Wednesday, September 29, 2010


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

We come to Elias’s section on ‘Battering’ (begins on  p.49).

The section is headed with a quote some might remember from Jackie Gleason’s 1955-1956 TV comedy “The Honeymooners”; Gleason played a New York City bus driver living in a spare flat in a tenement with his wife Alice. A likable and decent guy, but very much a man who substituted bluster for lack of self-confidence, his signature line was ‘Wunna deeze days, Alice, wunna deeze days … Pow! Right tah da moon!” which he would accompany with a fist swinging in the air.

Let it be clear here: He never struck her and nobody in that era would have stood for it if he had. Men who beat their wives were not considered ‘gentlemen’, even as that term transmuted from Victorian England’s middle-classes to the immigrant working classes that populated America’s industrial cities.

Which is not to say that one should ever go around committing common-assault (threatening, but not committing an act of, physical violence).

But Elias includes it here, and I recall it was often used in the early days of feminist advocacy as an example of male business-as-usual bullying (although males would far more often commit common assault – and with the accompanying act, which would make it assault-and-battery – against each other with more frequency; it was a badge of masculinity among certain groups in those days … and I’m not sad that it’s passed into history).

“The most frequent and perhaps most serious family crime is battering.” (p.49) Which statement holds several interesting points within it.

First, Gleason never struck his wife. You were more often wondering if he was going to get hit with the proverbial frying-pan than you actually ever expected – or even imagined – him to go and hit Alice. So the quotation is not actually apt in this context in which Elias deploys it – but it was a well-known pop-culture icon statement, and was useful in its way as a ‘consciousness-raising’ tool.

Second, there is a difference between assault-and-battery in the form of striking someone after threatening to do so, and ‘battering’ – which to a consciousness not yet ‘raised’ would imply a syndromal habit of seriously and regularly beating a woman.

This latter situation – even back then – would have indicated a seriously disturbed man. But again, not ALL men would be imagined to be so significantly disturbed.

Third, we note now the deployment of the term ‘family crime’. Although the violent-crime rates were declining, the ‘family’ was suddenly raised up as a crime ‘site’ or ‘venue’ completely distinct from violent-crime as it occurred in the more ‘public’ venues.

As I have noted in previous Posts, it would not have occurred to a lot of folks to imagine the police as vigorously involved in ‘family’ matters as they would be in ‘public’ matters. One reason for this, not often mentioned, would have been a residual if inchoate (by the 20th century) concern for ‘government’ getting involved in such private matters.

It was from the get-go a major objective of feminist-type efforts to tear down the ‘wall’ in public consciousness that kept the government police-power out of the ‘home’ and the ‘family’. That wall, of course, has now been rather largely demolished. There have been numerous unforeseen – or strategically ignored – consequences for the nation, and the intrusive and indeed invasive police-power of the Sovereign Authority has now burst its bonds not only in matters domestic but matters of foreign policy as well. These two developments are hardly unconnected.

Elias then moves quickly into more dubious territory as he asserts that “we might view this as a sexual crime, since although a sexual act need not be committed, the crime emerges from sexual relations”. (p.49) What I see reflected here is the presumption – widely held by early advocates and constituting even today something of a dogmatic essential of the properly-formed ‘consciousness’ – that all male violence, especially toward females, is somehow ‘sexual’ at its core.

There is more than a hint of Freud here and I don’t think it’s accurate.

While marriage involves a deep element of sexuality since males and females come together in no small part because of sexual attraction, yet the ‘sexual urge’ is not the only dynamic in the relationships of the male and the female in the marriage setting, just as ‘sex’ is not the only urge driving human beings in any other arena of life’s undertakings.

The male – from an evolutionary point of view – is prepared by Nature both to propagate and to defend, which requires a certain assertiveness and even aggressiveness. But these characteristics are not merely or purely sexually-driven: soldiers are sent into battle precisely to exercise a certain violent assertiveness and aggressiveness, and yet you can’t really imagine that all war is ‘sexual’.**

But from the point of view of constructing a useful political strategy against an ‘enemy’, it would be most helpful if one were to paint the ‘male’ as aggressive (and thus ‘assaultive’) merely and purely because of ‘sex’: since all males were possessed of an assertive-aggressive potential, especially in matters of vigorously propagating the species, then you could simplistically link male-sex-violence in such a way that there seemed a clear causal linkage. Which is precisely what was done, with great help from a media that knew a simple and vivid script-dynamic for its ‘stories’ when it saw one.

