Oppose Racist "Violence Initiative"

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Table of Contents



Box: Federal Psychiatrist Compares Inner-City Youth to Monkeys

Violence Initiative: A High-Level Federal Policy

Box: One Dutch Family

But Hasn't the Violence Initiative Been Stopped Already?

Box: "Biology of Violence" Research Continues



Medicine As Social Control

Violence Is Not Always Bad

"Crime": Who Breaks the Laws...And Who Makes Them

Capitalist System is the Biggest and Most Violent Criminal of All

Box: Racism: Part and Parcel of Capitalism



Blaming the Victims: Reducing Complex Social Problems to Individual Biology

Diagnosing Children as Potential Criminals

Box: Racism and Psychiatry: Past and Present

Violence Research: Where's The Beef?

The "Halo of Molecular Biology"

Box: Biochemical Confusion: Hormones and Neurotransmitters



Box: Crime and Human Nature: The Ideological Offensive

Adopted Children, Identical Twins, and Eugenics

"Heritability" Doesn't Mean "Unchangeability"

Box: Prequel to the Violence Initiative: the XYY Controversy



Racist Ideology + Economic Crisis = Fascist Repression

What You Can Do: A Program To Fight Back

Further Reading

Box: Protests Against the VIolence Initiative

A Position Paper of the International Committee Against Racism (InCAR)

P.O. Box A3338, Chicago IL 60690 December 1993

 Biological Determinism Serves Fascism

Oppose Racist "Violence Initiative"

Imagine a fifth-grade classroom --perhaps in the Bronx or in south central LA. The walls are crumbling and maybe leaking deadly asbestos. There aren't enough books or even desks for the thirty or so children. Anyhow, the books are at best boring and irrelevant, and at worst racist, sexist, and filled with patriotic images of the Good Ole' USA. In comes Deshaun, worried because his mother is sick and late because he had to get his little sister off to school. "Late again!" remarks his teacher nastily, "and take off that hat." Deshaun tries to explain, but the teacher barks, "Don't argue with me." "Aw, shit!" mutters Deshaun as he finds his place, the cap still on his head. Later that morning a government-funded medical researcher -- perhaps from Columbia University or the University of California -- visits the classroom. She is looking for ways to identify and treat potential violent criminals. Deshaun fits her description perfectly: already today he has lost his temper, argued with an adult, defied an adult request, used obscene language, and is obviously angry and resentful. Informing the teacher that Deshaun is sick with "Oppositional Defiant Disorder," the researcher signs him up. Soon he will undergo hospitalization for a spinal tap, an electro-encephalogram and a variety of other medical tests. Then he will probably be dosed with Ritalin, a form of amphetamines (speed).

This is not a scene from "Clockwork Orange." It is an all-too-real part of the "Violence Initiative" of the U.S. government's National Institutes of Health (NIH), a multi-$$billion program designed to apply biological psychiatry to potentially criminal youth, especially young black men. We in the International Committee Against Racism (InCAR) believe that the Violence Initiative is helping to justify increasingly fascist repression in U.S. cities. It must be stopped!

In this pamphlet we will:

  • describe the Violence Initiative in more detail
  • explain why the whole issue is one of political power, not medicine or public health
  • expose the fallacies in the ways that science is used for this political agenda
  • show how the present proposals link up with a long history of racist ideology
  • propose a program of action to STOP THE RACIST VIOLENCE INITIATIVE.


What is the Violence Initiative?

Dr. Frederick Goodwin heads the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). He called the Violence Initiative the federal government's top priority for psychiatric research. He describes it as a public health approach to the large social problem of violence, focusing on "the violence-prone individual" in "high impact urban areas." The NIMH intends "to design and evaluate psychosocial, psychological and medical interventions for at-risk children before they become labeled as delinquent or criminal. This is the basic point of it all," he emphasizes, "to try to find out who might be more likely to go on to becoming labeled eventually as delinquent or criminal...identifying at-risk kids at a very early age before they have become criminalized." These children (some 100,000 or more of them) and their families would then be subjected to psychiatric intervention -- mainly drug therapies.

Violence Initiative: A High-Level Federal Policy

Goodwin went public with the Violence Initiative in February 1992. He had influential backers. The then Secretary of Health and Human Services, Dr. Louis Sullivan, appointed Goodwin to the top NIMH job after he made a series of vile racist remarks comparing black people to monkeys (see box), even though Goodwin's so-called "apology" for them included saying the practically the same thing all over again. Among rhesus monkeys, Goodwin repeated, "all males go off and form gangs, and half of them die ... by evoking aggression in others....Can we learn from that?" Then Sullivan claimed that the NIMH job was a "demotion" for Goodwin because of his racist remarks, when a news release from June 17, 1991 (8 months earlier) had already announced that Goodwin would get this job as part of an agency reorganization!

In June 1992 the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) proposed to coordinate work of seven different federal agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services into a $400 million Youth Violence Prevention Initiative. These agencies included the NIMH, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the Office of Minority Health. This proposal called for a mixed bag of research, ranging from prenatal care to gun control to biopsychiatric techniques of social control. The NIH Initial Research Group that evaluated this program proposed that "early onset of antisocial behavior is essentially genetic, persistent and cumulative, while later onset is environmentally determined and transient." As political scientist Ronald Walters has put it, "there is a strong bias within NIH for the early detection of ... biological markers for aggressiveness in individuals [which] ... would enable researchers to identify them as candidates for early intervention utilizing a variety of agents, including genetic alteration, drug therapy or psychosocial intervention strategies, so as to prevent them from commiting anti-social acts in the future."

Because of the controversy that erupted, and because HHS was tied up with "health reform," this proposal was shelved -- BUT ONLY TEMPORARILY.

In November 1992 the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the National Research Council (NRC) issued a 400-page report, Understanding and Preventing Violence. Work on this had been funded since 1988 by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Justice Department, and the National Science Foundation. The report examined three genetic studies, none of which found any evidence for a genetic factor in violent crime. But it still called for more research on alleged "biological and genetic factors," "new pharmaceuticals that reduce violent behavior" and on whether "male or black persons have a higher potential for violence than others, and if so, why?" It complained that the government is "only" spending $20 million a year on violence research (a serious underestimate: the real figure iscloser to $100 milion) and wants the figure upped to half a billion dollars annually.

Clearly these three events -- the NIMH proposal, the CDC project, and the NRC report -- were closely related. It is not true, as the New York Times (11/13/92) suggested, that they built on "new findings in genetics, biology and neurobiology." They do build on nearly a decade of mass-media propaganda claiming that criminality is "in the genes." All assume that crime and violence are caused by "diseased" individuals and are best addressed by medical authorities.

There is another important link. The key "public relations" event of the genetics-and-crime campaign of the mid-1980s was the publication of Crime and Human Nature by James Q. Wilson and Richard J. Herrnstein in 1985. Within the next few years, Herrnstein wrote a pamphlet for the U.S. Department of Justice entitled Biology and Crime. And immediately after that, the Justice Department co-funded the NRC report that appeared last November -- just in time to support the Violence Initiative funding proposal!

 But Hasn't the Violence Initiative Been Stopped Already?

No. The only thing that was cancelled was a September 1992 conference on "Genetic Factors in Crime: Findings, Uses and Implications" cosponsored by the University of Maryland and the NIH Human Genome Project. This conference was cancelled due to the anti-racist protests of Dr. Peter Breggin and his Center for the Study of Psychiatry, Inc., and a newly formed Washington-based Coalition Against the Violence Initiative. As of October, 1993, NIH was considering restoring funding for this conference.

