Living The Guns Dream

There are places in the world where there are lots of guns, and not just by bad guys. So what does a country awash with guns look like? According to the pro-gun hypothesis, it should be a crime-free heaven, right? Let’s see:

“I recently visited some Latin American countries that mesh with the N.R.A.’s vision of the promised land, where guards with guns grace every office lobby, storefront, A.T.M., restaurant and gas station. It has not made those countries safer or saner.

Despite the ubiquitous presence of “good guys” with guns, countries like Guatemala,Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia and Venezuela have some of the highest homicide rates in the world.

“A society that is relying on guys with guns to stop violence is a sign of a society where institutions have broken down,” said Rebecca Peters, former director of the International Action Network on Small Arms. “It’s shocking to hear anyone in the United States considering a solution that would make it seem more like Colombia.”

As guns proliferate, legally and illegally, innocent people often seem more terrorized than protected.”

There is a chicken-and-egg issue though: are more guns the product of institutional breakdown and failed state or do more guns trigger institutional breakdown and failed state? After all, if a lot of private people (whether gangs or private security personnel) have guns, one can see how that could have a destabilizing effect rather than a response to destabilization.

“Scientific studies have consistently found that places with more guns have more violent deaths, both homicides and suicides. Women and children are more likely to die if there’s a gun in the house. The more guns in an area, the higher the local suicide rates. “Generally, if you live in a civilized society, more guns mean more death,” said David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. “There is no evidence that having more guns reduces crime. None at all.”

After a gruesome mass murder in 1996 provoked public outrage, Australia enacted stricter gun laws, including a 28-day waiting period before purchase and a ban on semiautomatic weapons. Before then, Australia had averaged one mass shooting a year. Since, rates of both homicide and suicide have dropped 50 percent, and there have been no mass killings, said Ms. Peters, who lobbied for the legislation.”

And these facts will not make one bit of difference.

Neither will those:

“Guatemala, with approximately 20,000 police officers, has 41,000 registered private security guards and an estimated  80,000 who are working without authorization. “To put people with guns who are not accountable or trained in places where there are lots of innocent people is just dangerous,” Ms. Peters said, noting that lethal force is used to deter minor crimes like shoplifting.

Indeed, even as some Americans propose expanding our gun culture into elementary schools, some Latin American cities are trying to rein in theirs. Bogotá’s new mayor, Gustavo Petro, has forbidden residents to carry weapons on streets, in cars or in any public space since last February, and the murder rate has dropped 50 percent to a 27-year low. He said, “Guns are not a defense, they are a risk.”

William Godnick, coordinator of the Public Security Program at the United Nations Regional Center for Peace, Disarmament and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, said that United Nations studies in Central America showed that people who used a gun to defend against an armed assault were far more likely to be injured or killed than if they had no weapon.”

C. Wright Mills – Taking It Big and Speaking Truth To Power

The last parts of Stanley Aronowitz‘s Taking It Big – C. Wright Mills and The Making of Political Intellectuals deal with The Sociological Imagination and Mills’s overall impact as a public sociologist, his successes and failures as such.

“Mills’s refusal of psychoanalytic interpretations of history and politics and the absence of references to Nietzsche’s conceptions of power and history in his writings were by no means frivolous. His own idea of the politics of truth was anchored in a belief that reason could eventually govern human affairs if only beleaguered intellectuals stepped up to their moral responsibilities. In this sense, he exhibited an abiding faith in the Christian imperative to “speak truth to power,” although, in the end, Mills was less interested in taking power than in abolishing it. For Mills, it was not merely a matter of hectoring, although he did quite a bit of that. In the last years of his life, he was determined to live as a political and public intellectual. Or, to be more exact, he wanted to bring the political implications of critical social theory and commentary into the public sphere. And, perhaps more importantly, he assumed a mission to bring his writing and ideas into the mainstream as well as to audiences in and out of academia in the hopes of creating, despite the odds, a new public, which could be a catalyst for the emergence of a new Left from the shards of a confused and fragmented liberal center.” (196-197).

Public intellectuals, though, have always had a hard time in the US (as opposed to Europe where there are more of them, including quite a few hacks though).

