October 04, 2007


Note for first time visitors: This blog generally covers fairly serious issues during the week. Weekends are reserved for the commentaries of various animals in and around Goat Rope Farm.

(Note: we are not implying that the contributions of the animals are not serious, although it is difficult to make a categorical statement in this regard.)

This weekend we once again welcome our official film critic, Mr. Sandor Sege (pronounced Shandor SHEGG-ay). We must remind readers that Mr. Sege sustained a head injury when he crashed into a wall whist chasing a squeaky toy. As a result, he has been known on occasion to transpose the plots of the films he discusses. Nonetheless, we are convinced that his unique insights into the world of cinema more than compensate for this regrettable shortcoming.

It is our hope that features such as this will contribute to a greater appreciate of both the humanities and the animalities.


OK, so this movie is about like these high school kids who get in trouble and have to go to detention hall on the weekend. It's kind of like when Moomus and Doodus make me get in my crate.

I think they've forgot about my crate lately. I hope so cause I don't like going there. In the movie though when the kids go to their crate there are other kids there...

The soccer team was supposed to go to detention too except their plane crashed in the Andes and they had to eat each other...

So anyway the kids in detention start talking to each other and start to become friends except for this one girl who wants to be a pro boxer. I'm a boxer too. One time I clonked Doodus in the eye when we were playing squeaky toy.

So anyway the girl starts to train for a match with Patrick Swayze except they don't hit but kind of spin and twirl around. I think that's a symbol of like weather or something.

When it's time for the match, she's in this coliseum in gladiator costume and is about to fight when this big fire-breathing Japanese monster with all these spines down his back destroys Tokyo.

The whole band gets put in jail after the concert.

It was awesome.



Caption: There's one of each.

Along with links and comments about current events, the theme of this week's Goat Rope is the sociology of conflict. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier posts.

Basically, this week El Cabrero has been strip-mining Lewis Coser's (1913-2003)sociological classic, The Functions of Social Conflict, which was published in 1956. It holds up pretty well after more than 50 years.

Coser had some interesting ideas about how different groups handle internal conflicts. Generally, open societies and loosely knit groups can handle lots of conflict without threatening the overall consensus:

In flexible social structures, multiple conflicts crisscross each other and thereby prevent basic cleavages along one axis. The multiple group affiliations of individuals makes them participate in various group conflicts so that their total personalities are not involved in any single one of them. Thus segmental participation in a multiplicity of conflicts constitutes a balancing mechanism within the structure.

In loosely structured groups and open societies, conflict, which aims at a resolution of tension between antagonists, is likely to have stabilizing and integrative functions for the relationship. By permitting immediate and direct expression of rival claims, such social systems are able to readjust their structures by eliminating the sources of dissatisfaction. The multiple conflicts which they experience may serve to eliminate the causes for dissociation and to re-establish unity. These systems avail themselves, through the toleration and institutionalisation of conflict, of an important stabilizing mechanism.

In totalitarian societies or sectarian groups (religious, political or otherwise), internal conflicts or antagonisms are often repressed. Often groups like this define themselves as being in conflict with other groups and need some kind of external enemy to function. If one isn't readily available, it will have to be invented. If internal conflict does break out, it is likely to be very intense and could threaten the group as a whole.

For example, if someone in such a group goes over to "the enemy," this threatens the boundaries of the in-group:

Therefore the group must fight the renegade with all its might since he threatens symbolically, if not in fact, its existence as an ongoing concern. In the religious sphere, for example, apostasy strikes at the very life of a church, hence the violence of denunciation of the apostate contained in the pronouncements of the early Church fathers or in rabbinical statements from the time of the Maccabees onward.

Even more threatening than the apostate is the heretic, i.e. someone who claims to uphold the values of the group in a different way. Heretics threaten to split the group. Hostility to heretics (religious, political or otherwise) is often even greater than hostility to renegades:

It is less dangerous for a group if the one who breaks with it goes over to the enemy than if, as a heretic, he forms his own rival group...

The contrast between open and closed groups is pretty stark in the case of handing dissent. In flexible groups and open societies, crisscrossing conflicts and different tendencies can actually help hold the group together.