The conference brochure stated that "genetic and neurobiological research holds out the prospect of identifying individuals who may be predisposed to certain kinds of criminal conduct, of isolating environmental features which trigger those predispositions, and of treating some predispositions with drugs and nonintrusive [sic] therapies." Conference organizers invited as speakers some notorious advocates of the "crime-in-the-genes" theory, including Harvard's Richard Herrnstein and James Q. Wilson. They also invited a variety of liberal scholars, including a few well-known anti-racists. Some of the anti-racists were outraged when they found that their names were being used to give a liberal cover to a conference whose main purpose was to promote the "findings that research on the genetics of crime has already yielded and is likely to yield, and consider the utilization of those findings in criminal investigation and ajudication."

The cancellation of this conference was a small victory, but only a temporary one. The controversy also forced the government agencies involved to back off temporarily -- BUT ONLY TEMPORARILY -- from their most ambitious plans for the Violence Initiative.

Representative John Conyers (D, Mich), who criticized the violence initiative in Congress during the winter and spring, declared in May 1993 that the Clinton administration had scrapped it. But CDC representative James Mercy said that "we have an obligation to pursue this issue." The new head of HSS, Donna Shalala, announced she would develop a plan to address youth violence as "a significant health problem." (Detroit Free Press, May 19, 1993) According to Science (June 11, 1993), violence research "is very much alive. Nine institutes and two centers have funded about 300 research projects totaling $42 million for 1993." And various advisory panels have continued to meet through the summer of 1993.

A government official told members of the NIH special panel in June 1993 that "the violence initiative is 'dead'" but even this hand-picked panel noted that many ongoing NIH projects (including most of the research at NIMH) continue to look for "biological factors that may underlie violent behavior." (Science) In October this panel issued a preliminary report endorsing this research and calling for doubled funding. And it's not just NIH-NIMH. The prestigious MacArthur Foundation and the Department of Justice are currently funding similar studies. Don't be caught off guard!


The idea of "violence as a public health issue" was first proposed by liberals about a decade ago in order to call attention to the horrendous numbers of our youth destroyed by street violence every year. Homicide is the second leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds, and the leading cause of death among black youth. If you add in suicide, the numbers soar still higher. Groups like Deborah Prothrow-Stith's National Institute for Violence Prevention (founded in Boston in the mid-1980s) and the San Francisco-based Physicians for a Violence-Free Society (founded in 1993) have taken up this cause.

The American medical establishment is pushing hard for the "medicalization" of violence. George Lundberg and former surgeon general C. Everett Koop made a formal appeal "to the American Medical Association family of journals to address their June 1993 issues to aspects of violence that are medically relevant." Many of them complied. The Journal of the American Medical Association (vol 267 #22) itself featured an editorial by Koop and Lundberg, a report by J. Mason "From the Assistant Secretary of Health, US Public Health Service: Reducing Youth Violence," and a piece from Surgeon-General Antonia C. Novello on "A Medical Response to Violence." "Medicalization" defines a behavior as an illness that requires treatment by doctors and other supposed "experts." Those who engage in medicalization try to remove social problems from public and political discussion by ordinary people. This arrogant elitism provides a cover for tightened social control.

Medicine As Social Control

According to Maisha Bennett, president of the Association of Black Psychologists, "The question which demands an answer is whether the DHHS Violence Initiative is protecting and promoting African-American life; or whether this initiative actually constitutes an act of violence against the very population it proposes to protect." We say that it is the second! The Violence Initiative assumes that individuals, rather than the system itself, is at fault. Even when public health officials acknowledge that unemployment, racism and poverty are among the causes of street violence, they quickly turn their attention elsewhere. As Ron Walters emphasizes, "when it appears that political leaders consider social strategies [to reduce crime and violence] too costly; they resort to the biomedical model."

The NIMH wants to have teachers and psychiatrists identify kids they think will cause problems for the government. Dr. Goodwin doesn't discuss the issue of seeking informed consent of the patients or even their parents. From his point of view, the children themselves are the public health threat and they must be treated, like it or not, as the government sees fit. The NIMH is focusing on children in "high risk areas," "the innercity," "low economic and educational level of parents," "female headed households" -- all easily recognizable code words for "poor black children." Goodwin's own remarks on this subject make it clear that the Violence Initiative is racist to the core.

The problem of violence is often posed in terms of gang warfare (which results in the majority of non-family murders) and other forms of street crime such as robberies (which are seldom accompanied by murder). But what of violence that is even more widespread and more deadly? What of the acts of well-dressed executives, such as those at Ford Motor Company who estimated that the Pinto policy decision would kill over one hundred people and then casually approved the policy? Or the hospital administrator who turns away an uninsured parent carrying a sick child, or the executive board that approves that policy, or the armed security guard who escorts the parent out of the building? What of landlords who pay arsonists to burn down unprofitable buildings? Or the police who beat up Rodney King and thousands more like him? Is there a national initiative to label these practices a disease based on the biology of these individuals?

Is the terrible fighting in the Balkans supposed to reflect a biological peculiarity of the Serbs, Bosnians and Croats? Have the death squads of El Salvador gone through periods of hormone fluctuations? Was U.S. aid to the Nicaraguan contras a public health intervention? Are pilots who bombed civilian areas in Vietnam, Panama, Grenada and Iraq considered to be infected with the disease of violence? What about the politicians and generals who issued their orders? When NIMH and CDC officials say they want to stop "violence" they're not talking about making pacifists out of the Pentagon!

 The decision to label some behaviors "violent" and others not, to subject those engaging in the former and not the latter to "public health" interventions, is inherently and inescapably political. In particular, it is racist.

 Violence Is Not Always Bad

Both supporters and opponents of the Violence Initiative often talk as if "violence" were always a bad thing. But this, too, is a question of politics. We agree that it's bad when teenage drug-dealers shoot it out over turf, often hurting bystanders as well as each other. We also think it's bad when governments convince or coerce working-class youth from different countries to shoot it out in imperialist turf-battles (for example, over oil). However, in some circumstances violence is not only justifiable but necessary. We would be a lot worse off if nobody had ever taken up arms against slavery, or if workers hadn't taken on the capitalists in violent battles for higher wages, shorter hours, and union recognition. We would be a lot better off if more people had violently resisted the rise of Nazi fascism.

A recent report of the American Psychological Association's Commission on Violence and Youth (August 1993) rejected the idea that violence is "in the genes," saying that it is a learned behavior that can also be unlearned. It recommended school-based programs to teach kids how to manage their anger, negotiate, adopt another's perspective, and think of alternative solutions to disagreements. Physicians for A Violence-Free Society wants doctors to "explore new ways of teaching patients non-violent approaches to conflict resolution."

That's fine when you're talking about a domestic disagreement or two kids on a playground. But what about a racist skinhead who's about to burn down a hostel full of immigrant workers? Or a strikebreaker running a truck over a worker on a picket line? "Opposing violence" should not become an excuse for building passivity in the face of racism or exploitation. Prothrow-Stith's group "is committed to advancing a national agenda for violence prevention that complements criminal justice efforts with public health prevention strategies." This sounds to us suspiciously like getting health care professionals to help the cops prevent justifiable rebellion!

