Tuesday, July 17, 2012


I continue looking at Roger Lancaster’s (RL) book.*

RL looks at “some explanations for the punitive turn”. (p.181)

Given his own natural liberal tendencies, he turns first to “social conservative” explanations, which center around a “logical” response to the high-crime rates associated with the 1960s and 1970s. While this explanation accurately marks the moment in American history “when crime issues began to be politicized”, it is insufficient – he thinks – as a sociological explanation.

Concern over “juvenile delinquency” was ignited as juvenile crime rates began rising as early as the 1950s. And while crime rates climbed dramatically in the 1960s, they essentially remained flat – although at a highly elevated level – from 1972 to 1992.

Thus while the experience of crime in the 1960s and 1970s was congruent with the actual climb in crime rates, yet in the 1980s – when the conservative law-and-order Reagan tilt toward Victimism was initiated – the crime rates had actually flattened: it was, to RL’s mind, the perception of rampant crime rather than the experience of it that fueled – almost phantasmagorically – the national concern over crime.

In other words, while in the earlier era there actually was a spike in crime, in the 1980s that spike had flattened and it was a matter of public opinion, inflamed by “imagined dangers and an exaggerated or misplaced sense of risk”.

And it is here in the early 1980s that RL also points out “the sensational sex panics that played an important role in the punitive turn”.

I have often discussed the political elements active in all of this: the growing power of Leftish advocacy-Identity politics throughout the 1970s, tightly and widely embraced by the Democrats in 1972 and extending throughout the 1970s.

But the first ominously powerful outburst of ‘sex panic’ was the Satanic Ritual Day-Care Child Sex Abuse wave that occupied the early 1980s. The more I think about this phenomenon, the more ‘constructed’ it appears: the ‘satanic ritual’ bit reflected the concerns of that fundamentalist-Christian demographic which the Republicans in the Reagan era had quickly embraced as a counter-force to the secularist and ‘liberal’ elements that the Democrats had deeply embraced; the ‘day-care’ bit reflected concern over the changes to family-structure (including the radical-feminist insistence on the deconstruction of the Family in order to provide ‘liberating’ economic opportunities for women, coupled with a Beltway awareness that in order to keep up accustomed levels of income and financial security, both parents would now have to work); and the ‘child’ as subject of all this Victimization provided a useful image of a Victim around whom the largest number of interests might be united in an otherwise divided national discourse on the role of ‘women’ and ‘men’.

But the ‘sex’ bit – which ultimately was proven to be almost completely non-existent – was, I would say, the most telling aspect of this government-and-media-manufactured early phase of Mania: it captured nicely the Right’s concern for the un-boundaried ‘sexual liberation’ of both the Boomers and the radical-feminists on the Left: even ‘teachers’ were now unreliable, since they had been ‘infected’ with the sex-crazed libertinism of the 1960s.

And yet it was here – I would say – that the radical-feminist and Victimist advocates (rapidly organizing into permanent pressure groups that I characterize as advanced-level Advocacy) first saw a) how the Beltway and the media could literally create a mass ‘Issue’ or ‘Crisis’ where none existed and then b) how that possibility might be turned to their own advantage in the radical-feminist-required ‘war’ on patriarchy and males.

Especially since ‘sex’ (defined as the act of inseminating in order to produce more offspring) was something that males were invariably driven-towards (as the theory of Evolution supports).

If then, those Advocacies could ‘criminalize’ sex as widely and deeply as possible, then they would have an almost-permanent ‘stick’ with which to beat males, even with the criminal law. ‘Sex’ could be weaponized in the Gender War.

Thus, as RL observes, “while the sensational sex panics that played an important role in the punitive turn in the 1980s were buoyed by imagined dangers and an exaggerated or misplaced sense of risk … many of the most punitive laws actually were passed after 1992, a time of rapidly declining crime rates”. (all of the foregoing, p.182) [italics mine]

I agree. Although I note a) that 1992 and the arrival of the Clinton presidency also marked the arrival of ‘governance feminism’ as the Democrats’ strongly-embraced radical-feminist Advocacies were given hugely expanded entrée into the Beltway and the federal bureaucracies and into formal roles of governance; and b) efforts were immediately reinforced to actually intensify and expand the crime-rate numbers by casting almost all heterosexual sex as somehow criminal.

And thus, even as crime-rates (meaning ‘crime’ as classically-defined) were falling, the category of sex-crimes was suddenly made the focus of intense and manipulative efforts to create a ‘crisis’ both huge and ongoing.

I would say that crime and punitive efforts to control it – by a broad and sustained government-sponsored campaign to ‘control’ and re-shape public opinion about ‘sex’ – became a tool or weapon in the Gender War: the gender and Victimist Advocacies got funding, status, and authority (with the help of legislators from both Right and Left); the media got a never-ending supply of ‘horror-stories’ artfully scripted along the necessary melodramatic lines of Innocent-Victim and Leering-Villain; and the government authority itself (distinct from the political benefits to politicians and Parties) got to engorge lethally and enormously.

