WHERE PEACEMAKING LED ME
Hal Pepinsky, firstname.lastname@example.org, “peacemaking” at pepinsky.blogspot.com
October 5, 2016
I recently had occasion to remember an interview that Contemporary Justice Review founding editor Dennis Sullivan conducted with me, asking me to account for how my own empiricism—i.e., what I had learned FROM rather than ABOUT my data sources from knowing them, from (ex-)prisoners including assistant instructors at my first job, through survivors of ritual abuse as my primary data—had shaped my conception of how violence and its peacemaking transformation manifest themselves (CJR 6,1: 69-80, 2003). The trauma that came of trying to give voice to survivors and their advocates in the face of skepticism among my daily and professional relations has pretty much lifted since I retired. I offer this narrative of how I gained the understanding of how violence and peacemaking work that guides me still, and of course, I’m still learning:
ISSN: 1028-2580 (Print) 1477-2248 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/gcjr20
Facing into the wind's teeth: An interview with hal pepinsky
To cite this article: Dennis Sullivan (2003) Facing into the wind's teeth: An interview with hal pepinsky, Contemporary Justice Review, 6:1, 69-80, DOI: 10.1080/1028258032000055667
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1028258032000055667
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Date: 17 September 2016, At: 17:52
FACING INTO THE WIND’S TEETH: AN INTERVIEW WITH HAL PEPINSKY
Institute for Economic and Restorative Justice
Editor’s Note: The title of the interview comes from a poem by William Carlos Williams entitled The Manoeuvre. There Williams talks about seeing two starlings, just before alighting, turning in the air together backwards—but what got to him, he says, was that in doing so, they faced “into the wind’s teeth.” Commenting on the poem, Denise Levertov points out that, while it is a celebration of life, it also tells us that life sometimes requires adroit manoeuvering, its fullness emerging when we work not against but in cooperation with that which makes it most difficult. The interview speaks to this throughout.
CJR: Well, finally, here we are. We have talked about doing this interview for such a long time. Thank you for agreeing to be part of it. Of course, our readers will know you from your many contributions to CJR but what they might not know is that behind those articles, some of which deal with some very complex issues, is a complex person. To tap into that complexity a bit, let me begin by asking you some controversial questions about justice. I say controversial because you have said in the past that you have a hard time with the concept of justice because justice does not foster human wellbeing, that it ought not be considered a primary category for explaining or improving the human condition. I’ve heard you make such or similar statements in front of groups of people and, in a perverse sort of way, enjoyed watching their eyebrows raise and throats clear. No pun intended but I hope I have done justice to my memory. Please help us by clarifying what your views on justice are, and whether you think there might be other categories worth spending more time talking about and acting on.
HP: Thanks for asking, Dennis. Actually, I don’t mind using the word justice. I simply believe that virtually by definition, “doing justice” is a violent process. The key to my problem with doing justice lies in how I define violence and its antithesis, which I first labeled “responsiveness” and later called “peacemaking” in an article published in Justice Quarterly in 1988.
ISSN 1028-2580 print; ISSN 1477-2248 online © 2003 Taylor & Francis Ltd DOI: 10.1080/1028258032000055667
I remember feeling at the time that I had found the criminological holy grail. From my very first encounter with criminology in a law school course in 1967, where Lloyd Ohlin introduced my class to the work of the President’s Crime Commission Task Force Report on Assessment, hot off the press, I had until that article sought, vainly, to take room for political bias out of defining the harm in crime and criminality. I had sought refuge in how first Edwin Sutherland (on white-collar criminality), and then Hy and Julia Schwendinger, broadened their definition of criminology’s dependent variable to include all social harms. The problem remained: one person or group’s social harm may be another’s blessing. Is a killing a murder or an altruistic defense of national, familial, or personal security? Is a state-recognized ownership of private property in fact theft? It depends on whom you ask. I concluded that there was no way in purely material or behavioral terms (such as lives lost or property moved) to define social harm, let alone crime and criminality, without arbitrary political bias. By a process of reduction, I turned my attention to differences we perceive in intentions underlying our actions.
A spring I spent in Norway in 1986, where I had proposed to study peaceful societies, jarred loose this insight: What really threatens us when we speak in fear and anger about crime and criminality is, at its extreme, what some folks label psychopathy or sociopathy. In violent moments, the assailant has no empathy for the pain, fear, or loss to his or her victims. Whatever insight the psychopath has into another’s thoughts and feelings is purely instrumental. The bottom line is that the psychopath relentlessly pursues his or her own personal objective, unmoved from his or her personal agenda by the experiences and feelings of others.