We all need to learn how to distinguish friends or potential friends from real enemies. Most important, we must understand that all workers (employed and unemployed, of whatever color, "race," sex, religion, or nationality) have a common interest in smashing racism and opposing the economic violence and imperialist wars of the capitalist system. Among friends we need patience and persuasion, but the class war requires a multi-racial, militant, and sometimes violent fight-back. Think of abolitionists Nat Turner and John Brown, of Ida B. Wells Barnett (who wore two pistols to defy the KKK lynch mobs), of the women, men, and children who rose in arms against the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto and at Stalingrad, and of the militant youth of Soweto and the Intifada.

 "Crime": Who Breaks the Laws...And Who Makes Them

The concept of "violence" is often linked with the concept of "crime." For many, the word conjures up images of an unknown mugger on a dark street or a mysterious rapist climbing into a bedroom window: the image racist Bush brought to TV with the face of Willie Horton. In fact, we are constantly being bombarded with images of "crime": much of local radio/TV/newspaper "news" consists of crime reporting; there are dozens of police or private detective shows on TV, crime movies, even the comics. During the first half of 1993, this barrage was intensified as Clinton forces pushed for his big "anti-crime" bill. According to the New York Times, this media blitz led huge numbers of people to conclude that crime was the #1 social problem in the US.

Actual "crime" statistics are very unreliable. It is certain, however, that federal, state and local government expenditures for police are increasing: for example, from $4.9 billion in 1970 to $20.3 billion in 1983. State government spending for prisons increased from $1.1 billion to $6.7 billion over the same period. These spectacular increases have continued, most recently with Clinton's "crime bill" putting thousands more cops on the streets. As of 1992 more young black U.S. men were in the criminal justice system than in college, and a higher proportion were in the criminal justice system than among young black South African men. "Crime" publicity is meant to justify these huge costs to the taxpayers, while encouraging people to rely on the cops to protect "us" from "them."

Police records of crime and delinquency are virtually the only data "violence researchers" have to measure what they call the "epidemiology" of violence. But laws are enacted and selectively enforced by governments pursuing specific social ends. German judges have recently been accused of "right-eye blindness" for the lenient sentences they give to neonazi thugs. In the US, the violent act of killing someone may or may not be illegal, depending on the circumstances. Is the killer an Air Force bombardier over an Iraqi bomb shelter, or the official executioner of the state of Texas, or a New York City cop shooting wildly at a bank robber and his hostage and killing both? Then the killing will never show up in "crime" statistics -- or in "scientific" studies of biological causes of crime.

Many of the young urban men counted in crime statistics were convicted of selling drugs. But producers and dealers of other drugs, like alcohol and tobacco, are not counted as criminals. These racist killers market their products to children and youth (as with the "Joe Camel" campaign) and target predominantly black and latin neighborhoods. This has nothing to do with the biological characteristics of the "criminals" versus "non-criminals." It simply reflects the economic interests that have ensured that some drugs but not others are illegal. The U.S. tobacco, liquor, and pharmaceutical industries are the biggest drug dealers in the world.

 Capitalist System is the Biggest and Most Violent Criminal of All

Some 90% of U.S. law regulates and implements the capitalist system of private property. At the very core of this system is a form of armed robbery: the capitalists use the cops, the courts, and the treat of starvation to force workers to work more than they need to support themselves and their families. Then they take for themselves the surplus value the workers produce. This is especially clear in places like Haiti or El Salvador, where the most intense exploitation of the workers is enforced with the most brutal repression, backed by the U.S. military.

Meanwhile, capitalism perpetuates mass unemployment, hunger, and preventable disease -- three plagues that kill far more people than urban youth do. But none of this is officially "criminal." None of it violates the law. None of it prompts calls for the screening of children at elite private schools to identify likely perpetrators for early biomedical intervention.

The U.S. rulers claim they want to stop violence and crime when they themselves are the most violent criminals of all. Their profit system kills tens of thousands of people worldwide EVERY DAY through malnutrition and preventable disease. It kills hundreds of thousands more in wars for profit, and millions every time international capitalist competition leads to world war. But all this is perfectly legal, because the capitalists themselves make the laws.

In Capital, Karl Marx described how the breakdown of feudal society created a new criminal class: peasants uprooted from the land and forced to steal in order to eat. Rising capitalism used brutally harsh laws to drive these laborers into public workhouses and private mines, mills, and factories. Marx also analyzed how capitalists constantly introduce labor saving technologies in both agriculture and manufacturing to produce as cheaply as possible. Only thus can they survive in a competitive marketplace. But more production from fewer workers means a "relative surplus population:" increasing numbers of the unemployed. Marx pointed out that capitalism cannot even support "the slave within his slavery, because it cannot help letting him sink into such a state, that it has to feed him, instead of being fed by him."

But the crisis of US capitalism has brought with it the destruction of many of the social programs that have fed the unemployed. So inevitably a certain percentage choose street crime: the capitalism of the poor. The bosses are happy to see working class youth high on drugs or killing each other rather than fighting back against the system. U.S. capitalism can't provide jobs or a decent future for most young people. Thus capitalism itself, by its very nature, creates the "crime wave" that the "violence initiative" falsely claims it will stop.

Violence and crime, however and whoever defines them, are political and social problems -- not medical ones.


"If we find a gene that increases the risk of alcoholism, manic-depression, or whatever, then we'll find what protein that gene codes for. If we then find out what the protein does, we can understand the basic mechanism of the disease. And if we understand the basic mechanism, then we can develop new treatments." -- Richard Cloninger, M.D., Psychiatrist, Washington University (as quoted in the Wall Street Journal)

This quote summarizes the assumptions of the current focus on criminal behavior: (1) that complex social problems can be reduced to simply-defined individual behaviors; (2) that the appropriate (scientific) approach is to focus on biological or "disease" aspects of such behaviors; and (3) that it is singularly important to focus on genetic determinants of those biological aspects. These same assumptions characterized eugenics movements of the 1910s and 1920s. Both the logic and the data purporting to support them are just as flawed today as they were back then.

 Blaming the Victims: Reducing Complex Social Problems to Individual Biology

The Violence Initiative equates the social problem of "crime" with the existence of criminal individuals. In Goodwin's words: "The predominant tradition in criminology...has been sociological. The working assumption of this literature is that social forces explain behavior and that the variables measured involve large groups of people....In contrast, there is [sic] the clinical approaches which are traditional in psychology and psychiatry, social work and the clinical disciplines. And here the assumption is that behavioral forces must be on an individual basis to understand the causal factors and to, in fact, intervene."

Goodwin has to admit the relevance of "macro-environmental factors," including poor housing and schools, deteriorating economic conditions, and even what he calls the denial of "experiences of significance," although he never mentions racism or mass unemployment. But instead of addressing these directly, he treats them as "risk factors which have been hypothesized to contribute to a younger age of onset and the higher probability of the continuation and intensification of violent behavior." For Goodwin, the root of the problem is the defective individual child.

The NAS-NRC report Understanding and Preventing Violence similarly focuses on "individual vulnerabilities" and proposes a search for "neurobiologic markers for persons with elevated potentials for violent behavior." It calls for large-scale studies following individuals almost frrom birth to adulthood, especially in the inner cities, looking for "biological and hehavioral characteristics of infants that increase their risk of growing up to commit violent crimes." Literature for the Maryland conference on "Genetic Factors in Crime" claimed that "genetic research holds out the prospect of identifying individuals who may be predisposed to certain kinds of criminal conduct, of isolating environmental features which trigger those predispositions, and of treating some predispositions with drugs and unintrusive [sic] therapies."

