Silence is often considered the mark of indifference, but ambivalence can be motivated, not exactly disinterested. Waiting out a risk of upheaval without taking sides is a gamble.
The now-obsolete Nazi Pope meme that conflated institutional complicity with the European holocaust and recent church scandals over covering for clergy implicated in child sexual abuse was an interesting choice of double entendres. Both sides of the meme involve scapegoating one church for what many other contemporary institutions have done or still do.
“The heart hid still in the dark,
hard as the Philosopher’s Stone.”
Scapegoats are embodied metaphors for what no one wants to deal with as a social problem, but everyone feels disgusted about. Other churches, any church really, is realistically predisposed to protect clergy if they are accused of inappropriate conduct, exerting their moral authority to insist that silence or disbelief is the politically correct response. As for the other half of the meme, the scope of institutional complicity in the European holocaust remains largely unexamined.
Since the Catholic church has done so well as a current metaphor in public discourse for “fallen” social institutions, I’ll pick apart some missing context to the child sex abuse scandal to illustrate the point. Genocide studies are really another kettle of fish, although the Catholic church is unlucky enough to crop up as one among many more recently implicated institutions in genocide research on Rwanda, as well. Colonial and post-colonial Catholicism, for Rwanda at least, operated like a “hologram” in the regime’s official self-image – “bright, shiny, perfect and unreal.”
Imported abstract Christian ideology, Gerard Prunier argues, provided “a legitimizing factor, a banner, a source of profit, a way of becoming educated, a club, a matrimonial agency and even at times a religion. But since it was all things to all men, it could not have any real healing power when faced with the deepening ethnic gap which the Belgian authorities kept absent-mindedly digging [between Hutu and Tutsi].”
The Belgian approach to governing the colony by proxy, through reinforcement and systemization of the political hegemony of a Tutsi minority, had rather casually formalized and entrenched discrimination patterns that had once been far easier to side-step or renegotiate in favor of social mobility and cohesion. The Belgians saw their own role as neutral with respect to local preferences about who should rule whom among the blacks. If they also conspicuously flattered the Tutsi as natural leaders among Hutu, they probably saw this as the shallow side of everyday diplomacy, not a dangerous new factor in Rwanda’s internal political culture.
Such self-styled neutrality, tacitly in favor of whoever looks to be the most powerful already, is typical of any social institution coexisting with a long-standing pattern of inequality, whitewashing its abusive or exploitative aspects in favor of whatever “natural order of things” has apparently come about of its own accord. Going along is always the easier route, and if pressed for comment on some long-standing injustice, anyone already in the habit of going with the flow is liable to rationalize on behalf of the status quo.
“All your life you live so close to truth it becomes a permanent blur in the corner of your eye. And when something nudges it into outline, it’s like being ambushed by a grotesque.”
It’s easy enough to look at the church as a metaphor, remembering that accuracy isn’t necessarily the point when describing a scapegoat; the question is what they are being used to represent. There needs to be a fictitious hook, to explain away their culpability for a problem no one else wants to seem touched by.
Here the pundits chose celibacy. This conveniences the child welfare professions with a double scapegoat: “men can’t help themselves” is the shadow of this explanation for “what the church has been doing wrong”.
This “men have uncontrollable urges” assumption remains a fairly typical rape defense, but not a realistic one. As soon as mainstream feminism gets bored with its success at demonizing the male of the species, it will get easier to criminalize rape in particular, instead of scapegoating “tendencies inherent in male behavior” for social problems in general. For now, rape is only really illegal by the letter of the law – most victims know better than to bother trying to prosecute the crime.
In fact, rape victims who haven’t been penetrated aren’t legally rape victims at all. This distinction construes every form of coercion short of analogy to stabbing someone in the back unconvincing, and fosters victim-blaming any time other forms of coercion are decisive (especially “soft power” tactics like blackmail, economic dependency or bullying).
A confessional culture of accountability might make a more salient Catholic metaphor for political venality and merely procedural levels of accountability, in institutions that refuse to cooperate with standard approaches to seeking redress, much less attempt meaningful reforms. These real and pervasive problems with social justice are bureaucratic foibles more than peculiarities of a specific religion.
