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"Can we really expect that such a government is interested"
March 1, 2013 12:30 PM   Subscribe

A Contagion Of Violence
In exploring the occurrence of violence, researchers have recognized the tendency for violent acts to cluster, to spread from place to place, and to mutate from one type to another – similar to the infectious disease model, in which an agent or vector initiates a specific biological pathway leading to symptoms of disease and infectivity.
Is It Time To Treat Violence Like A Contagious Disease?
Rowell Huesmann, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, echoed Wilkinson’s point. “The contagion of violence is really a generalization of the contagion of behavior,” he said. “How do cultures transmit norms and beliefs across generations? It’s through observation and imitation. There’s no genetic encoding.”
What We Still Don't Know About Mass Shootings
The History And Hypocrisy Of Gun Control In the United States
The fact is that radicals and progressives, and even some Marxists are muting their criticism of the Obama administration as he addresses people’s legitimate concern about violence in society around a narrowly crafted discussion of assault rifles, magazine capacities and “straw purchases” of weapons. Such a discussion can at best be understood as a distraction from really dealing with the violence and alienation that permeates the lives of working people. That’s way uncritically lining up behind gun control advocates as a solution to the kind of violence we saw at Sandy Hook or in Boulder Colorado is a mistake. Doing so obscures who is responsible for the violence in society and what steps are needed to be taken to end it.
If You Want To Stop Gun Violence, Start With Bullets. GUNS ARE BEAUTIFUL: To Stop Gun Violence, We Need To Stop Fetishizing Guns. The Right Way To Combat Gun Vioelnce.
The Longreads Guide To Guns
Shooters
Despite the difficulty of such profiles and predictions, there are two things that such characters have in common. First, they are mostly young white males. Second, many of the perpetrators are reported to have been taking psychoactive prescription medication.
Ta-Nehisi Coates: The Social Trends Driving American Gangs And Gun Violence
It changed how we addressed our parents. It changed how we addressed each other. It changed our music. The violence put rules in place that often look strange to the rest of the country. For instance, the mask of hyper-machismo and invulnerability -- the ice-grill, as we used to say -- looks strange, until you've lived in a place where that mask is the only power you have to effect a modicum of safety.
One Of The 'Gun Guys'
"From the urban, educated effete liberal Democrat side of my world I'm hearing all of this disparaging of 'gun guys,' how stupid and awful they are," he says, speaking by phone from his home in Colorado. "These are conversations that for years I've endured as kind of like a closeted gay man listening to people talking about 'fags' and 'homos' — I would just stay quiet."
posted by the man of twists and turns (31 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
Doctors are begging Congress to let them study gun violence on the CDC dime, once again.
posted by IvoShandor at 12:51 PM on March 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


A century from now, people might look back on violence prevention in the early 21st century as we now regard the primitive cholera prevention efforts in the early 19th century, when the disease was considered a product of filth and immorality rather than a microbe.

I dunno, we didn't seem to have learned that lesson in the late 20th century, with regard to HIV/AIDS. What's going to change in a hundred years?
posted by Brak at 12:55 PM on March 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Ppp-po-pon. Ponty-pool. Ponnnnnnnt-pontypool.

eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Which is to say, viral mimetics? I'd tap that for a grant, it doesn't sound terribly far fetched.
posted by Slackermagee at 1:02 PM on March 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Thanks for this post, it's extremely timely for me as my small town appears to be experiencing a breakout of violent crime. In the past few weeks there's been a huge number of unusual crimes: a robbery where a student was shot in the back of the head, an armed robbery of a tiny natural foods store, a mid-day assault and rape on the university campus (later turned out to be a hoax), and several home invasions where the occupants chased after and apprehended one of the invaders. And then this week a sex offender and gun collector shot and killed two police officers in the middle of an interview at his home. Only a few of these events could have been committed by the same people, and the perpetrators would seem to be very different from each other.

Is there some sort of connection between these events? It seems so counter-intuitive, and the rabble-rousers' calls for the heads of the Mayor and City Council seem so misplaced. I've got a lot of reading to do.
posted by Llama-Lime at 1:12 PM on March 1, 2013


Our next big step in mental health will be to recognize the role of memes and learn how to contain, counter and treat them.

When I say memes, I am not talking about cats with bad grammar and spelling, but

An idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture."[2] A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective pressures.[3]
posted by psycho-alchemy at 1:26 PM on March 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


[Gun control] not only fails to address the real sources of violence in our society, but distracts our attention from the ways in which the state perpetuates its violence against working people, especially people of color.

