How Biopsychosocial Perspectives Help Explain Seemingly Unexplainable Crimes

This week in North Philly Notes, Chad Posick, Michael Rocque, and J. C. Barnes, coauthors of Fitting the Facts of Crime, write about the connections between gun availability, mental health, and masculinity in discussions about mass shootings.

The United States is no stranger to seemingly random acts of violence. Mass shootings, in which four or more are killed in a single attack on a public stage, are on the rise in both number of cases and number of victims per case in America. The question that most of us have when one of these highly publicized attacks happens is, “Why?” Why would someone shoot a school full of children? Why would someone shoot strangers at a concert? Why would someone target churchgoers? In the case of mass public shootings, they are defined as being unrelated to other forms of crime, such as gang violence or robberies. This means that the motivation and causes of mass public shootings remain cloudy.

As criminologists, we are often called upon for answers to questions about why such crimes occur. People have also not been shy to offer their opinions. It’s guns. It’s mental health. It’s racism. The perpetrators are just bad eggs or sociopaths.

For us, explaining these vicious crimes means moving beyond simplistic, all-or-nothing approaches. While it is attractive to try to isolate the one or two most “important” causes of mass public shootings, if we truly want to understand them, so that we can prevent them, we have to look at all relevant factors and how they intertwine in complex ways. And there is no better way to approach these questions than using the biopsychosocial perspective we promote in Fitting the Facts of Crime: An Invitation to Biopsychosocial Criminology.

One of the approaches we took in the book was to show how traditional, sociological perspectives are able to help us understand particular crime and justice patterns, but how, at the same time, they are incomplete. This is no less the case for mass public shootings. Let’s take a look at some of the more common social/environmental factors that the scholars and policy-makers often point to as causes of these attacks.

Guns

While there is debate about just how much mass public shootings are concentrated in the US, it seems reasonable to conclude that more attacks of this nature occur in America than elsewhere. This begs the question of what it is about the US that makes such attacks more likely to take place here?

One prominent factor that is mentioned in the news media and in scholarship is guns. The U.S. has a lot of guns. Some estimates indicate that there are nearly 400 million guns in this country; more guns than people. And since mass public shootings require access to guns, it is reasonable to wonder whether more guns leads to more mass public shootings.

There is a growing amount of research on the relationship between guns, gun control, and mass public shootings. Research has found that the public tends to favor gun control if they live near the site of a mass shooting. Some work has found that in places where gun laws are less strict, there are more mass shootings. Other research has examined how different gun laws influence mass public shootings. Several studies have shown that banning large capacity magazines, or magazines that hold more than 10 bullets, is associated with reduced mass shootings. Two of these studies showed that requiring a license to buy a handgun is also related to fewer mass shootings.

Interestingly, however, not every scholar is convinced that gun availability and gun control are significantly related to mass shootings. In fact, studies that show the importance of gun licenses and large capacity magazine bans have shown that other measures (such as assault weapons bans) do not affect mass shootings. In a recent study, conducted by one of us, the data have shown that gun availability by state is unrelated to incidence and severity of mass public shootings. While one study showed that gun ownership was strongly associated with mass public shootings internationally, guns are clearly not the only factor that explain these attacks. What is missing?

One factor to consider is that underlying individual characteristics make some people more likely to carry, and use, a gun. Genetic differences account for some of the variation in why one person will carry a gun and another will not. Researchers are also coming closer to identifying specific genetic differences associated with neurotransmission that explain gun carrying behavior. It may, then, be the combination of gun availability in society, coupled with individual characteristics, that lead to gun carrying and mass shootings.

Mental Health

Another controversial but widely discussed factor used to explain mass shootings is mental illness. After two particularly deadly mass public shootings in 2019, then President Donald Trump stated “Mental illness and hatred pulled the trigger. Not the gun.” This statement was met with immediate backlash from those arguing that mental illness is not a “predictor” of mass shootings.

Research focusing on public attacks has found that mass public shooters are disproportionately mentally ill. For example, in his dataset, Grant Duwe found that 61% of mass shooters suffered from a mental illness, which is far higher than estimates for the general population. While it is notoriously difficult to assess mental illness from open sources (commonly used to collect data on mass shootings), other research has confirmed that there are disproportionate rates of mental illness in populations of mass shooters.

Once again, though, this risk factor is certainly not sufficient to explain mass public shootings. The vast majority of those with mental illness will never commit gun crimes, let alone a mass public shooting. Additionally, we know that those with serious mental illness are actually more likely to be victimized by gun crimes than to commit them.

Interestingly, and related to our next factor, gender is related to mental illness and mass shootings. Research has shown that women have higher rates of mental illness than men across countries. Yet women almost never commit mass public shootings. Data show that women tend to be less than 6% of all mass public shooters.