“You will never understand bureaucracies until you understand that for bureaucrats procedure is everything and outcomes are nothing.” – Thomas Sowell, Chicago school of economics
But when the everyday complacency of any given bureaucracy is finally eclipsed by a newsworthy scandal, a public figure like the President or the Pope can be put on trial for the failure of the institution he officially presides over. The recently retired pope’s reliably meme-worthy grimace for camera was as spooky in its consistency as Lindsay Lohan’s pasty zombie persona (with “and you thought you didn’t have to grow up” captions) in the tabloids. The media knows it’s job is to keep a good thing going, I suppose.
And finding out what sells a paper is tricky when most people think the news is boring, when it isn’t too depressing to think about at all. As Alinsky says in his rules for radicals, narrowing the target for your vitriol down to a person who can be enthusiastically lampooned keeps everyone involved in a “mass movement” on the same page. The alternative, I suppose, would be the disorganization typical of an anti-globalization protest, with rainbow warriors, free Mumia hardliners, and every other cause known to aficionados of the hackey-sack jockeying for attention in a humanitarian carnival.
When the high-most official an institution has to offer takes the stage, excuses about lost paperwork are suddenly less than effective. Something has to give, but no one can afford to give ground willingly. Every admission is grudging, and dealing in bad faith tends to come first. Anything else would look weak.
It seems safe to infer many of these sorts of “voluntary” confessions are ultimately made for quiet non-prosecution agreements. Aggression American Style is a portrait of America’s secular confessional culture in high-profile corruption cases like Watergate. Describing America’s as an “artful” approach to openness, author William Blanchard argues that Americans claim to think of themselves as innocent, no matter how atrocious their actions.
This amounts to opening with a plausible deniability strategy, retreating with a diplomatic simper if confronted about the obvious, and issuing confessional apologies loaded with self-pity (for having been put on the spot for merely human frailties) as a last resort. This description of American ambivalence about power shows how “it is possible to deny our power while, at the same time, enjoying the pleasure of acting on it.”
Sadly, the only charismatic option here is facetious denial.
Maybe in the court of public opinion, which hears only sound bytes, ignorance is the natural alibi of innocence. The Alinsky rules may not work in favor of public interest advocacy, but they do seem valid for designing cheap PR. Experts have tried warning us that bureaucracy, like social/media buzz and well-orchestrated shell games that build market bubbles, has a momentum of its own from group dynamics that leaders are swept up in like the rest of us. That matters a lot less to casual news readers than it does to practitioners in a given organization that knows it’s failing its own mandate.
Even frustrated victims of organizational dysfunction are more likely to be in the mood to see heads roll than to listen to convoluted insider accounts of how a system of perverse incentives arose within the organization’s day-to-day efforts to make ends meet. The result is often an election-year executive promise to the public that major procedural overhauls are going to be undertaken, an approach to trouble-shooting that was recognized as counterproductive decades ago.
Top-down overhauls of organizational procedures tend to produce new administrative speed bumps interfering with daily business in the name of “hands on” micromanagement, without improving performance at all. Modern scholarship on improving performance in organizational behavior can’t help public sector practitioners on the ground floor when they’re drowning in paperwork created by cyclical cosmetic reforms.
But campaign promises never lose their luster, as long as each election year is announced with a new generation of buzzwords. Behind these stage-managed scenes of rhetorical flourish, as long as institutions are getting by on procedural standards of accountability, responsibility for unhappy outcomes can supposedly be canceled out wherever there are blind spots in a given office’s purview. In military jargon, that’s Situation Normal (SNAFU). The Steven King version? Same Shit, Different Day (SSDD).
I am trying to stay focused. Beer goggles still count, right?
But if the blind spots of convenience are built into a forward-looking plausible deniability strategy, this is all a pretense.
