Let’s Make 2013 The Year We Tell The Patriarchy To GFI

Because, seriously, last November:

“Pressure mounted Thursday for the Irish government to draft a law spelling out when life-saving abortions can be performed – a demand that came after a pregnant woman who was denied an abortion died.

Activists protested Thursday night in Belfast a day after thousands rallied in London, Dublin, Cork and Galway in memory of Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old dentist who died a week after doctors said she was starting to miscarry her 17-week-old fetus.

Despite her rising pain, doctors refused her request for an abortion for three days because the fetus had a heartbeat. She died in the hospital from blood poisoning three days after the fetus died and was surgically removed.”

She was miscarrying. She was in horrible pain. And they let her die to make the Catholic Church happy.

And then, of course:

“Her boss found her too irresistible. He complained that if she saw his pants bulging, she was dressing inappropriately. He texted to ask how frequently she experienced orgasm. He said that, for a woman with a body like hers, not to have sex often was like having a Lamborghini in the garage and never driving it.

(…)

All of this may seem ridiculous. Indeed, it seemed sufficiently ridiculous for Nelson to take her former boss to court with the intention of suing him for sex discrimination. But the all-male panel of seven judges in the Iowa district court, which threw the case out on 21 December, saw nothing amiss. As far as Judge Mansfield was concerned, to allow a case for sex discrimination in this instance would stretch the definition of discrimination.

The judges’ rationale was that the employer was motivated by emotions, above all by his commitment to his marriage, and not by gender prejudice. “Ms Nelson was fired not because of her gender but because she was a threat to the marriage of Dr Knight,” the judgment says – thus identifying the blameless employee as the problem, rather than the wayward behaviour of Dr Knight.

The assumptions and the nature of the inferences made in the court’s judgment all reinforce patriarchy in its dominant “family values” register. It consistently identifies the victim as the problem. It alludes to allegations by Knight’s wife that Nelson flirted with her boss. Yet all the specific evidence it describes shows that Nelson put up with, rather than instigated or encouraged, flirting.

(…)

Despite acknowledging that the situation as such can occur only in a relationship between male employers and female employees, that gender does indeed occupy the key determining place, the court refused to “stretch the definition of discrimination” that far. Essentially, even if an employee is at no fault, as long as she is female this is just one of the burdens she has to bear. The responsibility is on her, not her male employer, to safeguard against eroticism – on pain of being fired.

At each step, Knight, his pastor and, to an extent, his wife – and certainly the Iowa district court – fell back on and fortified a particular knot or intersection of power (business, family and church). This knot might be called capitalist patriarchy. And its full arsenal – political, moral, legal, cultural – has just been placed behind sexist employers.”

And then this horrifying story:

Can we talk about rape culture now? Yes, we can, because it’s India. But here are the 1o factors identified as part of the rape culture there:

  1. Few female police
  2. Not enough police in general
  3. Blaming provocative clothing (whatever the f!@# that means)
  4. Acceptance of domestic violence
  5. Lack of public safety for women
  6. Stigmatization of the victims
  7. Encouraging the victims to compromise (marry your rapist!)
  8. Sluggish court system
  9. Few convictions
  10. Low status of women

How many of these would apply to our enlightened Western societies? After all, we do have a rape culture as well. It may take different forms but it is there all right… and forcefully denied as well. If you don’t believe it, go read this. The whole thing. And then, look at popular culture and media. It’s not hard to find.

And how can we not end 2012 with some Papal homophobia and misogyny?

“The pope is a social issues guy, more interested in themes like “traditional” family values, gay marriage and abortion than, say, helping the poor. And the Vatican is quick to slap down anyone – but especially any women, and particularly women who have the nerve to think of themselves as equal to men – who focuses on helping the most in need, instead of crusading against abortion and gay people. As far as the Church is concerned, advocating for the equal participation of women is “radical feminism” worthy of condemnation; pushing for legislation that kills gay people is worthy of a blessing.

Yes, that’s correct: just around the same time the pope was drafting his first tweet, he met with Ugandan parliamentary speaker Rebecca Kadaga, who had earlier promised to level the death penalty for gays as a “Christmas present” to the Ugandan people (minus, one assumes, the Ugandans who will be murdered because of their sexual orientation). She received a private audience with the pope, and a blessing.

(…)

As society has progressed, the Church has responded by digging its heels in to maintain outdated, misogynist social norms. And it has long used women’s bodies as a tool through which to exercise control in the face of waning influence. Now, gay people are being subjected to the same treatment. As the Church continues to recover from the international pedophilia scandal that its priests perpetrated and the entire institution covered up, and as the world’s population increasingly flees from formal religionthe pope is saying that two men or two women falling in love threatens world peace.

A Twitter feed can’t modernize an institution so out of touch with reality, with progress and with widely-accepted human rights norms.”

So, let’s make 2013 the year we tell patriarchs in all shapes and forms to GFT, shall we?

Let’s Have A Natural Experiment Then

I see a few people have gotten upset over the publication of gun ownership data in this newspaper. I don’t see what the upset is all about. After all, this is the age of big data. There are data about us all over the place, about our cars, insurance, salary, etc. So, why not guns? Transparency FTW.

I also see an opportunity to test a few hypotheses. For instance, we could determine whether gun ownership has an impact on the probability of burglaries: would non-gun owners be more likely victims of burglaries (because burglars now know who does NOT own a gun) or would gun owners be particularly targeted for their guns because, after all, there is this. Or would there be any difference at all?

And if gun owners and non-gun owners are equally likely to be burglarized, what gets stolen? Are guns systematically stolen or would burglars steal the same items in both types of households (such as electronics and other monetary valuables?).

Would the presence of guns involve more armed burglars? And therefore a greater probability of shootout and casualties?

That kind of data could settle a few arguments on the issue. I’d like to see that.

C. Wright Mills and The Power Elite

It is in its fifth chapter that Stanley Aronowitz‘s Taking It Big – C. Wright Mills and The Making of Political Intellectuals deals with the power elite. The power elite seems an obvious concept and reality to many of us but maybe we forget how against-the-grain the idea was when Mills put it on the sociological table:

“The Power Elite is a description of the structure of power in American society that disagrees with most sociology and academic political science by denying that power is widely dispersed among a welter of interest groups. Mills argues that at the national level power is highly concentrated among large corporations, the military, and the highest political “directorate.”” (168).

… And the critical reception the idea got:

“In his reply to critics, published almost two years after the appearance of the book, Mills states that its contents should be understood as an “elaborated hypothesis but based on acknowledged fact. There is no other way to write now, as a social student, about such large topics.” Taken as a whole, reviewers who criticized Mills from the liberal center and from professional disciplinary standpoints were, with few exceptions, taken aback by the boldness of the thesis and the scope of the analysis. As Mills well understood, this was a period when “social students” had retreated from taking on large topics and were settling in to a regime of truth that confined itself to what were called “measurable” hypotheses. This will to scientism inevitably condemned social studies to the intellectual politics of the small scale, a place that Mills refused to go.” (169)

It is indeed a bit funny that now pretty much every introduction to sociology textbook starts with Mills (especially the sociological imagination, of course), but, from Aronowitz’s book, one gets the clear view that Mills was always the odd man out of American sociology in the era of Parsons / Merton dominance. And also, one should also keep in mind that there is a definite conservative bent to the “will to scientism” (and probably an implicit recognition of the subordinate status of sociology in the field of social sciences).

