The Anti-Politics Machine

One year ago, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake in Haiti killed hundreds of thousands of people.  A month later, a much larger quake in Chile killed only a fraction of that number.  As far as I can tell, what made the difference between the two was not geography or geology.  Instead, it was Haiti’s particularly harsh history of foreign intervention, dysfunctional government, and persistent poverty reinforced by unfair international economic policies.  In short, the difference was politics.

I’m fairly sure that every country in the world has some number of paranoid, violent schizophrenics.  Like earthquakes, crazy people are probably unavoidable.  But not every country’s paranoid, violent schizophrenics manage to shoot elected officials in the head and kill six others.  The difference rests, in large part, on whether their state and national legislators think that everyone—regardless of race, creed, or mental competence—have a constitutional right to buy a semi-automatic military-style weapon at their local sporting goods store.  The difference, once again, is politics.

This seems incredibly obvious to me, and yet as I have watched the debate on the Tucson shooting morph, I feel increasingly isolated in this position.  Friends and acquantainces have tweeted and messaged and posted all sorts of things about how important it is not to “politicize” the tragedy.  “Don’t try to use this to advance a political agenda!  Don’t change policy just because of one madman!”  Suddenly, I find myself on the defensive because I think that acts like this demand some sort of a response other than prayer, a few sad speeches, and a one-week pause in the House calendar.  That is to say, someone should legislate something related to this.  The speed with which our collective consciousness has moved on—and accepted that such things are sad, but inevitable—suggests that I am relatively lonely in this belief.

C. Wright Mills—familiar to anyone who has ever taken Sociology 101—clasically distinguished between private “troubles” and public “issues.”  Private troubles are idiosyncratic, unpredictable, and not something society can control.  Labeling something a personal trouble, then, is a powerful tool, because it simply takes it off the table as an object of public action and control.  This is what has happened with Jared Loughner; he has become sui generis, as if he has nothing in common with Seung-Hui Cho or Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold or god-knows-how-many future assassins.

The argument is always that we have no way of knowing if stricter gun laws, or better mental health services, or more sane political rhetoric would have stopped this.  They very may well not have.  But the point of politics is not to make guesses about how to put an end to individual troubles; it’s to manage public issues.  Public action means playing the odds and managing risks.  I don’t know if what happened in Tucson would have been any better had the assault weapons ban still been in place; I would still like to know that from now on shooters will be limited to 10-bullet clips.  Some deranged people in England still manage to get their hands on guns and shoot people; given that they have around 1/700th the gun deaths we do, though, I’d still take my chances with their approach to gun control.

The anti-politics machine, though, seems to have won again.  Somehow women’s bodies and sexual orientation are public issues, but guns—that’s between the schizophrenics and their local Sporting Goods dealer.

Fill in the Blanks

“I am so ___ about the mass killing in Tucson this Saturday that I think ____ ought to be _____.”

The first blank is easy: I am mad.  I am mad, in part, because it seems almost impossible not to be.  And yet I’m also mad because, for all the talk of ‘taking it down a notch’, I think that only by being furious about what has happened are we likely to do anything to prevent similar things from happening in the future.  “Sincere condolences” and “heartfelt prayers”, however genuine, are cheap.  They ask nothing of us.  I’m mad because this tragedy was preventable, and so will be the tragedies of tomorrow and the day after that (let’s not forget that, to get to 12,000+ gun murders per year, you have to gun violence on par with that in Tucson every day).  Mostly, I’m mad because, in the end, I am sure that complacent sorrow will win out over righteous anger, and this shooting in a Tucson Safeway will teach us about as much as those that happened in a Colorado High School and a Virginian University–which is to say, absolutely nothing.

The second blank is no more difficult for me to fill in.  Obviously, Jared Loughner, the deranged gunman, deserves to face the lion’s share of our anger and the brunt of the law.  But, as a sociologist, I believe that none of us ever truly acts alone; we are always constrained by the options society offers us and motivated by the ideas society feeds us.  One of the country’s major parties has spent decades dismantling gun laws and the most recent election glorifying armed revolution against the government.  Is it really surprising that someone took this rhetoric seriously, and availed themselves of the violent options we have opened to them? And so, I have no problem inserting Sarah Palin—who “targeted” Giffords in the last election—or Tea Partyers like Sharon Angle—who suggested that “second amendment solutions” were necessary to deal with Democratic lawmakers—as individuals who also should share in the accountability for this event.  Along with them in co-responsibility should be lawmakers who eviscerated mental health services in the name of tax cuts in Arizona.

