Saturday, August 14, 2010


We continue reviewing the 1986 book entitled “The Politics of Victimization” by Robert Elias, then of Tufts University.*

Elias can always be relied on to cover the proper bases; in that he’s professional. But he’s also an ‘advocate’ type of researcher/scholar, so you can never tell when his predispositions affect his analysis of an otherwise important sub-topic.

He rightly gets to “Measuring Victimization” and he’s going to look at the sources. (p.37) “These figures can tell us many things about victimization … [and about] how much victimization we suffer … [and] significantly affect public policy and perceptions, and thus we must closely analyze how they are derived.”

The SO community, going back to the initial stampedes of the ‘classic’ SO Mania era in the early 1990s, is well aware about how significantly public policy and perceptions are affected. You can, given the (im-)proper dispositions, start yourself a lethal if useful stampede by waving statistics in concert with selective and sensationalistic ‘reporting’ and ‘stories’. As many people walked around believing the country was swarming with slavering stranger sex offenders bent on kidnap-rape-murder, just as before long (by the oddest coincidence) the country started walking around in the sure and certain ‘knowledge’ that Saddam had WMDs.

And he speaks with an eerie foreshadowing (he’s writing in 1986) when he then says that “Our so-called ‘crime waves’ may reflect the ebb and flow of police and organization imperatives rather than actual crime”. (p.37) I think he’s trying to say that sometimes the official (and at that time not-victim-sensitive) law enforcement priorities are driven by forces other than concern for the victim; but it also works very well in reverse: in a ‘push’ initiated by politicians at all levels including the Federal, ‘forces’ can be generated that will equally (if not worse) skew and deform law enforcement in favor of Victimology.

In fact, when you think of it: when a crime is committed, its consequences ripple out for a certain distance into society. But when a type of crime is selectively raised up as a national ‘emergency’ and ‘crisis’, and then law enforcement and jurisprudence are deformed - even on the level of Constitutional integrity – in order to meet the ‘emergency’, then the bad consequences of THAT are not rippled-out (like a pebble dropped in water sends out waves) bur rather transmitted-out and amplified like radio waves. They don’t ripple out toward the citizens but rather rain-down upon them, passing through walls and seemingly solid objects. And that can’t be good. Especially when sustained over decades.

Elias notes the Uniform Crime Reports complied by the FBI. He notes that they indicate certain major categories of crime rising “an average of 350 percent” in the past twenty years:” (i.e. since the 1960s). Although in an aside he mentions that “we may have reached a peak sometime in the mid-1970s”. (p.37) Of course, this may have reflected the large number of Boomer youth coming of age, on top of that cohort of young kids during WW2 whose lives and families were disrupted by war and then possibly by a move to the suburbs right after it … lots of room for troubled and under-Shaped kids growing out of all that.

But then he observes, honestly enough, that what might be developing is not a ‘crime wave’ but rather a ‘crime reporting wave’. We saw this in the verrrrry curious phases and Waves of the verrrry curious Catholic abuse ‘crisis’: what surfaced was not so much a steady flow of reports of freshly-committed crimes, but rather a steady (indeed increasingly lurid) stream of reports about crimes long-past (assuming they were committed as described in the first place).

Then he gets on to “victimization surveys”, which are merely organized opportunities for persons to say whatever they’d like to say. After all, he says, “official statistics … apparently indicate only part of the crime problem”. (p.38)

The solution to that, he burbles proudly, was that “beginning in the late 1960s, researchers and later the government, began assessing crime through victimization surveys” – and, by amazing coincidence, these surveys demonstrate that “official statistics have underestimated actual victimization by 300 to 500%”.

Take a moment, if you will, to contemplate that.

If you haven’t got enough factual information to build your case (and perhaps its subsequent professional and advocacy ‘empire’) then you can raise up an entirely new source of ‘information’ and ‘statistics’ that is not bound by such inconvenient and limiting boundaries as truth, verification, and any objective assessment at all.

So, meshing nicely with the then-growing feminist assertion that women don’t so much process and relay information through abstract ‘facts, but rather cast their information in the form of ‘telling stories’, “researchers” (meaning either professionals who should have known better or non-professionals who figured that a pencil, some paper, and a couple-three leading questions made them professionals) started to ‘just ask’ certain types of folks.

And the result, as any 8 year-old could have told them, was a veritable Genesis Effect of ‘stories’, in this case – since the ‘research’ was skewed toward them – ‘victimization’ stories.

I am not saying that none of the stories thus gleaned were accurate. But a) there is no way to ascertain just how truthful and accurate such survey results really are. And b) there is thus no way that any prudent government, concerned for its legitimacy and integrity, could implement Constitutionally dangerous and broad policies based on them.