But mostly, the concept of the power elite is an obliteration of the then-dominant pluralistic thesis:

“By suggesting a hierarchical model of power, pluralism has a place in his paradigm, but only at the middle and local levels. Mills vehemently denies that national power is subject to the influence of interest groups. The main reason is that foreign policy has assumed an overwhelming importance in the constitution of national power, and few, if any, of these interest groups are even concerned with the issues of war, the attendant military ascendancy, or the economic position of key U.S. corporations in world affairs. In fact, as discussed earlier, Mills had discovered that organized labor, the most important of these interests after 1946, willingly fell in line with its government’s global economic and military policies. Apart from patriotism and profound anticommunist sentiments, workers gained from defense contracts, while the “labor aristocracy” of skilled workers benefited from U.S. economic global hegemony.” (170)

On that basis, Mills is very (philosophically) pragmatic in his conception of power:

“Mills is not making any claims about the nature of power, except to identify the men of power by their “position to make decisions having major consequences. They rule the big corporations. They run the machinery of the state and claim its prerogatives. They direct the military establishment. They occupy the strategic command posts of the social structure.” There is no attempt to define power in terms of “human nature” or invariant laws.” (171)

And Aronowitz makes clear the place of The Power Elite in the larger project by Mills of defining power in the social structure as a way of identifying potential agents of change (even if this ends up with pessimistic gloom). There is truly a trilogy of social structure / power and /change that runs through all three major works:

“Almost all of Mills’s writing had a political intent. As we have seen, beyond exploring the social and political dimensions of their subjects, The New Men of Power and White Collar were steps in Mills’s project of finding and evaluating potential agents of social change. In this respect, The Power Elite, the third volume of his trilogy on social structure, continues the project, but with some fundamental differences. The giant financial corporations, the political directorate, and the military are the real decision makers of society and generally understand themselves as powerful on the national stage. A decade after he began work on labor leaders, Mills finds them “integrated” into the dominant institutional orders rather than as independent social actors leading a potential army of regime changers. Thus, labor leaders and their organizations have become “dependent variables” of the three major institutional orders of power. “The United States now has no labor leaders who carry any weight of consequence in decisions of importance to the political outsiders now in charge of the visible government.” Like portions of the fading “old” middle class (mainly but not exclusively farmers), the unions, once insurgent, had settled after the war for places in what Mills terms the “middle levels” of power. As for the various strata of white-collar employees of the new middle class, Mills concludes that, far from forming a new pole of economic and political power, they constitute a primary base for the emerging mass society: slaves of consumerism, fragmented by occupational hierarchies and differential credentials, alienated from themselves as much as their work, and even more powerless than unions.” (172)

Here, the influence of the Frankfurt School is pretty obvious. In addition, the middle level of the power fulfills an ideological and legitimizing function more than an actual active one. This is indeed still very much the case today:

“By “middle level of power,” Mills connotes the Congress, which generally responds to the welter of interest groups—farmers, unions, educational interests, consumer groups, veterans, and so forth—seeking benefits or redress of their grievances from the federal government. In an age when executive authorities have all but monopolized the crucial decisions, mainly those that have to do with war and the direction of the national economy, Congress is the main site of the middle level of national power. It is called upon to ratify decisions—and preemptive actions—taken by the political directorate, in close consultation with the military and the leading corporate capitalist interests. But even the leaders of Congress, who are legally empowered—and obliged—to review and revise executive decisions, are often kept in the dark about policies and initiatives taken unilaterally by government agencies, especially intelligence services and the military.” (172)

There is also a propagandistic dimension to this (and while this is not mentioned in the book, it is clear it is the main function of the media systems):

“The elevation of the very rich and corporate executives to celebrity status alongside the usual glitterati of entertainers and politicians was for Mills a marker of the degree to which American civilization has been given over almost entirely to money and power.” (176)

I would argue that celebrity status is now granted not just to corporate superstars like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates but also to higher ranking members of the military establishment, often described as intellectual and physical Übermenschen. Think about the media fawning over the intellectual prowess of David Petraeus (before his downfall) or the fact that Stanley McCrystal ate only once a day (once a day!!). In previous decades, the same was granted to Colin Powell.

Interestingly, elevation to celebrity status is only granted to two out of three types of actors of the power elite: corporate and military, but not political actors. These always suffer from a legitimation crisis even though they might receive celebrity status while campaigning as Barack Obama did (I would argue that Obama’s elite function is to neutralize significant rising systemic opposition in the context of economic collapse where there might be a political opening for truly alternative movements, while pursuing neoliberal policies with liberal support despite massive legitimation crisis). This is a marker, I think, of their subservient status to corporate and military elites, often seen as free from criticism (unless they defraud other celebrities, like Bernie Madoff did).

“Today, many members of the U.S. Senate are certified millionaires, and a few major public officials are, like Bloomberg, billionaires. Following Mills’s schema, their fortunes derive either from inheritance or from their positions as corporate investors and executives. In either case, their direct entrance into political office signifies the merger of powerful institutional orders. Along with the rise of the tycoon-politician, there was also the advent of the soldier-politician.” (177)

Think again about Colin Powell and David Petraeus (and to a lesser extent, Wesley Clark). And obviously, corporate celebrities do not need to actually bother to run for office (and win) to influence public policy. They can create influential foundations to push their agenda without any mechanisms of accountability or legitimacy to do so (see: Bill and Melinda Gates, and the other wealthy members of the elite who write them big checks, like Warren Buffett).

This also reminds me of this infographic on the rise of the Goldman Sach’s men as masters of the Eurozone:

“The top of the economic order is indeed dominated by the corporate rich, which includes property owners and high managers. Together they make the decisions that rule much of the U.S. economy and are participants in “broader economic and political interests” that go beyond those of a single firm or managerial stratum. So the concept of “elite” includes but does not repudiate class; it redefines it.” (179)

I would argue that it not only redefines class but it integrates gender and race as well.

“Most professional politicians and the institutions they control have been relegated to the middle level of power. So, perhaps with the exception of the president of the United States and some key members of his cabinet who interact with the military and economic orders, the political directorate appears not to be distinct from the military or the large corporate elites.” (179-180)

As neatly illustrated by this other infographic (click on it for ginormous view):

So, what does this leave us with?

“As for the individual voter—the ultimate ideal sovereign of democratic societies—under conditions where the active public is all but dissolved, she is far removed from centers of decision, even though required to confer consent on those occupying decisive positions of national power. And even if Congress remains, at least constitutionally, the necessary institution of consent of the broad policies of the executive, it has lost its role as the main source of initiative and decision, especially at a time when the global rather than national politics is the main center.” (180)

Now, I am sure one could argue that this is not true and just look at what the evil Republicans are doing in Congress right now, obstructing presidential initiatives, etc. However, especially in these days of “fiscal cliff”, we all know this is political theater, right? This a manufactured crisis designed to push through further austerity, and provided media ideological cover.

