Sunday, October 25, 2009

Beyond Debate

Hal Pepinsky,,
October 25, 2009
One listserv I’ve become particularly involved with since retirement is that of the Association of Humanist Sociology. I’ve been posting my blogs there and getting many thoughtful responses.
Since I last posted a blog, a discussion has arisen over who’s right and wrong in the Holy Land. Below, I wrote a response to the considerable and diverse traffic in this exchange. I’m hoping it helps explain what I mean by the importance to me of paradigm shift in criminology:

From: Pepinsky, Harold E.
Sent: Sunday, October 25, 2009 12:47 PM
Subject: RE: Ahs-talk Digest, Vol 8, Issue 79

To me, because the progress of human relations (cooling or heating) has taken over my fruitless quests to define harm, etc. as behavior, I find I as to my own behavior, I can invoke no higher authority for my actions than to try to account for how I feel and act as I do. In honest exchanges of beliefs about right and wrong like this one, I find myself asking what if anything leads folks in the discussion to move from justification to empathy--trying to find a way of showing an antagonist that without being patronizing, one is recognizing and respecting the passion with which an opposing position is being argued.
To be honest, I've only sampled this particular discussion, and so I have no business coming in as an outsider telling y'all how to get your acts together. As I continue to look at the digests, I'm wondering how folks involved feel about how I frame the a would-be peacemaker. l&p hal

Sunday, October 18, 2009

When Baboons Stop Fighting

Hal Pepinsky,,
October 18, 2009

I just heard a WNYC Radio Lab segment on “new baboons.” Stanford med’s Robert Sapolsky reports that a group of a typically aggressive/warlike species changed in six days in a way that has lasted for twenty years in the group.
What happened was that the males fought to bring home the bacon and assorted treats from a new human treasure to fight over, a human waste dump. All the guys who brought that food home, and presumably their women and children, got tuberculosis from meat there and died horrible deaths within six weeks of consumption.
Within six days, Sapolsky et al. recorded that newborn males were grooming like females, and haven’t reverted since; suddenly male capacity for gentleness prevails with female sexual preference.
I’m committed to the view that changing course in social relations is the quickest way to change the course of all our relations. We are well aware that species are becoming extinct many times over in a single human lifetime. In the case of these baboons, the women whom tuberculosis spared must have been those who had had to settle for male losers. Suddenly, all the bully families were gone. Women no longer had to hook up with bullies to feed themselves and their children. Of course the gene pool didn’t shift much in a single generation. It isn’t about genes alone, it’s about how empires and all rise and fall under environmental circumstance.
Darwin concluded that the species and ecosystems that survived most are the most diverse, so that what wiped out one vulnerable group (in this case the meanest most powerful baboon bullies on that particular turf) gave rise to women’s appreciation that “effeminate” boys and men were a lot more pleasant to live with than life with the bullies had been. So why go back?
I don’t know where violence starts in any case. My old friend Bill Breeden has put it this way to students we taught together: We are born with the human nature of pooping in our diapers. We learn that we get along a lot better when we change. Sounds like these baboons to me.
We learn that life without pooping in our pants if we can help it is more pleasant that incontinence. So is life without bullies.
Back in the early seventies when I started teaching about social control and race for instance, geneticists I read and assigned recognized that nature and nurture are interactive. Thus, any point of entry into body function or choice is theoretically capable of proving equally effective in what is at all times at once a totally genetic, biological, psychological, social, economic, political problem. In a word, this is holism.
I was disappointed that both Sapolsky and Wrangham got off on a new technically driven genetics discourse that once more insists on separating nature from nurture. Baboons have shown themselves capable of making peace with violence, with differences as negligible in DNA as those among black, brown, yellow and red humans. I conclude that we all find social harmony and security preferable to aggression when aggression fails to keep up with evolving human circumstances. We just need to find and exploit opportunities to act accordingly—a process Bill Breeden calls guerrilla peacefare. Love and peace--hal