In closed societies or sects, internal dissent is seen as dangerous and will be suppressed or repressed. Instead of allowing realistic conflicts to take place, they may engage in scapegoating or other kinds of unrealistic conflicts as a safety valve. If the conflict ever manages to surface, it's likely to be nasty and threaten the group's survival.

Given the choice, I prefer an open society...

SCREWED UP PRIORITIES DEPARTMENT. This item from Wired Science contrasts the costs of CHIP with that of two months of the Iraq war. I used some different numbers and came up with something slightly different: six weeks of war=$35 billion for CHIP but the point is the same.

CAN YOU BELIEVE IT? Just before vetoing the Children's Health Insurance Program, President Bush proclaimed Oct. 1 Child Health Day...

THE GOOD GUYS. Here's an op-ed from the Washington Post about the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a truly outstanding group that has done a great job of advocating for low income and working families. We are in the early stages of setting up an affiliated group in El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia.

CREATIONISM IN EUROPE may be a non-starter according to Wired Science.

REASON #9763 why we need the Employee Free Choice Act...and a new NLRB.

JOHNNY, GET YOUR ETHNOLOGIST. Here's an item about the Human Terrain Team, which involves anthropologists working with U.S. military units in Afghanistan and Iraq. Whatever the politics and ethics involved may entail, El Cabrero is still reeling from the fact that anthropology has become a practical major.



Caption: Sometimes these guys get on each other's nerves.

The guiding thread through this week's Goat Rope is social conflict and how it works. You'll also find links and comments about current events. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier posts.

It has long been observed that there's a fine line between love and hate and that sometimes people have some of both kinds of feelings for people they are close to. Freud called it ambivalence. As he wrote in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego,

Almost every intimate emotional relation between two people which lasts for some time--marriage, friendship, the relations between parents and children--leaves a sediment of feeling of aversion and hostility, which have first to be eliminated by repression. This is less disguised in the common wrangles between business partners or in the grumbles of a subordinate at his superior. The same thing happens when men come together in large units. Every time two families become connected by marriage, each of them thinks itself superior to or of better birth than the other. Of two neighboring towns, each is the other's most jealous rival.

The closer the relationship, the more occasions for conflicts of interest and often the more intense the conflicts. As Coser said,

Closely knit groups in which there exists a high frequency of interaction and high personality involvement of the members have a tendency to suppress conflict. While they provide frequent occasions for hostility (since both sentiments of love and hatred are intensified through frequency of interaction), the acting out of such feelings is sensed as a danger to such intimate relationships, and hence there is a tendency to suppress rather than allow the expression of hostile feelings. In close-knit groups, the feelings of hostility tend, therefor, to accumulate and hence to intensify.
If conflict does break out in such a group,

it will be particularly intense for two reasons: First, because the conflict does not merely aim at resolving the immediate issue which led to its outbreak; all accumulated grievances which were denied expression previously are apt to emerge at this occasion. Second, because the total personality involvement of the group members makes for mobilization of all sentiments in the conduct of the struggle.

Speaking of love and hate, one interesting feature of conflict between groups is that it can, with time, bring the opposing parties closer together.

SHAME ON PRESIDENT BUSH for vetoing expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program. In his statement on the subject, the president spoke of the dangers of a federalized health care system. Last I heard, he enjoys federal health care benefits. Yesterday, El Cabrero participated in a press conference protesting that decision. Here's the Gazette coverage.

All of WV's congressional delegation supported CHIP. Gov. Manchin issued a statement that said in part: “I have joined with other states in writing to the president to urge him to sign this legislation into law, and am disappointed in his decision to use his veto power."

NO U.S. TORTURE POLICY 'ROUND HERE. Just the same thing with a different name.

MORE ON THE LOGAN COUNTY VIGIL in support of Megan Williams can be found here.

IMAGE PROBLEM. According to this interesting item from Time, some Christians are giving Christianity a bad name. That problem has been around a while...

IF I'M READING THIS RIGHT, Massey Energy is suing two law firms that represented them and lost. So like...what will happen if the guys filing this one lose?


October 03, 2007


Caption: This man is enacting an unrealistic conflict on an inoffensive monkey.

Aside from comments and links about current events, the theme of this week's Goat Rope is the sociology of conflict. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier posts.

