May 29, 2008


Low income housing, courtesy of wikipedia.

The theme at Goat Rope the last two weeks has been violence, its nature, and what can be done to reduce it. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier posts.

A paradox of violence is that arguably the worst violence, or at least the kind that harms and kills the most people, is structural violence, such as the millions of preventable deaths each year due to poverty. The Gentle Reader will perhaps remember Gandhi's comment that poverty is the worst kind of violence.

And it's perfectly legal.

On the other hand, poverty is itself a powerful breeding ground for violence. If, as was discussed yesterday, James Gilligan is right in arguing that shame, humiliation, and degradation are the pathogens that lead to violence, it's no surprise that people who are poor and socially marginalized are much more likely to experience such conditions and sometimes resort to and often suffer from violence--although they are by no means the only ones who do so.

And this is the kind that gets punished, often in such a way as to lead to more violence.

Gilligan argues that relative inequalities or inequalities within a given society are more shame inducing than absolute poverty. As he put it in Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic,

It should be emphasized that it is not poverty or deprivation in an absolute sense that causes shame--it is not lack of material things as such--but rather, relative deprivation, which really comes down to a form of psychological rather than material deprivation, of dignity, self-respect, and pride. In other words, it is the gap or disparity between the wealth and income of those at the top and those at the bottom of the social hierarchy that is a much more powerful cause of feelings of inferiority and shame than is absolute poverty.

He notes that

When these social conditions are altered the exposure of human populations to shame is dramatically reduced--and so is violence. Those economically developed democracies all over the world that have evolved into "welfare states" since the end of the Second World War, including all of Western Europe, Japan, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, offer universal and free health care, generous public housing, unemployment and family leave policies, and so on. Every one of those countries has a more equitable (and hence less shame-inducing) socio-economic system than the United States does... Our rate of violent crime (murder, rape) is from two to twenty times as high as it is in any of the other economically developed democracies. This is precisely what the theory presented in this book would predict.

Sadly, there is much more political will at the present to spend money on punishment than to reduce economic disparities. I am reminded of a great line from Thoreau: "There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root."

STRESSED. Stress disorder cases in the US military jumped by 50 percent in 2007, increasing with the surge.

WAVY LINES. Another economic trend that has increased in recent years is income volativity, which refers to how it can fluctuate. Here's a snapshot on the subject from the Economic Policy Institute.

RECESSION. Economist Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research thinks the worst of the recession may be yet to come.

URGENT DINOSAUR UPDATE. And now for something cooler: giant winged dinosaurs apparently preferred to walk. The picture at the link is worth checking out.


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