Tuesday, October 18, 2022


 The family is the oldest human institution, even a pre-human institution existing among the great apes. Along with the deliberate control of fire, which Goudsblom saw as the beginning of socially-imposed self-discipline and the “civilizing process,” early humans also developed a variety of kinship institutions. These were rules about who could or could not marry whom; incest prohibitions and exogamy rules; residency rules about whose group the new wife or husband lived with; descent rules about which lines of descent were considered lineages of membership, obligation and inheritance.


Family and kinship have always been based on sexual behavior: the right or obligation to have intercourse is the operational definition of marriage (however sentimentalized or euphemistic the terminology might be). Intercourse reproduced the social structure from generation to generation; including status differences between children of socially recognized marriages, secondary marriages such as concubines, and illegitimate children who had no legal right to inherit. Regulated and legitimated sex was the building-block of kinship structure.


De-regulation of sex became systemic change in human societies when other institutions were created that took the place, in varying degrees, of family-based economic and political alliances, child-rearing, and inheritance.  Until the end of the Middle Ages, the kinship-based household was the building block of political and military power, as well as economic production and consumption. Modernity began by replacing family-based organization with bureaucracy. States began to regulate the family household from outside, inscribing everyone on the rolls of the state as individuals. The core of the family has become personal and sexual rather than political and economic. What is personal and sexual has become freer, more a matter of individual choice; at the same time sexual behavior in the non-family world has become subject to explicit political regulation, either restricting or permitting. From the early 20th century onwards, there have been increasingly militant movements on one side or another of what is sexually permitted, encouraged, or prohibited.


In this context, I will consider current disputes over sexuality and gender. Why is there an upsurge in anti-abortion movements just now? I will argue that abortion is primarily about freedom of sexual action. It is part of an overarching array of issues that includes homosexuality, which is to say, more kinds of acceptable erotic practices; also publicizing one’s sexual identity in schools, in using toilets, and in festivals and parades; not merely private freedom of sexuality but asserting it as one’s central identity. Politics has become more centered on sexuality than at any time in history.


These movements are allied in a united front with a struggle to eradicate gender distinctions. Both sides of the dispute mobilize  movements and propose laws, each protesting against the other. In larger perspective, it is a struggle over what remains of the family and what will replace it.


In what follows, I will sketch the many forms of family-based societies that made up most of human history, from the tribal and band pre-state period, through the feudal-patrimonial households which were displaced by the bureacratic revolution. This transition was the specialty of the two great historical sociologists, Max Weber and Norbert Elias. Both saw the world-historical importance of the transition, although they called it different things. Weber called it "rationalization" (while recognizing the ambiguities of the concept), but principally he saw modern society as increasingly penetrated by bureaucracy. The lesson of Foucault's cultural histories is similar, although he says nothing about bureaucracy as a driving factor.


Elias set out to historicize Freud: bodily repression of natural impulses is not primordial but dates from the late feudal period. Psychology is driven by geopolitics; conquering kings centralized territorial regimes by making the warlords spend time at court-- thereby acquiring manners and self-repression. Courtly manners were adopted by the middle class as moral obligations. This is the "civilizing process," the strengthening of a  super-ego of self-control, taken-for-granted and becoming an unconscious "second nature". Elias followers (e.g. Wouters) posit further accretions of self-inhibition through the following centuries up through today.


In this historical context, I will sketch the history of abortion struggles; the sexual revolution in non-marital sex; homosexual and transgender movements and the battle of pronouns; and the perceived decline of the family. This will help answer the question: why anti-abortion movements now? I will end with some sociological tools for forecasting the future of the family.


I hope you will excuse me for relying on American data. Some of these trends originated in Europe; on the whole it has been a world-wide trajectory (with the notable exception of the Moslem world).


Kin Groups versus Bureaucracy


Kinship was the earliest form of human organization, and a distinctive break from animal families. The history of complex organizations took off when they separated from kin-based households into distinctive organizations for politics, religion, and economy. But for many centuries these spheres remained connected in some degree with kinship and household. Big shifts in political organization during ancient and medieval times, such as recruiting warriors to join migrating and conquering  hordes, were usually created by pseudo-kinship, a pretence of being descended from some mythical ancestor. Settled states were almost entirely alliance networks among armed households. They were "patrimonial households" (a Weberian term that should not be confused with "patriarchy"), with marriage connections at their core. But a household was powerful and rich to the extent it contained many non-kin servants, soldiers, guests, hostages, apprentices, as well as prestige-giving artists and entertainers. The big break in organizational forms was the rise of bureaucracy, which as a practical matter meant that work, politics, religion, etc. were carried out somewhere other than where families live. The change was visible in the built environment; castles and homes that were simultaneously work-places gave way to governmental and commercial buildings, containing their own furnishings, weapons and equipment, treated as property of the organization rather than of particular persons.


Too much emphasis has been placed on the concept of bureaucracy as a set of ideals and a form of legitimacy; it was simultaneously a form of material organization: control through written rules and records, hence a roster of who belongs to the organization, what money they collect and spend, recording who does what and how they did it. It is a network of behavior according to written rules and reports. Everyone is replaceable according to the rules, which means procedures, examinations, due diligence and whatever the cliché was at the time. Schooling is another such bureaucracy, taking away instruction from the family; and thus simultaneously freeing individuals from family control, while making them targets for indoctrination by whoever controls the state.


This is an idealization; empirical studies of bureaucracies show that the rules were often evaded or manipulated; modern research shows that bureaucrats don't just break the rules backstage, but know how to use the rules against others, when to invoke them and when to ignore them. Being maximally rule-bound ("bureaucratic") is not the most efficient way to do things; but it is an effective form of organization for breaking the power of kin groups, inherited rule. It keeps an organization going as an impersonal entity, even if inefficiently. Every revolution and every successful social movement institutionalizes itself in new rules and government agencies to enforce them. In this ironic sense, as the Weberian scholar Reinhard Bendix remarked, democracy extends bureaucracy.


It is in this context that we can understand the mobilization of conflicts over abortion in particular and sexual behavior in general.


Abortion and Sexual Behavior


Abortion is argued in philosophical and theological terms: on the one hand, the protection and sacredness of life; on the other, the right to choose, rights over one’s own body. But sociologically, abstract ideas and beliefs are not the ultimate explanation of what people do. It begs the question: why do some people sometimes believe one way or the other?  When and why are they vehement about their beliefs?  When do they organize social and political movements about them?


Arguments about abortion are stated altruistically: it has nothing to do with me personally, I am concerned for the unborn children, for the right to life generally. On the pro-abortion side, there is a general argument that everyone has the right over one’s own body; but also sometimes personal-- I have the right to an abortion if I want one.


But sociologically, the ground zero is always pragmatic: a practical matter of how people live.  What is the human action at issue behind the abortion argument? Abortion is about sex-- erotic behavior.  Why do some women want abortion? Because they have sex without marriage, in pre-marital and extra-marital sex. It is freedom to fuck without worrying about pregnancy, and thus is also a form of birth control for married couples.


Up through the early 20th century, an unwanted pregnancy was a fatal life event for a woman. The exception was for rich women who could keep it secret and farm out an unwanted child to a woman of the lower classes to care for it. To have a child outside of wedlock was scandalous, shameful, to be hidden away if possible.  It was a badge of shame, punished by being ostracized; the Scarlet Letter, in Hawthorne’s novel about 17th Century New England puritans.  Worse yet, the mother could be executed for murder if she had an abortion; or disposed of the infant though infanticide (this was the plot line of Goethe’s Faust). 