The last blank, though, is hard.  I’m mad as hell, and a great deal of my anger is directed at that ever-so-nebulous entity, “the government” and a few people associated with it, like Jan Brewer, Arizona’s “Guns-in-Bars-and-Campuses” Governor.  In fact, I’m so angry that I really think these people ought to be…

Ought to be what?

Shot?  Maimed?  Threatened?  Intimidated?

My great frustration now is the realization that there seems like practically no productive way to act on my anger.  I live in Arizona—even Gabrielle Giffords supports gun rights, so I am skeptical of voting as a mechanism for change.  I doubt the big donation I am sending to the Brady Campaign today will be any match for the thousands of NRA supporters who are no doubt marshalling to protect their Glocs and Tec-9s.  And so, I am left with no option but to take options into my own hands and…

And do nothing, I suppose.

Strangely, I think this inertia is why I am proud to be on the left.  The counterattacks of the Republicans against those who have blamed vitriolic political rhetoric for the violence are, in a sense, correct: nasty rhetoric and anger at the government are things shared by both sides.  The issue is how we fill in that last blank—how we act on it.  I’ve spent two years researching radical anarchists, many of whom are on FBI lists as part of “Number One Domestic Terror Threat”, and yet never heard even one offhand remark about harming an elected official.  Can we really imagine that the massive 1999 protests in Seattle—with their incumbent police violence and property destruction—would have passed without a single death, if leftists shared conservatives proclivity for firearm ownership?

I’m mad as hell… and, to gramatically pervert the phrase, I AM going to take it anymore, because that’s what makes us not like them.

 

On the Need for a Huaorani A.L.F.

I’ve often wondered whether people who live their entire lives in places with really fantastic National-Geographic-esque animals still get excited when they see them.  Are elephants still cool if you live in Kenya?  And are squirrel monkeys equally entertaining for Amazonians as they are for me, or are they just like, well, squirrels?

For their part, the Huaoranis still seem pretty excited about the Amazon’s animal life, to the extent that their monkey-related-enthusiasm rivals my own.  There were times during my trip that it seemed as if we talked about little except for animals: our entire day’s journey was filled with observations of animals, mimicry of their calls, discussion of their ways of living.  When Bartolo’s father offered to tell me some “Huaorani stories,” every single one was a tale of the forest’s animal denizens.  For the Huaorani—just as for me—the wildlife of the Amazon seemed to be inexhaustible sources of entertainment, wonder, and interest.

This appreciation for animals, though, is a bit hard to reconcile with some of the incidences of incredibly wanton animal cruelty I witnessed during my time in Huaorani territory.  One evening one of the wives of the guides was fishing with chilapa eggs, and chucked her catches onto the beach.  Not content to let the fish asphyxiate in peace, though, her kids came up and started playing with them; chucking them around, knocking them against each other, poking them with sticks.  When Mom finally finished, she started flaying the fish, still wriggling.  I wanted to say something—“Just cut it’s head off, please”—but instead I retired to my tent.  We researchers can’t be culturally insensitive, right?  (Even when we’re studying social justice—oh the irony!)

The next day, we were motoring along when Bartolo announced that he had seen a sting ray, and insisted that I take a photo with it.  When I saw him grab a spear, I knew that this interaction was going to end poorly, but I once again failed to stop him.  A few seconds later, he had skewered the ray and lifted it into the air, a huge smile on his face.  I snapped the obligatory photo and sank back into the boat, feeling read to vomit.  Bartolo threw the ray back in, but with a laugh, said that it would die because it couldn’t swim anymore.  Coming from the culture that invented factory farms, I realize I am in little place to judge.  Nonetheless, I’m almost glad that we westerners at least hide our cruelty behind slaughterhouse walls; otherwise, I’m not sure I could get out of bed in the morning.

For those of you who don’t believe that fish can feel pain, I should throw out there that the mammals of the forest don’t fare much better with the Huaorani.  Somewhat to my surprise, the Huaorani villages we visited are teeming with dogs.  Always looking to make friends, I approached a few, only to have them shy away.  I quickly saw why: they are the constant objects of kicks, and targets for rocks and trash thrown by everyone, from children to adults.  For the best, I suppose, that I couldn’t touch them; I would have only felt their ribs, and realized that they are not only abused, they are starving.  Dogs are only one of a huge number of pets the Huaorani keep around.  Among those that I saw around Bartolo’s house was a juvenile squirrel monkey, which was tethered to a pole by a string, wrapped around its stomach, no more than two or three inches long.  For the entire time I watched it, it was spinning crazily around, struggling to free itself: the result was a bloody belly stripped of its hair.

