Tuesday, May 29, 2012


I want to spend a couple of Posts looking at this recent book*.

The author is a professor of Anthropology and Cultural Studies at George Mason University.

One evening he discovered on the news that a friend had been arrested for an alleged sex crime. And as things turned out, that got him looking carefully at what he came to see – as neatly put in his book’s title – as Sex Panic and its relationship to an emerging Punitive State in this country.

I want to trace some of his major points in this and a subsequent Post. This won’t be a comprehensive or formal ‘review’, but rather I will follow his thought and comment as I go.

But I will say this at the outset: if you read this book, and follow up on the book and article references he makes in the text, you are going to have a solid grounding in basic SO Mania matters.  And don’t skip the Notes, since there is informative commentary and discussion there as well as in the text itself.

Lancaster’s (henceforth: “RL”) concern is that this country has developed a politics and government based on panic and fear. And while he notes one strain of thought that says this development only began with 9/11, RL has come to realize that there were things going on long before 9/11. And by that he means what I would call the SO Mania and its Regime of laws, tactics, presumptions, objectives, targets, and all the pandemonium of ‘allies and alliances’ that have come to provide the matrix from with this Mania draws its strength.

I would add that the Question that was never asked, of course, several decades ago was: What sort of government will it take to operate a politics and governance based on panic and fear?  

And, more specifically: how will the American government have to change in order to become a government based on panic and fear? What will such a change do to the government established by the Framers and to their Vision which the Constitution was intended to sustain?

And – even more ominously: What will have to be done to the American public – to The People – in order to get them to accept such a change in governance?

Of course part of the scam all along has been to sidestep those Questions – and the Consequences implicit in the ‘changes’ (neatly spun as ‘liberating reforms’) by stoking as much ‘outrage’ as possible, as well as the panic and the fear. There’s no easier way to break down fences that are in your way than to get the herd to stampede; anybody who’s ever watched an old Western movie knows that.

That much of that fencing was put up by the Framers and contained in classical Western principles of reason and law was yet another vital reality that was sidestepped or overrun by the Stampede and by the Mania.

The result being that now this government is a punitive government: it sees itself as acting as an agent of vengeance (or – if you want to put it in nicer, therapeutic terms – ‘closure’) for all manner of self-declared or presumed ‘victims’ who are in this scripting the only real Citizens. Other Citizens – the ones who are claimed to be their oppressors or the perpetrators of their pains – have quietly but surely become not Citizens but ‘perps’, ‘offenders’, and other types of a life-form that enjoys no Constitutional status, but rather exist – in the script – as the Necessary Evil Bad Guy (so often a ‘guy’) whose only role in the nation’s life is to be eradicated by the Good Guys wielding the Sovereign police and coercive authority.

Worse, this government is now a carceral government: all that punitive convicting has resulted in the fact that this country incarcerates a larger proportion of its Citizens than any other nation since Stalin ran the Gulag.

If you think about that for a moment, you may well be struck by what appears to be a vicious irony: after several decades of ‘responsive’ government seeking to ‘liberate’ so many of its Citizens from this or that ‘oppression’, the country is now the largest imprisoner of its Citizens on the planet.

Of course, there are all sorts of tactical ‘bennies’ to this plan. Large numbers of males are – by virtue of now being felons – removed from the voter rolls. Large numbers of jobs are created in the burgeoning prison-industry and the fresh ‘business’ created in the localities where these prisons are built (by local contractors, of course). And all of those prisoners are also removed from the unemployment figures. Something for everyone! And this doesn’t even include the 700-plus thousand on the SO registries (and who knows how many others who were automatically ‘created’ as registerable SO’s by the workings of AWA when Bush signed it into law).

But RL is going for the point – and I support it fully – that this is no unintended and tragic ‘irony’. This was built into the program from the get-go, from the moment when the Beltway decided (with the help of Radical Feminist ‘philosophy’ lifted whole-hog from Marxist-Leninist theory as adapted for use against Western democratic polities by Antonio Gramsci and assorted ‘Eurocommunists’ of the 1960s and 1970s) to treat the Constitution as merely a ‘text’ that is ‘living’.

