Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Elias tries hard to objectively and comprehensively examine the ‘victimization’ issue – when, that is, he hasn’t got his ‘advocacy’ hat on instead.

He discusses ‘Shaping Public Opinion’ (p.40) and here it’s sobering to realize that he’s writing in 1986, less than half a decade before the first official steps in the SO Mania regime.

“What forces shape [public] opinion?” he asks. (p.40)

While noting “neighborhood networks” and word-of-mouth, he insightfully opines that the “fundamental sources might lie considerably deeper in the American consciousness” and that Americans might “unwittingly absorb them. He quotes – with impressive objectivity – the then-popular conservative commentator and writer Russell Baker, who observes that in a trip across America the place seemed to him “a booby-hatch for the criminally insane” because there were “campaigning politicians clamoring for use of the electric chair, the gallows, or the gas chambers as devices for restoring public civility” and that “everywhere one was confronted with … a national obsession for more … security” and that houses often had guard-company warning placards stuck in their front lawns and that “very little of this ‘security’ existed 20 years ago [i.e. in the 1950s] but now it is a national passion”. (p.40)

Two large American social trends seem relevant here. First, the Boomers – that huge birth cohort – were blossoming into their teens in the 1960s, and precisely as – second – society and culture were ‘loosening up’ under the pressure of the failing ‘adult’ performance in the Vietnam, the ‘cultural revolution’ spirit that seemed to be succeeding so gloriously in Mao’s youth-based Cultural Revolution, the excitements and agitations loosed by the Civil Rights Movement, and by the general Boomer rejection of ‘grown-up conformity’ in favor of Luv and Change.

And this was all BEFORE the 1970s saw the first steps in the actual Deconstruction of American culture and society (family and parent-guided, white, working-class, industrial, and ‘male’) under the pressure of a more organized ‘revolutionary advocacy’ – adopted almost whole-hog by the Beltway in its desperate pursuit of sustainable electoral viability.

A citizenry that had gotten through the 1950s ‘Cold War’ with just the occasional craze for backyard bomb-shelters was far more addled by the prospect of domestic criminality and anti-social behavior. Not surprising, when you think about it, but nobody realized at the time just how much the government was not only surfing the waves of this anxiety but was actually stoking those waves.

Elias even allows himself to wonder if “in addition to crime causing an obsession with security, an obsession with security might also cause crime”. (p.40) And yet what isn’t so clearly noticed a possibility is that the government would actually seek to stoke such an obsession for ‘security’ from ‘crime’.

And don’t forget: this is before the radical-feminist movement managed to get the Beltway’s acquiescence in declaring the American home as the nation’s largest ‘crime scene’ and the nation’s fathers as the nation’s largest body of incorrigible and un-reported perps. Even as the actual crime rate was declining.

Elias notes that other socialization forces than social networks are active in shaping public opinion: officials, educators, professionals, researchers, commissioners (I can’t quite figure that one), are among those who also shape attitudes.

Ominously – though the point seems lost on him – he immediately opines that “their views might actually be similar and reinforcing”. (p.41) I think what he means here is that the views of all those types might BE MADE TO BE similar and reinforcing; and if you as an ‘advocacy’ could do that (the Beltway’s sustained and clear support would be a big help) then you could take a huge step toward ‘shaping’ public opinion. And as I have often mentioned, since the days of Josef Goebbels, the line between ‘shaping’ and ‘manipulating’ public opinion has become verrrrry blurred indeed.

But “perhaps the greatest influence … comes from the mass media”, since it is a “mediator between the government and the public” that “substantially (and selectively) conveys and translates official statistics and statements into public perceptions”. (p.41)

Notice the conflict in approach: Elias adds that “(and selectively)” fully aware as an objective observer that the media don’t always tell it like it is; yet of course as an ‘advocate’ he is going to want to take advantage of that very characteristic.

You also notice that the media here are not envisioned as the Constitutionally-envisioned ‘watchdog’ over the government, the traditional American justification for a ‘free press’. Rather, it is a ‘mediator’ – sort of an unofficial government mimeograph and stenography organization – which, if they have secured great influence over the government, any dedicated ‘advocates’ will want to make full use of.