Men ‘beat’ people – and Elias immediately goes on to note that “along with childbeating and ‘granny’ beating, wife battering has become a crime of enormous dimensions”. (p.49)

A bunch of thoughts occur.

First, ‘men’ are prepared by Nature to have the skills and capabilities to ‘beat’ folks – and it was precisely ‘civilization’ that was evolved by humans to somehow channel those natural capabilities in useful ways. The medieval Catholic Church – often nowadays belittled for creating complicated and irrelevant social and religious customs – specifically instituted a complex system of graded ‘saints-days’ and ‘feast-days’ to address this: there were numerous such ‘days’ in the medieval calendar when organized violence was prohibited.

I point this out since somehow it has become a key element in numerous agendas to ‘Deconstruct’ very old and deep civilizational structures.

Second, I note the distinction between a single act of hitting, and ‘battering’ as a symptom of emotional or psychological disturbance. And now this third term – ‘beating’ – is introduced. This is sloppy conceptual (and ‘scientific’) thinking, although it serves the neat rhetorical purpose of connecting all of these words in the public mind as ‘all the same thing’ – when in actuality they are not.

Third, of course, is the almost utterly-ignored reality that females are the initiators in many instances of domestic violence. This reality throws a wrench in the ‘men=sex=violence” equation. Although later dogma attempted to explain such instances as merely responses to a pre-existing male violence exercised by women at the end of their rope (a classic script-trope of the Lifetime Channel and such).

Further, there is the equally troubling reality of dyadic violence among lesbian and homosexual couples. While you can make the case that lesbian females – especially of the ‘butch’ kind – may have an extra dollop of male chemistry, and homosexual males – especially of the ‘girly’ (sorry) kind may have an extra dollop of female chemistry , or some such, yet it seems obvious that the realities of dyadic violence - sporadic or syndromal – are grounded in far more complex and nuanced realities than the simple ‘male sexual violence’ explanation can conceivably handle.

Also, Elias too easily slides into the thinking that these assorted types of ‘beating’ have somehow just recently become ‘crimes’ (let alone crimes ‘of enormous dimensions’). Rather, they were always considered crimes, and persons convicted of them would suffer social opprobrium in most middle-class venues even in the bad old days before the ‘consciousness raising’.

But it’s true that all of this domestic ‘beating’ was, while criminal, not high on the priority list of police and prosecutors.

There were and are numerous reasons contributing to that.

First is the abiding American concern to keep government-police power from overflowing its bounds.

Second is the hugely-fraught complexity of courts trying to establish actual facts. This is and always has been so in ‘rape’ assertions, but – more unnervingly – is and has been true even when there was clear physical evidence of violence (the woman with obvious injuries, most often). Often the female would not claim that the injuries were caused by the husband, substituting some ‘accident’ explanation. Correct dogma ascribes this to females who have been raised to be submissive, and/or to a lack of options for living life independently if she escaped from her relationship with the accused male.

The result has been two-fold: in the first place, a concerted effort (supported by vote-eager politicians) to weaken rules of evidence and procedure and indeed the entire Constitutionally-derived ethos that seeks to carefully boundary government intrusiveness. And in the second place, a concerted effort to literally Deconstruct the entire civilizational structure of Marriage and Family itself, as being merely enabling sites for domestic violence.

I can see the good intentions – or certainly the cause for concern – but I can’t see that such wholesale fundamental Deconstruction can avoid creating lethally corrosive weakening in the very fabric of American society and American civilization, let alone in the specific structures of a hard-won Law and jurisprudence. (Granted, many of the advocacy dogmatists would claim that such weakening would be a good thing, and perhaps assure everyone that a civilization can get along quite well without Family and Marriage and, in an ominous coincidence, on the economic scene, without a functioning industrial productive base).