That was the historical scenario.  Today, some abortions happen because married women don’t want to have a child at the time; because the child is malformed; because the mother is in danger; or because it interrupts her career. Most abortions are to unmarried women in their twenties.


The taboo on unmarried pregnancy fell away rapidly in some countries (first in Scandinavia, then in the US) in the 1950s and 60s. In part, this was because of much greater acceptance of sex before marriage; in part because young middle-class couples started living together without getting married-- a trend that grew very rapidly at the turn of the 1970s, and was accepted surprisingly soon by the older population. Before that time, “living in sin,” as it was called, or “shacking up” was regarded as something poor or non-white people did. But within a few years it became normal to hear someone introduced as “this is my partner” rather than “this is my husband, this is my wife.”  The further terminological shift in ordinary language was adopted by homosexual couples, who more recently have shifted to using “husband and husband” or “wife and wife,” after winning political and legal battles over gay marriage.


The political and legal battle for abortion happened at the same time as the revolution in unmarrried cohabitation. In Scandinavia limited abortion rights began in the 1930s and expanded; in 1973 the US Supreme Court ruled in the lawsuit Roe v. Wade that abortion was a right covered in the abstract language of the Constitution. The anti-abortion movement dates from that period.


The arguments pro and con are on the grounds of legal philosophy.  Translated into social practice, to restore the ban on abortion means that sex should be confined to marriage. This means rolling back the sexual revolution of mid-20th century. On the other side, my body is my own, means in practical terms: I can have sex with whoever and whenever I want.  Men traditionally had this right; why shouldn’t women?


We are approaching an answer to the question: why is there a resurgence of the anti-abortion movement just now? Which is to say, a movement against casual, non-marital sex.  This should be seen in the context of the sexual revolution, starting about 100 years ago.


Sexual Revolutions


Throughout human history, marriages were almost always arranged by kin groups rather than the choices of independent individuals. Pre-state kinship structures were built around marriage rules, which group should send daughters or sons to another specified group. With the rise of large-scale warfare and alliance politics, marriages and other forms of sexual exchange became used as political treaties. Sending daughters of one leading family as wives or concubines to another leading family made them allies, and also set the stage for future inheritance of territories depending on accidents of which children were born and survived into adulthood. Diplomatic marriages of this sort have continued among royal families (even among figureheads like Queen Victoria) down to the era of modern democracies (including England’s Queen Elizabeth II). At less exalted levels of social class, arranged marriages also existed among property-owning families, an arrangement for continuity in family enterprises, and sometimes as a means of status climbing where money could be traded for ancestral status.


Sexual/love affairs also existed in virtually all recorded societies since ancient times, but mainly outside of marriage. They were a form of personal excitement, the thrill of a private backstage (Romeo-and-Juliet) which now appeared in the otherwise privacy-denying patrimonial household. Most of what we know about such love affairs is from the literature or entertainment media of the time, which probably exaggerate them compared to the realities of ordinary life in pre-modern households. But as bureaucracy and democracy eroded the importance of household and inheritance for individual's careers, marriage markets spread among the middle class. The growth of individual marriage markets-- though still heavily influenced by parents-- can be indexed by the topics of popular literature. The new ideology of marriage for love combined with a concern for material fortune is described in the novels of Jane Austen around 1800; it developed more slowly in French literature (long focused on adulterous adventures), and sentimentally as well as moralistically in American literature. The belief became conventional that all marriages happen by falling in love, or at least this became the normative way of speaking about it.


The 1920s were a revolution in courtship. Parents steering their children’s marriage choices was replaced by dating and partying. From now on the younger generation mixed the sexes without supervision, creating a culture where drinking, dancing and necking was the main excitement of life rather than a transition to marriage. It was a rebellious thrill in the US where alcohol was prohibited, but the same style emerged in England and Germany also.


In the 1930s and 40s, divorce began to be common, no longer disreputable and scandalous. By the 1960s, almost 50 % of US marriages were ending in divorce; a level relatively constant since then. This eroded the ideal of sexual monogamy or "purity"; a large portion of the population of both sexes were having multiple sexual partners.


Since the transition from childhood to adulthood involves a shift from a life-stage in which sex is officially prohibited to a stage when it is allowed, the teen years are a center for sexual regulation and associated ideologies. The 1950s produced a new social category, the “teenager”. Working class youths no longer entered the labor force, as governments made them attend secondary school; with free time on their hands, teens created social clubs and gangs, got their own style of music and dancing, with a tone of rebellion against traditional middle class propriety. The rise in crime rates began at this time, and continuing from the 1950s into the 1990s. How to bring up children became a topic of controversy ever since. Apart from psychological advice on home life, the social instrument for shaping and controlling the emerging generation has become schools and the policies by which they operate. Hence a new site for political struggle.


The Invention of the Social Movement


Here we step back again to trace another offshoot of the bureaucratic revolution.  The social movement is a form of organization and politics outside of the family and household, but also outside of formal bureaucrities: that is to say, it it a mode of creating new networks that did not exist before, recruiting persons wherever they might come from, generating an alliance of individuals held together by their devotion to a common cause. Social movements are a distinctively modern form. They scarcely existed in the era of kinship politics, where household might shift alliances but individuals within them could not go out to join movements on their own. The exception was religious movements, chiefly in the monastic world religions such as Buddhism and Christianity during their early phases of expansion. But as these religions achieved success they tended to ally with the patrimonial households of the aristocracy, and religious conversion generally took place en masse by the conversion of leading aristocrats who ordered their subordinates to follow. Other large-scale religions, such as Confucianism, Hindu sects, and Islam, generally blended with and reinforced existing kinship politics.


Charles Tilly dates the invention of the social movement to the late 1700s in England and France. Prior to this time, there could be local protests and uprisings in periods of food scarcity and distress, but they remained localized and when serious were almost always put down by superior military power. The bureaucratic state changed the logistics of political activism; it promoted roads, canals, transport, postal services and the delivery of books and newspapers; social movements were now able to organize large number of people across long distances. And the increasingly centralization of the state gave movements a target for their grievances: the capital city and the central government itself. Movements developed a repertoire of techniques for petitioning and protesting, ranging in militancy from demanding reforms and new laws, to overthrowing the state by revolution. In democracies, social movements became an alternative to struggling for power through periodic elections; one doesn't always win the vote but protest movements can be mobilized at any time to bring pressure on the authorities to make urgent and immediate changes.


With the expansion of communications -- telephone, radio, film, television, computers and the internet-- the material means for mobilizing social movements have vastly expanded. In the 19th and early 20th century, the main social movements were class-based, especially labour movements; sometimes ethnic and nationalist; sometimes humanitarian reform movements. From mid-20th century through today, the variety of social movements has exploded into a cascade of social movements, all competing for attention.


Sexual Movements


What was different in the 1960s was that political and social movements became heavily based among the young (in contrast to labour movements, based on married adults). The shift was driven by a huge increase in university students. Again the underlying force was a combination of bureaucracy and democracy. State universities proliferated in response to popular demands for educational credentials once monopolized by the elite. Ironically, this set off a spiral of credential inflation, as once-valuable school degrees (secondary school diplomas; then undergraduate degrees) became so widespread that well-paying jobs increasingly demanded advanced professional degrees. The political side-effect, however, was that the group of young-adult "university age" students became a favourable base for organizing social movements: students have flexible hours, are freed from family supervision, massed together in their own spaces, and thus available for speedy communications and the emotionally engaging rituals of rallies, marches, protests, and sit-ins. With the adoption of non-violent techniques of "civil disobedience" borrowed from Gandhi's independence campaign in India, militant social movements could both claim the moral high ground, and apply pressure by disrupting public routines. Such movements could also spill over into property destruction and violence; as Tilly noted, a violent fringe has historically existed around any large public protest.