And for Mills, intellectuals and academics are not blameless (even though he had some hope for them as agents of change… we all know better now, don’t we?):

“Beyond ideology, there are practical motives for the power elite to try to win the loyalty of intellectuals. Technology has become the bread and butter of business as much as war. Humanists—those trained in literature, philosophy, and history—have, in addition to scientists and engineers, been among the pioneers of new technologies associated with communications such as cybernetics and other electronic innovations. We are familiar with the phrase “knowledge is power,” but Mills was skeptical of the assertion that the bearers of knowledge were fated to occupy high positions in the power arrangements of U.S. society. Instead, he argued that even as industry, the military, and the state increasingly relied on expertise, especially those who possessed scientific and technological knowledge, the power elite was in a position to buy knowledge and employ those who possessed it, thereby placing intellectuals and experts in a subordinate position. Moreover, the growing importance of information technology by the 1950s provided major incentives to giant corporations to engage actively in education and increase their role and control of scholars and intellectuals.” (182)

And, of course, any elite, as Bourdieu taught us, must have mechanisms guaranteeing its reproduction:

“But there is another set of motives for the emergence of what Martin Kenney, following the suggestions of Mills and Thorstein Veblen, termed “the university/industrial complex.” The elite is interested in guaranteeing its own continuity and survival. Its formation, in addition to inherited wealth, relies heavily on a select group of elite prep schools, Ivy League universities, and other select institutions, such as Stanford. Mills notes that becoming a Harvard, Yale, or Princeton graduate is taken by corporate executives as a sign of candidature for entrance into the elite just as the high military officer corps is recruited, overwhelmingly, from the three main military academies: West Point, Annapolis, and the Air Force Academy. We might add that of the many professional schools that train business executives, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, the Wharton School of Pennsylvania, and Stanford also occupy special positions. Additionally, the law programs of these institutions confer elite status to its students. So it is not only the ties of practical technological alliances that bind some universities to the power elite; it is also what Pierre Bourdieu was later to term the acquisition of various forms of intellectual and social “capital,” whose components go beyond the curriculum. The Harvard or Yale undergraduate and professional student typically acquires a set of values, attitudes, and orientations that prepares him or her for being considered potential members of the power elite.” (182-183)

Add habitus to social capital as well.

“The fundamental condition for preventing the rise of a highly centralized power elite—and the concomitant submergence of the institutions of popular will—is for Mills, as for Dewey, democracy, which entails rough political equality for individuals and which is not necessarily fulfilled by the practice of voting or by representative institutions such as legislatures. As we have seen, these representative institutions retain their limited viability at a level below national power, but given the position of the main elites atop a world in which wars—actual and potential—and the global economy dominate politics, only an alert, critical, and active public can hope to thwart the further erosion of democratic participation.” (184)

I would also add that local politics is just as problematic as the national level. One need only look at the nonsense that comes out of state legislatures and school boards to realize that subsidiarity is not always best.

“Mills assures us that America is not fully a mass society nor was it ever mainly a community of publics. But he is plainly disturbed to discover that a highly effective media of mass communication (later he is to term these “the cultural apparatus”), consumerism, the decline of voluntary associations that once afforded people the chance to articulate their concerns and views, and the segregation and isolation of large chunks of the population have combined to vitiate the chance that an “articulate public” can challenge the power elite. Rejecting a connotation of conspiracy, the institutional trends that together contribute to making the public a “phantom” are a consequence of drift rather than motive. Equally important is Mills’s analysis of the demise of the old middle class as an independent social and political force—the historical public in American life—and the failure of the new middle class to fill that space, which prepared the ground for the massification process now in full swing.” (185-186)

Heck, that is a question to which Brad Delong still can’t find an answer. The system is delegitimized thanks to the economic collapse triggered by elite behavior but, at the same time that cultural battles are going the liberal way (gay marriage), the cultural underpinnings of the world system are still solidly in place through media concentration and successful propagation of the neoliberal and individualistic ideologies (what Bauman calls “the liquid society”).

And then, there is this (a perfect illustration, in my view):

“It was more sophisticated than we had imagined: new documents show that the violent crackdown on Occupy last fall – so mystifying at the time – was not just coordinated at the level of the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and local police. The crackdown, which involved, as you may recall, violent arrests, group disruption, canister missiles to the skulls of protesters, people held in handcuffs so tight they were injured, people held in bondage till they were forced to wet or soil themselves –was coordinated with the big banks themselves.”

How can one not get cranky in the face of a triumphant power elite?

One Last Thing on The Guns Thing

Well, this certainly has been very interesting.  Two blog posts have brought in a lot more traffic than what this humble blog (and not so humble blogger) is used to. I am sure this will die out when I resume less stuff-from-the-news items. This is the first time I had to close comments because of trolling. And by trolling, I don’t mean people criticizing my work, which I don’t mind as long as it’s done respectfully (if not, I just delete the comment, don’t come and get condescending and patronizing… I wouldn’t put up with that in my living room, so, why should I put up with it here?). Actually, some of these criticisms are the reason why I wrote a second post after the first one that got so much attention (and boy was that first scatterplot reproduced all over the place). Actually, I suspect a lot of people read the first post but not the second one even though it was a response to criticisms.

What is annoying, though, is the bad faith, especially regarding the data. I find it funny that an initial criticism of my analysis was that I only picked OECD countries. This puzzles me. I find it interesting and revealing that some people find it problematic to compare the US to other rich democracies. They’d rather it be compared to Zimbabwe or Mexico or whichever country will compare unfavorably in terms of gun deaths in the US. Now, obviously, a lot of this kind of criticism is total bad faith. Those who make such demands know perfectly well that the US does not compare favorably in terms of structural and interpersonal violence to its developed counterparts, therefore, one must reject such comparisons.

Oftentimes, such a rejection will invoke the “diversity” trope which I already addressed and which does not hold. It is a disguised racist argument as well. And by the way, any country that has “diversity”, in the sense of a variety of racial and ethnic groups, will also have greater amounts of interpersonal violence among and against minorities, precisely based on the fact that such minorities also experience greater structural violence as a product of their socially underprivileged status. A perfect illustration of this is seen in the persistence of institutional discrimination, which is, most of the time, invisible to the privileged categories, and therefore assumed to be non-existent, and therefore, never really addressed nor corrected through public policy. After all, the point of affirmative action is precisely to address institutional discrimination and its transgenerational legacy. And yet, it has faced considerable opposition because it addresses a phenomenon that white Americans never see (and therefore assume it must not exist). As such, white Americans assume that they are being penalized (they are not) for something they never caused (a history of white supremacy), and never benefited from (they did).

Go read this if you think institutional discrimination is a thing of the past:

“Few civil rights laws are more routinely defied than the ban on housing discrimination.

