?

Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Violence and Motivation

As I was prepping blog posts on Saturday, I joked that this was going to be the week Jim argues with everybody.  It’s made for some interesting conversations so far.  (And very thought-provoking in some cases.)

I think my favorite snippy response is the author who answered my fact-checking of the e-publishing cheerleaders by blogging, “Jim C. Hines, however, is picking nits off the dead monkey, apparently feasting.”

Anyway, on with today’s post, in which I move away from publishing…

#

I’ve come across two stories I wanted to share regarding the Tuscon shooting and the debate that followed.

The first is from NPR, about a Secret Service study of 83 attempted and completed assassination attempts against various public figures.  (Full study here.)  “Perhaps the most interesting finding is that according to Fein and Vossekuil, assassinations of political figures were almost never for political reasons.”  (Emphasis added.)

Instead, the primary motivation was simply … to be noticed.  To get attention and see your name plastered all over the front page.  Who to kill is almost an afterthought to the decision to commit murder.  The target is whoever will generate the most attention.

We don’t know why Loughner chose to kill those people and tried to murder Congresswoman Giffords.  But this study seems to undercut the automatic assumption that he acted for or was influenced primarily by political reasons.

The study also examines the widespread belief that such murderers are mentally ill.  While Loughner may indeed be mentally ill, a fair number of the initial responses I read were almost tautological: “Only a crazy person would do this, so he must be crazy!” which struck me as problematic for a number of reasons.

The study found that fewer than half of the subjects were delusional at the time of the attack.  “Almost all had psychological problems.  But relatively few suffered from serious mental illness that directly affected their assassination behaviors.”

#

Boing Boing linked to a 2010 study of violent political rhetoric, and the effects it can have.

“Although the net effect of violent political rhetoric is nil, citizens with the greatest propensity to commit and encourage acts of aggression could well be pushed past a tipping point by violent political rhetoric. This point is emphasized further by the significantly-greater responsiveness of young adults – the population most likely to engage in all forms of aggression.”

In other words, the relatively mild violent metaphors and rhetoric used in the study had no significant effect on most subjects.  But a small minority of people (described as “trait-aggressive”) do respond to such rhetoric, and are more likely to support political violence.

Does this contradict the first study?  Could a trait-aggressive person, in theory, be moved by violent rhetoric to commit political violence, even assassination?  The author suggests this as a possibility, but the research showed only changes in approval of political violence — changes which were significant only for a small minority.  It does not show whether people are more likely to commit such violence.

This study got me thinking about the incident where Rand Paul supporters threw a protester to the ground and stomped on her head: not an assassination attempt, but violence in the heat of the moment.  I’d love to know whether those people assaulting the protester were in that trait-aggressive group.

#

I don’t know what caused Jared Loughner to murder those people on Saturday.  Two studies aren’t enough to draw any sweeping conclusions, and they don’t necessarily tell us anything about a specific individual.

Toxic and flat-out nasty political bickering can be damaging, as suggested in the second study.  And I stand by my disgust at those who would use such tragedy as a rallying cry or a metaphor to rile supporters and win elections.  But I find both studies informative in the face of the wave of accusations that followed last Saturday’s tragedy.

What do you think?

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Comments

( 88 comments — Leave a comment )
tinylegacies
Jan. 19th, 2011 03:21 pm (UTC)
The study also examines the widespread belief that such murderers are mentally ill. While Loughner may indeed be mentally ill, a fair number of the initial responses I read were almost tautological: “Only a crazy person would do this, so he must be crazy!” which struck me as problematic for a number of reasons.

That reaction was really upsetting. I mean, I can understand why people would want to cling to the notion that a rationally thinking person wouldn't commit an atrocity like that, but it casts a shadow on all mentally ill people.

The study found that fewer than half of the subjects were delusional at the time of the attack. “Almost all had psychological problems. But relatively few suffered from serious mental illness that directly affected their assassination behaviors.”