In the self-consciously revolutionary generation of the 1960s, we called ourselves the New Left, distinguished from the old Left by being less concerned about ideology than lifestyle. Culture icons were the hippies, drop-outs from school and career, living in communes where they shared psychedelic drugs and free love. In reality, most were weekend-hippies, and most of the free-love communes disintegrated rather quickly, over jealousy and status ranking. The main legacy of the “free love” period was that cohabitation-- living together without getting married-- became widespread, even becoming a census category in the 1970s.


The 70s were dominated by sexually-based movements.  First,  the feminist movement sought equal legal rights and employment opportunities for women; plus its militant lesbian branch, condemning heterosexual intercourse as the root of the problem. In the 1970s and increasing with each decade through the present, a chain of homosexual movements demanded not only freedom from discrimination but the recognition of a new public vocabulary-- gender rather than sex, gay rather than homosexual, and so on. This has been a cascade of movements, each building on its predecessors, in tactics, ideology, and lifestyle, each finding a new issue on which to fight.


Counter-cultures and Culture Wars


Recent movements are built on prior movements of cultural rebellion, going back for a century. Like the New Left, the overall ethos has been antinomian, the counter-culture of status reversal. These rebellious social movements were paralleled by shifts in self-presentation, demeanor, and in the media depiction of sexuality. In the 1920s, women’s skirts became shorter; young women adopted a more mannish look. They also began to show a lot more flesh; body-covering swim suits became briefer; women athletes exercized and competed in shorts. (The trend also existed in socialist and Soviet Communist organizations; and in the nudist movement popular in Germany.)  In  1946 came the bikini, created in France and named for an island where an atom bomb was exploded; eventually there were men in thongs and women going topless at beaches. The 60s and 70s were a weird melange of clothing fads: granny dresses and throw-back Sgt. Pepper uniforms; Nehru jackets, surgical smocks; men in pony-tails wearing pukka-shell necklaces and jewelry earrings. Most of these styles did not last long, but the prevailing mood was change for the sake of something different. The long-term result was the casualness revolution (also called informalization), which triumphed by the 1990s: wearing blue jeans, T-shirts and athletic clothes on all occasions, discarding neckties and business suits; calling everyone by their first name, no more use of titles and once-polite forms of address.


Simultaneously with these changes, erotic heterosexuality was coming out of the closet, in literature and the media. The “jazz age” of the 1920s was originally named after a slang word for having sex; novelists like Scott Fitzgerald and song-writers like Cole Porter were full of innuendo. James Joyce’s Ulysses in 1922 began literary depiction of the bodily details of sex, followed by D.H. Lawrence, Hemingway, Henry Miller, and Anais Nin; most of these were published in Paris but censored elsewhere until 1960, when their mass publication fueled the sexual atmosphere of the counter-culture. In 1968, Hollywood film censorship changed to a rating system, marketing soft porn as PG (“parental guidance”) and hard porn as X-rated. The 70s was the era of the so-called “Pubic Wars”: glossy magazines with nude photos tested the borders of what could be displayed, moving from breasts to pubic hair to aroused genitals and by the 1980s to penetration and oral sex. Pornographic photos had existed before, but they were cheaply produced and had a limited underground circulation; now these were some of the biggest mass-distribution magazines. Sex magazines went into decline in the 90s, replaced by porn sites on the Internet.


Cultural rebellion spilled over into language. Obscene words began to be used in political demonstrations; then on T-shirts, in fashion advertising, and in ordinary middle-class conversation. The remaining bastian of prohibition on obscene language is what can be said in school classrooms.  Everywhere else, flauting overt sex has been a successful form of rebellion. One might even say that the major line of conflict is no longer between economic classes, but a status division: hip and cool versus square and straight.


Homosexual sex came out of the closet at the same time as the porn revolution. Gay porn magazines and film followed heterosexual men’s magazines; their circulation was never as wide (Playboy and Penthouse reached peaks of 5-to-7 million), but the gay movement was more controversial and more activist. It spun off from the resistance tactics of the civil rights movement, pushing back at police raids of gay bars and meeting places. It becamc a cascade of movements: gay and lesbian joined by bi-sexual, queer (militant homosexuals rejecting gay marriage), transgender, transsexual, non-binary, and more. The growth of this acronym—now up to LGBTQIA+ -- is itself a sociological phenomenon to be explained, as new identities have been added every few years, a trajectory likely to continue into the future. This is the pattern of a social movement cascade; successful movements do not retire, declaring their cause is won, but spin off new branches, seeking new niches and issues. The phenomenon is sometimes referred to as extending social movement frames to new targets.


A related issue has been sex education in the schools, initially about contraceptives for the prevention of venereal disease (a term subsequently changed as too judgmental). Sex education grew as an official alternative to parental advice or to informal peer-group sexual culture; sex education is the bureacratization of sex. In the early 21st century its function expanded to teach childen about homosexuality as a protected status, and as a life-style choice. In recent years there are movements among students as young as elementary school demanding to be referred to by non-gendered pronouns; and for government-funded sex-reassignment hormones or surgery. The fields of struggle have expanded: gender-free toilets; the battle of pronouns, banning the words “he” and “she”. In 2022, adolescent children have been charged with sexual harassment for "mispronouning" -- referring to a classmate as "she" instead of "them." In 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation banning the use of gendered words “father, mother, brother, sister” in government documents. Federal health organizations now refer to mothers as "birthing persons" and ban the term "breast-feeding" in favor of "chest-feeding." (Wall Street Journal, May 10 and May 24, 2022) There are similar efforts to create gender-neutral pronouns in French and Spanish, although thus far not very popular.


Why Anti-abortion Politics Now?


The arena of such conflicts has become increasingly political, as activists file lawsuits in the courts and demand new legislation; escalation on one side leads to counter-escalation on the other. It is in this context that we can explain why the anti-abortion movement has become much more militant in the last few years. In 2019, abortions in the US were about 20% of live births; but in fact the ratio has fallen from 25% ten years earlier; this is largely due to teenagers having fewer children and fewer abortions; and to some extent to the growth of homosexuality in the age-group below 30. The anti-abortion movement has not intensified because abortion was growing worse; it is just the most prominent way conservative legislators can strike back at the latest waves of sexual revolution.


Conservatives view these developments as the decline of morality and good taste;  the intrusion of government into the lives of their children; and educational policies that they regard as indoctrination. Abortion is seen as part of the sexual revolution run rampant, separating sex from the family, extolling forms of sex that turn traditional parenting into an outdated status. Militants of homosexual movements have declared that hetero-normativity is on its way out. Homosexuality has become more widespread: it was less than 2% of the Baby Boom generation; grew to almost 4% of the generation born before 1980; to 9% of those who became adults around the year 2000. In so-called Generation Z, now about 18 to 23 years old, identifying as LGBT has jumped to 16%. This is still far from a majority; but an expanding movement is full of aggressive confidence, looking forward to a time when the heterosexual family is a quaint minority.


Conservatives see the same trends but from a different point of view: the falling marriage rate; below-replacement fertility, now down to 1.6 children per woman in the US, the lowest in its history (and even lower in parts of Europe); 40% of all children born to unmarried parents. More people are living alone; proportionately more among the aged 65 and older; but in sheer numbers of households, the largest number living alone are working-age adults.


