Flashback Friday.

Americans tend to conflate the law and morality. We believe, that is, that we make things illegal because they’re immoral. While we might admit that there are exceptions, we tend to think that our laws generally reflect what is right and wrong, not a simple or arbitrary effort to control the population in ways that people who influence policy want.

This is why changing laws can sometimes be so hard. If it isn’t just about policy, but ethics, then changing a law means allowing something immoral to be legal.

In some other countries, people don’t think like this. They see law as simple public policy, not ethics, which leads to a different attitude toward enforcement.

In Amsterdam, for example, possession and cultivation of marijuana is a misdemeanor. Despite the city’s famous and deserved reputation for the open use of marijuana and the”coffee shops” that sell it, it’s illegal. The city, though, decided that policing it was more trouble than it was worth, so it has a policy of non-enforcement.

An even more fascinating example is their approach to street level sex work. While prostitution is legal in Amsterdam, “streetwalking” is not. Still, there will always be sex workers who can’t afford to rent a work space. These women, some of the most economically deprived, will be on the streets whether the city likes it or not.

Instead of adding to their problems by throwing them all in jails or constantly fining them, the city built a circular drive just outside of town equipped with semi-private stalls. In other words, the city decided against enforcing the law on “streetwalking” and instead spent tax money to build a location in which individuals could engage in behavior that was against the law… and they considered it a win-win.

I thought of this when Julieta R. sent in this picture, shot by her friend at the Aberdeen Pub in Edinburgh, Scotland. Sex in the bathroom, it appears, had begun to inconvenience customers. But, instead of trying to eradicate the behavior, the Pub just said: “Ok, fine, but just keep it to cubicle no. 4.”

Americans would never go for this. Because we think it’s immoral to break the law, not just illegal, we would consider this to be hypocrisy. It doesn’t matter if enforcing the law is impractical (marijuana), if doing so does more harm than good (sex work), or if it’d be easier and cheaper not to do it (cubicle no. 4), in America we believe that the person breaking the law is bad and letting them get away with it is letting a bad person go unpunished.

If we had a practical orientation toward the law, though, instead of a moral one, we might be quicker to change laws, be more willing to weigh the benefits of enforcement with its costs, be able to consider whether enforcement is ethical, feel more comfortable with just letting people break the law, and even helping them do so, if we decided that it was the “right” thing to do.

This post originally appeared in 2010.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

One of the concerns of environmental sociologists is the way that harm is unequally distributed. The way, for example, that poor people and people of color are more likely to live with high levels of lead, near toxic release facilities, with bad air quality, and in the paths of airborne pesticides.

I thought of this research when I saw Time‘s 1-minute illustration of the rise of earthquakes in Oklahoma. To sum, thanks to the particular type of oil drilling done there, the state is now “one of the most seismic places on the planet.” There were 21 earthquakes in 2005. In 2015, there were 5,957. Nine hundred of these were magnitude 3 or higher.

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Click here to watch the video.

I am trying to imagine what would happen if an industry caused almost 6,000 extra earthquakes annually (and growing) in or near a city America cared about. I’ve lived in Los Angeles and New York and, I can’t be sure but, I suspect politicians there might be quicker to interfere with business practices. And, if they weren’t, the political power of residents of those cities might force them to.

“But it’s just Oklahoma,” is apparently the refrain. Who cares if the oil companies’ saltwater disposal wells are causing the houses of hillbillies to shake? Apparently Okies don’t have anything — aren’t anybody — worth protecting. At least, not over the rights of corporations.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Over at Politics Outdoors, sociologist and political scientist David Meyer has argued that Trump is a charismatic leader. The idea comes from Max Weber, widely seen as a founding father of sociology, who argued that there are three types of authority: traditional, legal, and charismatic. Traditional authority derives its power from custom, legal from bureaucracy, and charismatic from cult of personality.

Weber argues that charismatic leaders are seen as somehow superhuman, exemplary, or ordained. They are different than the average human with exceptional qualities that can be depended upon to ensure that everything they do will be right. It is because Trump is a charismatic leader that he can say “trust me” and give few details as to his priorities or policies, even on something as serious as foreign conflict. It’s why he can say, when asked who he’s consulting: “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things.”

His followers don’t need to know what he might do or who he might listen to because they believe in him, not what he stands for. That’s why it makes sense to them to pledge allegiance to Trump instead of the flag.