In plain terms, the scary thing about violence, including that in crime and criminality, is that actors remain goal-directed, mission-bound, sticking to a preset agenda no matter who gets hurt or left out along the way. The actor may be a single person, group, organization, or even a direction in movement of all humankind collectively. This remains my definition of violence, applicable to all levels of human interaction. I define remaining fixated on any substantive social outcome or agenda as my ultimate social problem.
By definition, then, the antithesis of violence is altering one’s objective or agenda out of compassion for others whom one’s actions affect. Insofar as this give-and-take or mutual accommodation takes place in interaction, I call interaction “responsive” and postulate that “peace” is “being made.” I also refer to this process as “participatory democratization,” “balanced conversation” or “discourse.” Insofar as we make peace—establish trustworthy relations and build community and personal responsibility—we let go of attachment to outcomes. We are violent insofar as we hang onto objectives or substantive agendas. This has become the dependent variable in my own theorizing, replacing crime and criminality.
Correct me if you hear differently but when I hear people talking about doing justice, I infer that they are bent on achieving a preordained outcome, as in just deserts or social equality. The more passionate the commitment to that result, the more violent the passion is to me, by definition.
I am perfectly willing to use the term justice in another way: as a synonym for karma—the recognition that in fact all social actions have consequences. I share the view that over generations, human beings and indeed the universe are all connected. In this scheme of things I also postulate that, on the whole, violence begets violence and peacemaking begets peace. In my view of things, justice, like shit, just happens, even if it takes some generations for what goes around to come around. As I perceive it, doing justice or remedying injustice amounts to playing God and, at its most successful, becomes political revolution in which one ruling class supersedes another. I see the task of peacemaking as one of trying to democratize our social relations, which entails allowing ourselves to be surprised by the consequences.
CJR: You’re right, we are all affected by harms in different ways and to different degrees. As we know, acts which one of us views as the source of great pain and suffering, another of us might see as not troublesome at all. A persistent problem, of course, is that so many of us are not willing to listen to people’s stories about their pain and suffering, and especially as they define and experience it. So often we try to move them into a conceptual venue or framework that is meaningful to us, in which we feel more comfortable. And I am not talking about listening to the stories of others retroactively, after something horrible has happened to them, but about listening to their visions, hopes, and aspirations as well. Only when we express ourselves and are listened to in this way do we begin to recognize what our true needs are and begin to emerge as a person who begins to feel peace. We feel at home everywhere. If we are interested in creating a peaceful world, do we not have to begin in our families, schools, and workplaces, to live in a way that we take each other’s stories seriously and structure our lives to meet the needs that emerge from the telling of those stories? Is that not pretty revolutionary and having nothing to do with political classes superseding each other? But for most of us, if we start introducing “needs as central,” at work for example, we soon find ourselves in some pretty deep shit—to stay with your French—and so might back off and conclude: well, maybe those stories are really not that important after all. Talk about allowing yourself to be surprised by consequences, but is that not what peaceful revolution is—risking, spending our lives for the needs of others?
HP: Consideration of human need is certainly more fertile ground for peacemaking than consideration of giving people their just deserts. The catch, as with defining harm, is that defining needs is a politically ambiguous matter. One person’s need is another person’s violence. For instance, the prevailing political view in my country at the moment is that single mothers need to work full time, at minimum wage if that is what is available, for their own good, for their children’s sake, and for the benefit of the surrounding community. To me, the violence in this policy lies in the fact that the mothers in question, and their children, have not been consulted about what their needs are. The difference between violence and building safer communities with single mothers and their children lies in the process by which needs are defined, not simply in whether needs are attended.
The process of sending single mothers to work is not fair, but are the results unjust? I doubt it. I perceive that social life is getting more harried, so that even the welfare lawmakers do not have much time to spend in quiet conversation with their own children. As the world becomes smaller and human interaction faster and more furious, we learn that we are all connected. It is not only the lives of working mothers and their children that are impoverished. Life becomes a more and more anxiety-provoking rat race for us all. In my reading of history, cultural transformation of peoples of violence into peacemakers happens only as ruling elites recognize that unfairness and lack of compassion impoverishes and endangers their own lives. I am thinking that the current welfare-to-work policy is giving just deserts to policymakers themselves. Sadly, unfairly, those at the bottom of any hierarchy suffer most until their rulers wake up. I keep the faith that a divine law of just deserts offers us a lesson: violence that goes around, ultimately, across generations where cultural transformation counts, comes around. The challenge I see in peacemaking is to spread awareness that democratic dialogue really does make those of us involved safer in the moment together; and in the longer run, is the sprout from which peacemaking has the capacity to blossom. Insofar as we are making peace by accommodating one another’s definitions of situations, we also get our just deserts—tangible measures of personal and social security for instance. I believe that we are being dealt justice all the time. It is up to us to reflect on human experience and recognize as soon as we will that a balanced and inclusionary process of making decisions matters more than what those decisions happen to be at any moment.