Strict laws in American states banning abortion have been created in a situation where the political split between conservatives and liberals leaves neither of them with a firm majority at the Federal level, while conservatives fall back on regional state legislatures which they control. Here also control over what goes on in the schools is increasingly contested.


Abortion is just one issue in a divisive cluster of issues.  Making abortion laws more restrictive will not save the family; illegal abortions would re-appear, recapitulating the conflicts of the 1960s. Conflict over abortion is a symbol of the bigger question-- what conservatives perceive as a multi-pronged assault on the family.


Why the Family is Not Likely to Disappear


But there are reasons of a different sort why the family is not likely to disappear any time soon. When the feminist revolution took off in the 1970s, men soon discovered they had an economic interest in their wives’ careers. A family with two middle-class incomes could outspend a traditional, male-headed upper-middle class household. Two working-class incomes put a family in the middle-class expenditure bracket. In the new economic hierarchy, the poorest families are those where one woman’s income has to care for her children alone. Marriage and its shared property rights continues to be the bulwark of economic stratification.  From a radical left point-of-view, this would be a reason to abolish the family; or at least take child-rearing away from the family.


The situation is complicated by gay marriage, beginning when gay couples demanded the tax and inheritance rights of marriage. It also creates wealthy households, since gay men are usually middle class or higher, and two such incomes makes them big spenders-- one reason why consumer industries and advertising are so favorable to the gay movement.  On the other hand, although gay couples sometimes adopt children (or use sperm donors), the number of children in gay marriages is small (only 15% of same-sex couples, married or not, have children) and unlikely to compensate for the overall decline in child-bearing. There are about 1 million same-sex households in the US; out of 128 million households, this is less than 1%. Since about 13 million Americans identify as LGBT, this implies that only 1/6th of them are living with a sexual partner; most of them are living alone. The big increase in living alone may even be driven by the rise of homosexuality, or perhaps vice versa. This seems to be particularly true in big US cities, such as Washington D.C., where one-quarter of the adult population live alone in apartments, making up half of all households. Washington is also the city where the largest percentage identify themselves as LGBT, at 10%. 


Can sociology predict the future of the family? What will happen hinges a great deal on government regulations, and these depend on the mobilization of political movements against each other. The Internet era has made it easier for all sorts of movements to mobilize. But government regulation may become a weapon by which one side can censor the other and try to keep it from mobilizing. The causes of conflict are easier to predict than the outcomes, especially when the sides are relatively evenly balanced.


Computerization and its offshoot the Internet, foreshadow a future in which almost everyone works at home; manual work is done by robots; everyone spends most of their time communicating on-line, or absorbed in on-line entertainment. The generation brought up on the Internet is the shyest generation yet; they have many on-line “friends” but few friends in the flesh; they are less sexually active; more anxious and fearful. The issue of abortion may eventually decline, because there is less sexual activity in the future generation. The immersive virtual world of the Internet, strongly promoted by today’s media capitalism, may be destroying the family by making it easy to live physically solitary lives.  Thus the recent jump in identification as homosexual (16% in the youngest generation) may be largely a matter of announced identity rather than bodily erotics; a kind of fantasy ideology more than actual sexual practice.


Yet this may be why the family will survive--- not as the universal social institution, but as a privileged enclave. It is privileged because it is a place of physical contact; of interaction rituals, solidarity, and emotional energy. It is also a place of reliable sex (surveys show that married and cohabiting couples have much more frequent sex than unpartnered individuals -- they don’t have to spend time looking for partners).  Add to that the two-earner effect on household income, an incentive for the family to survive.


The trajectory of the last 100 years has been to undermine the family; but the rise of the disembodied computer world may change that. I suspect we are heading towards a future where intact families-- father, mother, and their children of all ages-- are the dominant class economically; and media-networked or media-addicted isolates, living alone with their electronics, are wards of the welfare state.




Statistical sources:

U.S. Bureau of the Census

Center for Disease Control

National Center for Health Statistics


Williams Institute

Gallup polls

Edward O. Laumann et. al. 1994. The Social Organization of Sexuality. Sexual Practices in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Historical and Sociological references:


Seth Abrutyn and Jonathan Turner. 2022. The First Institutional Spheres of Human Societies. Evolution and Adaptations from Foraging to the Threshold of Modernity.

Philip Blumstein and Pepper Schwartz.  1983. American Couples. New York: Morrow.

Randall Collins. 1986. “Weber’s Theory of the Family.” and “Courtly Politics and the Status of Women.” In Collins, Weberian Sociological Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Randall Collins. 2014. “Four Theories of Informalization and How to Test Them.” Human Figurations 3(2).  http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.11217607.0003.207

Randall Collins. 1979/2019. The Credential Society. NY: Columbia University Press.

Norbert Elias. 1939/2000. The Civilizing Process. Oxford: Blackwell.

Johann Goudsblom. 1992. Fire and Civilization.  London: Penguin Press.

Todd Gitlin. 1987. The Sixties. New York: Bantam Books.

Robbins B., Dechter A., Kornrich S. 2022. "Assessing the Deinstitutionalization of Marriage Thesis." American Sociological Review 87: 237-274.

Charles Tilly. 2004. Social Movements, 1768-2004.  Boulder, Colorado: Paradigm Publishers.

Max Weber. 1922/1968. Economy and Society. New York: Bedminster Press.

Cas Wouters. 2007. Informalization. Manners and Emotions since 1890.    London: Sage.

Lewis Yabolonsky. 1968. The Hippie Trip. Lincoln, Nebraska: Excel Press.

Benjamin Zablocki. 1980. Alienation and Charisma. A Study of Contemporary American Communes.


Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Multi-causal Bottom Line


Multiple causality versus simple-mindedness:


Glib talk is the stuff of front-stage politics

(but not of back-stage politiking).


Of advertisements and journalism

(but not of editorial meetings).


Those who are successful in the world do not

think that way, although they use talk as a weapon.


Yet there is advantage, even in science and intellect

in simplifying to the most powerful causes,


and to win the center of attention among the voices

by summing up the complexities in a term,

Kuhnian paradigm, spin, vicious and virtuous circles,


but not to think you've said it all

when you've only pointed where to look.


If one thing in the world is true, it is surely this:

everything has multiple causes.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022


 Written before Putin’s invasion, the progress of the Ukraine war bears out generalizations made in Explosive Conflict: Time-Dynamics of Violence


[1] Three-to-six month rise and fall in public crisis attention

[2] High-tech war reverts over time to older-style warfare

[3] Civilian atrocities in the midst of guerrilla war behind the lines

[4] Polarization produces historical amnesia (Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, WWII, WWI-- and Syria)


[1] Three-to-six month pattern

Almost every war is popular at the outset. People are outraged and energized. This goes on at a high level of intensity for about 3 months. Then enthusiasm begins to wane; more and more of the population want to return to ordinary life. By 6 months after the outbreak, enthuasiastic support is done to half of its peak. A split emerges, between those who would like to end the conflict; and those who angrily and righteously press ahead for victory and vengence, whatever the cost. Wars of course can go on much longer than 6 months, but it becomes carried more by organization and compulsion rather than popular enthusiasm. Unless wars are short and victorious, they increasingly divide into peace faction vs. victory faction; end-the-carnage and write off your losses, vs. sunk costs and their-sacrifice-shall-not-be-in-vain.