But crime (and even "violence") only exist in a social context. If it were somehow possible to isolate a young child from society, that child could not become a criminal (violent or otherwise) because there would be no laws to break! Or suppose that the child grows up to join an organized group of young men who ritually chant violent slogans and train with deadly weapons. Is this evidence that he had a "predisposition" to a "certain kind of criminal conduct" that was "triggered" by recruitment to a gang, a KKKlavern, or the Marine Corps?

In sum, we cannot even define -- much less understand or explain -- "crime" or "violence" without reference to the society in which it takes place. Any theory, biological, psychological, or whatever, that tries to reduce "crime" to "individuals predisposed to crime" is inherently flawed.

Diagnosing Children as Potential Criminals

The Youth Violence Prevention Initiative is not even aimed at those convicted of violating laws or perpetrating violent acts. It is aimed at grade-school children.

NIMH-funded research uses the diagnostic categories of the American Psychiatric Association's 1987 manual (DSM-III-R for short). This fat book has a section on "Disruptive Behavior Disorders." Of course it says nothing about the racist and repressive institutions that disrupt kids' lives, or about the fact that such institutions ought to be disrupted! Instead it pigeonholes kids (most often boys) as Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and Conduct Disorder. For example, a kid who often loses his or her temper, often argues with adults, actively defies or refuses adult requests or rules, is angry and resentful, and swears or uses obscene language can be labeled with "Oppositional Defiant Disorder." Never mind that the kid might have good reason -- for example, if he or she is stuck all day with a racist teacher. If a child also is caught stealing on the sly at least twice, "often lies," and is "often truant" he can be labeled with the more serious "Conduct Disorder."

Psychiatrists have conned many parents (especially in middle-class families) into worrying about "hyperactivity" or "attention deficit." A child might earn this label by being fidgety (or just feeling restless, if a teenager), not remaining seated when required to do so, getting distracted from assigned tasks, not paying attention, talking "excessively", not seeming to listen, blurting out answers to questions before they have been completed, and often losing things.

Only a sick society would call such children "sick" and drug them into passivity. And, as the Breggins have pointed out, these diagnoses are racist. A white child from an affluent family might be labeled "attention deficit" while a working-class black or latin child with similar problems is labeled "oppositional defiant," mentally retarded, or severely emotionally disturbed.

 Violence Research: Where's The Beef?

Goodwin himself admits that "we don't have a matching agreement about measurements of behaviors which relate to violence which are not part of diagnostic criteria, such as scales for violence itself, scales for impulsivity, scales for aggressiveness." This is a significant admission, for "impulsivity" and "aggressiveness" have been key elements in reductionist theories of crime. For example, James Q. Wilson and Richard J. Herrnstein in their influential book Crime and Human Nature (1985) claimed there is a relatively permanent personality "trait", typified by the criminal's inability to "delay gratification of impulses." This abnormal type of person, say the authors, "cannot resist the rewards of an immediately available opportunity" and therefore "snatches a purse if it is ready at hand."

Wilson and Herrnstein referred to a few limited and questionable social-psychological studies, which lent their book the aura of "science." As the psychologist Dr. Leon J. Kamin put it in a detailed review in Scientific American (Feb. 1986), "tiny snippets of data are plucked from a stew of conflicting and often nonsensical experimental results. Those snippets are then strung together in an effort to tell a convincing story, rather in the manner of a clever lawyer building a case." For example, one study asked high school students whether they would save or spend certain sums of money, and found that "delinquents" were more likely than "non-delinquents" to say they would spend the money. However, this correlation, only held for small sums (25 cents or $2) and not for large ones ($20 or $200). As Kamin shows, it took some twisting to interpret this as supporting the hypothesis that "delinquents" are more impulsive or present-oriented.

But the patent limitations of reductionist attempts to ground crime in identifiable traits of pathological individuals, from the "criminal anthropology" of Cesare Lombroso a century ago to Wilson and Herrnstein in our own time, have not deterred Goodwin and his merry band from trying again.

 The "Halo of Molecular Biology"

Talk about biological traits usually slides smoothly into talk about genetics, as the quote from Robert Cloninger shows. "There is a genetic contribution to any social personality disorder," Goodwin told the American Psychiatric Association in May 1992, "The environment does not cause one to be violent or to develop a criminal record if there isn't a [genetic] vulnerability already there."

Molecular biology has had spectacular success recently in identifying genes related to specific diseases such as cystic fibrosis. The Human Genome Project, an effort to map and sequence all human genes, is moving along even faster than expected. It is being used as a cover for a tremendous resurgence in eugenic thinking, one which makes the "sociobiology" of the 1970s look like a tiny blip. Even some liberal scientists are jumping on the bandwagon: for example, efforts to prove that homosexuality is "all in the genes."

Ironically, the "genetics" studies cited by biocriminologists owe nothing to the new molecular biology that has flourished since the 1950s. No geneticist in the Genome Project would consider hunting for "crime genes," and if the Genome Project actually achieves its goal, advocates of social control through genetics will be hard-pressed to maintain what one critic, Professor Troy Duster, has called the "halo of molecular biology."


Reductionists often try to link "traits" such as criminality with biological observables. In 1887, the criminal anthropologist Cesare Lombroso claimed he could identify criminals by physical characteristics he called "stigmata." For example, he said thieves had small, restless eyes while sex criminals had bright eyes and cracked voices. In general, Lombroso said, the more "apish" a person was (thick skull, large jaw, long arms, darker skin) the more likely he or she was to be a criminal. This garbage did a lot of damage in its time, becoming important criteria in criminal trials. Who knows how many were unjustly condemned by Lombroso's racism?

The Harvard anthropologist E. A. Hooton set out in 1926 to update Lombroso's techniques with financial support from the Social Science Research Council and other sources. Unlike Lombroso, Hooton categorized his 17,000 research subjects according to nationality and race, as he measured 125 characteristics for each one. By the time his book Crime and the Man appeared in 1939, English and American critics found Hooton's views to be uncomfortably similar to those of the Nazis. However, he had meanwhile promoted his racist ideas among his graduate students, many of them future leaders of American physical anthropology, and his undergraduate pre-medical students.

Pro-Nazi "race hygienists" held their Fourth Congress of Criminal Biology at Hamburg in June 1934, building on two decades worth of "research" on the supposed genetic basis of crime. Within a few more years, most German universities offered courses on this subject. In 1936 the Nazi "Justice" minister funded fifty research centers nationwide to investigate links between genetics, race and crime, especially in young offenders. Three years later, Nazi boss Himmler ordered that genetic examination be a routine part of criminal investigation. As historian Robert Proctor put it, "Science thus conspired in the solution to the Jewish question....To be Jewish was to be both sick and criminal; Nazi medical science and policy united to help 'solve' this problem."

During the 1940s, Harvard professor W. H. Sheldon measured individual variations in physique, concluding that 200 Boston delinquents were preponderantly "mesomorphic" (square, muscular) in contrast to a group of 4000 college students. Wilson and Herrnstein cited this conclusion some 40 years later as evidence of the "constitutional" underpinning of the criminal personality "trait." As Kamin noted, however, they omitted mention of later studies such as one that showed a sample of Princeton students to be more "mesomorphic" than the Boston delinquents.