HUD studies have found that African Americans and Latinos are discriminated against in one of every five home-buying encounters and one in every four attempts to rent an apartment.

Only a scant few of these incidents ever come to the attention of authorities.

In 2010, HUD and the National Fair Housing Alliance, reported that HUD, state, local and private groups received about 29,000 complaints from people alleging discrimination for a wide variety of reasons — including race, familial status, disability and national origin. About two-thirds were handled by private attorneys and non-profits which settled cases and, in some instances, filed civil law suits.

The remaining 10,000 went to state, local and federal agencies which together filed only 700 formal charges of discrimination in 2010. That year HUD found reasonable cause to believe discrimination based on race or national origin occurred in just 11 cases. The Department of Justice filed 29 cases — the lowest number since 2003.

The pervasive, unaddressed discrimination in the housing market has far-reaching effects. It is a significant factor in maintaining a segregated America four decades after Congress passed landmark legislation intended to integrate the nation’s communities. It means that African Americans and Latinos who can afford to move to better neighborhoods are systematically blocked from doing so. They and their families are thus deprived of opportunities — from access to grocery stores with fresh vegetables to adequate health care to top-flight schools.

The negligible number of housing discrimination cases arises largely from fundamental choices by federal agencies.

Instead of actively searching for landlords and agents who discriminate, federal officials open investigations only after complaints are filed. But most victims have no idea they’ve been discriminated against, which means they never demand an inquiry.”

And so, several people accused me of cherry-picking my data. Well, if by selecting apt comparisons and looking for countries for which I had data to compare, so be it. I did not cherry-pick in the sense of looking for data that would simply validate some preconception. I did not have a preconception (except what I know of the phenomenon from my work and knowledge of the field). I used data that is publicly available, so anyone is free to go and look for themselves.

It was actually funny that some people showed up and demanded that I run different statistical tests, pick different countries, use different variables and measures. Guys, again, the data is available publicly. Blogs are free. Do your own work. Don’t come here and tell me what to do and ask me for stuff. Do your own homework if you think you have a point to make and a case to support it. It’s not my job to do your homework for you.

Actually, most people who are familiar with the field and the data know that I did not find anything that was not already known. My data did not show any new and yet undiscovered trends. But the level of defensiveness from the pro-gun folks and quite astounding.

Anyhoo, this was an interesting experience and I am grateful for the “bigger” bloggers who linked to my pieces.

On the Guns Thing… Part 2

First of all, that previous post on this really got some attention. Geez. Quite a bit of pro-gun trolling too. Anyhoo, one thing comments made was that I did not provide the sources of my data. That one was correct. I forgot, so here it is (and more stuff here). And it has a few interactive maps:

Firearms per 100 people:

Ok, so, that’s pretty unambiguous.

Homicide by firearms per 100,000 people:

On this one, there are a lot of missing data (all the grey countries) but it is not surprising to see that the US, while raking #1 in gun ownership, does not rank #1 in homicides by firearms. One is more likely to find greater homicidal violence in countries that are less politically stable, failed states, etc. The US still ranks far higher than its economic counterparts in the OECD and other rich countries.

% of all homicides by firearm:

Here again, a lot of missing data, but the same pattern as above: the US, while not #1 is still pretty high in terms of the % of all homicides that are committed with a firearm (about 60%). That info, somehow, got controversial yesterday.

I wanted to take this further. Yesterday, I concluded my little data exploration with the correlation between inequalities and homicide levels within rich countries. Remember this scatterplot?

I wanted to explore that particular aspect further. So, I went looking for a GINI list and looked up the countries ranking right above and below the United States (slightly more equal or slightly more unequal) and for which I had complete data. I ended up with the table to the left.

So, all the countries you see listed on the left are countries that rank just higher or lower than the US on the GINI scale… except for Mexico. So why did I include Mexico? Because it seems that one of the pro-guns talking points is that comparing the US to the OECD is bad, we should compare instead to Mexico (a failed / failing state, stuck with great drug cartel violence along the border, and much corruption, and a steady flow of weapons from the US… yeah, totally comparable). I should note then, that Mexico ranks much higher than all the other countries in the table on the GINI scale. It is much more unequal than all these other countries. Therefore, one can expect much more significant violence (ya think?).

This table is a simple representation of the ranking in terms of firearm ownership, with the US ranking as #1, then Macedonia as #20, etc. Again, note that all these other countries, except Mexico, have roughly similar levels of inequalities as the US (they are slightly more equal or unequal than the US), which is interesting and revealing in and of itself. Also, I had comparable data for the homicides and firearms.

So, I went to work in Tableau.

I did not do any scatterplotting here. That would have made no sense since they all were very close in GINI coefficient (which is why I selected them in the first place). Instead, I got a bunch of bar charts to compare them straight measure to measure.

First of all, regarding the OECD / developed countries comparisons, one critique of my previous data was that I should have used total homicide numbers rather than ratios. That does not make much sense since all countries have different population sizes, but what the heck. Here it is.

This does not affect any of the statements I made yesterday. It confirms the same pattern.

Now, on the the US’s GINI neighbors.

Average firearms per 100 people:

No big surprise here, 88.8 guns per 100 Americans, versus 24.1 per 100 Macedonians, etc.. The US has overwhelmingly more weapons per 100 people than its GINI neighbors.

Holy Michael Manley! Jamaica! I don’t know if one can call Jamaica a failed state, but there is no doubt that a number of factors point in that direction: drug lords, corruption and failed political class, structural adjustments. Take your pick. Pretty much the same goes for Mexico and the Philippines. Now, looking at this list, the US ranks middle of the pack, but, again, look at the list: there is nothing to be proud of for a country like the US to have a lower murders by firearms rate than these countries. And look at the countries that have lower rates than the US.

Moving on, since I did it for the other countries, let’s look at total homicide numbers:

Yes, roughly 2,000 murder separate the US from Mexico. Chew on that for a while.

And, last but not least, everybody’s favorite measure: the percentage of all homicides that were committed with a firearm:

What this means is that, in Jamaica, for instance, 75% of all homicides were committed using a firearm, followed by Macedonia where that rate is roughly 62%, all the way down to Uganda where only approximately 10% of all homicides are committed with a firearm (the LRA does its dirty business with machetes and knives).

So what have we learned?

1. There is no avoiding the fact of the greater US violence compared to other developed countries. The US has many more homicides than these countries and 60% of these homicides are committed with firearms. It is absurd to argue that another weapon would be used if guns were not available. I already discussed this yesterday. Heck, maybe, without guns readily available, a few people would reconsider their urges to kill, because it wouldn’t be so damn easy.

I would argue (what with the data on greater inequalities, lower mobility in the US compared to the rest of the developed world) that the US is a more structurally and interpersonally violent. We know the two go hand in hand. The greater level of social insecurity pervades the social structure, combined with a culture that is more tolerant of violence (both structural and interpersonal) and promotes an aggressive version of masculinity. All of this is well-known and well-established.

