Posts Tagged ‘Avram de Swaan’

Head Caseworker

July 28, 2016

Back in the day, I and my colleagues used to amuse ourselves and our newly-recruited lunchtime companions with a simple, politically incorrect quiz game that had no hard-and-fast correct answers.  After a short preamble explaining that we the American people have coined numerous verbal expressions to describe (or label) out-group members of society, and noting that each of us often has a slightly different understanding of what these colloquial terms actually mean, we would pose the following short question:

In your opinion, which of these three informal expressions describes someone with the most serious mental illness?

We usually didn’t ask anyone to justify their choice, and on several occasions our respondents suggested that we add the term “head case” to the list –triggering discussion of whether (and in what way) a “head case” might be a more mild or severe form of mental illness than a “wacko” or a “nut job.”  Sometimes, one of the group might seek to illustrate his reasoning by adding a common verbal intensifier to the chosen term, attempting to argue that a “complete fuckin’ wacko” is clearly crazier than the guy who’s merely “looney tunes.”  This would give us the opportunity to demonstrate that you could add “complete(ly) fuckin'” to any of the original expressions to make it seem worse than those that lacked the intensifier.  But when each term is thus modified the effect is cancelled out:  A “complete fuckin’ wacko” is no better –or worse– than a “complete fuckin’ nut job.”

At the time, the main point of this frivolous exercise was to demonstrate that spoken language –especially colloquial speech– becomes an inexact tool for communication when the semantic linkage between concept and word is highly subjective, culturally specific, and somewhat variable.  What you think you said isn’t necessarily what I believe I heard.


Pivot to Present … and Future

Why bother to mention any of this?  Because modern-day regime preservation functionaries, their advisers and their media propaganda specialists have lately been uncertain about whether to describe the world’s recent crop of ‘lone wolf’ mass murderers as actual terrorists … or just plain crazy.

U.S. officials said they are investigating the role mental health issues may have played in the shooting of police in Baton Rouge and Dallas. In both attacks, the shooters had displayed signs of apparent mental illness and extreme views before their rampages. “When someone with mental health issues [finally] snaps, there usually is some external stimulus that also is involved and provides an organizing framework for the violent act,” noted Paul Pillar, a former senior CIA analyst.

[A half dozen American, British and French] counterterrorism officials told Reuters that the assailants in a recent spate of mass killings all had histories of apparent mental illness. They included the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida; the murder of a British parliamentarian in Northern England; the killings of police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Dallas, Texas; the Bastille Day truck attack in Nice, France; and Friday’s mass shooting at a German shopping mall.  [However,] existing systems for collecting intelligence on extremists are not set up to identify individuals with a history of mental illness who come into contact with people or propaganda that could incite them to engage in violence, the intelligence officials told Reuters.

Okay, so we have an intelligence gap big enough to drive a truck through.  On the bright side, at least the gaps are getting smaller: fifteen years ago you could fly four 747s through the FBI’s blind spots.  Nowadays, something as innocuous as this blog post won’t escape notice and might even trigger (intentional word choice) some petty, spiteful electronic harassment by aggrieved LE personnel or their minions.  But if our most vexing intell vulnerability really is the muttering madman loner, I think I can live with that: the odds are working in my favor (to clarify: as a potential victim, not as a perpetrator).

Unfortunately, the United States is also exposed to a much greater threat of politically-motivated mass violence on a much larger scale than any lone wolf terrorist/madman would be able to manage… and the probable perpetrators are hiding in plain sight.  Last year, Dutch sociologist Avram de Swaan described some of the indicators of incipient organized, large-scale atrocities perpetrated by armed political movements or government regimes:

the foundation for future atrocity is laid when latent social tensions are redefined by political actors to:

  • accentuate social differences and divisions,
  • demarcate boundaries of “compartmentalized” social categories,
  • enact physical/spatial separation of these newly defined social fragments,
  • and accelerate (individual) psychological processes of self-identification, projection, internalization, fervent “othering” (etc.) within increasing numbers of the citizenry.

Do these indicators sound familiar?  Copious open source reporting would seem to suggest so.   And yet this is a threat assessment that regime preservationists wouldn’t touch with the proverbial ten-foot pole. Perhaps because they believe that mass violence of this particular kind will actually preserve their regime rather than threaten it.  Perhaps we’ll see whether this is so.


John Hinckley Jr