“Mills held fast to the power of ideas to effect change, but he was not so naïve to believe that a relatively small band of intellectuals armed with a culture of critical discourse could by themselves be more than catalysts. Despite his critique of the massification of the public, he was still in Dewey’s camp and not Lippmann’s, insofar as he retained hope in the reemergence of a genuine public that could decisively affect the course of national politics from below.” (197).

This is especially interesting. because, after all, Mills missed the boat on the social movements of his time, such as the Civil Rights (Aronowitz states that Mills found the movement intellectually uninteresting but he supported it), the women’s movement (although he might have already been dead by the time Second Wave feminism really took off) as well as other community-based movements (and he had already pretty much given up on the labor movement).

“He regarded the American intelligentsia as totally lacking in “moral courage” and condemned intellectuals for their “moral cowardice” in the face of McCarthyite attacks on civil liberties and academic freedom and for their failure to grapple with the dark consequences of the permanent war psychosis.” (214-215)

Nothing really changed here.

But in addition to wanting to be a public intellectual, with The Sociological Imagination, Mills also engaged the social sciences in general and sociology in particular, in his own cranky way.

“The Sociological Imagination is nothing short of a program for a new social science. It was written in opposition to what Mills perceived as the two dominant tendencies in social science: what he called “abstracted empiricism” and “grand theory.” Even though his main targets are some of the most influential sociologists of the post–World War II era, they are, as he makes clear, representative of social science as a whole. But what is new for Mills is the imperative to return to the classical tradition of Marx, Simmel, Durkheim, and Weber, all of whom, despite their differences, wanted to understand the social structure, its relation to history, and to the individuals who inhabit it.” (216)

And Mill’s classical definition:

“No social study that does not come back to the problems of biography, of history and their intersections within a society has completed its intellectual journey.

What is the sociological imagination?

The sociological imagination enables its possessor to understand the larger historical scene in terms of its meaning for the inner life and the external career of a variety of individuals. It enables him to take into account how individuals, in the welter of their daily experience, often become falsely conscious of their social position.” (216).

Everybody is familiar with the concept of “false consciousness”:

““False Consciousness” is a category of the Marxist theory of ideology. Among other things, it connotes the inability of individuals and, perhaps, entire social formations to locate “their position” in the social structure or even their interests. It may mean, for example, that the poor identify with the rich rather than with their own class or that ordinary people patriotically follow their rulers in conducting brutal wars and genocidal annihilations against whole populations or, as Mills was wont to reiterate, to experience their public problems as private troubles.” (216-217)

But it is the practitioners of the discipline that bear the brunt of his critique:

“He critiques social scientists for their penchant for “abstraction,” for beginning with categories rather than social problems (i.e., grand theory), or for employing methodologies of research that have little or no substantive content (i.e., abstracted empiricism).

(…)

He is not concerned primarily with correcting these tendencies for the sake of merely reforming the discipline(s). True to the entirety of his writings—beginning with his study, almost twenty years earlier, of pragmatism in the context of the university—he is obsessed with the conditions under which the public can become vital participants in the political sphere. The manipulation of the public—its reduction to a mass of individuals who feel “trapped” in a welter of “private” troubles that for Mills must become public issues—remains the genuine object of the sociological imagination. But this transformation cannot be effected unless and until social studies—including journalism—begin with the premise that the task is to understand social structures in their historical context as the framework within which individuals experience everyday life, however falsely. The claim for “social studies” (we shall see why he wants to jettison the term “science” in this respect) is that they must go back to the future by resuming the world-historical project of classical social theory.

(…)

“The practice of social scientists has been and continues to be focused on discrete studies of a variety of social problems and phenomena. These studies fail to draw the implications of the results for an understanding of social structure and the “historical scene” within which they occur.

(…)

“Mills writes: “Specialists in method tend also to be specialists in one or another species of social philosophy. The important point about them, in sociology today, is that they are specialists, but that one of the results of their specialty is to further the process of specialization within social sciences as a whole.” A consequence of this specialization is that it tends to obscure the study of problems of social structure.” (221)

How many sections are there in the American Sociological Association these days?

