Doctor Science Knows

Friday, August 22, 2008

Violence, Libertarianism, Social Connection

Jim MacDonald has a deeply moving and often enraging series of posts up about Carl Drega, who went on a rampage and killed four people in their town, 11 years ago.

The Red Army Faction and the Baader-Meinhof gang were *certainly* leftists. I think it's significant, though, that I can't think of an example of a violent leftist movement in Europe or North America since the 70s.

Something *changed*, starting no later than the early 70s, to make violence feel intrinsically "conservative", and peace/non-violence seem "liberal". I don't think this alignment is dictated by logic: to be conservative is to want to conserve something, to support some kind of status quo, and violence *should* be a particularly poor match for stability. There *should* be a conservative peace movement -- but we observe that there isn't one.

I have my suspicions about what's driving this dynamic, but I'm going to wait to see what other people think, first.

David Manheim @30:

Either I don't understand you or I don't agree with you, or both.

Modern political & economic conservatism are indeed conservative, because they want to keep the distribution of money & power the way it already is: with large corporations and wealthy individuals. Keeping the rich rich is *the* bedrock value of economic conservatives; keeping power in the hands of the powerful is *the* goal of political conservatives.

Michael Turyn @19: Yes, exactly. So very well put.

IMHO libertarians are people who don't believe humans are social animals. In the cases of Drega and VS, this goes along with full-blown sociopathology: an inability to act or *feel* like a social animal.

Jorg @17: Your insight is extremely useful.

My theory, which is mine: Historically, it has been exceptionally easy for people in the US to detach themselves from networks where others know them personally, yet to be able to depend on impersonal, industrial/capitalist networks for survival. This doesn't *feel* like depending on other people, so it's easy to think you're self-reliant and independent, beholden to no man.

Speaking as an biologist, human sociality is not all that deep, evolutionarily speaking. Some sociopathology is surely a matter of a basic neuro-biological lack, a problem in the brain. But it can also be matter of upbringing or habit, so that neurologically normal people lose or never develop the mental skill of seeing things from another's POV.

It's not coicidence, IMHO, that Drega was a "summer person", whose only connection to the community was property. The connections Jim and Debra have to the town and the area are far deeper, more complex, more personal and (I do not use this word casually) natural. If things like this happen more often than they used to, more often in the US than in Europe, or more often in some parts of the US than the rest, it's IMHO these are places because sociopathic behavior is more normal, where it's within the range of what is acceptable.

I don't think this is unconnected to the well-known fact that if corporations were humans (not just legal persons), they would be sociopaths.

Nancy @44:

You seem to be taking the point of view that libertarians are the problem and corporations are the problem.

No. I'm saying that humans become well-socialized in societies where you interact with a few hundred or thousand other people over the course of a life, so each relationship has personal context and depth. In a small-scale, "natural" society like that, sociopathic behavior will be rare, because people who can't be trusted will starve.

In a modern society, we have connections to many many more people -- not just because we see more people, but through the exchange of goods and money. Something as basic to my life as electricity requires the coordinated efforts of many thousands of people -- but my relationship to each of those people is extremely weak.

It's like -- imagine my hunter-gatherer ancestor, anchored to other people by a web of 100 ropes, each one strong and obvious. I, on the other hand, am in a web of 10 million strands, most of which are so fine as to be invisible. Collectively, my web is thicker and more gripping than hers -- she could usually make her own clothes and gather enough food for survival -- but it's harder to see. And libertarians IMHO are people who have a hard time seeing it.

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