David Neiwert has made a career of studying hard right-wing movements, mainly through his blog Orcinus, but also at Crooks and Liars and Alternet. In his latest book, And Hell Followed With Her: Crossing The Dark Side of The American Border, Neiwert explores the minutemen movement that gained popularity in right-wing circles, with media uncritical cooperation, back in the early 2000s, as he retraces the steps that led to the assassination of Junior Flores, a small-time marijuana dealer and his young daughter Brisenia, by minuteman leader Shawna Forde and her accomplices (one of which was never identified and remains at large).

The book opens with the chilling 911 call made by Brisenia’s mother, who was wounded during the attack but survived and was able to identify her attackers. From there, Neiwert follows several investigative threads that shape the narrative: (1) the border context, especially Arivaca, where the murders took place, with its mix of wealthy ranchers, and near-poor locals, like Flores (which is where the whole marijuana trafficking comes in); (2) the nativist movement latest incarnation with the minutemen; (3) the rise and fall of Shawna Forde within that movement.

I would not say that Neiwert is the best writer as there are quite a few stylistic repetitions but the narrative is indeed compelling and thoroughly sourced. It does a good job of weaving together local context, individual trajectories, and social movements and their convergence during that one night in Arivaca.

As Neiwert shows, there is nothing really original, in terms of social movement, regarding the minutemen:

“The Minuteman movement that grabbed national headlines in the first decade of the twenty-first century was not a spontaneous eruption of border nativism, as the media would often portray it. Rather, it was the direct offspring of the border militias of the 1990s, which were the stepchild of the Klan Border Watches of the 1980s, which in turn were modeled on a 1960s vigilante movement calling itself, ironically, the Minutemen.” (Loc 494-497)

And the underlying ideology for these movements is always the same as well: the United States is being invaded by hordes of non-White savages from the Third World, who commit all sorts of unspeakable crime and bring medieval disease to this country, and it is up to white men with guns to protect and reclaim it. These movements perfectly fit Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities as members of these movements are linked together through series of myths and made-up stories that reinforce the ideology and are now easily circulated through the Internet.

The fear of uncontrolled immigration has long been a topic of concern for militia, christian identity, white supremacist movements in the Pacific Northwest, and in the border states in the Southwest. These are the same people who believe in black helicopters, New World Order, and la Reconquista. they would fit Adorno’s Authoritarian Personality typology.

And their favorite tactic has been that of the lone wolf: the individual who acts on behalf of the movement but with enough distance from it so that the movement can deny its link to the individual when things go South: think Erik Rudolph or Timothy McVeigh, and now Shawna Forde.

The larger context, though, for these movements is as follows:

“The extremist right in America has always fed on real grievances that go either unaddressed or are mishandled by the mainstream system— by government, and in particular the federal government. In the 1980s and ’90s, they channeled discontent with badly malfunctioning federal farming and land-use policies in rural America into uprisings like the Posse Comitatus and Patriot/ militia movements and their various offshoots, such as the Montana Freemen. This led to armed standoffs with federal agents and varying waves of domestic terrorism, all of it emanating from the American heartland.

What these extremists always tell their audiences is that there are simple reasons for their current miseries— inevitably, it is a combination of a secret cabal of elite conspirators running society like a puppet show at the top, crushing the middle-class working man from above, while a parasitic underclass saps his strength from below. This usually plays out, in the world-view of right-wing extremists, as being part of a secret conspiracy to enslave ordinary working people and destroy America.

What gives them special traction, however, is their knack for finding unaddressed grievances and exploiting them as examples of this conspiracy, thus manipulating working-class people who have legitimate problems. Their agenda comes wrapped in an appeal telling people that they not only feel their pain but have the answers to end it. And their strategy works, time and again.

In the twenty-first century, right-wing extremists became focused on a similarly dysfunctional immigration system as a means to recruit believers, in part because nativism is part of the genetic structure of the racist American right, dating back to the heyday of the Ku Klux Klan, and in part because it was such a ripe opportunity target. After all, American immigration policy in the past forty years and more has time and again proven a colossal bureaucratic bungle that no one has been able to untangle.” (Loc 893-908)

And then, there was something even more specific that triggered the rise of the minuteman movement:

“The big gorilla among these was the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was negotiated by Bush Sr., Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney, and Mexican president Carlos Salinas de Gortari in 1993, and then ratified with the active support of Bush’s successor, Bill Clinton. The treaty, which in creating a trilateral trade bloc opened up the ability of investment capital to cross borders freely, was sold to the American public as, among other things, an essential component in controlling immigration.

(…)

Cheap American corn put over a million Mexican farmers out of business, and that was just the beginning. With the economy collapsing around them, scores of manufacturers who specialized in clothing, toys, footwear, and leather goods all went out of business. The only upside to NAFTA for Mexico— the arrival of new manufacturing jobs, including auto-building plants, as they departed the United States for cheaper shores, and of a fresh wave of maquiladora, the plants where various manufacturers would outsource their labor to Mexico— proved illusory.

(…)

In the meantime, the American economy— riding along first on a technology bubble and then on a housing bubble— was bustling, creating in the process in excess of five hundred thousand unskilled-labor jobs every year, the vast majority of which American workers either would not or could not perform. Yet the antiquated American immigration system only issued five thousand green cards annually to cover them.

The result was a massive demand for immigrant labor in the United States and an eager supply in Mexico seeking work. At the border, where a rational transaction should have been taking place, there was instead a xenophobic crackdown aimed at keeping Mexican labor in Mexico, with predictably limited success.

(…)

Typically they would travel to one of the old border-crossing towns— Nogales or Ciudad Juarez— and there contract the services of a coyote, or guide, who would take them out into the countryside and across the border and hook them up with transit to wherever their destination might be. As the tide rose and the crackdown increased, the prices for these services started to rise as crossing the border became harder and harder work.

(…)

Much of this was happening on people’s private lands along the border or on federal lands leased out to ranchers who worked them. And so naturally those people were increasingly coming face to face with the brutal realities being created by American border policies— the dead and the dying and the desperate, all wandering through the desert in hopes of reaching the Promised Land. Most of these encounters were simply with people who wanted a drink of water, but some were not so benign, and these moments could be fraught with danger, at least in the minds of the ranchers if not in reality. The crossers also left trash in the desert that was a danger to livestock, and they frequently cut fences, meaning the loss of livestock.” (Loc 993-998)

That’s the larger context for the emergence of the latest version of the nativist movement. But this movement would never have taken off as it did if it had not been for the active, uncritical support of media figure Lou Dobbs (he of the immigrant plague fame) and Fox News. The leaders of the minutemen had almost open, non-stop access to the media that way and they used it skillfully to spread their made-up narrative of border atrocities. And so, if the government was not going to protect and secure the borders, then, real (white) Americans would take matters in their own hands and guns and do it themselves. Hence were born these border watches.

However, if you want to build a respectable right-wing movement that you hope to mainstream, and out of which you hope to make political careers, you need to be careful whom you attract. And so, right from the start, the leaders of the movement, mainly Jim Gilchrist and Chris Simcox, took pain to explain that their movement and its members were not trigger-happy racists, that all border watchers were vetted through background checks (none of which were true). But, of course, also right from the start, the movement attracted white supremacists of the Stormfront type.