2. Even compared with its GINI neighbors, and look at who the GINI neighbors are, for Pete’s sake, the US may not be the world’s most violent country (good grief), but it certainly has remarkable levels of homicides and homicide rates compared to these (mostly) semi-peripheral GINI neighbors. This should be a source of deep questioning and debate. But it is not because it is still a country where individualistic explanations for social problems prevail. To use C. Wright Mills’s famous formula in reverse, public issues tend to be interpreted as personal troubles and moral failings. This is not conducive to data-driven, reasonable public policy.

I am sure my fellow social scientists can draw further conclusions or come up with more data but I am closing comments for this post because I have better things to do with my life than clean up little turds that trolls leave behind on this topic.

However, I would very much like to read what Todd Krohn has to say about all this. He’s the expert on that one.

All this work is summarized in Tableau Public but I still can’t embed. So, you gotta click.

 

 

C. Wright Mills – Middle Class, Ideology, and Mass Consumer Society

Having examined the weakest component of the power elite in the third chapter, in Stanley Aronowitz‘s Taking It Big – C. Wright Mills and The Making of Political Intellectuals, in chapter 4, the focus is on another major work of Mills’s: White Collar – The American Middle Classes, considered the second volume of his social structure trilogy after The New Men of Power:

White Collar stands, after sixty years, as the most comprehensive work that American social science has produced in the study of the new middle class. Mills does nothing less than to formulate a detailed stratification system of the new middle class, from state and corporate bureaucracies embodied in the “managerial demiurge” at the top of the status hierarchy, to intellectuals in intermediate positions, to what he describes as the “enormous file” of clerical labor.” (134)

The middle class, in American collective imaginary, holds a special place. Where the concept of working class never really took hold, the middle class is both aspirational and ideological. It is aspirational in that it reformulates the social stratification system in terms of capacity to consume en masse, and represents the achievement of the American Dream.

It is ideological in that it is a category constructed by the rising mass media and its main target. It is ideologically constructed as a specific class of workers. To define it, Mills uses several inspirations:

“As Mills demonstrates in White Collar, the “new” salaried middle class was highly stratified, ranging in status and income from managers at the pinnacle, followed by qualified professionals (no longer able to hang out their shingle and become small entrepreneurs but instead are obliged to work for salaries), to clerks, mostly women, who perform routine and repetitive tasks. At the turn of the twentieth century and not only in the United States, the new middle class was on the road to outstripping, in size and social importance, the old, entrepreneurial, self-employed middle class, which was being cut down to size by large-scale corporate capital. By the 1960s, this new middle class also outnumbered industrial workers.

One of the earliest examples of scholarly attention to white-collar employees appeared in 1912. Emil Lederer, a German sociologist, was one of the first observers of the “middle position” of salaried employees, those between owners and wage workers. He identified this stratum as a “new” middle class, new because it differed from the “old” middle-class of owners of small productive and commercial property. Members of the new middle class worked for salaries and were generally employed by large corporations and the state.” (130)

And:

“Kracauer is mostly concerned with the more-or-less complete recruitment of salaried employees to capital’s side by means of “the ideologies that fetter them.” These ideologies appealed to the salaried masses’ feeling of superiority based on their schooling, which awards them a degree of status but no concrete material rewards. On the contrary, far from the individuality promised by high capitalism, Kracauer shows that the salaried employee has become the crucial element of the increasing massification of contemporary society exemplified in the “standard character.” These characters “adapt themselves more or less easily to the firm,” continuously aware of the distinction between themselves and the proletariat, and their adoption of “bourgeois ideology” masks the gap between their self-conception and their actual living and working conditions.” (131)

And so, white collar workers become the adjuncts of the state and capital rather than challengers to them. However, being workers as much as their industrial counterparts, they do experience the same alienation.

“Alienation remains, for Mills, the basis for the popular acceptance of mass culture and mass consumption as the real purposes of life. The implication of Mills’s analysis is that the demise of the “gospel of work” as meaningful activity and its replacement by instrumentalism in which income is its only “meaning” constitutes the foundation of his judgment that leisure reigns supreme as the object of human activity in the modern world. But Mills also calls attention to the decline of the family and the community as the principal sites of human relationships.” (136)

And contrary to the current anti-union narratives, unions, in the US, have been a disciplining force for workers, into not challenging the system but getting more secure positions in unfavorable conditions and removing uncertainties from the convulsions of capital.

“The 1960s and early 1970s was an era of intense white-collar organizing, first in health care and then among the millions of government employees at federal, state, and local levels. Some of the most dramatic gains were made among teachers, whose two major unions, taken together, are now America’s largest, with a combined membership of almost four million. But, chiefly at the municipal and state governments, unions made huge strides among clerical workers, including in universities. By the mid-1970s, more than a third of public employees were in unions, and the proportion was much higher in education. Unionism sank roots among the professoriate as well. But it did not take long before these organizations fit themselves into the already established union models forged in production and transportation: the point of work was now to enable the worker to consume more on the basis of a labor contract that secured her job from the ups and downs of the economy and the arbitrary whims of the managers and that provided steady raises and a measure of health and pension benefits. Their chief goal was job and retirement security and, only occasionally, did they concern themselves with the totality of their members’ lives, let alone the lives of working people in general.” (137)

The rewards for this were greater access to social goods: education and mass consumption. The trade-offs?

“But if intellectuals are the seat of critical thinking and new ideas with which to confront the new conditions of life, Mills finds them wanting, mainly because they have lost their freedom to think against the grain. (…) They have been thoroughly incorporated as part of the bureaucracies of the media and other corporate organizations.

(…)

Mills ends by challenging the judgment according to which the postwar intellectual is a free agent in the age of corporate capitalism. Mature capitalism extends its reach beyond the market for ordinary commodities into culture. Insofar as culture is a contested ideological terrain, its transformation into a commodity and crucial aspect of power goes hand in hand with the subordination of the free intellectual into a well-paid salaried employee. Even the Hollywood writer is a servant of the company; Mills allows that perhaps the playwright remains autonomous, but not the academic.

(…)

The passing of the free intellectual has given rise to the “technician” of existing powers. “Intellectual activity that does not have relevance to established money is not likely to be highly valued” (156). The intellectual cum administrator, “idea man,” and publicist has been made solidly middle class, part of the apparatuses of power rather than their independent critic.” (140)

Rings a familiar bell, my fellow academics?

“Mills’s ruminations on the transformation of intellectuals into technicians of power in modern U.S. society and their middle-class identity, combined with his general skepticism of the possibility of the emergence of an effective radical opposition party in which intellectuals could play a critical role, poses significant questions for the future of democratic society. He concluded that the institutions of mass communications, of culture, and of economic, political, and social organizations have little or no room for critical thought, much less self-criticism. What is left is a politics of despair manifested in the absurd claim that American politics is ruled by consensus.” (141)

That last one is a dig at the pluralistic thesis. But the institution that comes for a real beating here is the media as the ideological shaper of mass culture based on consumption as the remedy to alienation. His criticism is again strikingly prescient:

“Mills insists that “the forms and contents of political consciousness [including class consciousness] or their absence, cannot be understood without reference to the world created and sustained by these media, [which are] the common denominator of American experience, feeling, belief and aspiration” (334). The media “trivialize issues into personal squabbles rather than humanizing them by asserting their meaning for you and me.” Mills’s main criticism of the media is that it holds “a monopoly on the ideological dead; they spin records of political emptiness” (335).” (143)

Can you say “reality TV”?