Surely what Elias sees in 1986 came to awful fruition less than 5 years later: Happily raking in bucks with sensationalist (and very ‘selective’) recounting of ‘stories’, the media merely amplified the ‘findings’ that the Beltway decided to make under the influence and pressure of the concerted victimist advocacies.

But Elias is truly tormented here. He legitimately bemoans the “sensationalized, misleading, and often inaccurate cover stories” of such major organs as ‘Time’, ‘U.S. News and World Report’, ‘The New York Times Magazine’ and ABC’s TV series ‘Crime in America’. He accurately observes that “the problems are many”. (p.41)

But, being a committed Victimologist, his concern is only that the government is limiting itself to “seven ‘index’ crimes”, and not expanding its definitions to cover the vast body of un-reported and under-reported ‘crime’ – that alleged ‘dark figure’ – and all the concomitant ‘victimization’. In other words, he’s bothered NOT actually by all this ‘sensationalism’ BUT RATHER that all the ‘sensationalism’ and ‘inaccuracy’ is too narrowly based on a few ‘traditionally-defined’ crimes, rather than on the vast unruly and dark ocean of as-yet-unacknowledged victimizations (and – necessarily – the ‘crimes’ that cause them).

And, by the oddest coincidence, within a few years there arose the Domestic Violence regime – based on the amazingly rapid re-visioning of the American Home and Family as the nation’s most vicious and frequent crime scene – and the Sex Offender Mania regime – based on the assumption that ‘men’ are incorrigible and predatory sexual assaulters and must be tagged and confined as such.

He bemoans how the media so often “sensationalize” crime, “pandering more to unique angles than to reality”. As an example he notes that “stories about bailed or paroled prisoners who commit murders … provide ‘good copy’ yet these situations rarely happen.” (p.41) Within a few years – and I’m not saying Elias consciously envisioned it – the American scene would erupt with the stranger-sex-offender sensationalism, on which rare and mushy basis the SORNA regime was justified (as so often, you can re-read the 1995 New Jersey Supreme Court Poritz Opinion to see how it all played out).

Remarkably, he singles out offending phrases that had become media mantras: “the curse of violent crime is rampant”, “we live in a reign of terror”, “our attackers are increasingly brutal marauders”, they are “mean, antisocial people with macho complexes”, and that “we have been held hostage to the irrational acts of a relatively small cadre of career criminals”. (p.41)

We know him well enough to realize that what’s upsetting him is that all the public ‘opinion’ is being wrongly (in his view) focused on just a few ‘traditionally defined’ crimes. But within a few years these handy media mantras will be applied in both the Domestic Violence and Sex Offender regimes.

Although, neatly and soooo selectively, that last bit about “a relatively small cadre of career criminals” will be re-jiggered to be a huge bunch of incorrigible (but still ‘macho’ and therefore ‘male’) lifelong criminal whackos. In the lurid Beltway kitchens, the committees of pols and ‘advocates’ will make certain changes to Elias’s recipe-book, with results that are now, finally, becoming undeniably clear.

He even bemoans the mantra that considers “plea bargaining as threatening justice-for-the-victim”. (p.42) That isn’t going to sit well with the American crime-focused variant of Victimology: the advocates of that approach will indeed consider that plea-bargaining is just such a threat, although they will also consider due-process Constitutional protections as nothing but ‘obstructions’ that provide ‘cover’ to perps. (In case you ever wondered where the Bush-Cheney team got the idea by 2002 that the Constitution was “quaint”.)

Now plea-bargaining is indeed a threat to the integrity of the justice system as well as to the Constitutional rights of the defendant: you can be induced to enter a Guilty plea that doesn’t apply to you, simply to avoid the greatly-inflated charges that prosecutors bring precisely to induce you and your attorney to take the lesser of two evils (i.e. a guilty plea in exchange for a guaranteed reduced charge). And in a prosecution-heavy environment, a defense attorney might be well-advised to urge you to take it, if the goal is not to ensure Justice but simply to keep you from the semi-demonic realm of prison.

