Category: Culture


The Dignity of the Minimum Wage?

[A brief note of apology: it’s been a terrible blogging summer for me, though great on other fronts.  I promise I’ll do better in the coming academic year. In particular, I’d like to get back to my dark fantasy/law blogging series. If you’ve nominations for interviewees, email me.]

WorkDetroitThis is one I’ve been meaning to write for a while.

One of the major lessons of the cultural cognition project is that empirical arguments are a terrible way to resolve value conflicts. On issues as diverse as the relationship between gun ownership and homicide rates, the child-welfare effects of gay parenting, global warming, and consent in rape cases, participants in empirically-infused politics behave as if they are spectators at sporting events. New information is polarized through identity-protective lenses; we highlight those facts that are congenial to our way of life and discounts those that are not; we are subject to naive realism.  It’s sort of dispiriting, really.  Data can inflame our culture wars.

One example of this phenomenon is the empirical debate over minimum wage laws. As is well known, there is an evergreen debate in economics journals about the policy consequences which flow from a wage floor.  Many (most) economists argue that the minimum wage retards growth and ironically hurts the very low-wage workers it is supposed to hurt. Others argue that the minimum wage has the opposite effect. What’s interesting about this debate -to me, anyway- is that it seems to bear such an orthogonal relationship to how the politics of the minimum wage play out, and the kinds of arguments that persuade partisans on one side or another. Or to put it differently, academic liberals in favor of the minimum wage have relied on regression analyses, but I don’t think they’ve persuaded many folks who weren’t otherwise disposed to agree with them. Academic critics of the minimum wage too have failed to move the needle on public opinion, which (generally) is supportive of a much higher level of minimum wage than is currently the law.

How to explain this puzzle?  My colleague Brishen Rogers has a terrific draft article out on ssrn, Justice at Work: Minimum Wage Laws and Social Equality. The paper urges a new kind of defense of minimum wages, which elides the empirical debate about minimum wages’ effect on labor markets altogether. From the abstract:

“Accepting for the sake of argument that minimum wage laws cause inefficiency and unemployment, this article nevertheless defends them. It draws upon philosophical arguments that a just state will not simply redistribute resources, but will also enable citizens to relate to one another as equals. Minimum wage laws advance this ideal of “social equality” in two ways: they symbolize the society’s commitment to low-wage workers, and they help reduce work-based class and status distinctions. Comparable tax-and-transfer programs are less effective on both fronts. Indeed, the fact that minimum wage laws increase unemployment can be a good thing, as the jobs lost will not always be worth saving. The article thus stands to enrich current increasingly urgent debates over whether to increase the minimum wage. It also recasts some longstanding questions of minimum wage doctrine, including exclusions from coverage and ambiguities regarding which parties are liable for violations.”

I’m a huge fan of Brishen’s work, having been provoked and a bit convinced by his earlier work (here) on a productive way forward for the union movement. What seems valuable in this latest paper is that the minimum wage laws are explicitly defended with reference to a widely shared set of values (dignity, equality). Foregrounding such values I think would increase support for the minimum wage among members of the populace.  The lack of such dignitary discussions in the academic debate to date has level the minimum wage’s liberal defenders without a satisfying and coherent ground on which to stand. Worth thinking about in the waning hours of Labor’s day.




Why “Accommodating Traditions” is Sometimes Wrong: The Case of Gender Segregation in Ultra-Orthodox Communities

Gender segregation on buses is becoming increasingly conspicuous in the Hassidic community in New York. Should society tolerate seating arrangements which mandate women to sit at the back of the bus? Is it analogous to racial segregation? Or are there valid considerations that make gender segregation legitimate? The ultra-Orthodox cite multiculturalism, and demand tolerance of their traditions. But what is tradition, and how old should a practice be in order to be recognized as a tradition?

All these questions have been asked in Israeli, where gender segregation in public transportation to and from ultra-Orthodox communities began in the late 1990’s. In a recently published article I argue that gender segregation is a self-defeating practice. Its motivation is to erase female sexuality from the public sphere, but by being so preoccupied with women’s “modesty” it in fact puts their sexuality at the center of attention. The paradoxical obsession with female sexuality is also, in a way, a form of sexual harassment. Gender segregation on buses is not part of Jewish tradition; not even the ultra-Orthodox tradition. It is a very new product of a rising Jewish religious fundamentalism, which I believe is a reaction to women’s demand for equal rights and their exposure to the outer world (thanks to technology). in Israel segregation on buses is sometimes enforced by passengers violently.

The leaders of the ultra-Orthodox communities, both in New York and in Israel, have been very astute in their enlistment of multicultural discourse and political correctness to promote their misogynist agenda. The majority should not be confused by this. There are plenty of strong voices from within the ultra-Orthodox community who object to this trend. In Israel, for example, a group of ultra-Orthodox women and men petitioned the Supreme Court against segregation on public transportation. These people are part of the ultra-Orthodox community as well, and have as strong a claim to their traditions as any of the Rabbis who have decided all of the sudden to send women to the back of the bus.