By extension, this leads to a fake pluralism within the polity, ruled by consensus within the power elite, behind illusions generated by the media:

“While noting rising living standards and the remarkable postwar economic growth fueled by technological innovation, Mills strikes a dissident chord: “there is very little difference between the two parties that monopolize American politics” (346), and there has never been a real alternative political formation to challenge them. The reason: the social structure that supports this arrangement has “drained” nearly all of the opposition leaders. In the absence of a significant opposition, American politics is virtually a one-party system in which “impersonal manipulation has replaced authority” (345). In this vortex, the individual feels powerless to change anything; his voice is silenced. Thus there is, for the most part, no public debate about fundamental principles or, indeed, vital political issues of any sort.

So the problem for the new middle class is that neither political awareness nor political organization is present to oppose the monopoly of knowledge and power that prevails in American society.” (143)

And Mills is merciless in noting the massive failure of social scientists, including sociologists in pointing this out.

“Most sociologists, political scientists, and journalists were busy celebrating economic prosperity and asserting that social rule was dispersed by a multiplicity of interest groups, none of which, according to them, remotely held a monopoly of political power. And they ignored the concentration and centralization of economic power or, if duly noted, insisted that phenomena such as oligopoly were decoupled from politics and the state.” (144)

Needless to say, this is a dig at the dominant sociology of the day back then: Parsons’s and Merton’s functionalism.

On the Guns Thing, I would Just Like to Point Out…

This obvious set of facts:

See the differences? See the statistically significant correlation between homicide by firearms and ownership of firearms? See the massive difference between the United States and other developed countries?

Now, since yesterday, we have heard a whole bunch of rationalizations as to why this has nothing to do with guns. So, let me unpack some of these rationalizations.

Rationalization #1: violence is part of human nature.

If that were the case, the rates of violence between the United States and comparable countries would be, well, comparable. Heck, violence rates all over the world would be roughly at the same rate. There is nothing “natural” about violence. There is nothing genetic about it. It is not universal. To state that violence is universal and part of human nature fails to explain the scatterplot above.

Rationalization #2: If the killers had not used guns, they would have used something else (follows a long list of potential weapons).

Except, they did not, did they. These killer had access to these alternative weapons all along. So why did they pick guns? R#2 does not explain the choice of guns in the first place. The reason they picked guns was that guns are available relatively easily. They are also lethally effective (and a lot of  people pointed out that the Chinese attacker went after the same number of children with a knife and none of them died). And the kind of guns these killers chose were those that would provide them with great and easy means of piling up a solid body count.

Also, no one knows whether the killers would have turned to other weapons. had guns not been available. It is pure speculation.

Actually, we may suspect that they would not. When other societies removed weapons, the number of homicides drops to low levels. Again, just look at the scatterplot above.

To be fair though, the scatterplot below shows what percentage of homicides were committed with firearms. The correlation becomes weaker, but still holds with three outliers.

In other words. countries where forearms ownerships is lower than the US are not full of murderers using other weapons available to them.

Rationalization #3: It’s because of diversity. All these other countries have much more racial and ethnic homogeneity than the United States.

Note that no evidence is ever offered of that claim. But let’s accept it for the sake of argument. The majority of homicides in the US are committed within racial and ethnic groups, not across racial and ethnic lines. If diversity was the issue, we would be discussing epidemics of cross-racial / cross-ethnic violence. That is just not the case. And in the vast majority of the killings under discussion, it is usually white killers / white victims. Diversity has nothing to do with it. Illegal immigration has nothing to do with it. When was the last time such killings were committed by undocumented immigrants?

As a general rule, when people invoke “diversity” as the independent variable (never operationalized as a variable, but amorphously invoked nonetheless), it is the PC way of making a racist argument (it’s because of the non-white people that other European countries don’t have) without being called racist. And it’s wrong every single time.

Rationalization #4: the killers are mentally ill, therefore, no gun regulation will do anything.

This one often comes even before we even know anything about the killers but all of a sudden, everyone becomes capable of psychiatric diagnosis. Again, this one does not explain the scatterplot above. One would still be left having to explain why the United States has a higher rate of mental illness. But then, one would still have not explained the link mental illness → gun violence.

This rationalization also assumes that mental illness is an objective category completely disembedded from culture. As I have argued before, mental illness does not exist separate from culture. As Howard Becker showed us a long time ago, a category like “mentally ill” is one that is socially constructed through a variety of social processes having to do with specific professions and producing results such as the DSM. The DSM is not an objective categorization of symptoms and conditions. It is influenced by – and influences – our culture. Once socially produced, the designation of “mentally ill” is then applied as a label to a series of observable behavior that violate norms.

If one wanted to invoke mental illness as an explanation for the shootings, one would still need to explain why the person decided to get guns and shoot others as opposed to, say, run naked in the streets, a behavior that would also get the person defined as mentally ill. And one would still have to explain why mentally ill people do not pick killing with guns as the behavior expression of their mental illness in other countries.

The truth is that mentally ill people are just as influenced by the culture as the rest of us. They are just as socialized in a culture that provides scripts regarding masculinity, violence, power and, yes, guns. It is culture that makes available the idea that one’s masculine anger is to be appeased to murder suicide by gun.

And then, once these rationalizations are in place, solutions are offered:

Solution #1: more guns

Based on the scatterplot above, this one should have been laughed out of town a long time ago.

This idea is based on cultural narrative that have the force of myth: (1) a good guy with a gun will always shoot better than the bad guy; (2) any good guy with a gun will always overpower a bad guy with a gun; (3) a good guy with a gun will never make a mistaken identification; (4) all such situations are always unambiguous, the parties have been clearly identified, the potential victims are out of the way, all that is left is the good guy v. the bad guy, Death Wish-/Dirty Harry-style.

Solution #2: more God

I know this one sounds stupid but it has been trotted out, so, keeping in mind the scatterplot above, consider this:

As you can see, the US has higher rates of religiosity compared to its level of wealth, making its levels of religiosity compared to that of South America rather than the economically-more-comparable Europe. There is already more God in the US than in other part of the developed world.

And if you look at religiosity within the US, you will find all sorts of behavior (like murder) correlated with high religiosity:

The truth is that lower levels of religiosity correlates with lower levels of violence (interpersonal and structural).

So, overall, the data is pretty clear and so are the policy implications. And I would just like to add one more thing:

Now, you will note that the arguments on masculinity, white privilege, mental illness and health care in general, inequality and gun policy are all arguments that we are told to not make because it is insensitive. Then, ask yourselves, who benefits when these issues are not discussed and problems not solved?