But the ‘story’ approach made great if shallow ‘reporting’ so the media eagerly signed on.

And – equally ominously – the “government” perked up its ears and its whiskers started twitching. Prosecutors could see huge hay to be made in conviction rates if you could i) point to this huge “dark figure” of an amount of ‘victimization’ quintuple the amount of official statistics: you could claim an ‘emergency’; you could put forth a telegenic ‘victim’ like a puppy or a meerkat or a penguin to ‘front’ your prosecutions; you could even – if the legislators and judges could be gotten on board like the media – free ‘prosecution’ from the ‘obstructions’ of Constitutional due process and factuality. ‘Victimology’ suddenly became verrrrry attractive to prosecutors who in a more ‘macho’ era simply saw law enforcement and criminal prosecution as a mano-a-mano between lawbreakers and cops, with a procedural ho-hum air to the settled rhythms of court process.

‘Victimology’, in a word, became ‘sexy’ and victimization surveys ‘sexed up’ the whole process, engrossing the public in lurid stories breathlessly ‘reported’, in which the law enforcers suddenly became ‘heroes’ (erasing in a quick swipe both the horror of Southern police beating up on civil rights marchers and the failures and atrocities of the Vietnam-era military). (And who can forget that in 2003 one British high official reported to Tony Blair that in the lead-up to the Iraq invasion the Americans were ‘sexing up’ their ‘facts’ in order to guarantee the rush to war?)

All of which caught the legislators like fish in a trolling-net. You could please a large and nicely mixed demographic of feminist advocates and law-and-order folks; make yourself look both ‘concerned’ and ‘effective’; build up fat bureaucracies filled with ‘jobs’ that would indenture fresh new employees and fund all sorts of ‘groups’ that would also be beholden to your control of the purse-strings; and also maybe distract lots and lots of voters from your inability to keep the Great American Success Story going. What was not to like?

And, of course, you would look verrrry ‘modern’ and ‘cutting edge’, moving American society toward the increasing government and police regulation you were going to need to ensure social order, since in other legislative policies you were Deconstructing the Family and Parents and Adult Authority and many many other institutions that had done the work of preparing kids to live a peaceable and orderly personal life in society. And since, instead, whole cohorts of kids were being raised according to a new philosophy that valued ‘total autonomy’ and insisted that limits, boundaries, and any sort of Shape to a life that you didn’t choose on your own merely constituted ‘oppression’. And, of course, it was as American as apple pie to hate ‘oppression’.

So a certain amount of police-state was built into all the new ‘reforms’; if there weren’t going to be all those ‘traditional’ forces doing the civilizing work in American culture, then the government was going to have to step in with the criminal law.

And if the Constitution was thereby rendered ‘quaint’, well – times change and so what? It would all work out, once people got used to things.

So the new national script would be that law enforcement ‘heroes’ would rush to the rescue of ‘victims’, manfully and heroically unhindered by namby-pamby concerns about ‘legality’ and the Constitution. In an odd way law enforcement put John Wayne’s classic movie approach to the service of the latest postmodern fads – and Victimology would be the benefactor, a theory and world-view rather very largely based, in the American crime-centered variant, on that huge ‘dark figure’ of crimes that existed only in those survey ‘stories’.

Elias is not bothered by the downsides. After all, he says, “many writers” came to the quick conclusion that the real reason for the ‘dark figure’ was simply that many ‘victims’ were “reluctant to report” their ‘victimizations. (p.38) Just how significant were the ‘crimes’ that made these folks feel ‘victimized’ is another question.

Nor, in the American crime-centered variant, was any attention going to be paid to citizens ‘victimized’ by government activity such as the improper use of military force against peoples around the world.*

Note also that the persons who ‘discovered’ or ‘determined’ that the main reason for non-reporting was simply ‘reluctance’ are not described by Elias as ‘researchers’ or ‘scholars’ but as “writers” – which opens up a whole new dark side to this thing: the explosion of ‘advocate’ writers, not professionally trained and/or not bound by the disciplines of objective research in service of actual facts. But of course, in an ‘emergency’ and in a Good Cause, ‘facts don’t matter’ any more than due-process ‘obstructions’.

What Elias talks about in 1986, and how he goes about it, will come to ominous fruition within half a decade.

Yes, he admits, some of those surveyed “might be inclined to overstate” what happened to them but “despite these reservations, most researchers place much more confidence in victim surveys than in official statistics”. (p.38) And then – who could be surprised? – the government saw a useful development and devised the National Crime Survey, thus combining governmental and Victimological interests into an ‘official’ survey.

