded. There seem to be a remarkable number of men who meet these criteria; most of the college-age rapists studied were not only unafraid of punishment, but blissfully unaware that what they did was criminal. Looking at this general picture, Scully concluded that most rapes are the result of a ‘rape culture’ that tells men that, in many situations, raping women is not only normal behaviour, but completely safe.

This is an excellent explanation of what I think most would regard as intuitive (and, to me, is the most important part of the article). Thus, while victims may not explicate it in this manner, they are abundantly aware that consequences are rare. The posited solution is, as mentioned above, increasing conviction rates:

We can give police and prosecutors more funding for sexual-assault investigations, which are still woefully likely to be dropped in the early stages. We can monitor their efforts to ensure they follow best practices. We can fund the testing of forensic evidence, which is currently subject to long backlogs, and often simply lost or abandoned. Most of all, we can make it easier for victims to approach police; of all violent crimes, rape is the least likely to be reported. What we must not do is pretend it’s a different, easier problem, or act as if the solution for rape is a profound and unfathomable mystery.

Perhaps this is nothing earth-shattering to FtB readers, but the lack of meaningful consequences is crucial to understanding the magnitude of what we face as a society. The conclusion is okay, but I don’t think it goes far enough. This leads to the second article, by Christopher Wareham and James Vos. They argue persuasively that sexual violence accusations should not be subject to reasonable doubt as the standard of evidence.

While certain segments of the population (i.e. shitty men) are likely to empathize more with the accused, they tend to neglect the manifold ramifications of false acquittal. The authors make an elegant argument comparing the relative harm suffered by the different parties and why reasonable doubt is worthy of being reexamined within the context of sexual violence:

In considering whether or not a standard of proof is justified, we should consider not just the harm done to the one man wrongly convicted, but also the harm done by the 10 men wrongly released. This means that the justification for a standard of proof should also consider the accrued harms of false acquittal to the initial victim, to future victims of those criminals and to society.

In the case of sexual assault, these harms are extraordinarily severe. The victim suffers horrendously through the trial and is often badgered into reliving disturbing details of the incident. When the false acquittal is reached, all this is for nothing. Worse than this, she is falsely branded a liar, with all the psychological trauma this entails.

The harms of false acquittal to future victims and their loved ones amplify and extend this harm. Indeed it has been suggested that the trauma of sexual assault is greater than that experienced by war veterans.

Moreover, sexual offenders are likely to offend multiple times. In one study, rapists self-reported an average of 10 violent crimes, even before their ‘careers’ had ended. Consequently, to paraphrase Blackstone’s ratio with reference to sexual violence would mean saying it’s better to have the harm of 100 sexual assaults than the harm of one false conviction – a conclusion that is untenable.

The solution, they conclude, is the following:

As it stands, the legal system is weighted unfairly in favour of perpetrators of sexual assault. In addition to sending out a powerful expression of intolerance for gender violence, a lower standard of proof can decrease these harms by reducing the likelihood of false acquittal. Reasonable doubt is inappropriate, but what standard would do better?

Of the standards commonly employed in law, only the ‘preponderance of the evidence’ standard has been used on a consistent basis to decide cases of sexual violence, albeit in civil trials. Indeed, given the high probability of false acquittal, civil trials have increasingly become a first port of call for female victims of sexual violence in the US. Rather than calling for the absence of doubt, this standard judges a case on what the evidence leads one to believe most strongly. If a woman’s testimony provides a stronger reason to believe that she did not give consent, this should be enough.

In addition to increasing the likelihood of conviction, this could halt the accusation of greed levied against victims of sexual violence opting for civil court. Such apparent greed for monetary compensation is supposed evidence that the victim isn’t behaving in an appropriate manner. The stigma associated is a powerful one and ammunition for those already predisposed to not believing accusers. The idea is prevalent enough that one or more of these assholes who think this way are likely to end up on a jury. Any deviation from the Platonic ideal of a rape victim [1] and they morph into vindictive liars. Most defense attorneys are more than adept at discrediting plaintiffs along these lines. As a recent Cracked post states “justice is vague, while the promise of more pain is concrete.”

So are we (by we I mean America) close to implementing something similar to what the authors suggest? The articles are almost a year old and surely the ideas aren’t new. I’d also add that the solutions aren’t mutually exclusive.

It’s hard to what extent police departments are attempting to maximize the likelihood that an accuser will receive justice. Progress is both hard to determine and hard to quantify. If the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network’s (RAINN) findings are any indication, we have a long, long way to go. Research may be able to discern which institutional changes correlate to more convictions and how replicable it is spatially, but obtaining actual justice will continue to be an uphill battle in the short term.

As for overhauling the legal system to make sexual violence allegations subject to “preponderance of the evidence” standards, googling doesn’t really yield any evidence that this kind of transformation is on the horizon. And, unfortunately, the authors do not discuss mechanisms that could produce such a radical shift in our code of law.