And there is the contradiction: the Huaoranis—who spend all day talking about animals, smile the second they spot a bird flying above, and keep monkeys around just for the company—are also the authors of this unmitigated cruelty.  For the Huaorani, there is a huge gulf between appreciating animals and actually respecting them, just as with the “animal lovers” of my own country who donate to the Humane Society and eat battery cage eggs.  This leads me to think that the dominant strategy of the animal rights movement—that by rendering animal suffering visible, we will convince people to change their behaviors—is a bit silly.  In the Third World, animals suffer in full view, and people are entirely indifferent.  Creating an animal ethic is a project that is much, much more complex than simply generating sympathy and awareness.

Of course, there is no better place than the Amazon to be reminded that animals eat other animals, and that even bothering to write this post—my third about animal ethics while here in Ecuador—confirms me as one of those “crazy animal people.”  There is nothing more natural, I suppose, than humans contributing to a grisly end of other sentient beings.

But that still doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Blood on All Hands

Q: How do I know Yasuní National Park is the most biodiverse place in the planet?
A: Because on Saturday mornings, that diversity is on sale in Pompeya.

I´m not quite sure what I was expecting to discover this Saturday, but I certainly didn´t plan on finding anything as disturbing as I did.  One of my interviewees told me that if I really wanted to know what was happening in Yasuní, I needed to go to the market town of Pompeya, just early enough to catch the first boats coming in from the Rio Napo.  I asked around and found a few biologists who travel there every weekend, and at 5:00 a.m., off I went.

The route itself was an interesting one.  In 2005, petroleum companies built the Ecuadorian equivalent of a superhighway straight into the heart of Yasuní National Park.  We had to show our papers to use it: access is 100% controlled by the private companies, and the rumor is that even park guards need to ask permission in advance.  As part of their strategy for winning over the local population, the companies also provide subsidized transportation to surrounding indigenous communities. 

The result is that, for the first time in their history, the Huaorani are able to take their traditional subsistence hunting and commercialize it, with disastrous results.  The “market” is an informal affair; there are no stalls or tiendas, just a handful of trucks waiting around for boats to come in.  At around 7:00 a.m., the hunters start to arrive.  Occassionally they bring the entire animal, hooves jutting out of blood-drenched burlap bags or a tail hanging limply from plastic wrap.  Other times, it´s just a leg or a torso.  The Huaorani look out of place: uncomfortable wearing clothes, much less haggling over prices.  It´s clear they don´t know how to play the game; one woman selling an armadillo asks for $50 – an absurdly high price – and then gets 50 cents – a complete rip off.   It doesn´t seem like a huge quantity of meat – I see probably 20 to 30 animals change hands – but the biologists assure me that, thanks to overexploitation, there are now entire tracts of the park without picari or guanta.

There is, of course, a certain amount of guilt I feel as a Westerner watching this unfold.  The entire market is propelled by idiot tourists who want to eat “jungle meat.”  Even as a vegetarian, though, I don´t feel much better: you, me, and everyone we know are implicated in the whole affair to, insofar as we live off of petroleum.  It´s oil that destroyed these peoples´ traditional livelihood, oil that drove them to put their forest on the auction block, oil that introduced them to new “needs” and “necessities” that makes money an unavoidable part of their lives.

For all this blame that falls on Western shoulders, though, it´s hard for me not to get mad at the hunters themselves.  I suppose there´s nothing particularly cruel about hunting a tapir using a spear or a blowgun, as hard as it is for me to stomach.  The live animals, though, are another matter.  When I saw the first bag twitching, my heart sank: the market is not just a place for the trafficking of meat, but also for live animals, to be pets or zoological spectacles or, occassionally, to be slaughtered later.  The animals don´t understand what´s going on, but you can see it in their eyes – from monkeys to tortoises – that they know that this is not where they belong.

And to what end, all of this?  The real driving impetus behind all of this comes not in bloody burlap bags, but in twelve packs.  The money paid out for the meet stays in indigenous hands for only a few minutes, before it is turned over to beer wholesalers.  Beer is being moved in unfathomable quantities: every boat coming in from downriver unloads crates and crates of empty bottles, and leaves with them filled.  We estimate that 12,000 bottles are purchased in one morning – that´s $12,000, every week, for communities without schools, without health centers, without jobs.