I’m curious: Why do you and others feel it so important to be working to do justice? What is the attachment to the idea? Why, do you think, are people surprised that I make do without trying to redress injustice?
CJR: Of course the answers to your questions are: it is our acts of kindness, compassion, and love toward each other that count and, if our words do not accurately describe those acts and their effects, we need to find words that do. That’s what poets do best: describe accurately what sits before the eyes and what arises from within.
You mention two things that are puzzling. You say that the challenge in peacemaking is to spread awareness about the possibility of democratic dialogue but is that not only part of the picture and perhaps only the tip of the iceberg? Is not the challenge, the more fundamental challenge, to live peacefully, for example by creating social arrangements in which the needs of all are taken into account? That way peaceful actions speak for themselves and become little demonstration projects, though as a teacher, I am not averse to spreading the word about dreams of another world. Take this journal for instance.
My second concern relates to the first, in that you talk about peacemaking happening only after the bigwigs undergo a metanoia. Again, does not peacemaking happen in each and every one of our actions, every time we create a new relationship in which I refuse to satisfy my own needs all the expense of another: that is, a relationship in which the needs of others are taken into account as well as our own? Am I hearing you correctly on this? I am getting the sense that change for you is (nearly) limited to action from the neck up, that is, we engage in peacemaking by talking about peacemaking; we see change in peacemaking when the bigwigs are no longer having fun with existing social arrangements and they stop warmaking—change from our neck up and from the neck of the social system up.
Of course does not your example of the single mother who is forced to work outside the home for wages so she and her children can stay alive call for the creation of different kinds of families, a different sense of kinship, to pick up on a recent interest of Larry Tifft? That is why I am so attracted to Catholic Worker communities: they are alternative families for people forced into ignominy not through dialogue about alternative families but by creating them. But you have examples in your own work life when you have redefined kinship by taking on the burdens of others. True?
HP: Of course what counts most are everyday displays of kindness, compassion, and love. I only meant that by the time such contributions to greater peace have produced a noticeable change in dominant political culture, almost by definition, members of the ruling class have been drawn into change as thoroughly as oppressed people. During those generations, wealthy people have as much opportunity to live democratic moments as those they oppress.
In my experience, magic moments of interpersonal transformation of violence to peacemaking just happen to us, when we—as the Navajo have been said to say—show up, pay attention, tell the truth, and aren’t attached to outcome. I propose that peacemaking for each of us begins with seeking out voices that are left out of social conversations. And so, for instance, many of my transformational moments have come when I have brought what students call “real people,” those who defy cultural stereotypes of what people believe, into my classrooms. I take pleasure in seeing those of my guests who return to my classes become relaxed and open about spreading social heresy: a former narcotics agent who believes wars on drugs are inherently corrupt and socially disruptive; or one of two Native Americans on my campus faculty of over 1000, to speak to what he knows of our American history; or a survivor of rape whom legal authorities have not believed. It is not only that the guests’ confidence happens, but also that a large number of students listen respectfully to genres of
stories they had never known existed. From my daughter and others of her generation, I learned how important it is, beyond survival, to “make a difference.” Yes, in whatever walk of life one finds oneself, I agree, one’s daily relations are one’s greatest opportunity to transform violence. From time to time, generally when one least anticipates it, social and cultural habits of violence will be broken, as the practice of peacemaking takes hold of people’s lives.
Catholic Workers set a wonderful example of democratizing life. At the same time, there is as far as I can see no one way to live right or live better. I am a fulltime employee of the state. I comfort myself that I can live a privileged, state-supported life, or could be a police officer or soldier, and still make peace in my everyday relations, with equal potential for contribution to cultural transformation. I draw inspiration from the way Catholic Workers at JSA meetings openly acknowledge and deal with daily conflict, including strains they themselves inflict on their own partners and children.
When I say that cultural transformation only happens as ruling class awareness of violence catches up with oppressed people’s in-your-face experience, I mean only to counsel patience. My daily relations may never be noted by the political powers that be. As you suggest, they still count because in democratic relations, we all learn how to relate better in interactions to come, which is all we can do. All that we can plan is to extend and balance our conversations. Insofar as cultures become more supportive of peacemaking, even people at higher social levels join in the kindness, compassion, and love.