The articles discuss the aftermath of sexual violence, both in terms of what does and doesn’t happen to the perpetrator, and how those consequences will effect potential perpetrators in the future. Of course, none of this precludes the idea that men shouldn’t rape, regardless of whether or not there are consequences. From a young age, they need to be taught about consent and how they can play a role in ending rape culture. It’s deeply shitty, though, that large amounts of people, many of them in positions of power, do not even think it’s a problem that needs solving.


[1] “It is well established in feminist legal critique that female complainants are discredited if they fail to conform to an archaic stereotype of the genuine or ‘real’ rape victim. This victim is not only morally and sexually virtuous she is also cautious, unprovocative, and consistent. Defence tactics for discrediting rape testimony involve exposing the complainant’s alleged failure to comply with the sexual and behavioural standards of the normative victim.”

No refuge could save the hireling and slave: a post about the sports weekend

The sports world had a pretty eventful weekend. The slate of NFL games was actually good for once, the Knicks finally traded Melo, and Dwyane Wade was bought out freeing him to sign with a contender. Oh, and the president took time off from goading North Korea into nuclear war to castigate uppity black athletes. His racist word salad led to an avalanche of athletes losing their shit on social media.

Imagine that: the white supremacist president telling sport team owners to fire their largely black workforce for daring to impugn the self-evident majesty of the USA [1]. But it backfired, because the usually spineless league management and owners correctly determined which way the wind was blowing. Their public relations team no doubt informed them of the developing shitstorm, and they predictably realized that they would have to issue their own mealy-mouthed condemnations against a president whose candidacy many of them supported. To say they were going after low hanging fruit is an insult to low hanging fruit.

This is yet another example of Trump taking right wing talking points to their logical conclusion: if players not standing for the anthem is unpatriotic, and unpatriotic acts are unconscionably bad, then owners of any entity should be able to fire their employees for their heinous acts. Because fuck the first amendment: it shouldn’t even count for egregious acts like disrespecting America/military/flag/president. Love America or leave it. Maybe even be forced to leave it.

It’s a virtual certainty that Trump is both unwilling and unable to understand the reasons for the protests which go back to Colin Kaepernick last year. He has essentially co-opted the, for lack of a better word, movement and made it all about himself and by extension, racism. No one should forget that the protests began during his predecessor’s reign. Kaepernick’s cause, at its root was confronting systemic racism as manifested in police violence. Obviously Trump is a piece that fits snugly into the larger puzzle of historical and especially contemporary US racism.

***

The anthem protests were dying. The past two years have seen many players do it for a game or two, decide that was sufficient to get the point across, and cease. Sunday was different as players decided en masse to act. A lot went into the optics: should one sit on the bench, kneel, raise a fist, clasp arms with teammates, stay in the locker room, or stretch? And then, how does one explain their rationale to the media afterwards? Grossest of all was scumbag Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones kneeling with his team BEFORE the anthem, and then standing. What a wonderful show of unity in these divided times.

One NFL writer (I forget who unfortunately) stated on Twitter that players told him off the record that team management were ordering players to stand going back to last year. In a league where there are no guaranteed contracts, careers lasting around 3 years, and players being one injury away from unemployment and a lifetime of physical pain, it should surprise no one that so few players indulge in symbolic protest. Especially if the protest can be seen as disrespecting the totemic representations (flag and anthem) of the childish narrative of America being the greatest country in the history of the world [2]. And especially if the league they work for has wrapped itself in a cloak of unrelenting support for the American military industrial complex. If one isn’t good enough, the risks taken can be career-ending, as Kaepernick has learned.

It’s ironic that Trump’s tantrum might be the catalyst for Kaepernick’s return. Despite being unofficially blacklisted from the league, this is a very good time for a quarterback-needy team to sign him. Or not. One dipshit owner used the outpouring of negative fan mail as the reason for not signing him as a backup in the offseason, funny since they had no problems employing a serial domestic abuser. One can only imagine the renewed vitriol owners will receive from their bigoted fan base, egged on by their messiah. At any rate, Kaepernick may remain a sacrificial lamb, but perhaps for not much longer.

***

The events of this past weekend has led to the renewal of infantile arguments over what is and isn’t patriotic: “protesting is patriotic!” kneeling for the anthem is unpatriotic!” Both sides accuse the other of fundamentally misunderstanding their viewpoint. How nice it would be for a player to say, “you know what? How about fuck patriotism, fuck the flag, and fuck the national anthem“[3]. Which is kind of funny in a way, because the bigots screaming at traitorous black athletes assume this is what they’re specifically protesting. And the protesters reiterate that no, that’s not why.

What’s particularly striking is how this is breaking down upon racial lines amongst the players. I only know of one white player, Seth DeValve of the Cleveland Browns, who has kneeled or sat prior to yesterday. This is despite requests for solidarity from white players. One can only imagine if it has more to do with cowardice or misguided, simplistic patriotism. Surely it’s a mixture that varies from player to player [4].

This week, some locked arms with teammates (this isn’t really new) or placed a hand on a shoulder in solidarity. And even after what transpired over the weekend, I don’t believe more than a handful of white players chose not to stand. Annoying but unsurprising.