What is another theme of the book is that most of mainstream media slept on the job when it came to examine the roots, realities, and membership in the movement, which made it complicit in it:

“In one important way, the Minuteman Project was indeed a success, but not for actually doing anything substantive to stop illegal immigration. Rather, it was eminently successful in mainstreaming and legitimizing extremist vigilantism. After all, not only was it eagerly embraced by a gullible press, but in short order it was given the blessing of a wide range of public officials and politicians.” (Loc 2645-2648)

And, so, the coverage of the border watches was mostly shallow, superficial, and positive. So that even the most basic claims made by movement leaders, that could easily have been verified, such as how many people actually showed up for border watches (hint: much less than reported by movement leaders) went unexamined.

However, it did not take long for discord to threaten the movement unity. According to Neiwert, that is neither new nor surprising;

“The Minutemen’s fractious behavior was in many ways a product of the combative personalities its core ideology attracted. The long history of nativist organizations in America is littered with the same story: gathered to fight the perceived immigrant threats of their respective times, and riding a wave of scapegoating and frequently eliminationist rhetoric, they all have in relatively short order scattered in disarray, usually amid claims of financial misfeasance and power grabbing. This was true of the Know Nothing Party of the 1850s, the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s, and all of their many shortlived descendants since then.” (Loc 2851-2855)

Neiwert goes into some details on the clashes of personalities that ended up breaking up the movement into separate organizations as well as turf wars over who gets to use the label “minutemen”, and the financial shenanigans within the different splinter groups. But it was the perfect context in which someone like Shawna Forde would thrive.

There is one book in the French comic Asterix, titled La Zizanie (discord, in English), and it follows a Roman agent who has a knack for starting conflict between people, while always pretending to be on the outside, with clean hands. He starts the discord, then, sits back and enjoys the strife that follows.

Based on Neiwert’s description of Shawna Forde, she was exactly like that. If Shawna Forde had not ended up being a cold-blooded killer (now sitting on death row), one would feel sorry for her miserable childhood: the abuse, the repeated abandonment, the complete absence of security and nurturing. No wonder she became a delinquent early in her life.

From that awful childhood, she turned into a manipulative sociopath, a constant liar, stirring up trouble and conflict without seeming to, then, watching the explosions and trying to benefit from them. And she probably tried to have one of her husbands murdered.

But it is this character who managed to work her way through the minuteman movement, awarding herself a variety of inflated titles, and, from ended up in Arizona, to coordinate border watches. But Shawna Forde loves money, so, she needed a way to get it. She came up with the plan of ripping off drug dealers. That is how she ended up leading the murders at the Flores home. Minutemen have since tried to make it look like Junior Flores was a kingpin, but Neiwert’s research reveals a more complicated reality (included the fact that the biggest drug deals in this story was one of Shawna’s accomplices, and former friend of the Flores family).

After the murders, of course, everybody in the minuteman movement was scrambling to distance themselves from Shawna Forde but there is no denying that she was deep into the movement, had access to its leaders, was well considered and promoted. But that is the point of the lone wolf tactic: to provide plausible deniability. Except, in this case, it was harder to accomplish. And so, the murders at the Flores home dealt an almost fatal blow to the movement.

But even with after the killings, the mainstream media continued to carry water for the movement:

“Much of the media calculus in its handling of the Flores murders appears to have been founded on two key narratives favored by media outlets: it ran directly counter to the long-running narrative depicting the Minuteman movement as a collection of friendly neighbors out watching the border in their lawn chairs, and most significantly, it was concluded by the people calling the news shots that because Junior Flores was in fact a marijuana smuggler, he had essentially asked for the fate that descended on his family. After all, weren’t drug-related murders a common occurrence on the border?

(…)

As Dan Shearer at the Green Valley News discovered when he began examining the facts on the ground, these kinds of crimes are decidedly not very common, even on the border, despite the media hype and the hysteria stirred up by Minutemen like Shawna Forde. She may have fully believed, as she told the Norwegian documentarians, that life is cheap on the border: “Shootings and deaths occur on a daily basis out here.” They do occur— but neither that frequently, nor are they greeted with a shrug.” (Loc 6191-6194)

However, in 2008, the economy collapsed and a new president got elected:

“They don’t call themselves Minutemen anymore, because of Shawna Forde— or more precisely, thanks to Gina Gonzalez and her will to fight. There are still border watchers out there, and the shells of the national Minuteman organization linger on in a zombielike half-life. But the Minutemen and their nativist supporters have gone on to greener, Tea Partying pastures now.” (Loc 5998-6001)

And when all was said and done, the minutemen did not have much to show for all their bluster and inflated claims. But none of that seemed to matter as Tea partyer had by then turned their attention to health care reform.

At the same time, there is something disturbing and pathological when it comes to the personalities attracted to these types of nativist movements (remember convergence theory of collective behavior?). Neiwert cites James Aho’s This Thing of Darkness – A Sociology of the Enemy, on this theme:

“Whether embodied in thing or in person, the enemy in essence represents putrefaction and death: either its instrumentality, its location (dirt, filth, garbage, excrement), its carriers (vermin, pests, bacilli), or all of these together. . . .

The enemy typically is experienced as issuing from the “dregs” of society, from its lower parts, the “bowels of the underworld.” It is sewage from the gutter, “trash” excreted as poison from society’s affairs— church, school, workplace, and family.                 The enemy’s visitation on our borders is tantamount to impending pestilence. . . .

The enemy’s presence in our midst is a pathology of the social organism serious enough to require the most far-reaching remedies: quarantine, political excision, or, to use a particularly revealing expression, liquidation and expulsion.” (Loc 6362-6370)

These rhetorical forms were clearly present in minutemen internal discourse. Of course, for the media, there was a wholly different rhetoric dedicated to refuting accusations of racism. However, what minutemen have achieved is the mainstreaming of the dehumanizing “illegal alien” label that is now commonly used in by media and politicians.

Add authoritarian personality types to the mix, and you get Neiwert’s not-very-optimistic conclusion:

“If nativist sentiments in America ever were to build beyond short-lived, self-destructive movements like the Minutemen, the potential for large-scale evil, as Staub defines it, would grow exponentially. When such movements remain small and naturally attract psychopathic elements by practicing a politics that sneers at empathy as weakness, the tragedies they produce will generally be on a small scale like the murder of Junior and Brisenia Flores or numerous other acts of violence against Latinos inspired by inflammatory nativist rhetoric. Translated to a larger scale as a mass movement, where those same antisocial personalities obtain real power, these propensities will produce tragedy on a much larger scale.” (Loc 6406-6410)

An important read that also has the secondary effect of explaining a lot about the Tea Party movement (which already seems to have fizzled the same way that the minutemen did), its rise, media uncritical reporting, inflated claims, imaginary narratives, etc. The very same elements are present and it is no surprise that they attracted the same crowd that needed a new home after Shawna Forde had trashed the place.

Your must-read du jour is this New Yorker article by Jane Meyer on how David Koch (of the Koch brothers fame) censored an Alex Gibney documentary for PBS:

“Gibney gives credit to Shapiro and WNET for airing his film uncensored. He is disappointed, though, that the station gave Koch and Schumer the last word. “They tried to undercut the credibility of the film, and I had no opportunity to defend it,” he said. Moreover, WNET replaced the introduction to “Park Avenue,” which was delivered by the actor Stanley Tucci, with one calling the film “controversial” and “provocative.” Gibney noted that he had asked to interview the Kochs while making “Park Avenue,” but they had refused. Cohlmia initially denied this, but after Gibney’s office provided me with the relevant e-mails she acknowledged that she had been contacted.