But advocates far too often oppose plea-bargaining NOT out of concern for the integrity of the justice system or the Constitutional rights of the defendant, BUT out of Victimology’s (rather dubious) vision of the rights of the ‘victim’. They don’t want to clean up the justice system, Constitutionally speaking; they want to take that now fouled and rigged instrument and simply put it to their own use, i.e. to guarantee the ‘closure’ created by the defendant’s almost certain conviction. Which is precisely what both the Domestic Violence and Sex Offense regimes’ legislation was designed to do. (And in the process further corrupting the Constitutional integrity of the justice system and so many of its officials, and the legislative system as well).

And – by the oddest coincidence – note the stunning (it should have been verrrry ‘alarming’ as well) lack of concern for valid ‘evidence’ in the Beltway’s later run-up to the Iraq War. It wasn’t just the shocking governmental disregard for truth and accuracy in the reliability of the evidence it presented, but even more so the government’s apparently accurate gamble that most Americans were so used to the degradation of the concept of ‘evidence’ that they either wouldn’t notice or wouldn’t care.

Nor will I accept the suggestion that years and years of the official corrosion of the concept of ‘reliable evidence’ in the above-mentioned regimes had nothing to do with that; on the contrary, once invited back* into the American ‘house’, the vampire of anti-Constitutional disregard for facts and evidence did not limit itself to the ‘domestic affairs’ room but proceeded to rampage into the foreign-affairs and military affairs rooms as well. And much much blood has been spilled in consequence.

Elias then notes disapprovingly the “superficiality” of most media treatment. (p.42) He’s right, of course, but he is again undermined by his Victimology-‘advocacy’ stance: what irks him is that the media aren’t focusing widely enough on the many ‘unreported’ or ‘self-reported’ victimizations. And the SO community is well aware of the superficiality – and in most cases downright inaccuracy – of ‘evidence’ and careful analysis in SO cases and in the very Findings of legislatures when they enact the enabling legislation itself.

And while he bemoans the media characterization of “blacks as naturally violent” and “minorities as naturally criminal” (p.43), he will soon be blind-sided by the radical-feminist and ‘governance feminism’ characterizations of husbands and fathers (Domestic Violence) and ‘men’ (Sex Offender) as being naturally-sexually-violent in the respective regimes that were enacted in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Even more so, he objects to the “extraordinary” media portrayal of “violence”, in both news reporting and TV shows and films, which induces the citizenry to imagine that the country is awash in violence and which “desensitizes” children (92 percent of kid shows contain some form of violence, he notes). (p.42)

Such portrayals, he says, generate “fear, anxiety, and an identification with the unrestrained and violent forces of the law”. (p.43) Strong stuff indeed. Yet again, he will be blind-sided by the stunningly selective and inaccurate portrayals of ‘violence’ that will be alleged to underlie and comprise the majority of ‘sex offenses’, and the alleged ‘natural’ violence of males, in the sensationalistic and cartoonish characterizations of the afore-mentioned regimes.

And – ominously – the public has indeed for so long been induced to approve the removal of all traditional Constitutional and jurisprudential restraints when dealing with SOs. And indeed, the public now has become “desensitized” to such removals and such ‘legal violence’ – which, as I said, was a point not lost on the government when it created the run-up to the wars in Southwest Asia.

He raises the interesting possibility of the public’s “vicarious victimization” (p.43). By this he means that members of the public will feel themselves at risk and – even more – will actually respond as if they themselves had personally experienced the ‘victimizations’ reported so sensationalistically in the media. If he’s accurate here, then emotionally large numbers of the public are in the same agitated and angry state as the actual victims, seeking revenge quickly and clearly as a form of ‘satisfaction’.

Psychologically, he notes that the “media imposes or reinforces simplistic notions through superficial psychological appeals” and analyses. (p.44) Surely, a review of the Poritz Opinion, among many many others, and of the legislative Findings underlying the laws that courts have reviewed, supports his concern.

Such reports, he notes acutely, “may mystify instead of clarify, especially in a society generally adverse to critical thought”. (p.44) And THAT is a stunning observation, and alarmingly painful. Most folks don’t give ‘news’ much serious thought; and that unhappy and disconcerting reality is intensified when you have the corroboration of such a seemingly wide bunch of ‘experts’, some with serious professional status though many have merely ‘popular’ standing as paperback writers and others are ‘experts’ who stand to make a lot of government money from the Mania.