***

The larger question is how much this shit even matters. It likely won’t change too much. It seems we’ve run up against an impenetrable wall in the fight for true social justice. Solutions need to confront the systemic problems we face and I’m not convinced change will come from within the system, however one wants to define it politically and economically.

In regards to police violence, the catalyst for Kaepernick’s protest, shootings in 2017 are roughly on pace to match the total from 2016 [5]. It should surprise no one that sitting down for the national anthem has failed to solve this enormous problem. Moreover, there were ACTUAL PROTESTS about a cop shooting in St. Louis this past week. I don’t believe I heard one word about it from the direction of the NFL or NBA.

Such is the gravity of Trump that he is able to turn the narrative into a broader response to racism and white supremacy simply by injecting himself into the discussion. That pivot away from police violence may not be the worst thing in the world because actual racists and white supremacists are having a bit of a moment right now.

As noted, when this style of protest occurs on game day it is mostly symbolic. This should not be taken to denigrate the good work athletes such as Kaepernick do off the field. I really do think it’s important to stand up to racist assholes. Especially the one sitting in the White House and his adoring base. I can quibble about it not going far enough, but at this moment we need to keep screaming about racism’s prevalence and resurgence. Athletes likely are feeling a sense of catharsis that accompanies confronting injustice. Hopefully they keep it up, as the hummingbird-like attention span of the president shifts elsewhere.


[1] This is, of course, on the heels of not inviting the Golden State Warriors to the WH, and calling for Jemele Hill to be fired. I sense a pattern here but it’s so hard to put my finger on it.

[2] This is a narrative that the players almost unanimously subscribe to. No one, aside from perhaps Kaepernick, has really questioned American exceptionalism.

[3] “No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

[4] I’m a huge Packer fan and I was pretty bummed Aaron Rodgers stood, especially after a post on Instagram that was interpreted by some as a sign he’d kneel. I’m very biased and believe him to be far more thoughtful than brand-bots like Russell Wilson, good ‘ol boys like Drew Brees, and quasi-literate rapists like Ben Roethlisberger:

I ask him [Rodgers] what he thinks about that battle — the actual subject of Kaepernick’s protest. As always, he pauses to collect his thoughts. “I think the best way I can say this is: I don’t understand what it’s like to be in that situation. What it is to be pulled over, or profiled, or any number of issues that have happened, that Colin was referencing — or any of my teammates have talked to me about.” He adds that he believes it’s an area the country needs to “remedy and improve” and one he’s striving to better understand. “But I know it’s a real thing my black teammates have to deal with.”

All of that said, I’m pretty disappointed he chose to stand and not support three of his teammates that didn’t.

[5] See here and here

The complicity of establishment Republicans in the rescinding of DACA

Trump is ending DACA, as you likely already know.

It is only the latest in a sequence of taking conservative talking points to their logical endgame. Years and years of Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio-types pandering to callous bigots have led to this. And yet, these same assholes are not happy with this. House speaker and weasel-faced fuck Paul Ryan had this to say:

I actually don’t think he should do that [ending DACA]. I believe that this is something that Congress has to fix.

These are kids who know no other country, who were brought here by their parents and don’t know another home. And so I really do believe there that there needs to be a legislative solution.

This is only one of many mealy-mouthed condemnations by cowards, but no need to belabor the point.

I’m reminded of Trump’s early campaign-era stance on abortion. He went from pro-life to advocating “some form of punishment” for women who have abortions. It was walked backed after he was almost universally condemned. He sounded like someone who was grasping for what pro-life rhetoric actually entails: if abortion really does equal murder, then the murderers deserve punishment. I’m surprised establishment Republicans aren’t willing to go that far. Oh to be a fly on the wall of the meeting the day after the comments. I can hear his execrable voice in my head: “I thought this is what you people fucking wanted?!?!?

And here we are with the rollback of DACA. After years and years of his party inflaming xenophobic sentiment, the new administration is enacting some of its more cruel directives. It makes sense: if children are in America illegally, they should be made to leave. Fuck compassion. Compassion is for the downtrodden, white, working class.

As noted above, establishment Republicans are perplexingly aghast and I don’t really understand why – except from the standpoint that they hope to project a timid empathy to their slightly less shitty constituents that have the merest semblance of a heart.

Again, this is only the latest realization of one part of the right’s garbage ideology. Can’t wait to see what’s next.

At any rate, fuck them forever.

[ETA, right before posting I noticed Ryan has already changed his mind and congratulated Trump for courageously beginning the process of kicking vulnerable children out of the country:

Congress writes laws, not the president, and ending this program fulfills a promise that President Trump made to restore the proper role of the executive and legislative branches.

The fact we’re from the same state makes me sick]

Cool new study suggests the poor have shittier brains

The Life You Can Save’s [1] Facebook page recently shared an article that asks the question: does poverty show up in children’s brains? Because who among us haven’t been aware of the plight of the less fortunate and wondered if, in addition to being less fortunate, or also mentally inferior?