‘Living’ in the sense that it is plastic, malleable, and probably outmoded and inadequate to modern ‘needs’ as well. A ‘text’ in the sense that whatever the ‘reader’ wants to draw from it is equally as important as, if not more important than, whatever the author(s) intended.

RL raises the incisive point made by Gayle Rubin years ago: at what point do all these ‘reforms’ reach such a quantitative tipping point that they result in profound qualitative changes? Because, as well, these changes – one after another after another – are cumulative: each change builds on and intensifies the effects of the previous change(s).

At what point does such a momentum become irreversible? At what point is such momentum no longer stoppable by normal political processes (such as they have become)? This is not a book for the faint of heart. And it is not a book for folks content to simply watch the playing-out of the melodrama of Good vs. Evil, Innocence Rescued by Brute Force.  And – I would say – for folks who think that you can have a government living out this old film script and still sustain and maintain and keep the democracy and the Constitutional Republic of the Framing Vision.

Even worse, RL notes that according to a Gallup poll in 2005 (just a year before AWA was passed by a small Beltway cabal in an unrecorded vote) two-thirds of Americans don’t worry about the threat to civil liberties posed by the robust ‘war’ against SO’s, whether accused or convicted. So the Citizenry’s own grasp on the fundaments of the Framing Vision and the Constitution has also been weakened, and lethally so.

But this was also part of the game-plan laid out in that Gramscian playbook borrowed by Radical Feminism and bought and paid for with public monies and authority by the Beltway. Potential opponents (male voters) had to be neutralized or eliminated, and the general Citizenry’s very faith in the democratic government had to be somehow subverted or at least corrupted such that the Citizenry would accept the ‘reforms’ as good or at least harmless and wouldn’t oppose the scheme and the agenda.

RL is a little stumped by the fact that ‘liberalism’ could have led to all this. But I think here he – a good ‘liberal’ himself, I would say – is tripped up by the huge gravitational pull that few ‘liberals’ have ever wanted to acknowledge in the past 40 years or so here: post-1972 American ‘liberalism’ is not  so much grounded in traditional American reformist and progressive roots. Rather, it is lethally and toxically contaminated by that importation of early 20th-century Marxist-Leninist theory and praxis.

He is right to note that ‘victim-friendly’ ‘reforms’ were first embraced by the law-and-order Right in the early 1980s – under Reagan – in order to combat what the Right saw as the overly indulgent, accused-friendly thrust of Supreme Court rulings in the 1950s and 1960s; it was a way to ‘get tough’ on crime (“take a bite outta crime”, as MacGruff the crime-fighting pooch put it – if you recall the cartoon figure).

But he spends less time – although he does eventually get around to acknowledging it directly – on Radical-Feminism’s embrace of ‘victimist’ dynamics from the get-go. (More on this when I get to Part 2 of his book.)

And, of course, the Radical Feminism that embraced ‘victimist’ approaches to criminal law was already bloody-minded in its commitment  to the Gramscian assault on the ‘oppressive, hegemonic, marginalizing’ (and ‘patriarchal’ – which the Radical Feminists added to the Gramscian mix) political and cultural status-quo.

And while it took until the Clinton 90’s for Radical Feminist Victimism to truly explode into the Beltway with ‘governance feminism’ (and the Domestic Violence and SO Mania Regimes), its effects were being felt as early as Reagan’s first administration (not coincidentally, also the era of the truly weird and disturbing phenomenon of the Satanic Ritual Child Sex-Abuse Day Care cases of the early 1980s).

And the Beltway had been funding a lot of this dynamic as early as the mid-1970s. And making the first tentative stabs at creating legislation that would embody ‘victim-friendly’ jurispraxis (to counter the ‘soft on criminals’ momentum of the 1950s and 1960s, but also – unwittingly or deliberately – serving the agenda of the Gramscian, Marxist-Leninist assault on ‘patriarchal democracy’ that the Radical Feminists had been working on since the late 1960s and very early 1970s). And all under the banner of a ‘liberalism’ that was hell-and-gone from the classical Liberalism of the 19th century and was – indeed – fundamentally opposed to that Liberalism and to the political embodiment of it in the American political system and the American cultural, political, and legal Universe.

