TLDRUpFront: The third of a four-part series as the United States, and the world, begins tipping-over from COVID-19. As worries about pandemic related violence and instability increase the InfoMullet forecasts the next 12 months across six types of violence. Unlike the pandemic or the economy, our forecast of violence is positive with declining rates in 5 of 6 categories. But the reasons why are counter-intuitive and expose common misunderstandings of the causes of violence in public perception.
This is the third article in a four-part series as the United States and the world tips over from the COVID-19 global pandemic. In “Ring Around the Rosies” I forecasted the next ten days of full outbreak in the United States leading and the way the country would react by March 31st. The second article, “Pocket Full of Posies” provided a three month forecast on the economic conditions arising from this nation-wide reaction to the pandemic.
With a global pandemic of significant impact, onset of an economic depression – what are the risks of violence and instability in the United States? For a refreshing change I can give a more positive forecast over the next 12 months for the United States. And since these forecasts may surprise some, below the forecasts I’ve added additional information as to why in the midst of seeming disaster the outlook on violence is positive. Although this is written for the United States similar dynamics are at play in most developed countries including Canada, most countries in Western Europe and East-Asian/Oceania nations such as South Korea, Japan, Australia and Singapore ; none of which I forecast significant increases of criminal violence or mass instability in the next year.
12 Month Forecast: Violence & Instability in the United States
Here are forecasts for the six types of violence I study, and the objective data sources we can use to evaluate the forecast in the future. For more in-depth explanation, and contingencies to look for that might indicate the forecast is failing, see each section in depth below.
Criminal Violence: Murder, Assault, Violent Robberies & Rape will stay flat or decline on a per-capita rate over the next 12 months as tracked by the FBI UCR.(1)
Mass Protest Civil Movements: No mass-protest movements in the United States unless State or Federal governments fumble delivery of services in a significant way or quarantines are held in place long-after they are considered necessary, unless there is a Dictator’s Dilemma.
Criminal Mass-Shootings: The number of criminal mass-shootings that kill 3 or more people, and the total number killed in such events will likely decline and at worst not exceed the previous highs of any of the last 5 years as listed in Wikipedia’s annual list or GunViolenceArchive, sorted for 3 or more deaths and excluding Public/ Active Shooting Event (ASE) mass-shootings which are included in terrorism below.
Mass-Violence, Violent Instability and State-Actor Violence: There will be no outbreaks of mass-violence or violent instability such as insurgencies, general uprisings, revolutions, or civil wars. Note I don’t include riots in this category. Nor will State Actors engage in more violence than they already do, which admittedly in the United States is quite a bit. Police shootings, as a rough but useful proxy measure, will stay at or slightly decline from previous years. Incarceration rates per capita will decrease. This may change if State actors get caught in a Dictator’s Dilemma at State or National levels, so be on the lookout for that pattern emerging.
Terrorism: Lone-wolf and organized non-state actor attempted incidents may increase. These include the Public/ ASE mass-shootings that tend to garner the most news and attention. But the casualty rate from terrorism will not exceed the previous highs of any of the last 5 years as recorded in the University of Maryland Global Terrorism Database (GTD) will not exceed the previous highs of any of the last 5 years. (2)
Violence against Vulnerable Populations: Systemically targeted and oppressed vulnerable populations will continue to be systemically targeted and oppressed. That’s what systemic targeting and oppression means. Asian-Americans are in for a rough year of increased harassment, hate-speech, and targeted violence given the steady association reinforced by the President and his supporters between this population and the global pandemic.
Neither young adult dystopian apocalypse fiction, Hollywood entertainment, nor Doomsday prepping prepared you for this.
Before we get into the evidence based reasoning for these forecasts I want to address the mental-model that is driving many people to think they are going to end up sleeping with a revolver in one hand and their last can of peaches in the other while ravagers storm the wilds outside their hidey-hole.
In the United States most of us do not experience systemic, persistent, violent conditions typical of failing states and mass-instability. Our primary source of information for these conditions is mass-media: Hollywood movies, books, and memes. And just as these sources of information are a bad way to understand the world in any area, they don’t fare any better in educating about violence or societal collapse. Their job is to tell a story that’s entertaining.