From the article:

Children from households below the federal poverty line ($24,250 for a family of four in 2015) had 8 to 10% less grey matter in these critical regions [frontal lobe, temporal lobe and hippocampus]. And even kids whose families were slightly better off – incomes of one-and-a-half times the federal poverty level – had 3 to 4% less grey matter than the developmental norm. In Pollak’s study, many of the poor parents were highly educated, indicating the “maturational lags” their children suffered from were a direct result of the circumstances of poverty.

The policy implications are immense. If the data holds, simply moving a family’s income out of poverty might be enough to get that child much closer to cognitive developmental norms [IT’S SO SIMPLE!]. And while we don’t yet know whether, or how much, these brain disparities persist into adulthood, this research – combined with past work demonstrating that people raised in poverty end up doing worse financially and suffering greater health problems than their more-affluent contemporaries over the course of their lifetimes – suggests they probably have lifelong effects.

These studies indicate it isn’t one specific factor that’s solely responsible for diminishing brain growth and intellectual potential, but rather the larger environment of poverty.

You did it, oh benevolent scientists! I think we now can definitively state that poverty is bad! Pop the fucking champagne! [2]

There is an ocean of research and literature pertaining to the causes and effects of poverty. To my knowledge, I don’t think any studies have been done to discover just how much money and resources have been put into this. What a fucking myopic waste of time, all to satisfy the curiosity of certain sections of academia. In regards to the above referenced research, what do they even tell they’re subjects? “Sorry, you’re brain kinda sucks. Good luck with that – try to get more money before you have kids.”

Maybe all of these researchers think their work will be the catalyst for the large-scale changes needed to actually confront the massive problems related to income inequality. And that’s a noble pursuit, snark aside. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so rude and dismissive of their career choices – after all, we’re all just wasting time until we die 🙂

***

Matthew Desmond studied my home city, Milwaukee, in his critically acclaimed book about the crushing repercussions of eviction. I found it profound and heartbreaking. It shone a light on a relatively unknown aspect of poverty.

Upon further reflection, asking the question if eviction can have astoundingly negative consequences for the evictees should be answered “yes, no shit.” Research like this filters out into the general populace, and the well-to-do can sadly nod at yet another previously unseen side of the mountain of bullshit that the less fortunate are forced to ascend if they want any semblance of comfort and stability in their lives.

During last summer’s unrest in Milwaukee, I recall seeing a video of a young man angrily lamenting those who come into his neighborhood looking to study them, like animals in a zoo. He asks the very relevant question of “what good does that do for us? They come here, leave, and nothing changes” [3]. It’s a salient point.

Which study will be the one to actually incite meaningful action?

***

The elite, and their sycophants (simultaneously worshiping and jealously coveting the status of their societal betters) have always scorned the less well off. History is replete with uncountable anecdotes, from Mesopotamian city-states to the contemporary West. I don’t think it necessary to belabor the point with endless examples

Evidence of superiority is eagerly sought out, though it’s hard to see why it’s even necessary. To pick one, easy, example, white Europeans were obviously superior to their colonial subjects. However, that self-evident knowledge was insufficient and reasons why needed to be sought out. Superior religion and intelligence proved to be the best justifications, enabling them to revel in their paternalistic mastery over their new domains.

Unfortunately, science has also been a useful tool for the dominant classes to use as a quasi-intellectual cudgel (surely this has been adequately covered on FtB). Recently, a Google employee’s anti-diversity screed went viral. I highly recommend not reading it and won’t even attempt to summarize it. As Rae Paoletta at Gizmodo points out, this is merely another example of the usage of science to reify the status of a dominant class (in this case, men):

Of course, using “science” to justify male superiority is much older than anything espoused by evolutionary psychologists. The idea that women are less psychologically stable—or more, bluntly, “hysterical”—has been around at least since Hippocrates wrote about it in the 5th century BCE. As Freud and his contemporaries later posited, women’s biology explained their “inherent” insanity. Or, as this particular Google employee called it, their neuroticism.

Through this lens, it’s not hard to see research about brain-inferiority being used by terrible people.

***

But maybe this is the research that will lead to change on a large-scale. I can see it now: Senator Bleeding Heart, Democrat from the Northeast/Northwest, introduces legislation (already passed by the House) citing it. Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan both shed tears in shame for the evil they’ve done. Party lines are dissolved as the legislation is passed in a remarkable show of bipartisan solidarity. The 1% is to be heavily taxed and that money is transferred to the poor. A rider halves the military budget, freeing up even more money. A chastened, somber President Trump recognizes the gravity of the moment and the thick layers of bile that constitute his fetid interior disintegrates. He signs the bill. Truly, America is finally starting on the road to Becoming Great Again.  (Please excuse both my childlike understanding of how a bill becomes a law and simplistic methods to confront mass poverty).

More seriously, this is manna for the Sam Harris’s of the world. Just think: if poor Americans have less gray matter, just imagine how much less Muslim refugees have. Especially if they spend their formative years in camps. Harris can continue to laud himself for the courage he has to stand up to the regressive left using this evidence for his loathsome beliefs. So brave, always speaking truth to the vast power of the cowardly PC elites.