Shapiro emphasized that, by showing the Gibney film, he had made “the right call.” Still, spokespeople at WNET and PBS conceded that the decision to run the rebuttals was unprecedented. Indeed, it was like appending Letters to the Editor to a front-page article. Gibney asked me, “Why is WNET offering Mr. Koch special favors? And why did the station allow Koch to offer a critique of a film he hadn’t even seen? Money. Money talks.” He added that the Kochs’ willingness to issue a disclaimer without seeing the film “does not give me much confidence about how they might run the Tribune’s newspapers.”

DDespite WNET’s hasty effort to mollify David Koch, “Park Avenue” apparently so offended him that he cancelled his plan to make a large donation. Cohlmia refused to confirm or deny this, as did Shapiro. “We do not discuss the details of gifts made by our donors,” he said, adding that he and Koch didn’t discuss the film after it aired.

Five days after “Park Avenue” aired, a producer at Gibney’s firm, Jigsaw Productions, was shopping in a clothing store in SoHo at the same time as two other customers: Thomas and Alice Tisch, who live at 740 Park. They are the brother and sister-in-law of James Tisch. The producer recalls that, after the Tisches heard her mention to another customer where she worked, they denounced what they called the film’s incendiary rhetoric against the rich. They went on for twenty minutes, warning that such hateful attitudes could lead many wealthy New Yorkers to move to Florida, where the taxes are lower, and arguing that neighbors of theirs who spent millions of dollars on parties helped waiters and caterers.

(…)

In the end, the various attempts to assuage David Koch were apparently insufficient. On Thursday, May 16th, WNET’s board of directors quietly accepted his resignation. It was the result, an insider said, of his unwillingness to back a media organization that had so unsparingly covered its sponsor.

Fortunately, PBS has posted the entire film online:

Watch Park Avenue: Money, Power & the American Dream on PBS. See more from Why Poverty?.

They go together. Actually, let me rephrase that: societies that have lower levels of structural violence will also have lower levels of interpersonal violence. Take that as an axiom, if you wish. But it holds true. And that is the answer every time one asks “Why does [country of choice] have so much less violence than the US?”. Because the US is more structurally violent than the countries it usually is compared to: other rich, developed, core countries.

Interpersonal violence is easy enough to define, but what of structural violence?

“Structural violence refers to systematic ways in which social structures harm or otherwise disadvantage individuals.  Structural violence is subtle, often invisible, and often has no one specific person who can (or will) be held responsible (in contrast to behavioral violence).

(…)

When tens of thousands of farmers in Uganda are illegally dispossessed — their homes and plantations burned — by an international forestry company, here is a form of structural violence.  And it stings all the more when the forestry firm closes down and lays off its 500 Ugandan workers.

When a family mines the land informally, too mired in poverty to afford to move away, and a landslide crushes their house, maybe with a few relatives inside, that’s structural violence.

When a Peruvian shantytown burns, people lose what little they owned, some of them burn alive, from a fire started due to improvised and unventilated indoor cooking.  And a local fire department doesn’t exist because this shantytown is decades away from infrastructure that much of the ‘developed’ world enjoys.  That’s structural violence.  Did the shantytown kill them?  The lack of fire department?  The improvised indoor cooking?  The situation is complex, but the harm is there and it is structural violence.”

The concept of structural violence was initially crafted by Johan Galtung (BTW, people, the Transcend Peace University was offering massive online courses before they were cool. The courses were not free though, the fees were on a sliding scale, based on which part of the world students were located. I took a course “there” about 10 years ago).

The deep effects of structural violence on the health of a population were masterfully demonstrated in The Spirit Level.

It is also called “slow violence“.

So, when one reads an article titled “Why is violent crime so rare in Iceland?” One can expect some tap-dancing around structural violence although it is not named as such:

“According to the 2011 Global Study on Homicide by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Iceland’s homicide rate between 1999-2009 never went above 1.8 per 100,000 population on any given year.

On the other hand, the US had homicide rates between 5.0 and 5.8 per 100,000 population during that same stretch.”

Then, you get the obligatory lip-service paid to the multiplicity of variables involved in producing these different rates:

“First – and arguably foremost – there is virtually no difference among upper, middle and lower classes in Iceland.”

Of, so far so good, but here is where the author goes off the rails and misses the structural violence explanation:

“And with that, tension between economic classes is non-existent, a rare occurrence for any country.”

But this would be true is the homicides whose rates are being compared involved mostly cross-class homicides, which is not the case. As those homicides would be mostly between strangers. Homicides are often between relatives, or people who have at least some acquaintance. Great inequalities may generate tensions and Mertonian innovation or rebellion but not to the point of cross-class murder sprees (whichever class trajectory the “killer – victim” dyad takes). And in countries with great inequalities, as is the US, the tensions are deflected through mass incarceration, residential segregation, a military populated with lower classes, and criminal policies that class-based. It is one way to deflect class tensions.

The other way is to obviously reduce inequalities, and therefore structural violence, through public policy, which, in turn, leads to lower levels of interpersonal / behavioral violence.

“Crimes in Iceland – when they occur – usually do not involve firearms, though Icelanders own plenty of guns.

GunPolicy.org estimates there are approximately 90,000 guns in the country – in a country with just over 300,000 people.

The country ranks 15th in the world in terms of legal per capita gun ownership. However, acquiring a gun is not an easy process -steps to gun ownership include a medical examination and a written test.

Police are unarmed, too. The only officers permitted to carry firearms are on a special force called the Viking Squad, and they are seldom called out.

In addition, there are, comparatively speaking, few hard drugs in Iceland.

According to a 2012 UNODC report, use among 15-64-year-olds in Iceland of cocaine was 0.9%, of ecstasy 0.5%, and of amphetamines 0.7%.

There is also a tradition in Iceland of pre-empting crime issues before they arise, or stopping issues at the nascent stages before they can get worse.

Right now, police are cracking down on organised crime while members of the Icelandic parliament, Althingi, are considering laws that will aid in dismantling these networks.

When drugs seemed to be a burgeoning issue in the country, the parliament established a separate drug police and drug court. That was in 1973.

Many people from Iceland, such as these marksmen, use firearms – yet gun crime is rare

In the first 10 years of the court, roughly 90% of all cases were settled with a fine.”

Compare that to the eminently structurally violence US War on Drugs and its disastrous results.

So why is structural violence never mentioned? Because to discuss structures, means having to discuss systems, and that means rejecting two faulty frameworks that incredibly popular and dominant in US media and political discourse: the psychological / pathological frame or the preachy / moralizing frame. The first one treats violent behavior as individual pathology (listed in the DSM) while the other attributes it to moral failings, be they individual or collective (blame the 60s).

To put structural violence front and center is to invoke Durkheimian social facts that neither blame nor excuse individuals but put their actions in context as well as the products of these actions. Structural violence also places remedies squarely within the social structure as matters of policy, rather than pathology or moralizing. And by challenging current arrangements as producing structurally violent effects, it challenges current power arrangements.

It is out of structural violence that the most powerful social movements emerge as its effects are widespread and require collective action to solve.

Those of you who were readers of the Global Sociology Blog know that I am a strong fan of Manuel Castells (who isn’t). I started reading the book on the left, Networks of Outrage and Hope: Social Movements in The Internet Age. No surprise here, Castells has always emphasized the importance of social movements in the network society as resistance to increasing political and corporate power.

This particular book though is not one of these monumental Weberian treatises that Castells has produced over the last decades. Rather, it is a work of public sociology, aimed at a general audience. The choice of this topic is well in line with Castells’s interest, amplified by his loose involvement with Spanish indignidados movement in response to Spain’s economic collapse and subsequent drastic austerity measures that have devastated society.