Why complex societies don’t go Thunderdome under exogenous shock events, like a flood, earthquake, or pandemic, is a complex topic. But the TLDR is that complex societies have access to vast resources in human and material capital. The very complexity that defines these societies provides them with sophisticated institutions, government, and private sector capabilities in managing, coordinating, and applying these resources to crisis events. And exogenous shock crises like a global pandemic occur and then fade after time. They are not persistent. It’s the persistent crisis that causes complex societies to collapse because the cost of the complexity itself proves too much to sustain over an extended period. (3) By contrast simple societies are unable to withstand exogenous shock because they don’t have the buffer in resources or means to coordinate them. But with a lower societal cost to maintain – simple societies can withstand persistent pressure crises.
On a smaller scale than society are the small network communities of our kin groups, family or friends, and local area neighborhoods as well as work environments. Under strain these small communities can revert to hunter-gatherer extended kin networks for which our brains are adapted to revert to in times of crisis. We gather in groups and form networks to share resources, skills, and mutual protection because adaptively speaking – that’s our best asset against saber tooth tigers and large cave bears. And we’re already seeing this adaptive response emerging in tangible and virtual ways in response to the global pandemic. Even while we’re fretting about collapse people are gathering in groups online and through volunteer efforts to share resources, skills, and increase mutual protection. Importantly these groups are not violent in nature, because we’re not being invaded by armies or aliens.
As always, if you want an amusing but well-informed take – check out Cracked’s excellent article.
Understanding the Forecasts
Why Violent Crime Will Stay Flat or Decline, but not Rise
There are four categories of violent “general crimes” I track both for research, and the InfoMullet series Violence in America. Those categories are Homicides, Aggravated Assault, Violent Robberies, and Rapes – as tracked by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports (UCR). For Violence in America I charted those crimes in absolute numbers, and per-capita rates from 1960-2016. Per-capita here means 1 crime per 100,000. Using per-capita rates over long periods of time is important because it adjusts the results to account for population growth. Whether in absolute numbers or adjusted per-capita, violence in America has been on a several decade decline.
This historical record also helps us today. By overlaying past recessions, including the Great Recession that began in 2007, we can “see” how crime reacts to periods of scarcity and decline economically. And the charts below may surprise most readers.
The common perception is that times of economic hardship result in increases in crime. To the contrary there is a negative correlation between periods of recession and crime. If you look closely at the charts what you’ll see for most recessions is a rise in crime leading to the point of recession, then a decline. This isn’t perfect, certain recessions saw increases in crime, but those occurred in the great crime bulge, see below, and the more recent trends is for decline. Relevant to our crisis-shock to the economy is the Great Recession. Although it technically only lasted from 2007-2009 as economists track things, the sustained higher-than-normal unemployment and tough economic conditions lasted for years after. But in every category of general crime we see a continuing decline through this period.
But wait! I hear readers ask, what about the Great Depression where unemployment peaked at 25% The chart below uses the same format to overlay the years of the great depression over homicides.
Again, the result is a decline.
Why is this? There’s a lot of debate over the relationship between unemployment and crime, but normally this focuses on property crime, and not violent crime. Some theories posit that with more workers at home, valuables are less likely to be left unguarded and community awareness is higher. Others posit a version of the “steal from a beggar and get a louse.” Since much crime is opportunistic to local conditions, if local conditions are equally bad, there’s not a relative advantage in stealing from an equally poor neighbor. Even property crime’s relationship with unemployment is weak. Criminologist Levitt found that at most 2% of all changes in property crime over a multi-decade period could be attributed to unemployment changes. (4)
Two main reasons however for this belief may be found less in the actual data, and more in sociological concepts of how we construct and understand “crime.” The first is a persistent American belief that ‘virtue’ can be tied to an economic condition. Arising from Puritanical roots, there is a steady belief across generations that economic status can predict criminal predisposition. But this simply isn’t the case. Especially when it comes to violence. As I point out in Coastline of Violence, we now can track 18-20 different factors of causal circumstances that lead to violence such as homicides, and only a few of those are economic conditions. It is bad reasoning to assume the ethical world view of a person changes just because they encounter scarcity, or conversely that ethical behavior improves as one gains wealth.