RL offers some very interesting insights into moral panic. There is a great danger in mass societies (using the sociological and anthropological term for highly complex modern societies): they can be set off like – to use my image – tuning forks all crammed into the same room. And if a bad vibration gets started, then it can set all the others off. Stability and balance and ‘good vibes’ are very very fragile achievements in any human society, and especially so in modern mass societies.

The development of cultural traditions and structures help support the genius (in the Latin) of the society; that is to say, the enlivening fundamental wisdom and insight(s) on which the culture and the society are founded and built.

Naturally, in the Gramscian plan of assault on the status-quo, that genius is attacked and every effort is made to undermine it (since it is ‘oppressive, hegemonic, marginalizing’ and – as we’ve seen – ‘patriarchal’). And when the government itself aids and widely abets and deeply embraces this assaultive Stance against its own culture … well, you can imagine where something like that is likely to go.

RL also looks at Baudrillard’s thought that human societies are particularly susceptible to a certain seductive mix of fear and ecstasy. There is something in humans that renders them open to the excitements and the frisson (in the French) of the heady cocktail that results from that combination of emotions. Perhaps humans are always somewhat bored with stability and order, and often with the seemingly humdrum quality of day-to-day life.

If you mix that in with a natural primitiveness that always remains with our species – residing especially in the limbic-emotional system of that part of the brain that existed before the specifically human prefrontal cortex developed, with its capacity for abstraction, self-examination, postponement of immediate gratification and reaction, and thought – then perhaps there is indeed the ‘animal’ in us all, lurking in deep in the more primitive or primal parts of the brain.

Witch-hunts and burnings, and wars and all manner of violent but exciting outbursts, fortified by the exhilarating consolations of being part of a group (or a stampeding herd) … these remain perennial potentials of the species, and most often dangerously so. Such potentials are not easily toyed-with, either in individuals or the societies they form – or in the governments they create. The Framers knew that.

Civilization is a fragile thing.

Yes, crime is a form of violence. But the legal system was created precisely to deal with that in such a way – especially in the Western tradition – that the Sovereign power acted rationally and carefully, first making careful determination as to guilt and only then exercising formally its coercive violence in punishment. Otherwise you wind up with witch-hunts and lynch mobs. Or the even more frightening prospect of the Sovereign power itself acting with non-rational violence – think of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.

In the Framing Vision the Sovereign government power is accurately and complexly envisioned as being both potentially dangerous and as being a necessary brake upon individual or even public violence and non-rationality. It’s a difficult balancing act, but the machinery of the Constitution and the judicial system as the Framers set it up was specifically (and I would say ingeniously) designed to handle those pressures and conflicting dynamics.

But the late 19th and early 20th centuries saw the development of mass societies. And of the ability to manipulate the ‘public opinion’ of those mass societies, through advertising (to sell the products of the Industrial Revolution) and through revolutionary agitprop (think of Lenin and the revolutionaries) and then through government propaganda (think of the Soviet and Fascist and Nazi governments, especially as channeled through the dark genius of Goebbels).

And the ‘free press’ of the Framers’ Vision became a mass media as well as a media for the ‘masses’  – first in print, and then later in the far more potentially inflammatory forms of radio and television (to say nothing of the Web and the internet).

The means came into existence by which governments could govern not necessarily by appealing to reason but simply by manipulating the primal (and primitive) limbic emotional reactions of their citizens. And before long that slippery slope could lead to governments’ not governing by reason at all, but simply imposing their will, surfing the waves of public emotion they purposely churned up to help float the boat of whatever policy the government decided to pursue.

All of this served to amplify two particularly darkish potentials in the human psyche of the citizenry: displacement and reaction-formation. Displacement is the psychic gambit by which unpleasant emotions are simply loaded upon some target that is not necessarily the cause of the unpleasant emotions. Reaction-formation is the psychic gambit by which the revulsion at one’s own psychic darknesses is projected upon some other – or Other – human being or group of humans; you may not be able to beat yourself up without unhappy consequence but you can sure as hell beat somebody else up and get rid of your revulsions that way (although, alas, so very often it becomes a habit and then an addiction).

Humans have been doing this sort of thing since the beginning of recorded history and probably long before. But in mass-societies, with everything amplified by government pressure and the media, things can really get out of hand. And yet seem so very very ‘normal’ and ‘right’.