Explosive Conflict documents the pattern for the outset of wars, enemy attacks, and domestic protests.  I showed the 3-month-peak, 6-month-falling-off pattern in the flags Americans put out after 9/11/01. Enthusiasm for war swept through all the capitals of Europe in 1914, from the Sarajevo assassination in June to the stalemate of armies at Christmas; falling off thereafter into disillusionment. It is the same whether one's side feels themselve the innocent victim at the outset; WWII had the same pattern of early enthusiasm for joining in, followed by much more coercive grinding it through. I have charted similar patterns of enthusiastic turn-out for protest movements in France, Hong Kong, the US, and elsewhere: the biggest demonstrations and the highest emotional level are in the early months, dwindling off in the 3-to-6 month period of falling numbers, and a tail end of violent die-hards.


The Ukraine war began with Russia's invasion February 24, 2022.  Russian advances and defeats were front-page, top-headline news, in the first weeks and months.


This was the period when anti-Russian outrage spread contagiously. Those who did not join in were pressured: 2.28.22 AP "FIFA drew a swift backlash from European nations for not immediately expelling Russia from World Cup qualifying." 3.01.22 FIFA gave in and banned Russia. So did the World Curling Federation; while the International Olympic Committee moved to ban Russian athletes. Russian musicians and conductors were removed from concerts in Europe and the US. Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture was removed from concert programs (7.07.22 NYT). This polarization overrode news  in early March of anti-Putin protests in Russia; and the less publicized exodus of anti-war Russians to Armenia, Turkey and other neutral places.


Exaggerated hero-stories circulated in Ukraine in the flush of repelling the Russians from Kyiv. A fighter pilot nicknamed "Ghost of Kyiv" was said to have shot down 6 Russian fighter jets in the first days of the invasion, survived being shot down, and returned to shoot down 40 Russians before dying in an air battle in early March. Ukrainian officials joined in the publicity. But in May, it admitted that the Ghost of Kyiv did not exist. (5.02.22 NYT)


Two months in, rallies for Ukraine in US cities like San Diego were down to 50 participants, compared to 300-500 in the early days of the war [San Diego Union, 4.17.22]


Three months in, by May when the war shifted to sieges in the east, there was less news from the front. The same headlines repeat day after day. Ukrainian leaders call for more arms, and more sanctions (previous sanctions not yet having visible effects). News stories shifted to inside pages. Reports from the front (where reporters are not allowed) consist of official statements, claiming or denying small advances, mentions of enemy weapons destroyed, numbers of civilian casualties (but rarely of military casualties, except for estimates of enemy casualties).


By June, morale in both armies had declined severely: 6.20.22 AP "Four months of war in Ukraine appear to be straining the morale of troops on both sides, prompting desertions and rebellion against officers' orders, British defense officials said... Ukrainian forces have suffered desertions in recent weeks... Russian morale highly likely remains especially troubled... Cases of whole Russian units refusing orders and armed stand-offs between officers and their troops continue to occur... NATO's chief warned that fighting could drag on for 'years'." 


Such stand-offs are reminiscent of widespread rebellion against US officers in remote combat zones during the later years of the Vietnam war, when over 500 incidents were reported of soldiers "fragging" them (throwing fragmentation grenades into their tent). (Gibson 1986: 211-224) This does not mean the soldiers will force a cease-fire, but rather than the war gets carried on by more coercion and material incentives. Russia announced higher pay for soldiers (6.17.22 Washington Post).


From the early days of the invasion, Western leaders pressed each other for economic sanctions as a non-violent means of punishing and deterring the enemy; cutting off oil and natural gas imports, banning all business relations with Russia, enforced through controls on international banking, and secondary sanctions on those not joining in. But within the first weeks, other parts of the world-- China, India, Indonesia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Mexico, Brazil-- refused to cut economic ties with Russia, or stayed neutral. Some called it a war among white people, with little regard for anyone else's refugees (3.03.22, 3.05.22 WSJ; 3.24.22 AP).  By June, poorer countries in Asia and Africa were protesting food shortages resulting from blocked grain and fertilizer exports of Ukraine and Russia. European countries such as Germany and Italy, heavily dependent on Russian LNG, had joined officially in the sanctions but stipulating only to apply these in the future. By June and July, they were beginning to forecast winter shortages of fuel for heating, and crises in industrial production. The coalition of economic sanctions was wavering, after the early months of rhetorical support.


Ukrainian war leaders began to worry publically about "fatigue" on the part of the outside world. Allies and business commentators began to talk about negotiations and settlements. French president Macron spoke of what Russia would accept as "victory", willing to end combat without being "humiliated" as Germany was in the Versailles treaty of 1919. He walked back these comments after Russian rockets hit civilian areas, but reiterated them in June. (6.16.22 WSJ)


At this time, most Ukrainians still supported fighting to take back all Russian-held territory; but few had faith in the support of their Western allies: 27% for France, 22% for Germany. (6.30.22 WSJ)


In Russia, despite tight government control of the media, apathy set in: 7.02.22 WSJ "In Russia's Biggest Cities, the War is Fading to Background Noise... While opinion polls suggest public support for the military campaign, it is largely passive... According to an independent pollster, the level of attention Russians pay to the conflict is declining. While in March, 64% said they were paying at least some attention, that number was down to 56% in May. Only 34% of [military-age] 18-to-24 year-olds said they were following the situation."


As of July 2022 (5 months in) a division was visible among allies between those pressing for a truce to end the damage; and advocates of a fall offensive to retake all Russian gains in the east.


[2] Limitations of high-tech warfare. 

The lesson was already there from the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Advanced weapons combine targeting from an array of sensors-- satellites, high-flying aircraft, low-flying drones; tracking heat-signatures of vehicles, comparing photos of changes in formations on the ground, spotting electronic activity, locating radar-guided weapons and firing back at them; all coordinated by computers making high-speed precision calculations. The enemy has no place to hide and targets are always hit. What could go wrong?


Interviews and reports from lessons-learned conferences with US and UK veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan list some everyday problems. High-tech weapons are not always available when and where you want them, or in sufficient quantity. High-tech is expensive and requires frequent maintenance.  Computer-guided smart bombs and rockets are big, heavy to transport, and get used up in intense bombardments. High-tech vehicles and weapons platforms require a lot of fuel and maintenance. If war is carried on at a leisurely pace (as in counter-insurgency war), these problems are surmountable; but the cost mounts up over time (astronomical sums in the decades-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan). If war is intense and between similarly armed large-scale armies, both sides suffer attrition of their most advanced equipment. The Eastern front in WWII began with motor vehicles and deteriorated back to horses and foot-soldiers.


In Ukraine, reversion from high-tech to traditional weaponry has been most evident on the Russian side. Their supply of long-distance precision rockets was largely exhausted in the early months, replaced by older, less precise rockets targeting Ukrainian urban areas, rather like carpet bombing in WWII. In battle zones, Russian radio communication was vulnerable and broke down early, shifting to a cell phone system shared with Ukraine, which also broke down. High-level Russian officers had to command personally at the front lines, like pre-modern warfare,  resulting in high officer casualties.


The Ukrainian military was hurriedly supplied with long-distance rockets and artillery to target their Russian counterparts, using US/NATO targeting information. But logistical difficulties made the supply slow and intermittent: the many different allies sending available weapons produced a mix of Soviet-style weapons and calibres (Ukraine had been the center of Soviet arms production); plus a variety of west European and Scandinavian weapons systems with specific maintenance needs and ammunition calibres; making it hard to connect the right ammunition, repairs and replacements with the places where particular weapons were being used. US high-tech missile defense and long-distance rocketry started filling the gap in the fifth month of war-- with the highly bureaucratized US military not being known for speedy delivery (having spent almost two years cranking up for the invasion of Iraq in 2003).