CJR: Well, I think what you say characterizes the life you have tried to lead or, to be more presently correct, do lead. I can think of your work over the years with people who reported being ritually abused. Can you talk a bit about how you came to be involved in their cause, if you will, and how your work with folks there brought a form of ostracism to you. People you considered colleagues for years—professional criminologists, sociologists, and the like—who did not accept the stories of the folks you were working with took several, or more, steps backward and from you. I know that caused great pain to you and for a time left a bitter taste in your mouth which might still linger. Would you be willing to talk about this for a moment?
HP: My first impulse when I read this latest question of yours was to respond on the spot with one word, “Yes,” and invite you to go on. Then I heard my wife Jill Bystydzienski’s voice inside my head telling me to take the message home and think about it. As I thought about it, I recognized just how strong a set of emotions the prelude to your question evoked in me. By happenstance, you sent me your question at a time when in my big class we were reacting to a video, Facing the Demons, on a conference of victims, offenders, families, and the friends and co-workers of a teenager who was killed by a shotgun blast in a robbery attempt at a Pizza Hut in a quiet suburb of Sydney, Australia. It is manifest to me that all those who volunteered to participate felt less haunted, safer, stronger, and happier for the experience. However, a large proportion of students wrote that they would never volunteer for such an experience and simply wanted eternal punishment for the offenders. This makes me aware, as Arnold Mindell argues in his book Sitting in the Fire, how crucial sharing profound emotions, especially those of anger and fear, is to pulling back from war and violence . . . and yet how hard to dare to do. My first impulse when I read your latest question was to wall off public expression of negative emotions and avoid the spirit of your question. I’m glad I took time for reflection on how I might feel and want to respond.
I want to center my response on those who identify themselves as critical criminologists. I figure that they are the audience you talk about. And so, to my sister and brother critical criminological colleagues especially, this response is for you. The word you used in your
question that evoked the strongest emotion in me was “bitter.” My first reaction was no! I enjoy so much professional recognition and personal support among my colleagues. I meet young criminologists who are in awe of me. I feel listened to and appreciated when I speak on peacemaking theory and practice. Who am I to complain? My second reaction is to let go and acknowledge that yes, I have felt deeply the professional rejection and inattention to what matters most to me over my more than 30 years as a critical criminologist. I think it is pretty common knowledge among colleagues who know me that I was in effect fired twice, and had to appeal to get tenure and my final promotion in the Department of Criminal Justice at Indiana University that I feel so privileged to work in. I got cocky because my first two journal submissions were accepted, the first a first-semester graduate term paper on Police Reaction to Miranda v. Arizona, the second explaining Maoist Chinese resistance to the rule of law that I had been taught in law-school jurisprudence is most sacred. By the way, I now understand that resistance to amount to what I call “letting go of attachment to outcome.” Terrible as the method used to try to impose Maoist resistance to the rule of law was, I think the principle remains sound.
Then, on the same day, just after I had met Jill, I got my first two rejections. I was devastated. Because I wanted to stay in academia, I developed a survival strategy. I would keep at least three manuscripts out to journals at a time. When I got a rejection or request for revision that made no sense to me, I would post the manuscript to another journal the same day. The one article that came out of my dissertation on police crime-reporting appeared in the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency four years after I had started sending the manuscript around. It was the eleventh journal the manuscript had gone to and, as I recall, it took over a year for the editor to get back to me. Many of the rejections I received, like the evaluations at my first two jobs, were scathing. The most central message: you are not a scientist. You are therefore not one of us. You do not belong here. Guess what? We all want to belong. It hurt of course. I recognize that it takes a big ego and a lot of effort to survive with any personal integrity in US research universities. To repeat, who am I complain? I have survived on my own terms. And yet . . .
It is ironic to me, and all the more validating to what I think matters, that on the one hand my name today among criminologists is “famous” because I am listed beside Richard Quinney as coeditor of Criminology as Peacemaking (1991) and, on the other hand, that even before we did that book I felt drawn to Richard because he so disappointed his collegial fans. Richard was supposed to be a Marxist and then he flipped out by drawing first Christianity and then Taoism and Buddhism into a critique that extended to questioning Marx’s limits. What a role model! Richard just kept on letting his inquiry go where it led him, regardless of mainstream currents in criminology as a whole, or in what has become institutionalized as a critical criminological mainstream.
I think my greatest frustration is that, much as my name is bandied about in criminological circles of discourse, the findings of mine that matter the most to me are ignored. Chief among these are what I see as the bankruptcy of inquiry into whether crime and criminality are going up or down, and my appeal to redefine our social problem as one of being fixated on goals or on a substantive agenda. It frustrates me that people who acknowledge my work keep on using measures of crime and criminality as lynchpins of their theories. Not surprisingly, I tend to take refuge in my time with my sophomore students most of all, my captive audience, who attend more closely to what I say than my colleagues. When you ask me about my reaction to colleagues walking away from my criminological ideas, I have had that feeling for a long time.