Lot fewer people of color get shot here in the UK. Fewer guns, that's why. The state may be as racist and violent, if you like, but just like a teenage shooter, without guns it's hard to kill people. And the Police don't carry guns. When they do, of course, they shoot people.

Yay gun control! No guns for anyone!
posted by alasdair at 1:44 PM on March 1, 2013 [11 favorites]


They can have my gun-violence memes when they pull my Terminator 2: Judgment Day Deluxe Steelcase Extended Director's Cut DVD from my cold, dead hands.
posted by Strange Interlude at 1:45 PM on March 1, 2013


"Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns, why should we let them have ideas?"

Joseph Stalin
posted by ocschwar at 1:53 PM on March 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


Speaking of memes, I think this is somewhat relevant to the idea of violence as contagion from Rene Girard back in the 1970s:

Since the mimetic rivalry that develops from the struggle for the possession of the objects is contagious, it leads to the threat of violence.
posted by Doleful Creature at 1:57 PM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rowell Huesmann, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, echoed Wilkinson’s point. “The contagion of violence is really a generalization of the contagion of behavior,” he said. “How do cultures transmit norms and beliefs across generations? It’s through observation and imitation. There’s no genetic encoding.”

Wow, someone has taken Snowcrash a bit too literally. Cultural transmission has had plenty of time to exert selective pressures on our species. Starting from the assumption that 100% of a trait can be explained by cultural influence is an ideological stance, not a scientific one.
posted by TungstenChef at 1:59 PM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is It Time To Treat Violence Like A Contagious Disease?

Maybe we should ask the cops who went nuts at NYC's OWS protests where they caught their disease.
posted by Twang at 2:04 PM on March 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


TungstenChef, I think you're misconstruing his point. Large cats, for example, are pure-bred predators who have lots of instincts related to hunting: stalking, pouncing, and their desire to play. But hunting itself is a learned behavior, which is why large cats rescued in their youth can never be released into the wild. They'd starve to death, helpless and inept, because they've never been trained to hunt.

I suspect the quote is asserting that violence such as domestic abuse, gang warfare, muggings, bullying, etc., is a complex behavior like hunting, learned from the group and transmitted across generations, rather than a simple and basic instinct within people like the desire to stalk or pounce.
posted by jsturgill at 2:21 PM on March 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is a really thoughtful, intricate, and excellent post. Kudos. I particularly like what Baum has to say about "attacking the totem"

It's also interesting: I'm really enjoying one of the Mother Jones's Longreads, as well - Happiness is a Warm Gun, which brings up something that I think most gun owners feel, but don't usually express - that whether or not they think it's likely they'll need to use the gun, many feel that the mere act of carrying the gun forces them to be more alert and aware of their surroundings - and thus less open to potential muggings, etc, simply because of the increased alertness - but also just more aware in general.
Living in Condition Yellow can have beneficial side effects. A woman I met in Phoenix told me carrying a gun had made her more organized. “I used to lose my stuff all the time,” she said. “I was always leaving my purse in restaurants, my wallet in the car, my sunglasses at friends’ houses. Once I started carrying a gun—accepted that grave responsibility—that all stopped. I’m on it now.”
posted by corb at 2:43 PM on March 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


> Is there some sort of connection between these events?

Could be. Lots of possibilities in biology.
posted by hank at 3:11 PM on March 1, 2013


It's interesting all the attention gun violence is getting now. For decades poor minority kids shot each other and men shot their girlfriends and families and we blamed the victims for "being involved" or we said "no one could have predicted that" . Now that unrelated middle class people, often male, have become the most visible victims and relatives of victims of gun crime it Must Be Stopped.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for stopping it but if all the aggressors had stuck to shooting up kids with no fathers and their unfortunate families I wonder how much longer society would have looked the other way?
posted by fshgrl at 4:35 PM on March 1, 2013


Why violence has declined. Expanded from Pinker's response to a 2007 question from edge.org, "What are you optimistic about?"
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 4:59 PM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


You should not NEED 'Condition Yellow' and a gun to keep track of your stuff. Since the human being is both hunter and prey, we humans need to cultivate alertness, and some degree of organization.