Don´t get me wrong: I support the right of poor people to drink beer, and feel like I have no right to frown on people engaging in activities of which I myself partake just because they were born poorer than I.  But the whole situation was so massively fucked up that I can´t even figure out who it is, exactly, that I want to be mad at, who I want to throttle.  The saddest for me was a Huaorani boy with a baby Armadillo.  He and his friends clearly delighted in tormenting it, whipping it around by the tail, stomping on it, throwing it against the wall.  Eventually the parents walk over, but not to interrupt – just to join in. 

I am reminded that people who are recipients of a lifelong ass-kicking rarely respond by turning against their oppressors.  We hope that the downtrodden will band together and fight against the neoliberals, against the petroleros, against the central government.  But they don´t.  Instead, they look for someone or something weaker to kick.  After a while, the Armadillo stops struggling.  It gives up, resigned to whatever it has coming.  What can you do, after all, in the face of wanton and uninvited cruelty?  I think both of us are wondering the same thing.

Ordinary Men

I forced myself to sit through the recently released–contrary to the wishes of the Pentagon–video of a U.S. helicopter gunning down a handful of Iraqi civilians in 2007.  It’s pretty gruesome and disturbing (“Ha ha I hit him,” “Look at those dead bastards,” “Well, it’s their fault for bringing kids to a battle [in reference to two kids riding in a car attempting to remove the wounded who were shot]“), but probably should be required viewing for, well, everyone - though, in particular, American voters.

As usual, my initial response was some unfocused outrage, aimlessly diffused through angry and thoughtless postings on facebook and twitter.  Even more typically, though, a few more hours of reflection blurs the categories of good and evil and leaves me simply puzzled about what it is that allows two soldiers to calmly gun down twelve un-threatening civilians and then laugh about it before, during, and after.

I always feel guilty about bringing my academic training in to try to make sense of tragedy–it sometimes feel like theory can do nothing more than cheapen reality–but since that is how I make sense of this often inexplicable world, I’ll do it anyway.  And while it is perilous to compare anything to the Nazis, there is a long-running debate in sociology about the way ordinary Germans participated in the Holocaust that I can’t help but think is interesting in this context.

One side of the debate is articulated by Daniel Goldhagen, who in his book Hitler’s Willing Executioners argues that the vast majority of Germans were enthusiastic and proactive killers of Jews because of deeply internalized anti-Semitism embedded in German culture.  The other perspective comes from Christopher Browning’s Ordinary Men, which instead emphasizes the importance of context; the way otherwise normal people can be tipped into violence by certain situations and certain pressures.  While Browning has no illusions about the right and wrong of what Germans did, his book does talk about the “grey zone” in which decisions like these take place, a “murky world of mixed motives, conflicting emotions and priorities, reluctant choices, and self-serving opportunism and accommodation wedded to self-deception and denial, a world that is all too human and all too universal.”

Browning often gets criticized for being an apologist – for, in a sense, being weak on Nazi foot soldiers by placing some blame on environment and contingency.  I felt the appeal of this kind of criticism today: I wanted to blame those killings of Iraqi civilians on jingoism and militarism, on stupid testosterone-crazed twenty-two year olds fed a diet of video-games and Republican vitriol who went to the Middle East to shoot A-rabs.  But then I realize how, just as killers de-humanize victims, we ourselves de-humanize the killers, when we build up walls of difference between us and them that give us the comfort of knowing “Well, I’m not like them – and so I would never do that.”

I think back to the eight year old who spent his afternoons re-enacting the civil war in the backyard, or the ten year old who watched World War II clips on the History Channel for hours on end, or the fourteen year old who spent hours shooting virtual terrorists on a computer screen and I realize that, with just a few random twists and different choices, I could be sitting in a cock-pit.  And, in that context, would I pull the trigger?  The very fact that I am human is, at moments, positively terrifying, because those twenty-somethings in the cockpit really are just like me.

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Jukebox: Propagandhi – Ordinary People Do Fucked Up Things When Fucked Up Things Become Ordinary

The Face of Terrorism (Oxford and elsewhere)

Be afraid.

Long before I came to Oxford, I had heard about Oxford’s notorious animal rights activists.  They epitomized the absolute extreme to which the movement had come: “they” broke into labs, harassed professors, and even committed acts of bombing and arson.  While there were many reason why my interviews for the Rhodes and Marshall were disasters, I certainly knew things were heading downhill when I was asked whether I planned to become one of “them”.  The same question dogged me in the months before I came here: “You’re not going to be part of ‘those’ groups, are you?”