And then there were all the ancillary beneficiaries of this gambit: an increasing pandemonium of ‘therapists’ and ‘experts’ who could cash in on the Mania; enterprising prosecutors and law-enforcement types who could quickly build career-advancement or even a career-itself by providing well-publicized ‘cases’ and the “spectacle” of arrests; and even university-level scholars who saw what had to be done to keep government happy and its vital funding flowing.

(Curiously, of course, and to no small extent incoherently, the radical-feminist Advocacies were demanding far wider ‘sexual freedom’ for ‘women’ precisely as they were also demanding the vast increase of draconian law and policies designed to control (‘shape’ is perhaps more accurate) sexual activity.)

Forthwith, the prison population that had been shrinking suddenly began to spike upwards.

The Left that had started out in the 1960s as an adversary of government police repression and brutality suddenly morphed into the greatest enabler of it by the 1990s. (p.183)

Nicely, RL mentions David Garland’s observation (in his 2001 study, Culture of Control) that the idea had come to take root in society that “nothing works”.** I wonder, really, how anything could have worked: the government, at the behest of its Identities and Advocacies was simultaneously trying to create ‘liberation space’ that almost seemed to require a certain tolerance for crime and violence; the Boomery infatuation with drugs was a ‘liberation’ that was criminogenic in and of itself and would only prove more so as time went on; the police power was simultaneously seen as repressive and incompetent and/or ineffectual; an d- generally – the government was trying to impose a hugely novel social revolution (or many of them) while at the same time reigning in the repressive aspects of police authority while at the same time trying to demonstrate that it could keep law-and-order.

And I can’t help adding here that the very notion of ‘law and order’ was anathema to the radical feminists at the deepest conceptual levels: Constitutional law-and-order was merely patriarchal law-and-order. And yet – as the SO community knows well – once weaponized in the service of their Gender War agenda, the Left became verrrrry law-and-order oriented, to the point of the police-state regimes of the Mania.

As Garland observed, the sense that “nothing works” somehow discouraged genuine progressive efforts at prison-reform and rehabilitation, and fueled socially-conservative*** demands to simply lock’em all up and throw away the key. (Which fueled a public increase in prison-building, and then spawned an entire private, commercial prison industry that is still chugging right along.)

RL attributes “zero tolerance” policies to the (social and cultural) conservatives, but we have seen how quickly and completely “zero tolerance” became a watchword of the Left-Victimist Advocacies as well. (p.183)

But then RL does point out neatly that “zero tolerance” has become an instance of “the punitive culture rationalizing its own existence”. (p.183) This, I would say, works this way: if we presume that ‘zero tolerance’ is a good thing, then the government must have enough coercive and intrusive police authority to prosecute every instance of crime whatsoever. And then, of course, if you factor in preventive intrusion and imposition, the equation necessary to create a full-blown police-state is completed.

So the redefinition of ‘crime’ in the popular mind from ‘street crime’ to ‘sex crime’ is, in my opinion, a lethal and ominous gambit that has opened up the gate in the Constitutional wall that had kept Kong away from civilization: Leviathan is unleashed once again.

And then RL notes the mostly unmentioned reality that the vast increase in (mostly male) prisoners also serves to keep increasing numbers of males formally out of the work force (and out of the official unemployment statistics and off the voting-rolls). In a time of declining employment opportunities and the almost-doubling of the eligible work-force through the demands of radical-feminism, the vastly expanded incarceration of males creates needed ‘space’. (p.188) And I would add that Registering so many others as SOs then adds to that dynamic.

But RL then wants to get below the realm of statistics to note the cultural consequences: this country has lost any sense of balance and of rehabilitation and of second-chances. (p.189)

This almost had to happen. If in order to whomp up public outrage and interest, the Advocacies had to perform the PR magic of turning the ‘accused’ not only into the ‘perp’ but also into the monstrous and incorrigible and Evil Perp, then clearly any thought of ‘rehabilitation’ had to be kicked to the curb. You can’t – in this theorizing of the ‘crisis’ – rehabilitate Evil. (You can only imprison it and – if you have to let Evil back out eventually – ‘register’ it with an electronic-database equivalent of a Yellow Star.)

And – as RL begins to arrive at it (p.189) – you can also quickly and easily increase the amount of ‘proven’ Evil Perps by greatly weakening evidentiary and jurisprudential standards (thus ‘victim-friendly’ ‘reforms’ that make any ‘story’ presumptively true and undercut any possibility of the accused defending himself against the allegation).

I simply point out here that if these dynamics can be deployed against SOs today, they can be deployed against anybody else tomorrow. The government simply has to ‘discover’ and ‘declare’ some new ‘outrage’ and ‘crisis’ and who knows where that can lead? Once Kong is out of the cage and through the ancient Gate, then does anybody really think the monster can be controlled?