Long before I knew and appreciated that there was such a thing as a feminist narrative method, I became a criminologist acutely aware that I did so as an only child who became a third generation academic, whose parents both held PhDs and although of mixed Jewish–
Protestant ancestry were white, and whose own parents had been employed and okay during the Depression of the 1930s. In a word, I was sheltered. I was in law school before I saw my first prisoner face-to-face, in front of a class of over 100—a white male robber brought from prison for the special occasion. In spending time with police and then prisoners from then on, I have in my own view just been trying to understand worlds that I do not know. Mind you, I am told much about criminal justice in the literature. From the outset, I have not trusted these accounts and have taken opportunities that presented themselves, such as having someone between prison terms help me teach in my first job.
I keep thinking of my life as a criminologist as a Walter Mitty experience. I have so many personal stories to tell, from people whose lives I have shared, that reality defies the mainstream in any social discourse. It is a long story I have written about in several places, but suffice it to say that in 1992 I ran into people who had contacts and files from all over the country of how parents, chiefly “protective mothers,” who complained of how children told of being sexually assaulted during time spent with the other parent in separation and divorce proceedings, and who faced letting the children’s “acting out” continue, losing custody if they continued legal protests, or deciding to take their children underground to run away from the law and the allegedly abusive parent. I asked them to help me teach a senior and graduate “feminist justice seminar” that would turn its focus toward children’s rights and safety. Michelle Etlin and Leora Rosen, with whom I protested one time in an Indiana case, have an account of this problem in their 1996 Indiana University Press book on The Hostage Child.
The volunteer co-teachers in turn introduced me to survivors of ritual abuse and to child advocates who supported them. In 1996, I freaked out when I noticed that along a wooded creek I had wandered two blocks from home for 20 years, was what survivors confirmed and corroborated as a massive site of cult worship, including a concrete slab that was marked in a creek bed as a human grave. The investigation shut down and I quickly learned from “calling signs” left around my home and from growing awareness of my own ignorance and capacity to be misled, to stop trying to finger perpetrators, even those I suspected of organized serial homicide, rape, and torture. I also learned to appreciate that, although I might never identify the perpetrators, I might still learn from the experience of those I believed to have survived victimization. More than that, these survivors whom I consider extraordinary, whom I invite to my classes and conferences, teach us all how to heal from victimization by establishing safer, more open, fundamentally more honest, relationships. They help redirect us toward peace.
Based on the stories I have heard and the documentation I have seen and read, I have gone way beyond my own advocacy for recognition of white-collar and state crime. I believe that organized serial murder occurs more frequently in my town, and probably yours too, than the number of murders by all the serial killers we have publicly detected. I believe that molestation, rape, and the terrorizing and degradation of family members, primarily children, is as common in uppercrust circles as among the poor. The biggest lie of all is that poverty implies criminality. While the stress of impoverishment causes violence, it appears to me that the stress of acquiring and holding onto power, including the power to conceal violence, creates the most debauched among those who successfully fend off criminal investigation. As I see it theoretically, the more quickly we recognize this truth of how power over others works, the more quickly we will lay off trying to make poor children of color, most of all, pay for our sins.
I think back to the first time I heard someone tell ritual abuse stories. As the speaker I first heard in the seminar told us, “If you believe what I have reported to you, it will turn your whole world upside down.” Belief turns patriarchy on its head because it suggests that, in all probability, some of the father figures who are most respected and revered may be serial
murderers at worst and pedophilic sadists at best. It suggests that, to retain public trust, people may have to work hardest at hiding their worst selves. It implies that validating survivors without hope of nailing perpetrators may be a clearer path to peace than any war on perpetration.
It is hard enough for people to watch a video tape of a murder-robbery conference. Many people in class wrote of how women especially had left class in tears. While I consider tears cleansing, I also recognize how hard it is to listen to others’ stories of serious victimization, knowing that you can’t do more than listen. I can only begin to imagine how much in any of our childhood lives, a tremendous unfairness (you would call it “injustice”) was done, with no hope of remedy. Most of all, obedience training entails making us show the emotions that are socially acceptable, and dissociating with our true feelings, as in, “Stop crying.” When you get the exceptional survivor talking publicly about horrendous, unstoppable torture, the emotions you have been taught to suppress must be imposing. When I hear colleagues’ reactions after bringing survivors to conferences like JSA’s, I first and foremost hear: That was hard. I don’t know what to believe. And I feel them saying: I don’t want to hear any more. I’m overwhelmed.