But important to reinforcing this mental model were a series of studies on the high-crime periods that overlay the recessions in the 1970’s and 1980’s. This led to the general theory that an increase in unemployment had a direct correlation to an increase in crime. The problem with this theory, and all the studies, is they were undertaken during a massive increase in overall crime that occurred from 1960, crested in 1990 and has been declining ever since. What is now better understood is that the United States, and indeed much of the world, underwent a large increase and subsequent decline in violence during this time period, irrespective of local economic conditions. Although there are many theories for this the most well founded in my mind is the lead hypothesis. That the introduction of leaded gasoline caused an increase in lead toxicity levels in the general population, which resulted over time in more violent behavior. As unleaded gas began replacing leaded varieties, over a significant time lag for the youths to grow up without that toxic exposure, violence decreased. (4)
However graduate education is as much a social construction as any other institution in the US. And professors trained as graduate students on the studies of the 1980’s and 1990’s were teaching these flawed studies to their undergraduate students in the 1990’s and 00’s. Leading to a widespread mistaken belief about the relationship between crime and economic conditions. Also, Hollywood. And racism. And Hollywood racism.
A final, speculative factor, is in the reasoning on why domestic violence mass-shootings will decline, explained below.
Why Mass Shootings will go Down
What the public lumps into “mass-shootings” are three very distinct types often called Familial, Felony, and Public. The segmentation arises from the different circumstances that lead to these shootings, including relationship between victim and shooter, motivation, and attack profile. Familial mass-shootings are the most common by far, representing ~66% of all mass-shootings. In Familial attacks the shooter has a direct relationship with most, if not all, the victims. The motivation arises from domestic violence. And the profile is a residence-based attack across one or two locations that victims are clustered. Felony mass-shootings are those that arise from criminal violence, including gang violence and are motivated by criminal acts such as robberies gone wrong, retaliation shooting, or drive-by. These account for ~20% of all mass-shootings. (5) Public mass-shootings, also known known as Active Shooting Events are the type that most people think of when they think of “mass-shooting.” Examples include the 2015 Pulse Club Shooting, 2017 Las Vegas Casino Shooting, and last summer’s 2019 El Paso and Dayton shooting. Although these gain the lion share of public attention they represent a fraction of incidents and overall casualties and are handled under Terrorism below. (6)
My forecast for decreased mass-shootings comes from two sources. The first, more obvious, is that with lockdown provisions in place there is less opportunity for crime, and criminals are just as worried about COVID19 as the rest of the population all else being equally. I’ve discussed in my Coastline of Violence how circumstance cascades play a large role in perpetuating criminal gang violence: one shooting leads to another. And much like social distancing can break the feedback effect of COVID19 growth, removing even one shooting due to reduced activity has an exponential effect on future shooting incidents. (7)
That’s the obvious reason. The counter-intuitive reason for a decline in Familial mass-shootings is the relationship between male and female unemployment and domestic violence risk. Domestic violence is overwhelmingly, though not exclusively, male on female. But contrary to common understanding, when males face higher unemployment risk their propensity to domestic violence decreases; while women who face higher unemployment risk the propensity to become victims of violence increases. The reasons why are best explained from a research study of this effect:
“When a male with a violent predisposition faces a high unemployment risk, he has an incentive to conceal his true nature by mimicking the behavior of non-violent men as his spouse, given his low expected future earnings, would have a strong incentive to leave him if she were to learn his violent nature. As a consequence, higher male unemployment is associated with a lower risk of male violence. Conversely, when a female faces a high unemployment risk, her low expected future earnings would make her less inclined to leave her partner even if she were to learn that he has a violent nature. Anticipating this, a male with a violent predisposition has no incentive to conceal his true nature. Thus, high female unemployment leads to an elevated risk of intimate partner violence.”(8)
What I think confuses this issue is the common understanding, which is valid, that divorce rates decline during times of economic scarcity. But a divorce is not the only way an abuse victim leaves their abuser.