Because social movements are always about resistance to some form of power, Castells begins the book by defining this concept, so important in sociology:

“Power relationships are constitutive of society because those who have power construct the institutions of society according to their values and interests. Power is exercised by means of coercion (the monopoly of violence, legitimate or not, by the control of the state) and/or by the construction of meaning in people’s minds, through mechanisms of symbolic manipulation. Power relations are embedded in the institutions of society, and particularly in the state. However, since societies are contradictory and conflictive, wherever there is power there is also counterpower, which I understand to be the capacity of social actors to challenge the power embedded in the institutions of society for the purpose of claiming representation for their own values and interests. All institutional systems reflect power relations, as well as the limits to these power relations as negotiated by an endless historical process of conflict and bargaining. The actual configuration of the state and other institutions that regulate people’s lives depends on this constant interaction between power and counterpower.” (5)

Distinguishing between hard and soft power, Castells argues that soft power works best:

“The construction of meaning in people’s minds is a more decisive and more stable source of power. (…) Torturing bodies is less effective than shaping minds.’ (5)

Social movements emerge when power creates injustice. What forms does injustice take?

“In each specific context, the usual horses of humanity’s apocalypses ride together under a variety of their hideous shapes: economic exploitation, hopeless poverty, unfair inequality, undemocratic polity, repressive states, unjust judiciary, racism, xenophobia, cultural negation, censorship, police brutality, warmongering, religious fanaticism (often against others’ religious beliefs), carelessness towards the blue planet (our only home), disregard for personal liberty, violation of privacy, gerontocracy, bigotry, sexism, homophobia and other atrocities in the long gallery of portraits featuring the monsters we are. And of course, always, in every instance and in every context, sheer domination of males over females and their children, as the primary foundation of a/n unjust social order. Thus, social movements always have an array of structural causes and individual reasons to rise up against one or many of the dimensions of social domination.” (12)

Emphasis mine: Castells gets it.

One could spend an entire semester just dissecting these few quotes.

More to come on this.

So explains the always relevant Danny Dorling, using the UK as example. In this New Statesman article, he explains how the precariat came to be, along with increased stratification and frozen social mobility. It was all by design and it is the victors of the class war of the 1970s, with Margaret Thatcher as their main class warrior, who did on purpose. No, not the much reviled 1%, the 0.01%.

This visual is especially illustrative of this phenomenon:

“In 1945, when Thatcher turned 20, the richest 0.01 per cent people in Britain received 123 times the mean national average income. By the time she turned 40 in 1965 that had halved to 62 times, and the year before she came to power, in 1978, it was at its minimum: just 28 times the average income.

Britain in the 1970s was a very different world from the Britain of the 1940s. Thatcher’s class hated it. The class above her, the one that she joined, loathed the changes even more, and the class above that put its money where its anger was, funding think tanks, newspapers and young politicians to fight back.

(…)

By the time Thatcher left office in 1990 the annual incomes of the richest 0.01 per cent of society had climbed to 70 times the national mean, and the accelerating effect of her government’s actions multiplied that increase to 99 times the national mean by 1997. It is also well known that Thatcher said her greatest achievement was New Labour. By 2007, the incomes of the best-off 0.01 per cent were at 144 times the national mean average. That top share fell slightly in the 2008 crash, but it is thought to have bounced back since.”

That trend is clearly visible on the graph above.

And this is Dorling’s description of stratification in the UK:

“It can help to personalise class. To picture the richest 0.01 per cent of our society, think of newspaper proprietors such as the Barclay brothers, those extremely wealthy individuals who invited Thatcher to live at the Ritz, their hotel in London, in the months before she died. For the 0.1 per cent, think of people such as Denis and Margaret Thatcher, and for the 1 per cent think of Alfred Roberts. Social class does not depend on income alone; it is about relationships between people. The owner of two shops (the 1 per cent) doffs his cap to the duke (the 0.01 per cent) and between them the businessman (the 0.1 per cent) lobbies for a knighthood. Below all three the clerks (9 per cent) carry out humdrum duties and below all of them the 90 per cent are repeatedly categorised and recategorised by social scientists whose surveys, even if representative, usually do not give enough detail to differentiate well between the few at the top.”

And this is the UK stratification system that Thatcher, and then New Labour built:

“It has the top 1 per cent and the 9 per cent below it doing all right. Below this tier, the remaining top half of society is getting by on “modest” incomes. But those beneath this are now, in many ways, worse off than they were in 1983.

Of the bottom 50 per cent of people in Britain, all are financially insecure; most (30 per cent) are poorly housed by today’s standards; a large minority (20 per cent) cannot take part in normal social activities; below this minority most cannot now afford to heat their homes properly; and below them, one in every 15 (7 per cent) is poorly fed. The seven classes this produces could be labelled the rich (1 per cent), the affluent (9 per cent), the modest (40 per cent), the insecure (20 per cent), the shamed (10 per cent), the cold (13 per cent) and the hungry (7 per cent).”

This makes the UK looks less and less like a core country. Such dramatic stratification creates no social mobility, something I have discussed before, using this graph to illustrate it:

But this is also illustrated with this bar chart:

With a stratification system like this, one wonders how this country is supposed to get out of its recession. Dorling is pessimistic.

“A fraction of the income of the top 1 per cent would provide enough money to allow all who are going hungry to be fed adequately. But today the man who owns two grocer’s shops is richer than ever, because he charges more for his goods and pays less tax. And many more people will not be able to afford many of the basic items he sells.”

For more on the precariat, I have a series of blog post on the subject. See here.

By SocProf.

In case you missed it, Peter Thompson, over at The Guardian, has an 8-part series on the Frankfurt School which makes nice and relatively easy reading on this subject for undergraduate students.

Part 1 is a basic introduction triggered by a mass killer’s ramblings:

“When Anders Breivik launched his murderous attack in Norway in July 2011, he left behind a rambling manifesto which attacked not only what he saw as Europe’s Islamicisation but also its undermining by the cultural Marxism of the Frankfurt school. So what is the Frankfurt school? Has its influence has been as deep as Breivik feared and many of the rest of us have hoped?

Many will have heard of the most prominent names from that tradition: Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse and Max Horkheimer, but its reach goes much further, taking in many of the 20th century’s most important continental philosophers and socio-political developments.

The Frankfurt school was officially called the Institute for Social Research and was attached to the University of Frankfurt but functioned as an independent group of Marxist intellectuals who sought, under the leadership of Felix Weil, to expand Marxist thought beyond what had become a somewhat dogmatic and reductionist tradition increasingly dominated by both Stalinism and social democracy. Most famously they sought to marry up a combination of Marxist social analysis with Freudian psychoanalytical theories, searching for the roots of what made people tick in modern consumer capitalist society as well as what made people turn to fascism in the 1930s.

(…)

Paradoxically it is that great enemy of the Frankfurt school, Breivik, who is the perfect example of the authoritarian personality Adorno wrote about: obsessed with the apparent decline of traditional standards, unable to cope with change, trapped in a hatred of all those not deemed part of the in-group and prepared to take action to “defend” tradition against degeneracy. More worryingly, especially set against the rise of groups like Golden Dawn in Greece and widespread trends towards the fear of Islam in mainstream society, Adorno maintained that “personality patterns that have been dismissed as ‘pathological’ because they were not in keeping with the most common manifest trends or the most dominant ideals within a society, have, on closer investigation, turned out to be but exaggerations of what was almost universal below the surface in that society. What is ‘pathological’ today may, with changing social conditions, become the dominant trend of tomorrow.”

