INDIVIDUALIZING VERSUS INDIVIDUATING
Hal Pepinsky, email@example.com, “peacemaking” at pepinsky.blogspot.com
October 31, 2014
Ernst A. Wenk and Robert L. Emrich published what remains for me the most authoritative study of the potential for predicting individual behavior to this day: “Assaultive Youth: an exploratory study of assaultive experience and assaultive potential of California Youth Authority wards,” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 9 (July 1972), pp. 171-196. The 4,146 youths admitted to the CYA’s Reception and Diagnostic Center 1964-65 were followed up for 15 months after release on parole, when 104 of them became violent parole violators. The 104 violators and the rest of the sample were randomly split in two. One half were used to infer a weighted series of 18 variables predicting parole violation, from prior history of violence to months incarcerated. The predictors were applied to the other sample. False positives and false negatives were calculated as successive predictor variables were added to prediction equations. At all levels, trade-offs between falsely predicting “recidivism” and failing to predict it were substantial. More significantly, the predictors added to the equation, the more errors there were overall—the worse the trade-off. (I discuss the significance of this study at length in chapter 10 of my 1980 Crime Control Strategies book.)
At the time the study was published, I had just met and was about to become team-teacher with Leslie T. Wilkins. Les and Herman Mannheim had won the British Statistical Society’s research award for their study of Prediction Methods in Relation to Borstal Training (HMSO, 1955). By the time I met him, Les had long since renounced his own quest to predict behavior, concentrating on decision-making. He was working with Don Gottfredson to design the first federal parole guidelines (which design later became perverted into parole prediction). My recollection is that Les gave me a reprint of the Wenk and Emrich article the day I as a new assistant professor at SUNY-Albany walked into Les’s office to introduce myself. He pointed out that he had written a foreword to the article, which read in part:
Something different must be attempted if we are to seek to control the behaviors we find repulsive….Perhaps this study should be “the last word” for some time in the attempt to “predict” violence potential for individuals.
Les got his two years of post-secondary education in engineering during his period analyzing
plane crashes for the Royal Air Force during World War II. As he explained the systems analysis he applied, “the question was whether to reconfigure the instrument panel or replace (i.e. blame) the pilot.” From WWII he went to the Statistical Unit of the British Home Office, thence to the UN research unit in Tokyo, thence to a brief stint in the closing days of the School of Criminology at Berkeley, and thence to become a founding member of the School of Criminal Justice at Albany in 1968, where we met and spent a lot of time together for our four years together. He was a true mentor.
Les taught me to recognize it fundamental to statistics—generalizing from one situation or sample to a larger population—rest on units of variance, which require that you have a sample of at least three data. This took me back to the beginning of my intro statistics course (in grad school): the probability attached to any point on a sampling distribution is zero. Translated into human science, as E.F. Schumacher (creator of the concept of “appropriate/intermediate” technology) put it in Small is Beautiful: economics as if people mattered, individual behavior is in principle unpredictable.
The dominant culture in my part of the world is individualism. Individualism is a paradox. On one hand, as in blaming, holding accountable, holding liable, holding responsible, punishing, rewarding, correcting, treating, disciplining, evaluating, diagnosing and grading individuals as discrete bodies. On the other hand, it reduces each individual to a classification based on prior behavior. As individuals, at our scientific frontier, as in criminology, we seek to correct that individual by evidence-based best practices, for what has worked for more individuals who have the same profile, who are treated as “like that” group of persons in the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, or in that “risk group.” As Les Wilkins pointed out, this modeling of human behavior is deterministic, as against the stochastic modeling he found “useful.”
Survivors who had adapted to severe, repeated childhood trauma by “splitting” into “multiple personalities” or “dissociative identities,” many of whom had in safety “reintegrated” their “parts” or “alters” with a core sense of self, made me aware that in myself, as in other “onesies,” there are also many parts that are variously “triggered” by circumstance, that may for example act out in anger, as though a piece of the past is present. For the survivors, healing entails learning to differentiate between the circumstances that brought out angry or submissive alters in the past and this or that present relationship. As they build trust in some relations, to distinguish these relations from those they defended themselves against, they come to know and let out other parts that can afford compassion, empathy, responsiveness to the needs and sensibilities of others in that context. More subtly, less consciously perhaps, from moment to moment within relations let alone among our relations, different parts of ourselves get triggered, or more consciously get acted upon. As we get to know and accept one another in many respects, as Nils Christie proposed in his 1981 book Limits to Pain, we become less capable of pigeonholing what kind of person we are dealing with, in particular less capable of inflicting pain or punishment on them for being a certain kind of person. In Christie’s terms, we become less able to punish (or for that matter elevate or reward) someone as that kind of person. Placing limits on the pain or control over others we exercise entails individuating our relationships, both among and from moment to moment in each of our relations. As Les Wilkins recognized, in matters of conflict resolution, it is how the direction of our relations shifts moment to moment—apart or together—here and now rather than there and then. In my criminological career, I have most strikingly noticed this in the many relationships I have had with (ex-)prisoners. In my first year as a student public defender in law school, I had had the uncomfortable duty of doing intake interviews with detainees, which of course, began with offense charged and prior record. And so, by the time I met Fred Villaume who volunteered to teach a “project group” in my criminology class the spring quarter of 1971, I figured I no more wanted to ask an “offender” what s/he had done than I would ask anyone else I met about her/his personal past. In Fred’s case, we eventually learned a whole lot about each other’s past, including his telling me, a year before he died, that he had shortly after we met killed a guy and his buddies to save me from being killed as a suspected narc. If I am writing in support of a prisoner’s release, knowing about the “offense” matters. Otherwise, even in long-term relations, prior record may no more come up for discussion any more than I would inquire freely into the past of any other friend, let alone acquaintance. That is not to say that I make friends with all prisoners I meet; I have had unpleasant encounters among relations in all walks of life. I do know enough to know that some of my friends fit the profile of the serious violent offender, and yet, at present, whether in or out of prison, are gentle, honest and empathic with others as they are with me. It reminds me of what Shadd Maruna found in his 2001 study, Making Good: how ex-convicts reform and rebuild their lives, that those who made it after release found parts of themselves with others that they liked better than the parts associated with their incarceration. It is not that (ex-)prisoners become different individuals; it is that they individuate, drawing on the parts of themselves that enjoy requited honesty, trust, respect and support. This is individuation at a situational level.