Clearly, mass shootings cannot be reduced to mental illness, though it does appear to be an important factor. Mental illness is influenced by genetic factors and it may be that individuals who experience certain social stressors in conjunction with genetic predispositions are more likely to engage in mass shootings compared to others in society. Once again, this highlights the importance of considering the interconnected nature of biology and the social world.

We agree with the summary statement in a recent study examining the link between mass killers and neurodevelopmental disorders, “These extreme forms of violence may be a result of a highly complex interaction of biological, psychological and sociological factors.”  

Masculinity

As just mentioned, mass public shooters are overwhelmingly men. In Duwe’s data, roughly 99% of mass public shooters were men. In other research with less restrictive definitions, this figure is lower, but still above 90%.

Unlike the other issues we have discussed, there is little dissensus on the finding that mass public shooters are almost always male. Some research—but not much!—has attempted to understand this pattern. In some work, masculinity is identified as a primary factor. Some scholars suggest that mass shootings may be viewed as a “masculine” way to regain control that has been lost. The theory is that when certain men feel they have been denied masculinity, they react in particularly deadly ways. However defined, though, denial of masculinity is clearly more prevalent than mass public shootings.

Masculinity, gender, and sex, may be more relevant in mass shootings that target women or families. But attacks motivated by grievances against women only represent about 34% of mass public shootings, according to some work. Thus, other factors are likely at play.

Furthermore, while female mass public shooters are rare, they do occur. For example, one recent study of 18 female mass public shooters found that they were more similar to male mass public shooters than female general murder offenders.

Masculine identity is not simply due to parental or peer socialization—although that can certainly add to how one views themselves and society. It is an outgrowth of evolutionary processes that extend far back into our ancestral past. Efforts to promote the positive aspects of masculinity while tempering the negative aspects—often called toxic masculinity—will require concerted effort and a thorough understanding of the complex bio, psycho, and social aspects of human nature.

Putting it Together

In our view, gun availability, mental health, and masculine identity are all contributing factors to mass shootings in the U.S. The holy grail of behavioral science is to identify necessary and sufficient causes of a human behavior. Yet none of these factors fit that profile—although gun access is necessary to commit a mass shooting, having access to a gun is not a sufficient explanation. And as we outlined above, it not necessary to suffer from a mental illness nor is it necessary to have toxic masculinity.

When necessary and sufficient causes are elusive, behavioral scientists face a more complicated reality. All risk factors must be included, studied, and considered. This includes factors beyond simple socialization explanations. Instead, we must consider that humans are the product of millions of years of evolution, genetics, and socialization. To focus on only one aspect misses the others and, for us, will result in ineffective policy. In Fitting the Facts of Crime, we lay out what we see as the most promising approaches to understanding these types of crimes and offer policy suggestions we believe can help us prevent crime and intervene if necessary.

What is past is prologue: A century of gangs in the United States

This week in North Philly Notes, Scott Decker, David Pyrooz, and James Densley, the coauthors of On Gangs take a look back at gangs in American society.

Like most social phenomena, gangs are dynamic. The structure, membership, activities and relationships among gangs and gang members change over time and space. Against this backdrop of evolving gang life, there are some common findings. Levels of involvement in crime, gender imbalance, short-term membership, and a loosely structured organization remain common features of gangs historically and geographically.

On Gangs examines transcendent and emerging issues in the understanding of gangs. The book is motivated by a simple, but sometimes elusive principle; understanding should bring about fairer, more just and effective policies, practices, and programs. The study of gangs has had an important job to do in this regard. Explaining the increase in gang membership during the crack cocaine epidemic, rising gun violence, mass incarceration and the role of technology (particularly computer-mediated communication) in conflict, crime and the response to crime are all topics that gang research has tackled.  

If asked to identify a single finding from gang research, policy, and practice, we would point to the enhanced involvement in crime that accompanies gang membership. Simply put, gang membership increases involvement in crime, particularly violent crime, and increases the risk of victimization, resulting in loss, debilitating injury, and, tragically, death. Group processes in gangs are what land gang members in jail or prison, dimming their chances for education, employment, housing, and participation in many civic activities. Gang membership impedes adolescents and young adults from participating in the very activities that social scientists expect to either prevent them from further criminal involvement or enable them to reverse their involvement in crime. From this perspective, addressing mass incarceration and the pipeline from schools and the streets to prison is a key issue to address through economic and social policy.

The field has learned a good deal about gangs in the past three decades. The pace and volume of gang research increased dramatically as data improved and a broader range of scholars grappled with understanding involvement in and consequences of gang membership. Critical issues such as the involvement of women in gangs, the role of technology in gang joining and activities, the spread of US-style gangs to other countries, and the changing structure of gang membership are all features of the book.