As far as violence being a contagion, a lot of things people do can feel contagious! Suicide, groups of female friends falling pregnant at the same time are the two big ones I can think of off-hand.
I do think people's hormones affect other people.
Violence has a hormonal component, same as any other behavior.
So I do think it could be dealt with as a sort of contagion.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 5:39 PM on March 1, 2013


That’s way uncritically lining up behind gun control advocates as a solution to the kind of violence we saw at Sandy Hook or in Boulder Colorado is a mistake. Doing so obscures who is responsible for the violence in society and what steps are needed to be taken to end it.

I think that entire dialogue has been hijacked by the "pro-gun" and "gun control" groups and political factionalism.

Instead of critical examination of methods of controlling and investigating the origination of violence, so much of the focus is on the tools and executors. And none of that focus would address child or spouse abuse, social isolation, group reinforcement and identity (where violence is considered a desirable method to achieve goals such as in a gang or terrorist group).

From the Wired piece: "Key to this approach, said Slutkin and Wilkinson, is understanding that quarantine — criminal incarceration — is a limited tool, something that needs to be applied in certain circumstances but won’t suffice to prevent violence any more than imprisoning everyone with tuberculosis would stop that disease.
"

I don't want to get esoteric, but as a practitioner of violence sometimes I get the sense that my opponent isn't the human being but this abstract thing. It's why I don't support the death penalty, for example. Killing is good only when it achieves a necessary end and it's rare to do that well, particularly second hand.
It's strange. A lot of martial philosophy alludes to this so I don't want to sound like I'm Musashi. But in disregarding one's own death you can see how to disregard the death of another. As the desired goal I mean.

In violence itself there is no achievement, only contention.
yeah, see, now I'm already talking like I'm sitting on tatami
The method of contention itself is separate from the contention itself.
And the most important battles are fought within ourselves.

(From The Atlantic link: "Some of the best interventions help kids with social-emotional and self-regulation skills so that they can deal more safely and productively with each other and with adult authority figures. We've found in randomized trials that such interventions can reduce violent offending.")

P.K. Dick wrote about some of this. An intelligence that lived within words or concept structures. Homeoplasmates.
Burroughs too from The Naked Lunch "Language is a virus from outer space." In that book there's also the concept of a cooperative vs. a bureaucracy ("A cooperative on the other hand can live without the state. That is the road to follow. The building up of independent units to meet needs of the people who participate in the functioning of the unit. A bureau operates on opposite principles of inventing needs to justify its existence.) Bureaucracy is wrong as a cancer, a turning away from the human evolutionary direction of infinite potentials and differentiation and independent spontaneous action to the complete parasitism of a virus.")

Hell, Richard Dawkings put it in The Selfish Gene: “Memes should be regarded as living structures, not just metaphorically but technically. When you plant a fertile meme in my mind you literally parasitize my brain, turning into a vehicle for the meme’s propagation in just the way a virus may parasitize the genetic mechanism of a host cell

He was talking about how religion spread, but it's the same concept applied to a different subject.

Musashi talks about "soaking in" to an opponent. This is a cooperative mindset that seems anathema to many people when thinking about violence but it's one of the most powerful methods to overcome someone. Learn what they know. What motivates them. Attack that instead of striving against them head to head.
One of the principles of the "soft" fighting arts. Aikido. Jujutsu. Etc.

Whereas attempting to create a need is more of a head to head, straight force concept. So, in order to stop violence, for example one guy punching another guy, you use the threat of jail. This can stop people from harming one another, but it doesn't address the root cause of why they want to in the first place.

Understanding how someone is driven - a disease model can be useful. But at the core you absolutely have to have the understanding of the behavior to change/redirect the behavior.

One of the reasons Cease Fire (from The Interrupters) works is that you have former gang members, criminals, etc. who understand and empathize doing the work.

This doesn't mean that only former gang members can do it, rather it means their approach is one of empathy and "soaking in" to the person in order to understand and redirect the root of violence.

Attacking something at it's core is much more powerful than trying to move it by grasping a limb.

I understand violence, so in many ways I understand how it works and from where it derives. It's a means without an end because physical violence can only destroy physical things and yet it's effects echos in -

what. Something else. I don't know. But the form echos. Kill a man one way, you end a movement. Kill them another way, you cause thousands more to rise. And complex forms reiterate in complex ways. Torture, for example. Unjust killing (murder). Indiscriminate killing. All these things affect the larger social psyche in some way. Even if hidden.
I know this.
I don't know how.