Putin Gays on the Agenda

When I hear about American supporters the new Russian homophobic legislation (or, for that matter, about President Putin and his aides who initiated such crazy legislation, which prohibits, among other things, even expressing tolerance towards LGBTs), I can’t help but recall a New York Time article from last year titled Homophobic? Maybe You’re Gay, which claimed that there is “empirical evidence of a connection between homophobia and suppressed same-sex desire.”


Over-Parenting Goes International

The thought of hiring a private detective in this age of relatively accessible electronic surveillance seems a bit retro, like a black-and-white scene from a smoky film noire. But it has been enjoying a surprising comeback in recent years, with parents who hire private investigators to spy on their children.

In an article titled Over-Parenting, my co-author Gaia Bernstein and I identified a trend of legal adoption of intensive parenting norms. We cautioned against society legally sanctioning a single parenting style – namely, intensive parenting – while deeming potentially neglectful other parenting styles which could be perfectly legitimate. We also pointed out that involved parenting is class-biased, since it is costly, and not all parents can afford the technology that would enable them to be intensive parents, such as purchasing GPS enabled smartphones for their kids. We argued that when intensive parenting is used for children who do not need it, it becomes over-parenting. Not all children need the same level of involvement in their lives; one of the most important roles of parents is to prepare their children for independent life, and over-parenting might thwart that role. Finally, we speculated that the cultural model for intensive parenting originates in media depictions of upper-middle class families, and that how these families are portrayed in movies and TV shows influences real-life parents.

Well, I’m sad to report that over-parenting is not a unique American phenomenon. Last year, for example, a Chinese newspaper reported that parents in china are increasingly becoming more involved in their children’s lives by hiring private investigators to check whether the children use drugs, drink alcohol or have sex. In Israel some parents are doing the same, especially during the long summer break, during which bored teenagers, many parent fear, are prone to engage in such activities (if you read Hebrew, you can read the story here). I am sure that some American parents do the same.

Leaving aside the class question (are parents who cannot afford a private eye neglectful?), what does this say about parents’ role as educators? Or about the level of trust (or distrust) between those parents and their children? It used to be that a spouse would hire a private investigator because they thought that their partner was having an affair. Nowadays, a growing chunk of a private investigator’s work involved parents spying on their children. Can’t we say that the fact that parents feel that they need to spy on their children already testifies to their limited parental skills?


The Decline of Homophobia and the Rise of Heterophilia in the Aftermath of United States v. Windsor (Part II)

In my article Discriminating Speech: On the Heterophilia of Freedom of Speech Doctrine Heterophilia I introduced the concept of law’s inherent heterophilia. One can see it as a new generation of homophobia, more politically correct perhaps, in which the goal of eradication has been substituted by the goal of assimilation.  The need to cover, which almost every LGBT individual has experienced and which has been so shrewdly identified by Kenji Yoshino in his book “Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights,” is a typical product of social and legal heterophilia that seeks to encourage such assimilation.  Because of its benign nature, legal heterophilia, as opposed to legal homophobia, is much harder to detect, and therefore it is much harder to fight.

How can we distinguish law’s homophobia from law’s heterophilia?  To be sure, it is not easy to draw the line between homophobia and heterophilia, and many heterophile actions can be interpreted as unconsciously homophobic.  However, generally speaking, laws that privilege predominantly heterosexual institutions, such as marriage, are heterophile in nature, while laws that restrict LGBT individuals, discriminate against them, or punish them as such, would be labeled as homophobic.  Thus, laws privileging married couples and awarding them forms of protection that unmarried couples cannot receive are heterophilic as long as LGBT individuals cannot get married, and probably as long as they do not extend those privileges to all couples, married and unmarried, gay or straight. The Mayo Clinic’s policy demanding same-sex couples to marry or else the employees’ spouses will lose their health benefits, instead of extending the benefits to all partner regardless their marital status and their sexual orientation is a product of socio-legal heterophilia.

Indeed, the very demand to marry, which is a consequence of the Windsor case, is heterophilic even when it does not involve the carrot of benefits or the stick of their denial. As a recent New York Times article demonstrates, such social requirement is becoming more and more conspicuous in the wake of the Windsor ruling. And what is fascinating, is that heterosexuals are the ones who nudge same-sex partners to marry most.

While not using the term “heterophilia” or its derivatives, Janet Halley has exposed some of the most heterophilic strands of the institution of marriage in her 2010 article Behind the Law of Marriage (I): From Status/Contract to the Marriage System.  Marriage law, however, is not only heterophilic; it also has homophobic qualities, as many scholars have rightly observed. It remains to be seen if society and the courts will be able to release themselves of all forms of prejudice and discrimination concerning marriage and marital status. Getting rid of the homophobic Section 3 of DOMA was only the first step in this direction.

Part I of this post.


Gatekeeping and the Economic Value of a Law Degree (Part 2)

LincolnIn my last post, I discussed how the commentary on Michael Simkovic and Frank McIntyre’s “The Economic Value of a Law Degree” has illuminated a separate and worthwhile avenue for further research—namely, whether the presence of powerful gatekeepers who oversee the practice of law should make us confident that the value of the law degree will be relatively stable.

