Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Lit Review Update 14

Christmas was really bad for productivity. I'd hoped to have more done by now. Still, I haven't given up the ship. I just need to keep plugging away. I have done other work in the meanwhile, mostly for the Antioch class, but I hate falling behind on this. My dissertation has to be priority.

Mann's Chapter 4 really is more case than it is theory. I just don't have any more colonial cases in the remainder of the books. I may throw it in with the "Early Ethnic Cleansing" chapters in Mann and in the Bell-Fialkoff book. It probably won't go in the theory section of the lit review. This chapter was pretty heavy. The mark-up took me about five hours. So I'm moving at nine pages an hour or so. I think that's right. I need to time myself next time. And that wasn't without interruption. But my focus wouldn't be that much better if I weren't interrupted. I'm not the worker I used to be.

Plug and chug. Gotta plug and chug.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Lit Review Update 12

In a sense, it's harder to argue with a text that you actually like. Certainly, I find Mann much more engaging than Staub, especially when it comes to empirical analysis. His weakness so far is that he's not as good a theorist as he is an empiricist. While he's boundlessly more organized than Staub (not necessarily an achievement, but let's give credit where credit is due--he's about as together as we might expect from a solid academic writer), his theory is not as well-distilled as it might be. I'm about three pages into his second chapter. It looks like a normative theory developed from and given in conjunction with an empirical account of the development of democracy in Western Europe. The writing is very breezy and, naturally, as the subject is quite thorny, the text has already raised a few red flags. I don't think he sees concepts as clearly as he should if he is to understand the full consequences of his argument. It's still early, however. He may yet bowl me over. Mann definitely keeps me quite interested. He's a good deal more fun than Staub.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Quick Notes on Staub

First, it’s always important to judge a book by its cover, so let’s consider what really counts—the title. The Roots of Evil is fairly quotidian in comparison with Chirot and McCauley’s delightfully effusive choice of Why Not Kill Them All?, but certainly it’s far catchier than anything I’ve dreamed up. Hemmingway used to leaf through the Bible to find titles when he was drawing blanks. Perhaps I’ll do the same. I wonder if I might find something creative in military memoirs? Something with blood and passion, and yet a sense of humor. Perhaps I can find something with a Desperate Housewives feel to it? Something akin to Gretchen’s splendid Better Homelands and Watchtowers.Obviously I’m not going to leave the reader uplifted; it’s just not that kind of book. That said, Shakespeare always had some comic relief in his darker tragedies, and I feel the right title might serve to punch up this otherwise morbid subject.

What would Marc Cherry do? Better, what would Bree Hodges do? That woman can slap an upbeat façade on any situation. This is exactly the sort of sensibility I need.

At any rate, we can’t dwell on aesthetics forever. Staub does have a theoretical approach that we ought to consider. He’s a psychologist. And indeed, the theory portion of the book is a fantastic review of a great deal of psych literature. I’ve pulled up a few items to read later in the day. His basic argument is that ethnic cleansing is caused when (1) the psychology of living through hard times meets (2) a culture conducive to outgroup derogation that serves to target frustration, (3) leaders willing to command the use the technique with followers sufficiently disciplined to use it and (4) a lack of external intervention.

The Psychology of Living Through Difficult Times

While Staub does mention that people must feel threatened for this technique to be used, he seems very committed to a real experience of widespread suffering for the technique to make sense. I tend to think that phrase “threat perception” works better, as I believe that clever leaders can manufacture the perception of threat where actual threat may not exist and that plain bad luck can also lead to this perception in the absence of any real threat. To Staub’s credit, he does mention threat several times. Yet, the text makes clear that is looking for “hard times” akin to his master case of Nazi Germany. Certainly, the Weimar Republic is rather well-known for its hard times. Few could imagine it an upbeat and secure environment in which to have lived. There are least, we must give him his hard times.

The idea is that people experience threat due to hard times and instinctively seek self-protection, both of the body and of the constructed self (of identity). Indeed, trauma theory gives us good reason to argue that individuals may often not only mistake the constructed self for the physical self, but actually will, on occasion, place the survival of the constructed self above the physical self (i.e. martyr themselves rather than give up their self-concept).

The types of threat that Staub is concerned with are collective threats, and it turns out that experiencing threat collectively has a dynamic that differs from experiencing threat alone. First, when one experiences threat, one becomes more pro-ingroup and have a greater need for ingroup connection. When the source of threat can be targeted to an outgroup, members of the ingroup become hostile to the outgroup. A combination of two phenomena make groups likely to support genocide. The first is “scapegoating”—a strategy of reassuring oneself of one’s own agency by blaming a convenient other for whatever bad times one is experiencing. The other is “just world thinking” in which individuals believe that the suffering of others exists because, by and large, it is deserved.

