Saturday, January 28, 2012


FW: causes of autism
Pepinsky, Harold E.
You forwarded this message on 1/28/2012 11:01 PM.
Sent: Saturday, January 28, 2012 10:59 PM

The bbc reported on a Danish study indicating that infants liable to being diagnosed as autistic avoided looking people in a video screen in the eye. It's a persistent cultural problem in my nation to individualize what strike me as social, cultural problems.

Pepinsky,,, 519 Evergreen Circle, Worthington, OH 43085-3667, 1-614-885-6341
From: Pepinsky, Harold E.
Sent: Saturday, January 28, 2012 10:50 PM
Subject: causes of autism

I regret that we individualize social problems. If a child who might turn out to be autistic has trouble looking others in the eye, how about the people who are studying or treating the child, parents, other caregivers? It's too convenient to blame mothers for all kinds of personal "disorders," from autism to homosexuality to hysteria. We child caregivers have trouble looking each other let alone children in the eyes. I consider our children to be like canaries in the mine. When we diagnose our children as autistic, I think we see our adult selves, our cultural selves, reflected in inability to look each other in the eyes.

Hal Pepinsky,,, 519 Evergreen Circle, Worthington, OH 43085-3667, 1-614-885-6341

Saturday, January 21, 2012

learning from our children

bbc forum on willpower
Pepinsky, Harold E.
You forwarded this message on 1/21/2012 5:21 AM.
Sent: Saturday, January 21, 2012 5:20 AM

Thanks for your forum on willpower, focusing on how to teach children adults' wisdom on right and wrong. I reject the premise that children are born wild into a world where their elders know better. I presume instead that children's primary role is to show us adults absurdities of prevailing wisdom in which we adults have learned to clothe ourselves, where cultural notions of right and wrong may bear renegotiation. I propose that our children are born with wisdom we adults have repressed and lost, and that it is our duty as their caretakers to laugh with them for the absurdities of the world into which we bear them, and to resist turning momentary limits we impose on one another for safety's sake into larger "therapeutic" moral lessons. Differentiating right from wrong is an unending intergenerational learning process.

Hal Pepinsky,,, 519 Evergreen Circle, Worthington, OH 43085-3667, 1-614-885-6341

Friday, January 20, 2012



Hal Pepinsky,,

January 20, 2012

The web tells me that originally, in the 14th century, “investment” meant being officially robed as for priesthood or judgeship, with attendant authority and social duty. Several hundred years afterwards investment became a term for owning shares in the British East India Tea Company, entitled to profit privately thereby. I’m ambivalent about investment.

On one hand, I take enrobing oneself in personal commitment seriously, as in assuming lifelong responsibility for a child one has begotten, fostered, sponsored, or otherwise demanded be born.

On the other hand, I have a problem with limiting “investment” to a promise that one will support workers or customers or inventors until one’s financial commitment no longer pays off--until time for shareholders to sell out and move on, which strikes me as a climate of social insecurity. I am heartened as personalized investment takes priority over depersonalized market investment. Love and peace--hal

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

information as property


Hal Pepinsky,,

January 18, 2012

I was born 67 years ago this morning, on the 25th anniversary of the signing of the (rather tragic) Treaty of Paris. Kevin Costner, who now like me celebrates playing his acoustical guitar to sing along with, was born on my 10th birthday. By further coincidence, Wikipedia in English makes today memorable by shutting down for the day to protest legislation pending in Congress designed to enforce intellectual property rights.

My late mentor Les Wilkins taught me among other things that once information is shared, it cannot be taken back. Time and again this law of information has come back home to me. When I got involved with victims and survivors of child abuse 20 years ago, Les’s insight led me to define the abuse as an adult’s requirement that a child keep secret what happened between them. I concede no adult a right to extract such a concession from any child. By analogy, I conclude once anyone uses information with others, the information becomes public. Although I regret things I have said and written, I accept that anything I say on the phone or write on email is fair game for public distribution. I also try to respect confidences of people who share vulnerability with me, but not because I ask them to keep my secrets. I distinguish respect for privacy of peers and subordinates from ownership of what I myself say and do. So for instance, I have always asked editors to share my reviews of manuscripts with others and to identify me, and have made a practice of giving copies to subjects of all my letters of reference.