Then there’s the question: if this really was done to these survivors, whodunit? Early on, I shared the victims’ sense of wanting to know and understand: why is this happening, and who is doing it to me? Survivors have many surmises. I have learned in my own thinking to welcome skepticism that anyone knows who is responsible, from knowing that inter- generational torture and conspiracies of violence have, purely and simply, happened to them. I also know the cultural reflex to imagine who has to be taken out, if such horrible criminality is indeed taking place. And so when people, as you say, walk away from me, I feel frustrated and angry, yes, but I also recognize how scary the stories are that I am asking people to take in. I am learning to let people who walk away go, and absorb what they can in their own time, on their own terms. Sometimes learning how to respond so as not to perpetuate violence is hard work. On issues overall, I find myself less inclined to argue than I was trained to do in law school, more inclined to wait my turn and speak, as here . . . and then to listen and learn from responses as they come.
I don’t want to be paranoid any more than anyone else, and yet I suspect that the reason my latest book, A Criminologist’s Quest For Peace, came so close to publication so many times and yet was rejected universally was my continual reference to things I had learned from these survivors. Serendipitously, the manuscript is mounted on the Critical Criminology Division website for ASC and ACJS, at http://www.critcrim.org/critpapers/pepinsky- book.htm. I’m hoping that it will get more attention there, freely available, than if someone were selling and marketing the book. We will see.
The fact remains that yes, when I started sponsoring voices of those I believe to be survivors of intergenerational ritual abuse and government-sponsored mind-control program- ming, people started walking away from me. When after conference presentations, old collegial friends came to me, having just heard survivors, and told me that they just wanted to know more before they decided what to make of their stories, I would refer them to websites where they could read more if they were interested. But I could tell that they really would rather not pursue the issue. I was respected in these exchanges, and yet I could see that what I had offered was more than they wanted to deal with. That’s why I say that I don’t feel bitter. Six years ago I was in the depths of a clinical depression after listening to stories of childhood torture, death, and survival that defied my previous imagination of the human condition around me. How many times I have wished that I had not heard what I was told. As Max Weber said in describing the calling of the scientist, how “inconvenient.”
I am disappointed by my sense of professional isolation for listening to the voices that I do, but I am not bitter. I have learned to recognize that cultural transformation such as that
I am suggesting, in understanding causes of violence, takes many generations and filters up. I recognize that in a US professoriate I am in an elite. I believe that my colleagues there and elsewhere in criminology will in all probability catch up on what so many of my students do long after I die. But yes, once again, I’ll have to say that as one soul in a human lifetime I feel collegial abandonment and indifference. That feeling lingers and evolves.
CJR: But, then again, abandoned by whom? I do not intend to bash, nor will I, criminologists and people who study and teach criminal justice. But most who do have bought into and feed on an ideological framework that supports, condones, and winks at all sorts of institutional and structural violence while scouring the bushes of society with the flashlight of (oftentimes funded) science, trying to detect people more in need of compassion and comfort than discipline and punishment. More than a few of them know this to be the case but say they have a wife (or husband) and kids and will mouth whatever words they are told to for a paycheck. There are alternatives, however painful that might be. A look at the presentations at the annual meetings of the American Society of Criminology and the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences clearly demonstrates that lots of work is taking place in the belly of the beast for the sake of giving nourishment to that beast. And one manifestation of that beast is trying to make a name for oneself as opposed to doing what needs to be done, what presents itself before the eyes. Why spend time ministering to someone you startled from the bush when you can run home and tell other bushbeaters in word and deed who will praise and reward you for your name-worthy acts? Have you not in effect been rejected by a profession whose aim is to support the growth of a market economy, a nation-state system of administration and self-serving activities? Norman Brown always maintained that the nation-state and the ego (self-serving, name-making, conjuring, trickster activities) were two manifestations of the same illness. And to “do justice” to the logic, we cannot exclude the market from that equation.
HP: This time I will keep my answer short and respond immediately. My answer to your questions is simply, “Yes.” The peacemaking trick is how I decide to respond to this reality that you and I share.
CJR: Although earlier you touched upon your response to the reality you and I share, perhaps you might speak a bit more about the “peacemaking trick” that makes sense of your life, that allows you to go on with a sense of purpose in a profession that offers little sense of purpose for those who do not buy into its fundamental assumptions.
HP: You have a knack for asking evocative questions, thanks. Your question brings so many memories to mind. I’d say that the way I try to perform the peacemaking trick can be summed up in the words of a song that became popular in my childhood: I try to accentuate the positive in order to transform the negative.