You have probably noticed that sometimes people want to fight about specific issues and sometimes they just wanna fight.

Sociologist Lewis Coser in his little classic The Functions of Social Conflict referred to those two very different situations as realistic and unrealistic conflict, which is a pretty useful distinction.

Realistic conflicts engaged in because of clashing interests

contain an element of limitation insofar as the struggle is only a means to an end; if the desired result can be attained as well or better by other means, such other means may be employed. In such instances, conflict is only one of several functional alternatives.

Unrealistic conflicts are quite different:

There are cases, however, where the conflict arises exclusively from aggressive impulses which seek expression no matter what the object, where in the conflict the choice of object is purely accidental. In such cases, no such limitations exist, since it is not the attainment of a result, but rather the acting out of aggressive energies which occasions the outbreak.

While realistic conflict will cease when resolved or when a better way is found to deal with the problem, unrealistic conflict is less stable:

The underlying aggressiveness can more easily be led into other channels, precisely because it is not directly bound to the object which has become a target by "situational accident." It is likely to manifest itself in different ways if the particular object is no longer available.

Obviously, these are models or ideal types. In the real world, some unrealistic elements can enter into a realistic conflict. And sometimes the frustrations caused by real grievances are displaced onto convenient targets in an unrealistic conflict. For example, blame for the real economic grievances of German workers was displaced onto Jews and other convenient targets in the Nazi era.

One way of distinguishing between the two is whether conflict is engaged in as a means to an end or whether it is an end in itself. The former kind is more likely to be resolvable by rational means.

LOGAN COUNTY VIGIL. Less than a mile from the place where police say Megan Williams was held captive, tortured, and sexually abused, around 40 people gathered for a vigil calling for justice and unity. The event was organized by the American Friends Service Committee and the Logan County Improvement League. This was the lead story on local television. Here's coverage from the Charleston Gazette, State Journal, AP, and Metro News. I think the best coverage was produced by Scott Finn at WV Public Radio, but it's not available online yet.

THE WHEELS OF COMMERCE. Speaking of unleashing capitalism, which we weren't, according to the NY Times,

The United States maintained its role as the leading supplier of weapons to the developing world in 2006, followed by Russia and Britain, according to a Congressional study to be released Monday. Pakistan, India and Saudi Arabia were the top buyers.

The global arms market is highly competitive, with manufacturing nations seeking both to increase profits and to expand political influence through weapons sales to developing nations, which reached nearly $28.8 billion in 2006.

No doubt all these arms will find good homes among people of good will...

POLL SHOWS BUSH OUT OF TOUCH...AGAIN. A new poll shows that 72 percent of Americans support expanding the Children's Health Insurance Program, which Bush as threatened to veto.

ON THE SAME NOTE, here's Dean Baker on Bush's latest Social Security scare tactics.


October 02, 2007


Caption: These goats are ripe for scaping.

The guiding thread through this week's Goat Rope is social conflict and how it can either hold groups together or tear them apart (along with links and items about current events). If this is your first visit, please click on yesterday's post.

Sociologist Lewis Coser noted in his Functions of Social Conflict that feelings of hostility naturally arise in the course of social interaction and that sometimes these erupt into conflict. When that happens, conflict can often help hold groups together by strengthening their sense of identity and group boundaries. It can also help clear the air and establish better ways of dealing with problems. But sometimes it can result in the disintegration of the group.

Most societies have developed "safety valves" that allow conflict and hostile feelings to be expressed without threatening the overall structure. For example, while dueling seems pretty weird to us today, it did place limits on physical aggression and created elaborate rules for settling "affairs of honor."

Sometimes festivals such as carnival (ancestor of Mardi Gras), the theater and other forms of entertainment allow social norms to be relaxed and let people either act out a little or express themselves. Even jokes and humor can be an outlet for social tensions. As Freud once said,

Wit is used with special preference as a weapon of attack or criticism of superiors who claim to be in authority. Wit then serves as a resistance against such authority and an escape from its pressures.

As Coser notes,

The outcrop of political jokes in totalitarian countries bears witness to this, as does the statement attributed to Goebbels that the Nazi regime actually welcomed political jokes since they provided harmless outlets for hostilities.