Hmm. That statement tweaks me a little. I'm going to have to take some time to read through the study and see how they are defining psychological problems vs serious mental illness.

Regardless, thank you for addressing that point in your post. These are both really interesting studies.
jimhines
Jan. 19th, 2011 03:25 pm (UTC)
Re: your second point, I need to reread it as well. I went through it once, but I still don't totally understand all of the data. Despite that, I thought it was worth bringing up and presenting here.

The "He must be crazy" reaction reminds me of issues I've seen when dealing with rape, actually. We don't want to believe that "normal" people could do such a horrible thing, so we build a myth of the rapist as this nasty, evil, *different* sort of person, because it helps us to feel safer. It's a completely false myth, but people cling to it anyway, despite the damage and hurt it ends up doing.
(no subject) - jhetley - Jan. 19th, 2011 03:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Jan. 19th, 2011 04:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tinylegacies - Jan. 19th, 2011 04:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - beccastareyes - Jan. 19th, 2011 05:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Jan. 19th, 2011 07:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - beccastareyes - Jan. 19th, 2011 07:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Jan. 19th, 2011 07:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - neva_butterfly - Jan. 19th, 2011 07:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - neva_butterfly - Jan. 19th, 2011 08:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Jan. 19th, 2011 08:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Jan. 19th, 2011 08:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - beccastareyes - Jan. 19th, 2011 08:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Jan. 19th, 2011 08:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bemused_leftist - Jan. 20th, 2011 06:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Jan. 20th, 2011 06:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bemused_leftist - Jan. 20th, 2011 07:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Jan. 20th, 2011 07:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bemused_leftist - Jan. 20th, 2011 08:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Jan. 20th, 2011 08:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bemused_leftist - Jan. 20th, 2011 09:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Jan. 20th, 2011 09:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bemused_leftist - Jan. 21st, 2011 04:46 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Jan. 21st, 2011 04:50 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - natf - Jan. 20th, 2011 11:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Jan. 20th, 2011 11:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - natf - Jan. 20th, 2011 11:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jan. 21st, 2011 12:13 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Jan. 21st, 2011 12:42 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Jan. 19th, 2011 07:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tinylegacies - Jan. 19th, 2011 07:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Jan. 19th, 2011 08:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tinylegacies - Jan. 19th, 2011 08:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
suricattus
Jan. 19th, 2011 03:48 pm (UTC)
I still stand by my original comments in the wake of the attack, which I have been saying for years before. If we thank and celebrate a teacher/parent/idol for inspiring us positively, must we not also consider (and condemn)those who "inspire" negatively? I don't think you can only have one side of the coin.

Is such negative exhortation a crime? Not legally, no, so long as they stay on the "right" side of hate crime laws. But the right to free speech was intended to protect the speaker from censorship, not to remove any/all responsibility for what they incite, be it positive or negative. "Not my fault/not my responsibility!" in these instances shows a remarkable lack of moral fiber, not to mention a distancing from the words you insisted you had every right to say....


jimhines
Jan. 19th, 2011 03:59 pm (UTC)
I agree with you in regards to accountability for one's words, and taking responsibility for what you've said instead of "Oh, but they did it too" or "They're just surveyor's marks" or whatever.

But when you get to "responsibility for what they incite," my point is that I don't think you can say that these individuals or the rather disgusting rhetoric incited Loughner. It's possible, sure. But it's also very possible that he acted for other reasons which had nothing to do with the rhetoric.
(no subject) - suricattus - Jan. 19th, 2011 04:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - barbhendee - Jan. 19th, 2011 04:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - suricattus - Jan. 19th, 2011 04:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - natf - Jan. 20th, 2011 11:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - bemused_leftist - Jan. 20th, 2011 09:32 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jan. 20th, 2011 01:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bemused_leftist - Jan. 20th, 2011 06:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - starcat_jewel - Jan. 20th, 2011 12:43 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - natf - Jan. 20th, 2011 11:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - suricattus - Jan. 20th, 2011 11:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - natf - Jan. 21st, 2011 10:39 am (UTC) - Expand
rachelmanija
Jan. 19th, 2011 03:57 pm (UTC)
In the year before their attacks, most struggled with acute reversals and disappointment in their lives, which, the paper argues, was the true motive.