In a Note (Note 231 on pp.274-5) Elias supports the “enormous dimensions” by quoting numerous articles … almost all of which are from the Victimology movement’s own magazine/journal or from Victimology-sponsored speaking events, with some of those popular books of the era (see my recent Post on “The Courage to Heal”) that were put together by ‘concerned’ persons who felt that the emergency was too great to take time to do careful research.

Again, there’s so much danger here that an ‘echo-effect’ is created (and, even more ominously, perhaps on purpose): you get a whole bunch of persons, all similarly convinced but seemingly unconnected, and all possessing in some form (no matter how rudimentary) a claim to the status of ‘expert’, ‘scholar’, or ‘author’, coming together. And in this way, to the innocent and unsuspecting public observer, it might seem that a shocking and convincing number of independent, competent persons have suddenly come across a problem so huge that it demands instant emergency response.

Sort of like if lightning and wind suddenly sparked a huge wildfire and the Fire Department started getting numerous calls from persons on all sides of the fire: the dispatchers would figure that if this many folks, from so many points of the compass, are calling in then the fire must be huge.

But you could also spook the Fire Department into a major response simply by getting a pre-arranged set of folks to all call in at the same time claiming to be at distant points and separate from each other. THIS, actually, is uncomfortably close to what Saul Alinsky, the noted ‘organizer’, recommended in 1971 in his book “Rules for Radicals”. Although Alinsky (about whom a Post with SO implications will be going up shortly) would consider it simply ‘shrewd tactics’ in a ‘good cause’ and focus merely on ‘technique’, and not on the justice or integrity of the gambit.

And again with the curious statistics: “One estimate puts the number of wife battering at 3,759,193 in 1980 …”. (p.49) This is an oddly precise estimate. And were these single-hit instances or instances of full-blown syndromal battering? There’s the sticky definition problem that so often is finessed, or bulldozed, by ‘advocacy’.

But, rather stunningly, Elias runs fast and far with this gambit here. He continues with the sentence “… and yet, as with rape, many more occur than women have reported.” We have dealt before in this mini-series with this matter of the ‘proof’ (or lack of it) in these claims of ‘unreported’ incidences of this or that act.

But then he immediately ratchets things up even further: “Another estimate shows wife-battering occurring ten times more than rape”. (p.49) But since the ‘rape’ figures are themselves hugely questionable – especially if you take as real the ‘unreported’ incidences – then can you imagine how many wife-batterings he is claiming?

He gives only one reference for this assertion, in Note 232 on p.275. The source is one “Del Martin”, who is actually Dorothy Louise Taliaferro, who married a fellow named Martin but then divorced him, keeping his name, and married her wife Phyllis Lyon (according to the Wiki text). Her key insight of relevance here was that domestic-violence was the result of “institutionalized misogyny” about which she wrote a book in 1979. She had a “Doctorate of Arts” from something called “The Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality” and lived in San Francisco, where she spent most of her life as an activist and organizer for women’s and lesbian issues.

‘Del Martin’ as an individual had every right to voice his/her opinions and to write about them. I give these biographical points for no reason other than to point out that even with so seemingly reliable a professional academic as Elias, you can find yourself stampeded by ‘facts’ from sources that are neither professionally reliable nor objectively derived. (And yet which, from Alinsky’s point of view, are quite justified and ‘successful’ if they merely achieve the stampede they were designed to achieve.)

Which indicates that although Elias’s book is very impressively written in an academic and professional format, replete with literally thousands of ‘works cited’ in hundreds of Notes, yet many of those ‘works cited’ are of a quality that can hardly be characterized as ‘professional’ and genuinely ‘scholarly’.

But you can imagine that to wave this book around, or even to carefully read it, would provide legislators and their staffs with either the honestly-held illusion that they were truly in possession of carefully-achieved ‘knowledge’ OR with the ‘cover’ that they were constructing and passing legislation and an entire regime of laws only on the basis of the most serious and careful ‘professional’ and ‘scientific’ ‘knowledge’.

And all of this applies as well to the SO Mania regime and so very much of its supporting ‘statistics’ and ‘science’. Which also seems to explain a great deal of the otherwise incomprehensibly obtuse stance of legislators as more and more actual knowledge about sex-offending (to the extent that the term is of any use in addressing the phenomenon) indicates the profoundly questionable integrity of their asserted Findings and consequently the profoundly misguided nature of the laws that they have passed.

