Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Next 24 Hours


jimf said...

Well, the rhetoric is shaping up along the expected lines:
Democrats blaming private ownership of guns, Republicans
blaming violent video games and media programming, and
the Fred Phelps clan saying it's God's judgment on the State
of Connecticut for pandering to Teh Gays.

Meanwhile, I pulled a book off my shelf I bought some years
ago, to browse in while I ate at the diner on Saturday:

At the diner, CNN was providing continuous coverage of Newtown,
and Anderson Cooper was making the fatuous point that
either he, or CNN, it's not clear which, had adopted a
policy of minimizing mention of the shooter's name, out of
respect for the victims, who were being extensively
memorialized. That's fine, but of course the victims are
simply ordinary people who had lightning strike them out
of a blue sky -- it's the killer and his background that are
newsworthy. _The New York Times_, at least, seemed to
recognize this in the Sunday edition.

No doubt books will be written about Adam Lanza, as they
were about Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (also privileged
offspring of wealthy suburbanites), but the allegation
(provided by the older brother Ryan when he was questioned
by the FBI) that Adam was on the autistic spectrum and in
addition suffered from a personality disorder has provoked
rage among the autism advocates on the Web ("Ryan Lanza:
SHUT UP!" is a typical comment). This information also
seemed to get up Anderson Cooper's nose -- CNN had a shrink on
hand to explain that no, autistic people are not generally
violent, and that autism is not a "personality disorder" (though the
shrink surely knows the term "co-morbidity", and also knows
that folks on the spectrum can **in addition** suffer from
one or more recognized personality disorders).

Cooper also interviewed a woman who has studied and written about
past school shootings, and she was at pains to point out that
it usually comes out sooner or later that there was plenty
of information about the potential violence of the perpetrators,
especially among peers, but that the information "just never
got to the right people".

Unfortunately, it seems not to matter whether or not the
information is presented to the "right people" (like police,
or mental health professionals) -- even the "right people"
seem usually not to be able to do anything useful with
the information (unsubstantiated rumors, allegations, at that point).

Which comes back to the stories portrayed in the 1989 book
_High Risk_ I was browsing in while listening to Anderson
Cooper bloviate and tut-tut. A Saturday blog article, provoked
by Friday's incident, written by the mother of such a child,
seems to have caught public attention:
"I am Adam Lanza’s Mother" by Liza Long

Of course, Lanza's case is complicated by the fact that his mother
also seems to have been a little "off" -- a survivalist (or
"prepper", as they seem to be called today) and a gun hoarder
(the latter characterization has also come under attack from
the expected circles -- "She had 5 guns! That hardly constitutes
'hoarding'!"). Something tells me the Lanzas are not registered
Democrats, in any case.

Dale Carrico said...

In classical rhetoric one discusses the logical, tropological, and topical dimensions of discourse. The logical and tropoligical are reasonably familiar -- deductive structures and fallacies on the one hand, and the force of figurative operations and questions of style on the other -- but the topical gets a little less attention, the topics representing argumentative genres, the citation of familiar moves within which but also the clever manipulation of which can produce legitimacy, confirmation bias, signal social positions, consolidate opposition, or facilitate change. When one speaks of an argument forming along familiar lines, the claim is a topical one.

When you become attentive to these dynamics you learn to appreciate the way even small deviations from the expected script can signal openings -- sometimes the small change against the background of otherwise familiar moves in the dance is all the more forceful as a change for instance. This time the deathly minuet in the aftermath of a mass shooting I have been intrigued that to find that the long powerful effort to silence the political question of guns violence by insisting one must only vilify evil and comfort the grieving was absolutely ineffective, was rightly called out as a politicization in the service of the failing status quo masquerading as non-politicization, and that the defenders of ever more guns in the hands of ever more people as an end in itself were rendered either silent or defensive for once.

I am hopeful that it may soon be possible to mobilize a discourse of gun safety closing the gun show loophole and banning private ownership of military issue multiple ammunition clips and assault rifles where I was not hopeful before -- or that gun-nut intransigence on this issue may become a political loser for its advocates as other right-wing extremisms also recently have done, eg, anti-gay bigotry, anti-immigration hysteria, anti-contraception, anti-taxation at the expense of working government, climate-change denialism, and so on. Obama appears to be an inflection point as Reagan was, this time marking a re-oriention of public discourse against reactionary structural assumptions of Movement Republicanism.

It is true that the mother of the shooter appeared to be a gun-nut, but there are survivalists of the eco-left as well as the anti-socialist rapture-ready right who might find themselves in comparable positions facilitating the violence of the distressed child through access to an arsenal. Some people are fruitlessly re-litigating a culture war through the usual archetypes -- self-congratulatory right wing left wing shooter narratives, eg -- but I really don't think this constitutes the substance of the response this time around. I am glad that the mental health piece of the problem is part of the discussion as you mention, and I am glad that it isn't functionally substituting for the safety regulation piece this time around, and I hope it leads to more money and less stigma for mental health support in this country. As for the specific question of autism spectrum, I worry about the looseness of that talk, and I think it matters that any profiling practice that manages to capture all actually high-risk folks would end up stigmatizing a majority of individuals who are not really risks to public safety, making any policy beyond support a displacement of violence and its social costs from one class of innocents onto another.

jimf said...

> I think it matters that any profiling practice that
> manages to capture all actually high-risk folks would
> end up stigmatizing a majority of individuals who are
> not really risks to public safety, making any policy
> beyond support a displacement of violence and its
> social costs from one class of innocents onto another.

Well, that's the rub, isn't it? In our modern, scientific, bureaucratic,
rule-bound society, there has to be a (scientifically, professionally,
legally) agreed-upon "profiling practice" in order for information
to have any mobilizing capacity. And "mobilizing for what?" you
might ask? I have no answer, and neither does anybody else.
Locking people up, in institutions you might as well call prisons
even if they're supposedly "hospitals",
because they **might** hurt somebody? That's the kind of decision
it comes down to. Otherwise, it's either a dashed-off
prescription for Prozac or Zyprexa, or a good talking-to, neither
of which seems to be particularly effective in the cases bad
enough to end up in the news.

Meanwhile, the parents are up the creek. You can read Liza Long's
article, or _High Risk_ (or a hundred other books) for a taste
of that. "What are your expectations for treatment?" Can you imagine
answering that question on the 101st patient intake form
you've filled out? And there are the delightful cases where
the doctor thinks the concerned parent is "crazy" (or the husband
believes the wife is "crazy", or the extended family believes
the parents are "crazy".) "When I asked my son’s social worker
about my options, he said that the only thing I could do was to get
Michael charged with a crime. 'If he’s back in the system, they’ll
create a paper trail,' he said. 'That’s the only way you’re ever
going to get anything done. No one will pay attention to you unless
you’ve got charges.'"

No one will pay any attention to you.
It's an old story. Go watch the 1956 move _The Bad Seed_

Or, even more chilling, last year's _We Need to Talk About Kevin_

These are both referred to as "horror" or "thriller" movies.
But some people actually live these things (without the slick cinematography
and soundtrack music).

Dale Carrico said...

Well, definitely the right-wing madness of the prison-industrial complex driven by the punitive-racist war on drugs and substituting for the public provision of mental health services, education, and basic housing must be regarded as a surreal failure in every imaginable way. Republicans hate government and so dismantled government and built prisons and arsenals instead. Time for democratic government of by and for the people to empty the jails of non-violent offenders and buy back the guns and to start building clinics, schools, and homes of by and for the people.