“Sociological and political theory have been relegated to specialties within their respective disciplines and, for the most part, consist of histories and commentaries on past social and political thought. With only some exceptions, theorizing about the global present has migrated to Europe, Asia, and Latin America. The United States does not have its Pierre Bourdieu, Edgar Morin, Norbert Elias, Jürgen Habermas, or Anthony Giddens. But Polish, French, and British sociologies have their Mertons, Lazsarfelds, and Parsonses. American positivism and empiricism have become global phenomena in those societies where intellectuals wish to free themselves from the burdens associated with theories, particularly historical materialism, pointing to social transformation.” (221)

I find Aronowitz’s assessment a bit harsh here. What of Richard Sennett and Saskia Sassen? (Do they count as Americans or as fully global – highly privileged – intellectuals) I would add though Manuel Castells and Zygmunt Bauman to the list and be more skeptical of Edgar Morin. What of Southern theorists?

The general point, though, is still valid when one looks at the training future sociologists get not just in the US higher education system but in Europe as well (even though there is indeed greater tolerance for “taking it big”).

“Those who do not address problems of humans from the perspective of social structures and historical contexts that condition their troubles have tacitly or explicitly accepted the current setup and seek only to tinker with it to make it more just.

(…)

It means “taking it big,” by which Mills meant that social studies must be bold enough to grasp the whole social world.” (239)

The last part of Mills’ critical sociology involved culture and its apparatus of production.

“Mills left unfinished the project of a comprehensive study of the cultural apparatus. He was less interested in the aesthetic dimension of cultural production than its political salience. Specifically, he wanted to understand the relation of cultural products to political consciousness and the place of its producers to possible social and political transformations. Mills had come to the conclusion that it was not the economy or even self-interest in general that drove contemporary social agents to action or inaction. Mills concluded that in the epoch of what he termed “overdeveloped” capitalism, the masses were moved more broadly by “culture” than by reason. He had become convinced that the cultural apparatus played a central role in reproducing the entire “set-up.”

(…)

Mills’s invocation of the cultural apparatus, paralleling Horkheimer and Adorno’s idea of the culture industry, signaled that culture was no longer the spontaneous creation of the people but instead was an aspect of the organization and reproduction of social and political domination. If social transformation was at all possible, its protagonists were obliged to understand the process of the production and distribution of the key cultural forms, especially the mass media. Clearly, the implication of his projected study was to argue for a new counterhegemonic strategy of the Left that matched the force of the culture industry.” (242)

“However, a half-century after Mills outlined a project for the critical study of the cultural apparatus, dominant disciplines, even the relatively recent domain of cultural studies, lack the grandeur of Mills’s proposal to ask the crucial question of the relation of the cultural apparatus to political and social power. Perhaps the major exception was the Birmingham School—Stuart Hall, Raymond Williams, Dick Hebdidge, Judith Williamson, Paul Willis, and Richard Hoggart, among others—whose ethnographies of working-class youth subculture and television analysis were remarkably in sync with Mills. In contrast, many scholars of postmodernism have chosen to follow the broader tendency among the social sciences to confine their research to narrow topics and have failed to connect the implications of what they find to the larger questions of social theory. In fact, among the new generation of practitioners of cultural analysis there developed a suspicion of theory, relegating its main tenets to an outmoded modernism.” (243)

I’m willing to bet that Mills would have no patience of postmodernists. They would make him especially cranky.

But Aronowitz see a few signs of hope and more reason to stay cranky:

“For example, the ethnographer Michael Burowoy’s inaugural 2005 address as incoming president of the American Sociological Association was a plea for sociologists to become public intellectuals. Some listeners understood that the speech was a tribute to the almost forgotten legacy of C. Wright Mills, who exemplified the category. Burowoy neglected to mention Mills, but he did invoke Antonio Gramsci’s idea of the “organic” intellectual—whom he defined as a person closely tied to social movements. Although careful to avoid criticizing his interlocutors, Burowoy’s implicit message to the gathering was that sociologists should enter the public sphere not mainly as experts subservient to prevailing powers but as allies of the agents of change. He argued that sociologists should orient their intellectual work to questions of concern to social movements. Burowoy listed four categories of intellectuals: professional, policy, critical, and public. He called for the “hegemony” of the last two, a project that at best remains a Sisyphean endeavor.