Unfortunately, even cover-ups can escalate. If foot-dragging in the name of secrecy privilege exacerbates the grievance, things can keep getting worse, while motivation to fight disclosure builds accordingly. But forestalling the inevitable is a temptation, when the people deciding which secrets to keep (upstream of the disclosure crisis) have been abusing their privileges from the start. They could have:
a) Lied about the contents of the envelope after they used the TOP SECRET stamp
b) Lied in the contents of the envelope before they used the TOP SECRET stamp
c) Distorted any factual information included in the envelope in ways that won’t actually stand up to scrutiny, especially in hindsight
d) All of the above
The problem with this kind of document handling strategy is that documents are prone to duplication, and their contents are always, at best, redundant with actual facts that can be otherwise known than by reading about them. Waiting for someone to divulge their own copy of a long-classified document is sometimes more a professional courtesy than a matter of curiosity about what was put on paper before the magic rubber stamp was applied.
This is why bureaucrats treasure newspeak, colorless disciplinary jargon, and the like. It greases the wheels, and has more staying power than a big red stamp for “sealing” manila envelops.
Knowledge of the history of the U.S. role in sub-Saharan African politics during the anti-apartheid era would be enough to reconstruct what could have been in the Burn After Reading envelope as a national security motive for what Reagan called “constructive engagement”. One could at least narrow down the possibilities:
a) Strategic minerals (a short list of those with speculative defense technology applications, found only in South Africa – not that a list of minerals with speculative defense technology applications would normally be short)
b) Anti-apartheid gradualism (because it’s not an acceptable post-colonial transition unless we can buy time for economic apartheid to entrench its position)
c) Nuclear non-proliferation (because we sold them on nuclear technology, and now it’s not about our interests, the fate of the world is “suddenly” at stake)
d) Anti-communism (because Marx has been so influential in post-colonial Africa’s radical program of socialist industrialization, and if this last domino fell the pink hordes would surely be unstoppable)
You don’t actually get to burn it after reading. The highest classification in government document secrecy nevertheless expires after 25 years. After that, a Freedom of Information Act Request should be able to obtain such things. Provided, of course, the government hasn’t strategically “misplaced” them.
The worst case scenario, should the terrible truth come out.
Innocence isn’t a latent characteristic in people who make claims about having a personal capacity for moral responsibility. To make claims about choosing rightly is part of exercising authority responsibly. With this kind of innocence, you use it or lose it.
If “being likeably Catholic” is souring, it’s mainly because school systems, health care systems, public welfare agencies, family courts, and informal communities of concerned friends and acquaintances make the exact same choices all the time. Who couldn’t use a scapegoat for social and institutional indifference to the welfare of other people’s children?
The “suffer the little children” line has actually gotten a little weird in this context. It really doesn’t bring to mind the pandering train of street urchins that must have been tugging on the messiah’s robes and pretending to want hand-outs from Santa, to create a diversion while their co-conspirators picked his pockets.
Here it sounds instead like a motto for resignation, to life in a country that adamantly refuses to sign an international convention on the rights of the child. Rape may not be a uniquely American vice, but not many countries use it for posturing in the name of their prerogatives. It makes an odd corollary for our reputation for moralizing and protesting our own innocence in international affairs.
On the belated exposure of various entertainment celebrities I’d never heard of as known pedophiles, Andrew O’Hagan recently wrote: “Janie Jones, a singer, appeared at Bow Street Magistrates’ Court in 1973 on 26 charges, which included controlling prostitutes and offering them as bribes ‘to BBC men as inducement to play records’. .. ‘a television producer’, might have made a 14-year-old girl pregnant and could therefore be blackmailed.” Unless, like Charlie Chaplin, he had the good sense to marry the little lady and evade blackmail from such diligent authorities in stamping out communism, and of course indecency, as Hoover’s FBI.
The rhetorical detail of the London Review of Books article, the specific banal pretenses wrapped in white lies and ironic pleasantries, is convoluted but salient. That’s the thing about political correctness in casual conversation, it can be circular, self-contradictory, anything but serious. I didn’t think it was a sign of pedophilia to express distaste for children’s company. I’d say claims of fondness for short, sticky brats with outsize entitlement complexes would be cause for suspicion.
Let’s just feed them to death. Ballast slows them down.
Taking child sexual abuse outside the context of pedophilia, and particularly the abuse of young boys, is still something many people are unwilling to do in serious conversation. We just don’t like to bring the topic up in real life, because anyone accused would deny it any which way they can, and everyone associated with the accused (casually or intimately) would then be in an incredibly uncomfortable situation.