On Gangs also provides comprehensive assessments of the role of gender and masculinities in gangs, immigration, race, and ethnicity, the changing role of imprisonment in gang life, and a sober assessment not only of gang “programming” but also of how criminologists must go about assessing the impact of a wide range of interventions from prevention through confinement. We take a critical look at policing gangs in the 21st century and the emergence and expansion of controversial anti-gang legislation. We take the “What Works” question head on and offer objective frameworks for assessing the impact of a wide range of policies and practices.

One measure of the importance of gangs in American society can be gauged by their role in popular culture, particularly movies and music. As we note in the book, “Gangster Movies” are just as old as academic gang research. James Cagney and Jean Harlow, two of the biggest names in Hollywood starred in The Public Enemy in 1931, one of the first portrayals of gangs and gang members on screen. West Side Story debuted in 1961, and now sixty years later has been remade by Steven Spielberg. And Al Pacino’s Scarface continues to serve as inspiration for gang members; in some cases, Tony Montana’s rags to riches story is a blueprint for their gang careers. Public fascination with gangs, gang members and gang activity certainly help spin myths about gangs (e.g., once you join a gang, you can never leave; gangs are highly organized; women are “appendages” to male gangs; prison gangs run the streets, etc.), which often have negative consequences. Such myths impair our ability to build consensus about gang interventions, secure funding and public support for such interventions and spread fear and racial animus.

As comprehensive as On Gangs is, it is not the final word. There will be new challenges—globalization, climate change, continued demographic churning, the changing nature and structure of employment, virtual life and the metaverse—that will alter the character of social relations and social structure. Certainly, gangs will be affected by and have effects on the social orders to come. It is our contention that the accumulated knowledge on gangs be viewed with a critical lens and be used to shape future perceptions of and responses to gangs and gang members.

Announcing Temple University Press’ Fall Catalog

This week in North Philly Notes we showcase the titles forthcoming this Fall from Temple University Press

“Beyond the Law”: The Politics of Ending the Death Penalty for Sodomy in Britain, by Charles Upchurch, provides a major reexamination of the earliest British parliamentary efforts to abolish capital punishment for consensual sex acts between men.

Are You Two Sisters?: The Journey of a Lesbian Couple, by Susan Krieger, authored by one of the most respected figures in the field of personal ethnographic narrative, this book serves as both a memoir and a sociological study, telling the story of one lesbian couple’s lifelong journey together.

Asian American Connective Action in the Age of Social Media: Civic Engagement, Contested Issues, and Emerging Identities, by James S. Lai, examines how social media has changed the way Asian Americans participate in politics.

The Civil Rights Lobby: The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the Second Reconstruction, by Shamira Gelbman, investigates how minority group, labor, religious, and other organizations worked together to lobby for civil rights reform during the 1950s and ’60s.

Elaine Black Yoneda: Jewish Immigration, Labor Activism, and Japanese American Exclusion and Incarceration, by Rachel Schreiber, tells the remarkable story of a Jewish activist who joined her imprisoned Japanese American husband and son in an American concentration camp.

Fitting the Facts of Crime: An Invitation to Biopsychosocial Criminology, by Chad Posick, Michael Rocque, and J.C. Barnes, presents a biopsychosocial perspective to explain the most common findings in criminology—and to guide future research and public policy.

From Improvement to City Planning: Spatial Management in Cincinnati from the Early Republic through the Civil War Decade, by Henry C. Binford, offers a “pre-history” of urban planning in the United States.

Gangs on Trial: Challenging Stereotypes and Demonization in the Courts, by John M. Hagedorn
, exposes biases in trials when the defendant is a gang member.

Invisible People: Stories of Lives at the Margins, by Alex Tizon, now in paperback, an anthology of richly reported and beautifully written stories about marginalized people.

Islam, Justice, and Democracy, by Sabri Ciftci, explores the connection between Muslim conceptions of justice and democratic orientations.

The Italian Legacy in Philadelphia: History, Culture, People, and Ideas, edited by Andrea Canepari and Judith Goode, provides essays and images showcasing the rich contribution of Italians and Italian Americans to Global Philadelphia.

Making a Scene: Urban Landscapes, Gentrification, and Social Movements in Sweden, by Kimberly A. Creasap, examines how autonomous social movements respond to gentrification by creating their own cultural landscape in cities and suburbs.

Making Their Days Happen: Paid Personal Assistance Services Supporting People with Disability Living in Their Homes and Communities, by Lisa I. Iezzoni, explores the complexities of the interpersonal dynamics and policy implications affecting personal assistance service consumers and providers.

The Many Futures of Work: Rethinking Expectations and Breaking Molds, edited by Peter A. Creticos, Larry Bennett, Laura Owen, Costas Spirou, and Maxine Morphis-Riesbeck, reframes the conversation about contemporary workplace experience by providing both “top down” and “bottom up” analyses.

On Gangs, by Scott H. Decker, David C. Pyrooz, and James A. Densley, a comprehensive review of what is known about gangs—from their origins through their evolution and outcomes.