In the words of historian Elazar Barkan, Herrnstein and Wilson's book Crime and Human Nature (1985) "is a testimony that Hooton's ideas have been rejuvenated at Harvard." And as Richard Lewontin, Steven Rose, and Leon J. Kamin said in their 1984 book Not In Our Genes: Biology, Ideology, and Human Nature, "There is an unbroken line of science from the criminal anthropology of 1876 to the criminal cytogenetics of 1975, yet the evidence and argument of determinist claims remain as weak now as they were a hundred years ago." (p. 25)

Adopted Children, Identical Twins, and Eugenics

Biocriminologists today actually use the kind of "family studies" originally popularized by eugenics advocates like Francis Galton and Charles Benedict Davenport in the early years of the century. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, it was the Jukes family who served as a graphic example of the inheritance of crime; in the 1910s they were joined in the textbooks by the Kallikaks and other families (real or imagined) given fictional names by the eugenists: the "Tribe of Ishmael," the "Pineys," the "Happy Hickory" family, etc. These ideas were introduced to a still broader public in the novels of Jack London and by the science-fiction writer Phil Nowlan in his racist "yellow peril" novel Armageddon 2419 A.D., the original "Buck Rogers" story.

More recent studies examine identical twins who have been separated very young. This movement got a big boost in the 1960s, when arch-racist William Shockley (of "genius sperm bank" fame) got Berkeley professor Arthur Jensen working on his 1969 Harvard Educational Review article. Jensen suggested that Head Start had failed (!) because the kids were just born dumb and that black/white differences in average IQ scores reflected inherited racial differences in intelligence. This let loose a torrent of racist propaganda, including Richard Herrnstein's claim that unemployment might run in the genes. It also provoked a storm of anti-racist protest, including the organization of the International Committee Against Racism (InCAR).

Princeton psychologist Leon Kamin showed convincingly that Jensen's whole argument depended on fraudulent "data" collected by Cyril Burt over a 40-year period. But meanwhile Jensen had inspired his student Thomas Bouchard to "research" the heritability of personality. In 1979, Bouchard began his "Minnesota Twins" study with a pair of separated identical twins named Jim, whose first and second wives had the same names, who both drove Chevys and who had given their dogs the same name (among other coincidences). Mass media publicity rounded up other pairs of separated twins who were eager to show off their identical tastes for particular brands of beer or cigarettes or their identical peculiar habits.

Bouchard's work was (and is) so shaky that he has been able to get almost none of it published in scientific journals. Biologists at his own school, the University of Minnesota, refuse to take it seriously. Some of the data he has published (in very obscure journals) contradicts his main thesis that personality is largely determined by the genes. But the mass media have uncritically brought Bouchard's ideas to a huge audience through popular science journals, Time and Rolling Stone magazines, the New York Times and the Washington Post, and the "Tonight" show -- to name just a few.

Today the new eugenicists rely mainly on a series of studies based on adoption records kept by the Danish and Swedish governments. This work was helped along by the Scientific Affairs Division of the NATO military alliance, which sponsored an "Advanced Study Institute" in Italy during September, 1986 on "Biolobical Bases of Antisocial Behavior'" and later published a volume of the conference papers edited by Sarnoff A. Mednick and a co-worker.

Goodwin singles out a 1984 paper in a series by Mednick's group on the chances of an offspring removed from a criminal biological parent developing a criminal record him/herself if the adoptive parents do or do not also have criminal records. He concludes from this study that "the environment does not cause one to be violent or to develop a criminal record if there isn't a vulnerability already there but if there is a vulnerability already there then certainly a bad environment can amplify it." Wilson and Herrnstein cite the same body of research.

There's a lot wrong with each one of these studies. For example, Mednick's correlations only held for crimes of property, and not for violent crime. In another study of female prisoners, their "crimes" included prostitution, adultery, bigamy, desertion, and transmitting a venereal disease. Is there supposed to be one gene that impels its possessor to engage in all of these behaviors? Could the biological basis of criminality be abolished by decriminalizing these behaviors? Or does the gene somehow allow its possessor to intuit what is and is not legal and then "code" for behavior that happens to be illegal? Any way you look at it, this is ridiculous. 

"Heritability" Doesn't Mean "Unchangeability"

Other criticisms apply to the whole genre of studies. For example, correlation is often confused with causation. Correlation simply means finding that two characteristics tend to be found together. Causation is a much stronger claim that the two are interconnected in such a way that one leads to the other. One of the most elementary lessons in statistics is that correlation does not imply causation, or even a common cause. For example, your age over the last ten years shows a strong statistical correlation with the size of the national debt: both have been increasing steadily. But did one cause the other?

Another problem occurs when researchers turn to "heritability" estimates. "Heritability" is a statistical method of estimating what proportion of the total variation in a trait that can be accounted for by genetic variation in a given population in a given environment. But popularizers, and sometimes the researchers themselves, confuse this statistical concept of "heritability" with the biological concept of "genetically determined" and the social concept of "unchangeable," which are not at all the same things. The heritability of a given trait might be extremely high and yet have (as Lewontin, Rose and Kamin point out) "absolutely no predictive power for the result of changing the set of environments." To illustrate: several diseases (such as phenylketonuria and Wilson's disease) are known to be single-gene disorders. However, whether or not the possessors of that gene develop the symptoms of the disease depends entirely on whether or not their environment includes appropriate medical or dietary interventions.

Major methodological flaws such as these have been dissected in detail in the case of the IQ controversy: for example, by Leon Kamin in The Science and Politics of IQ and by Lewontin, Rose and Kamin in Not In Our Genes. The same flaws reappear in the biocriminology studies now being cited in support of the Violence Initiative.


"What is the direct evidence for genetic control of specific human social behavior?" asked Stephen Jay Gould, answering his own question: "At the moment, the answer is none whatever."


In an editorial provocatively entitled "Anatomy Of An Attempted Murder: How To Kill Research On Violent Behavior", Deborah M. Barnes, editor of the Journal of NIH Research, nearly drowned her readers in self-righteous indignation over the cancellation of the Maryland "Genetics and Crime" conference. "At the heart of the controversy," she asserted, "is a deep-seated fear of discovering that human behaviors, even violent ones, have biological roots." (We wonder whether Barnes think that this "fear" is genetic!) Opponents of the Violence Initiative, she suggested, are against scientific inquiry itself.

We disagree. There is no valid scientific rationale for the Violence Initiative. There have been no recent scientific advances which might justify its political agenda. There is no prospect of making scientific advances using the concepts and methods employed by advocates of the Violence Initiative. "But shouldn't we be willing to follow up any possibility?" some might ask. One might as well say that the Nazi doctors were justified in trying to link "Jewishness" to a variety of social evils because of the "possibility" that such a correlation might have been found.

 Racist Ideology + Economic Crisis = Fascist Repression

The Violence Initiative is being promoted by some of the most influential people in the U.S. government. And it ties directly into the ruling class strategy for maintaining "law and order" in a society coming apart at the seams due to social conflicts stemming from extreme racism and economic injustice. In Chicago, for example, the per capita annual income in the wealthiest neighborhood (the overwhelmingly white "Gold Coast") is $82,000 while in the poorest (the 100% black Stateway Gardens) it is $1600. That's a ratio of over 50:1, and that's just comparing income, not total assets!

President Clinton's aides have already admitted that he can't work economic miracles like eliminating the deficit or creating jobs. And it is precisely the economic crisis of the capitalist system that is both raising the "crime" rate and forcing the rulers to adopt increasingly repressive policies against justifiably rebellious people, especially against black and latin youth in the cities.

 The $billions that the federal government plans to spend on the Violence Initiative could create thousands of jobs outright. These jobs could provide much-needed services for the larger community. This "experiment" could test the hypothesis that rising crime is related to rising unemployment and poverty. Of course, providing decent jobs for everyone who needs one would take far more capital investment than the Violence Initiative, although far more social value would also be generated by putting everyone to work. That's why the Violence Initiative is such an attractive option to federal authorities in the first place!