Hmmm. This sounds like the study had quite a bit of subjective interpreting going on. They might just as easily have concluded, "acute reversals and disappointments drive people to political radicalism, sometimes even to the point of committing a political assassination."

I also wonder if they looked at any non-American cases. There is a tendency in America to want to see everything as individuals doing their own individualistic things, and to ignore or downplay politics and larger forces at work. Even in movies about political figures, the scripts usually downplay political motivations, substituting daddy issues, the desire to protect a loved one, and so forth.

I'm not saying the study is wrong, but I'm not certain it was objective and unbiased.
jimhines
Jan. 19th, 2011 04:00 pm (UTC)
"I'm not saying the study is wrong, but I'm not certain it was objective and unbiased."

I'm not either, and one or two studies isn't enough to make any sweeping conclusions or pronouncements. But it was enough for me to question some of the assumptions that followed the shooting, if that makes sense?
(no subject) - rachelmanija - Jan. 19th, 2011 04:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bemused_leftist - Jan. 20th, 2011 09:26 am (UTC) - Expand
vmckay
Jan. 19th, 2011 04:03 pm (UTC)
Journalists should know better, but my guess is the average Joe can't find another word to describe an act like this, so they use crazy. Certainly, the behavior is not normal. Most of us wouldn't even think about shooting someone. Or if we did, it would only be a flash in our minds that quickly went away. Something is "different" about the ones who act on these impulses.
natf
Jan. 20th, 2011 11:27 pm (UTC)
Yeah, the meaning of 'crazy' when I was much younger was 'strange/queer/weird/unusual'. So many words these days mean almost the opposite of what they used to. Look at 'gay' and 'wicked' for example! *sigh*
kosarin
Jan. 19th, 2011 04:11 pm (UTC)
The first article is really interesting, partially because I had been assuming similar things based on... the musical Assassins. Actual data is nice.

Aww, I really wanted to find the dead monkey quote. I guess someone took it down?
jimhines
Jan. 19th, 2011 04:15 pm (UTC)
No, it's still out there.
kellymccullough
Jan. 19th, 2011 04:17 pm (UTC)
I think that makes a certain amount of sense if you're looking at the assassinations and attempts as isolated events unconnected to any other violence in the surrounding cultural matrix.

But I'm not at all sure that the Tucson shootings shouldn't be looked at more through the lens of a growing pattern of violence against Democrats, liberals, and left leaning organizations. Digby has been keeping track of increased levels of rightwing violence and rightwing eliminationist rhetoric over the past several years. Looked at through that lens, the attempted assassination of Giffords could be seen as part of very disturbing pattern.

I don't know which is the better way to look at this particular incident, but I'm deeply worried about the increased acceptance in our culture of violent rhetoric because I believe that words matter. If I didn't, I wouldn't have made a career out of them.
jimhines
Jan. 19th, 2011 04:28 pm (UTC)
I don't necessarily think any of this is mutually exclusive, or that multiple lenses can't be used. (See steampunk for further research on multiple lenses.)

I don't know how it all fits together, and I'm not saying there isn't a worrisome pattern. (I'm not familiar with Digby's research.) And maybe Loughner's actions fit very neatly into that larger pattern ... but maybe they don't. I don't know his motivations, and I don't think necessarily think we can force him into that larger narrative.

I'm still sorting through some of this, and as usual, I reserve the right to be totally, utterly wrong.
(no subject) - kellymccullough - Jan. 19th, 2011 04:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cofax7 - Jan. 19th, 2011 04:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Jan. 19th, 2011 07:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bemused_leftist - Jan. 20th, 2011 06:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
serialbabbler
Jan. 19th, 2011 04:43 pm (UTC)
“Only a crazy person would do this, so he must be crazy!” which struck me as problematic for a number of reasons.

