CRIMINOLOGY AS DIPLOMACY
Hal Pepinsky, email@example.com, pepinsky.blogspot.com
September 8, 2012
I grew up in a heavily militarized part of the industrial U.S. Midwest during the heart of the Cold War. Classmates and I in our college freshman dorm were glued to the tv during the Cuban Missile Crisis the fall of 1962. The atmosphere in my academic household was such that I became fascinated with how people felt about themselves and my country. I studied Russian in high school. I listened to Radio Moscow on the shortwave radio I built from a kit. Soviet and U.S. government foreign policy sounded so much alike to me, as though twins were fighting. I was the only non-Norwegian in my urban school my last year of high school. By 1962, I had for some time dreamed of growing up to be a legally trained diplomat, above all to be in a position to bring my government and the Soviets to the bargaining table to cut through the bullshit both sides were locked into and end the damned war. I got a short but major taste of my dream the summer of 1967 as the US State Department took me on as the sole intern assigned to East Asian legal affairs, which ended my dream of a foreign service career. By a twist of fate, I became a criminologist instead. By retirement, I had blended diplomacy and criminology into a study of how to transform violent relations both internationally and intranationally. I called my theory and practice of how to accomplish that transformation “peacemaking.”
Now, in retirement, from here and there, I find myself talking and consulting about applying peacemaking in practice by substituting what I call “mediation” for responding to the violence of crime with return violence and coercive force, my version of “restorative justice.” I find I have trouble conveying why I postulate that mediation is the only thing that cools rather than heats up violence in all social relations, from those of friend to friend through gang homicides to ethnic and international warfare. I’m thinking that perhaps “diplomacy” might more adequately convey what I mean by peacemaking than “mediation.” More than a recipe or adherence to formal legal procedures, diplomacy requires careful listening and creativity that honestly conveys respect and dignity to every party, and invites them to assume control of their affairs, as against doing things TO or FOR them (which unfortunately is all too common in what passes for “restorative justice” and “mediation” as others use those labels). A hallmark of diplomacy is offering confidentiality to all parties. The more threatening the violence, the more important it is to introduce diplomacy. So for instance, where homicide is seen as a pre-eminent national problem, it is all the more important to intervene diplomatically, that is, through efforts to mediate. This includes opening channels to make it safe for parties on to volunteer for victim-offender mediation, offender-state mediation, victim= and offender-community support. Where violence is collective, settlement ultimately entails identifying opposing leaders and bringing them safely to the table whether in Syria, or in a neighborhood haunted by gang shootings—as opposed to trying to destroy the groups by chopping off their leaders’ heads and trying to convert individual group members into cultural assimilation as in juvenile “treatment” programs or homes for aboriginal children. On the other hand, no interpersonal organizational conflict is too trivial to try diplomacy over fighting or separation. I have long described peacemaking as an attitude toward social control. Now I recognize that that attitude amounts to offering diplomacy wherever fighting occurs, wars on and coerced treatment of crime and criminals included.
Diplomatic creativity begins by searching for ways that the least powerful voices especially are ensured that they can safely communicate their own feelings and sense of the situation without retaliation. Child protection investigators face this problem when they ask children to repeat their stories of being “abused”; if they don’t substantiate a child’s story or the story doesn’t hold up in court, the child faces secret retaliation by those s/he has accused. The same problem for adults has prompted enactment of a law designed to protect whistleblowers (ineffectual as that law often is). In cases in which I tried to support such children as by testifying in court, I learned that I would never betray a child’s confidence that someone has hurt her or him if I did not think anyone I turned to would believe and protect the child. Instead, I do what survivors have taught me meant a lot to them when no other help was available: to let them know that I consider what was done to them should not have happened, that I am sorry they are being hurt, that it isn’t their fault no matter what anyone says, and that I am honored they have told me their secret and am always ready to listen and help however I can. One survivor—a longtime friend--told me and my students told me that a simple look of sympathy from a fifth-grade teacher gave her the strength to endure until she ran away from her father and his cult when she was sixteen. She was among survivors whom I saw become stronger in themselves and their relations as they shared their stories publicly from year to year. As a teacher who invited Jeanette Westbrook back to my classes time and again, I was myself as a mediator—a bridge between her violent past and a safe place to live and be valued. In so doing, I felt I approached her trauma by the same principles I applied in victim-offender mediation and in designing and operating the classes I taught. When I find myself saying to criminologists and criminal justice practitioners that mediation is my answer to any problem they want “solved.” To my mind, mediation entails getting parties to make up their own rules of co-existence if needed by bending rules rather than following rules prescribed to them. I came out of law school hoping to use my training to making up laws that would promote social harmony. Now I call myself a recovering lawyer. Who am I, after all, to know better than others what is good for them?
Criminologists worldwide are not alone in reducing the problem of crime to the problem of the criminal or the oppressor. Worldwide, national and personal security is reduced to identifying who is at fault for our problems, who our real enemies are. Individualism turns social problems into handling “the” problem people, or by getting one’s own head and life together. Whether in the legal system or in the classroom, individualism means that the ones who disrupt social order are those who become its failures. Talk as we may about distinguishing personal from structural problems, we grow up so carefully taught that problems are someone’s fault that we may even remain individualists when we call ourselves socialists or speak of doing social justice. Living as we do in a culture of individualizing responses to social problems, I find it hard indeed to get even close and respected criminological friends the idea of forsaking the issue of which conflicts to mediate in favor of thinking how to initiate or support diplomacy in the face of any crime or criminal justice problem. Maybe substituting “diplomacy” for “mediation” and “peacemaking” will help. Stay posted. Love and peace--hal