I think, also, that at this point then, another dynamic must be operative among legislators: much like the country’s involvement – grossly misconceived and now failing – in its present military misadventures, legislators and political authorities now can’t figure how to back off or get out without admitting that they have made a monstrous – and hardly unpreventable – series of mistakes.

And just as those mistakes in the foreign-policy and military settings have cost so much in blood and treasure and national integrity, to say nothing of the ‘victimization’ that has been and continues to be inflicted upon so many people in the foreign lands and nations that have been invaded, so too in the SO Mania regime so many ill-consequences have been inflicted on the integrity of the legislative and judicial and law-enforcement authority, as well as on so many of those caught in the toils of the regime’s laws and regulations.

It reminds me so much of the Vietnam War and that era, when so much further damage was done simply because the authorities could not figure how to extract the country from the initial errors without admitting so huge a collection of mistakes. And as a result the whole awful situation went on and on.

“The home and the family have become the most violent places in society”, declares Elias. (p.49) That assertion, again, is footnoted (Note 236, p.275), but that Note merely references more Victimology sources. The Echo Effect is well-established here. And again, you can see where what is developing here is precisely what some concerned political commentators have nowadays accurately noted as the ‘echo chamber’ that Our national politics in general have become.

He continues immediately: “One in ten married women has probably been beaten.” (p.49) Again, note the “probably” and the vaguely-defined but vividly-suggestive “beaten”. The Note supporting the statement (Note 237, p.275) is – again – a Victimology source.

He then says that “about 282,00 men get beaten by their wives annually” – which is interesting indeed, although it is a point that received little enough attention over the ensuing years and decades. His references supporting the assertion (Note 238, p.275) are again Victimology sources.

And then he follows that assertion up immediately with the assertion that “violence of all forms probably occurs in at least 60% of all households”(p.49), supporting that with a Note (Note 239, p.275) that references a 1978 publication of the National District Attorneys Association, which even at that early date could not be considered an objective and scholarly source.

And again, in that “violence of all forms” there is no distinction between the occasional physical blow and full-blown syndromal ‘battering’ or whether the aggressor was the male or the female.

But he then immediately goes on to assert that “When women get battered, it dramatically increases their tendency to beat their children” (p.49), citing (Note 240, p.275) Victimology sources as his authority.

AND THEN immediately concludes “Yet for all this violence we treat the family and the home as sacrosanct” (p.49), again citing (Note 241, p.275) only a Victimology source.

This is a huge and hugely fraught conclusion. He is opening the door to a profound Constitutional change (‘reform’ is grossly inaccurate, insufficient, and misleading a descriptor) and – indeed – this idea constitutes nothing less than a huge and profound challenge to the American Constitutional ethos itself.

And while I am not saying that his idea here is wrong simply because it is so hugely portentous a challenge to the established bedrock Constitutional ethos, I most surely am saying that so huge a matter should have been – for reasons of political integrity as well as scholarly integrity – given far more accurate and widely publicized a treatment.

Rather than simply being tossed in as an indicator of the direction in which the stampede created by his ‘innocent’ and ‘scientific’ book must immediately go.

But in this Elias gives – knowingly or not – a clarion and clear example of the type of dynamics which would purposely drive the regimes of mania-law and the Mania itself: the monstrously profound consequences and implications of his ‘findings’ are simply blanketed in the emotional ‘dust’ raised by the stampede. And then, all too quickly, legislators – knowingly or not (neither alternative is appetizing) – cashed in on the trust of The People by casting and trumpeting their legislation as mere ‘changes’ or ‘reforms’, selling Us in effect a grossly defective and dangerous car, in a Deal effected in the Politically Correct equivalents of the old ‘smoke-filled rooms’ of the Beltway and State capitols.

Deployed in this way, the ‘art of the deal’ has not served the nation nor its politics nor its People well.