I'm not a social worker or psychologist or shaman and I don't claim knowledge of these things, but I can say there is more to violence than the simple physical act or the tools or biology. Jungian collective unconscious? Universal soul? I dunno. I use the term social, but it's more than that. More complex anyway. Beyond me though to name it.
The epidemic model can be useful. Obviously addressing it from a cultural/social standpoint works.
The question there (asked in the Atlantic piece - again, really worth reading) is why.

Pollack talks about role models. But it comes down to connection. Someone who understands you and someone who you can empathize with too.
Not just the person but the creation of that connection.

I've always stressed engagement.

One of the core principles I understood intellectually but never truly understood until I started mastering technique and getting past it - whatever you touch, touches you.

I can be a gasbag. But I'm not a poet, I don't know how to capture complex concepts simply, so sorry for the overexplanation.

Musashi puts it better than I can:

"It is difficult to know yourself if you do not know others. To all Ways there are side-tracks. If you study a Way daily, and your spirit diverges, you may think you are obeying a good way, but objectively it is not the true Way. If you are following the true Way and diverge a little, this will later become a large divergence. You must realize this. Other strategies have come to be thought of as mere sword-fencing, and it is not unreasonable that this should be so. The benefit of my strategy, although it includes sword-fencing, lies in a separate principle."
posted by Smedleyman at 7:20 PM on March 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


The Esquire article on the fetishization of guns troubles me. I fully support gun control, and have only fired a gun once (and never owned one). But as a gamer and moviegoer I fetishize guns. I imagine what it would be like to fire a Colt Revolver, or even just carry one. I play games where guns are named and decorated like knights' swords or procedurally generated by the millions. There's something so appealing about them, and I wish there was a way to remove that appeal.

The Danish film 'Dear Wendy' deals with this by exaggerating it to an absurd degree. I suggest watching it.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:10 PM on March 1, 2013


I think that entire dialogue has been hijacked by the "pro-gun" and "gun control" groups and political factionalism.

The dialogue (of both sides) is dominated the gun manufacturing and sales industry, maybe the only industry in America which is not subject to lawsuits over product liability, where demand increases with every incident of misuse of its product (every mass shooting is followed by big sales increases, even when gun control is off the table) and the consumers of the product are paying for most of the sales promotion, through the NRA, which exists to benefit manufacturers and retailers, NOT the users and owners.

Cracked has a surprisingly cogent and concise piece of the over-inflated importance of the NRA.
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:14 PM on March 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's something so appealing about them, and I wish there was a way to remove that appeal.

I can give you a really heavy one and take you out in the field for a few months. After hauling it around on 12 hour hikes over hill and dale , in and out of boats and choppers, loading and unloading it 5 times a day, making sure it stays dry and cleaning it because you dragged it through a waist deep swamp every night you will be over your love of guns. I am very over carrying one.
posted by fshgrl at 9:32 PM on March 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


I can give you a really heavy one and take you out in the field for a few months. After hauling it around on 12 hour hikes over hill and dale , in and out of boats and choppers, loading and unloading it 5 times a day, making sure it stays dry and cleaning it because you dragged it through a waist deep swamp every night you will be over your love of guns. I am very over carrying one.

*dies laughing*

Oh god, you're so right in terms of removing the fetishization of it. I still believe guns are effective tools and I still want to concealed carry a handgun sometimes, but guns have totally stopped being the romantic objects they once were in my mind.

(every mass shooting is followed by big sales increases, even when gun control is off the table)

The reason every mass shooting is followed by big sales increases is because gun control is never really off the table - no one knows when it will come or how, and there's a knowledge that mass shootings tend to lead to anti-gun bills.
posted by corb at 4:19 AM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, we should treat the problem epidemiologically with police violence being viewed as major cause. Over 12,000 people were interviewed for the 1982 federal "Police Services Study" that found 13.6% had complaints like verbal abuse, discourtesy and physical abuse. See the ACLU's Fighting Police Abuse: A Community Action Manual. In 1998, Human Rights Watch found filing a complaint was "unnecessarily difficult and often intimidating" in all precincts it examined. Are citizens likely to become less violent with police violence setting the example?
posted by jeffburdges at 4:42 AM on March 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


In Florida this week one person was shot by an oven, another by a dog.