If LBJ came up with the image of ‘War’ with his ‘War on Poverty’ in 1966, then Nixon followed with his ‘War on Crime’ in 1968. It would serve, RL says, as both a counter-movement to all the Democratic liberal talk of ‘War’ (on poverty, on conventional morality and traditional cultural assumptions and society) while also distracting from the failing shooting-war in Vietnam. (p.191)

Thus the matter of political demographics took a commanding role. The rise of the Religious Right in the South and West merged with a Northern blue-collar abandonment of the formerly-New Deal and now ‘revolutionary’ Democrats; “hardhat conservatism” was born as a major realignment of the political map.

The police (and – less noted – the government’s coercive police power) became the heroes of the Right; the Right embraced “the veneration of policing and the idealization of tough law enforcement”. (p.192) I note here that it would be a simple matter of political chemistry for the Left to gain control of the levers of this rapidly-developing Machine in order to deploy it – as we saw in the 1990s with the DoVi and SO Mania Regimes – for their own purposes.

Wave after wave of instances of “cultural paranoia” started up. There was an abiding mistrust, now, of ‘others’. RL notes the early 1980s ‘tampering’ scares, where disgruntled or incompetent employees were imagined to be tampering with medicine bottles on a vast scale. (Recall also the Satanic Ritual Day Care Child Sex Abuse cases of the same era.)

Worse, the ‘celebrity’ dynamic began to emerge: copycat ‘tamperers’ actually came forward to claim they too had done such things, simply for a few minutes of media-attention and ‘celebrity’.

Worse, RL notes, the AIDS epidemic began to give many people serious anxieties about sex. That epidemic “was fostering new anxieties involving sex, and ever more bizarre imaginings of predation proliferated”. (p.193)

As a result of which “sexual fears – some reasonable, some delirious – would play a pivotal role in conjuring up sinister enemies, feeding the frenzy for harsh retribution, forging strange alliances, domesticating and co-opting elements of the Left, and planting the psychological conditions of the state of panic in the seedbed of the family”. (p.193)

Yes indeed. But I point out that almost all of this was included in the radical-feminist menu of targets and tactics put forth (to give just one example) in radical-feminist law-professor Catharine MacKinnon’s 1989 compendium of radical-feminist objectives, Toward A Feminist Theory of the State. (See my mini-series on her on my other site.) Victim-friendly legal ‘reforms’ justified by the illegitimacy of ‘patriarchal’ Constitutional protections, the pervasive use of ‘sex’ as ‘oppression’, the role of the Family in sustaining ‘patriarchy’ … they were all there, and – MacKinnon says – had been there since the very early 1970s, waiting for the right political moment to be introduced into the national culture and the Beltway.

Worse, ‘rescue fantasies’ became a Hollywood staple: the Rambo series became immensely popular – first as the hero invaded and brushed aside evil foreigners to rescue Americans overseas, and then as the hero (and spin-off heroes of other films) began to do the same thing domestically, against this or that criminal or Evil criminal mastermind. (p.192)

It seemed that since “nothing works” then the only thing left to do was to take the law into your own hands. (I can’t help pointing out that just within the past two weeks this theme resurfaced in a still-underappreciated court case in Santa Clara County, CA, where a jury refused to convict a man, marvelously named Lynch, who had admittedly carried out an assault against somebody he claims raped him almost 40 years ago; the little-noticed but always possible Victimist-Rambo connection, shading clearly now into lynch-mob type activity, has now started to enjoy official legal status.)

And then came the War on Drugs, with its lurid tales of teens (especially ‘innocent’ white and middle-class) being lured into taking drugs and becoming addicted. Although they were so often termed ‘children’ for the obvious PR reasons.

But ‘Just Say No’ wasn’t all there was to the Reagan-era drug War. Substantial expansions of the intrusive and coercive police authority were instituted and the era ushered in “draconian” drug laws and rates of imprisonment. (p.193) You can see, again, where the equation was almost complete, whereby the mere substitution for a radical-feminist emphasis on ‘sex’ could create an entirely fresh and untapped field of expansion for this engorged and expanding Machine.

The SO Mania didn’t just suddenly ‘appear’, much as its proponents want everybody to presume that ‘suddenly’ heroic advocates simply ‘discovered’ huge and real amounts of sex-crimes. All the elements of a perfect – and anti-Constitutional – storm were simply waiting for further opportunities to engorge; the snow was all there, bunched up and ready to go – it merely required somebody to throw the ball.


*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.

**I recall an episode of the TV detective series Kojak in the early 1970s where the precinct commander says precisely that – “we keep trying and nothing works” – to Kojak as they face the task of law enforcement in the New York City of that era.

***I repeat a thought I’ve worked before: you can be socially and culturally conservative without at all being Constitutionally conservative. And indeed, neither social and cultural  conservatives nor social and cultural liberals nowadays are actually Constitutionally conservative in the classic sense. To the ‘conservatives’, Constitutional restrictions and protections obstruct the punitive police power and to the ‘liberals’, Constitutional restrictions and protections obstruct the deployment of the punitive police power on behalf of ‘victims’. The Constitution has few major political defenders – and that cannot be a good thing.

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