Couldn't that be an argument against the entire DSM-IV-TR? How else do we recognize that somebody is displaying mental problems, but by their actions?

(Which isn't to say that I think violent behavior like Loughner's is a sign of psychosis... but that's different.)
jimhines
Jan. 19th, 2011 04:52 pm (UTC)
Well, first of all, "crazy" isn't an actual diagnosis, and is pretty much worthless as a label.

Since a number of mental health issues are at least partly biological in nature, diagnostic criteria do sometimes include more than just actions.

In addition, diagnoses rely on a number of different, very specific criteria which must be met.

Sure, if you see someone displaying a *pattern* of unusual behavior, you might suspect they may have mental health problems, which might then be formally diagnosed and addressed. But pointing to a single action -- even an extreme action -- and saying "He's nuts!" just doesn't fly.
(no subject) - serialbabbler - Jan. 19th, 2011 05:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tinylegacies - Jan. 19th, 2011 06:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - serialbabbler - Jan. 19th, 2011 07:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jan. 19th, 2011 07:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tinylegacies - Jan. 19th, 2011 07:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - semiramis - Jan. 19th, 2011 05:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
sylvanstargazer
Jan. 19th, 2011 05:23 pm (UTC)
I think that by completely ignoring gender and race, their study misses some important dynamics.

Many of these killings read like high-profile lynchings, where the message isn't just "I want you dead", but "I want you dead, I want everyone to know it was me what killed you, and I want everyone like you to be afraid". MLK Jr and Lincoln's assassinations were clearly racially motivated. Robert Kennedy's killer was antisemitic. Milk's killer thought he was defending his family from the threat of his own homosexuality. Loughner was motivated by misogyny and didn't believe that women should hold positions of authority.
These public figures come to stand for the generalized forces these people blame for their failures in life.

Which is not uncommon. If instead of focusing on political figures we focus on random women/people of color/people perceived to be gay/people perceived to be trans, we can see this same dynamic play out over and over again. Sometimes the target is someone famous enough that it makes the news, sometimes, like the Fort Bliss shooting, it is considered important until they discover that the shooter was White and just motivated by misogyny, most of the time it never gets heard at all.

The personal is political, and political figures can be symbolic representations of generalized hatred.
shekkara
Jan. 19th, 2011 06:22 pm (UTC)
Have you seen the silverfox study where researchers in Russia bred one group of silver foxes for docile traits and another for aggressive traits? In 50 generations they had a set of foxes docile enough to be like pets (on their way to domestication?) and a set of aggressive foxes that attacked with no provocation other than being near the fox.

Fascinating video story here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PRQbSdMXBk0)
deborahblakehps
Jan. 19th, 2011 06:52 pm (UTC)
Part of my reaction to this event, and others like it, is the sobering realization that the media is in fact rewarding these behaviors with exactly the prize the perpetrators desired--attention, and lots of it.

I studied Behavior Modification in college, and this is exactly the wrong way to go about discouraging unwanted behaviors...
cathshaffer
Jan. 19th, 2011 07:32 pm (UTC)
I agree.
(no subject) - badgermirlacca - Jan. 20th, 2011 12:06 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - natf - Jan. 21st, 2011 11:49 am (UTC) - Expand
badgermirlacca
Jan. 20th, 2011 12:05 am (UTC)
The Secret Service study was of assassinations or attempted assassinations in the United States. I wonder what a comparative study in, say, India, or Germany, would show. And if there is a difference, what it might be attributed to.

I have a feeling that there might not be as large a sample available, though.
starcat_jewel
Jan. 20th, 2011 01:32 am (UTC)
A couple of not-entirely-coherent thoughts:

1) You're right that words make a difference. But a real-life environment is even stronger. This is why religious nutters are even more up in arms about gay marriage being legal than about depictions of sympathetic gay characters in fiction. If you see gay characters on TV but never in real life, how far does that take you toward acceptance of "the gay lifestyle"? But what happens when you know real-life gay people who are married, and the only thing that's really different about them is the sex of their spouse? Which is more effective at getting you to accept gay people as "normal"? (There's some evidence for this, too; studies have repeatedly shown that people who know one or more gay people in real life are the most likely to be in favor of legalizing gay marriage.)