In this period, the U.S. capitalists are experimenting with "pilot programs" to see what forms of fascist rule will be most effective for them in forcing the working class to submit to a rapidly declining standard of living. Should they rely on psychiatrists administering prescription drugs to ever larger numbers of schoolchildren? Will they try once again to sterilize or castrate those convicted of crimes, or to tamper with their brains? Will they resort to military-style "boot camps" in a National Youth Service, or to massive police occupation of black working-class communities and other policies now being implemented under the federal "Weed and Seed" project? Or will we be subjected to "all of the above"?

 One thing is already clear. The U.S. rulers are relying on "violence research" and its publicity to convince older workers and middle-class people, particularly white professionals, to blame black and latin youth for all the evils of the capitalist system. The Violence Initiative is one of the main vehicles for this fascist agenda. It must be stopped!

What You Can Do: A Program To Fight Back

1. Get the word out about what is going on. Write articles for newsletters of professional and community organizations, or for local newspapers, etc. Organize sessions at professional meetings, or presentations for local groups (churches, PTAs, etc.) Additional copies of this pamphlet are available from the International Committee Against Racism (InCAR), P.O. Box A3338, Chicago IL 60690 (312-663-4138). The Center for the Study of Psychiatry Inc. (301-652-5580) has made available a series of reports and a packet of clippings and reprints.

2. Organize to protest against the Violence Initiative using a variety of forums and tactics. Raise the demands that the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala, cancel the Violence Initiative, that all racist violence research be stopped, and that Frederick Goodwin be fired from the directorship of NIMH.

3. Fight for decent jobs and job-training programs, especially for young people. Build alliances among professionals, employed and unemployed workers, and the youth. Join the International Committee Against Racism (InCAR).

To contact InCAR:

East Coast Midwest West Coast Latin America

212-629-0002 312-663-4138 213-293-4538 A.A. 35498

P.O. Box 904 P.O. Box A3338 2601B M.L.King Jr. Blvd. Bogota, Colombia

Brooklyn NY 11202 Chicago IL 60690 Los Angeles CA 90018

"Biology of Violence" Research Continues

According to Peter Breggin and Ginger Ross Breggin, the hundreds of ongoing federally-funded violence research projects include:

· An in-house NIMH project headed by Judith Rapoport on "Neurobiology of Disruptive Behavior Disorders," scheduled to continue at least through 1995. This subjects children to spinal taps and experimental drugs -- at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars

· James M. Dabbs, a psychologist at Georgia State University in Atlanta, is studying "Testosterone and Anti-Social Behavior" by trying to measure testosterone levels in saliva.

· Rachel Klein of the Long Island Jewish Medical Center and Columbia University is studying Ritalin treatment for young teenagers with "Conduct Disorder," most of them black and latin. Other recipients of NIMH money for research on drugging children include Michael G. Aman of Ohio State University; Kenneth D. Gadow of SUNY-Stony Brook; Russell A. Barkley of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and Robert K. McMurnett of the University of California-Irvine.

· Gail Wasserman, in the Department of Child Psychiatry at Columbia, is trying to identify "early predictors of anti-social behavior" in the younger brothers of black and latin men arrested in Manhattan and the Bronx by using EEGs, blood work, and neurological tests.

· Felton Earls at Harvard is running a multi-million dollar program, funded by the Department of Justice and the MacArthur Foundation, to screen over 10,000 young people (some of them prenatally!) to find potential criminals and delinquents.

· David Goldman got $200,000 from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism for "Molecular Genetic Studies of Disturbed Serotonin Function" in which scores of "violent offenders," many of them children, have already been given spinal taps and brain scans.

· The NIMH has coughed up $12 million for a multi-site, multi-year experiment in drugging over 700 children with Ritalin. Recipients include Howard B. Abikoff, Long Island Jewish Medical Center and James M. Swanson of the University of California. A group of black psychologists, led by Dr. Jacquelyne Faye Jackson, have already attacked this study, linking it with the Violence Initiative.

 These and all other studies like them must be stopped.

Prequel To the Violence Initiative: THE XYY CONTROVERSY

In the 1991 movie "Aliens III", the heroine's spaceship crashlands on a remote planet serving as a prison colony for Earthlings. The prisoners, all hardened violent criminals, are males with an extra Y chromosome (XYY). ("Why you want the help of us Y-chromo boys?" growls one.) The myth that an extra Y is a "criminal chromosome" was debunked 20 years ago. The fact that it surfaced in a recent movie testifies to the durability of the sort of scientific myths that underpin the Violence Prevention Initiative.

In the mid-1960s Patricia Jacobs noted that XYY males were over-represented in a mental-penal institution in Scotland. These XYY males were reported to be on the average taller than the average XY male and those institutionalized had been diagnosed as mildly retarded. The overwhelming majority of XYY males, however, are never arrested and are often not even identified as such. Jacobs speculated that an extra Y chromosome might predispose to aggressive behavior.

The media quickly sensationalized the XYY theory of crime, even misidentifying the mass murderer Richard Speck as an XYY male. A former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Bentley Glass, fantasized that abortion would "rid us of . . . sex deviants such as the XYY type." Meanwhile, Harvard researchers proposed screening the infants born in a Boston hospital for XYY, and observing them as they grew up for evidence of "aggressive" or "criminal" behavior. Fortunately, organized opposition by the radical group Science for the People prevented this study from being carried out.

Biology texts perpetuated the myth, arguing falsely that (1) the Y chromosome causes maleness, which is mediated by testosterone; (2) testosterone is linked to "aggression" (as in the 'roid rage of athletes on steroids); (3) more Y chromosome means more maleness, more testosterone, more aggression, hence crime.

But there was no evidence that XYY males had higher testosterone levels, and the association of "maleness" with "aggression" was just an old sexist stereotype. Soon the "criminal chromosome" hypothesis collapsed. XYY males were not over-represented in ordinary prisons, only in those for mentally-disabled criminals. Most embarrassing for the theory was a study of the crimes for which XYY men were incarcerated: nearly all had been jailed for non-violent property crimes ranging from shoplifting to embezzlement. So much for genes for "aggression."


But this didn't stop the NIMH from issuing a report in 1980, Behavioral Genetics, that claimed that "the extra Y does create some special risk for developing antisocial behavior" even though the same report admitted that no evidence had been found for this!

One Dutch Family


"Study Finds a Genetic Flaw That May Explain Some Male Violence" -- this and similar headlines hit the New York Times and other newspapers in October 1993. The study was reported in the influential Science magazine, flagged by the editor as being of special interest. But just what did the researchers find?

* They studied only one family in the Netherlands.

* Some men in that family showed "erratic and often hostile behavior" ranging from shouting and cursing to arson and attempted rape.

* These men and some of their "normal" relatives have a specific genetic mutation that results in a specific enzyme deficiency.

That's it! Even the researchers themselves admitted that "even in a seemingly straightforward case like an enzyme disorder, the spectrum of the afflicted men's behavior cannot be explained by a single genetic defect alone." They do not claim to have found a genetic cause of aggression.

But that doesn't stop Dr. Markku Linnoila, scientific director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, from calling this very limited study "an important step in understanding the biological determinants of human behavior." It doesn't stop the Times from printing misleading headlines.

It's not enough just to do "good" and "honest" scientific research when the capitalists (through their mass media and their financial control over science) have the power to twist the results to meet their own needs.