Although not stated in the paper the theory and findings provide a potential causal answer for the overall reduction in crime described above. As men disproportionately commit crime, to the extent they face higher unemployment risk, they may continue “mimicking the behavior of non-violent men” in order to maximize scarce employment opportunities. This is just speculation though it is interesting.
Bottom line there is a strong case to make that Felony mass-shootings will decline as a result of lock-down. And a counter-intuitive, but evidence-based case that Familial mass-shootings, as a subset of all domestic violence, will also decline. Result: less mass-shootings from these two categories than in previous years.
Mass-Violence & Violent Instability: The Fuel and the Fire
In an analogy we can divide conditions that lead to mass-violence and violent instability as being either “fuel” or “fire.” The fuel in this case are demographic, socioeconomic, and psychographic enabling conditions. The fire is a population’s perception of State Actor legitimacy.
In my 2020 New Year’s Eve Ask Me Anything forecasts I handled many requests dealing with conditions of violence and instability around the world where I was able to lay out the “fuel” conditions. Follow the links back for fuller descriptions.
Demographic: A “youth bulge” of fighting-aged men (FAM). This is a cohort of the population aged 15-24 larger than other generational cohorts. Having an in-the-wings “supply cohort” bulge aged 12-15 who can age into the conflict also helps.
Socioeconomic: The youth bulge of FAM experiences high unemployment (20%+) and has a future expectation of socioeconomic standing lower than their past expectation, creating an “expectations gap.” Here’s an example of these factors being used to forecast global instability with specific specific case-analysis of India and Bangladesh.
Psychographic Conditions: A shift by the youth bulge of FAM from high-level Maslow Needs: Belonging (Group Identity), Esteem (Self-Identity), and Self-Actualization (Meaning) to low-level urgent concerns: Physiological Comfort, Safety & Security.
State Actor Legitimacy: A collapsing perception in the youth bulge of FAM of State-Actor legitimacy in the “double-anchor structure.” This shifts the population from viewing the State as Legitimate, or even adopting a Calculated Legitimacy point of view, stated as “I may not like this, but this is strategically my best option available”, to viewing the State as Coercive. Here’s an example of collapsing state-actor legitimacy forecasting instability in Iran.
High Level Analysis
The first three factors should be self-explaining with links to additional detail. Of the fuel conditions, for sake of argument and simplicity, I’m assuming two out of three conditions will be met. Psychographic and socioeconomic conditions could emerge in the FAM population as COVId19 wreaks havoc over our sense of well-being and economy over the next 12 months. The demographic conditions are a judgement call. The much larger population cohort of Millennials are already aging out of the FAM sweet-spot, and the following cohort of Zillenials (last I checked) are a smaller cohort relative to the Millennials or Boomers and equal to Gen-X. But let’s set that aside for the sake of more interesting discussion and accept a premise that all three “fuel” conditions are met.
These conditions alone are not sufficient for violence to emerge. A dry forest during a drought is susceptible to fire, but a fire still has to start somewhere. The fire in this case is the perception of State-Actor legitimacy. Without enabling conditions even low State-Actor legitimacy won’t lead to mass-violence just like an untended campfire poses reduced risk during a rainstorm. But when enabling conditions are right, and State-Actor legitimacy drops, then a wildfire can occur.
The Double-Anchor Perception of State Legitimacy
And the real reason I’m not forecasting mass-violence or instability is the perceived legitimacy of the United States remains high and we have a strong “deep anchor” of that perception. In system dynamics there’s a structured called a double anchor of expectation. This is where a current expectation reacts quickly to current events, but it is tied to a “deep anchor” that forms over years, decades, or generations. Even if the swing at the contemporary anchor is sharp, the deep anchor can mitigate that swing and if the stimulus that causes the sharp increase is removed the deep anchor pulls the current expectation back to its status quo. Here’s a diagram of how these two anchors combine during times of conflict.
