Sunday, November 15, 2009

Corruption, Conspiracy, and Solutions

Hal Pepinsky,,
November 15, 2009
If I believed that social problems could be solved by law’n’order, I would organize to ban certain concepts from human discourse. Among these would be corruption, conspiracy, and solutions. Like criminality, we use these words to define those whom we blame for our problems. When I was in grad school, my theoretical physicist uncle Ray Pepinsky, the inventor of x-ray chrystallography, taught me to call research findings that have no practical significance “trivial.” And so I say that distinctions between those we identify as corrupt conspirators and ourselves as problem solvers, are trivial. I pick corruption, conspiracy and solutions as examples here of the larger point that whatever categories we apply to separate “them” from “us”-- the harder we try to identify who is really whom--the harder we drive ourselves into mutual destruction.
Categories in mainstream rhetoric like corruption, conspiracy and solutions frame political discourse. As US sociologist W.I. Thomas put it, things that are defined as real are real in their consequences.
Where corruption is framed as why we can’t win a war, I think about people I meet who tell me their parents taught them right from wrong, and who volunteer to go into harm’s way to defend their family and their nation, which is what I was told led to official appointments of relatives in Tanzania for instance. Here in my own country I have never met a contested official decision that depended upon the facts at hand, rather than by considerations of who the person before them was. Is the disproportion of people of color in US cages a tribute to a dispassionate justice process? Is the privatization of prisons and military services worldwide incorruptible? I don’t have to be Hamid Karzai to see US hypocrisy, as the diplomatic euphemism goes at the highest levels. I ask whether people across Afghanistan and into Pakistan aren’t threatened defenseless by terror from air as deadly as the launching of v-rockets on London? How come our president isn’t going to memorial services for innocent women and children killed by US firepower in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq? Who then is the heartless, politically uncorrupted party in these situations?
“Conspiracy” literally means breathing together. It doesn’t matter where political deals are made—at the traffic stop, on the golf course, at an ASEAN meeting, wherever—aren’t they all conspiratorial, meaning: I’ll keep our secret if you keep it too, behind official and business scenes? Beyond the trivial finger-pointing business of who bigger and lesser conspirators are (aka the blame game), the only practical antithesis I can see to corruption is not keeping relations that affect other people secret. In a word, that’s called honesty (these days aka “transparency”).
Pure math problems have solutions, human problems do not. My definition of violence is the force of substantive goal fixation in any human relationship from the personal to the global. I began with a diatribe against fixation on growth. The harder we try to make people come around and do what it takes to accomplish a social goal, the bigger the inertial reaction, aka backlash or in CIA-talk blowback. I just blogged on how death-penalty opponents’ efforts to get state legislatures to offer life without parole as an alternative to a death sentence backfired. Life without parole has proliferated into sentencing teenagers to life without parole for having committed in one instance an armed robbery.
To avoid goal fixation, I pursue a process, peacemaking, rather than an end state, peace. (Like James Jones, I think I know how to achieve peace in short order; we just kill ourselves.) In that process, transformations from violent toward momentary settlement of differences rest, as Roger Fisher put it, on getting to yes! by moving from position to interest. In the victim-offender mediation program I was in back in Bloomington, a basic rule was “no name-calling.” I wish we would cut the name-calling crud when it comes to putting “them” in their place. I keep coming back to Walt Kelly’s swamp possum character Pogo’s routine conclusion: We have met the enemy and the enemy is us.
As a criminologist learning from prisoners I early on concluded that for the most part, there but for the grace of god go I. I don’t think calling people corrupt or conspiratorial, or proposing how to solve other people’s problems, helps us get over…and when we do, to avoid becoming complacent and instead remaining open to airing and negotiating our differences rather than trying to stomp them out. L&p hal

No comments:

Post a Comment