Crime and Human Nature: The Ideological Offensive

Although the Violence Initiative is relatively new, the ideology underpinning it has been promoted in the mass media for over a decade. In January 18, 1982, Newsweek featured Sarnoff Mednick, a California psychologist who purported to link "bad genes" with crime. This brief release was the beginning of a veritable flood. For example, The Washington Post (3/5/84) promoted the book Inside the Criminal Mind, by a psychologist named Samenow, that claimed that "...criminals commit crimes because they like to." The Post followed this up a few months later with a piece on how "British scientists invent method to identify genes of criminals." (12/23/84)

During the late 1970s, Herrnstein and Wilson taught an undergraduate course on "Crime and Human Nature" in the Harvard University "Core curriculum." Its most thoroughgoing exposition was James Q. Wilson and Richard J. Herrnstein's book Crime and Human Nature, which came "hot" off Simon and Schuster's press in 1986 straight into the open arms of the capitalist mass media -- including, for example, publicity on The Phil Donahue Show. Parts of Wilson and Herrnstein's book appeared in the Atlantic Monthly and The Public Interest. The New York Times Magazine (8/4/85) helped them along by featuring their answer to the leading question, "Are Criminals Made or Born?" Fortune magazine, wedded to Rockefeller money, ran a story on the Harvard duo, and The Wall Street Journal informed the U.S. business community that "Researchers Close in On Some Genetic Bases of Antisocial Behavior." This piece featured the work of Washington University psychiatrist C. Robert Cloninger.

Wilson and Herrnstein's book was heralded in a pre-publication piece in U.S. News & World Report, in which Wilson revealed the basic outline of the book and glamorized for the public the idea of the inheritance of criminal behavior. Time followed suit (October 21, 1985) with a piece linking Herrnstein's new claim that there are genes for criminal behavior with his old work based on the idea that there are genes for "intelligence." A second U.S. News article (Feb. 10, 1986) following the book's release to the general public also highlighted concurrent studies trying to prove the inheritance of criminality. These included work by psychologists, psychiatrists, and criminologists such as Cloninger (but not geneticists). Meanwhile, a piece entitled "Born to Rob? Why Criminals Do It", in The Washington Monthly (December 1985), citing Crime and Human Nature, also publicized the theory that certain people are genetically predisposed to a life of crime.

Perhaps the most important cheerleader for Wilson and Herrnstein was then-Mayor of New York, Edward Koch. He reviewed their book in the pages of Policy Review (Winter 1986), a publication of the extreme right-wing Heritage Foundation, under the provocative title, "The Mugger and His Genes." Koch praised the thesis that "certain individual biological -- indeed genetic -- traits, when combined with an uncertain moral environment, produce criminal behavior. Moreover, these traits can barely be changed, if at all." Koch also emphasized the application of the book's ideas to law and public policy: instead of government trying to "reshape human nature," he implied, harsher punishment (and perhaps even a revived eugenics program) was needed to reduce crime. Commentary followed suit with a piece by J. Adelson appropriately titled, "Back to Criminal Psychology." (March 1986).

The corporate interconnections among the U.S. mass media and the largest banks and corporations have been well documented. This media-industrial complex orchestrated a major promotional campaign for the "crime-in-the-genes" theory in the mid- to late 1980s, with Crime and Human Nature playing the leading role. It was not simply a "hot" topic: for example, Not In Our Genes (whose authors' credentials are more than a match for those of Wilson and Herrnstein) received no such coordinated ballyhoo.

Make no mistake: the U.S. ruling class selectively promotes that scientific work which provides ideological justification for its own repressive and exploitative policies. The U.S. rulers made very sure that millions of workers, students, and professionals were exposed to Wilson and Herrnstein's views . . . and not to those of their opponents. If people hear this stuff often enough, many begin to believe it.

Racism: Part and Parcel of Capitalism

The ruling class fears working class insurgency against its racist system. It is largely to avert this threat that the rulers promote racist theories of biological determinism, which label those impoverished by the system as morally, biologically, psychologically, or intellectually deficient (or some combination of these).

Racism is the main way that poverty is organized. A "minority" group (black people and immigrants in many U.S. cities; Filipinos and Koreans in Tokyo; Poles in Berlin; indigenous people in Latin America; Sri Lankans in Kuwait; etc.) is segregated and subjected to economic discrimination, and thus forced to bear a disproportionate share of the poverty and unemployment that affects the whole working class. The ruling class can then promote the idea that these individuals are themselves to blame for their own plight and for that of their "majority" working class neighbors.

In the U.S., pro-capitalist intellectuals have promoted the myth of an "underclass" of permanently unemployed and unemployable individuals whom workers and professionals are expected to see as a parasitic burden. In reality, many workers move back and forth between full employment, part-time work, and joblessness. Very few individuals are permanently unemployed. If anyone is a parasite, it is the commodities trader, the junk-bond dealer, the coupon-clipper or the banker who lives high on the hog and never produces any value at all!

So watch out when Violence Initiative advocates claim they are not racist. "Minority group over-representation [in crime statistics] washes out when controlled for social class in urban setting," says Goodwin (he of "urban jungles" fame). The NIMH is not targeting black people, he claims, just the lower class in the inner city! (Edward Banfield pioneered this approach in his 1968 blueprint for urban fascism, The Unheavenly City.) The pseudo-biological categories of "race" are so deeply entrenched in capitalist society that they no longer need to be invoked directly by those who hope to trade on racial stereotypes in the service of repressive social programs.


"If you look at other primates in nature -- male primates in nature -- you find that even with our violent society we are doing very well. If you look, for example, at male monkeys, especially in the wild, roughly half of them survive to adulthood. The other half die by violence. That is the natural way of it for males, to knock each other off and, in fact, there are some interesting evolutionary implications of that because the same hyperaggressive monkeys who kill each other are also hypersexual, so they copulate more and therefore they reproduce more to offset the fact that half of them are dying.

"Now, one could say that if some of the loss of social structure in this society, and particularly within the high impact inner city areas, has removed some of the civilizing evolutionary things that we have built up and that maybe it isn't just the careless use of the word when people call certain areas of certain cities jungles, that we may have gone back to what might be more natural, without all of the social controls that we have imposed upon ourselves as a civilization over thousands of years in our own evolution."

 --Frederick K. Goodwin,then director of the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration of the U.S. Government, in speech to National Mental Health Advisory Council, Feb. 11, 1992. (Goodwin, now Director of the National Institute for Mental Health, is one of the main promoters of the Violence Initiative.)

 Further reading:

Chase, Alan. The Legacy of Malthus

Gould, Steven J. The Mismeasure of Man

Hubbard, Ruth, and Elijah Wald. Exploding the Gene Myth

Kamin, L. The Science and Politics of IQ

Lerner, Richard J. Final Solutions: Biology, Prejudice, and Genocide

Lewontin, R. J., Stephen Rose, and Leon Kamin. Not in Our Genes: Biology, Ideology, and Human Nature

Proctor, Robert. Racial Hygiene: Medicine Under the Nazis

Progressive Labor Party. "Racism, Intelligence and the Working Class"

Rose, Steven, ed. Against Biological Determinism

Science for the People. Biology as a Social Weapon.

Biochemical Confusion: Hormones and Neurotransmitters

The particular "marker" currently favored by violence researchers seems to be a lower-than-normal concentration of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain or spinal fluid. (This is where the rhesus monkey studies came in.) As Goodwin told members of the American Psychiatric Association, "serotonin wasn't related to violence itself but it was related to impulsivity so the group that was impulsively violent ... had the low serotonin." Whether the low serotonin was caused by brain injury, genetics, or something else didn't concern him.