My livelihood has never depended on ownership of anything I have said, written or sung. I have had the privilege of making my last two books freely available because I don’t depend on royalties. From my own position, I regard the private proprietorship of land (as by fencing), let alone proprietorship of information, as a historical mistake I hope we humans learn to get past. I want art and invention to be supported but no longer owned.

By further extension, I don’t believe that governments and military establishments deserve to keep secrets from any of the rest of us. In the heat of the Cold War, I recall my mother’s saying that if all national secrets were suddenly revealed, the world would become no less dangerous and probably safer. Then in a microsociology class in grad school on gaming theory, I remember taking to heart the proposition that in negotiations, bargainers who opened by revealing their strategies fared better thaN those who tried to keep secrets. My little top secret stint as a US State Dept intern on East Asian Legal Affairs in 1967 reinforced my mother’s conviction. Today, in addition to celebrating Wikipedia’s strike, I celebrate the spirit of Wikileaks, and of all relaxation of restraints on sharing public and private intellectual property. The spirit of freedom of information lives. Love and peace--hal

Friday, January 13, 2012


Here's a post to the humanist sociology list:

a concession
Pepinsky, Harold E.
You forwarded this message on 1/14/2012 12:42 AM.
Sent: Saturday, January 14, 2012 12:20 AM

I have from college days on through work life so often and thoroughly had my opinions downgraded that I am more reluctant than ever to grant superiority of anyone's grasp of the good, true or beautiful to be superior to mine, let alone mine being superior to anyone else's on this list or in a classroom. In class I used to say that while eggs might be graded, people should not. Now I feel the same about trying to grade eggs. Pardon my attitude:-) l&p

Hal Pepinsky,,, 519 Evergreen Circle, Worthington, OH 43085-3667, 1-614-885-6341

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

teaching tips?

Hal Pepinsky,,
January 11, 2012
I retired three years ago after teaching large and small criminal justice classes for 39 years. The large class I taught was my greatest teacher. In my alternative social control systems class at Indiana U required for criminal justice majors I learned:
• No personal lecture notes, let alone power point or outlines. When I lead in with a lecture, I don’t want students to be distracted from looking straight at me…read my lips, period.
• Watch my use of time. I may all off by myself have obsessed for hours about what I would say when I took the lecture floor, but basically, an hour or two of what I might have rehearsed ideally comes out in 20-30 minutes at most of 2 or 3 requests for response to my purposely outrageous/outlier propositions about social control.
• Grade not lest I be graded. I eventually worked out a system I called “grading by not grading” where I gave credits for turning in on-time essays for simply writing enough words about readings (eventually all online, no purchase necessary) and class conversation.
• Honor what my students and other guests to class teach me. To me, the biggest treat in a class is to recognize learning things I didn’t already know.
These were principal principles by which I came to teach. I love learning. I resist the idea of teaching what “we know.” May we learn better. Love and peace--hal

Sunday, January 8, 2012

stranger danger


Hal Pepinsky,,

January 8, 2012

I believe that nearest and dearest adults pose far greater danger of rape, torture and homicide to our children and to women than strangers. Here stranger danger is a lie.

I also find stranger danger to be human investment strategy’s greatest global danger to my species’ survival. In my country’s law, it is social pressure to buy shares and hence “own” the right to maximize legitimized financial/wealth return on investment firewalled from personal commitment. If a company I’ve invested in packs up and moves out of Wichita on short notice and company share prices rise, I win the game of living well in retirement…that’s the promise. Any publicly listed stock in a for-profit corporation invites me to bet my old-age security on their guaranteeing profit through hard times when the corporation—no hard feelings—does its corporate duty to the strangers who “own” it, closes shop, and moves on.