“If .. the stories that constitute a hinterland at the BBC .. turn out to involve a great conspiracy, it will be a conspiracy that the whole country had a part in. There will always be a certain amount of embarrassment .. not because we didn’t know but because we did.”
Consistent prosecution of rape is required for the law to be enforceable at all. As for minors protected by statutory rape law, theirs is unreliable testimony for the same reasons that they are especially vulnerable to exploitation in the first place. If there is a trade-off here in accepting child testimony about abuse – that a child’s arm could likewise be twisted to elicit wrongful accusations – it’s easy to see one has to err on the side of caution, and that the child is in the more vulnerable position. This is probably far less problematic than historically has been the case, now that no-fault divorce is an option, taking a mundane conflict of interest off the table.
Unless, theoretically, some child abusers enjoyed abusing their children, and would vigorously contest the intrusions of busybodies in their personal lives even without a conflict of interest on the part of a witness. Because an easily confounded, underfunded authority isn’t much of an authority at all, if investigative leg-work would be required to make a case that could stand up to scrutiny. If the little brat in Atonement can scare us, catching the real culprits is not exactly an ambition we would be equal to, is it?
The logistical path of least resistance is a humiliating one, if you actually have a capacity for shame. Handling rape and other assault charges in a discretionary fashion – balking at the prospect of difficult and contentious case-work by pretending that keeping abusive families together benefits the child through the magical effect of “a stable environment for the child’s emotional development” – is just cynical.
Wait, human rights are for radicals.. What if selling candy to
kids is the only thing keeping consumerism from flat-lining?
Child removal is politically easier in cases of illegal immigration or non-violent crime, putting mothers separated from their children by deportation or incarceration at a distinctive and unjustified disadvantage for being reunited with their children. “Estimates based on Justice Department studies indicate that approximately 11,500 children of 5,000 incarcerated mothers are living with nonrelative foster care families.” Another 5,100 children are currently in foster care because their parents were deported under Homeland Security’s quota system for shuttling immigrants back across the border.
These children are actually less likely to be reunited with their parents than children whose primary care givers are accused of purposely maltreating them. Why? Because legal protections are afforded to the family first, when the only barrier to reuniting children with their “god-given” biological parents is concern about child abuse, a policy that takes no account of the preponderance of incest cases among all instances of child sexual abuse.
The result is a broad-based commitment to pretending that child abuse is adequately “prevented” under the status quo in institutional arrangements and routines, an achievement more easily demonstrated by silencing or discrediting victims than by intervening effectively when abuse comes to light.
The FBI probably advertises its commitments to stopping the distribution of child pornography rather than the illegality of child sexual abuse or prostitution in “the meat world” for this reason. Feasibility without effort is to law enforcement commitments what convenience is to health sector triage. “Dude, my algorithm found your shit, so sorry about that.” Same as apologizing for your sniffer dog when he accosts a Senator’s crotch, I guess.
Looking for a warm bodies, no papers? Brothels are good ..
Everyone in politics loves procedural standards of validity, the impersonal alibi of intentional failure to deliver on one’s stated commitments. Of course, even brothels organize, and some hackers also specialize in offering these types of service providers privacy consulting services, with fold-in supplements on how to lie through your teeth after you get caught anyways. Meanwhile the immigrant deportation quotas get sandwiched together with high-minded commitments to stopping human traffickers. The professional enforcers tend to shake their heads and point out that deported human trafficking victims never testify. No one can figure out why.
What about victims of sex crimes who happen to be U.S. citizens – don’t police have a “special victims unit” for that kind of excitement? What we seem to want from “special victims” is a prurient excuse for scapegoating the “criminally insane” oddballs who actually manage to get caught (insomnia can be a rather in-your-face symptom of bad conscience). Clinton got so much credit for stopping the crazies from gunning down innocents that the Democrats tried it again this year, but this time the NRA said no dice. Background checks for a history of mental illness may only make handguns a less convenient vehicle for suicide, but they make the Democrats sound interested in gun control even when they’re humoring the NRA about how central semiautomatic rifles are to the hunting tourism sector and the redneck lifestyle.
