Saturday, June 23, 2012


Hal Pepinsky,,
June 22, 2012
                Criminological research has been the focus of my attempts to figure out my own learning methods, but methods I have chosen are—I believe—applicable to human learning in all contexts.  I distinguish “methods” from “methodology.”  This brief methodology is an account of postulates that guide my choice of how I learn today—a study of my own research methods.  At points I take the liberty of citing other places where I have elaborated on this or that point.
                As of my 1980 book surveying Crime Control Strategies, I explicitly adopted “the systems approach” taught me by my mentor and beloved colleague, the late Leslie T. Wilkins (as explained in the opening section of the book’s concluding chapter on “the potential for crime control” (at pp. 299-302).
                Where others try to discern whether a cause of an illness like criminality is biological, psychological, cultural or socio-economic, it is instead obvious to me that all change in anyone’s behavior manifest themselves biological 100% of the time, and psychologically and socially too.  A lobotomy, for instance, is 100% dependent on someone’s decision to do it, the materials and know-how to do it, triggered probably 100% by changes in the subject’s behavior (psychological), interacting with those who can’t figure out how to handle the subject socially, who live in a culture where there is a socially tolerable place for lobotomies to be done, which these days is 100% supported by “abnormalities” that show up in brain mapping…The only practical knowledge I can at least seek is of what people get, as in consequences for those who do lobotomies and those they lobotomize.  When presented with someone’s “problem behavior,” I find myself exploring possible outcomes of alternatives ways of treating his or her organism, including whether to intervene first medically, psychotherapeutically, or by exploring change with those who find the behavior “unacceptable”?  More fundamentally, whom should I consult for information about the situation first?  (My own default answer: start with the least powerful/least heard voice in the situation at hand.)
                In this methodological paradigm, a change introduced into a system one way is assumed to manifest itself in all manner of measures of system change we take.  Look hard enough, and you can find that environment can even change the genes of identical twins in divergent ways, and as with what are known as body memories, events can change eye color or induce pain or stigmata that correspond to changes in vital signs and electrical activity in the brain, and extend to how the organism is treated by others, and how it thinks, feels and behaves in social interaction.
                I focus on effects of interaction on feelings, thinking, and action, presupposing that every action has corresponding thoughts and feelings all at once.  Hence, empathy can be described as a feeling (of safety, of trust), as a thought (what one hears), movement within the actor (as in body language, blood pressure, or brain wave patterns), and as a course or process of interaction.  I call processes that manifest themselves as empathy “peacemaking,” in contrast to courses of action that inhibit empathy, which I call “violence.”  Violent courses of action are fixated on attaining substantive goals, where actors  treat others as instruments of goal achievement.  Empathic actions continually change direction, like a river allowed to change course, to meander and clean itself without human “improvements” like dredging, straightening and damming.  Empathic actors take turns listening, reflecting, and deciding what to say or do next.  In mathematical terms, empathic action is stochastic rather than causally determined.  I describe and contrast the nature of violence and peacemaking at some length in chapters 5 and 6 of my 2006 book on Peacemaking (final page proofs freely available at ).  I propose that violence generates entropy, where in physicists’ terms, social friction produces heat.  I propose that peacemaking generates synergy—a cooling of social heat.  Honest, open information sharing between actors is synergistic: When I freely give information I don’t lose it.  Any reaction I listen to not only adds to the information I gave, it adds my reaction to the reaction to my action; the sum of the interaction is different from either of its parts, just as green is neither blue nor yellow.  Potentially, empathic, that is to say honest and open interaction, defies laws of entropy, defies laws of scarcity.
                We continually rub each other the wrong way even in the strongest relationships.  Routinely, interpersonal and intergroup conflicts pass easily and are soon forgotten, violence is aborted.  Violence hardens as people get locked into holding their positions, into determination to win contests of will, into attachment to outcome, into violence.  In theory, it is never too late, as through mediation, to try responding to violence with empathy by showing parties to conflict that reasons for their position are understood and important to a listener.  It is never too early to try.  As Roger Fisher and associates put it their book on international diplomacy entitled Getting to Yes!, history shows that people can be made to move from positions to interests even when groups of people have wantonly killed each other by the millions, let alone when individuals kill in cold blood (see the 1999  Australian award-winning documentary, and an accompanying mediator commentary, on a mediation conference between those who murdered a Pizza Hut worker in an armed robbery attempt, and the victim’s family, coworkers and friends, in “Facing the Demons”; just google it).
`               Peacemaking recognizes that each case of violence and its parties are unique.  Putting people in legal categories is beside the point, which is fortunate because violence thrives on disputes over who the real villains are, as in whether those who claim al Qaeda membership or those who claim to defend US national security are the real terrorists.  As many people who practice “restorative justice” put it, in the face of violence, they and I focus is on repairing harms done rather than on righting wrongs, what they call “retributive justice.”  It’s not that empathy always repairs violence, but empathy is the only thing that ever does so.  Empathy, not making right with might, is the only remedy for violence I have found.  I would rather nurture empathy in my grandchildren by showing them empathy, than teaching them that I know right from wrong better than they do.  When it comes to personal and social security, empathy is how I learn it, empathy is how I teach it.  That’s my method of choice.  Love and peace--hal

1 comment:

  1. Check out Jock Young's THE CRIMINOLOGICAL IMAGINATION; it's critique of criminological methods reminds me so much of your work on police statistics, Hal. Glad to read you're still doing well after hospital. Mick