Students at Oxford are, somewhat unsurprisingly, even more hostile towards “them.”  Numerous people have told me how much they hate it that they have to walk past protesters on the way to work, or how inappropriate they think it is that “they” show up to events like Oxford’s graduation, calling for a boycott of the university so long as it continues its massive support for animal testing.  This term, I’ve been working to help found a student vegan society, but “they” are still a problem.  At our meetings, newcomers always want to know: “You’re not like ‘them’ are you?  You’re not going to use ‘those’ tactics?”

Protect and serve.

This Thursday, I finally saw “them” – or perhaps I should say, “her.”  I was bicycling through the science section of campus and there they were – banners put up by SPEAK, the anti-vivisection group generally thought to be behind actions like the burning-down of University College’s boathouse.  I have to admit, I was a little underwhelmed.  Next to large banners condemning Oxford and mourning the death of a monkey named Felix, there were a few late-middle aged women, standing silently in the rain, holding signs.  There were at least twice as many police there, I can only assume preventing them from breaking into those violent, dangerous actions that we all know they engage in after dark.

Sometime during the Bush Administration, animal rights protesters like these were labeled the United States’ “number one” domestic terror threat.  The Obama administration has continued the trend, pandering to the right wing by promising to vigorously prosecute animal rights “terrorists,” like four people in Austin who had the audacity to chalk a sidewalk.  The United Kingdom, too, has jumped on the bandwagon: after Britain declared it had become the “Afghanistan of Animal Rights terrorism,” the government began a major campaign of infiltrating and monitoring activist groups.  All this policing effort seems to suggest that animal rights radicals – like those at Oxford – are a real threat.

There’s just one problem with this narrative, though: animal activists have never managed to kill anyone (although a few animal activists have been killed.)  Yes, pro-AR radicals have caused some (relatively minimal) property damage, and even a few injuries.  The principles of the Animal Liberation Front – the group most often associated with animal rights terrorism – are telling: point four of five is “To take all necessary precautions against harming any animal, human and non-human.”  As far as I can tell, they’ve done a reasonably good job of adhering to these principles: in 1500 animal rights actions monitored by the British police, only seven resulted in injuries.  Whatever your views on property destruction, I am struck by what a distant departure these actions are from what I classically envision “terrorism” to be: the use of violence against non-combatant persons to intimidate a civilian population for political reasons.

It’s impossible for me not to draw a comparison to the recent “incident” in Austin, Texas, where an anti-government crazy named Joe Stack flew a plane into an Internal Revenue Service building, killing himself and one employee while injuring a dozen others.  A few friends have forwarded me his manifesto, and expressed to me how much ‘sense’ it seems to make.  Indeed, while the Tea Party is celebrating Stack as an American hero, even some allies on the left seem to be convinced that Stack must not be all that bad of a guy because he denounced Congress’ failure to pass health care reform. I find this completely infuriating.  Make no mistake – the only difference between Joe Stack and Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber who killed 168 at a similar federal building, is that Stack didn’t succeed.  And yet, the consensus seems to be that what Stack did wasn’t terrorism.

I am left wondering: what does it say when breaking into a lab to save rabbits is terrorism, but flying a plane in a building in order to kill people trying to make an living (albeit off of a system you oppose) is not?  When I wake up to a New York Times front page reporting murdered abortion doctors, massacred Afghani civilians, a mass movement calling for revolutionary violence against the Obama administration, and a political class that seems concerned about none of these things, I find myself thinking: what the world could use is a few more little old ladies, standing in the pouring rain, choosing to make a statement while most would rather be inside making money or caring for their own affairs, simply because they are worried about some mice in a lab.

If “they” are terrorists, then I can only hope someday I will be labeled a terrorist too.

The face of terrorism at Oxford.

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Jukebox: Rage Against the Machine – Killing in the Name

PIRATES; or, irrational enthusiasm about ongoing tragedy in Somalia

In general, I try to make sure that most of the posts I write for my blog have at least least some “value-added” behind them.  That is, if I’m not reporting on things I’ve done in my life, I at least try to provide my own original spin on things happening elsewhere.  Tonight, though, I’m breaking this rule: as my life has become progressively consumed by schoolwork, material to write about is becoming scarcer, unless I simply choose to regurgitate interesting things I’ve learned.  That said, there are moments when the intellectual culture at Oxford is so positively exhilarating and vibrant that it feels selfish not to share, so here goes.