In the diagram the two boxes are the long- and short-term perception of State Actor legitimacy. Changed by the “flow rates” that connect to them. In calculus the combined stock & flow is one integral equation. The flow rates in turn are driven by parameters that represent factors in the environment. These factors are color-coded red, for those factors which decrease legitimacy, and green for factors that increase legitimacy.
The way the double anchor works is that there is a perceived legitimacy value that represents our short-term perceptions, 3months, and long-term perceptions of 5 years of state legitimacy. The short-term value reacts faster to changing conditions in the environment but is “anchored” to the long-term perception which changes more slowly. The dynamic interplay between the two works like a tug and pull. Consider a case like the US where there’s already a high perceived legitimacy of the State Actor, even if Red and Blue have considerable concern over specific administrations. As short-term perception drops due to a pressure, it begins dropping long-term perception, but at a slow rate. If whatever pressure is creating that drop on the short-term perception, it will stop dragging the long-term perception down and indeed the long-term perception may begin pulling the short-term perception back up.
Moving the Needle of Short- and Long-Term Perceptions
The red and green factors are the causes of these movements. But where they land is important. General levels of violence that we don’t feel personally but perceive abstractly either by reading about it or the refugees from it in the news may effect our short-term perception. This is also where propaganda, positive and negative relative to the state, and credible delivery of government services also reside. Credible delivery of services means that even if we don’t agree with a law, like speeding, if we’re caught speeding we’re not going to riot in the streets when we get a speeding ticket. If we need food aid or unemployment, we file the paperwork and as long as we’re not cheating or lying, we should get the benefit. When simulating this we often segment populations by ethnography or circumstance. And this is an area where differences emerge between a majority population segment and a vulnerable or systemically targeted segment. Because of institutional bias and racism, many communities don’t see the same credibility of government services that the majority population might – because they aren’t just given a speeding ticket for a traffic stop but are shot, or they face extra difficulties using government services that majority populations take for granted.
There are two factors that bypass the short-term perception formation and touch directly onto long term perception formation. These are deaths in our community caused directly by the government, or deaths in our community we attribute to a lack of effective government such as by crime. Because these deaths are “local” and “felt”, they go straight to changing the long-term perception anchor.
Again, were we to segment this by population factors – we can see why shooting of unarmed black men by police resonates in communities of color than it does the majority population. Where the majority population may perceive that as a “general violence” and have a short-term impact. In the communities where those shootings happen however it goes straight to an already deeply eroded long term perception.
Back to the Pandemic and Why we Won’t be Seeing Mass Violence
Putting aside population segmentation and speaking broadly at a national level the perception of the United States by its population in both Long and Short Term has high legitimacy. This may not be how we act on social media, but it is how we act in everyday life. We opt-in to follow the laws, we benefit from comparatively low corruption in gaining everyday government services with many parts of the world. Even those who have strong opposition to the current administration, or even long-term grievances with the government, tend to have a calculated or strategic view of US legitimacy: that it’s the best option for now. This is why so much effort is put into reforming the system through civil and non-violent means and expatriation to other countries is low.
Given that high starting point it takes a lot to drop perceived legitimacy to the point where enough of the FAM population has moved to coercion and are willing to take up arms against the government. In simulation models of Syria and Iraq we had to drop the credible delivery of government services to 25% of expected normal and institute widespread mass-violence over several years against Arab Sunni to replicate the historical behaviors we saw.
Although the US government has its fair share of criticism of being woefully incompetent, and the current administration is taking a “hold my beer” approach to that traditional perspective, it’s not that it’s functioning at a 25% level of credible delivery of services. Furthermore, with the recent passage of $2T in relief spending, and more likely on the way, the delivery of services is going to ramp up across the board. This fuels legitimacy in times of crisis, assuming it isn’t bungled.