 

Meyer adds that charismatic leaders are especially attractive during “turbulent times.” “[F]ew people would be willing throw in with someone who obviously lacks all of the qualities for the job he seeks,” Meyer writes, “unless times were truly desperate.” This is part of why Trump’s constant emphasis on inept politicians, broken policies, and the threat of terror and immigration works in his favor. Even his slogan, “Make American Great Again,” ominously implies that we are no longer great.

Charismatic authority is also, paradoxically, unstable. While followers tend to believe their leader to be infallible, the moment they no longer believe so, his power has vanished. At that time, movements either fall apart or find a charismatic successor. If Trump stumbles enough to reveal a weakness, and his supporters are willing to see it, this particular anti-establishment movement could disappear and more quickly than one might think. Unless, of course, they find someone who can step into Trump’s shoes.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Race, obviously.

The other day I wondered what issues offered potential for the left-side party to raid the right-side for some voters. But that’s abstract compared to this actual election. This is my thought on what happens if it comes down to Trump and Clinton.

John Cassidy at the New Yorker runs through some speculation about how Trump could win a general election. It seems to boil down to bringing in enough White working-class voters to win Rustbelt states that Obama won like Michigan (Obama +9.5%), Pennsylvania (Obama +5.2%), and Ohio (Obama +1.9%). Setting aside his prospects among Whites, I’m very skeptical he can win those states (or some others) with basically no Black and very few Latino votes.

To show the depth of ill will between Trump and African Americans, here are the feeling thermometer distributions from the 2016 ANES Pilot Study, taken in late January. People were asked to rate candidates from 0 (very cold, unfavorable) to 100 (very warm, favorable).

Lots of people hate Trump, but no group hates him like African Americans (other variables, like age and education, perform as expected, but nothing is as strong). Obama got something more than 90% of Black vote in 2012. It’s hard to see even 10% of Black voters going for Trump. Especially given Hillary Clinton as an opponent. She might not inspire the same turnout as Obama, but she’s very popular among Black voters. Here are her thermometers:

That Black Clinton thermometer is a basically a mirror-image of the one for Trump. The poor feeling toward Clinton among Whites is obviously a problem, but I still think Blacks and Hispanics can sink Trump.

For what it’s worth, the racial feeling seems mutual. ANES also asked the feeling thermometer about Blacks. Here are the White feelings toward Blacks, adjusted for age, gender, and education level — according to their feelings toward Trump:

The linear trend, which is highly significant, is about one-eighth of a point down on Blacks for every point up on Trump. That’s America for you – even though Trump is mostly going after immigrants and Muslims in this election, racism is always also about the Black-White thing.

(Follow the elections tag for the series.)

Disclaimer: I’m not a political polling expert, this isn’t real research and it hasn’t been reviewed, and I could be completely wrong.

Philip N. Cohen is a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, and writes the blog Family Inequality, where this post originally appeared. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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Mr. Draper, I don’t know what it is you really believe in but I do know what it feels like to be out of place, to be disconnected, to see the whole world laid out in front of you the way other people live it. There’s something about you that tells me you know it too.

Mad Men, Season 1, Episode 1

The ending of Mad Men was brilliant. It was like a good mystery novel: once you know the solution – Don Draper creating one of the greatest ads in Madison Avenue history – you see that the clues were there all along.  You just didn’t realize what was important and what wasn’t. Neither did the characters. This was a game played between Matt Weiner and the audience.

The ending, like the entire series, was also a sociological commentary on American culture. Or rather, it was an illustration of such a commentary. The particular sociological commentary I have in mind is Philip Slater’sPursuit of Loneliness, published in 1970, the same year that this episode takes place. It’s almost as if Slater had Don Draper in mind when he wrote the book, or as if Matt Weiner had the book in mind when he wrote this episode.

In the first chapter, “I Only Work Here,” Slater outlines “three human desires that are deeply and uniquely frustrated by American culture”:

(1) the desire for community – the wish to live in trust, cooperation, and friendship with those around one.

(2) the desire for engagement – the wish to come to grips directly with one’s social and physical environment.

(3) the desire for dependence – the wish to share responsibility for the control of one’s impulses and the direction of one’s life.