C. Wright Mills, Labor and The Power Elite

It is with the third chapter of Stanley Aronowitz‘s Taking It Big – C. Wright Mills and The Making of Political Intellectuals, that things get more sociological and critical. This chapter is largely dedicated to Mills’s The New Men of Power – America’s Labor Leaders, published in 1948.

“The New Men of Power is not a book about the millions of industrial and service workers who swelled the ranks of organized labor during the turbulent 1930s. It does not purport to tell the story of the upsurge. Rather, it presupposes mass unionism and is concerned chiefly with the consequences of the integration of the labor movement into the political economy during the New Deal and the Truman administration. The New Men of Power resumes the tale at the moment when unions are in the process of institutionalization and when a more or less permanent labor bureaucracy is in formation, which, while still ultimately accountable to the membership, has given rise to a new type of elite. The labor elite tends to see the union as a military force in which the lower ranks, the rank and file, are subordinate to the union leaders and their staffs.

(…)

It is not a movement by, as well as for, its members and for working people as a whole. Most major unions, according to Mills, are run from the top by people who are part of a power elite. Thus, to grasp the present and future prospects of organized labor, the object of investigation is, necessarily, the labor leader, not the rank and file.” (104)

This emphasis on the consequences of institutionalization very much reflects Weber’s influence (combined with Marx) on Mills. Except that, for Mills, bureaucratization and institutionalization are not neutral processes of modernization or consequences of it. They are very much processes of power. And since Mills is very much a sociologist of the state, it is not surprising to see institutionalization as part of co-optation by the other branches of the power elite.

“Mills’s characterization of the labor leader as a member of the elite of power and far removed from the everyday lives of the workers he represents is a reflection not only of institutionalization but also of the labor leader’s penchant to hobnob with other members of the elites. The national labor leader tends to spend more time with members of Congress, officials in the executive branch of government, other top union leaders, and corporate counterparts than with the rank-and-file leaders of his own union.” (106)

This seems strikingly accurate still today, and, for Mills, this predicts the downfall of the labor movement (no longer a movement then, once institutionalized and bureaucratized).

“Mills concludes:

“If the CIO ideologists are not careful, the managers of corporate property will select only the reasonable concessions that are offered—that labor will not strike, that labor will help with the wars, that labor will be responsible, but they will reject labor’s pretensions to a voice in production, within the plants and in the planning of the U.S. political economy. (120–121)

The prescience of these remarks is all too apparent to students of current industrial relations: having cleared the “extremists and crackpots” from its ranks, labor rarely strikes, generally supports the wars, and has steadily lost power at the workplace. And demanding a voice in the larger political economy is as far from the minds of twenty-first-century American labor leaders as was the idea, in the immediate postwar period, that labor was a movement whose interests are diametrically opposed to those of capital. It took only a few more years after the publication of his study of labor leaders for Mills to consign organized labor to a “dependent variable” in the political economy”.

(…)

Mills’s main argument is that union power is doomed unless labor acquires an explicit ideology and has a series of ideas that are fully consistent with an assessment that, far from being benign, business and the political directorate are hostile, only occasionally tolerant of labor, and poised to wage full-scale class warfare on unions and their mass constituents.” (108 – 109)

“While large sections of the liberal center remained pro-union (at least in the general sense but often turning against union militants when they flexed their collective muscle by taking direct action), the tripartite alliance of labor leaders, capital, and the national political directorate forged elements of what the “mass public” perceived to be a new power elite. However, as Mills makes clear, labor leaders were junior partners, accumulating some concessions from the table of the main actors and playing an important part in stabilizing the political and economic systems, largely by controlling the wanton impulses of the rank and file—but never really sharing power.” (111)

Emphases mine.

Throughout the book, I have never being amazed at the prescience of Mills’s perspective on the labor movements, unions and their leadership in the context of late capitalism.

Labor leaders are prone to bemoan the apathy of the rank-and-file membership. Mills points out that their complaint carries little weight when they have committed the unions to supporting the two main political parties, which, in his estimation, offer little to the workers: “Such support only takes away their chance to organize politically and alert men to politics as live issues. The activities of these politics alienate people from politics in the deeper meanings and demoralizes those on the edge of political consciousness” (270). The alienation of many workers from politics and from their own union is not surprising; the picture Mills has painted is of a progressively tighter labor bureaucracy that privileges retention of power over a program of encouraging the rank and file to take over the union, let alone encroach on managerial prerogatives in the workplace.

(…)

Without the intellectuals and a new surge of rank-and-file involvement in the union, Mills foresees a grim future. As a slump deepens and mass unemployment eats into the moral fabric of society, large corporate capital and the state are likely to respond by inaugurating a major offensive against workers and their unions. Under present circumstances, workers and unions are poorly equipped to offer effective resistance and are likely to enter into a hopeless tailspin.” (115-117)

For Mills, there should have been a labor party in the US, one that would not depend on established political parties and that would have been truly (although non-communist, Mills had no time for them even though he was virulently anti-McCarthy, he did not disapprove of the purging of ranks of organized labor). To align itself with an established party has been a losing strategy and one can very clearly right now the efforts of the other political party to finish off the labor movements in the US, while the other party stands by and does close to nothing except come election time, expecting the union rank-and-file to fundraise and campaign based on nothing more  than “the other guys are worse.”

The state of organized labor today then, is the direct results, a few decades later, of the institutionalization of labor within the state and the structures of capitalism (a joint venture, despite illusions to the contrary). By joining the power elite, albeit in subordinate status, the leaders of the labor movement (the new men of power) basically signed the death warrant of a significant and radical component of the American society that had the potential to challenge the power elite.

The Visual Du Jour – Visualizing Queen Songs

Someone is after my heart. Queen has long been one of my favorite bands, and now, someone has visualized and organized their songs by themes:

Now, if you are as big a fan as I am, you know that there were indeed four visions as each member of the band had his own specific composition style and they each individually composed very different sounding songs.

Brian May (ballads):

Roger Taylor (always more straight rock):

John Deacon (more conventional, soft/pop):

Freddy Mercury (baroque!):

Tradition = Patriarchy in Disguise

I have blogged before about the highly patriarchal practice of bride-kidnapping, especially in Kyrgyzstan, but here is a reminder from Al-Jazeera English.

Part 1:

Part 2:

The government of Kyrgyzstan has decided to toughen the penalties for the practice and guess which excuse is trotted out to protest the change? Of course: tradition.

“Kyrgyzstan’s parliament is poised to vote on legislation that would toughen the penalty for bride kidnapping.

The bill has caused heated debate, splitting parliament and society into those who defend it as a tradition and those who see it as a violent crime.

The practice of bride kidnapping is widespread in Kyrgyzstan. According to the ombudsman’s office, some 8,000 girls are kidnapped for forced marriage every year across the country.

The Women’s Support Centre (WSC) in Bishkek puts that figure even higher at almost 12,000 cases a year. Most of these cases happen in poor and rural areas.

WSC is part of the network that campaigns against bride kidnapping. Zabila Matayeva, 38, became a WSC volunteer last year after a family tragedy. Her sister, Cholpon Matayeva, was kidnapped for marriage by a husband who beat her frequently.