Half a century after Mills’s death, public intellectuals dedicated to fundamental social transformation have become a rarity in American political life, along with the exclusion of a radical politics in the public discourse. Journalists are trained to believe they are ideologically neutral and are warned that reporting from a leftist standpoint is a violation of ethics (the right and center perspectives are far less proscribed, however). Despite Burowoy’s plea, the training of intellectuals in universities tends to discourage students from embarking on a dissident path if, in an ever-tightening academic employment market, they expect to obtain and hold academic jobs. Given these pressures, most academics are content to remain teachers and scholars or, if inclined to politics and other forms of public discourse, are obliged to confine their efforts to tweaking the existing setup.” (243-244)

This is far from speaking truth to power (and let’s not forget the fiasco of the APA dealing with torture):

“The knowledge generated by the policy intellectuals is, frankly, done in behalf of the national, state, and local power elites.

Sociologists are among the main sources of social-welfare knowledge, much of it funded by public and nonprofit agencies. Knowledge is dedicated to assisting the state to regulate, in the first place, the poor. Having forsaken theoretical explorations aimed at explaining social events, the disciplines of economics and political science have, with the exception of a small minority of practitioners, become policy sciences. Economists assist and advise governments and corporations to anticipate and regulate the “market,” raise and spend tax revenues, and help direct investments abroad as well as at home. Political science has virtually become an adjunct to the political parties and to the foreign policy establishment; its polling apparatuses are guides to candidates on how to shape their messages and to whom to target their appeals.” (248)

This seems to parallel Mills’s view of labor leaders.

“Mills spurned the temptation to tailor his skills to the powerful but chose to study them using some of the tools of social research. While many socially conscious colleagues studied “down”—the poor, single mothers, homelessness, for example—Mills insisted on looking power directly in the face.” (248)

I think French sociologists Monique Pinçon-Charlot and Michel Pinçon provide a good example of sociology of the elite that Mills would have approved of.

In the final analysis, Aronowitz sees Mills in 3D: (1) political intellectual, (2) a theorist of American social structure, and (3) a meta-theorist of the social sciences, especially sociology. Because he died so young, it is hard to tell how successful he truly was in all three respects. It is also hard to see who walks in his footsteps today. Anybody? In Mills’s (and Aronowitz’s) view, it could not be someone from academia.

So, where are the public sociologists today? Those trying to take it big? The stars of sociology of globalization? Castells? Bauman? Sennett? Sassen? Stephanie Coontz (albeit in a very specialized way, on marriage and families)?

The Visual Du Jour: The Power Elite – Chinese Style

This is an interactive infographic, so, here is a quick video:

The Power Elite – Chinese Style from SocProf on Vimeo.

I initially found this in a blog post in Le Monde but the original article is here.

Note the consistency in color schemes in the different visualizations.

A few snapshots (not interactive, of course):

Also:

A family tree (well… family bubbles):

What privilege is:

When Religious and Patriarchal Obsession with Controlling Ladyparts Leads to Atrocities

I did not know about this, but it is truly horrifying:

“One 86-year-old woman, Rita McCann noted, “I came on the Luas and I didn’t know if the cinema was on this side or the other. Then I spotted two women and said, ‘I’m sure they are heading for it’. When you see the limps going you get the message.”

The limp is a common ailment in women who have suffered through symphysiotomies, a painful surgical procedure used in maternity hospitals across Ireland in the 20th century. Other problems include chronic back pain and incontinence.

Often performed in the place of the more commonplace Caesarean section, symphysiotomies involved breaking the woman’s pelvis during childbirth. The Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SOS) group claims that the operations were carried out without prior knowledge or consent “mainly for religious reasons, by obstetricians who were opposed to family planning.”

SOS continues to fight for justice, calling for recognition of the suffering they have gone through as a result of unnecessary procedures, and asking for compensation. The women, many of whom are in their 70s and 80s, want the statute of limitations waived so they can seek damages from the State. The request has received cross-party support in recent months but action has been slow. So slow, that many are preparing for a long-drawn out legal process.

Between 100 and 150 survivors travelled to Dublin yesterday for the first screening of a documentary which examined the barbaric practice and compared it to methods used in Kenyan hospitals today.