Let’s be honest, we are nowhere near ready to willing as a society to confront the systemic natures of the problem of inequality. This isn’t to say that all research into the causes of poverty is without utility. If it leads to increased donations to worthy organizations then that’s good. But it was truly disheartening to see TLYC, as well as one of their featured charities, GiveDirectly, sharing this. All in all, performing research to investigate brain differences serves to further stigmatize the less fortunate. It does not help.


[1]  TLYCS studies which charities do the best, most effective work. I wrote about it here

[2] I’ll leave scrutinizing the actual research to those more knowledgeable than I about the brain sciences

[3] Unfortunately I haven’t been able to locate this video

Fucking gross

It never fails. After every episode of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, I get an increase in traffic towards a post I wrote 4 months ago. Briefly, Samantha Bee and her husband Jason Jones were resisting desegregation efforts in their district, something I feel is extremely shitty and hypocritical.

Sometimes I can see where it’s been linked.

One website, apparently some kind of message board for Nike shoes, quoted a quote I used, and nothing else:

Samantha Bee is a liberal, right up until she thinks about her children having to go to school with black kids. Then, she turns into Strom Thurmond.” [from the comment section of a Slate article]

That was it, no context given. The take-home message the person received was that Samantha Bee=Strom Thurmond, which was used in a bewildering discussion sequence that hurt my brain.

Yesterday, to my horror, it turned up on a Reddit board for Opie and Anthony. If you don’t know them, you’re not missing anything. Unless you like terrible things. The person that linked to my post used a racial slur, and the rest of the thread consists of assorted, bigoted trash. So my blog was used as evidence for liberal hypocrisy by a trash person in his (it has to be a him) discussion with other trash people.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t all. Later on, it was linked on a thread on the fucking Trump Reddit. Fucking gross.

Regardless, I still stand behind everything I wrote and have no issue pointing out hypocrisy by beloved liberal superstars. If my interpretation is incorrect I’d certainly issue a mea culpa, but I’ve seen no evidence to the contrary. Anyways, this sucks and it feels weird.

So if you happen to see this, and found my blog via bigot Reddit threads, go fuck yourself.

Doom and gloom

In the late 90’s one of my best friends started on the slippery slope to full immersion into fundamentalist Christianity. By this time, we were in different colleges and communicating less and less, usually via AIM (rememeber that?!?). Whatever denomination he settled on, it was one of the sects that believed we were living in the end times. This was preposterous to me. One of his primary arguments was the recent increase in war and natural catastrophes. Nonsense, younger me countered, this shit’s been going on forever and it’s probably not getting appreciably worse. At the time, I had no idea if my rebuttal was true or not, but I was absolutely certain that a divinely prophesied apocalypse was nothing to be taken seriously.

My argument was made with the naive, myopic conceit that things will generally stay the same. Things (vaguely) would get a little better or worse, technology would continue to increase, benefiting some more than others. Basically, my bubble of a life as a middle class, straight white dude would maintain a sense of equilibrium. I’ll get up in the morning, go to work, go home and relax, or do something. Tomorrow will be pretty close to yesterday. Next week will look similar to the previous week. Work will mostly suck, but I’ll have a place to sleep, food to eat, and clean water to drink.

I constantly think about how extremely narrow my life experiences are, and that life looks completely different to different people in different times and different places. What’s normal to me is shared by relatively few people that have ever existed. Most people weren’t born into a white, Roman Catholic, middle class family in the rust belt in the early 80’s. Even within that subsection, things can look and feel wildly different based on any number of environmental factors.

***

In an interview with The Concourse, Walter Scheidel, Professor of Classics and History at Stanford, discusses his new book The Great Leveler which 

draws on thousands of years of history in civilizations across the world, and reaches a rather staggering conclusion: Extreme violence, plague, or total social collapse are the only things that have ever successfully leveled out inequality in societies. ‘Four different kinds of violent ruptures have flattened inequality: mass mobilization warfare, transformative revolution, state failure, and lethal pandemics,’ he writes. ‘I call these the Four Horsemen of Leveling.’

The interview is definitely worth reading in full and I intend to get the book at some point. Scheidel manages to inject a little optimism that is shot down in a way that’s darkly humorous:

Is there anything hopeful or constructive that people concerned about inequality can take from these findings?

Scheidel: That’s what the history is, whether we like it or not. It doesn’t mean that it always has to be this way. It doesn’t mean that there’s no alternative way of improving things, it’s just we haven’t found it yet… History doesn’t determine the future. It just gives a sense of what’s easy and what’s hard.

And yet, this is the line from your book’s conclusion that jumped out at me: “Only all-out thermonuclear war might fundamentally reset the existing distribution of resources.”