By far, his comprehensive review of elements in the psychology literature on bias and how these elements come into play during political conflict is by far the most useful contribution Staub makes. He is unique among the other authors in this literature review in his attention to the micro and macro psychological issues involved in genocide.

Culture Conducive to Outgroup Derrogation

I’m less impressed by his analysis of cultural causes of genocide. I have always disliked “cultural” analysis because many analysts who use the concept revel in its vagueness. They believe strongly that one must immerse oneself in the given culture and, once one has a feel for the culture, one can speak about it with some authority. I cannot trust this approach. I tend to prefer a clear indication of a specific norm that is causal. I want to know the genealogy of that norm and see some sort of measure of how widespread that norm might be in a given time and place. Moreover, I would like a clear indication that the norm is causal. Staub does mention that “Unproductive research approaches and excessive initial expectations have reduced interest in the notion of national character,” (p. 51) but then goes on to mention that many psychologists (Milgram, Maslow, Beatrice and John Whiting, etc.) have nonetheless found uses for culture. That said, he makes no discussion of the proper method by which norms or symbols can be isolated as a variable.

I’m afraid that this lack of sophistication shows. He likes to talk about “monolithic” as opposed to “pluralist” cultures. He conflates cultural diversity with political freedom and cultural uniformity with authoritarianism. He believes that pluralist societies are more likely to act to prevent ethnic cleansing, offering no evidence to support his claim. In his study of the Turkish genocide of the Armenians, he calls the Ottoman Empire a monolithic culture, a claim that, to be frank, is ludicrous. I am not particularly convinced that any culture is intrinsically authoritarian or, for that matter, democractic. My instinct is that his cases will find authoritarian, monolithic culture wherever he needs to find it.

Leaders Willing to Use the Technique

Staub does admit that understanding leaders is important for understanding genocide. That said, he laments that the Nuremburg trials were a missed opportunity to advance the study of the genocidal leader’s mind. His preference is to look at followers and make inferences about leaders from studying the followers. While I don’t doubt looking at antisocial behavior and “fanaticism” might help us understand leaders, he doesn’t seem concerned with looking at anything as mundane as biography. Again, here we mostly see psychological analysis of what helps individuals kill other people. I found the lit survey useful. But he never goes beyond surveying the psych literature. I anticipate that the cases are going to show a lack of historiographical sophistication.

A Lack of External Intervention

I do think that external pressure might help stop nefarious plans for genocide. That said, Staub really doesn’t offer any evidence to support this claim. He simply asserts it. He is also actively interested in creating a more caring, pluralistic world rich in “transcendence opportunities” and run by “compassionate institutions” as the solution to avoiding further genocide. Further, people should become less materialistic. The notion that even the wealthiest democracies in the world seem to have fallen short of these goals and that most of the world is not likely to witness anything like the idealized society that he describes does not seem to dawn on Staub. His grasp of the political is weak at best.

Scientific Ethical Neutrality and Moral Argument

Topics like genocide and ethnic cleansing are especially thorny ones for a social scientist to tackle. Social science as a technique rests on ethically neutral interpretation of social action. Genocide, however, is viewed ethically as a crime of the most grievous order. Presenting an ethically neutral argument about this sort of topic requires great consideration of matters of tone. Moreover, simply dropping ethical considerations is not an option. All knowledge is intended for a knower who may likely be called to act upon the knowledge the scientist provides. It seems to me unconscionable to create knowledge and not address the moral implications of that knowledge, especially on an issue of the highest moral gravity.

Yet, it seems to me equally unconscionable not to separate the tasks of the scientist and the citizen and make clear to the reader when one is engaged in the tasks appropriate to the former and when to the latter. Staub, however, does not “change hats” if you will, when speaking as scientist and citizen. This is quite clear at the beginning of the book, when he describes evil not as a question of moral intention, but rather as an empirical category, comprising “the destruction of life, dignity, happiness and the capacity to meet basic needs” (p. 25). Genocide is studied as a crime with the full presumption of the moral meaning of the act. Staub also designs his theory to maintain accountability. Evil can be found in leaders, peoples and cultures and must be found accountable in all three. He is particularly concerned with he seems to believe is the nascent desire for people in hard times to throw themselves into a totalizing identity, abdicating their individual moral accountability. I must admit, I find his moral views naïve.

On the whole then, the book is good for its psychological lit review. He makes a poor historian and a poor political scientist.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Lit Review Update 11

I’m delighted to say that I have finished reviewing the theoretical portions of Staub’s The Roots of Evil. I’ll pick him up again as I wind my way through the cases.