Sustained mass-violence by the government for example is often capable of creating sharp and rapid rises in mobilization. In the Syrian Civil War, the Assad regime waged war on its majority population and we know what followed. And if we projected the violence in Iran during the December protests onto the US, and adjusted for population, we’re talking government killing of at least 1,200 people and wounding 16,000. It’s not hard to imagine how such waves of government directed violence would far exceed anything we’ve seen since the insurgencies of Reconstruction and racial violence of Jim Crow eras. And how they might drive a rapid decline leading to rapid mobilization of the population and violent reaction by the state. But in the same vein it’s easy to see how far away we are from that now. And even in the most extreme cases of government excessive force, such as police shootings of unarmed men that have been a flash point, we aren’t close to coming to 20,000 people a month killed or wounded by the government.
It’s these two factors: a lack of sustained mass-violence initiated by the government on the people even while ramping up the delivery of services that I think will hold legitimacy at a moderate or even high level. Legitimacy here should not be confused with support for any particular administration, politician, or even political ideology, but of the State Actor itself.
We round out the analysis with terrorism. Non-state actor terrorism, whether by lone-wolves or clandestine terror networks, includes bombings, vehicular ramming’s and public, or ASE mass-shootings. The ideological reasons for these attacks differ, but all violent ideologies are driven through a common structure of the radicalization process, for both lone-wolves and organized non-state actors depicted below.
Violent radicalization begins with perceived grievances and moral outrage (A) amplified by personal resonance and vicarious emotional experiences. Moral outrage is generated by perceived human wrongdoing. Natural events like a pandemic don’t normally provoke it. But if the response to the pandemic is interpreted as “human wrong-doing” on behalf of a government, political-economic model, or even ethnographic group – it can cause moral outrage. These beliefs are often informed by the narrative (B). Delivered through cultural scripts: social media, memes, articles, discussions – the conspiracy narrative contextualizes the perceived grievance and identifies a specific out-group to blame for the injustice. We are already seeing these conspiracy narratives of “who is to blame for the origin of the pandemic” ranging from Asian-Americans to an indictment of capitalism itself. This is where civil or non-violent radicalization off-ramps and diverges from violent radicalization. Civil radicalization may be based on a conspiracy narrative, but it’s actions from this point forward differ from violent radicalization.
Fixation (C) occurs in both physical and virtual settings where a constant consumption of the conspiracy narrative leads to the adoption of a pseudo commando or warrior mentality identity (D). Such identification places the violent radical as the hero-in-their-own story and legitimizes their use of violence. The pathway to violence Figure 1 (E) involves the pursuit of tasks necessary to launch the attack which is the preparation, planning, material collection and rehearsals. The incidents of terrorism, Figure 1 (G) are acts of predatory mass-violence that can provoke a societal response. The societal response Figure 1 (H) completes the feedback loop with policy responses by the state-actor as well as informal responses by society at large. Societal responses themselves can often circle back into creating future perceived grievances, especially if they are considered to lack legitimacy or credibility. (9)
That’s an extremely simplified overview of the process. But the key thing to remember is this won’t happen overnight. We can split most violent radicals into two categories: fast-fuse and slow-fuse. Fast-fuse radicals may go through the above process in weeks to months. But they are also opportunistic, exploitive glory-seekers, sloppy and careless in their methods. Although they may increase incident rate via attempts, their completion rate of attacks and casualty rates are much lower. Slow-fuse violent radicals spend at least 12-18 months in this cycle, sometimes twice that long, before they go out the door. To the extent that the pandemic, and the economic fall-out, are beginning a cycle of radicalization – the real risk of increased mass-violence terrorism won’t manifest until at least over a year out.
All this Changes in the Dictator’s Dilemma
There is one major down-side risk that can creep up on us and change these forecasts. And that’s a system structure called the Dictator’s Dilemma. I explained the Dictator’s Dilemma structure and progression using the Hong Kong protests as a case study. In brief however initial small grievances with civil calls for reform are rebuffed by a state power that simply doesn’t want to compromise. This sets off an escalating chain of events that can rapidly outgrow the initial scope of the original grievance as the population and government get locked into a vicious cycle. The system structure of a Dictator’s Dilemma is shown below.
This cycle progresses from legislative or administrative reform efforts to non-violent street protests that the authority then tries to suppress or disperse with violence. Under normal conditions this rarely happens in the Untied States because the freedom of speech gives us a great latitude in organizing civil protests to express grievance, and our political system accommodates, integrates, or incorporates parts of these civil protests over grievances into the Red or Blue ideology; as elements of the Tea Party were integrated into the Republican party and elements of OWS to the Democratic party.
