Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Attitude is the Method


Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

September 28, 2016


                In human motivation as in physics, an attitude is an inertial force that governs the direction we move from one moment of interaction within and among ourselves, and within the ecosystem that sustains us.  In social science, any datum, offenses recorded for example, has no meaning in itself.  A quantity of personal or social data means nothing without postulating what it has meant to those involved.  As Newtonian (closed-system/determined) is to quantum (open-system/stochastic) mechanics, so coding social data as implying states of mind (as in mens rea), is to inferring attitudes implied by the emergent substance during the course of what we say and do, of what concerns us moment to moment.  It is why Richard Quinney and I changed the title for the book of writings we collected from Criminology as Peace to Criminology as Peacemaking. The problem of unresolved conflict becomes a matter of evolving process rather than of change of state—as well represented in everyday discourse by talking about people having an attitude problem.  In arguments, it is manifested as determination to make a point, as by sentencing someone to extended confinement.

Essentially, I call the difference between whether conflict is escalating into homicide, confinement, exclusion, or war—that is, becomes entropic, heats up; or synergizes (see Buckminster Fuller on Synergetics), that is cools down as parties to conflict build honesty, trust and safety together (in larger terms, transform competing into cooperating) warmaking and peacemaking.

In moments of conflict, a warmaking attitude prevails as long as anyone persisting in trying to have his or her own way regardless of its adverse effects on others.  Peacemaking entails balancing conflicting interests and concerns.  On one hand, it entails being able safely and openly to take one’s own stand.  On the other hand, giving opposing parties the benefit of the same airing of grievances, without retaliation.  As I entered a year in a Norwegian secondary school back in 1961, I knew only one way to talk about teaching and learning in the language—å lære til (“to learn to”) and å lære av (“to learn from”).  Learning as teaching reminds something I was told growing up in the U.S. Midwest: “That’ll learn you!”  A corollary expression attributed to Native American elders is, “I’m still learning.”  Peacemaking in moments of conflict (as when teachers degrade students for failing to have the right answers) entails balancing safe turns between talking openly and listening—to establish balance in the conversation over, in effect, someone doing all the talking and someone else doing all the listening.  To do all the listening amounts implicitly to martyrdom or oppression.  To do all the talking, to persist in making or proving one’s point, amounts to narcissism, or in the extreme psycho-/sociopathy, individually and collectively.  It is a process which, sparked individually, can expand geometrically, so that for example the culture among actors in a formally hierarchical, judgmental, punitive criminal justice process may grow restorative. 

We typically make peace in the face of conflicts throughout our daily lives without noticing them.  Conflict becomes trivial when we’re getting along.  We don’t have to notice we’re making peace when do so.  But to me, peacemaking only grows and transforms a prevailing culture of domination and punishment into a prevailing culture of power-sharing and mutual accommodation as we become conscious of how it works, and more consciously apply it across all our relations, sustained basically our own capacity to balance standing up for ourselves with hearing back from them in their own terms.  To some degree, many if not most of us enjoy the freedom just to let go of or abandon relations that don’t work out, including where and whom we live, work and do business with.  Trying to balance open self-expression of a problem one has with someone else begins by recognizing and acknowledging that a conflict exists, and by turns, allowing yourself free self-expression, and hearing and somehow (not necessarily verbally) acknowledging one’s recognition and acceptance that others mean what they say, not what you want them to say, do or feel.  As I used to put it when I opened victim-offender mediation, peacemaking entails refraining from name calling (aka labeling) and interruption, and being willing to allow time for all issues to get on the table and discussed until no one feels anything further needs to be said, and so letting go.  From a subordinate position, peacemaking entails finding a safe way to air one’s grievances.  From a superior position, peacemaking means seeking out and listening without to others’ grievances in their own terms without retaliation; with a willingness to continue allow time for all involved to say and deal with anything further that needs to be said.  Peacemaking takes time and attention.