Scheidel: Which is technically true. [Laughs]

Income inequality has been getting worse and worse for some time. How long are the socioeconomically disadvantaged, unluckily born into less privileged situations, going to remain relatively docile, as income inequality continues to increase? A reckoning may be on the way if the ruling classes aren’t able to find ways to pacify the masses, with increasing numbers of families sliding out of the middle class. Sports, entertainment, and mind-altering substances have been useful distractions alongside the ever-present need to secure shelter, food and water. I wonder if a tipping point will be reached and what that will look and like.

***

The religion-based doom and gloom believed by my old friend may have a factual basis, but obviously not in the way he thinks. The prospect of numerous apocalypses divorced from religion are ubiquitous, and eschatological preachers no longer have a monopoly in that area. There are innumerable shapes it could take: climate change, gamma ray blast, impact event, supervolcano eruption, nuclear war, famine, plague, and as described above, societal collapse caused by untenable income inequality.

The secular evangelizers are not spewing the inane blather of manipulative purveyors of dogmatic faith. They are individuals who dedicate their lives to studying long term historical trends and empirically investigating the secrets of the cosmos. Or, if not them directly, then the journalists, writers, reporters and bloggers who summarize their premonitions.

I’m loathe to mention our glorious leader and I’m purposefully trying to limit his mentions in my blog, but it’s obvious income inequality, not to mention the other listed apocalypses, isn’t on his radar (except, perhaps, for his venerable adviser’s hard-on for war with Islam). No, foremost among his list of things worth throwing money at is our already bloated as fuck military, a useless wall, and god knows what else.

I haven’t had to deal with any of the phenomena that evoke the idea of impending personal, societal, or global apocalypse. Again, I wonder what that would look and feel like. My interest is not in the minority: we are culturally obsessed with the idea. Hollywood blockbusters are the the most saccharine manifestations of this, portraying collapse in the form of easily digestible entertainment with little constructive thinking required. Such cultural representations are largely ephemeral in our consciousness, and not likely to cause much more than a small amount of cognitive dissonance – after all, collapse may not even occur and, if it does, it will be in the undetermined future. We’ll go on consumed with our daily lives, but there are storm clouds on the horizon that we are only dimly aware of. One day the clouds, perhaps soon, perhaps later, will arrive.

Hey! check out this pair of BFF’s:

Leave Kellyanne alone

I’m going to give Kellyanne Conway the benefit of the doubt on misspeaking “one word.” Because who could be intellectually dishonest enough to allege a nonexistent massacre and subsequently claim her mistake was no big deal? Who among us hasn’t said “massacre” while intending to say “terrorists?” It’s an easy mistake.

But maybe, due to lamestream media bullying and SJW ridicule, she’s too ashamed to admit she misplaced her massacre by roughly 200 miles and 235 years. Indeed, there was a massacre near present day Bowling Green. The perpetrators, however were not Muslim immigrants or refugees, but American militiamen (almost certainly Christians, all). The victims were pacifist Christianized Native Americans living outside of the boundaries of the nascent United States of America:

In early March 1782, the Lenape were surprised by a raiding party of 160 Pennsylvania militia led by Lieutenant Colonel David Williamson. The militia rounded up the Christian Lenape and accused them of taking part in raids into Pennsylvania. Although the Lenape denied the charges, the militia held a council and voted to kill them.

After the Lenape were told of the militia’s vote, they requested time to prepare for death and spent the night praying and singing hymns. They were held in two buildings, one for men and one for women and children.

The next morning on 8 March, the militia brought the Lenape to one of two “killing houses”, one for men and the other for women and children. The militia tied the Indians, stunned them with mallet blows to the head, and killed them with fatal scalping cuts. In all, the militia murdered and scalped 28 men, 29 women, and 39 children. Two Indian boys, one of whom had been scalped, survived to tell of the massacre. The bodies were piled in the mission buildings and burned the village down. They also burned the other abandoned Moravian villages.

The militia looted the villages prior to their burning. The plunder, which needed 80 horses to carry included everything which the people had held: furs for trade, pewter, tea sets, and clothing.

In 1810, Tecumseh reminded future President William Henry Harrison, “You recall the time when the Jesus Indians of the Delawares lived near the Americans, and had confidence in their promises of friendship, and thought they were secure, yet the Americans murdered all the men, women, and children, even as they prayed to Jesus?”

Maybe Conway will find the courage to clarify her initial comments and educate the masses about their heritage. I suppose I shouldn’t hold my breath.

 

 

 

 

Do what you’re told

The stories are trickling in regarding Trump’s immigration restrictions. It’s almost startling how fast these restrictions were implemented, or at least it would be if we had any reason to expect things to not be shitty. The president gives the order and immediately his demands are carried out. He says jump, and the federal, state, and local authorities comply, from office workers to the security officers on the front lines – spineless cowards, all of them. It’s something important to keep in mind.