Most helpful in this regard has been Deborah Merritt’s post regarding the impact of the typewriter on lawyer education requirements.  At the risk of putting words into her mouth, Merritt observed that the typewriter may have contributed to the decision of the New York bar to make attendance at a three-year law school a prerequisite to bar admission and, therefore, that S&M were too hasty in concluding that people misconceived the typewriter to be a threat to the value of the law degree.

My earlier post explained that we must be careful not to conflate structural changes in the law degree’s value with structural changes in the credentials that one will need to become a lawyer.  By keeping the two separate, we can better understand how the gatekeepers to the industry might be able to insulate the value of the degree from exogenous forces.

In this second post, I’d like to offer some final observations on gatekeeping.  I begin with the acknowledgement that the effects of gatekeeping extend well beyond the population of degree holders, though S&M had perfectly valid reasons for focusing on that population.  Thereafter, I return to the relationship between gatekeeping and nostalgia, highlighting the strange role that the late Abe Lincoln played in the adoption of education requirements.  To finish up, I briefly explain how gatekeeping measures have long been—and will continue to be—a tempting tool for those with the power to wield them. Read More


The Decline of Homophobia and the Rise of Heterophilia in the Aftermath of United States v. Windsor (Part I)

Hello everyone, and thanks Solangel and the other regulars for hosting me here. I thought I would begin with some thoughts on the aftermath of United States v. Windsor, in which the Supreme Court invalidated Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). June 26, 2013, the day in which the case was decided, will no doubt be one of those days that many will reminiscent about, ask and will be asked “where were you when the decision was published?” As someone who studied is Constitutional Law class when the 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick was still the law, the day Windsor was decided was a truly wonderful day for me. Indeed, this day marked a significant decline in legal homophobia, and we should all celebrate that. But is it the end of marriage-based discrimination?
I’m afraid that the answer to this question is “not yet.” It seems that the campaign for same-sex marriage has been almost too successful, and that the right to marry is rapidly becoming a requirement to do so. reports that the Minnesota Mayo Clinic is requiring its LGBT employees to marry their same-sex partners in order to continue their eligibility for health benefits. The previous policy was introduced in order to remedy the discrimination against LGBT employees who could not marry their partners. Now when they can do so, they must, if they wish to continue to be eligible for the benefits. There will even be a deadline for these couples to get married. What a charged idea, a deadline to get married, and one that is created by one of the partners’ employee!
On the face of it, there is nothing wrong with this change: Under this policy, unmarried heterosexual partners of employees are ineligible for health benefits. The update is necessary in order not to create a new form of discrimination, this time against unmarried heterosexual couples. But this is only one way of looking at this policy.
The updated policy which requires same-sex couples to marry in order to keep their health benefits exposes what I call law’s heterophilia, a concept which I have introduced in a recent article. Much has been written about law’s homophobia, past and present. Various forms of discrimination against LGBT individuals have been labeled “homophobic” and in most cases, justly so. But law sports an additional, more insidious prejudice—namely, heterophilia.
Homophobia works “against” LGBTs. Criminalization of sex between men or between women is homophobic. But what are we to make of legal norms that do not work directly “against” gays, but “for” heterosexuals? Such norms do not consciously discriminate against LGBT individuals, but privilege heterosexuals (not all of them, as I explain below). The underlying result is discrimination. These norms are not homophobic in the sense that unlike sodomy laws, they were not designed with the specific aim of persecuting sexual minorities.
I borrow the term “heterophilia” from psychoanalyst David Schwartz, who argued in the early 1990s that in addition to homophobia—a well-explored prejudice which is rooted in devaluation—there can be another form of prejudice against LGBT individuals which is rooted in “philia,” namely in the idealization of heterosexuality. Heterophilia, argued Schwartz, is an “unarticulated belief in a particular sexual ideology,” rather than an objection to an alternative sexual ideology. By the absence of phobia, and in many cases by actual acceptance of LGBT individuals in several respects, heterophiles “immunize their ideological commitments against articulation and scrutiny.”
Now, let’s return to the Mayo Clinic’s revised spousal health benefit policy. Heterophilia idealizes not merely heterosexuality, but heterosexual monogamous relationships in which the spouses are married to each other. Marriage is the quintessential heterophile institution. This is why heterophilia can discriminate not just against LGBTs, but also against heterosexuals who refuse to get married. They too are ineligible for health benefits for their partners, if they are employed by a company who has a similar policy in place.
While the Windsor Court’s ruling is just and humane, it exists within a context, and is subject to interpretation (or misinterpretation and even abuse) within that context. One such misinterpretation is the quick evolution of an equal right to marry for LGBTs into a requirement. Critics of the campaign for same-sex marriage have warned against this consequence. But I believe that the critique was misdirected. The problem is not with the proponents of same-sex marriage, but rather with the general socio-legal culture, which still discriminates on the basis of marital status and, now, happily, does so regardless of one’s sexual orientation.