Pack the Court!: A Defense of Supreme Court Expansion, by Stephen M. Feldman, provides a historical and analytical argument for court-packing.

Passing for Perfect: College Impostors and Other Model Minorities, by erin Khuê Ninh, considers how it feels to be model minority—and why would that drive one to live a lie?

Pedagogies of Woundedness: Illness, Memoir, and the Ends of the Model Minority, by James Kyung-Jin Lee, asks what happens when illness betrays Asian American fantasies of indefinite progress?

Slavery and Abolition in Pennsylvania, by Beverly C. Tomek, highlights the complexities of emancipation and the “First Reconstruction” in the antebellum North.

Vehicles of Decolonization: Public Transit in the Palestinian West Bank, by Maryam S. Griffin, considers collective Palestinian movement via public transportation as a site of social struggle.

Who Really Makes Environmental Policy?: Creating and Implementing Environmental Rules and Regulations, edited by Sara R. Rinfret, provides a clear understanding of regulatory policy and rulemaking processes, and their centrality in U.S. environmental policymaking.

Celebrating Banned Book Week

This week in North Philly Notes, for Banned Book Week, we blog about Prison Masculinities, edited by Don Sabo, Terry A. Kupers, and Willie London. A passage on prisoner rape prompted the entire state of Texas’ prison system to ban the book!

 

 From the Texas Civil Rights Project 2011 Human Rights Report:

Prison Masculinities, edited by Dr. Terry Kupers, M.D., Don Sabo, and Willie London, is banned because passages on pages 128-131 discuss prisoner rape. A prisoner describes how he was “humiliated telling anyone about” being sexually assaulted, and how he underwent “torture scenes” at the hands of fellow prisoners. TDCJ officials have testified they would even censor government documents that discuss prison rape. 

The book’s editor, Dr. Kupers, an expert in prison mental health care, included the passage as an “illustrat[ion of] the kind of prisoner orientation and education that is mandated by federal law – i.e. the Prison Rape Elimination Act signed into law by President [George W.] Bush in 2003.” According to Dr. Kupers, “the material in Prison Masculinities is designed to facilitate peaceful, smooth operations of the prisons and contribute to the rehabilitation of prisoners.”

About the book:

Prison Masculinities explores the frightening ways our prisons mirror the worst aspects of society-wide gender relations. It is part of the growing research on men and masculinities. The collection is unusual in that it combines contributions from activists, academics, and prisoners.

The opening section, which features an essay by Angela Davis, focuses on the historical roots of the prison system, cultural practices surrounding gender and punishment, and the current expansion of corrections into the “prison-industrial complex.”

prison masculinitiesThe next section examines the dominant or subservient roles that men play in prison and the connections between this hierarchy and male violence. Another section looks at the spectrum of intimate relationships behind bars, from rape to friendship, and another at physical and mental health.

The last section is about efforts to reform prisons and prison masculinities, including support groups for men. It features an essay about prospects for post-release success in the community written by a man who, after doing time in Soledad and San Quentin, went on to get a doctorate in counseling.

The contributions from prisoners include an essay on enforced celibacy by Mumia Abu-Jamal, as well as fiction and poetry on prison health policy, violence, and intimacy. The creative contributions were selected from the more than 200 submissions received from prisoners.

About the Editors:

Don Sabo, Professor of Social Sciences at D’Youville College in Buffalo, is author or editor of five books, most recently, with David Gordon, Men’s Health and Illness: Gender, Power, and the Body and, with Michael Messner, Sex, Violence, and Power in Sports: Rethinking Masculinity. Sabo has appeared on The Today Show, Oprah, and Donahue.

Terry A. Kupers, M.D., a psychiatrist, teaches at the Wright Institute in Berkeley. He is the author of four books, editor of a fifth. His latest books are Prison Madness: The Mental Health Crisis Behind Bars and What We Must Do About It and Revisioning Men’s Lives: Gender, Intimacy, and Power. Kupers has served as an expert witness in more than a dozen cases on conditions of confinement and mental health services.

Willie London, a published poet, is General Editor of the prison publication Elite Expressions. He is currently an inmate at Eastern Corrections. For nine years he was a prisoner at Attica.

Temple University Press’ Fall 2017 Catalog

This week in North Philly Notes, we showcase the books from Temple University Press’s Fall 2017 Catalog.

“A Road to Peace and Freedom”

“A Road to Peace and Freedom”
The International Workers Order and the Struggle for Economic Justice and Civil Rights, 1930–1954

Zecker, Robert M.