Sometimes conflict is displaced, to use language from psychoanalysis. If it's too risky to attack powerful groups in a society, people often blame or scapegoat others. Witch hunts, literal or metaphorical, serve the same purpose.

Probably a great deal of bigotry, racism, xenophobia, prejudice, and similar phenomena are examples of displaced frustration, which can be deadly in their consequences.

Even when it doesn't go that far, Coser warns that displacement can be risky. They

involve costs both for the social system and for the individual: reduced pressure for modifying the system to meet changing conditions, as well as dammed-up tension in the individual, creating potentialities for disruptive explosion.

Displacement, unfortunately, has all too often been a major factor in politics here as elsewhere--examples could include the bashing of welfare mothers, gays, minorities, or others--and it usually serves as a distraction that keeps people from working for changes that would improve the quality of life for the majority of people.

Next time: realistic and unrealistic conflict.

SPEAKING OF CONFLICT, here's the latest report from the Coalition on Human Needs about the showdown with Bush over CHIP.

CANDLELIGHT VIGIL TONIGHT IN BIG CREEK in support of Megan Williams. For details from the Logan Banner, click here. Here's a little more on the subject from the Gazette.

NEXT STOP? Here's Seymour Hersh on the Bush administration's Iran plans.

TRIGGER HAPPY. It looks like the folks at Blackwater have been busier than some people thought.



October 01, 2007


Caption: Lily is ready to rumble.

The 1950s has the reputation of a decade of conformity and mediocrity which I think is undeserved. There was a lot of creativity in American life in that period, including some of the cleverest critiques of conformity and mediocrity.

Not to mention Elvis.

El Cabrero just finished revisiting a sociological gem of that period, Lewis Coser's The Functions of Social Conflict. It's a little gem that holds up pretty well.

Coser was one of the first to integrate two strands of social thinking, conflict theory and functionalism. Conflict theory is pretty much what it sounds like, with a particular emphasis on inequalities of wealth and power. Marx would be the classic example.

Functionalism is kind of what it sounds like too, an approach that examines how the various aspects and institutions of a society function or dysfunction as a whole and for particular groups.

When the book was written--1956--the dominant strand in sociology was what C. Wright Mills called "grand theory," an elaborate and largely unreadable brand of functionalism represented by Talcott Parsons which tended to view social conflict as a bad thing or symptom of dysfunction. Coser, inspired by the quirky German theorist Georg Simmel (1858-1918) looked at the positive as well as negative functions of social conflict.

(Here are some nuggets about Simmel.)

Coser distinguished between conflict and hostile feelings or attitudes:

Social conflict always denotes social interaction, whereas attitudes or sentiments are predispositions to engage in action. Such predispositions do not necessarily eventuate in conflict; the degree and kind of of legitimation of power and status systems are crucial intervening variables affecting the occurrence of conflict.

In other words, sometimes hostile attitudes are not openly expressed in conflict. When it does happen, though, conflict "helps to establish and maintain the identity and boundary lines of societies and groups."

Far from causing societies to fracture, it can sometimes be part of the glue that holds them together.

About which more tomorrow.

LOGAN ACTION PLANNED IN WAKE OF MEGAN WILLIAMS CASE. The American Friends Service Committee and the Logan County Improvement League are holding a candlelight vigil Oct. 2 at 6 p.m. at Big Creek, the area where Megan Williams was tortured and sexually abused. Dr. Johnny W. Meade, pastor of the Church of God in the Name of Christ Jesus, invited the organizations to conduct the service at his church, which is located on the right about one and one-fourth miles up Trace Fork Road off Corridor G behind the Thornhill Chevrolet dealership.

Organizers are hoping that this event will give residents of Logan County and other people of good will a chance to come together to make a positive statement. For more information, call 304-752-3422.

SPEAKING OF WHICH, here's an interesting article on the history of race relations in southern WV which appeared in Friday's Gazette.

ON THE DOWNSIDE? Here's an item on the apparently declining political clout of the religious right.

IT'S ALL ABOUT TABLES. The Rev. Jim Lewis has a great knack for picking a theme or image and spinning it out in all kinds of ways. The theme for the latest edition of Notes from under the Fig Tree is Table Talk.

VETO BATTLE EXPECTED THIS WEEK on the Children's Health Insurance Program is likely to happen this week.