However, the pandemic provides both a triggering factor for grievance and conditions that could lead to the denial or suppression of public protests. Legitimate, minor grievances, over government mishandling of testing, hospital access, body disposal of loved ones or a host of bureaucratic slip-ups, as well as a increasing death rate overall, is the ground for grievance seeking redress. Likewise, a quarantine or restrictive movement order held longer than is deemed necessary will also cause aggravation. This won’t happen when the death-rate remains high but could occur as it wanes. The problem arises when, given emergency conditions State or Federal governments simply deny or rebuff these grievances. And although people won’t “take to the street” in April if grievances persist, especially over excessive travel bans through the summer separating loved-ones or communities, these can become flashpoints for physical demonstrations at the point of blockade, as they already have in Hubei in China. At this point over-reaction by the state, under the auspice of pandemic concerns, can initiate the Dictator’s Dilemma.
This is an unlikely scenario at least in the next few months. But watch for it over the summer as the temperature gets hotter outside, we have a better understanding of what the government did, and did not do, during the crisis and we’re living in the pause between Wave 1 and what is may be Wave 2 in the fall.
Why Vulnerable Populations Remain Vulnerable
It is pervasive and ever present, exploiting current situations to persist. And this is often difficult to measure objectively as the FBI UCR are still rolling out harassment indices. However one objective measure of violence we can use is the number of unarmed black men shot by police, which will be lower However, due to reduced interactions I anticipate unarmed police shootings will decline over previous years – it takes advantage of any current circumstance and converts it into a justification for maltreatment.
Don’t Bury your Mental Health in a Cave
As we’ve been forecasting about the contagion and economic impacts the world are bad enough over the next 3-18months. But there are few neurochemical reactions more powerful than the fight/flight/freeze reflex of the brain’s reaction to the risk of violence. Our brains are biologically wired for circumstances of 10,000 years ago where if we could “see” a threat we really did need to fight, flight, or freeze. And to help us survive it would release a mixed cocktail of chemicals throughout the body powerful enough to put a drug dealer to shame. From the evolution standpoint this was key to our survival – it’s why we still have them.
What we “see” on social media, out of context news reports, and shared memes can still provoke these fight/flight/freeze reactions. And even though we can’t fight it, flee it, or freeze and hope it passes our brains still release those chemicals. Unlike in the past where threats were rare and urgent to react to, most risks we perceive in this abstracted way today are distant and require no reaction. Today because of spotlighting, over-amplification, lack of context, and the power of social sharing and echo-chambers violent risks to our well-being that are remote, isolated, and low frequency can seem immediate, everywhere and all the time. Combining a steady drip of fight/flight/freeze reactions with sustained isolation and limited movement orders will create a mental-health crisis over violence if we let it. Burying our brains in a cave to watch a constant repetition of scary shadows on the wall – thinking it’s nothing but violence outside the cave – can and will create more mental health negative outcomes in depression, self-harm, and even risk of suicide than any actual increase of violence related to the pandemic itself in the United States. Consider that even before COVID19 the risk of dying from suicide was a multiple of the risk of dying from violence. This isn’t to say suicide will outpace COVID19 deaths, but we’ll have more than enough COVID19 deaths before this is over, let’s not add to them by having our brains chase shadows on the wall until they drive us to despair.
(3) J. A. Tainter, The Collapse of Complex Societies, Reprint edition. Cambridge, Cambridgeshire; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
(5) E. E. Fridel, “A Multivariate Comparison of Family, Felony, and Public Mass Murders in the United States,” Journal of Interpersonal Violence, p. 088626051773928, Nov. 2017, doi: 10.1177/0886260517739286.
(9) Timothy Clancy, B. Addison, O. Pavlov, and K. Saeed, “Root Causes of Violent Radicalization: Advancing the Swarm v. Fishermen Debate to Identify System-Level Causation,” Working Draft, Sep. 2019.