There is no guarantee that reliance on US high-tech will prove successful in a longer war of attrition. Ukraine has been most successful with small-group tactics, essentially Special Forces movements under the radar (so to speak), getting close to Russian tanks and artillery to destroy them with man-carried anti-tank rockets. This was crucial in the first weeks of war, during the Russian blitzkrieg rushing to Kyiv from the Belarus border. Pre-war US supplies and troop training made Ukrainian forces well-matched for countering this mechanized invasion. Avoiding most front-line confrontations, Urkainian soldiers infiltrated the long and poorly-protected Russian supply convoys, hitting them with shoulder-fired Javelin missiles. In the early phase, Special Forces-style weapons and tactics defeated a traditional mass-vehicle attack; rather like Taliban attacks on far-flung US outposts in Afghanistan. The lesson of both wars: massive, spread-out forces with expensive logistics and long supply lines are vulnerable to small, dispersed hit-and-run attacks on logistics lines.


Here we have another example of what in Explosive Conflict is called a time-fork: sudden blitzkrieg, resulting in collapse of the enemy's organizational and political structure, if successful, makes for a short war with relatively low casualties. This is what Putin was aiming at, assuming he could do something like what the US did in Iraq in 2003, scattering enemy forces and causing the government to abandon ship within weeks. But if a blitzkrieg does not succeed, the process shifts to a longer time-scale: attrition war where both sides have resources to hang on and cause damage for a long time. Ending such a war victoriously requires enormous destruction of the enemy's resource base, inevitably hitting at the civilian population as everything becomes a military target. Attrition war grinds down everything, high-tech and low-tech alike; raising the human and material cost until one side, or both, run out.


In the second phase of the Ukraine war, Russia cut its losses from the failed blitzkrieg in the west, shifting to eastern fronts less vulnerable to infantry infiltration; keeping the small-arms high tech of US-supplied Ukrainian forces at a distance by massing artillery barrages in building-by-building advances through the cities of the east. Russia countered Special Forces high-tech by returning to WWII era sieges. Russia did the same in 1995 under Yeltsin, defeating break-away Chechen guerrillas by destroying their capital city, building by building.


This could be countered by the delivery of more firepower from US weapons. But here again high-tech superiority runs up against logistical limitations. Within 2 months, the US was running low in its supply of the kinds of weapons most in demand in the Urkaine. (WSJ 4.29.22; 7.09.22)  Cranking up production to  manufacture replacements is difficult because the DOD in recent years has shifted its defense budget to future weapons systems, focusing on long-distance war with China rather than front-line combat; and because supply chains in weaponry as in other manufactures having deteriorated and backlogged in recent years. High-tech is no quick fix, except in some very short-run wars.


[3] Pattern of Atrocities 

Atrocities have been big news stories in the period between the first weeks of defeating the Russian blitztkrieg and the shift to artillery battles in later months. Atrocities, by definition, are shocking; but they are not beyond the scope of sociological explanation. There is a pattern when atrocities happen.  

Civilians get targeted particularly in two circumstances:


[a] When guerrilla fighters hide in the civilian population; and civilians are suspected of being lookouts and spotters if not non-uniformed troops. This was also the pattern of widespread US killing of civilians in the Vietnam war; and for incidents of US troops going on rampages in Iraq and Afghanistan, in what they perceived as houses from which hidden roadside IEDs were triggered; or in revenge for green-on-blue shootings by ostensibly allied local troops.


[b] By snipers in urban warfare with no-man’s-land fronts; where high-rise buildings provide protected places very close to dangerous ones; combined with civilians living in the war zone.


Russia atrocities were most publicized for the Kyiv suburbs in the early weeks, and in the siege of Mariupol from March to May. The former, especially the town of Bucha, fits [a]; the latter exemplifies [b].


[a] Russian troops expected an easy conquest of Kyiv and a rapid end to the war. In the early days reportedly they were more polite or friendly to locals. but became increasingly frustrated and angry as they bogged down; all the more so with lack of reinforcements or even food. Russian poor logistics, and inability to defend against attacks on their supply convoys, made soldiers both paranoid and hungry.  They began looting civilian homes for food, putting them in an elemental contest among the hungry. As in previous wars (graphically reported by Loyd for the Bosnia wars of the 1990s), this puts soldiers and civilians into close and abusive relations, spilling over into beatings and executions.


Ukrainian resistance to the Russians in this phase was largely guerrilla war, playing the part of Taliban vs. US, avoiding head-to-head battles but attacking logistics convoys; the difference being in this case that the guerrillas had high-tech man-portable anti-tank missles.


Russians’ perception of civilians as enemies was probably accurate in many cases. News coverage from early February up through the early days of the Russian invasion was full of photos of civilians being trained to use arms. The Ukraine government announced that weapons were being distributed to the entire population. 3.04.22 AP:  "Ukrainian leaders called on the people to defend their homeland by cutting down trees, creating barricades in cities, and attacking enemy columns from the rear. In recent days, authorities have issued weapons to civilians and taught them how to make Molotov cocktails... a video message recalled guerrilla actions in Nazi-occupied Ukraine during WWII." 



Retrospective accounts emerged later: 3.06.22 LATimes "... rifles were handed out to all who were able, and homemade bombs were bottled." 3.23.22 WSJ "In a war of ambushes and skirmishes, mobile Ukrainian forces have used their knowledge of the local battlefield and sought to hit Russian forces on weak points, striking armored columns on main roads and undermining their ability to fight by disrupting supplies... Tens of thousands of ordinary citizens recently have joined territorial battalions and need body armor, helmets [an official said] ... Russian troops in many places have looted stores and homes for food, according to authorities and accounts from witnesses." 4.05.22 WSJ "Civilian Volunteers and Ukraine's Secret Weapon.... When Russian troops were massing across the border, Ukrainian civilians met during weekends to learn how to administer battlefield first aid and how to handle a weapon... they have helped build barricades, patrol roads and even attack Russian convoys and capture enemy soldiers."


5.09.22 WSJ "Civilians Helped Win Kyiv Battle... Ukrainian villagers helped in their own way, calling in artillery strikes on a lifeline Russian had mapped out for its assault on the capital.... villagers shared tips and Google map locations with authorities, turning the highway between the Russian border and Kyiv into a big logistical defeat for Moscow... 'Everyone here was doing all the could to get Russian troop movements across to our boys,' a homemaker said, who had called in soldier locations... [Her] own house was shelled in the exchanges... "The capital's Kyiv Digital app, which once helped people pay parking tickets.. was reconfigured to help users spot Russian movements and give them to the armed forces... [and] explained how to drop pins on Google maps to send to security services, and reminded users to delete their messages or prvent being caught by Russian troops... In mid-March, Russian servicemen broke into the house of [a woman} who had been sending the types and numbers of Russian armor to a Ukrainian police officer, her father. She was detained on March 24 and hasn't been heard of since."


Similar patterns were reported for other battles, such as the port city of Mykolaiv in the south: 4.16.22 WSJ "With communications jammed, Ukraine relied on an ad hoc civilian network to report report Russian positions, and inflicted heavy losses on an attempted assault... [The mayor said] 'All people who can carry a gun are ready to defend ourselves.'"


Some of the “unarmed civilian victims” of Russian atrocities were probably guerrillas. Others were suspected of sending information about Russian positions to Ukrainian forces.


