Academic journal article Social Justice

Meddling with Monkey Metaphors - Capitalism and the Threat of Impulsive Desires

Academic journal article Social Justice

Meddling with Monkey Metaphors - Capitalism and the Threat of Impulsive Desires

Article excerpt

Introduction

We are currently witnessing how a set of disturbing discourses is formed that concern the origin of, and the "cure" for, crime and deviance. This constellation is part of a conservative worldview, that, while thoroughly contemporary, harkens back to an idealized past when social order reigned and everyone knew their place. On a more ominous note, it harkens back as well to another constellation of concepts that many had assumed were buried along with their victims, i.e., a call for a return to a homogeneous Gemeinschaft, expulsion from society of an "Other" that embodies all social pathology, and biologistic or hereditary explanations of human behavior contingently labeled deviant.

This worldview and its legitimating discourses deserve serious consideration, having become increasingly acceptable within the hallowed halls of academia and taken a firm grip on the public imagination, with very real public policy repercussions. We suspect that recent punitive amendments to our welfare policy (i.e., workfare, time limitations on AFDC), the rapid swelling of the prison system, and the war against the poor, homeless, youth, and minorities, which operates under the guise of a political "quality of life" agenda (Kelling, 1996), are all legitimated by the set of discourses that we intend to examine. More specifically, we will look at how prevailing conservative explanations of social pathologies are constructed. We will examine in particular the two "core" theoretical constructs that underlie this worldview. First, we will examine the reconstruction of a sociological "culture of poverty" tradition that locates the source of deviant behavior within a particular set of cultural values and habits that characterize the "underclass." Theories of poverty centering on a cultural notion of "underclass" have often been constructed by liberal sociologists to underscore the structural rather than the individual nature of poverty. We will examine the way in which conservative theorists have distorted these "underclass" arguments to describe a supposedly "criminogenic" culture, which, through its self-generated pathological behavior produces and reproduces socially threatening behavior. This notion of "underclass" thus becomes the demonized "Other," which if expunged or contained will eliminate the social ills from which "we" suffer. Second, we will examine the most recent manifestations of the reemergence of sociobiological investigation, which attempts to locate deviant behavior within particular physiological or genetic abnormalities. New neurobiological findings and treatment opportunities of such personal problems as depression, anxiety, and drag dependency stimulate the current popular and academic focus on the biological roots of inadequate social adjustment. As successful as this approach may be in addressing some aspects of these ailments, it centers on individual predisposition and behavior. We will show how this focus neglects social interactions and argue that the limitations of this explanatory model are specifically dangerous when it is applied to "antisocial" acts and "criminal behavior."

We will examine this new discourse formation, which centers on a racially coded notion of the "underclass," through the critical lenses of the natural and social sciences. We will examine the reemergence of sociobiological theories as explanations for social order as presented in Crime and Human Nature and The Bell Curve. Then we will look at the contemporary manifestation of the "cultural" explanation for crime and poverty as manifested in recent documents such as DiIulio, Bennett, and Walter's recently published Body Count. We will show how this discourse constructs a concept of the "underclass" around a notion of violent, impulsive desires that are reified as a biogenetic trait that differentiates between "them" and "us." To illustrate how this reification plays upon and is supported by current neurobiological research, we will critically examine new findings on the relationship between impulsive aggression and heritable serotonin deficiencies, which currently constitute the most widely quoted neurobiological theory of violent behavior. …

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