I'm not sure I believe that gun owners are magically more aware than other people.
posted by leopard at 6:10 PM on March 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


The distance of the maiming and killing, the immediacy, all of that seems so different than the intimacy of using a knife or a fist. I guess with the right force, knowledge, skill, or time, those are deadly too. The gun violence debate is also about what we bring home to ourselves. It crystallizes our technologies of war, too.
posted by MidSouthern Mouth at 8:52 PM on March 2, 2013


"The dialogue (of both sides) is dominated the gun manufacturing and sales industry,”

Yeah, absolutely I think it goes off the rails immediately there.

“After a shooting spree, they always want to take the guns away from the people who didn't do it. I sure as hell wouldn't want to live in a society where the only people allowed guns are the police and the military.” – William S. Burroughs.

Most gun control folks and gun owners after a tragedy immediately think about how to stop it from happening. Then almost immediately the entire bulk of the dialogue shifts away from that.

I get into unarguments with pro-control folks as soon as I mention I own guns. ‘What’s wrong with you, why do you oppose laws, murder, suicide, children, blah blah blah’ ‘Actually, I’m for registration and more policing, closing gun show loopholes, and stiffer sentencing and more social programs’ ‘…well, the NRA sucks’ ‘Yes, it does.’ ‘…ok, uh, guns are bad.’

Are citizens likely to become less violent with police violence setting the example?

I don't think there's any question. See the Burroughs quote.

But more effective has been the widespread use of cameras and filming. Witnessing violence is always more effective, as long as some moral authority is a prerequisite for legitimate rule.

It's funny thinking about this with this particular FFP subject hat on. It's like watching Fallen where there's the invisible demon that can possess and move through people.

Except in some cases it's groupmind. And it requires a different sort of groupmind entity to oppose it.
Sometimes (rarely. when all else fails) you have no choice but to do violence (in the case of Fallen, violence to himself).
But that's the fulcrum of existence, isn't it? You're own thought. You're own action. You make a better world by making a better self. And teaching others how to.
In that sense all violence is self-negation.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:41 PM on March 3, 2013


Have to add - some people demand self-negation.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:42 PM on March 3, 2013


“After a shooting spree, they always want to take the guns away from the people who didn't do it. I sure as hell wouldn't want to live in a society where the only people allowed guns are the police and the military.” – William S. Burroughs.

The police in Mexico didn't treat WSB so bad after he shot his wife in the head. You'd think he might be a little more careful with firearms after that, but apparently not:

In Lawrence, Burroughs lived on a steady diet of vodka Cokes—a drink someone in Leyser's footage refers to as a "Burroughs"—and nursed his interests in guns and deadly snakes. He slept with a gun under his pillow and wore one on his belt when he went out. "Burroughs said a paranoid is someone who has all the facts," Leyser notes. "Freud said a paranoid is a repressed homosexual. [Burroughs] was a deeply paranoid person. He believed all these guns would be a protection. He carried a cane that had a sword in it. He had blowguns and a throwing star."

I don't think I'd want to be in close proximity to WSB with a loaded gun, or Dick Cheney.
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:51 PM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Blaming Things
Do guns kill people or do people kill people? Is it television or bad parenting that’s destroying the American family? Were the Fukushima meltdowns a man-made disaster or are nuclear reactors inherently unsafe? These questions all spawn from the same worn-out false dichotomy about the political nature of technology: is the problem us or it?

You could pick any of a handful of ways to construe those questions as malformed or meaningless, and in a sense you’d be right. If they were supposed to be logical queries about ethics or causality, then they’d be poor ones. But the trouble with that mode of criticism, beyond being boring, is that it makes the usual mistake of seeing language as a tool for representing the world rather than for working on it.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:01 AM on March 5, 2013


Ah, found it again.

The Southwest Journal of Criminal Justice, Vol. 8(2): Hegemonic Masculinity And Mass Murders In The US (PDF)
There is no psychological profile unique to mass murderers and many authors have speculated on their motivations. However, in this study, the range of interrelated stressors experienced by the majority of mass murderers threatened their hegemonic masculine identity and these men engaged in violence to protect their identity.
...
Hegemonic masculinity is the socially supported and dominant masculinity, which informs normative male behavior and unequal gender practices seen in the subordination of women in the society. This dominant masculinity which is associated with power, high status, authority, heterosexism and physical toughness, and legitimizes patriarchy, not only subordinates femininities but also other masculinities deemed to be weaker in the society’s gendered order
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:11 PM on March 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Answers to gun violence may lie in nonsmoking campaigns
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:07 AM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


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