After the withdrawal of Russian forces from central Ukraine at the end of March, a burst of atrocities stories filled the news. 4.06.22 WSJ  "Mayor Helped Resist, Then Was Slain...  The lifeless body [of the mayor of Motyzhyn, a small town west of Kyiv] was found in a shallow grave, her hands bound. Her husband and son lay next to her, dead... The 50-year-old mayor held together her village, cut off and near the fighting at the front [since February 27]. She delivered food and medicine. And she was a leader of the resistance, part of an undercover effort to send Russian troop positions and movements to her country's military... Residents said Russian aggression against locals surged as the Russians came under attacks from Ukrainian artillery and ambush teams... The head of the village's volunteer defense force moved in with [the mayor's family] after his house was damaged by shelling. He and her husband would head out on scouting missions... and she shared the information with Ukrainian forces via cellphone messages. Ukrainian army scouts visited the house for updates...   On March 18, a Ukrainian ambush team sneaked into the village and destroyed a Russian armored vehicle and truck with antitank weapons. The Russians responded with fury. The next day, they launched what they called a clearance operation through the village... Russian soldiers took away [the mayor and her husband], telling [her son] they would bring them back soon. [Her son] called the head of village resistance and warned him to destroy his SIM card to prevent the Russians finding it and identifying him. In the evening, the soldiers returned and took away [the son]."


Most attention was focused on Bucha, in the western suburbs of Kyiv. 4.04.22 AP "Russians Accused of New Atrocities. Reports of Tortured Bodies, Civilian Executions in Kyiv Suburbs Promote Outrage from Ukraine, Western allies. President Considering Stronger Sanctions. America's 'secondary sanctions' would target countries that continue to trade with Russia....


"Bodies with bound hands, close-range gunshot wounds and signs of torture lay scattered in a city on the outskirts of Kyiv after Russian soldiers withdrew from the area... One resident said that Russian troops went building to building and took people out of basements where they were hiding, checking their phones for any evidence of anti-Russian activity before taking them away or shooting them..."


4.10.22 AP  In Bucha "... at the beginning the Russians kept pretty much to themselves, focused on forward progress. When that stalled they went house to house looking for young men, sometimes taking documents and phones. Ukrainian resistance seemed to wear on them. The Russians seemed angrier, more impulsive. Sometimes they seemed drunk... Residents of Bucha, [now] as they venture out of cold homes and basements, offer theories... Some believe the house-to-house targeting younger men was a hunt for those who had fought the Russians in recent years in separatist-held Ukraine and had been given housing in the town. By the end, any shred of discipline broke down. Grenades were tossed into basements, bodies thrown into wells. Women in their 70s were told not to stick their heads out of their homes or they'd be killed.... At first [a 63-year-old woman said], they said they had come for three days. [They stayed a month, leaving on March 31.] Then they got hungry. They got cold. They started to loot. They shot TV screens for no reason. They feared there were spies among the Ukrainians... her nephew was detained after being spotted filming destroyed tanks with his phone. Four days later, he was found in a basement, shot in the ear.... Days later, thinking the Russians were gone, she and her neighbour slipped out to shutter nearby homes and protect them from looting. The Russians caught them and took them to a basement.... Suddenly the soldiers were called away, leaving her and her neighbour shaken but alive."


Another story emerged months later, from a town east of Kyiv: 5.27.22 WSJ On March 19, a 21-year-old farmer, walking to feed his pigs ..."caught the eye of a Russian patrol. They asked if he had been giving away their positions to Ukrainian forces.. 'Is that why we keep getting hit with artillery?' he remembered one of them asking as they searched him for tattoos that might give him away as a combatant. They scrolled through his phone to see if he had sent photos of Russian troops. ... He and a friend were taken to a nearby cellar, where they were beaten.... As days wore on, more civilians were brought in. A 25-year-old math teacher said she was watching in a nearby village as Russian forces trundled along the main road. Her father said he made an inventory of their equipment, peeping over their garden fence, as his daughter relayed the information to a friend in the military... On March 25, Russian soldiers broke into her family home and searched through her phone. She admitted sending information to Ukrainian forces... She was covered with bruises when she arrived at the boiler room. She upbraided the captors for invading Ukraine. 'She asked why they came here to ruin our peaceful lives. You should have seen the Russians' faces. From them on, until she was led out days later, the Russians left her alone and treated her with respect....


"On March 27, the Russian assault on Kyiv was being hampered by insurgent attacks on supply lines and frustrations were boiling. The Russians took [the math teacher and another] away. Nobody has heard of them since....


"Days later, a Russian soldier appeared to be intoxicated, and said he needed eight bodies... He gave them a shot of vodka and asked [the interviewee] to choose who among the other prisoners would die. He refused and told the soldier he wouldn't be able to live with himself. He volunteered to be next.... The Russian soldier pulled him out of the boiler room and led him to a nearby cemetary and told him to get on his knees. A shot rang out but the bullet went past his ear and hit the ground. The Russian pulled him up, telling him he never wanted him to talk that way again.... The next day the Russian soldier returned at 5.30 a.m. and said they were leaving. They listened for the troops' engines to start and fade into the distance.... Twelve prisoners were left in the boiler room. When they walked to the nearby graveyard, they found 6 of those who had been led away to execution were still alive."


Yet another retrospective story from a small village in northern Ukraine, a family sheltered in the cellar of a bombed-out house with 5 Russian soldiers.  5.17.22 WSJ  "Soldiers seized villagers' phones and lined them up in front of a garage while checking their identification. [A young man] was let go after confirming he wasn't military... When his family opened the door leading down to the place where they used to store beet-root and potatoes, they found five Russian soldiers. The intruders invited them in... Elsewhere, residents said Russian soldiers threatened them and looted their homes. But in the cellar, an uneasy accommodation was reached. The Russians [whom they guessed] were tank technicians, sometimes brought food and toiletries apparently looted from the homes of Ukrainians. [One of the Russians did all the cooking] -- 'I think they were afraid we would poison them.' The family ate Russian military rations with them, sometimes contributing potatoes and preserves from their stockpile... On March 30, the soldiers appeared downcast. [until now they had assumed they were winning; next day they retreated] The family followed them out of the cellar and saw a column of Russian vehicles preparing to depart... The five Russian soldiers said goodbye and wished the family the best. 'If you had come as guests, I would say goodbye-- but not like this,' the older man said. 'You are my enemies.'"


These detailed accounts show, paradoxically, that not everyone is killed, even in situations of anger, suspicion, and prolonged strain, where all the power is on one side. Or not paradoxically: as shown elsewhere (Violence: A Micro-sociological Theory ch. 3; Explosive Conflict) face-to-face killing is psychologically difficult; the emotions have to be intense and social supports have to be aligned to carry it off.


[b] Snipers and no-go zones in urban sightlines.  Loyd's [1999] eye-witness account of the wars in Bosnia explains why some fraction of civilians stay: some are reluctant to abandon their homes and possessions; unwilling to live as refugees; some discovering they can survive dangerously, especially if the lines are slow-moving or static. But they have to venture out for water and scavenge for food; often they have to cross no-man's-land, in sight of snipers who have warned them off the streets. And both snipers and civilians are tired, strung-out and careless; snipers often don't shoot, at other times shoot unexpectedly. Taking chances becomes a routine.


4.08.22 WSJ "In early March... Russian troops halted in their advance on Kyiv... Telling local residents they were worried that somebody was reporting their positions to Ukraine's military, Russian soldiers ordered people to stay off the street... But for a 68-year-old superintendent of a home for special-needs children... the only way to get to work was straight into a Russian military no-go zone... A sniper shot him in the road in front of a shrapnel-riddled green gate... By the time the Russians retreated, 17 corpses lay on the street... [A woman] who took charge of a kindergarten where several hundred locals had sought refuge in the basement, went to search for fuel for a generator when... she bumped into two tanks. 'Are you f-ing crazy? There's a sniper here,' she recalled the tank commander warning her. He siphoned fuel from an abandoned car and gave it to her. 'If my grandfather knew I was here, he's turn in his grave,' she recalled him saying; his grandfather was born in northern Ukraine... Russian troops established a curfew, telling locals to stay indoors after 4 p.m., and placed snipers in the town's tallest buildings. Locals said they smelled alcohol on the breath of Russian soldiers at checkpoints...


