Broadly, my interests lie in how we can transform our social systems to eliminate violence.
To me, violence includes not just physical harm, but structural racism, poverty, and retribution as a response to harm (i.e. our entire criminal justice system).
These are violence because they meet some people’s needs at the expense of other people’s needs. They are normalized through cultural processes of dehumanization.
For example, there are hundreds of crime dramas on TV that show people committing crimes and going to prison. They do not, however, show any of the life leading up to that moment, or the life that follows. They don’t show the prisoner’s family or anything that might help you understand the context in which the crime was committed. They don’t show their kids crying in the visiting room asking why can’t their dad come home. None of these stories are told.
So the impression people are left with is that the people who commit crimes do nothing other than commit crimes, they have no family, and they have no redeeming value to anyone: in other words, they are not actually fully human with all the complexity that entails. They are characters on a screen. So when it comes to making policy, people do not think twice about doubling or tripling prison sentences. They have no context for understanding the harm that follows from that decision. So one of the principle ways structural violence is perpetuated is through separating the decision makers from the results of their decisions and constructing an alternate narrative in which those decisions are completely reasonable.
The first-layer solution to this lies in re-humanizing people beyond the easy narratives. Programs like Inside Out for example, bridge this understanding gap by bringing inmates and citizens together.
But I think we also have to go beyond that to look at why these systems were created, and how they can be changed. We have to develop a methodology to critique and reform cultural processes that reinforce stratification and dehumanization.
In other words, we have to become self-reflective as a social body. I believe the fastest way to do this is by involving alienated people in the production of mass culture. Stories about crime should be told by people who have lived them.
I am constantly asking the question, “How can we transform the world into a place that supports the wellbeing of everyone, given the resources and limits we have to work with?”.
I want to heal the world, but the problems are complex. For example:
- How do we solve sexism without blaming and alienating individual men, who are just as socialized into sexism as women are? (The beginning of an answer: learn to separate the interpersonal from systemic levels of interaction, so you can stay connected while discussing the forces acting upon you as individuals.)
- If it’s not oppressed peoples’ job to educate people with privilege, and people with privilege are in a “fog” and don’t understand what is true, how does the education happen?
- If people are afraid to support the release of violent offenders because they have not been reformed by a broken system, how do we reduce mass incarceration?
- How do we change society if people are resistant to change? How do we make changes that feel acceptable and positive, and not forced or rooted in blame?
- How can we reconnect after dehumanization, when dehumanization destroys trust on both sides? In other words, how can I stop seeing you as a monster when I am still afraid, and how can you trust that I intend to stop even when I make mistakes?
I am interested in strategies that bring intelligence, empathy, and awareness of our interdependence to oppression, violence, and social problems.
My background is in personal growth and healing, which emphasizes integrating disowned and fragmented parts of our psyche to become whole. I am curious about the links between disowned parts of our society (like prisons) and the functioning of society as a whole. If we cannot see ourselves in each other, how can we function as a society?