RL looks at the history of ‘panics’ in this country in the 20th century, with especial attention to ‘sex panics’: following Fritz Lang’s 1931 film “M” – in which a young Peter Lorre played a murderous but self-tortured child-molester – there was a sex-panic that led in a few years to the first concern for ‘sex offenders’ (abetted, with savage irony, by J. Edgar Hoover’s organizationally self-serving amplification of such ‘pervert’ crimes as worthy of the attentions of his nascent FBI); California and other jurisdictions began to look at the first police-registries (think: 3x5 file cards) of ‘perverts’.

The postwar 1940s saw the anti-Communist hunts, which blended with concerns over the sexual looseness induced by the massive dislocations of the war experience (especially on generations that had been young during the Roaring Twenties when ‘morality’ was first considered ‘Victorian’ and outmoded).

The 1950s and early 1960s saw both an effort by psychology to rehabilitate criminals and a corresponding judicial effort to ensure the rights of the accused (after the shocking examples of Jim Crow Southern law deployed against civil-rights demonstrators). But the later 1960s saw a shocking uptick in violent crime and sexual looseness as both the flower-child free-love-and-drugs Boomers and the inner-city populations began to flout all established law and ignited the concerns of the law-and-order Right. Congress got into the act against the federal courts’ lenience with the Omnibus Crime Control Act of 1968 and kept on along those lines.

The 1970s saw the continued efforts to control violent street crime and drugs now blending with a growing feminist concern over rape and domestic violence and ‘victimization’. The Carter Administration began to pump even more funds into the feminist agenda. ‘Children’ began to appear as the archetypal victim of violence, with Ethan Patz (upon whom be peace) the first missing child whose photo appeared on milk cartons in 1977.

But – as mentioned earlier in this Post – the first Reagan administration really saw the ‘victim’ movement move into the big-time with the valorization of victimhood through overt federal recognition, in the form of both funding and government pressure to enact the victimist agenda, as well as the erection of special bureaucratic authorities and Offices specifically designed to ‘assist’ victims.

The image of the archetypal ‘criminal’ shifted from the violent ‘inner city’ type (now politically inconvenient) to the most-often white male ‘pervert’ (now politically convenient).

‘Sex’ now replaced street-violence as the most odious of crimes.

The Satanic Ritual Day Care Child Sex Abuse mini-mania of the early 1980s demonstrated the developing ‘bipartisan’ alliance of anti-male Radical Feminism and law-and-order (and fundamentalist ‘Christian’) concerns.

Ominously, the mantra of eager prosecutors and ‘therapists’ was that the Citizenry should “suspend disbelief” at some of the fantastical stories the children had been helped to tell; “believe the children” became the slogan. To be skeptical of the stories (of dragons and other mythical creatures and sex and vast networks of underground tunnels and sex-rooms beneath the schools) was to be ‘insensitive’ and to ‘re-victimize’ the children; concern for evidence was considered proof of “legal fetishism” – being far too concerned for the law and not concerned enough about the outrage and the pain.

And then came the 1990s, when under the Clintons Radical Feminism, now deeply enmeshed with Victimism, became a major influence in the Beltway. And we all know what resulted from that. The Monster Stranger Predator, incorrigibly recidivist, simultaneously an out-of-control monster and a preternaturally shrewd seducer, was nowhere and everywhere.

What sort of a government it would take to deal with these imagined Monsters … well, as we now know 20 years and more down the road, it would take a police state. But that seemed the thing to do at the time. And still does, to far too many.

The Radical Feminists – as even RL admits – quickly provided a voluminous ‘philosophy’ to justify it all. Although – and RL doesn’t reach this reality – that hefty corpus of ‘thought’ was not the result of some marvelous Radical Feminist and Victimist renaissance or enlightenment burst of creativity; it was the result of scarfing the ready-made tomes of old Marxist-Leninist thought and Gramsci’s playbook, making the appropriate substitutions in terms (‘women’ for ‘proletariat’; sex for labor, patriarchy for capitalism) and waving the ‘numbers’ they got from ‘surveys’ and ‘extrapolations’ that indicated astronomical numbers of offenses and offenders and victims.