I’m finding that around me the good news lies in local/personal investment. Families, partners, friends… The fiscally conservative investor in me is betting that distributing whatever “disposable wealth” I might have toward my nearest and dearest rather than to corporate stock is the surest antidote I have to the dangers we adults pose most of all to “our own” women and children. I am wary of the danger of investing with strangers. Love and peace--hal

Monday, January 2, 2012

devolution of punishment


Hal Pepinsky,,

January 2, 2012


The above story, including interviews with the victim, heralded in the new year, reverberating among international news outlets. A popular, reportedly oft-courted university student had acid thrown in her face by a rejected suitor/classmate/stalker, blinded and disfigured. She sued and won the legal right, by a deadline, to have him blinded by a family member pouring acid in the perp’s eyes as long as she wanted unless or until she said no. She wanted the court-ordered punishment imposed until seconds before the clock struck when if he were still alive, he would be freed for all time. As I heard her describe it, in the last moments before the deadline, she was seated at the bedside of her assailant. He was strapped down, his head immobilized. On the other side were, as I recall, her grandfather, parents, and oldest brother. Beside them were a doctor who held two small syringes of super acid and a prosecutor, presiding. Only the brother accepted the syringes. The prosecutor told the victim that she could stop the proceeding any time by just saying no. The assailant was writhing and screaming obscenities at the victim about how fat and ugly she was. At the last moment, the survivor shouted no! stop! The incredulous prosecutor asked whether she did indeed forgive her assailant, which she did. The prosecutor asked her why she had put everyone in the room to so much trouble. The victim-turned-survivor replied that even though she had hoped her revenge would deter others from doing to other women what had been done to her, but in the end, she could not bring herself to put another human being through the pain that she had endured. Released, her attacker sobbed and bowed and started to kiss her feet. My recollection is that she told him to get up and be on his way, while she gets on with the life she has built since the attack. What an uplifting story of peace and justice with which to start the new year.

The survivor’s name is Ameneh Bahrami. I for one am profoundly grateful that she has taken charge of her own life and shares her story. Ms. Bahrami, many thanks. How fitting it is that you sought and received your judgment in the land of Hammurabi’s law of lex talionis, where you sought and received the state-protected right to take his eyes for yours, confronted your attacker, and let the torture you suffered end between you and the guy who hurt you end by your own example.

Your story reminds me that lex talionis is a time-honored way of ending wars and feuds. I remember noticing an ethnography of early Icelandic justice that gave a family member of a murder victim a day or two or three to go with backup to the killer’s place and kill him in front of his family, or be done with it. I also hear echoes of Shakespeare’s Portia in Merchant of Venice telling the lendor he could take his pound of flesh from his debtor…but not a drop more on pain of death for murder. I understand lex talionis to be a statute of limitations on punishment: take whatever pain or compensation and let the matter end there.

The attacker has also been publicly named. His remaining life will surely remain hell if that matters to anyone, which it no longer does to Ms. Bahrami. But that is no longer anyone’s public responsibility to perpetuate.

By giving Ms. Bahrami total control of her assailant within carefully prescribed limits, the Iranian prevented the dispute from escalating between families, let alone ending further state management of lives of those involved. Although the victim-offender conflicts I mediated back in Indiana were far less severe than Ms. Bahrami’s, I resonate to her experience of joys of victim-offender mediation.

To me, the moral of this story is that the more readily we can arrange for people with grievances to settle the grievances among themselves, the less we get saddled with state attempts to dictate terms of settlement because those who have been offended tend to settle. Where the original justification for crown justice was imposing public safety from on high, I now find myself celebrating Iranian law enforcement officials grant to Ms. Bahrami of limited control over her own wrongdoer’s fate instead--a devolution of power that turned out to become restorative rather than retributive for all concerned. When the state defers punishment for social order’s sake to victims as Iranian authorities have done for Ms. Bahrami, results can be far more liberating to all concerned than any state-imposed punishment for Ms. Bahrami could have achieved. From wars abroad to wars on crime at home, the time for devolution of state-imposed punishment is at hand. Love and peace--hal