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Taliban reconstruction

Hal Pepinsky, ,
October 15, 2009
Secretary of State Clinton is becoming a well-nuanced public diplomat. Yesterday in a BBC interview she distinguished between Taliban who threaten Britain and the US, and Taliban whose issues are between them and the Afghan government. As sociologist W. I. Thomas put it just after WWI, “things that are defined as real are real in their consequences.” West Point’s chief researcher on terrorists was interviewed this morning to distinguish al Qaeda, good Taliban and bad Taliban.
This gambit opens two strategic possibilities: of dividing the enemy against itself (a time-honored practice of US prison management), and of dumping the chaos our invasion created by granting Afghanis the dignity of getting out of their way, and ourselves the excuse for withdrawal of having achieved our national security goals. The trial balloons are out as to the political acceptance of this version of how we withdraw from Afghanistan without losing “the” war.
I’ll accept this as progress toward peace. As Gandhi pointed out, when holders of firepower give way to non-violent refusals to obey, it is time to embrace their acts of grace, not to claim victory. I want NATO forces out of Afghanistan, the sooner with less bloodshed in the process the better.
“Terrorism” was first named as a significant threat to national security since Harry Truman’s speech accepting the Democratic nomination in 1948. I believe that the threat of terrorism has reverberated in virtually every US president’s campaign rhetoric since, notably in Jimmy Carter’s in 1976. I first recall al Qaeda being proclaimed through US intelligence as public terrorist group no. 1 just after Bill Clinton got re-elected, with Osama bin Laden named as its leader. They got re-named when the USS Cole was attacked in Yemen, and again when US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam were bombed.
So by the time 9/11 rolled around, “we” already knew who the terrorists and their leader were. Within a month missiles and cluster bombs rained down on Afghanistan to get—guess who?—Bin Laden and exterminate al Qaeda. As Secretary of State Colin Powell put it at the time, treating Bin Laden as a military enemy was a lot simpler than treating him as a criminal who might have legal rights, as of due process.
We have treated al Qaeda as the US enemy no. 1 since. This construction of our enemy never made sense to me. As Bin Laden himself described the folks he was training and subsidizing, al Qaeda, literally “the base,” were modeled on Algerian national liberation resistance to the French: independent cells of three who in turn could train and give birth to other independent cells. Because al Qaeda had no head by design, it could never be defeated from above—the ultimate guerrilla force, now propagating its force worldwide. I’ll leave aside further comment on the notion that Bin Laden is the boss of it all. Al Qaeda has a life of its own, and trying to kill it has the same effect as pouring water on a grease fire.
As to indigenous Afghani groups who may embrace being “Taliban” (literally “students” of Islam), now we recognize that they are no unified military/political force either. Afghanistan has never been nationally centralized. Given the terrain alone, the same holds true for other mountainous regions like the Balkans, or Switzerland or Norway where local governments enjoy far more economic power than national counterparts. I agree with Secretary Clinton that what Afghanis work out among themselves will happen more easily when foreign occupiers are gone. Love and peace--hal

Saturday, October 10, 2009

"Freedom" and the peace prize

Hal Pepinsky,,
October 10, 2009
There’s enough lingering Norwegian in me to be astounded by the cultural blindness so uniformly reflected in US media reaction to Obama’s peace prize. All the talk, left right and whatever, I hear here is over whether Obama earned this award. Five Norwegian men, retired parliamentarians who comprise the prize selection committee, are blamed for being out of touch with reality. Well, I’m an ageing white man too. My Norwegian roots were laid my last year of secondary school, 1961-62, when I was the only non-local student in a centuries’ old “cathedral school” in Trondheim. My fellow Americans, I think you just don’t get classic Norwegian-think.
US evaluation of the merit of Obama’s award led me to look back at the intro to my first book (Crime and Conflict: A Study of Law and Society 1976), which at p. 7 reminds me:
In a very real sense, this study began more than ten years ago. During a year’s stay in Scandinavia [my psychology parents were in Trondheim on Fulbrights and a Guggenheim], a Swedish psychologist, Magnus Hedberg, questioned the present author’s definition of ‘democracy’ predicated on a system of laws that established and protected people’s right to live without interference from others, and that helped to define the duty of a citizen to work for others...’Can you conceive of a political system that represents freedom to do things and to work with others?’ he asked.
I recall that when I told Magnus that I saw no difference between the two, he smiled and assured me that I would have no trouble going back to the US.
He was wrong. I came back to the US indelibly sensitive to the difference between individualistic ideas of freedom and collective counterparts that living Scandinavian brought to my awareness. In words from the Norwegian peace prize committee, I hear a response that falls on largely, culturally tin US ears: We give Obama this award from NOT trying to gain credit for US-led international intrusion. The willingness to negotiate unconditionally (as with Iran) has paid off, although US responses I hear dismiss the significance of having open IAEA inspection of Iran’s second uranium enrichment plant. I keep hearing old-style Norwegian voices affirming: this is progress. This is enjoyment of the freedom of working WITH others. It means that achievements are by definition ours rather than US, another notch on a president’s international pistol. As I understand it, President Obama is cited by the Norwegians for subordinating personal and national glory to international cooperation. I share their sentiment.
I spent my first year in Norway in the wake of WWII, in a country that had not yet discovered oil. Ideological lines have become blurred in years since, but at the time, there was a clear Norwegian consensus that inequality was a threat to social security. “You shall not stick out” was a common watchword. Obama’s reaction to news of the prize would do this tradition proud; he was humble, self-deprecating, and appreciative of the responsibility that living up to expectations placed first and foremost on himself rather than on others. Thank you Mr. President. I like your attitude. Love and peace--hal