[Weeks later] "Russian forces were getting bogged down.  Ukrainian army detachments worked secretly in Bucha and other Russian-occupied areas. Special-forces units lobbed grenades at Russian posts, helped guide artillery strikes, and fired small arms from high windows. The Russian soldiers began to scrutinize the local population more fiercely. 'They saw a spotter in every person who lived on the fifth floor' [said a resident]. 'They saw a commando in each of us.' ... On March 10, special Russian units swept through Bucha's residential sectors, destroying doors with fire axes and storming homes, trying to root out the cause for their continuing troubles... Russian troops forced men of fighting age to strip to the skin, and scanned their bodies for military tattoos and the shoulder bruises and trigger-finger calluses that betrayed recent use of weapons... men began disappearing, their dead bodies reappearing on the street days later with their wrists fastened behind their backs.... In the afternoons, as curfew set in, Russian snipers ascended to positions in high-rises trangulated on the intersection of (main streets). 'They told us, 'you can't cross along the road... At all. You can't go anywhere. If you set foot on the sidewalk or the road, you will be immediately killed.' People desperate to flee still made a break for it along the road [out of town]. The first killing was a woman on a bicycle. 'First I heard a shot, then I saw her' [a resident said]. 'How could a grandmother on a bicycle interfere with anyone?'"


In Mariupol and other cities gradually taken by the Russians over a period of two months, bodies piled up in hastily excavated graves [4.23.22 WSJ]. These were not necessarily mass executions; a lot of people died, some shot by snipers; some killed in the house-by-house artillery war as the remaining Ukrainian army sheltered in deep tunnels under an abandoned steel factory. Some of these soldiers, too, made periodic forays above ground for water and food in a live battle zone. Grisly mass graves would also be the result of Russian forces cleaning up the streets after victory.


We can add a third pathway to civilian atrocities: when they are hit by indiscriminate long-distance shelling and bombing of urban targets. The psychology of such attacks is not the emotions of face-to-face confrontation; but cold technical attitudes of destroying an ememy whom we never see. The American airmen who dropped atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima never mentioned anything except the technical details of performing their mission. It was the same with the British pilots who fire-bombed Dresden; no doubt with the Russian artillerists who destroyed Grozni, capital of Chechnya. It is the same attitude as the US officer in Vietnam who said "in order to save [the town], it was necessary to destroy it." The technology of modern weapons of mass destruction makes no distinction between civilians and military; they are all in the path of high-powered modern war.


If we hope to avoid atrocities, we need to think more clearly about the overall pattern.


[4] Polarized perception and historical amnesia

Public figures and commentators refer to almost everything the enemy does as "barbaric" and "brutal." These words do little to explain it.  From an ideal, peaceful standpoint, all fighting is brutal. On calmer reflection, we cannot accurately say that everyone of enemy nationality are barbarians. If some of them commit atrocities, there is a causality of who, where, and when-- a causality that appears to be universal. As polarization declined after several months of war, news reports began to mention incidents where Ukrainian troops accused Russian-speaking residents of being spies for the Russian army, mirroring accusations in the other direction. 5.01.22 AP "Ukraine Cracks Down on 'Traitors' Helping Russian Troops." 6.03.22 WSJ "Security Officers Hunt Kremlin Backers, Spies." 


At the beginning of any war, everything is simplified to innocent good guys and despicable bad guys. This is polarization. We forget everything that our side may have done in the past that isn't wonderful; and remember nothing but the worst about the other side.


The tendency to idealize our allies at the beginning of war leads to overlooking things that later come to light. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was one of the most corrupt countries in Europe, both among government officials and from the mafias that sprung up in all the ex-soviet states in the transition to capitalism. Suddenly, since February 2022, the US and other western states have shown their support by offering (in lieu of their own troops) billions of dollars to the war effort, with little effort to account for what is done with the it. This sets up the likelihood of discovering in future years the kind of corruption of military aid that characterized the wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. This aspect of polarized perception is a time-bound process. Fitting the 3-to-6-month pattern of declining enthusiasm, warnings began to appear in the US  about blindly throwing money at an ally with a history of corruption (6.14.22 WSJ). Zelensky was elected president in 2019 on a platform to overcome corruption; before the war broke out, he was regarded as unsuccessful. His public leadership in the war-- especially his highly-publicized on-line appearances calling for aid from the rest of the world-- elevated his standing (84% high or medium trust, in Ukrainian-controlled areas); but this did not extend to the rest of the Ukrainian government (62% little or no trust in parliament: 6.30.22 WSJ). They think corruption is still there. 


As the period of naive enthusiasm wanes, some people around the world will see the Ukraine war in a more realistic light. Some will press for the benefits of peace, over the costs of vengence. Some will argue that no agreement ever holds; that all aggressors are Hitlers; that no war ever ends in a compromise. That is not the universal lesson of history. To go no further with examples, WWI could have been ended in 1916, when the costly stalemate was recognized and negotiations proposed by all the major participants except France, with Woodrow Wilson offering to mediate; a cabinet coup in England replaced the war-weary Prime Minister with one determined to press the war onwards; resulting in a victory that laid the grounds for WWII. We need better judgment about whether we are in 1939 or in 1916. And about everything else that gets fogged over in the polarized atmosphere of war.


The next few months of summer/autumn 2022 may be coming up to a switching-point. Either a cease-fire will be established, along with negotiations for a settlement; or the war will be futher escalated, by an all-out campaign to retake everything that Russia has conquered since 2016. Costly as the damages of the war have been so far, they will be dwarfed by the costs in lives and livelihoods if the war is allowed to escalate, potentially for years to come, and with global entanglements yet unseen. Above I noted that after hopes for a short decisive war are dashed, a long attrition war can be carried on as long as participants' resources last. If one or another of the participants is a poor country, it is their rich allies who can choose to keep the war going indefinitely. A now-ignored example is Syria, where a multi-sided war has been going on for 11 years, sustained by arms flowing in to all sides; resulting in three-quarters of the population turned into refugees. In Ukraine, to date, about a third of the population are refugees, either internationally or internally displaced (6.03.22 NYT).  This may not even be the worst-case scenario for continued escalation of war in Ukraine.



Dates and details on Ukraine war from Associated Press, New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times

Randall Collins. 2022.  Explosive Confict: Time-Dynamics of Violence. Routledge/Taylor&Francis.

--- 2008. Violence: A Micro-sociological Theory. Princeton Univ. Press.

Anthony King. 2021. Urban Warfare in the Twenty-first Century. Polity Press.

Danilo Mandic. 2021. Gangsters and Other Statesmen. Mafias, Separatists, and Torn States in a Globalized World. Princeton Univ. Press.

Anthony Loyd. 1999. My War Gone By, I Miss It So. Grove Press. [eyewitness account of wars in Bosnia and Chechnya, 1993-95]

James William Gibson. 1986. The Perfect War: Technowar in Vietnam. Atlantic Monthly Press.

David Lane. April 2022. "What Caused Russia to Invade Ukraine?" [includes maps showing the many changes in Ukraine borders; zones of different language-speaking populations; and recent policy to make Ukrainian the exclusive language]