Part 2 focuses on negative dialectics.

Theodor Adorno opens his treatise on negative dialectics with the statement that “[it] is a phrase that flouts tradition. As early as Plato, dialectics meant to achieve something positive by means of negation; the thought figure of the ‘negation of the negation’ later became the succinct term. This book seeks to free dialectics from such affirmative traits without reducing its determinacy.” In other words, he asks us to reject the idea that the outcome of the dialectic will always be positive but that we do so without leaving the dialectic behind as an explanatory model. We simply have to make it an open rather than a closed process.”

Part 3 focuses on Adorno and Horckheimer’s Dialectic of the Enlightenment:

Dialectic of Enlightenment, perhaps the central text of the Frankfurt school, was written by Adorno and Max Horkheimer during these years in exile. It arrives at a pessimistic view of what can be done against a false system which, through the “culture industry”, constantly creates a false consciousness about the world around us based on myths and distortions deliberately spread in order to benefit the ruling class.

This is, of course, not peculiar to capitalism, but in capitalism it finds its full commodified form so that we become the willing consumers and reproducers of our own alienation by becoming consumers rather than producers of culture. It is probably a good thing that they didn’t live to see The X Factor and OK! magazine. For Adorno and Horkheimer, authentic culture is not simply to be equated with high culture, which is equally commodified. Authentic culture directly resists commodification and punishes audiences for expecting to be entertained.

(…)

Their view is that fascism, Stalinism and consumer capitalism all produced the widespread socialisation of the means of production and the corporatisation of the economy, with a central role for the state. This convergence had done away with the worst excesses of class exploitation and replaced it with a sort of social complicity between the classes undergirded by recourse to mythologies and ideological control.

This control is exercised not only through direct repression but through the apparently non-ideological aspects of our everyday lives, in particular the ways in which modernity encourages us to fulfil and pursue our desires rather than have them crushed and controlled. Here, de Sade is brought in along with Nietzsche to demonstrate how modernity and the Enlightenment have brought about the transvaluation of all values and undermined all traditions. Marx also noted that in capitalism “all that is solid melts into air”. What is often misunderstood on this point is that the Frankfurt School were not the cause of the apparent breakdown of social values but were drawing attention to the way in which capitalism was ineluctably smashing up the old certainties. At the same time as making us enjoy the experience as an extension of our libido we also feel guilty about and transfer the blame for it onto anyone but ourselves.”

Part 4 is devoted to Herbert Marcuse:

“Marcuse linked economic exploitation and the commodification of human labour with a wider concern about the ways in which generalised commodity production (Marx’s basic description of a capitalist society) was at one and the same time creating a massive surplus of wealth through economic and technological development and an acceleration of the process of reducing humanity down to the level of a mere cog in the machine of that production.

How was it, Marcuse asked, that the totalising administered state, which he saw at work in western societies, got away with it? It did this through what he called “repressive tolerance“. This is the theory that in order to control people more effectively it is necessary to give them what they need in material terms as well as to let them have what they think they need in cultural, political and social terms.

Parliamentary democracy, he maintains for example, is merely a sham, a game played out in order to give the impression that people have a say in the way that society works. Behind this facade however, he maintained that the same old powers were still at work and, indeed, that through their tolerance of dissent, debate, apparent cultural and political freedom had managed to refine and increase their exploitation of human labour power without anyone really noticing.”

Part 5  focuses on Walter Benjamin:

“For Benjamin the role of the symbolic in art thus takes on a transitional historical role. His work on the Baroque, for example, posits it as the turning point between medieval religiosity and renaissance secularisation and the Trauerspiel (Mourning-Play) of that period, with its obsession with violence and death, reflects the growing yet still largely unconscious realisation that there is no happy end in heaven and that – as Bloch puts it – death becomes the harshest of all anti-utopias. Art and culture in his era though, in the era of what he hoped was the transition from capitalism to socialism, had to grasp the dual possibilities of technology so that it could be harnessed not to master nature but to master the relationship between humanity and nature.

This means that art had to take on a political role in increasing the awareness of what was at long last the real human potential for the realisation of the old dreams. It could go either way though; down the Adornian route from the slingshot to the megaton bomb or onwards and upwards to the sunlit uplands of social liberation. Art and technology therefore become interlinked and politicised, predominantly in film. The “aura” of traditional art may have been destroyed by modernity but the future “aura” of liberated humanity as a living work of art had to take its place. If fascism represented the aestheticisation of politics then the fight against fascism had to involve the politicisation of aesthetics and the active creation of the aura of potential.”

Part 6 focuses on Ernst Bloch:

“Bloch’s magnum opus was a three-volume compendium entitled The Principle of Hope in which he lays out the myriad ways in which hope and the human desire for liberation and fulfilment appear in our everyday lives. As we can see from the quote above he did not agree with Adorno’s increasing cultural pessimism, never gave up on the idea of the transformative power of political action by the working class and the new social movements and was, as a result, even more of a darling of the 1968 movement than was Herbert Marcuse. However, Bloch did not approach hope and utopia from a naively optimistic standpoint. He was well aware of the problems that faced those who wish to negate the negation and move forward. His book on the rise of fascism in the 1930s, Heritage of Our Times, attacked both the orthodox Marxist left and his friends in the Frankfurt school for not realising that fascism was, in his words, a perverted religious movement which won people over with quasi-utopian ideas about the wonders of a future Reich.”

Part 7 centers on the potential contemporary inheritors of the Frankfurt School – Honneth and Habermas:

“Habermas originally based himself in a critical Hegelian Marxist approach but by the late 1960s had moved away from the concerns of the first generation. By 1979 he said that he did not share “the premise that instrumental reason has gained such dominance that there is really no way out of a total system of delusion in which insight is achieved only in flashes by isolated individuals.”

Rather than maintaining that nothing could be done to improve conditions until capital had been dislodged and replaced by a socialist system he was much more interested in finding ways in which the public sphere could be gradually transformed into a space where domination by the media and the big ideological apparatuses of the system could be replaced by interactive and intersubjective dialogue from below.”

And part 8 wraps things up:

“The final question for this series is whether any of the issues brought up by the Frankfurt school still have any currency or importance. There are two distinct periods in the work of the Frankfurt school. On the one hand there is the attempt to explain and understand fascism as it was arising during the Weimar Republic. This was a period of social, economic and political dislocation that brought to the fore very real material concerns on the part of workers that could easily be channelled into a traditional search for scapegoats and simple explanations. During this period, however, there continued to exist a powerful workers’ movement in the form of social democracy and communism which, had it been able to overcome the timidity of the former and the strategic incompetence of the latter, could have functioned as a bulwark against the rise of the extreme right.

The second period is that of the postwar years, in which there was a social consensus that was formed under the umbrella of the cold war and rising prosperity (what the French call Les Trente Glorieuses) and in which it was declared that class and class struggle had come to an end. Frankfurt school theories about commodification, alienation, reification and false consciousness were revived by the 1968 movement as a way of explaining away the apparent passivity of the working class. Indeed, it was during this period that the working class began to be seen as part of the problem rather than the solution. The forward march of labour was halted, social democratic and communist parties accommodated to the new consensus and, as the philosopher André Gorz had it, it was “farewell to the working class”.