I’m recovering long-lost memories of moments in which I was taught how to go about making peace. The first lesson I remember is from my father as I learned that I was being kicked out of my first university job: just keep doing your own work. The second lesson that comes to mind is more diffuse, from students, especially those in my big class on alternative social control systems saying to me, in effect: okay, Hal, so there are things wrong with the system. What alternative do you have if you’re so smart? A third lesson came from the reaction of some readers of the Criminology as Peacemaking book (1991). They were despairing of continuing criminology or criminal justice because the field was so negative. That book of readings gave them hope, that something might work, that we can do better than waging war on crime. It occurred to me around the time Paul Jesilow and I wrote the first
edition of Myths That Cause Crime (1984), that the criminological vision of eliminating crime could only be satisfied if we were all dead. What about how to live better? I think this was the root of my paradigmatic shift in the mid-1980s, when I went back to Norway in 1986 to study peaceful societies. There I discovered the concept of “responsiveness” which led Richard Quinney to propose that we co-edit a book. As I recall, he proposed that we call the book Criminology as Peace. I responded that I thought that we ought to focus on a process of changing rather than on a status. Richard agreed, and so “peacemaking” came into the title.
I came out of law school a would-be verbal hell-raiser. In the 1970s, I set out to prove to my colleagues just how bankrupt the criminological mainstream was. When I got booted out of my second teaching job I left grateful for the experience in one respect: I knew the mainstream literature thoroughly. Looking back, I think that the pinnacle of my critical writing was my 1980 book, Crime Control Strategies. Measure of crime and criminality by measure, I set out to trash the inferences that mainstream criminal justice or criminology colleagues used to reach tired, old truisms, notably that poverty and the absence of an everpresent father figure cause crime.
Another key lesson came from my exposure to radical feminism. In particular, I recall the influence that Norwegian peace researcher Birgit Brock-Utne’s 1985 book, Educating For Peace: A Feminist Perspective, had on me. She had become a mentor to my wife Jill, who in turn helped me understand the fundamental patriarchal problem of the human condition: power over others. Birgit’s idea of educating for peace by doing it in the classroom, as against educating about peace by throwing material at people, really struck home. Here was what I wanted to be about first and foremost in my professional life. I wanted my students to teach me that insofar as I transformed the power structure in my own classrooms, they understood how to transform violence in any setting, including within the criminal justice system. At the same time, in my writing, I let go of trashing others in favor of doing my own work, of figuring out how, in everyday life, people actually managed to make peace instead of escalating wars, including wars of rhetoric.
I have already mentioned a third lesson I learned in the 1990s from my inquiry into ritual abuse and mind-control programming—to forsake identifying and blasting perpetrators in favor of celebrating how people managed to survive and thrive from this violence. I notice that my shortest answer in this interview was to your previous cogent litany of criminological and criminal justice bankruptcy. I notice, too, that in my writing and teaching I spend less and less time criticizing, and more and more trying to offer peacemaking alternatives by practicing what I think works, and talking about that.
I realize that I play my own role among criminologists in what Edwin Lemert called, in an article and book chapter, “Paranoia and the Dynamics of Exclusion”. I grieve over the growing distance I have felt from the criminological collegium. For my part, I scarcely read “the” literature that I formerly kept up with so religiously. People tell me how bad major conference programs are, and my defense is scarcely to open the program. Instead, I show up at sessions in which I have promised to participate, and otherwise try to mingle, a personal conversation at a time, among old friends and new acquaintances. Call it lowered expectations on my part. I learned long ago that the political culture of any large group changes oh so slowly, if at all noticeably.
In a 2000 article on “Educating For peace” (with credit to Birgit for the title; revised as chapter six of the book on the critcrim website), I spoke about the hope I found in our current state of “ultimate nomadry,” where even nuclear families routinely split apart and abandon old relations. I was in part speaking in defense of personal experience. I have met and formed community with so many new people over the years of my criminological career, including many I bring into my classrooms and into my conferences, and cite in my writing. With them
and in my classrooms in particular (as well as from diverse readings they pass on to me), I have the faith that together we are making peace, in a way that is as likely to transform criminology as any change strategy I can imagine. I try to let go of attachment to outcome in favor of refining my daily practice of trying to make peace, learning from results that happen rather than trying to impose solutions to human problems. That’s how I try to perform the peacemaking trick.
CJR: Well, what you say is interesting in itself but also because I had planned to end our interview with a question of “justice literacy” and to some extent you answered it. In 1998 you wrote a piece for a special double issue of CJR (1:2/3) Justice Literacy: What Every Student of Justice Needs to Know (And Speak Intelligently About) Before Graduation. More people need to look at that issue, especially teachers of justice. It is wonderful. You chose to call your article “Transcending Literatyranny” in which you said early on, “My naming of so many unpublished sources in this essay is a conscious attempt to transcend what I call ‘literatyranny,’ the tyranny of written interpretations of people’s problems and what needs to be done for or to people.” We can refer our readers to that piece as I mentioned but, for our purposes here, what do you mean by that statement exactly? And if you were asked by an energetic, devoted student of justice—who was serious about learning about the core concepts of justice—about what to read in order to live justice and sanely, what works might you point to?