The fundamental principle that gives rise to these frustrations is, of course, individualism.

Individualism is rooted in the attempt to deny the reality of human interdependence. One of the major goals of technology in America is to “free” us from the necessity of relating to, submitting to, depending upon, or controlling other people. Unfortunately, the more we have succeeded in doing this, the more we have felt disconnected, bored, lonely, unprotected, unnecessary, and unsafe.

Most of those adjectives could apply to Don Draper at this point. In earlier episodes, we have seen Don, without explanation, walk out of an important meeting at work and, like other American heroes, light out for the territory, albeit in a new Cadillac. He is estranged from his family. He is searching for something – at first a woman, who turns out to be unattainable, and then for… he doesn’t really know what. He winds up at Esalen, where revelation comes from an unlikely source, a nebbishy man named Leonard. In a group session, Leonard says:

I’ve never been interesting to anybody. I, um –  I work in an office. People walk right by me. I know they don’t see me. And I go home and I watch my wife and my kids. They don’t look up when I sit down…

I had a dream. I was on a shelf in the refrigerator. Someone closes the door and the light goes off. And I know everybody’s out there eating. And then they open the door and you see them smiling. They’re happy to see you but maybe they don’t look right at you and maybe they don’t pick you. Then the door closes again. The light goes off.

People are silent, but Don gets up, slowly moves towards Leonard and tearfully, silently, embraces him. 3

On the surface, the two men could not be more different. Don is interesting. And successful. People notice him. But he shares Leonard’s sense that his pursuit – of a new identity, of career success, of unattainable women – has left him feeling inauthentic, disconnected, and alone. “I’ve messed everything up,” he tells his sometime co-worker Peggy in a phone conversation. “I’m not the man you think I am.”

The next time we see him, he is watching from a distance as people do tai-chi on a hilltop.1b

And then he himself is sitting on a hilltop, chanting “om” in unison with a group of people. At last he is sharing something with others rather than searching for ego gratifications. 1c

And then the punch line. We cut to the Coke hilltop ad with its steadily expanding group of happy people singing in perfect harmony. 2A simple product brings universal community (“I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company”). It also brings authenticity. “It’s the real thing.” Esalen and Coca-Cola. Both are offering solutions to the frustrated needs Slater identifies. But both solutions suffer from the same flaw – they are personal rather than social. A few days of spiritual healing and hot springs brings nor more social change than does a bottle of sugar water.It’s not that real change is impossible, Slater says, and in the final chapter of the book, he hopes that the strands in the fabric of American culture can be rewoven.  But optimism is difficult.
So many healthy new growths in our society are at some point blocked by the overwhelming force and rigidity of economic inequality… There’s a… ceiling of concentrated economic power that holds us back, frustrates change, locks in flexibility.

The Mad Men finale makes the same point, though with greater irony (the episode title is “Person to Person”). When we see the Coke mountaintop ad, we realize that Don Draper has bundled up his Esalen epiphany, brought it back to a huge ad agency in New York, and turned it into a commercial for one of the largest corporations in the world.

Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog and Pacific Standard.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

2 (1)In 1994, a US immigration judge lifted an order to deport a woman named Lydia Oluloro. Deportation would have forced her to either leave her five- and six-year-old children in America with an abusive father or take them with her to Nigeria. There, they would have been at risk of a genital cutting practice called infibulation, in which the labia majora and minora are trimmed and fused, leaving a small opening for urination and menstruation.

Many Americans will agree that the judge made a good decision, as children shouldn’t be separated from their mothers, left with dangerous family members, or subjected to an unnecessary and irreversible operation that they do not understand. I am among these Americans. However, I am also of the view that Americans who oppose unfamiliar genital cutting practices should think long and hard about how they articulate their opposition.

The judge in the Oluloro case, Kendall Warren, articulated his opposition like this:

This court attempts to respect traditional cultures … but [infibulation] is cruel and serves no known medical purpose. It’s obviously a deeply ingrained cultural tradition going back 1,000 years at least.

Let’s consider the judge’s logic carefully. First, by contrasting the “court” (by which he means America)with “traditional cultures”, the judge is contrasting us (America) with a them (Nigeria). He’s implying that only places like Nigeria are “traditional” — a euphemism for states seen as backward, regressive, and uncivilised — while the US is “modern,” a state conflated with progressiveness and enlightenment.