Part II of this post.


Outrage and community

A recent episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians (stick with me for a minute) sparked an interesting conversation last month about the intentional infliction of emotional distress tort.  As all first-year students learn — to much snickering — the Restatement’s test for whether a defendant’s actions are intolerable in a civilized society is whether an average member of the community learning of the challenged behavior would exclaim “that’s outrageous!”  Perhaps because of the stilted formulation, IIED is the Rodney Dangerfield of the torts world.  This may explain why the Supreme Court has been so willing to strike jury IIED verdicts that are later alleged to impair speech rights.  Two years ago, in Snyder v. Phelps, the Court observed that the “outrageous” standard is “highly malleable” and “inherent[ly] subjective.”  For that reason, the Court suggested that jury decisions about outrageous speech may be constitutionally suspect.

But is the standard as malleable as the Court suggested?  If you listen carefully, you will often hear the precise words of the Restatement — “that’s outrageous” — voiced in spontaneous response to stigmatized behavior.  Let’s return to the Kardashians. The youngest of the crew, Kylie and Kendall, were recently featured taking cell phone video of their mother using the ladies’ room.  Feeling that the world at large should join in the hilarity, the girls then posted the video to their blog for all to see.  Mother Kris claimed to be furious and embarrassed (but not too furious or embarrassed to cut the footage from the television show that eventually aired).  Told about the episode over lunch, a law professor colleague frowned and exclaimed . . . “that’s outrageous!”  When an Australian radio DJ convinced a nurse attending to the hospitalized Kate Middleton last year that she was the Queen and broadcast the ensuing conversation, the nurse committed suicide.  The New York Times immediately dubbed the prank “outrageous.”  When an obstetrician proud of his work on a Caesarean section carved his initials into a patient’s abdomen, the hospital that had employed him called the act “outrageous.”  And so on. Read More


Symposium: Clan on the FOB, part two

Piggy backing off Mark’s admonitions about preventing the return of the clan (part four of RULE), I’d like address the issue of ousting the Rule of the Clan from Afghanistan. How do we replace a union of feelings (clan) with a union of words (constitution)?

Mark notes, “to prevent the return of the rule of the clan in its various guises, liberal states not only need to possess democratic legitimacy and be effective in advancing individual autonomy—they also need to find ways of meeting the genuine goods the rule of the clan provides, especially solidarity and a measure of social justice, lest liberalism collapse into a hollow core.” From my Afghan tent-mates, I learned some disconcerting lessons about how difficult it is to de-clan a clan-entrenched society.

Take the example of the “colonizing invader” meme as it now circulates among Afghans. That meme is promoted, by various means, in tribally generated masternarratives. Exactly how many Afghans view ISAF, NATO as colonial INVADERS we do not know, though we do know that, somewhat paradoxically, that number increased in 2004 when Bush pulled 70,000 US security forces out of Afghanistan and sent them to Iraq. Upon their withdrawl, Taliban attacks spiked throughout those areas where US Troops had been patrolling and where they’d established peace and security for populations that had been longing for both. In the wake of that withdraw, Afghans felt abandoned. Much longed-for peace had been won—and then lost, because of a war in Iraq, a war perceived to be against Islam. Nor do we know exactly how relevant the meme of COLONIAL OCCUPIER is to the personal stories that Afghans tell themselves to explain why ISAF/NATO is in their Country but I heard that theme in many different forms often in the stories of Afghans.

If we envision ISAF’s mission to be one of helping Afghans establish democratic law in place of clan law (making tribes into a nation), then we really should understand in detail how Afghan master-narratives mobilize the meme of invader colonist and reinforce clannism. Afghan masternarratives typically de-legitimise Western ideas of law. From what sources does jurisprudential legitimacy emerge? I direct that question to other Symposium members who are far more knowledgable than I about the ancient, primal sources of law. However, I do know that one of those sources is what Mark calls the imaginative sensibility of a society—masternarratives, or myth.

But here’s the stumbling block in Afghanistan: From whom do ideas of democratic of law emerge? To what extent are the ideals of individual freedom and democratic, principle-based law made guilty by association with ISAF/NATO invader infidels?

My Afghan tentmates made it absolutely clear to me that what we’re really talking about when we’re talking about clan or tribal identity among Afghans is the feasibility of democratic law gaining true jurisprudential power in Afghanistan. From the perspective of the current battlespace, the issue remains one of cultural incompatibility. From the perspective of my students fighting a Counter Insurgency War, that issue came down to this question: “What are we really fighting for?” “Operation Enduring Freedom”—my ISAF students often playfully shifted the emphasis of that phrase, sometimes heavily intoning Freedom, sometimes ENDURING. Freedom is a word that Mark asks us to take seriously. I often asked my Afghan tentmates to tell me the word for individual freedom in their tribal tongue. They had no such concept. I asked them to translate Operation Enduring Freedom into their tribal tongue. They usually laughed and said, verbatim, “Operation Enduring Freedom.”