(…)

The problem now is that the two original periods that characterised the battleground for the Frankfurt school exist at one and the same time. We have the economic dislocation of the Weimar period with rates of unemployment in Europe rising constantly (Spain, for example, has reached over 50% youth unemployment), which is feeding into a rise of neo-fascist and rightwing parties from Golden Dawn to Ukip. At the same time there is a supine centre-left which is tied into the neoliberal agenda, while a fractured and fragmented “communist” movement (for want of a better word) has failed to put together a convincing alternative.

 The great recession since 2008 has stripped away a lot of the illusions people have about the society they live in. When a government needs to proclaim that “we are all in this together”, then it is clear what the true subtext actually is.

But perhaps even more seriously, the planet itself can no longer afford the constant expansion required by capital. We have the technological and financial means to solve pretty well all of the basic problems of humanity. What we don’t have is the political will. But that is only missing because even our hopes for the future have become privatised and commodified. Our dreams have been bought up and sold back to us as glittery tat and royal weddings.

(…)

That loss of hope and optimism about a better world is the most depressing outcome of the current crisis and it is no wonder that many seek refuge in the false nostalgia of an unspoiled world before the ravages of capitalism prompted “all that is solid to melt into air“.

But there is no way back, not least because the golden age never existed and the golden dawn will never come. The only way is to push forward using science, reason, intelligence and hope. Weak power may be good enough for now but at some point someone is going to have to flex muscle. Let’s make sure that it is the good guys and not the fascists again.”

Read the whole thing and be amazed how the current relevance of the Frankfurt School in analyzing our times.

In Calculation of Suicide Rates, Numbers Not Always Straightforward:

An analysis of Pentagon data shows that the Department of Defense uses numbers that may underestimate its suicide rate. A different methodology, like one employed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, would result in a military rate equivalent to or above the comparable civilian rate, experts say.

Bob Anderson, head statistician for mortality statistics at the C.D.C., said the Pentagon’s approach resulted in a suicide rate that “will be lower than it should be.”

“It will underestimate the mortality rate,” he said.

The difference is about more than math. The suicide rate is perhaps the most important data point for tracking trends in suicide and comparing different populations.

To determine the rate, statisticians divide the number of suicides in a year by the total population.

The first number is fairly straightforward: for the entire military, there were 309 active-duty suicides in 2009, the most recent year for which comparable civilian data is available. (The military number includes National Guard and reserve troops who were on active duty when they killed themselves.)

But the total military population is not as simple to estimate. Not only are service members joining and leaving the military constantly, National Guard and reserve troops are also continuously flowing on and off active-duty rosters. How one estimates the number of Guard and reserve troops on active duty at any one time clearly affects the total military population.

Population discrepancies are not just limited to the military either. One of the biggest problems with the UCR and other crime statistics and suicide rate measurements is that they fail to take into account populations shifts and mobility (though the CDC does us the “one day snapshot” average in some cases as a control).

Also, this article makes it sound like counting the first part, the suicide itself, is a given. It isn’t. Law enforcement, medical examiners and other organizations (like the Military) may “unfound” reported suicides for a variety of reasons (request of the family, to make the organization look better, to downplay its extent, etc.). As Jack Douglas warned years ago, we should always be leery of “official statistics” and what methodologies are being used to arrive at these figures.

Nonetheless, the problem is worse than the official numbers have indicated for a long time.

There is no dispute on one issue: the military rate has been climbing faster than the civilian rate. According to the Pentagon, the military rate of 18.5 suicides per 100,000 service members in 2009 was up from 10.3 suicides per 100,000 in 2002 — an 80 percent increase. A comparable civilian suicide rate rose by about 15 percent in the same period.

An accompanying article in the Times makes the point even more salient, and makes it clear that after decades of research, we’re nowhere near understanding the causes of the “never ending war.”

Though the Pentagon has commissioned numerous reports and invested tens of millions of dollars in research and prevention programs, experts concede they are little closer to understanding the root causes of why military suicide is rising so fast.

“Any one variable in isolation doesn’t explain things,” said Craig J. Bryan, associate director of the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah. “But the interaction of all of them do. That’s what makes it very difficult to solve the problem. And that’s why we haven’t made advances.”

Intersectionality (reciprocal attachments among variables) is a growing field within suicidology these days and its growth should be applauded. The only way we are ever going to get to the root cause of suicide is to recognize the fact that it’s rarely ever one single variable that causes it, but instead a perfect storm of tribulations which increase the risk of mortality.

Cross Posted to The Power Elite

Psychiatry’s New Guide Is Out Of Touch With Science:

Just weeks before the long-awaited publication of a new edition of the so-called bible of mental disorders, the federal government’s most prominent psychiatric expert has said the book suffers from a scientific “lack of validity.”

The expert, Dr. Thomas R. Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, said in an interview Monday that his goal was to reshape the direction of psychiatric research to focus on biology, genetics and neuroscience so that scientists can define disorders by their causes, rather than their symptoms.

Well, he’s half right. The DSM is completely lacking in scientific validity and has been so since the first edition came out in the 1960’s. We should not, however, be focusing more on the “biology, genetics or neuroscience” of behavioral disorders, but instead on labeling and social control.

“As long as the research community takes the D.S.M. to be a bible, we’ll never make progress,” Dr. Insel said, adding, “People think that everything has to match D.S.M. criteria, but you know what? Biology never read that book.”

Neither did sociology, because most Labeling theorists would tell you that mental illness is a subjective label applied to behaviors that violate social norms. You can dig for all the biological or genetic “causes” you want: at the end of the day, it’s the behavior that is being labeled as “mentally ill.”

But don’t expect the psychiatric-industrial complex to  roll over in the face of criticism.

Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, the chairman of the psychiatry department at Columbia and president-elect of the American Psychiatric Association, which publishes the D.S.M., said that the new edition’s refinements were “based on research in the last 20 years that will improve the utility of this guide for practitioners, and improve, however incrementally, the care patients receive.”

He added: “The last thing we want to do is be defensive or apologetic about the state of our field.”

LOL. They should be down on their hands and knees, begging for absolution and forgiveness from the millions of lives and minds ruined by unscientific diagnoses and chemical lobotomies.

But what do a bunch of sociologists know?

Cross posted to: The Power Elite

By David Mayeda

In the 1960s and ’70s, labeling theory (a.k.a., social reaction theory) gained criminological prominence. Demonstrating a shift towards the critical criminology school of thought, labeling theory questions the broader power structure by asking two overarching questions:

  1. How do those with substantial power in society label people with less power and their behaviors deviant?
  2. What effects do those labels have on the future lives and behaviors of the people being labeled?

Labeling theorists, such as Edward Lemert, note that almost all people engage in primary deviance – petty crimes (e.g., truancy, petty theft) during their youth. This is normal. However, when people engage in these types of behavior and get caught, sometimes the social reaction is overly punitive. When this happens, the normalized behavior is redefined as criminogenic behavior, and the individual’s identity transforms from normal, everyday kid to “screw up,” “problem child,” “criminal,” etc.

As the self-fulfilling prophecy manifests, the individual becomes ostracized from conventional peers and adults, and finds comfort engulfed by similarly defined peers, all leading to engagement in secondary deviance, where the individual’s roles and identities revolve increasingly around criminalized behaviors. In turn, the individual’s deviant master status is further cemented.

Labeling theorists also suggested a deviant master status gets cemented as one goes further through the criminal (or juvenile) justice system, from arrest to conviction to incarceration, and that degradation ceremonies in formal, state justice systems are highly effective in cementing the criminally stigmatized master status.