Though, as one advocate unintentionally revealed, some outrageous victimization was yet so subtle that it was invisible even to its victims – and victims would have to be educated into realizing they had indeed been victimized.

But then if a police state is going to go after allegedly felonious victimizations this subtle and invisible … well, that was going to take even more intrusion and government coercion than the Soviets took on when they went after ‘counter-revolutionary’ activity with the Cheka, the OGPU, the NKVD and the KGB.

But Americans are a can-do kind of people, so why not try?

The propagandistic narrative – reflecting the film scripts of a medium that pretty much grew alongside the development of mass societies – called for a Pure and Innocent Victim, a leering and utterly debased Villain, and a Heroic Rescuer who would do ‘whatever it takes’ to see the Good rescued and the Evil eliminated. The ancient Manichean either/or set-up: you’re either totally Good or you’re totally Evil (more recently phrased as being “you’re either with us or for the terrorists” so let’s invade Iraq).

The Beltway would be the Guardian and the Rescuer and the Avenger – all rolled into one. And it would do whatever it took to do all that, and if the Constitution got in the way … well, real men don’t fuss over legal niceties and – marvelously – real Radical Feminists don’t believe in Western and Constitutional ‘patriarchal’ law anyway. Bipartisan agreement! (Or, as the French would put it: folie a deux.)

The more Players you can field then the better your chances of taking the trophy. And in the SO Mania game, there is quite a roster.

There are ‘advocates’. But – as I have noted in prior Posts – these are not Level 1 or Level 2 advocates, who are simply Citizens with an idea who get together to persuade their fellow/sister Citizens. Rather, these are Level 3 advocates who sidestep Citizens and move to pressure legislators directly (and secretly) and Level 4 advocates who function pretty much as any other Beltway lobbyists and don’t care whether their cause is good or bad, true or imagined, so long as they can continue to rake in public funding and status.

There is a mainstream media that began its long slide by abandoning ‘objective reporting’ for telling stories and helping ‘shape’ public opinion, and then – in order to keep up circulation and viewership – began to go for the gut-wrenching and the sensational (“if it bleeds, it leads”) regardless of any other considerations (such as asking the utterly vital question: is this a rare and atypical event or is it a major ongoing matter of public significance?).

There are what Gramsci called “organic intellectuals”: those thinkers who will commit to ‘the revolution’ and ‘the cause’ and will make sure that all of their ‘thought’ marvelously results in support for the cause.

There are ‘scientists’ who will do the same, if for no other reason than to keep their eligibility for public funding for their ‘research’.

There are “moral entrepreneurs” who will surf the waves of public excitement to play up the outrage and the ‘moral’ need to do what has to be done with no regard for consequences.

There is an entire pandemonium of semi-and-para-professional ‘therapists’ and ‘experts’ who will come up with all sorts of ‘therapy’ and ‘research’ to show that the whole thing is vitally necessary and very very real and that just about everybody is a victim of it (except, of course, for the perps who by definition cannot be victims).

One thinks here – and RL will mention it – of ‘repressed memory’: I have written about it at length on this site, so I will only add here that it is still an under-appreciated fact that in no other area of experience do humans apparently experience ‘repressed memory’ except sexual experience. Nobody has yet appeared before a court to claim that they were in a lethal auto accident umpty years ago and they just now ‘remembered’ it or that they were held up at gunpoint and ditto. Or that they were in a series of auto accidents as a passenger of the same bad driver, and each time they had forgotten the previous accident and gone along for the ride again, and then on top of that had forgotten the whole series of accidents from years ago until just yesterday.

And there is the new ‘heroic’ role and status of the now iconic American figure of the Victim. But I will leave that for the next Post, where RL shares a 1997 statement by Janet Reno (herself an underappreciated icon – or warning flag – of the whole shebang) that deserves more attention than it will get at the bottom of an already-longish Post.

In my next Post I will consider Part 2 of RL’s book, entitled “The Punitive State”.


*Lancaster, Roger. Sex Panic and the Punitive State. Berkeley: U/Cal Press (2011). ISBN: 978-0-520-26206-5 (pb). 246pp plus Appendices, Notes, and Index.

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