Similarly, I submit that a real-life environment in which violence and killing are presented as both socially acceptable and a consummation devoutly to be wished (as long as they're only visited on the "right" sort of people, of course!) is far more likely to provoke real-life violence than even the most vicious FPS game. The latter is fiction, and I'm not yet ready to believe that people en masse have lost the ability to distinguish between fiction and reality. But when the violence invades reality... I think that may be a different matter.

Also, the person upthread who said that by immersing yourself in a particular subculture you go a long way toward creating both yourself and your world is dead on. We've all seen this happen, sometimes to our dismay -- but we do it too. I don't hang out in places where TPers congregate, either online or IRL; it's better for my blood pressure and my general health.

I remember, during the wave of violent anti-Obama rhetoric leading up to the election, looking at all the McCain signs up and down our street and wondering whether, by having an Obama sign in our yard, we were being selected as a target for a firebomb -- not necessarily by our neighbors themselves, but who knows who they know that might come to visit? Heinlein said something about this, that it's not MY neighbors who are a danger to me but YOUR neighbors, and vice versa.

2) Specifically for those of a religious bent: what Beck and Palin and company are doing is called "malicious prayer" or sometimes "predatory prayer". This is a form of black magic; the root of it is not "Thy will be done," but "MY will be done". And if you believe that there are Powers in the universe who can be summoned by symbol and ritual, what are these people summoning? Palin's people prayed over that map with the crosshairs. Symbol, ritual... results. Nothing as simple as a direct link, but hasn't anyone ever taught them the concept of "Be careful what you wish for"?! Or are they firmly in the grip of "the end justifies the means" as long as they have plausible deniability?

If there had been even the beginnings of a theme of backing-off and remorse in the overall responses to the assassination attempt, I'd be willing to believe that they were just stupid and thoughtless. But it's all defense, denial, victim-blaming, and "Liberals do it too, waaah!"; this suggests to me that at the end of the day, they're pleased with the way this is playing out. And that's scarier than the assassination attempt itself.
bemused_leftist
Jan. 20th, 2011 06:19 pm (UTC)
Well, the bottom line as of a poll (Quin iirc) a day or two ago, was that the public said the Left was more to blame for any 'climate of anger', and only 15% thought anyone's rhetoric caused the shooting.

Good point about gay marriage.

As for "Beck and Palin and company", I haven't seen any hateful or crazy quotes actually attributed to Palin herself, with cites. Do you have any?
(no subject) - natf - Jan. 21st, 2011 11:55 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bemused_leftist - Jan. 21st, 2011 01:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jan. 21st, 2011 01:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bemused_leftist - Jan. 21st, 2011 01:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jan. 21st, 2011 01:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bemused_leftist - Jan. 21st, 2011 03:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jan. 21st, 2011 03:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
mmegaera
Jan. 20th, 2011 05:35 am (UTC)
cathshaffer, in comments: "The reason people object is political stuff around the insanity plea in the court system. Everybody hates to see a violent criminal "get off easy" with an insanity plea."

This. And it's not just that, really. It's the whole concept of "not guilty by reason of insanity." To a lot of people that sounds like, if you're insane you can do anything and get away with it. IMHO the allowances for insanity should come in the sentencing (where it matters most, anyway), not the verdict (guilty but insane, rather than not guilty by reason of insanity), because the victim is just as dead as if the person who shot them was sane. It's merely a matter of semantics, but I think it would make a huge difference in public perception.

( 88 comments — Leave a comment )

Profile

Snoopy
jimhines
Jim C. Hines
Website

Tags

Latest Month

November 2019
S M T W T F S
     12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930
Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Tiffany Chow