The history of the International Workers Order’s struggle to enact a social-democratic, racially egalitarian vision for America

430 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1516-5
cloth 978-1-4399-1515-8

Against Capital in the Twenty-First Century

Against Capital in the Twenty-First Century
A Reader of Radical Undercurrents
Edited by Asimakopoulos, John and Richard Gilman-Opalsky

A broad, nonsectarian collection of anti-capitalist thinking, featuring landmark contributions both classic and contemporary

390 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1358-1
cloth 978-1-4399-1357-4

Against the Deportation Terror

Against the Deportation Terror
Organizing for Immigrant Rights in the Twentieth Century

Buff, Rachel Ida

Reveals the formerly little-known history of multiracial immigrant rights organizing in the United States

382 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1534-9
cloth 978-1-4399-1533-2

Believing in Cleveland

Believing in Cleveland
Managing Decline in “The Best Location in the Nation”

Souther, J. Mark

Do reforms that decentralize the state actually empower women?

210 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1397-0
cloth 978-1-4399-1396-3

Biz Mackey, a Giant behind the Plate

Biz Mackey, a Giant behind the Plate
The Story of the Negro League Star and Hall of Fame Catcher
Westcott, Rich
Forewords by Monte Irvin and Ray Mackey III

The first biography of arguably the greatest catcher in the Negro Leagues

160 pp • 5.375×8.5 • Fall 2017
cloth 978-1-4399-1551-6

Communities and Crime

Communities and Crime
An Enduring American Challenge

Wilcox, Pamela, Francis T. Cullen, and Ben Feldmey

A systematic exploration of how criminology has accounted for the role of community over the past century

282 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-59213-974-3
cloth 978-1-59213-973-6

The Cost of Being a Girl

The Cost of Being a Girl
Working Teens and the Origins of the Gender Wage Gap

Besen-Cassino, Yasemin

Traces the origins of the gender wage gap to part-time teenage work, which sets up a dynamic that persists into adulthood

238 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1349-9
cloth 978-1-4399-1348-2

Exploiting the Wilderness

Exploiting the Wilderness
An Analysis of Wildlife Crime

Warchol, Greg L.

A contemporary criminological analysis of the African and Asian illegal trade in wildlife


208 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1367-3
cloth 978-1-4399-1366-6

From Slave Ship to Supermax

From Slave Ship to Supermax
Mass Incarceration, Prisoner Abuse, and the New Neo-Slave Novel

Alexander, Patrick Elliot

The first interdisciplinary study of mass incarceration to intersect the fields of literary studies, critical prison studies, and human rights

266 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1415-1
cloth 978-1-4399-1414-4

Latino Mayors

Latino Mayors
Political Change in the Postindustrial City
Edited by Orr, Marion and Domingo Morel
With a Foreword by Luis Ricardo Fraga

The first book to examine the rise of Latino mayors in the United States

312 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper paper 978-1-4399-1543-1
cloth 978-1-4399-1542-4

Love

Love
A Philadelphia Affair

Kephart, Beth

From the best-selling author of Flow comes a love letter to the Philadelphia region, its places, and its people

New in Paperback!
176 pp • 5.5×8.5 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1316-1
cloth 978-1-4399-1315-4

On the Stump

On the Stump
Campaign Oratory and Democracy in the United States, Britain, and Australia Scalmer, Sean

The story of how the “stump speech” was created, diffused, and helped to shape the modern democracies of the Anglo-American world

236 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1504-2
cloth 978-1-4399-1503-5

Phil Jasner

Phil Jasner “On the Case”
His Best Writing on the Sixers, the Dream Team, and Beyond

Edited by Jasner, Andy

Three decades of reporting by famed Philadelphia Hall of Fame sportswriter Phil Jasner

264 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
cloth 978-1-4399-1494-6

Philadelphia

Philadelphia
Finding the Hidden City
Elliott, Joseph E. B., Nathaniel Popkin, and Peter Woodall

Revealing the physical and cultural intricacies of Philadelphia, from the intimate to the monumental

200 pp • 7.875×10.5 • Fall 2017
cloth 978-1-4399-1300-0

Rulers and Capital in Historical Perspective

Rulers and Capital in Historical Perspective
State Formation and Financial Development in India and the United States

Chatterjee, Abhishek

Explains the concomitant and interconnected emergence of “public” finance and “private” banking systems in the context of state formation in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries

188 pp • 5.5×8.25 • Fall 2017
cloth 978-1-4399-1500-4

Selling Transracial Adoption

Selling Transracial Adoption
Families, Markets, and the Color Line

Raleigh, Elizabeth

Examines cross-race adoptions from the perspectives of adoption providers, showing how racial hierarchies and the supply and demand for children shape the process

274 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1478-6
cloth 978-1-4399-1477-9

Suffering and Sunset

Suffering and Sunset
World War I in the Art and Life of Horace Pippin

Bernier, Celeste-Marie

A majestic biography of the pioneering African American artist

New in Paperback!
552 pp • 6.125×9.25 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1274-4
cloth 978-1-4399-1273-7

Tasting Freedom

Tasting Freedom
Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America

Biddle, Daniel R. and Murray Dubin

Celebrating the life and times of the extraordinary Octavius Catto, and the first civil rights movement in America

New in Paperback!
632 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-59213-466-3
cloth 978-1-59213-465-6

Toward a Pragmatist Sociology

Toward a Pragmatist Sociology
John Dewey and the Legacy of C. Wright Mills

Dunn, Robert G.