The women travelled from all over Ireland and overseas, each with their own stories. As Rita pointed out, there are plenty of limps but there are also canes and wheelchairs.

Another survivor Claire Kavanagh said: “Put fifty of us in a room and you’ll get different stories but the same ending. We are all cripples.”

Among the women – a lot of whom seem to know each other well – there are supportive husbands, sons, daughters and in some cases granddaughters.

Many navigate the large, wooden staircase in a slow and careful manner but others seem grateful when an usher cries out directions to the lift.

(…)

That history is slowing being uncovered by the women featured in the film.

On screen, former midwife Laura Mann explains that when she was working in Dublin hospitals in the 1950s and 1960s, “the big thing was to have children even if you dropped dead.”

She discussed Catholic Church influence, and even interference, in maternity hospitals.

Survivor Micheline Gilroy remembers being “held down” and a strange man looking annoyed at the end of her bed. “I thought this was the way,” she said. It was her first and only labour.

Even though they now know they underwent symphysiotomies, there is still mystery and unanswered questions around the childbirth experiences of these women.

“‘I’m going to give you a symphysiotomy’,” Marie Cowly’s doctor told her. “Sure I didn’t know what it was,” she says. “He could have danced a jig at the end of the bed. I’d never heard of it. I still have no explanation.”

The nurses looked sick, some even got physically sick, begins Nora Clarke.

“I saw the hacksaw, I know what hacksaws are. He started cutting my bone and my blood spurted up like a fountain.” She remembers how the doctor looked annoyed that he had gotten her blood on his glasses. Until she spoke to her son Wayne about it many years later, Nora believed she had gone through a C-Section.

“You’ll never get rid of [the pain] until you’re not living anymore,” she says during the film.”

Let’s all remember that this is the same Catholic Church that started covering up the abuse of children around that time.

Still The Gun Thing…

A few publications (here and here, for instance) decided to do some raw data collection (which would need to be refined and correlated with other variables to be truly useful). Slate, especially, has produced a simple interactive graphic regarding gun deaths since Newtown, which has received much visibility:

Less spectacular but as important is this article on the NRA’s (successful) lobbying efforts to suppress research on this topic:

“One aspect of the political effort to turn the US into a gun culture was laid bare just before Christmas inan editorial published in JAMA by Arthur Kellerman and Fred Rivara, two public health physicians. They present a shocking and well-described perspective not available elsewhere — a story of how politics, funding, and sociopathic profiteering have combined to thwart public health research, ultimately creating a smoother path for corporate interests that exploit citizens and their lives just as cigarette manufacturers did a few decades ago — minimizing risks and dismissing deaths in order to make their money. By tying their business to freedom, gun manufacturers and their shills have been able to make incredible inroads into our political system. How much so? They’ve been able to stifle research into gun violence for more than 15 years.

Kellerman and Rivara write that in 1996, pro-gun members of Congress succeeded in eliminating the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As if defunding this center weren’t enough, the following language was added to the appropriations bill:

. . . none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.

So, the CDC lost a center devoted to injury prevention, and lost the ability to shift funds to study gun violence. Later, when other agencies tried to fund high-quality research on injury prevention, which naturally touches on firearms, Congress extended the restrictive language, ultimately applying it to all the Department of Health and Human Services agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH).”

Go read the whole thing. But this tells you everything you need to know about an organization that refuses discussion of an issue, will have swarms of trolls derailing discussion threads all over the Internet, and using its lobbying power to get rid of research (which means, they know what the research might show, because the data otherwise available points to a clear direction). This is bully behavior, unsurprisingly.

Let’s Make 2013 The Year We Bury The Concept of “Traditional Family”

Because it’s not a concept. It has never been a cultural and historical reality. It is an ideological construct, like any claimed “tradition”. There is no objectivity to it. Family structures are always a product of the intersection between structure, institutions and culture. Just go read Stephanie Coontz’s Family: A History. It’s all there. The boundaries of what makes a family have always been porous and who counts as kin or relative has always involved an ever-changing cast of characters. In other words, rather than corresponding to an objective reality, the invocation of “traditional family” obfuscates rather than illuminates. It is a power play, an attempt to reify and solidify a definition of a certain, limited type of family for ideological purposes. It is time to reject the phrase once and for all, along with the political content embedded in it.