Somali pirates: not quite as sexy...

On Monday, I went to a seminar… on pirates.  Somali pirates, to be specific.  I feel slightly guilty for being so enthusiastic about the tragedy that is Somali piracy, especially since if they weren’t labeled pirates, but instead “desperate people with boats taking hostages so they can feed their families,” no one would care about them.  That said, the crammed seminar room suggested that I was not the only person intrinsically enthused by the notion of a sociological seminar on piracy.  And while, deep down, I knew I was mostly there just to hear “cool” stories about pirates, I wound up hearing some mind-blowing results, based on a statistical survey of over 1,000 attacks in the last ten years.  (You can find the actual paper here.)

The first conclusion these researchers came to—and you’re not going to believe this if you follow media accounts of Somali piracy—is that the entire phenomenon is almost entirely non-violent.  The system of piracy has fallen into a shockingly benign choreography.  When pirates “attack” merchant vessels, the crew almost never resists, and if they do—say, by throwing some mattress overboard (yes, really)—the pirates usually just go away, leaving their rocket launchers and assault rifles unused.  The hostages they do take are typically kept in a nice neighborhood of Eyd (okay, nice for Somalia).  In fact, there’s an entire street of restaurants that offer Western food, specifically for them.  Insurance companies almost always pay the ransom, and the pirates inevitably release the hostages and cargo one they are paid (case in point: a group of pirates took a Ukranian tanker with dozens of Russian tanks on it… and then gave them all back when the ransom was paid).  Currently, the media in the U.K. is going nuts over a British couple whose yacht was hijacked and appear to have no way of paying their ransom.  100 days later, though, they still haven’t been harmed.

... and probably not as dangerous...

When pirates are caught in the act by naval forces, they are generally tried in Western nations, serve a few years in prison, and are then granted asylum.  Given that most Western countries now have large Somali diasporas, getting caught isn’t a particularly bad deal.  Indeed, the most violent component of the entire piracy system is the Western naval intervention, which has managed to blow a lot of fisherman out of the water because—apparently—black people in small boats with fishing poles look too much like black people in small boats with AK-47s.

As the researchers suggested, this non-violent equilibrium could be easily disrupted.  Policy makers, bowing to our collective fear of a resurgence of Blackbeard the pirate, have been kicking around the idea of encouraging insurance companies to stop paying ransoms, trying pirates in Kenya rather than the West (somewhat less appealing from the pirates’ point of view), and blasting more of them out of the water.  All of these things are, of course, only likely to make the pirates more desperate, and thus more like the bloodthirsty curs we (incorrectly) think they are.

After demolishing an hope of success for the right-wing get-tough solution to piracy, the researchers decided to turn their academic guns on the bleeding-heart liberal proposals.  At this point in the presentaiton,  I’m pretty sure that the entire audience of left-leaning sociologists was thinking, “Everyone knows you stop piracy not on the sea but on land, by building a more just Somalia.”  Unfortunately, not so.  When you think about it, piracy actually requires a degree of technological sophistication and infrastructure, both of which are rare in Somalia.  Pirates need telecommunications to negotiate ransoms, trade links to the outside world to buy arms and bring in fuel, and a stable enough society to prevent their hostages from being kidnapped and killed.  As it turns out, then, according to the research, those parts of Somalia that have the least conflict have the most pirates.

... but perhaps not as easily defeated.

In the short term, any intervention to strengthen local governments or provide aid to Somalia would only make piracy easier and more appealing.  Pirates bring badly needed money into communities, and because they predate on outsiders, there is almost no incentive for locals to turn against them.  Pirates make around $10,000 a year.  While we like to believe that, someday, all countries can achieve a decent standard of living, it’s pretty clear that, given that Somalia’s per capita income is $291, the day where piracy is no longer financially appealing is pretty far off, whatever we do.

Monday was an object lesson in why sociology is both fantastically intellectual broadening and, with respect to real policies, frustratingly useless.  I left with my preconceptions shattered—but with absolutely no sense of any solution.  And while the researchers suggested that maybe piracy just isn’t that bad, my gut tells me that people having to resort to piracy to survive—as cool as it seems to the part of my brain that still wishes I were Peter Pan—is not a good thing.

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Jukebox: Gaslight Anthem – Sink or Swim