An original study that mines the work of John Dewey and C. Wright Mills to animate a more relevant and critical sociology

198 pp • 5.5×8.25 • Fall 2017
cloth 978-1-4399-1459-5

We Decide!

We Decide!
Theories and Cases in Participatory Democracy

Menser, Michael

Argues that democratic theory and practice needs to shift its focus from elections and representation to sharing power and property in government and the economy

360 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1418-2
cloth 978-1-4399-1417-5

Why Veterans Run

Why Veterans Run
Military Service in American Presidential Elections, 1789–2016

Teigen, Jeremy M.

Why more than half of American presidential candidates have been military veterans—and why it matters

320 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1436-6
cloth 978-1-4399-1435-9

Click here to download the catalog (pdf).

Temple University Press is having a Back-to-School SALE!

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Brazilian Blues

This week in North Philly Notes, Philip Evanson, co-author of Living in the Crossfireblogs about the arrest of the former President of Brazil, Luis Inácio Lula da Silva.

On Friday, March 4 following a 6 a.m. raid on his home by federal police, former President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva was detained and taken to São Paulo’s Congonhas airport for questioning. The action was based on an order of compulsory conveyance (Mandado de condução coercitiva) issued by Judge Sergio Moro who has been overseeing the Petrobrás corruption cases. The order was treated by most legal experts here as an abuse of power by Moro. This mandado is used in instances when a person of interest refuses to appear before police to answer questions. But Lula always said he was a ready to appear. The former head of the Brazilian bar association (OAB) said the early morning arrest was equivalent to kidnapping Lula. Moro is said to have acted this way out of fear for Lula’s safety, also because he feared there was a coordinated effort underway to destroy evidence that might incriminate Lula and undermine undergoing investigations. Therefore, while enemies of Lula and the PT or Workers Party celebrated the former president’s arrest as more evidence of his guilt, jurists have tended to condemn it as an abuse of power. If there were a danger to his person, Lula should have been asked if he felt the need for “coerced” protection. For example, did he think a mob was gathering with the intention to harm him, and therefore required that police arrest and place him in protective custody?

The brunt of the interrogation of Lula apparently involved two properties—a spacious oceanfront apartment in São Paulo state, and a rural retreat or sitio in the interior of São Paulo—and donations to the Lula Institute. The federal police suspect that Lula is the owner of the two properties which have been spruced up, upgraded by construction companies condemned for paying bribes, and for overcharging in contracts signed with Petrobrás, the Brazilian national petroleum company. In other words, contractors guilty of illicit gains, meaning the stealing of public money and the money of private Petrobrás investors. Lula, therefore, would be the beneficiary of stolen money. Also, there were questions of large contributions to the Lula Institute by firms, or by individuals profiting from corrupt Petrobrás contracts. The police investigators and Judge Moro are trying to determine if these contributions are quid pro quo arrangements—payments to Lula because he had something to do with making possible and effectively executing the corrupt contracts. In addition, relatively large sums were paid by the Lula Institute to a firm acting as the agent for high priced Lula Institute lectures in which one of Lula’s sons is a partner.
In the scale of the Petrobrás corruption scandal which may involve billions of dollars, the questions to Lula involve relatively small sums as was demonstrated by police as they honed in on a couple of inexpensive amusement style pedal rafts found at the sitio’s pond. Presumably they were for use by members of Lula’s family, such as grandchildren, and other visitors. Were these pedal rafts gifts from individuals or firms convicted in the Petrobrás scandal? If not, who bought and paid for them. Lula’s interrogators apparently pestered him with questions about the inexpensive rafts, also about the equivalent of $1,000 that his wife Marisa had in a checking account. Lula had been asked about these and other matters in a previous round of questioning. There were also questions about the transportation and storage of documents, furniture and gifts from Lula’s presidency. Was this provided free of charge by firms involved in corrupt govt. contracts, hence another instance of Lula and his family benefiting from stolen public money?

The day’s drama only built after Lula was released. He went to the Lula Institute to meet and address supporters. There he took the microphone, and delivered a remarkable half hour improviso describing what had happened, condemning the selective release of information taken in plea bargains, also media bias, and winding up in defense of the social programs of the PT and achievements of his administrations. He was clearly speaking at a critical moment for himself, the PT and his successor President Dilma Rousseff in circumstances of great personal stress and when his supporters expected much. And they got it in riveting, spontaneous, improvised speech, a demonstration of Lula’s continuing power as a persuasive, masterful speaker in which he still has no equal in Brazil. Lula said he felt invigorated and was prepared to travel the length and breadth of Brazil taking the case of the PT to the people, and that while he had doubts, he might yet run again for president.