Few places on earth present more intractable “Clan” obstacles to the establishment of the rule of democratic law and individual freedom than Afghanistan. Mark’s attention to the “imaginative sensibility that lies at the core of the liberal rule of law (page 183)” points me to the imaginative sensibility that lies at the core of clan law.

We can see the failure of imagination in Afghan Army leadership. The Afghan National Army has largely failed to create the imaginative mechanisms that should enable its members to transcend clan loyalty and its honor-compulsions. A large part of that failure lies in ANA inability to form a masternarrative (or myth) that can offer, to use Mark’s phrasing, a powerful image of “the genuine goods the rule of the clan provides, especially solidarity and a measure of social justice.” Where the US military is extraordinarily effective at creating fictive kinship in new recruits, the Afghan Army is extraordinarily ineffective at making its fiction as compelling as the facts of the Afghan clan.

The Taliban have ruthlessly exploited that “narrative” gap. All species of Taliban have successfully mobilized the meme of invader and, thus, have largely won the masternarrative (IO) war. ISAF and NATO have been predictably framed by the Taliban as NON-ISLAMIC (infidel) invaders who’ve brought great damage to the honor (NANG) of all Afghans, especially Pashtuns. As the Taliban tell the story of a decade of ISAF occupation, only the Taliban have been successful at removing dishonor (BENANGA) from Afghanistan.

Why do so many different groups of Afghans buy into the Taliban masternarrative? Because the Taliban can point to SOCIAL PROOF: Afghan women and children killed by drone strikes; night raids; burned Korans; pissed-on dead bodies of Islamic fighters; US Special Forces running amok and killing dozens of civilians. Plus, they can point at any moment to Karzai’s unending corruption. And they can readily point to ISAF forces as INFIDELS—non-Islamic invaders.

Notably, of all the many Afghans I lived and worked among, the Afghan Army Soldiers were the most difficult to understand. My feeling is that they’ve been recruited from the nastiest dregs of Afghan society, the bottom of the barrel, the utterly outcast, Ghandi’s untouchables. They’re the men not even the heroin druglords want on their payrolls. To put this in economic metaphors, these are men who are DEEP in BENANGA debt. By working for the ANA or for ASF, these men dig themselves even deeper into BENANGA.

Often, the only way out of BENANGA/honor debt, the only way for these deeply SHAMED men to restore their NANG, is to kill ISAF troops in one Samsonic moment of liberation. They empty their AK into their US counterparts or blow themselves up at on a FOB.

The only Afghan men who were lower in the social Afghan order were essentially slaves or indentured servants of local Afghan strongmen whom the US government contracts to perform menial services on its bases, such as laundry, janitorial services, and construction. Lower even than these men were the now-adult victims of “Bacha Bazi,” still un-bearded and untreated for the years of sexual abuse to which they were subjected. These poor men are still, as one US Soldier put it, “looking for daddy.” They did not enjoy, so far as I could tell, full membership in a tribe or clan.

Every ANA/ASF to whom I talked admitted to having a brother (or two) who belonged to an insurgent group, either to a species of Taliban or to one of the criminal insurgent networks. In any case, they were all compromised if not downright confused in their loyalties because of their family and kinship ties—a classic double-bind predicament. If an ANA has killed his own brother (or cousin) during an insurgent attack or on patrol, how does he restore his NANG? Such a killing would bring immediate BENANGA to the ANA soldier and to his extended kin.

As for our own ignorance of Afghan masternarratives (which are structured upon themes of honor and shame), I met no one in ISAF who had any idea how important Mirwais Hotak is to Pashtuns. They did not understand how contested he is today amongst Afghans. Yet, every Afghan to whom I spoke could recite his biography in detail. And they could tell me a good deal about the Hotak Dynasty. Why? Because Mirwais Hotak drove “Iranian” invaders/colonial occupiers out of Afghanistan and back to Isfahan where he then set up a powerful dynasty in the capital of the invaders. In the Afghan minds of my tentmates, Mirwais is a common TROPE. He is THE CLASSIC symbol of the LIBERATOR of Afghanistan. And yet, our COIN efforts have done NOTHING with this figure. NOBODY I talked to in ISAF/NATO even knew the name MIRWAIS HOTAK. Only one student of mine, an avid fan of the poetry of Rudyard Kipling, had ever heard of Mirwais the Hotak Pashtun.

What astonished me about the ANA I met is that they have not constructed their own MASTERNARRATIVE. The ANA cannot develop their own master-narrative, so I suspect, because they are composed of too many DIFFERENT inter-conflicting tribes who live by criss-crossing, cross-conflicting master-narratives. Often, the tribe/ethnic group from which an ANA member was recruited is BROKEN. The tribal sense of honor remains compelling and even compulsive, but tribal forms of mediating an individual’s identity are unavailable.