A culture that deifies [1] authority figures gives unwarranted truth to the lie that they can do no wrong. They’re just following orders after all, whether they agree with it or not. For every terrible thing Trump orders there are underlings who have to decide whether or not to carry it out, as it filters through the institutional hierarchy. I have nothing but contempt for those that do, even if they have reservations or concerns. I guess it’s easy for me to say, since I generally don’t work at places I consider ethically compromising (though I was in debt collection for a minute and it was exceptionally soul destroying).  If you won’t quit because you need the job or can’t find a new one, well, I just don’t really care. With the ubiquity of horrors in this world, my empathy rations are running thin and don’t extend to such people. I hesitate to reference “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” by Hannah Arendt, but fuck it:

[T]he murderers were not sadists or killers by nature; on the contrary, a systematic effort was made to weed out all those who derived physical pleasure from what they did. The troops of the Einsatzgruppen had been drafted from the Armed S.S., a military unit with hardly more crimes in its record than any ordinary unit of the German Army, and their commanders had been chosen by Heydrich from the S.S. élite with academic degrees. Hence the problem was how to overcome not so much their conscience as the animal pity by which all normal men are affected in the presence of physical suffering. The trick used by Himmler — who apparently was rather strongly afflicted by these instinctive reactions himself — was very simple and probably very effective; it consisted in turning these instincts around, as it were, in directing them toward the self. So that instead of saying: What horrible things I did to people!, the murderers would be able to say: What horrible things I had to watch in the pursuance of my duties, how heavily the task weighed upon my shoulders!


[1]. “Whites have consistently been shown to appear in a “hero” role on television news, being overrepresented as both officers and victims. In the past, authors have produced multiple alternative explanations for distorted race and crime portrayals. Three specific perspectives should be highlighted: (1) ethnic blame discourse, (2) incognizant racism, and (3) structural limitations and economic interests.”

 

Pipelines

To my shame, I’ve never had much more than a tenuous grasp on what presidents can or can’t do. Which is why I was confused about the executive orders signed by Trump regarding the Keystone XL and Dakota pipelines. Can he just make these projects happen with the stroke of a pen? Thankfully, at this point, the answer is no.

For the Dakota pipeline he’s merely requesting the Army Corps of Engineers to hurry the fuck up and approve it. From The Atlantic

[T]he executive orders seemed to be written in a typical way. Instead of commanding agencies to ignore congressionally passed law, the orders request that they expedite or reconsider previous judgments. “Executive orders are legal orders—they’re law—but they can’t contravene legislative enactments. So an executive order can’t say, ‘Ignore the (National Environmental Policy Act) and give me a pipeline,’” [Sarah Krakoff, a professor of tribal and resources law at the University of Colorado Boulder] told me.

“If the federal law gives decision-making authority to a particular official, that official has to make the decision,” said John Leshy, a professor of real property law and a former general counsel to the U.S. Department of the Interior. “But there’s some murkiness about what the president can do. The decision maker can say no, and then the president can fire them and replace them with someone who would. But that takes time.”

Krakoff added that it would attract judicial suspicion if the Army Corps of Engineers suddenly decided that it didn’t have to make an environmental-impact statement for the Dakota Access pipeline after saying that it did just weeks ago.

“It would be hard for them to turn around on a dime and say, ‘We got this piece of paper from the president and now we don’t think that’s necessary,’” she said. “If the agency were to take a different route, legally, now, I would strongly suspect that that would be subject to litigation.”

There is less in the way of getting the Keystone XL pipeline off the ground. Ominously, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (isn’t he supposed to be a totally cool and awesome liberal heartthrob???) is welcoming the opportunity for TransCanada to re-submit its application:

Canadian diplomats had spent years attempting to convince Obama to let Keystone proceed. Trump’s decision was applauded by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.

“I’ve been on the record for many years supporting it because it means economic growth and good jobs for Albertans,” Trudeau said at a Liberal cabinet retreat in Calgary.

To sum up where we are now in regards to the pipelines, (again, from The Atlantic article):

Experts seemed to think the Keystone XL pipeline would be easier to restart, at least from a legal perspective. The obstacles to that pipeline originated in the federal government and not an ongoing legal challenge. But in a way, that highlights the paradox of the two pipelines: While it may be easier to restart Keystone XL legally, none of that project is built, and there’s no guarantee that it ever will be. The Dakota Access pipeline, meanwhile, sits idle at 80-percent completion. It is closer to being done. It also has, legally, much further to go.

Our primary hope appears to be sweet, sweet labyrinthine bureaucracy, as well as the fact that not all executive orders yield their desired results. The Atlantic article notes this and concludes with an outline of Obama’s inability to follow through on his 2009 executive order to close Guantanamo. It would be obscene and demoralizing if Trump’s authoritarian bullying succeeds in attaining environmentally destructive goals, while Obama’s eloquence and diplomacy failed to achieve his comparatively noble mission to close an ongoing human rights disaster.

On badly named college papers, state violence, and resistance

1984: Satire or Reality?

This is the cringeworthy title of a paper I wrote for an English 101 class in 1999, at the age of 18. I came across it a couple years back, though was too embarrassed to read the contents. It was likely naive and alarmist, as only a college freshmen English paper on the topic of totalitarianism could be. Basically, it could’ve been the subject of an Onion article.