When he says that the court “attempts to respect traditional cultures,” but cannot in this case, the judge is suggesting that the reason for the disrespect is the fault of the culture itself. In other words, he’s saying “we do our best to respect traditional cultures, but you have pushed us too far.” The reason for this, the judge implies, is that the practices in question have no redeeming value. It “serves no known medical purpose,” and societies which practice it are thus “up to no good” or are not engaging in “rational” action.

The only remaining explanation for the continuation of the practice, the judge concludes, is cruelty. If the practice is cruel the people who practice it must necessarily also be cruel; capriciously, pointlessly, even frivolously cruel.

To make matters worse, in the eyes of the judge, such cruelty can’t be helped because its perpetrators don’t have free will. The practice, he says, is “deeply ingrained” and has been so for at least 1,000 years. Such cultures cannot be expected to see reason. This is the reason why the court — or America — can and should be compelled to intervene.

In sum, the judge might well have said: “we are a modern, rational, free, good society, and you who practice female genital cutting—you are the opposite of this.”

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I’ve published extensively on the ways in which Americans talk about the female genital cutting practices (FGCs) that are common in parts of Africa and elsewhere, focusing on the different ways opposition can be articulated and the consequence of those choices. There are many grounds upon which to oppose FGCs: the oppression of women, the repression of sexuality, human rights abuse, child abuse, a violation of bodily integrity, harm to health, and psychological harm, to name just a few. Nevertheless, Judge Warren, chose to use one of the most common and counterproductive frames available: cultural depravity.

The main source of this frame has been the mass media, which began covering FGCs in the early 1990s. At the time anti-FGC activists were largely using the child abuse frame in their campaigns, yet journalists decided to frame the issue in terms of cultural depravity. This narrative mixed with American ethnocentrism, an obsession with fragile female sexualities, a fear of black men, and a longstanding portrayal of Africa as dark, irrational, and barbaric to make a virulent cocktail of the “African Other.”

The more common word used to describe FGCs — mutilation — is a symbol of this discourse. It perfectly captures Judge Warren’s comment. Mutilation is, perhaps by definition, the opposite of healing and of what physicians are called to do. Defining FGCs this way allows, and even demands, that we wholly condemn the practices, take a zero tolerance stance, and refuse to entertain any other point of view.

Paradoxically, this has been devastating for efforts to reduce genital cutting. People who support genital cutting typically believe that a cut body is more aesthetically pleasing. They largely find the term “mutilation” confusing or offensive. They, like anyone, generally do not appreciate being told that they are barbaric, ignorant of their own bodies, or cruel to their children.

The zero tolerance demand to end the practices has also failed. Neither foreigners intervening in long-practicing communities, nor top-down laws instituted by local politicians under pressure from Western governments, nor even laws against FGCs in Western countries have successfully stopped genital cutting. They have, however, alienated the very women that activists have tried to help, made women dislike or fear the authorities who may help them, and even increased the rate of FGCs by inspiring backlashes.

In contrast, the provision of resources to communities to achieve whatever goals they desire, and then getting out of the way, has been proven to reduce the frequency of FGCs. The most effective interventions have been village development projects that have no agenda regarding cutting, yet empower women to make choices. When women in a community have the power to do so, they often autonomously decide to abandon FGCs. Who could know better, after all, the real costs of continuing the practice?

Likewise, abandonment of the practice may be typical among immigrants to non-practicing societies. This may be related to fear of prosecution under the law. However, it is more likely the result of a real desire among migrants to fit into their new societies, a lessening of the pressures and incentives to go through with cutting, and mothers’ deep and personal familiarity with the short- and long-term pain that accompanies the practices.

The American conversation about FGCs has been warped by our own biases. As a Hastings Center Report summarizes, those who adopt the cultural depravity frame misrepresent the practices, overstate the negative health consequences, misconstrue the reasons for the practice, silence the first-person accounts of women who have undergone cutting, and ignore indigenous anti-FCG organizing. And, while it has fed into American biases about “dark” Africa and its disempowered women, the discourse of cultural depravity has actually impaired efforts to reduce rates of FGCs and the harm that they can cause.

Originally posted at Open Democracy and Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow up on her research about female genital cutting here.

They hold the same amount of wealth.