When she finally demanded a divorce after a decade of marriage, he stabbed her to death. He has been jailed for 19 years.

(…)

Under the existing law, a man faces a fine or maximum of three years in prison for abducting a woman for marriage against her will. The new bill proposes increasing that to seven years, after an initial suggestion to make it 10 years.

(…)

Not all legislators support the bill though. Some claim that it goes against Kyrgyz tradition and may have serious implications for society.

“We will put all men in Kyrgyzstan in prison if we increase the punishment for bride kidnapping,” said MP Kojobek Ryspaev, during a discussion of the bill at a parliamentary session earlier this year.

Opponents of the changes claim bride kidnapping plays an important role in society.

Parents and relatives relentlessly pressure young men in Kyrgyzstan to marry after they reach a certain age. For many, especially for poor families, this is the cheapest and quickest way to marry their son.

If the new law is passed then all relatives who are somehow involved in the process of kidnapping may face a prison term.

“This is a tradition that existed and will exist no matter what law you adopt,” Bishkek resident Bobek, 48, said, voicing an opinion that appeared to be shared by many. He said the law would only fuel corruption, as men would bribe their way out of trouble.”

It’s like everybody’s a bloody functionalist, all of a sudden.

I have said it before, and I’ll say it again. There is no such thing as “tradition” understood as long standing practice, so deeply and objectively embedded in the culture that it cannot be extirpated without great damage to society and disturbance. The reality is less dramatic: traditions are narratives that justify power arrangements, especially of patriarchal nature. These are socially and discursively constructed devices designed to protect hierarchies and oppression from questioning and social change. To  invoke tradition is to us it as a joker card that shuts down discussion and gives the holder an automatic win in favor of maintaining the status quo.

In addition, on top of the social disruption justification used to keep an oppressive practice in place, note that there is another layer of justification used: fighting the tradition won’t work. The idea is that a tradition is so deeply ingrained throughout the social structure that individuals will not be able to evade it and will find ways around the law. In this model of the social structure and culture, men (as only men are discussed as actors) are traditional dopes (in the same sense of “cultural dope” in Harold Garfinkel’s sense) and women are just objects to be grabbed, as dictated by tradition.

Privilege as Neutrality

In the British press, headlines were all over their new census and especially the decline in established religions, a development similar to what is happening in the US. In this context, it is interesting to read headlines like these:

“No longer the default religion: is being a Christian now a political statement?”

And in the article:

“Today’s results from the 2011 Census suggest that the number of those self-identifying as “Christian” in England and Wales – the religion question wasn’t broken down by denomination – has declined substantially from ten years previously. Then it was 72 per cent. The latest figure is 59 per cent. There has been an almost equivalent rise of 10 per cent in those ticking the “No religion” box, but it’s still only a quarter of the population.

(…)

Christianity has also become much more political. Debates about education, about the status of marriage, about abortion and medical ethics have became heavily dominated by questions of religion, and the dominant voices have often been religious ones (or, for that matter, anti-religious ones).”

This claim is absurd. Christianity has always been political. Religious organizations of various kinds have always thrown themselves in the political battles of the day. The main difference is that, for countries like the US or the UK, Christianity occupied a position of privilege while doing so and therefore could claim to not be political, and therefore above the fray, speaking only from a moral perspective, etc.

It is one marker of privilege to have one’s position seen as the default setting, the neutral center, the objective point of view. That is how whites are opposed to “people of color”, that is how we think LGBTs when we hear “sexual orientation”, that is how white males were seen as the only legitimate voting group in the last US presidential election and all the other groups were ideological and biased in their votes.

And it is also a marker of privilege to have one’s privilege never questioned and one’s supremacy never challenged. And we know that bad things can happen when such a perceived challenge arises.

But all privilege ends up being questioned or directly challenged through social movements or through softer nudges, micro-push-backs against the privileged position, whether is the removal of a nativity scene from public spaces or getting pummeled in social media when one asserts one dominance and supremacy as a given.

It is also interesting that privileged individuals are so used to their position to be silently accepted as the neutral, objective, non-biased setting that any push-back is perceived as an ideological aggression and having to share becomes a form of oppression. One can see that when, for the first times, religious people got pushed around a bit by the so-called “new” atheists. The cries of Christian oppression are based simply on the fact of having a few people listening to their religious discourse and going “really?”… and that’s all it takes. Or to simply be called to account for one’s dogma has been so unheard of that its occurrence is seen as aggression, followed by retreat to relativism (interestingly and ironically enough), that is, that everyone is entitled to their views and should not be questioned for them.

In other cases, take gay marriage, for instance, the claim is that, by getting married, gays are taking something away from straight marriage (“damaging the sanctity of marriage” or some such similar formulation).

What this all boils down to is privilege = exclusive access. What privileged individuals may be complaining about, in all cases, is potentially losing exclusive access to cultural dominance, or institutionally-based rights (marriage), treating all such as zero-sum games: if Christians have to share public spaces with other religions (as opposed to exclusive access for their nativity scenes), it is a loss to them, if straight people have to share the institution of marriage with LGBTs, it is a loss to them. From this view, culture and institutions are defined social spaces that cannot be expanded, so, sharing, when one had 100% of said social space, does mean a loss.

There is no conception of the possibility of increasing these social spaces. After all, the ability for LGBTs to get married does not reduce the ability of straight people to get married as social and institutional space can be expanded. The only possible expansion, for them, is the slippery slope one (LGBT marriage → bestiality). In this sense, privileged people are not only the potential losers of the deal, but because they also see themselves as the guardians of these social spaces – not for themselves, but for civilization, mind you – it is a double loss. Look back at the discourses of the opponents of the Civil Rights in the 60s and you will find these themes.

So, privileged individuals find themselves in the position to (1) see their privileges questioned, (2) having to now loudly claiming their privilege (which they didn’t have to do before, hegemony will do that for you), (3) having such loud claims ignored, shouted down or (worse) mocked, and as the article notes (4) being reduced to being just another interest group like the others (decentering). No wonder they get shrill (about gays, immigrants, women, abortion, contraception… anything to try to keep the moral center of a culture whose control is escaping them).

This is why social media have not been the preferred formats of privileged groups. By definition, these groups were already massively overrepresented in the traditional media (TV, radio), so, when new media spaces opened, they initially did not feel the need to go after them. And so, new media got populated by the non-privileged and became a source of alternative everything (news, sociability, entertainment, discourse, etc.). Hence the early cries against the outrages of bloggers, then the outrages of Twitter, etc.

A privileged position means you don’t need to shout because you’re the only one with a megaphone. When everybody can get their own and they’re making as much noise as you, it does feel like an aggression (free speech, for everyone else), and it does mean that your speech is no longer taken as the moral center nor does it command the same respect it used to (because you could have it backed up by the state). So, no, Christians have not become more political. They always were. It’s just that their old megaphone is losing battery power and everyone else’s megaphone is running on solar power and 4G wifi.