Tribal/ethnic discombobulation gives rise to EXTREME INSTABILITY IN IDENTITY in individual ANA members. That instability struck me as typical of ANA members. I eventually understood that the identity structure of the average member of the ANA might implode at any moment, due to his CONFLICTING LOYALTIES and honor-compulsions. The ANA who aimed his AK at my head had arrived, in all likelihood, at the verge of implosion.

The double-bind in which many ANA members find themselves while working alongside US troops can potentially give rise — too often does give rise — to VIOLENT PSYCHOSIS. When the psychosis erupts, an ANA trooper typically takes his rage out on US troops—by shooting them in the back.

In addition to original studies by the anthropologist Gregory Bateson (see Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology. University Of Chicago Press, 1972), some of the best, most intelligently useful studies we have about the tortured psychology that emerges in colonized/subalterns who find themselves in a DOUBLBIND predicament (conflicting loyalties imposed by an occupying force) come from the Anthropology of Native American Indians. See Native American Postcolonial Psychology by Eduardo Duran and Bonnie Duran. See also Gerald Sider’s “When Parrots Learn to Talk, and Why They Can’t: Domination, Deception, and Self-Deception in Indian-White Relations.” And, James Clifford’s “Identity in Mashpee. In The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art.” See also, Richard Drinnon’s White Savage: The Case of John Dunn Hunter.

Of course, we have the standard, classic study of the “So-Called Dependency Complex of Colonized Peoples” by Franz Fanon in which he responds to M. Mannoni’s PROSPERO AND CALIBAN: PSYCHOLOGY of COLONIZATION. Again, AMBIVALENCE is a key psychic condition. Ambivalence, as I witnessed it in Afghanistan, is a dangerous psychic condition. (See also, Fanon’s “Colonial Wars and Mental Disorders” in WRETCHED of THE EARTH.)

Studies of the ANA that fully recognize and explain an ANA member’s double-bind predicament and how the conflicting loyalties in which he lives as a Soldier give rise to violent psychosis have been few and far between.

Notwithstanding the absence of detailed studies, “Winning the Battle of the Narratives in Afghanistan” by Dean J. Case II and Robert Pawlak acknowledges the need to get inside the FEELING STRUCTURES of ANA. (See also, K Oatley’s “Why Fiction May be Twice as True as Fact: Fiction as Cognitive and Emotional Stimulation.” REVIEW OF GENERAL PSYCHOLOGY (1999))

To get into the “feelings of the general public” (an Afghan public that slots into tribal/ethnic groups, each of which live by a set of overlapping and sometimes cross-conflicting masternarratives), I consulted the work of Benedicta Grima. Her bio: “Benedicte Grima is a trained ethnographer from the University of Pennsylvania who spent over ten years traveling, living and participating in rural life in the border area of Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan as part of her doctoral research. Four years of extensive language training in Pashto and Farsi at the Institut des Langues Orientales in France, and an M.A. from the University of Paris in Iranian Studies, armed her with the linguistic skills to feel at home among Pashtun men and women ranging from farmers to intellectuals. She has published a book, “The Sorrows Which Have Befallen Me”: The Performance of Emotion Among Paxtun Women, and numerous academic articles on various aspects of Pashtun women and culture. ”

In order to provide my own students with the intellectual equipment they needed to deal with their own double-bind predicament and cope with the tremendous psychic stress that comes from living and working alongside deeply instable Afghans, I would, in the future, teach Mark’s book. His review of Maine’s work would help me introduce students to specific, detailed information about Afghan history, culture, worldview (Afghan “clan narratives”) with the aim of showing my students how various Afghan groups construct a sense of dignity and honor, which is markedly different from how we construct a sense of dignity and honor out of the ancient Code of the Warrior.

In sum, most Afghans are compelled by the themes of a master-narrative (episteme) that stems from the 19century. The plot of that narrative has not been altered significantly by ISAF’s best persuasive efforts. If anything, ISAF’s decade-long presence has reinforced that plotline. And the honor-shame (nang/benanga) dynamic that Mark refers to in chapter seven is ruthlessly exploited by the Taliban masternarrative/myth.

As my Afghan neighbours asserted, “You Americans have merely been talking to yourselves.” Our masternarrative (the rhetoric of democratic statehood) about why we’re in Afghanistan plays well with US and NATO audiences who value human rights and democracy, but that story falls on deaf (or missing) Afghan ears. We’ve been caught in our own solipsism for way too long.

Mark’s insights about the “transformation of the clan” should be deployed immediately to get us past our own Afghanistan solipsism. In my next post, I will try to imagine how social networks might be used to replace kinship networks in Afghanistan.