So what will happen? The Chamber of Deputies has the power to impeach President Dilma Rousseff, but has no moral standing to do this until it first removes Eduardo Cunha as president of the Chamber. Cunha is now formally charged by the Supreme Court with extortion and money laundering in the Petrobrás scandal. But Cunha apparently has too much political intelligence for members of the Chamber who do not know how to remove him. As president of the Chamber he has the power to stay or start the impeachment process. According to one commentator, as long as he stays the process, pro-government deputies will support him. Since he also can start it, he has the support of anti-government deputies who stand by and wait. Second, if not impeached, the election of Dilma Rousseff and VP Michel Temer in 2014 can be overturned by the High Electoral Court (Tribunal Superior Electoral) on grounds that the sources of campaign contributions were corrupt. In this case, a new election would be called. I suppose the most interesting feature of this political crisis for the historically minded is charges of corruption on a large scale such as are present today when aired in earlier periods as during the presidential terms of João Goulart (1961-1964), Juscelino Kubitschek (1956-1961) and Getulio Vargas (1951-1954), could bring into being relatively quickly civil-military conspiracies leading to coup d’etats as happened in 1954, and l964. Today’s charges of corruption are treated as accusations to be investigated and that must be proved in courts of law. This is hailed as evidence that Brazil’s democratic political institutions are strong. Claims by defenders of the government that a coup or golpe de estado is in the making do not get traction.

Meanwhile, Dilma is not able to “govern” as she is more or less completely absorbed in trying to save her mandate. This is happening at a time of unprecedented recession now approaching 3 years, whereas the historical record that officially begins in 1901 shows Brazilian recessions defined as negative GDP growth never last more than 1 year, except for 1930-1931. The recession exacerbates the political crisis. Though now experiencing unemployment caused by the lengthy recession, the Brazilian economy remains large by world standards. However, its status has been that of a full employment, low wage economy in which a majority of Brazilians are poor as they had always been. It was true in the colonial era of slavery when Brazil undoubtedly had the largest western hemisphere economy as demonstrated by the number of slaves that Brazil was able to pay for and bring from Africa even when the price of slaves might be high. Small wonder that Brazilian slave owners, and the Brazilian elite largely thought they were right in staying with a slave based economy and civilization, the construction of which they had overseen. Such an attitude continued after independence 1822, and helps explain why Brazil was the last western hemisphere country to abolish slavery in 1888. I do think the traditional Brazilian way of running their economy is coming to an end, and something quite different will emerge, a sharp departure from past practices due to the fact that the long term high growth Brazilian economy observed from the l870’s to the 1970’s and that made up for all sorts of shortfalls in other areas such as social development ended in the 1980’s and shows no sign of returning. Except for the period 2003 to 2011 which was a period of strong economic growth due to high prices for international commodities in which Brazil was highly competitive, the Brazilian economy has stagnated since the 1980s, especially the industrial economy. This is in contrast to other South American national economies, except that of chaotic post-Chavez Venezuela. The situation in which Brazil does less well in economic growth and development than neighbor nations is disconcerting for Brazilians, hard to swallow or explain. Meanwhile, the stage is being set for the mass demonstrations on Sunday, March 13 which will see groups of demonstrators protesting against President Dilma Rousseff and her government filling the main streets of large cities. The other side will have their day of demonstrations on FridayMarch 18.

Apologies for the past are political theater

In this blog entry, Ashraf Rushdy writes about the recent phenomenon of apologizing for the past and how it shaped his book, A Guilted Age.

On August 15, 2015, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apologized for Japan’s aggression during the war and for its colonization of China and Korea. His apology was delivered on the seventieth anniversary of the end of WW II in the Pacific theater.

His apology, according to most commentators, used all the right words – and, in Japan, there is a significant difference in terms that express “deep remorse” and those that offer actual “apology” – but his apology nonetheless did not ring true.  The New York Times called it an “echo,” and the Japan Times referred to it as his “sorry apology of an apology.”  Partly, the effect of insincerity came from the fact that Abe was echoing previous prime ministers’ apologies and making it clear that he was part of a different historical trajectory.  He was, after all, the first Japanese prime minister born after the war, and he therefore belonged to that vast majority of eighty percent of Japanese who, like him, as he reminded us, were born to a postwar world.  So, even while he insisted in a repeated refrain at the end of his speech that Japan must “engrave in our hearts the past,” it was clear that he was tired of being haunted by it.  What he wanted was for future generations “to inherit the past,” but not “be predestined to apologize” for it.  The other reason that his apology rang as insincere is that he sent a monetary gift to the Yasukuni Shrine, which celebrates Japan’s military might, houses the remains of some of its war criminals, and represents to Japan’s neighbors precisely the kind of aggressive ultranationalist politics that led to their colonization.