HP: The interview has been a pleasure, thanks once more. By the way, the July 1998 CJR article on “Transcending Literatyranny” got adapted to become chapter five, right before the chapter on “Educating for peace”, in the website-mounted latest “book” of mine I have already cited. I invite readers to check it out for themselves. I think peacemaking progresses as people who are spoken about are heard as they speak for themselves. One of the earliest things I recognized in graduate school in criminology is that truisms about what criminals are like rest on differences cited early in the nineteenth century between prisoners and the rest of us. How distorted a view of violence that has come to represent to me, as I have met new networks of oppressed people from whom to learn. As the article you mention begins, as a teacher of criminology I got hooked up with the first prisoner who helped me teach, and who safely introduced me to bald-faced criminality, and became a friend with long-term integrity.
I read opportunistically. Informants I meet by happy circumstance, including in my classes, often bring literature to my attention that turns out to redirect my thinking. I cite readings as well as personal experience from informants liberally in my writing. I am grateful to have learned much from recorded narrative as well as from people who will sit down and narrate with me live.
My primary point in “Transcending Literatyranny” is that no matter whether our medium of communication is oral or written, our primary guides to new knowledge—both of personal experience and in literature—ought to be in face-to-face encounters. To me, a primary principle of commitment to mediation is to embrace conflict or inconvenient facts rather than to have someone else take our perpetrators and victims away from us. That means reaching out and listening to people about whom we have heard scary things. That is hard. In my experience of mediation, I learn that the devils we get to know personally becomes less fearsome than the devils our literature portrays.
I would just point out a difference that remains on this occasion between me and my interviewer. As I read your final question, you again ask me about “the core concepts of justice.” I continue to resist distinguishing whether results we get are more just. My aspirations are lower, to bringing honest disagreement and difference respectfully and openly
to the social surface. The process by which I think peace is made to me rules out attaching much importance to whether people read what I recommend, much as I recommend reading and sharing of that experience in face-to-face conversation. That is, I have no reading in particular to recommend. It’s just that when I find myself talking about contemporary groups of people, I want to meet members of those groups personally and given them a chance to respond to what is written about them . . . and keep on learning thereby.
Since you say that this is your final question, I want to say some things I have been thinking about all during this interview. How privileged I feel to be asked some of the toughest questions I recall encountering by an interviewer, especially so because you show me respect and come across as really wanting to know how I feel and why. Your caring, your attention, matters a lot in its own right.
My first exposure to this interview process was another CJR forum on feminist justice in 1999 (1:4) where Meda Chesney-Lind, Dianne Martin, and I took turns in a conversation. In the experience, I felt the validation that informants of mine have given so much credit to for their personal survival and progress in building community. Here you have led me through the process again. Dear interviewer, in this process, your example, too, has helped show me how peacemaking works. I am honored.
CJR: Thank you, Hal. We look forward to your future work in these pages.
Selected Recent Writings
Pepinsky, H. (2002). A criminologist’s quest for peace. American Society of Criminology Critical Criminology Division’s website, http://www.critcrim.org/critpapers/pepinsky-book.htm
Pepinsky, H. (2000). Cultivating community in conversational circles. Contemporary Justice Review, 3, 175–86. Pepinsky, H. (2000). Educating for peace. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 567,
Pepinsky, H. (2000). Living criminologically with naked emperors. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 11, 6–14. Pepinsky, H. (1998). A conversation on the future of feminist criminology among Meda Chesney-Lind, Hal
Pepinsky, and Dianne L. Martin. Contemporary Justice Review, 1, 495–511.
Pepinsky, H. (1998). War of the words. Peace Review, 10, 579–81.
Pepinsky, H. (1998). Transcending literatyranny. Contemporary Justice Review, 1, 198–212. Pepinsky, H. (1998). Making peace with our childhood. The Justice Professional, 11, 161–76.
Pepinsky, H. (1991). The geometry of violence and democracy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Pepinsky, H. (1980). Crime control strategies: An introduction to the study of crime. New York: Oxford University Press.
Pepinsky, H. and Quinney, R. (1991). Criminology as peacemaking. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Pepinsky, H. and Jesilow, P. (1986). Myths that cause crime. Cabin John, MD: Seven Locks Press.
Love and peace, hal