We all know that wealth is unequally distributed in the US. But, the results of a new study by the Institute for Policy Studies, authored by Chuck Collins and Josh Hoxie, are still eye popping.

Collins and Hoxie find that the wealthiest 0.1 percent of US households, an estimated 115,000 households with a net worth starting at $20 million, own more than 20 percent of total US household wealth. That is up from 7 percent in the 1970s. This group owns approximately the same total wealth as the bottom 90 percent of US households.

Moving up the wealth ladder, they calculate that the top 400 people—yes, people not households, each with a net worth starting at $1.7 billion, have more wealth than the bottom 61 percent of the US population, an estimated 70 million households or 194 million people.

Finally, we get to the top 20 people, those sitting at the pinnacle of the US wealth distribution. As the authors explain:

The wealthiest 20 individuals in the United States today hold more wealth than the bottom half of the U.S. population combined. These 20 super wealthy — a group small enough to fly together on one Gulfstream G650 private jet — have as much wealth as the 152 million people who live in the 57 million households that make up the bottom half of the U.S. population.

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Although obvious, it is still worth emphasizing, as Collins and Hoxie do, that great wealth translates into great power, the power to shape economic policies. And, in a self-reinforcing cycle, the resulting policies, by design, create new opportunities for the wealthy to capture more wealth. Think: free trade agreements, privatization policies, tax policy, and labor and environmental laws and regulations.

Oh yes, also think presidential politics. As a New York Times study points out:

They are overwhelmingly white, rich, older and male . . . . Across a sprawling country, they reside in an archipelago of wealth, exclusive neighborhoods dotting a handful of cities and towns… Now they are deploying their vast wealth in the political arena, providing almost half of all the seed money raised to support Democratic and Republican presidential candidates. Just 158 families, along with companies they own or control, contributed $176 million in the first phase of the campaign, a New York Times investigation found (emphasis added).

And yet, one still hears some people say that class analysis has no role to play in explaining the dynamics of the US political economy. Makes you wonder who pays their salary.

Originally posted at Reports from the Economic Front.

Martin Hart-Landsberg is a professor of economics at Lewis and Clark College. You can follow him at Reports from the Economic Front.

This November, a wave of student activism drew attention to the problem of racism at colleges and universities in the US.  Sparked by protests at the University of Missouri, nicknamed Mizzou, we saw actions at dozens of colleges. It was a spectacular show of strength and solidarity and activists have won many concessions, including new funding, resignations, and promises to rename buildings.

Activists’ grievances are structural — aimed at how colleges are organized and who is in charge, what colleges teach and who does the teaching, and what values are centered and where they come from — but they are also interpersonal. Student activists of color talked about being subject to overtly racist behavior from others and being on the receiving end of microaggressions, seemingly innocuous commentary from others that remind them that they do not, as a Claremont McKenna dean so poorly put it, “fit the mold.” That dean lost her job after that comment. Many student activists seem to embrace the policing of offensive speech, both the hateful and the ignorant kind.

Negative reactions to this activism was immediate and widespread. Much of it served only to affirm the students’ claims: that we are still a racist society and that we, at best, tolerate our young people of color only if they stay “in their place.” Other times, it was confusion about the kind of world these young people seemed to want to live in. Why, some people asked, would anyone — especially a member of a marginalized population — want to shut down free speech?

Well, it may be that the American love of free speech is waning. The Pew Research Center released data measuring attitudes about censorship. They asked Americans whether they thought the government should be able to prevent people from saying things that are “offensive to minorities.” Millennials — that is, today’s college students — are significantly more likely than any other generation to say that they should.

In fact, the data show a steady decrease in the proportion of Americans who are eager to defend speech that is offensive to minorities. Only 12% of the Silent generation is in favor of censorship, compared to 24% of the Baby Boomers, 27% of Gen X, and 40% of Millennials. Notably, women, Democrats, and non-whites are all more likely than their counterparts to be willing to tolerate government control of speech.

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Americans still stand out among their national peers. Among European Union countries, 49% of citizens are in favor of censorship, compared to 28% of Americans. If the Millennials have anything to say about it, though, that might be changing. Assuming this is a cohort effect and not an age effect (that is, assuming they won’t change their minds as they age), and with the demographic changes this country will see in the next few decades, we may  very soon look more like Europe on this issue than we do now.

Re-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.