Symposium: Clan on the FOB, part one

Unlike most of our symposium members, I do not approach the RULE OF THE CLAN from a legal perspective, not primarily anyway. My perspective is from the battlespace. The issues of clan solidarity, group honor, and collective shame that Mark elucidates, specifically in chapter seven, were not legal theory but stubborn and irreducible facts-on-the-ground for my students and me at a Forward Operating Base near the AF-Pak border in Afghanistan. I approach Mark’s arguments primarily from a socio-cultural perspective, for cultural incompatibility between US Forces and Afghan Forces, who are supposed to be allied in their efforts to provide security to Afghans, often has lethal consequences. Green-on-Blue killings (Afghan troops killing US troops) dramatically spiked during my deployment to Afghanistan, a “metric truth” I discovered first-hand when an Afghan Soldier stopped me on my way to my tent, for no apparent reason, by aiming his short-barrel AK at my head—an epiphany at gunpoint that instantly revealed the predicament in which my students found themselves working alongside an Afghan Army made up of dangerously loyalty-conflicted individuals. That at-the-end-of-a-barrel moment also revealed the tricky nature of my pedagogical duty as Professor Fobbit.

That duty was preventing Green-on-Blue conflict. My students are being asked to fight an especially treacherous kind of war in Afghanistan, in which they must vigilantly watch their backs for fear of being shot through their own hearts by the native minds they’re supposed to have won over, the ANA and ASF. For example, on our base, the ANA manned the ops alongside US Soldiers, my students. Whenever we came under attack, however, the ANA would typically NOT shoot back, for fear of killing one of their own kinsmen. Many abandoned their posts, leaving US soldiers (my students) to worry that they’d soon be getting shot at from behind. In addition to uniformed Afghans, many non-uniformed, armed Afghans roamed the FOB. As one student remarked, “I don’t know how many pyjama-ed, sandal-wearing, OBL-bearded locals I see a day walking around base armed with AKs but not wearing ID badges. Who the hell are these guys? NOBODY knows!”

In this environment, reliable, detailed socio-cultural data about Afghans was of MORTAL import to my students, armed US Soldiers and Sailors whose daily choices often had lethal consequences, for themselves and for Afghans. My students’ ability to make blink-fast, razor-smart on-the-Fob and on-patrol choices was directly linked to their understanding Afghans as complicated human beings who belong to complex, clan-based, honor-obsessed cultures that appear, at first glance, utterly incomprehensibly bizarre to most US Troops. We called the kind of intellectual skill we were developing in our plywood classroom “cultural cunning.” Mark’s insights are uncommonly useful to developing that kind of cunning.

Although I taught any material that was intelligently useful to helping my students learn how to sidestep unnecessary conflict with their Afghan counterparts (I wish I’d had Mark’s book then), Homer was our main textbook. The primal data the ancient bard offers in ILIAD about the tough psychic realities of combat helped my students deepen their understanding of and commitment to the Warrior’s Code (See Shannon French’s THE CODE OF THE WARRIOR, 2005) and gave them a much-needed narrative template upon which to organize their own increasingly burdensome and discombobulated experience of counter fighting a brutal, no-end-in-sight insurgency. I didn’t have to teach them that Homeric myth can be used as a method to face the spiritual and psychological damage of war fighting. They taught me that lesson, because they were already living inside the warrior myth.   Echoing Roberto Calasso, my students demonstrated that that Greek myths are not “there waiting for us to revive them; they are there waiting to revive us, to wake us up to collective psychic realities.” They provide a place to begin healing from the collective “moral damage” of war. Homer was, as we approached him on a battlefield in Afghanistan, a powerful prophylactic against moral injury and psychological trauma.

Mark is dead right in RULE when he states that “each Marine is bound other Marines by unbreakable bonds of loyalty.” The same is equally true of the Soldiers and Sailors I taught in Afghanistan. Our study of Homer’s ILIAD gave them abiding insights into their own collective understanding of the powerful feelings of honor that bind them into effective military units. I know of no relationships thicker or more intense than those between Soldiers in combat. The US military is extraordinarily effective at training its Warfighters into fictive kinship groups, bands of brothers, indeed. (See BECOMING SOLDIERS: ARMY BASIC TRAINING AND THE NEGOTIATION OF IDENTITY by John Bornmann) And Homer’s primal insights into battlefield relationships spoke directly to what mattered most among my students: The ethical and social performance of his or her own forces. Their understanding of honor, like Homer’s, was intensely social, keenly collective. Bouncing our experience off of what Homer depicts of the bonds between Ajax and Nestor or Hector and Paris or Achilles and Patroclous, we explored the implications of what Mark has called the “community surveillance” of clan configurations, especially its benefits to US Warfighters in the battlespace, “security, identity, robust interpersonal relationships”—solidarity. Deployed life in US uniform in Afghanistan is, in the best-possible sense, Clan life. I’ll return to his point in a follow up post with the recent evolutionary, socio-biological discoveries about group loyalty and genetic altruism of Robin Dunbar, Franz De Waal, Paul Zak, and E.O. Wilson. (I also hope to contrast my work in Afghanistan with my work in Africa.)