Choice of weapons actually permitted for licensed hunting is decided at the state level. In Oregon, the firearm use regulations for hunting licenses stipulate: “Semiautomatic rifles with a magazine capacity greater than five cartridges prohibited (except for western gray squirrel).”
God gave us these squirrels, absent-minded but tireless guardians of the forest. The uzi honors their, uh, velocity.
The real world experience for people with a mental illness label has more to do with accumulating a history of repeat victimization than for victimizing others. I suppose that just means the quiet ones are accumulating motive, like ticking time bombs at large. The medicalization of crime victims’ emotional distress as a correlate of psychiatric illness other than PTSD is now admitted, but only as a way to add urgency to the plea that states do more of the same. Whether nominal gun control campaigns or pharmaceutical marketing strategies have more to do with the stigmatization behind this vulnerability is perhaps beside the point.
The relationship in the U.S. between the mental health court system, inconsistencies in housing assistance provision, the systematic gaps in injury care coverage I brought up earlier that make trauma care virtually impossible for low-income assault victims to access, and emergency room routines for shuttling the homeless through “triage” share a set of interlocking inefficiencies with suspiciously well-placed blind spots. This state of affairs makes domestic violence allegations easy to confuse with symptoms of paranoia or other biochemical emotional disturbances, when claims are informally raised by victims who accosted the police or health care providers without first engaging a lawyer. The retort, when confronted about a victim’s allegations, that “she’s just crazy” is quite a convenience option, for empty-handed social service providers and assailants alike.
The protection of these enabling institutions extends naturally to perpetrators of violence against children, as long as one is content to abuse one’s own children rather than grabbing those of strangers and running off with them. When your maltreated pre-teen turns into a sulky high school junkie, it probably looks fairly reasonable to send her to a punitive rehab program for behavior modification therapies, or take away her shoelaces for quarantine in peaceful highly-medicated community of wards.
Is this a weird dream, or am I in a vintage photo?
A few hundred years ago, orphanages were publicly criticized strictly on the grounds that child removal over child abuse allegations rewards bad parenting by relieving the parents of undesirables who do no work and smell funny. If this sentiment still holds, perhaps we should stop making such a secret of it. Political correctness about whose best interests are actually being protected at present is making the notion of beneficence toward children come across as in bad taste.
But some lawyers now argue that the sexual innocence of childhood was a contrivance of the Victorian era (those same eccentrics who condemned the use of children as chimneysweeps), even insinuating that early efforts to forbid sex with children were a reaction to widespread infatuation with the iconic Peter Pan. I suppose if you can pull that one off, you’d find it even easier to paint child abuse memories as a commonplace psychotic symptom that warrants the use of parental authority (backed up by mental health courts) to institutionalize and sedate the disruptive, emotional patient. Freudian pop psychology can serve as the unofficial subtext for why “psychotic symptoms” manifest in this particular way.
Mental health courts don’t sound like an especially regressive dispute resolution system until you look into their willingness to forcibly institutionalize first-time psychiatric patients with assembly line justice procedures. This policy is especially problematic given the well-established inability of mental health professionals to distinguish mental patients from the perfectly sane in an inpatient setting. Once you’re there, they just assume you belong and carry on accordingly.
Such an arbitrary and capricious mental health court system penalizes those who speak out on the losing side of an interpersonal dispute and strips them of their right to speak for themselves and be taken seriously.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern take a commission to help
their friend. The gentle king’s request? Glean what afflicts him.
Family values rhetoric paired with expressed hatred of welfare politics would be a crude strategy for gloating over “the situation.” But, not everyone is above being that crass.
If the CIA were partisan, they’d probably side with “rape culture”, wouldn’t they? If they thought it was a professional specialization among militants and not a slur from the opposite side (of the aisle). Someday people are going to stop talking about pedophilia and admit that when you like rape, the kids are just easier to run down and, as needed, discredit. In the mean time, keep it at home, or keep it in your pants – simple.
Children are hardly the only casualties here. Iron Jawed Angels illustrates this approach to using soft power in an overtly political dispute. The Alice Paul case backfired, but outside a watershed public crisis, the abuse of soft power can be brutally effective. You see its logical conclusion in the suffocating effect of a father’s authority over his son in Dead Poets Society, and in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man when the narrator’s perspective on informal racist discrimination is deemed a sign of psychotic paranoia.