This past weekend I, and doubtless many others, couldn’t help but think about 1984 as Sean Spicer spewed a bunch of nonsense that was obviously and demonstrably false, and be scared. Politicians lie. They’ve always lied. [1] But this just feels different, an ominous harbinger of what’s to come. It’s one thing to blatantly lie and fly off the handle about unimportant minutia during a campaign that was more akin to a surreal reality show, but this was the second fucking day of actually being president. Just wait until they start to lie about things that actually matter. Of course they’ve been lying for months, but now they’ll have the whole weight of the federal government behind them, and all that that entails.

I think it gives the Trump administration too much credit to suggest Spicer’s inauguration crowd related briefing was done to deflect attention from Saturday’s protests. Why deflect that attention to a topic that makes him look petty and delusional? Any shift in awareness would have been an unintentionally happy byproduct – there’s no reason to believe that Trump didn’t want his version of the truth about this very important matter to be completely accepted.

If I can take solace in anything, it’s that the millions who participated in the Women’s March showed that there are a large amount of people that aren’t ignorant enough to believe the facile lies coming from Trump and his mouthpieces. He should now know to expect resistance. If (probably when) he starts doing terrible things (starting a war, rounding up Muslims, punishing the media (whatever that will entail), etc.), people will again take to the streets. Trump is a man who does not take criticism well, and he openly encouraged violence against dissenters during his campaign. He is now in charge of a dangerous, powerful, multifaceted security apparatus. If he gives the order for violence against civilians, how will the foot soldiers of the state respond?

In 1789, during the waning days of the Kingdom of France, women, angered over bread prices and food shortages, fucked shit up. Juxtaposing women’s roles in the French Revolution and the Saturday marches, Micah White at The Guardian writes

The lesson here is that protesting grandmothers, daughters and mothers have the unique power to do what male protesters cannot – such as break through a line of national guard bayonets without being fired upon. And for this reason, women will always play a foundational role in the great revolutions to come, but only when they take matters into their own hands, act unexpectedly and viscerally, and focus their collective energy on the only target that matters: concretely establishing the power of the people over their governments.

I don’t know how much I buy that, as it rests on powerful men (well, mostly men) backed by state power being too squeamish to react violently towards a large crowd of women. God knows men haven’t been shy about perpetrating violence against women for, I dunno, the past 10,000 years? [2] But perhaps they’ll be more apt to show reluctance, whether that’s out of enlightenment, guilt, or the fear of being filmed. And while Saturday was, by all accounts peaceful – with smiling faces, boundless positivity, and selfies galore – it’s unclear how peaceful subsequent protests will be in the future. Also very unclear is to what extent peaceful street protest in the modern era will actually achieve its intended goals, as vague and open to interpretation as those goals may be.

On the other side of the spectrum, more than 60 million people are more than happy to consume oceans of bullshit from their hero. While many of them are too far gone, the younger generation needs to know that Trump’s terrible beliefs, worn like badges of honor by him and his claque, are not okay. We have our work cut out for us:

When it comes to explicit prejudice against blacks, non-Hispanic white millennials are not much different than whites belonging to Generation X (born 1965-1980) or Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964). White millennials (using a definition of being born after 1980) express the least prejudice on 4 out of 5 measures in the survey, but only by a matter of 1 to 3 percentage points, not a meaningful difference. On work ethic, 31 percent of millennials rate blacks as lazier than whites, compared to 32 percent of Generation X whites and 35 percent of Baby Boomers.

One might even go so far as to say that 1984 is already a reality for the aforementioned 60+ million bootlickers [3] (please know that my tongue couldn’t be further inside my cheek). Whether their numbers increase or decrease is going to be pretty important.


[1] To pick one, GWB was obviously lying about the official rationale for attacking Iraq, framing it as a war for liberation against a despot. That should have made one wonder why we were cool with, for one example among many, Turkmenistan’s recently deceased dictator boiling people alive. But a fuckload of people probably never even heard of Turkmenistan, or constructively thought about or sought information about why GWB’s noble warmongering propaganda was on faulty ground. What I’m saying is, fine, I can see why people swallowed lies from that asshole. His lies were at least plausible. Then again, I’m probably just misremembering the relative innocence of the early to mid aughts. At any rate, as mentioned by Aziz Ansari on SNL, Trump might be the best thing that happened to GWB.

[2] On the origins of gender role disparity:

Mark Dyble, an anthropologist who led the study at University College London, said: “There is still this wider perception that hunter-gatherers are more macho or male-dominated. We’d argue it was only with the emergence of agriculture, when people could start to accumulate resources, that inequality emerged.”

The study suggests that it was only with the dawn of agriculture, when people were able to accumulate resources for the first time, that an imbalance emerged. “Men can start to have several wives and they can have more children than women,” said Dyble. “It pays more for men to start accumulating resources and becomes favourable to form alliances with male kin.”

Soon enough, early agriculturalist men begin to see women as wholly subservient, and humanity started down the path towards institutionalized patriarchy.

[3] “The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”