Friday, October 9, 2009

Norge mitt Norge--Norway my Norway, thanks for the peace prize

Hal Pepinsky,,
October 9, 2009
What an irony. The Nobel Peace Prize Committee cites Barak Obama for shifting US gov discourse from unilateral to multilateral. US media response is overwhelmingly that President Obama doesn’t deserve the prize because he as yet has made no one anywhere else in the world cave to US demands…unilaterally.
Mr. Obama, I too celebrate the shift from confrontation to diplomacy that you have set in motion. I believe you are for real in doing so, and the world becomes a safer place for us all if we support the multilateralism you have repeatedly declared to be national policy. Thank you!
I consider Norway a second home, and am thus a little proud that Norwegian fellows could once again rise above picking winners and instead pick co-operators. Mr. Obama, congratulations. May your prize encourage us all to forsake being number one for working as one among nations. Love and peace--hal

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

tribute to only member of congress to oppose Afghan invasion

Dear folks at , where I played this interview. Juan Gonzalez, I consider you a national journalistic treasure, thanks for being there.
I tried to send the message below directly to Rep Lee, but I find e-mail access to her limited to her congressional district constituents. If you have a chance to pass this along, please do. She helped remind me that my attitude isn’t insane. Thanks--hal

Worthington, Ohio, USA, 10.07.09
To US Rep Barbara, D-Cal
Dear Ms. Lee,
I’m newly retired. Professionally in criminal justice texts, I am listed as a co-founder of “peacemaking criminology” (just start with my new blog at ).
Today at I watched you on the capitol steps while Juan Gonzalez interviewed you.
My senatorial heroes remain Russ Feingold on international issues and Bernie Sanders on local issues; now in the House there is you. Thank you for being the only one not to have abrogated your Congressional constitutional duty not to authorize a president to go to war without a prior Congressional declaration.
Rep. Lee, thank you so much for inspiring me and countless others to carry on the tradition of voting against military aggrandizement on grounds that being Constitutional serves all our interests. Let me know wherever, however, I might be useful to a cause I believe we share, which I call “peacemaking.” Thanks again—love and peace—hal (

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A letter to Mila

I am often challenged to think about what we can do for better future for our loved ones. I have learned to expect unexpected opportunities to make a difference in relations with our children first and foremost.
My daughter Katy wrote Jill and me an invitation from our granddaughter Mila’s school—to send mail and maybe include stickers.
What more important does a grandpa have to do with free time than to think through a response. I switched the font to Times Roman 28 point and locked in capitalization. I’m hoping for penpalship; such is the luxury of retired grandparenthood.
I know how many ways I, let alone my granddaughter, am socially privileged. But in that realm above the clouds I see joy and honesty and exuberance and generosity in young lives in the making.
Nothing could be more important to me in professional writing than in having composed this text this morning l&p hal (

WORTHINGTON, OH 43085-2262
OCTOBER 1, 2009