Methodologically, peacemaking is implicitly quantitative at the nominal level.  The transformation of violence through peacemaking amounts to shifting our orientation toward our internal and social gyroscopes, from one direction to another, as signified by what we say and do, from being determined to make a point or establish an order, to taking time to recognize and address the fear, pain and resistance it generates in others.  In mediation, shifting the direction and terms of conflict involves reframing of one’s own take on what the problem is, moment to moment, from issue to remaining issues.  Empirically, the difference between whether violence is escalating or being transformed as peace is made is manifested by changes in semantics, in what people are after, moment by moment.  Do participants persist in driving home or making points, or do they make allowances for what matters to others when they make their own points?  In theory, researchers could chart, then quantify and analyze emergence and persistence of moments of divergence and convergence, and test their effects on outcomes that emerge.  In retrospect, it is how and whether the aims and concerns of parties to conflict remain fixed, or reorient themselves as parties achieve mutual understanding, and allow their remaining differences to surface for discussion: it is narrative method, it is ethnography.

Fortunately, in my experience, it isn’t that hard for people who don’t already have the habit to recognize a choice in themselves whether to adopt a peacemaking attitude, or hang onto our grievances and to getting what we want from the outset, to keep fighting till we prevail.  In moments of conflict, we teach by learning, or we stand our ground (“put our foot down”).  You don’t have to learn from a textbook to notice the process when you engage your own conflicts, to become aware of how what you are saying and doing is interpreted as you observe and listen to others, to give yourself room to establish your own position and allow room to gain understanding in turn of where others are coming from as you reframe their responses and yours.  It is how you feel when you get together with friends and decide what to do next, let alone what to say next, which is to say what happens when you enjoy doing things together.  For that matter, it is probably how you deal with moments of conflict in long-term friendships. 

Unfortunately, most of the “empirical” social research I see defines the meaning of the data produced by people they don’t know by what it means as researchers define it for themselves.  Social inquiry only has validity to me, for all practical and methodological purposes, insofar as I infer the meaning the datum has to its producer, by inferring the story the informant is trying to tell, on his or her own terms, as distinct from mine.  Peacemaking manifests itself “empirically” in shifting, intertwining courses and direction of terms of agreement or settlement, moment to moment.  But to do it, and teach it and discover it in research, we have to notice when it happens and choose to adopt a peacemaking attitude or definition of the situation and choices of response.  In research as in practice, whether violence escalates and hardens or gets transformed as peacemaking depends on our attitude toward what matters and what to do about it.  It’s our attitude toward learning and teaching that counts.  The attitude is the method.  Love and peace, hal

Monday, September 12, 2016

political plays on fear


Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

September 12, 2016


                That phrase in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1933 inaugural address was FDR’s call to relieve national suffering at the low point of the Great Depression.

                Candidate Hillary Clinton is taking heat for criticizing “half” of Donald Trump’s supporters for being racist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, “you name it.”  Yesterday, at ground zero to commemorate 9/11/2001, walking pneumonia and dehydration forced Clinton to take a rest break from her campaign.  Without having personal new today from Clinton herself, Trump’s ads feature that clip, leaving out “the other half” who Clinton says are move by threats, like loss of jobs.  Her staff clarifies whom Clinton meant to name examples of Trump’s plays on fear.  Yesterday and today, as by Trump spokespersons and journalists alike, it is that it is a political no-no to criticize voters rather than the candidate him-/herself.  Thinking back to FDR’s appeals to overcome blaming their misfortune on outsiders, as Hitler was doing to solve the Jewish problem, I suggest a way of framing what Hillary said, to clarify, reframe or rephrase what Clinton meant to say:

                The main thing we have to fear is playing on fear itself.  Love and peace, hal

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

From Herbert Hoover to Donald Trump


Which Republican candidate is right?

Herbert Hoover or Donald Trump?

Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

August 31, 2016


                In 1928, Republican presidential candidate Herbert Hoover had made his national political reputation in the wake of World War I first as head of the American Friends (Quaker) Service Committee’s relief efforts first in Belgium, thence to the American Relief Administration for Europe generally, and ultimately Secretary of Commerce.  He was a believer in small government, of private economic growth, whose entry into government rested on his reputation as a not-for-profit charitable entrepreneur.  He had the misfortune to become president just months before the 1929 stock market crash, and sudden onset of the Great Depression, even as he tried to obtain government funds for the public projects that became his 1932 Democratic opponent FDR’s New Deal.  Today, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump calls Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s relations with the internationally well-regarded charities funded and administered by the Clinton foundation founded by her ex-president husband.