Also of critical importance, Howard Becker argued that moral crusaders were those with conventional power who thrust their values upon society by stigmatizing minority groups. Working in concert, moral entrepreneurs included those who would utilize propaganda purported by moral crusaders in order to profit financially through minority groups’ stigmatization.

This aspect of labeling theory is important to remember because it is those with power who create society’s rules and laws, and use the law to protect their privilege. Hence, moral crusaders and entrepreneurs have the social capital – the money, the connections, the clout – to work with media, businesses, and politicians in suppressing any contestation to the status quo by labeling threats as deviant.

Of course minorities are not only labeled deviant as criminals. Additionally, they can be stigmatized through labels tied to mental illness. Such labels rely on the medical field’s social prestige, and focus on individuals’ alleged mental health problems (e.g., inability to focus, propensity to resist authority, substance use concerns), thereby detracting attention away from broader social inequities that ultimately cause disproportionately high levels of mental health concerns in minority communities.

And now onto The Wire

In this series of clips from season four, we see “Major Colvin” (or “Bunny,” now retired from the Baltimore police force) working with a university professor and his graduate students. The team is running an experimental alternative middle school class for students who have not adjusted well to mainstream courses, which includes main character “Namond.” The alternative course’s developers feel by removing disruptive students, the mainstream courses can function more smoothly, while the sequestered students can receive more attention. Still in the class’s early stages, Namond, does not trust the situation he has been forced into:

http://youtu.be/EwcQ4JMMwHo

Notice how at 0:45 of this video, graduate assistant, “Miss Mason,” labels students with a variety of mental health conditions. In doing so, concerns are individualized, disconnected from the poverty that encapsulates the students’ proximal surroundings, as well as from the extensive social stratification that characterizes Baltimore as a whole.

And at the end of the video as Namond challenges the class leadership, notice how he embraces his identity as a “troubled youth,” talking back to the teachers and offering his hands so he can be cuffed. He fulfills the prophecy tagged upon him, while engulfed by similarly defined students.

Now fast-forward to a point when this class has matured a bit. Most of the students have developed a better rapport with the teachers, but still question the value that their educational system offers:

http://youtu.be/jimQPVQOknc

Here the “corner boys” (and girls) educate the teachers on the ins and outs of slingin’ drugs. At 2:00, see how Major Colvin likens the education system to any other system that teaches youth to manipulate their surroundings, to “practice getting over, try runnin’ all different kind of games. You know it’s practice for the corner (where drugs are sold), right?”

Perhaps Major Colvin is critiquing the youth and their efforts in the mainstream education system. However, the youth go on to explain how the capitalist system works in their neighborhood, with the panopticon persistently present; someone with higher authority is always watching the subordinate workers to ensure management is not cheated. Here, we see the labeled youth, segregated from their peers demonstrate their skillsets, which have been ignored by the mainstream system.

And at 4:42, Namond returns to drive home labeling theory’s key dimension. Although these youth of color are labeled animals, larger institutions in society – Enron Corporation, government, alcohol and cigarette industries, sports – also cheat, and do so in much more profound ways as society’s real killers. “D” straight up asks, “And drugs, pays your salaries, right?,” revealing that Major Colvin and his colleagues may inadvertently be moral entrepreneurs who profit through governmental funding to run programs for youth that have been labeled “troubled.”

Namond begins to sum it up: “We do the same thing as you all. Except when we do it, it’s like, ‘Oh my God, these kids is animals,’ like it’s the end of the world comin’. Man that’s bullshit… Hypocritical.” Zinobia closes out, “I mean yeah we got our thing but, it’s just part of the big thing.”

Yup, but in accordance with labeling theory, those with widespread power who truly profit by exploiting others through the big thing (i.e., capitalism) are labeled innovative businessmen, not animals.

Suicide Rates Rise Sharply:

Suicide rates among middle-aged Americans have risen sharply in the past decade, prompting concern that a generation of baby boomers who have faced years of economic worry and easy access to prescription painkillers may be particularly vulnerable to self-inflicted harm.

More people now die of suicide than in car accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which published the findings in Friday’s issue of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. In 2010 there were 33,687 deaths from motor vehicle crashes and 38,364 suicides.

Suicide has typically been viewed as a problem of teenagers and the elderly, and the surge in suicide rates among middle-aged Americans is surprising.

Not sure why it’s “surprising”. Suicide rates generally increase as one goes up the age demographic ladder. There is sometimes a small decline in the 55-64 age group, but generally rates are lowest among teenagers and highest among the elderly (especially the oldest of the old, 85+).

From 1999 to 2010, the suicide rate among Americans ages 35 to 64 rose by nearly 30 percent, to 17.6 deaths per 100,000 people, up from 13.7. Although suicide rates are growing among both middle-aged men and women, far more men take their own lives. The suicide rate for middle-aged men was 27.3 deaths per 100,000, while for women it was 8.1 deaths per 100,000.

The most pronounced increases were seen among men in their 50s, a group in which suicide rates jumped by nearly 50 percent, to about 30 per 100,000. For women, the largest increase was seen in those ages 60 to 64, among whom rates increased by nearly 60 percent, to 7.0 per 100,000.

Suicide rates can be difficult to interpret because of variations in the way local officials report causes of death. But C.D.C. and academic researchers said they were confident that the data documented an actual increase in deaths by suicide and not a statistical anomaly. While reporting of suicides is not always consistent around the country, the current numbers are, if anything, too low.

“It’s vastly underreported,” said Julie Phillips, an associate professor of sociology at Rutgers University who has published research on rising suicide rates. “We know we’re not counting all suicides.”

Exactly. Nice to see Jack Douglas’ “The Social Meaning of Suicides” dissection of official statistics get brought out in a roundabout way. The suicide taboo, as Douglas pointed 45 years ago, still leads to the deliberate misclassification of deaths that are rather obviously suicide.

The reasons for suicide are often complex, and officials and researchers acknowledge that no one can explain with certainty what is behind the rise. But C.D.C. officials cited a number of possible explanations, including that as adolescents people in this generation also posted higher rates of suicide compared with other cohorts.

“It is the baby boomer group where we see the highest rates of suicide,” said the C.D.C.’s deputy director, Ileana Arias. “There may be something about that group, and how they think about life issues and their life choices that may make a difference.”

The rise in suicides may also stem from the economic downturn over the past decade. Historically, suicide rates rise during times of financial stress and economic setbacks. “The increase does coincide with a decrease in financial standing for a lot of families over the same time period,” Dr. Arias said.

Couple of things: one, there is nothing in the historical data to suggest that suicide increases during economic downturns (see this previous post). If Durkheim is correct, and suicide increases when anomie increases, then perhaps higher unemployment could lead to higher normlessness and a jump in suicide. But it’s not the financial condition as much as it is anomie in individuals already prone to normlessness. Not to mention, the suicide rates were rising before the Great Recession hit. This isn’t to say a bad economy isn’t correlated at all, but causation seems to difficult to prove.

Second, as much as it pains me to write this (given my aversion to Baby Boomers in general), I really don’t think this is generational behavior either. From the long term vital statistics I’ve seen, there has not been an increase in suicidal behavior each time this generation moved into another phase of life. When they were teenagers in the 60’s it didn’t happen, nor in their 20’s in the 70’s, 30’s in the 80’s, and so on. Given the Boomer’s obsession with youth and hanging on way past their expiration date (in terms of work, popular culture, etc.), it would seem to be quite the opposite.