Next on the menu, Mann.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Lit Review Update 10

I realized that when I made the table originally, I have accidentally skipped to the end of Chapter 6 and thought that it was the end of Chapter 5. I've separated the two chapters. I knocked out Chapters 6 and 15 today. Two more to go.

I'm half tempted to punt the last two chapters and move on to the next author. I photocopied the theory chapters from Mann already. I could easily move on. Chapter 16 in Staub looks like it will be a totally gratuitous chapter that reads something like, "See, now that I've read all this psych, I can not only explain genocide, but knock out the cause of war in a single chapter." [Flex intellectual muscles here]. The last chapter looks more useful. I'll probably try slogging through them both tomorrow. I have real life crap to do this afternoon.

So much of coping with my version of MS is, like the recalcitrant algebra student, learning not to skip steps. I used to be good at distilling knowledge accurately and quickly in my mind. Take out that RAM chip though, and all you can do is chip away at it.

Writing is now baseball. It's stats and averages and chipping away at it quietly. I've got to learn to see the joy in it.

NOTE: I think I may just punt the last two theory chapters from Staub. Skimming through, there doesn't seem to be much there. I'll check again in the morning when my head is clearer.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Lit Review Update 9

Three more theory chapters from Staub to go. Then we move on to the theory of the next book, which is Naimark. He's an historian and doesn't really have a theory. But to the extent that each author has a generalizable view, I want to know it. Then I figure we make a list of ethnic cleansings that each writer brings up and pull in all source material about that incident from the other books and few others besides.

I figure that the lit review should have a section going over their overviews. Then, I should go cleansing by cleansing. The finished product should give the reader both a clear idea of the state of the social sciences on ethnic cleansing and a quick comparative look at some of the most important cleansings of the past century. All of this, naturally, should pave the way for my book. After all, that's what a lit review is almost always about.

It's a rather vain business I find myself in. The things we do to stay a teacher...

Friday, December 11, 2009

Lit Review Update 8

UGH. Too tired to keep plugging away tonight. More forthcoming.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Lit Review Update 7

Since I don't really need my laptop to teach when I'm a TA (no lecture = no powerpoint), I often just bring material to mark-up during the gap between my sections. It's easier than hauling and setting up my laptop to work. So today, I finished marking up Chapter 4 of Staub.

Staub is one of those "throw the kitchen sink at 'em" kinds of writers. He spits out endless detail with lackluster organization. Why pick a causal factor? Throw in anything at all that might be causal. He assumes that if he pumps out enough information, like a machine gunner, he'll eventually hit the target. Who cares which bullet was the right one, so long as the target is dead? I feel riddled with bullets.

Tonight, I'll see if I can finish off the outline for at least one of these chapters.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Lit Review Update 4

I’ve realized that I’m going about this all wrong. I’m going to hold off on generating that blog entry for the Armenian Genocide. It doesn’t make sense to start there, just because I’m done with note-taking for it. That’s the old Talal, trying to go for a quick kill, trying to create the all-important feeling of momentum. This is baseball, not football. There is no momentum. It’s antithetical to the game. It’s about stringing together small actions into a larger sequencing structure. It’s about statistical consistency, not momentum and passion.

I need to look at the bigger project. The truth is that I don’t have a mechanism for evaluating the three accounts of the Armenian Genocide that I’ve read, because I really haven’t done much with the theories in defense of which the original texts were written (when there was a theory—Naimark is a descriptive historian). I need to have each theorist very clearly spelled out in my mind. Then, I can evaluate how each theorist does with respect to each case.

Second, I’m starting a literature review that I will use in the theory chapter. This isn’t the theory chapter. I can’t keep thinking I can just distill as much as I need out of the source material and create a complex but compact document. That would require a great deal of short-term recall. I’ll get lost and the whole thing will fall apart. I need to write a lit review, then distill that written review to create part of the theory chapter. No skipping steps. In the process, I’ll read a lot about several ethnic cleansings.

So theorists we’re looking at will be: Ervin Staub, Andrew Bell-Fialkoff, Stuart Kaufman, Michael Mann and Zeynep Bulutgil. Two historical tours of ethnic cleansings, by Norman Naimark and Benjamin Lieberman will help provide case material. We’ll read through the theory chapters for each, and then go through the case chapters cleansing by cleansing. If I find shorter historical chapters that aren’t in these sources, I’ll include them in the case analysis, but I’m not going to run out and get books. This lit review has to be written by January.

Tomorrow evening, we start with the theory chapters from Staub.


Grading was actually done in the wee hours of the morning on December 1. After pushing so hard, I naturally crashed afterward and only posted it now. Now back to the write-up for the Armenian genocide.