It was an apology that the world expected, one on which Abe had certainly received a great deal of advice, not only from the panel he set up to consider the wording of the statement, but also from foreign media pundits and political figures.  Indeed, a few months before, no one less than German Chancellor Angela Merkel had urged him not to water down the anniversary apology and pointed out, in a perhaps unwelcome bit of comparison, that Germany had been able to “face our history” and apologize and therefore establish good relations with her neighbors.

Abe’s apology, then, like all political theater, was anticipated, scripted, advised, delivered, and then reviewed.

What does it mean when a politician offers an apology on behalf of a nation for that nation’s past actions?  How did apology become a recognized form in international relations – a diplomatic instrument in the same way as treaties, tribunals, and trade agreements?  That is part of the story I explore and tell in A Guilted Age.

Guilted Age_smIntrigued by this political development, and what it might tell us about the postwar epoch, I set out to discern how apologizing for the past emerged as a practice.  There are notable moments in that relatively short history that stand out for us: Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama’s apology on the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the war resonates as Japan’s most felicitous statement of contrition, and German President Richard von Weisacker’s on the fortieth anniversary quickly became the gold standard for political apologies.  I wanted not only to appreciate these important moments, though; I wanted to understand what these apologies were doing, and what led to the widespread belief that they could do this particular work. I wanted, in other words, to discern just what kind of political events and philosophical responses to them inaugurated a guilted age in which public apologies for the past could flourish.

As I undertook my research, it quickly became clear that we lived in a world awash in apologies of all sorts.  Corrupt politicians, scandal-prone celebrities, and rogue corporations regularly apologized to the public – and it was assumed that the public needed this confirmation of penitence.  What struck me was that these apologies differed in meaningful ways – and not just in the fact that some came across as more sincere and others as less.  They differed substantially in what they addressed.  I felt that it was important to make distinctions, and the one that seemed to me particularly salient was whether the event for which the apology was offered had direct survivors or not.  When Abe apologizes for Japan’s conduct during the war, the so-called Korean “comfort women” hear him, as do survivors of Japanese war camps.  When Pope John Paul II apologized for the Crusades, no one who heard his apology was directly affected by the event.  The historical event for which apologies have been offered – colonization, slavery, religious wars – assuredly have palpable and deeply significant effects on our modern world, but the apologies for them differ, in tone and meaning, because they are addressed in a different way to a different audience.  That distinction, then, between apologies that are for recent political events for which we have survivors (WW II) and older historical events for which we don’t, was worth making so we can better understand the different kinds of works these two distinct sorts of apologies do.

Having explored their origins, and made distinctions among the different kinds of apologies for the past, I set out to understand in just what ways we could understand what these apologies represent.  I focused on two topics.

The first has to do with what precisely an apology does.  Many commentators believe that an apology can undo the offending behavior.  Most of them – but not all of them – believe that this is true in a symbolic rather than a physical sense.  When I say I am sorry that I stepped on your shoe, I indicate that it was done by accident and not maliciously, and so you do not feel that you were targeted or disrespected by the event.  The effects of the event are changed; your rising resentment at being mistreated is derailed and changed to something else.  In that way, an apology can undo what was done.  The analogue statement is “forgive and forget,” which likewise sees the value of erasing the past.  Such an idea, of course, translates badly when we think of larger political and historical events for which apologies are offered; and I wanted to see just how this deep belief in the power of apology’s capacity to erase might residually affect what apologies for the past mean.

The second has to do with what an apology is supposed to express, namely sorrow.  There is a key ambiguity in that idea that politicians and other people with less power sometimes take advantage of by saying we are sorry for instead of being sorry that.  “I am sorry for your loss” means one thing; “I am sorry that I stepped on your shoe” means quite another.  One consoles by grieving, the other accepts responsibility.  That ambiguity is sometimes used deviously in political apologies.  When China demanded an apology from the Bush administration for the downing of one of its military planes, Secretary of State Colin Powell apologized by saying that America was sorry for the loss, but made it patently clear that the administration was not accepting responsibility for the event of the loss.  In other cases, though, the ambiguity appears to be more of an honest categorical mistake made by people who perhaps intuit that grieving is the more appropriate tenor for the occasion.  By looking at key moments in that history and examining some particular apologies, I show that apologies for the past that seem to express contrition are actually expressing mourning, and why that matters.

Apologizing for the past is a relatively new phenomenon, and one that bears our understanding better because it both has great potential and carries great risk. The past matters because we live in a world formed from it, and we need to figure out in what ways we can address it. Some have revered it, others reviled it, some see in it randomness, and others a discernible and meaningful pattern. To these older approaches, we can add those who wish to draw inspiration from it by being consoled that it is past, by redressing its ongoing damages, and, maybe, by atoning for it – and thereby claiming it – in words, gestures, and a mixture of celebration and grief.

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