                Every politician has a constituency, a calling to become informed directly, as Eleanor Roosevelt did for her husband.  The only corruption I look for in charities is the percentage of income they spend for administrative costs, and that of the Clinton Foundation is low.

                Excessive administrative and shareholder profit-taking aside, “corruption” to me connotes inside government tracks for contractors who promote shareholder profit at public expense, as for instance in military contracts and contracts for private for-profit incarceration administration and services.  To suggest that ties with internationally recognized charitable organizations in itself implies corruption rather than collaboration is remarkably, profoundly un-Republican, and virtually oxymoronic.  No wonder Republicans are divided.  Love and peace, hal


Friday, August 19, 2016

De-Privatization of U.S. Federal Prisons


Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

August 19, 2016


                Yesterday, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates posted a public notice:


Today, I sent a memo to the Acting Director of the Bureau of Prisons directing that, as each private prison contract reaches the end of its term, the bureau should either decline to renew that contract or substantially reduce its scope in a manner consistent with law and the overall decline of the bureau’s inmate population.  This is the first step in the process of reducing—and ultimately ending—our use of privately operated prisons.  While an unexpected need may arise in the future, the goal of the Justice Department is to ensure consistency in safety, security and rehabilitation services by operating its own prison facilities.

Today’s memo reflects important steps that the bureau has already taken to reduce our reliance on private prisons, including  a decision three weeks ago to end a private prison contract for approximately 1,200 beds.  Taken together, these steps will reduce the private prison population by more than half from its peak in 2013 and puts the Department of Justice on a path to ensure that all federal inmates are ultimately housed at bureau facilities (with link to memo at


            Of course, most US prisoners are detained and US Customs and Border Protection has declared that it will continue to house immigrant detainees privately.  Deputy Attorney General Yates announced that the federal order, and the recent decarceration of federally convicted drug offenders, is intended to set an example for state and local prison and jail authorities (

            Yesterday, the stock price of Corrections Corporation of America fell by 35%, and of the Geo Group by 40%, a fear that other prison, jail, and detention authorities at federal, state and local levels will follow suit (

            I have recently argued, once again, against for-profit privatization of services of public care and custody generally, as now also in private trusteeship of foster care and child support payments (“The Problem of Privatization Again:  Foster Care and Child Support,”, July 31).  Ms. Yates affirms that prisons become safer, better, even more efficiently managed when they are owned and managed by publicly accountable public servants.  I cannot help but believe that the Justice Department’s initiative is supported if not led by President Obama as a departing legacy.  Here’s hoping that the Justice Department’s de-privatization initiative sets a national political trend toward decarceration and de-privatization at all levels.  Love and peace, hal

Thursday, August 4, 2016

racism within a major urban police department


Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

August 4, 2016


                I commend host Ann Fisher and her staff and guests for WOSU’s “All Sides” opening hour today, “Allegations of Racial Discrimination by Columbus [Ohio] Police,” podcast at, to anyone teaching, and for that matter anyone seeking to understand or document the institutional problem of racism within US police departments.  John Jay professor Delores Jones-Brown puts the situation in Columbus in national context throughout the hour.  Without naming the other participants in the first half hour of the program, they also include a longtime local reporter, a current (now committed school resource officer) and former black officer suing to enforce the state civil rights commission recommendations for redress with their attorney (and their testimony is specific).  The primary interviewee in the second part is the government affairs director for the state Fraternal Order of Police, which nominally represents the rights of police at all ranks, in lieu of having recourse to independent human resources personnel.  It is too bad he didn’t hear the earlier segment, because he simply refused to believe host Ann Fisher’s allegations that a white sergeant could possibly threaten not to watch a black officer’s back in the narcotics division, because “all officers watch each other’s back,” adding that both complainants and respondents were “independently” represented by FOP reps (and goes silent when she presses him on how the earlier cases got buried.  For her part, Professor Jones-Brown affirms that this is a national problem for officers of color.

                Perhaps not coincidentally, the two urban police departments I have cited as models of replacing “broken-windows” with “community” policing, Cincinnati, Ohio, and Richmond, California, have hired black and openly gay chiefs respectively, and the proportion of officers of color in their forces, and the proportion of people of color in Columbus, far exceed that in Columbus.