Worse, “people may simply accept the first credible guidance they receive and ignore any subsequent cues … or, if confronted … with conflicting information, they may accept views that support the most easily digestible symbols”. (p.45) Precisely what is seen when the first ‘symbols’ the public confronts are the slavering-monster-incorrigible-sex-offender. Although at this point it must also be noted that legislators now cannot admit to having made mistakes, even when confronted with increasing amounts of sober research indicating how wrong they have been. After all, they have their own status to consider, as well as the pressures of various groups to whom they have for so long and with such great financial largesse pandered.

Which brings him directly to “Government Motives” (p.45) “We cannot assume that the government wants to convey an objective account of crime and victimization”. (p.45) He quotes, nicely, H.L. Mencken: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the population alarmed (and thus clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins”. (p.45) This is a temptation facing any government, though one which the Framers sought to short-circuit by insisting on careful Constitutional protections for any accused.

In what now seem the innocent days of 1986, Elias observes that “if nothing else, state officials seem caught between wanting to portray crime as a minor problem to reinforce their legitimacy and effectiveness, and wanting to portray a major crime problem to justify various enforcement measures and an aura of restricted freedoms, and state power in exchange for greater security”. (p.45).

Notice his reference to “state” officials; he could not imagine that the Federal government would need to – or dare to – get into the criminal-justice role Constitutionally reserved to the States.

But in the SO Mania that is precisely what happened.

And where the American variant of Victimology shrewdly played upon the politicians’ abiding desire to be perceived as “effective” and “legitimate”, it also forced them to adopt, neatly, BOTH prongs of their dilemma: they created a monstrous ‘threat’ and then demonstrated their ‘effectiveness’ and ‘legitimacy’ (and responsiveness and sensitivity) by brushing aside Constitutional concerns and erecting the SO Mania regime. Having created ‘the Injuns’, the pols could then put on the mantle of John Wayne and ride to the settlers’ rescue. As American as apple pie – but grossly anti-Constitutional.**

Elias concludes this section with thoughts on “Media Collusion”. (p.46)

“While the media pursue their own separate agenda, largely related to making profits, we cannot discount their relationship with government, and the symbolic interactions they routinely pursue for mutual purposes”. (p.46) And then: “Some argue that what promotes state power and legitimacy will often simultaneously sell newspapers” while “Others argue that, intentional or not, we can hardly discount the ‘social production’ of the news and the orchestrating of public opinion through official statements and dutiful media acquiescence, if not encouragement” and that this is especially true when media “readily allow officials to manipulate the news through symbolic appeals, often lacking in substance yet free of critical media review”. (p.46)

I don’t know if you can put more succinctly or accurately precisely what happened in the run-up to the SO Mania regime and in the sustaining of it.


*The Framers clearly had royal and tyrannical governments’ manipulation or outright disdain for evidence in mind when they framed the Constitution; and no doubt they also recalled the American colonies’ own Salem Witch Trials and their ‘spectral evidence’ of less than a century before.

**Alas, most Americans get their ‘history’ and even their sense of America from sources other than careful knowledge of the Constitutional vision and the machinery carefully constructed to preserve it. You may recall John Ford’s cavalry western film “Rio Grande” (1950), starring John Wayne. Baffled by a group of Apache who strike over the river from Mexico and then retreat back over the river into Mexico and beyond the reach of his cavalry, Wayne’s colonel is prohibited by ‘government policy’ from taking his force over the river to finish them off. Then he is visited by General Sheridan, his old Civil War commander who now commands the frontier. Sheridan gives Wayne an order – off the record and not in writing: chase them into Mexico and if you fail you may rest assured that all the officers sitting on your court-martial will be your old buds from the Civil War, handpicked by me.

In the setting of the film’s script, it seems like a neat little solution, and likable because Wayne and J. Carroll Naish (who played Sheridan) are likable and trustworthy to the film viewer.

But while it makes for a nice little film, it is hell-and-gone from the way Americans need to conduct their government. If Nixon allegedly invaded Cambodia in 1970 the morning after watching the newly-released film “Patton”, I wonder if a lot of pols watched “Rio Grande” before agreeing to the proposals of the American branch of Victimology and passing the legislation that enabled the regimes mentioned above.

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