So what could it be? A myriad of things, but the article notes an increase in poisonings, which I find interesting.

Although most suicides are still committed using firearms, officials said there was a marked increase in poisoning deaths, which include intentional overdoses of prescription drugs, and hangings. Poisoning deaths were up 24 percent over all during the 10-year period and hangings were up 81 percent.

The easy availability of Big Pharma has certainly aided those who want to go out using more passive methods. Although you could also make the same argument about the availability of rope.

I think medical-related (health-related) suicides aren’t being separated here either (persons who end their lives already sick with a terminal or debilitating condition). If there is an age-related component to the increase, it’s the simple correlation that as morbidity increases, so too does mortality. People get sicker when they get older = people end their lives at a greater rate.

Technology is also playing a role in this as well. To the cyber-utopian’s dismay, the research available today shows that despite all the interconnectedness of social media, facebook, twitter and so on, people are more socially isolated than ever. And as Durkheim warned 100 + years ago, when social isolation and marginalization increase, so too does suicide.

I’ll have to dig through the report for more observations, but at first blush, the news is extremely disappointing. We’ve seen rates of suicide skyrocket among active duty and former members of the military since 2003, and now we can confirm that it is increasing exponentially in the general population as well.

When I wrote “The Never Ending War” three years ago, the post was ostensibly about suicide among returning veterans of war. But the never-ending battle to bring suicide out of the shadows of stigma and shame and educate the public about its prevalence and consequences continues, whether we are talking about veterans or just the general citizenry. And the more we conceptualize the problem as an individual phenomenon, and not the social and public health epidemic it has become, the more lives will continue to be lost.

We have wars on terror, drugs, immigration, crime, poverty, fat and every other inanimate object imaginable, is it time (forgive me) to launch a War on Suicide?

Cross Posted To: The Power Elite

This is the latest installment in the cranky sociologists cartoon series by Kevin Moore.

This time, it is the founding father himself, Emile Durkheim, that gets the Moore treatment to illustrate Durkheim’s concern over the rise of anomie and individualism accompanying the industrial revolution, and its impact on social solidarity, integration and collective conscience.

Durkheim joins the other cranky sociologists in the gallery.

Attention Deficit Drugs Face New Campus Rules:

Fresno State is one of dozens of colleges tightening the rules on the diagnosis of A.D.H.D. and the subsequent prescription of amphetamine-based medications like Vyvanse and Adderall. Some schools are reconsidering how their student health offices handle A.D.H.D., and even if they should at all.

Various studies have estimated that as many as 35 percent of college students illicitly take these stimulants to provide jolts of focus and drive during finals and other periods of heavy stress. Many do not know that it is a federal crime to possess the pills without a prescription and that abuse can lead to anxiety, depression and, occasionally, psychosis.

Although few experts dispute that stimulant medications can be safe and successful treatments for many people with a proper A.D.H.D. diagnosis, the growing concern about overuse has led some universities, as one student health director put it, “to get out of the A.D.H.D. business.”

The most surprising thing about this is the percentage…we’re talking over a third of college students amping up in some capacity with prescription amphetamines come finals time. And while limiting access to the drugs via campus health centers is a good start, this is more of a legal affairs issue than it is a campus health issue.

Changes like these, all in the name of protecting the health of students both with and without attention deficits, involve legal considerations as well. Harvard is being sued for medical malpractice by the father of a student who in 2007 received an A.D.H.D. diagnosis and Adderall prescription after one meeting with a clinical nurse specialist.

You knew this had to involve law suits in some capacity. Decisions like these have less to do with the welfare and best interests of the students, and everything to do with covering the colleges collective back sides from litigation.

But asking students to take the equivalent of virginity pledges when it comes to abusing stimulants (“I am making a commitment to myself, my family, and my Creator, that I will abstain from amphetamines of any kind before graduation”) is going to do little to stop the push back from the pro-A.D.H.D. crowd.

Still, many student health departments regard A.D.H.D., a neurological disorder that causes severe inattention and impulsiveness, as similar to any other medical condition. Eleven percent of American children ages 4 to 17 — and 15 percent of high school students — have received the diagnosis, according to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

New college policies about A.D.H.D. tend not to apply to other medical or psychiatric conditions — suggesting discrimination, said Ruth Hughes, the chief executive of the advocacy group Children and Adults With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Such rules create “a culture of fear and stigma,” she said, adding that if students must sign a contract to obtain stimulants, they should have to do so for the painkillers that are also controlled substances and are known to be abused.

Which is absurd given that painkillers are not academic steroids and are not used to cheat (er, perform better) on tests, papers, and so forth. Talk about a straw man.

And are we really going to hear the cries of “discrimination” from these people? That’s like saying athletes suspected of using PED’s are being “discriminated” against, or that wanting to cut down on cheating and abuse is just a “culture of fear and stigma.”

I’m also bothered by the phrase “A.D.H.D, a neurological disorder…” It’s a behavioral diagnosis (label) with no grounding whatsoever in neurology, biology or anything that meets the scientific method. In fact, new evidence suggests that the behavior so labeled as attention deficit may actually be nothing more than sleep disorders.

For some people — especially children — sleep deprivation does not necessarily cause lethargy; instead they become hyperactive and unfocused. Researchers and reporters are increasingly seeing connections between dysfunctional sleep and what looks like A.D.H.D., but those links are taking a long time to be understood by parents and doctors.

A number of studies have shown that a huge proportion of children with an A.D.H.D. diagnosis also have sleep-disordered breathing like apnea or snoring, restless leg syndrome or non-restorative sleep, in which delta sleep is frequently interrupted.

I had forgotten about “restless leg syndrome,” better known as The Rockettes Disease. But seriously…

One study, published in 2004 in the journal Sleep, looked at 34 children with A.D.H.D. Every one of them showed a deficit of delta sleep, compared with only a handful of the 32 control subjects.

There has been less research into sleep and A.D.H.D. outside of childhood. But a team from Massachusetts General Hospital found, in one of the only studies of its kind, that sleep dysfunction in adults with A.D.H.D. closely mimics the sleep dysfunction in children with A.D.H.D.

Thakkar also notes the correlation between the rise in sleep disorders and the explosion of A.D.H.D in the 1990’s…right around the time the internets exploded as well.

And to illustrate the very subjectiveness of the diagnosis that I and others have been railing about for years, this:

As it happens, “moves about excessively during sleep” was once listed as a symptom of attention-deficit disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. That version of the manual, published in 1980, was the first to name the disorder. When the term A.D.H.D., reflecting the addition of hyperactivity, appeared in 1987, the diagnostic criteria no longer included trouble sleeping. The authors said there was not enough evidence to support keeping it in.

“The authors”…I love that, like the DSM is a work of fiction (cough).

One would also assume that the removal of the sleep criteria was based solely on money. There simply isn’t as much money to be made in sleep disorders as there is in the ever-expanding criteria for A.D.H.D.

At the end of the day, colleges and universities are fighting a losing battle here. As the first article notes, students are more likely to bring their prescriptions with them to campus. And lacking that, why bother with the health center when you can score Adderall via the underground, black market (Biff’s fraternity brother knows a dude who knows a dude who…)? It’s everywhere.

This is a classic case of the fish rotting from the head down. Until we recognize the power of the psychiatric-industrial complex and Big Pharma to keep imposing its biomedical view of madness on every single social behavior, we’re doomed.

And like mold, its spread is harder to stop the longer we wait.

Cross posted to: The Power Elite