In seeking to bulldoze down that fuddy-duddy ‘sacrosanctness’, I would say that these dynamics operated basically – and lethally – as the horribly wrong-headed policy of cutting through the watertight bulkheads to make the ship more ‘accessible’ to various agendas, or of burning away vital chunks of the hull of a wooden sailing ship to rid the vessel of rats. There are worse problems than rats on a wooden vessel at sea, and burning up the hull or cutting away chunks of it are most certainly guaranteed to bring those problems into lethal reality. Which is precisely what has happened.

This Post has covered only one-half a page worth of text in Elias’s book (the bottom half of page 49). But you can see, compressed in such a small amount of text, many of the dynamics that are operative in the book, in Elias’s fraught approach of trying to combine ‘advocacy’ and ‘objectivity’, and in the formation of Mania regimes themselves.

And Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” – which rocketed to popularity when it was published in 1971 – were already the adoptive Modus Operandi of all too many ‘advocacies’ long before Elias published this inflammatory stuff in the seemingly ‘innocent’ form of a scholarly compendium in 1986.

For Alinsky – coming from a Marxist-Leninist background, but whose recommendations eerily parallel the Modus Operandi of the stereotypical used-car salesman – the Technique is justified merely if it succeeds in getting itself enshrined as law or policy. Which explains how so many advocates and legislators and their staffs – and now so many jurists and legal personnel as well – can consider themselves ‘successful’ and having faithfully discharged their duties if they merely ‘succeed’ in passing laws and enforcing them. There is for them, as for Alinsky, no larger (let alone Larger) consideration upon which they need waste their time: the Outcome, so narrowly defined, is all.

Alinsky, dying in 1972, never had to face the awesomely awful problem that now faces Us 30 years later: What happens when the Outcome – or a whole mess of Outcomes – turn out to be wrong and to have created a lethal complex of profoundly bad consequences?

And, having read his book and little else, his disciples and those shaped by his ideas – whether they know it or not – are now unable or unwilling to consider what to do next.

The SO community, as I will continue to say, is remarkably positioned to help them – and the country – deal with the dilemma that they have created for all of Us. And not simply in the specific SO Mania regime but in the wider realms of national policy and the very integrity of the nation’s politics.


*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.

**It is a sign of great conceptual confusion – you could call it conceptual incoherence – that in matters military the feminist agenda is simultaneously to” demasculinize” the military while claiming as well that the female is as reliably capable of conducting combat activity as the male. Thus, while male aggressiveness is decried as an outrage in the family setting, yet it is claimed that in the military setting the female is equally as competent as the male to sustain its exercise. What is claimed to be an outrageous and purely male oppression in one venue is claimed to be equally the competence of the female in another venue.

Nor does it help clarity to simply claim that ‘there are many feminisms’, as if that claim – itself unhelpfully vague – can resolve the questions at a stroke.

What does offer some plausible explanatory value in this highly conflicted matter is the possibility – quite acceptable in the Alinsky Method – of deploying whatever justification appears most likely to ‘work’ toward achieving a particular goal in a particular venue. Thus in the ‘family’ venue the agenda is served by characterizing the male as uncontrollably and almost naturally violent (the female thus being implicitly presumed to be ‘nonviolent’), while in the ‘military’ venue the agenda is served by claiming that the female is equally as capable as violence as the male (the female here being implicitly presumed to be as capable of sustained violence as the male).

It is a sign of just how torturously rickety this whole conceptual construction is if you try to apply the presumptions active in the military venue to the family venue: that both the male and female are equally capable of exercising violence. But this possibility is precluded – neatly enough – by quickly and simply asserting that such conceptual examination would ‘re-victimize the victim’ and simply cannot be done.

Thus you can see how the ‘politics of domestic violence’ are skewed by the conceptual incoherences that are active in the fundamental casting of the ‘problem’.

And such conceptual incoherence, once accepted in the ‘politics’ of domestic violence, is then so very usefully presumed as ‘normal’ as the ‘politics of sex offenses’ began to develop: incoherence is considered ‘normal’ and not-worthy of notice, as policy and law are formed free of any of the braking and limiting influences of ‘coherence’ and accuracy.

And then – of course – the verrrry bad habit of forming policy without any concern for accurate and coherent conceptual groundwork spreads – and has spread – to other areas of national activity such as foreign policy and the formulation of military campaigns and war.

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