Of course, the standard excuse for the standard of care in the mental health care system is that crazy people don’t pay their bills on time. That’s also why there are so many of them on the street (i.e., governments closed the long-term care public psychiatric facilities, without arranging for adequate access to assisted housing in the community for those unwilling or unable to live with next of kin). Not that quality of inpatient care is something many patients are thrilled about, but the street isn’t necessarily a great place to live either.
Technically they could eschew over-diagnosis if triage were such an overriding concern, but psychiatric consultations for renewing prescriptions are somehow considered cost-effective on a rather large scale.
And they call it “a consultation”
Health care simply invoke triage rhetoric whenever ethics conflict with entrenched routines and the conveniences they engender. Look at some other outstanding instances of health system failures that have become habitual. Are they truly irrational, or just opaque in economic rationale?
It can sound like administrative efficiency to not double-check national spending on pharmaceuticals for overspending on recently-patented drugs that haven’t demonstrated substantive improvements on the effectiveness of more affordable drugs already available in generic formulations. That would make it sound efficient to sign off on “me-too drugs” that add questionable equivalency of effectiveness to exorbitant new-release drug pricing, too.
As for the social determinants of health, it looks like peddling affordable fountain drinks is a rights issue that trumps access to palatable tap water or health-friendly food subsidy regimes, in the arena of “free trade” agreements. The world’s advisory addictions treatment experts figured out how to shift emphasis from prevention to taxation for alcohol and tobacco a long time ago. And it seems we aren’t doing enough to export the McWorld body type as yet – we wouldn’t want smoking-related deaths to outstrip the rising rates of diabetes and obesity-related heart disease in the developing world. They might set up a black market for chicken nuggets.
Now this is exactly why self-help is against procedure, sir, ..
The U.S. has a health care system that asks pregnant teens at risk of life-threatening complications during vaginal delivery to choose between their own survival and the life of the child, if they show up without insurance coverage for a c-section. Pre-viability abortions may be affordable at Planned Parenthood, but assisted delivery is for those who can afford to pay. Their parents’ health insurance policies, if they have them, probably don’t cover unplanned grand-babies.
Technocratic partisanship does an especially lazy job here, to legitimizes gaps where there should be none in a service delivery system. From a right-wing perspective, the pregnant girl is at fault, and her fault absolves the system of any obligation toward her well-being. From a left-wing perspective, making abortion the default option for pregnant teens spares children the burden of raising children of their own.
Both sides are counting on the audience to flinch at the word “abortion” so that cognitive dissonance (i.e., emotional buzzing in the head) drowns out the substance of their arguments. But how many women wait until the fetus has photogenic hair and teeth before deciding whether or not they’re ready to change diapers? Girls, get the width of that pelvis measured in a timely fashion if you’d sacrifice “the child’s life” to save your own – timing matters.
The cost of neonatal intensive care for a pre-term orphan may incidentally outweigh what it would’ve cost to save the mother’s life with a c-section. But the Supreme Court figured out how to parse the ethics out in a way that makes abortion sound like a discretionary issue between state legislators and their lady voters, always deferential to the brutal career contests and heart-wrenching debates among humble elected politicians when it comes to keeping wedge issues alive.
Is this too economically irrational to be cynical? The hospital could always try to punt the bill to next of kin, if the mother’s parents might be able to deliver on a lien for the hospital fees for keeping their grandchild alive, after a delivery that cost their daughter’s life. Solemnly describing a life or death scenario without caveats could also negate the efforts of competitors to undercut a given provider’s prices, if knowledge of one’s options among emergency obstetrics providers appears to be lacking when the patient asks for a prognosis.
From a new Jane Goodall essay on power suits for ladies.
The “family values” nuts are doing their damnedest to establish credibility as fanatics by simultaneously cutting off access to contraceptives. Smart women move to blue states for Sophie’s choice (live today, have another one later, if you can ever figure out how to afford parenting). But are they dodging the impositions of red state patriarchy, or tacit class war? Somehow both political parties are content to leave the question of “what are acceptable consequences for an expecting mother’s inability to pay for life-saving services” out of the equation.