After all, the first French baby of 2013 was born to two women:

Now, all it takes is for the “marriage for all” bill to pass for these women to get married. Hopefully, it won’t be long now.

Also, and I have already blogged about it, flexibility in family relations and boundaries involve older practices such as this where the intersection between economics and familial structures is clear:

“Like many men in Japan, Tsunemaru Tanaka is looking for a wife. Unlike some, he is prepared to sacrifice his name to get one. If all goes well in 2013, he’ll find a bride, her prosperous family will adopt him and he’ll take their family name. In an ideal world, he’ll run their business too. “I think I have a lot of skills to offer the right family,” he says.

Japan boasts the world’s oldest family-run businesses, the Hoshi Guest House, founded in 717. And the construction company Kongo Gumi was operated for a record-breaking 1,400 years by a succession of heirs until it was taken over in 2006. Many family firms – car-maker Suzuki, Matsui Securities, and giant brewery Suntory – break the rule of steady dynastic decline, or what is sometimes cruelly dubbed the “idiot-son syndrome”.

So how do Japanese firms do it? The answer, apparently, is adoption.Last year more than 81,000 people were adopted in Japan, one of the highest rates in the world. Remarkably, more than 90 per cent of those adopted were adults.

The practice of adopting men in their 20s and 30s is used to rescue biologically ill-fated families and ensure a business heir, says Vikas Mehrotra, of the University of Alberta, the lead author of a new paper on the Japanese phenomenon of adult adoptions. “We haven’t come across this custom in any other part of the world,” he says.

Though the phenomenon has been previously documented, its impact on economic competitiveness has not. Dr Mehrotra’s paper finds not only inherited family control still common in Japanese business, but says family firms are “puzzlingly competitive”, outperforming otherwise similar professionally managed companies. “These results are highly robust and… suggest family control ’causes’ good performance rather than the converse.”

Finding suitable heirs, however, is not as simple as it once was. Japan’s sliding birthrate has created many one-child families, and while daughters can manage the company back office, the face out front in this still chauvinistic country must be male, says Chieko Date. She is one of dozens of marriage consultants who bring together ambitious young men and the marriageable daughters of business families. Ms Date is proud of her record. “We bring happiness to both sides,” she says.

If the meetings go well, the men agree to drop their own surname and be adopted by their new bride’s family, becoming both the head of the family and its business. Ms Date’s consultancy claims to have brokered 600 of these marriages – known as “mukoyoshi” – over the past decade. “We believe that this cannot be just a business transaction,” she says. If the couples don’t like each other, the marriage and the business will fail.”

While we’re at it, we should also bury the Parsonsian “expressive/instrumental” distinction are artificial and ideologically-loaded as well as the “public/private” distinction that relegates family matters to the strictly private:

“Visit your parents. That’s an order. China’s national legislature amended its law on the elderly yesterday to require that adult children visit their aged parents “often” – or risk being sued by them.

State media said the new clause would allow elderly parents who felt neglected by their children to take them to court. The amendment does not specify how frequently such visits should occur.

A rapidly developing China is facing increasing difficulty in caring for its aging population. Three decades of market reforms have accelerated the breakup of the traditional extended family, and there are few affordable alternatives such as retirement or care homes.

State media reported this month that a grandmother in her 90s in the prosperous eastern province of Jiangsu had been forced by her son to live in a pig pen for two years.

News outlets frequently carry stories about elderly parents being abused or neglected, or of children seeking to take control of their parents’ assets without their knowledge.”

The state, in whichever shape or form it comes, has always regulated family formations, relations, and dissolutions, as it does for markets.

The family, as social institution, is structured at the intersection of a multiplicity of social forces to which it has to adapt. Conversely, it also has some impact on these forces. But this means that “family” in an of itself does not exist. In multiplicities of social contexts, one will find multiple family forms, some more patriarchal than others.

And this is really what is at stake here: the emergence and greater acceptability of non-patriarchal family forms, from single-mother-headed households to LGBT families (with or without children), to child-free singles (men and women). The invocation of “traditional family” is reflects the weaning power of a social control device. Time to finish it off.