IVAT 24th International Summit on Violence, Abuse & Trauma

This past Saturday (September 7, 2019) I attended the IVAT 24th International Summit on Violence, Abuse & Trauma Across the Lifespan in San Diego CA. According to the event overview, “This Summit is a unique forum for professionals across all disciplines and philosophies to gather for in-depth exchange of current information on all facets of violence, abuse and trauma prevention, intervention and research.” I attended this event because of my interest in and knowledge of conflict resolution. I thought some of the information I could gather here would be germane to my academic interests. I was correct, but not in the ways I thought beforehand.

Though the summit started on Wednesday, September 4, I attended only on Saturday. I had to work at my day job and lacking any prior experience with this event I did not want to risk my precious time-off to be disappointed. I attended three workshops.

The first workshop was the reason I decided to attend this summit to begin with. Using Film & Storytelling as a Community Engagement Tool for Prevention Efforts, presented by Meghna Bhat, was an overview of the uses of film, cinema, and Digital Story Telling (DST) within the context of community activism. Though the presentation was ostensibly about prevention efforts, the information provided seemed applicable to any community activities. I have been dabbling with video for the past year or two; this workshop gave me ideas that will help me further along on that journey.

The next workshop was a panel entitled Effects of Junk Science on Attitudes and Beliefs. The panel featured Kathleen Faller, Viola Vaughan-Eden, Charles Schudson, and Seth Goldstein. The moderator was L.C. Miccio-Fonseca. I was surprised that the discussion centered on abuse within the context of the courts; however, I suppose it makes perfect sense given the venue. There was a gravitation toward discussing parental alienation syndrome and how it has affected custody and abuse cases in the courts. There was quick discussion of front groups, e.g., the Heartland Institute. This discussion of front groups was interesting because members of the panel predicted the introduction of treatises (published works) from these ideologically driven organizations as evidence in future court cases. The lessons of this panel are to always review the methodologies behind anything you want to accept as truth/evidence and make sure you educate your audience to the realities behind the scenes of what you are presenting.

The final workshop was a twofer entitled VIOLENCE AND TRAUMA: THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT AND SUPPORT. The first presentation, by Christa Nettles, was Community Violence, Victimization & the Urban Community. Nettles described the conditions that create crime-ridden communities, making the point that many, if not all, of these conditions are outside the control of the residents of the community. She painted a picture of a despairing community that lacks the power to solve its problems (which is an excellent example for my own interests in structural violence and social capital).

The second presentation, Postvention After Mass Violence: Providing Trauma Informed Community Support, by Fiona Vajk & Anneka Busse was an overview of how a more privileged community (a college campus) can deal with the aftermath of a mass casualty event. Busse is a survivor of the shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas (1 October 2017). She provided insights into the communities of survivors that have coalesced from the mind-numbing litany of mass murder events in the United States. Busse also shared personal anecdotes about her coping mechanisms and the support she has received since that incident.

What struck me most about the final workshop I attended was the transition from the description of a helpless community unable to provide basic necessities for its residents beside the description of a privileged community that has the resources to provide basic necessities, as well as educate and support the survivors and bystanders, and others, of traumatic events. The first presentation described an existence that is traumatic. The second described an intrusion, however profound, into an otherwise contented existence. I felt like I experienced a kind of a cognitive whiplash. I am not sure how the two were connected except as an explanation of the extremes and disparities of care offered by the two types of communities.

I enjoyed this summit. I learned about some familiar things in ways that I have not considered before. I was intrigued that some of the presenters I spoke to were unaware of the concept of structural violence, even as they dealt with it regularly. All in all it was a good experience. I think I will probably attend future summits.

Another Nightmare in Texas

Since Labor Day is a holiday, I didn’t post anything on Sunday night as per my usual schedule. Just want to remind people that this was not a slip from my regular writing schedule.

So, this happened. I am not generally a fan of Texas, but it is still heartbreaking to see the state torn by its second mass murder in a month. August was a horrible month in the United States for mass murder events, and not just in Texas. I do not imagine that September will be any better.

I am aghast at how common these have become. The only thing Republicans  can offer in the face of this growing list of grotesque incidents are their thoughts and prayers. Democrats can only display the ineptitude that allows these incidents to continue unabated. Again, I do not foresee September being any better.