While Homer provided my students self-protective insight and narrative form for their own experience of war, the Mediterranean bard also provided my students key insights into a clan-based, honor-possessed Afghan society. As my friend and colleague, Dr. Jonathan Shay (ACHILLES IN VIETNAM: COMBAT TRAUMA AND THE UNDOING OF CHARACTER), points out, “The world of Homer was dominated by aspirations to, struggles over, and rages related to honor. The Soldiers currently fighting in Afghanistan are fighting against, and also in alliance with Afghans, who inhabit a culture that is much closer to that of the Homeric epics than to that of today’s USA. This can only help our Soldiers make better decisions on the ground.” Homer forms much of his epic out of what Mark has identified as a key aspect of identity-formation in clan members, “ancestral consciousness…lineage knowledge provides clan members with a sense of their place in the world, not only in contemporary time but across many generations in the past and, implicitly, in the future.” A great many passages in the ILIAD depict characters boasting of their lineage. The point of these I-was-begat-by riffs is to establish the status and presence – a sense of place – of the character, i.e. Ajax, Nestor. Here, we made the links to Afghan identity structures and to Afghan ancestral SELF-consciousness.

As Mark has noted, a clan coerces cooperation and loyalty out of its members. Myth is a highly manipulative tool invented by the clan for creating solidarity, of course. Homer’s ILIAD, for example, was used to teach a young Greek warrior the stubborn and irreducible social and psychic facts of war. The teaching and reciting of the ILIAD by Greeks was also used to form loyalty to the group and to promote the key virtues that were considered absolutely crucial to the formation of Greek warrior units: The classical virtues of courage, honesty, moderation, self-sacrifice—justice. (These are also the core LEADERSHIP values of all branches of the US military.) Homer was, for centuries, THE textbook for Greeks.

Moreover, the ILIAD provides an unsurpassed lesson in the psychology and physiology of honor: How honor structures individual identity, how it binds the individual to the group, how it motivates him to action, especially into combat. The ILIAD reveals the physiology of honor, demonstrating better than any work I know of how honor motivates the feuding behavior of an entire society. Homer reveals the specific cultural devices that instilled and induced the feeling of honor and shame among Ancient Greeks. That was, in fact, the main didactic point of Homer’s epic. In that sense, the ILIAD is highly manipulative, inducing feelings that were key to becoming a true Greek warrior and encouraging the appropriate, active responses to those feeling states.

As I explained to both my ISAF (and to my AFRICOM) students, honor is neurologically compulsive among members of honor-based societies. (See Richard Nisbett and Dov Cohen’s study on the physiology of honor in Southern men.)

It’s vitally important to know that affronts to members of honor-based societies call forth automatic, gut reactions from an individuals whose identity is structured by the honor-shame dynamic. An insult to a Tribal Afghan might very well compel him, at the neurological level, to empty his AK into you and your unit. His reaction is NOT deliberative. It is compulsive. He cannot NOT react to the cocktail of neuropeptides released into his blood stream by an affront or insult. Among some Afghans, even the profanity used so very casually by ISAF personnel in the vicinity of a tribal elder (or, worse, an Afghan woman) might be enough to give an insult that provokes an honor reaction.

In order to work effectively with Afghans, you need to know precisely what offends and affronts the individual’s culturally-bound, innate sense of honor. You need to know the cultural mechanisms by which honor and shame are induced in individuals by their tribe. Mark’s book gives us some tough gristle on which to chew through these issues.

For example, Homer’s ILIAD is a grand dramatization of the cataclysm into which honor-provoked feuding typically propels clan-based societies. In this regard, Mark’s book not only confirms many of my own observations of Afghan clan-driven, honor-obsessed behaviour but also echoes the primal lessons about pre-modern, honor-driven small societies that Homer’s been teaching us for over 1,500 years. In our battlefield classroom, we applied Homer’s insights to Afghan society and used them to discover the specific cultural mechanisms by which a given Afghan tribe created loyalty and solidarity. I wish I’d had Mark’s book available to me then. His book has given me “soft eyes” on Homer.  (I’ll try to refrain from waxing Homeric in future Posts.)

I had an ideal position as a “socio-cultural” professor on that particular FOB because I lived in a tent that was exclusively designated for Afghans. Even better, I was the only NON-Afghan living in that tent. They didn’t want me there, but I stayed on to learn their worldview, to learn from them directly how they viewed each other, me, ISAF—how they viewed my students. At any given time, there were around fifty Afghans packed into that tent: Nuristani, Pashai, Pashtun, even Shia Hazaras. After they figured out they could trust me (or pretended to), they invited me into long chai conversations in which they endeavoured to make me understand the immensity of the cultural chasm between them and my students.

I learned their backgrounds, levels of education, musical tastes, attitudes toward Islam, toward women, toward the ANA, toward Russians, toward Pakistan, toward America, toward each other. I learned how to make Chai. I learned their complicated, oft contradictory and ambivalent views of our Troops so that I could better equip my students to cope with Afghan hostility and ambivalence—to cope with potentially lethal cultural incompatibility. I lived with them in that tent, alone as an American. My self defence was entirely on me. I eventually learned how to sleep soundly. (Male-on-male rape was disturbingly common on that FOB.)

I took their insights (and complaints) directly into my classrooms. My squibs last year in FOREIGN POLICY will give you a pungent sense of our classroom work at that FOB.  In my next post, I’ll share more of what I learned from Afghans about Afghan “clannism.”