                For all the talk about police violence against “civilians” of color they encounter, this is the first recognition of racism within police forces I have seen in a long time.  It is a reminder on one hand that racial representation matters especially at higher levels, and on the other hand that the racism implicit throughout US, which suggests that people of color are more criminal and less trustworthy than white folks, victimizes police too.  I’m thinking, too, that in police departments like those in Cincinnati and Richmond, letting go of demonstrating success in law enforcement and getting to know people of color they police in many respects carries over how police come to know and respect one another, so including white supervisors of officers of color.  Ann Fisher and your staff, thank you for a most revealing program.  Love and peace, hal

Sunday, July 31, 2016


Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

July 31, 2016


                                Thursday’s broadcast of WOSU radio’s “All Sides” program highlighted another instance of the problem of for-profit privatization of state services, this time as guardians of the property of foster children, and of collection and enforcement of child support ( ).  Guests on the interview program were Daniel L. Hatcher, author of The Poverty Industry: The exploitation of America’s Most Vulnerable Citizens (NYU Press, 2016), and former Athens County, Ohio, family services director Jack Frech.  The focus of the program was Ohio, one of the states that has carried privatization furthest.  Here as in criminal justice, the state saves money on state personnel and services by private contracting to enterprises which supply spend less on services and pocket all child benefits (as from social security and for disabilities), independently of “services” they offer, for which of course they are not publicly accountable.  It is one thing for public services to be provided by not-for-profit organizations, but for businesses dedicated to growth and profit, as with criminal justice services, privatization of public services promotes irresponsibility and exploitation, against which there is practically no recourse or defense, out of public control.  May we in my state and country put public accountability back in social service.  Love and peace, hal

Friday, July 29, 2016

Hillary Clinton as a feminist leader


Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

July 29, 2016


                Radical feminists have shown me basic distinction between two culturally political definitions of leadership: the ability to get others to follow one’s directions, historically associated with patriarchy; and the ability to hear and organize to the needs and wants of those in one’s care, historically associated with motherhood—leadership as partnership, rather than as hierarchy.  One kind of leader makes decisions for others, the other with others.

                Patriarchal leadership is measured by what the leader has personally achieved.  Indeed, it was Ms. Clinton’s jibe at Donald Trump by promising what he alone could accomplish.

Instead, presumably under her leadership, the closing night of the Democratic convention featured some five hours of personal testimony from those whose lives she had personally touched, to whom she had responded, addressing issues her proposed policies address, again as the result of a process of broad consultation.  They have been informed and moved by the socialist spirit and planks that have inspired supporters of Bernie Sanders.  Ms. Clinton acknowledges mistakes, as in having supported getting tough on crime during her husband’s governorship and presidency.  In sum, she listens and tries to learn from her own mistakes.  And she offers the electorate concrete plans for what she proposes to do now, if elected, making them available for continuing debate and discussion.   She continues to learn from those her decisions and commitments have affected.  In Riane Eisler’s terms, she seeks to lead by partnership; in Martha Ruddick’s terms, she thinks maternally.  It is an approach to leadership that focuses on connecting people, to hear and learn from one another to guide where one tries going next, and which shifts course when those who suffer are attended to.

It is interesting that Ms. Clinton has chosen a Jesuit-inspired Catholic, Tim Kaine, as her vice president.  I recall it being said long ago that Ms. Clinton felt a calling to service as a Methodist.

Earlier this week, a friend asked me to name a single thing Ms. Clinton had done.  I was at a loss for words.  In US media and political dialogue, we look for personal achievements of those who seek high office.  I come back to a lesson systems theorist Les Wilkins taught me: In the decisions we make, how we (re)make them matters more than thinking we know what is right or wrong regardless of the reactions we get.  It is not simply that Ms. Clinton is a woman.  Margaret Thatcher made herself known to be “the Iron Lady,” a woman who proved she could be as tough as a man’s man.  In Ms. Clinton I see someone who represents a feminist approach to governing that is rooted in, but not limited to, women’s experience.  It is an approach to wielding power not over others, but with others, most critically those whom power over others hurts most, for the sake of the welfare, safety and security of us all, among ourselves and with the planet on which our lives depend.  If as I expect she is elected over Mr. Trump, it will represent a cultural shift in the qualities we in the US seek in those we trust to lead us.  Love and peace, hal