Worse, he notes that “despite these reservations most researchers place much more confidence in victim surveys than in official statistics”. (p.38)

Again, he uses – and this is now typical – the terms ‘writers’, ‘researchers’, ‘scholars’, ‘thinkers’ and ‘experts’ interchangeably. And this, of course, opens the door to assertions and claims by many non-trained persons who are either sincerely ‘concerned’ but not trained in objectivity and actual research discipline; or are ‘advocacy’ scientists or scholars and feel that they have a higher purpose than mere (and ‘male’) objectivity and truth; or professionals who have to keep a weather eye on where their funding is coming from (i.e. the government); or entrepreneurs who stand to make more money the more extensive the ‘problem’ is.

All this on top of the fact that the ‘government’ whose statistics are relied upon – when they are relied upon at all – has clearly indicated that it wants this ‘emergency’ to expand.

You see where all this can quickly go. The SO community HAS seen it.

But then he adds other “indicators of victimization” (note ‘indicators’ thereof rather than evidence thereof): computerized records of prosecutors (new in 1986) (which will become a self-fulfilling circular dynamic as prosecutions are skewed by the political pressures); longitudinal studies that follow birth cohorts (“which follow the lives – and potentially ‘the crimes’ – of selected groups over long periods of time”); “self-report surveys” (We’ve already seen those above); archival data from sources such as police, hospital and insurance records; “experimental (laboratory and case studies)” (and We’ve seen what happens as soon as you have a bunch of ‘advocates’ of any sort conducting those); “anecdotal stories” (which are highly unreliable as ‘evidence’ as noted above); and “participant observations” (which are the raw reflections of persons involved in any of the above). (all quotes in this paragraph, p.39)

All of the foregoing constitute mostly ‘raw data’ which must be carefully and objectively examined before any accurate conclusions can be drawn. But such ‘detachment’ – like Constitutional due-process strictures – are merely ‘obstructions’ to any advocates for whom “facts don’t matter”, as is famously said.

And all of this came together in a monstrous and virulent goo to create the SO Mania (and to great extent the Domestic Violence Mania that preceded it).

While admitting that reliance on such a hash may result in the “indicators’ tending to “overstate the amount of people involved” yet he concludes that “even by official measures, we must be greatly alarmed by our crime level”. (p.39)

But the crime level has been declining (although the “reporting” – such as it may be termed – is, as he has said, increasing) and was trending in that direction even in the mid-80s.

It seems to me that having given itself over to the ‘advocacy mania’ approach by guaranteeing its receptivity to any ‘emergencies’ pushed its way by any ‘advocacy’ to whom it might profitably pander, the Beltway wound up moving toward a Regulatory State as well as a Nanny State. And a Regulatory State is a form of Benevolent Despotism, precisely what the Framers rejected as a possibility for their “American Experiment” – which, rather, depended on a daring trust that ‘people’ could be ultimately trusted to sustain their role in American government as The People.

But of course, if so many of the citizens are ‘oppressors’ and the rest are ‘oppressed’, then the entire Founding Vision becomes not only “quaint” but also unworkable, as the government must expand to be both Nanny and Regulator of everybody, who are either perps or victims.

And thus the erosion of any working reality called ‘Americans’ and ‘The People’.

This is what the SO community is working to correct through its efforts to rollback the SO Mania regime.


*My copy is the paperback version put out by Oxford UP in 1986. It bears the ISBN 0-19-503980-7. It will be unwieldy to include both Chapter Titles and sub-headings as well as page numbers, in case you have a different edition. I will stick to only using page references when I make quotations, but for especially important points I will do so.

**Consider what the impact is going to be at this point, for example, of having one in six Army troops on some form of officially-prescribed psychoactive drugs (don’t even ask about the illicit drug use); or of the effect of thousands of young men getting through their days in combat simply by reducing their ‘care’ to their immediate ‘buds’ and deriving their sense of life from shooting and being shot at, and the thrill of killing.

Try to tote up the many ways, direct and indirect, that American society and the American People are going to be ‘victimized’ in the near and further future.

Consider, while you’re at it, what happens to the troops who are not on psychoactive medications but the ones who are ruff-tuff and combat competent. This recent piece discusses troops (all male, by the oddest coincidence) assigned to a remote outpost in Afghanistan: they report – and happily – that they don’t know or care how the war will turn out, and that they live day-to-day for the intense high of focused bro-hood with their combat buddies and the thrill of combat (and killing). They do worry – and rightly, more than they know – about how they will adapt to the ‘down’ of civilian life when they return home. What will We as a society face, when thousands of these troops return, on top of the dozens of thousands who have been on psychoactive medications for months or years over there? If We are not going to be indirectly but most really ‘victimized’ – to use Elias’s broad definition of the term – then nobody is ever going to be ‘victimized’.

No comments:

Post a Comment