Situational individuation interacts with interpersonal individuation. My parents, Harold B. and Pauline N. Pepinsky, taught me the lesson they sought to teach in their 1954 book, Counseling: Theory and Practice. In a truly therapeutic relationship, therapists differentiate their own feelings, their own sense of right and wrong, of good and bad, of reasonability and sanity (which requires personal insight on their part), from those of their clients. In all discourse, individuation of others from ourselves is essential for honesty, for building and affirming that relations are trustworthy as against telling others what you think they want or need to hear.
What in child trauma survivors are called “multiple personalities” exist more subtly in all of us. I find it rare at best that what Robert K. Merton called “role sets” don’t exist—distinct parts of ourselves, things we feel and express, at home, at work, at play, in public… And different parts of our past are triggered in some situations rather than others, with some people rather than others. At all moments, individual behavior becomes action, a vector of feeling and expression which reacts to an interaction of relations past and present. Whether within or among relations, any of us who has lived and feared even the horrors of sadistic ritual torture, or any grievance, may respond to offers of understanding, trust and acceptance in kind. That change of attitude and direction is not a matter of learning a fast code of right and wrong, but of having one’s awareness and concern for the effects of one’s reactions to others awakened and returned. In matters of conflict and human division (as I put it in a chapter of A Criminologist’s Quest for Peace, 2001, under books at www.critcrim.org), in the face of violence, empathy works, obedience doesn’t. Empathy presupposes that at any moment, we individuate our circumstances and ourselves, treating one another as unique rather than as a defective or otherwise categorized, unitary individuals.
Becoming safe to others entails becoming safe with others, entails a sense of belonging with and being accepted by at least a single other person for being one’s honest self rather than having to defend one’s honest existence. That in turn entails forsaking trying to change a whole person or personality, for coming to terms with matters at hand, which trust itself permits. I see individuating ourselves and others as being moved by the force of human connection I call love, implying a give-and-take process of interaction I call peacemaking. I see human interaction as a balance of that force against the force I call fear, when habituated or institutionalized I call violence, doing what we feel needs to get done, must be done, or minimally, should be done. That includes individualizing social problems—reducing conflict and discord to separating, correcting, incapacitating, or eliminating entire individuals for their misdeeds. In the field of criminology, we seek to suppress target behaviors by an array of physical and medical (from urinalyses to psycho-tropics) means of confinement, or in the extreme, extermination. When confinement or medical suppression ends (professional relations end as well), recidivism is the individual’s “responsibility,” requiring further confinement or extended probation.
Fortunately, individualization cannot entirely suppression individuation within controllers, their humanity. And so among prisoners as among survivors of extreme childhood trauma I have known, moments of compassion and empathy among a range of professionals (other prisoners and students too) are recognized as catalysts for beginning to form safe and lasting sets of relations, to find “normal,” fulfilling lives. Or coming out of prison, some create those lives in spite of the time they served—often a combination of the two.
The problem with reshaping people as individual machine models is, as Newton tells us, entropy—distrust, secrecy, anger, depression, dissociation, manifestations of fear and human separation. Each time we add an “evidence-based” program to (re)habilitate offenders as a group, we create failures we call recidivists or label relapsed. In the 1970s, these failures in a wave of “exemplary” “diversion programs” were compounded as by three-strikes laws to make the world’s third highest incarcerator what we now call “mass incarceration.” An expanded, increasingly for-profit privatized “corrections” industry is increasingly impervious to abolition, if ever it was. Today US prison populations are falling some, but we are creating the human industrial fodder for future record incarceration rates. In the past, as in the former Soviet region, the only way the upward cycle has been broken is by mass amnesty or clemency. From stigmatizing to credentialing one another as by standardizing education, we in the US are locked tightly into a culture of individualizing our social problems and our successes…just not entirely.
When we individualize, we treat one another as categories. When we individuate, we engage in a process of mutual discovery, mutual learning, about issues and problems at hand, as in circle processes. In this process that I call “peacemaking,” coming to terms is a journey with no pre-conceived end, except to build and requite trust. The less time and attention we give to individualizing one another, the more time and room we have to individuate. Love and peace, hal