Last year I had the opportunity to see Dr. Jeremy Richman speak. He talked about his work in founding The Avielle Foundation and his research into brain health and mental wellness. I thought he was inspirational and courageous, especially considering what he and his family had to endure. I spoke to him after his speech. He was warm and friendly and happily answered every question he was asked. It was heartbreaking to hear that he committed suicide. Though I had only met him briefly, his death was heart wrenching for me.

Dr. Richman’s suicide reminds me that the trauma of these mass shootings does not go away once the public has forgotten about them; the pain and suffering will endure long after life has moved on. As these mass murders continue–and they will continue as long as congress and the moron-in-chief take their marching orders from the NRA–the injury to this country will continue. Communities suffer as badly as any victims in these incidents. Now we are left to wonder how long it will take the poltroons in charge to even attempt to fix this.

Legible States and moral community

I found the article The Grim Worldview Behind Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Push, the Hong Kong Protests, and the Kashmir Crisis by Joshua Keating on Slate.com today. To summarize, the article is about the current worldwide political frenzy against ambiguity, which the author defines as “a condition where political sovereignty and citizenship status are ill-defined or even contradictory.” The author uses China’s current issues in Hong Kong and the “one country, two systems” status of Hong Kong, India’s recent moves with Jammu and Kashmir, and trump’s immigration policies, among others, as examples of these countries working to build “legible states.”

Keating points to the work of anthropologist James Scott, whose book Seeing Like a State, described the phenomenon of modern governments striving to ‘arrange the population in ways that simplified the classic state functions of taxation, conscription, and prevention of rebellion.’ As a consequence of this desire for legibility, groups that do not fit squarely within the confines of that legible society “pose a threat to the legibility of a state’s population.” As we are currently witnessing, the actions chosen by governments to improve the legibility of their societies can profoundly affect the people whose existence muddies those visions of legibility.

As I read this article I thought about the idea of moral community. Morton Deutsch wrote in his article Justice and Conflict (in The Handbook of Conflict Resolution, 3rd Ed.) about the moral community being made up of those groups and individuals entitled to justice and fair treatment in a society. Conversely, those outside of the specific groups and individuals making up the moral community are not entitled to justice or fair treatment. As a consequence, those outside the moral community are subject to violence and mistreatment from the members of the moral community. These distinctions are not always official; that is, formally sanctioned by government. Government entities, however, often turn a blind eye to mistreatment and violence against those outside the moral community.

Keating underscored the idea of moral community when he quoted Hannah Arendt’s idea about the ‘right to have rights.’ In the context of my thinking, the right to have rights is tantamount to existing within the moral community. Having never read Arendt myself, I did some quick research that led me to an essay by Stephanie Degooyer and Alastair Hunt. Their essay describes Arendt’s years as a stateless refugee from Germany. Arendt fled from Germany to Paris in 1933. The Nuremburg Laws of 1935 officially rescinded her German citizenship.

After the Nazi invasion of France in 1940, Arendt applied in desperation for asylum at the US embassy in Marseilles. But the US State Department discouraged the issuance of visas to any of the thousands of people fleeing the Nazis, even directly targeted Jews such as Arendt. If it were not for an American diplomat who defied his government’s directives and helped Arendt secure illegal travel documents to the US, Arendt might not have survived the war.

Degooyer and Hunt write about The Origins of Totalitarianism wherein Arendt wrote about the weakness of her inherent human rights. They write, “far from finding any relief in their human rights, the minorities and stateless people in Europe who lacked citizenship, and thus appeared to others to be purely human, were exposed to extreme forms of violence.” Quoting Arendt, “The world found nothing sacred in the abstract nakedness of being human.” Degooyer and Hunt write, “In order to have rights, Arendt reasoned, individuals must be more than mere human beings. They must be members of a political community.”

Existing within a group that has the right to have rights is tantamount to being a member of the moral community. Though we may possess rights intrinsic to our existence as a human, history and current events remind us that without the support of the state we have no rights that any citizen is bound to respect. The allusion to Dred Scott v. Sanford is intended. Today citizens are forced to consider who is worthy to reside in our country with any assurance of justice. We are being asked whether we want to expand the moral community to include the tired and poor, the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” or if we want to allow racism and resentment to rule the day.