The main source for Goodwin's "monkey business" was the research of Stephen Suomi, who works in another part of NIH. But even Suomi admitted in an interview for the Journal of NIH Research that he only observed violent behavior in monkeys exposed to a stressful environment. "For monkeys living in benign circumstances, there is rarely a problem with violent behavior," he conceded. The problem was obviously not in individual monkeys but in their social environment -- exactly the opposite of the conclusion Goodwin wants to draw.

Goodwin probably also had advance knowledge of two additional NIH-NIMH studies published in the Archives of General Psychiatry (May or June 1992). One study of 29 institutionalized children at NIMH claimed to find correlations between frequency of later institutionalization or aggression and low concentrations of a serotonin by-product in the spinal fluid. But this study -- in which the authors found what they were looking for -- is extremely unreliable. Even the authors admitted that "the follow-up interval is relatively brief ... and ultimate outcome is still unknown." They give no indication that it used a "double-blind" system of evaluation, a basic procedure.

There is no non-invasive method of establishing the level of serotonin in the spinal fluid. The procedure, a spinal tap, can be painful and requires a hospital stay. (This procedure was performed on the men in the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, who were told the lie that it was part of a cure.) Especially for a child, the upsetting experience of hospitalization may itself be enough to set off a storm of hormonal/neurotransmitter disturbances. The NIMH study required spinal taps on all the children, a terrifying experience with serious potential complications and no conceivable benefit to the children themselves. It is no exaggeration to compare this study to the medical experiments of the Nazi doctors.

The other paper claimed to find similar results in free-ranging monkeys. But the researchers admitted they could not observe "aggressivity" directly and instead counted bite wounds and scars, evidence of victimization, not aggression! Even the authors admit that their findings might reflect a correlation between serotonin levels and stress, not aggression.

Scientific Evidence Makes a Monkey out of Goodwin

Goodwin wants to "tease apart some of the neurotransmitter differences from some of the hormonal differences." But in real-life human beings, neurotransmitters like serotonin and hormones like epinephrine always interact in a complex feedback system. For example, low serotonin levels are sometimes (not always) associated with a lower pain threshhold, which can make someone more "irritable" and perhaps more "on edge." But low serotonin is usually associated with low epinephrine, which lowers the basal metabolism rate generally and makes a person sluggish. Together, they sometimes (again, not always) lead to signs of depression -- but not of anxiety or impulsivity. And there is no good reason to think that these complex relations can be disrupted in a simple way. For example, when people have cancerous chromaffin cells in the gut, the adrenal cortex, or elsewhere, these cells secrete excess serotonin. But this excess has not been found to disturb circulation or other functions in a consistent way: the effects depend very much on what's going on in the rest of the body.

The relation between body chemistry and emotions/behaviors is not a one-way street. For example, if someone insults you and you get angry, your hormone levels will temporarily change. That doesn't mean that the hormones caused you to get angry!

In short, the sum total of scientific evidence in support of the Violence Initiative is ZERO.


In the 1850s, the Louisiana physician Dr. Samuel Cartwright described a mental disease of slaves he called "drapetomania," which caused its victims to run away from their masters. The cure, he wrote in articles for medical journals, was a good whipping. In persistent cases, he recommended cutting off the rebellious slave's toes.

In 1967, the psychiatrist Frank Ervin and the neurosurgeons Vernon Mark and William Sweet proposed (in a letter to the Journal of the American Medical Association, in Science, and elsewhere) that the urban rebellions in Harlem, Watts, and elsewhere were caused by brain-damaged individuals. "Is there something peculiar about the violent slum dweller that differentiates him from his peaceful neighbor?" they asked. "We need intensive research and clinical studies of the individuals committing the violence." The cure, these Harvard doctors wrote, was psychosurgery, in which physicians deliberately mutilate someone's brain. This letter netted Ervin and Mark $108,930 from the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration of the Justice Department to use Boston City Hospital for screening populations for potential rioters and subjecting their brains to electric shocks. Sweet got half a million more from the National Institute of Mental Health. In 1973, UCLA hired Ervin to help establish a "center for the reduction of violence" there with some $1.5 million from the state of California and another $2 million in grants. Protests led by the Students for a Democratic Society, the Medical Committee for Human Rights, Dr. Peter Breggin and others eventually forced cancellation of this program.

Now Goodwin (with the support of the psychiatric establishment) claims that kids who don't submit passively to the racist jails that often pass for schools in the inner city suffer from the disease of "conduct disorder" and that kids who don't pay attention to their teachers are sick with "attention deficit." He claims that "conduct disorder," especially, is a "reliable" diagnosis because different observers are likely to diagnose the same kids as suffering from it. The same could have been said of "drapetomania".

"When someone starts talking about a racist conspiracy, the first reaction is surprise and disbelief because it's so far-fetched," said the chief of epidemiology at NIMH, Darrel Rieger. Sure, the U.S. Public Health Service funded the Tuskegee syphilis experiment from the 1930s right up until 1972, allowing hundreds of black men to die of untreated syphilis while unknowingly infecting uncounted numbers of others. Sure, the NIMH funded psychosurgery for riot-control. But now we're supposed to believe that the present "Violence Initiative" has nothing to do with race, nothing to do with racism.

Frankly, we don't see a lot of difference between the racist psychiatry of today and that of the past -- except that the ruling class is now more desperate than ever to find excuses for large-scale repression.



Spring-Summer 1992: Protests by the Center for the Study of Psychiatry and the Washington-based Coalition Against the Violence Initiative force postponement of the Maryland "Genetics and Crime" conference.

Fall-Winter 1992: DC Coalition Against the Violence Initiative begins circulating petition to remove Goodwin as head of NIMH.

February 1993: Speakers at annual meeting of American Association for the Advancement of Science attack Violence Initiative

Spring 1993: International Committee Against Racism (InCAR) distributes over ten thousand copies of an earlier version of this flier to students, workers, and professionals across the US. Parents bring issue to PTA meetings in several urban school districts.

Summer 1993: DC Coalition members and others testify against Violence Initiative at Congressional hearings; speakers attack Violence Initiative at various professional conferences on sociology, the history and philosophy of science, etc.

October 1993: 250 public health professionals at annual meeting of the American Public Health Association attend session attacking Violence Initiative; group begins organizing for passage of official resolution in 1994.

November 1993: Society for Humanistic Sociology approves resolution to condemn Violence Initiative.

Fall 1993: Hundreds of students attend teach-ins against the Violence Initiative at the University of Connecticut (sponsored by InCAR, Black Student Association and Latin Student Association), University of Wisconsin (sponsored by InCAR, Teaching Assistants Association, Black Graduate and Professional Student Association, and Black Student Union) and elsewhere.

This is only a partial list. Please let us know about other activities (past and future) that we may not be aware of!


The U.S. rulers claim they want to stop violence and crime when they themselves are the most violent criminals of all.

Whether you look at the NIMH program from an anti-racist political point of view or from a biological point of view, the result is the same: it's dangerous nonsense.

The rulers are relying on "violence research" and its publicity to convince older workers and middle-class people, particularly white professionals, to blame black and latin youth for all the evils of the capitalist system.

"It is distracting and hazardous to think of violence as a public-health problem ... instead of looking at all the racism, poverty, decay of the schools, lack of health care." -- Dr. Peter Breggin, director, Center for the Study of Psychiatry