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Blog Archive March 2013

Dispatches from the frontline of Crime Fiction’s Extremistan: Part 1

This is the first of a three-part series about Crime Fiction’s Extremistan.

A discussion has started at Detectives Beyond Borders about the future of crime fiction.

The controversy started with an exchange at the South African blog Crime Beat  with crime fiction reviewer Gunter Blank who views crime fiction in the USA, Sweden, Germany as having gone into a recycling phase where nothing but repetitive motifs and themes are appearing. What is emerging, in his view, are political thrillers or chronicles from “[T]urbulent or haunted societies, societies that are trying to find out who they are – there are still hundreds and thousands of lives and experiences to tell.”

The debate was picked up by my friend and blogger Peter Rozovsky at his not to be missed website: Detectives Beyond Borders. Peter’s readers have added their views in comments.

Richard Nash sums up the fate of contemporary authors in America and Europe and other places, too.

“Books, like most entertainment media, live in what Nassim Nicolas Taleb  calls Extremistan, a place with vast amounts of commercial failure and spectacularly high and extremely infrequent success.”

As I have a horse (or a dog if you like) in this race, I’d like to give my perspective on the metamorphosis of crime fiction inside Extremistan, examining the borders and how the territory has been traveled, mapped, and reported. While Nassim Nicolas Taleb coined the phrase Extremistan to talk about the huge disparity of failure compared to success in the book industry, I am expanding the concept to use Extremistan to talk about the huge disparity between the awareness of crime fiction in English and all other languages.

Taleb uses the ratio of .05% (authors who receive 99.95% of the money and are commercially successful) to 99.95% (who divide the few crumbs of the .05% revenues leftover). Something like this ration, I believe, also applies as a rule of thumb across the range of languages with English language crime fiction authors receiving 99.95% of the critical review attention, money, status and opportunity, and non-English crime fiction authors living hand to mouth.

Extremistan is a monetary idea and it is also a geographical, cultural and political one. My Extremistan is a kind of map of worldwide crime fiction. On that map we know with confidence where English language crime fiction exist. But 99.95% of the map is uncharted areas. Crime fiction is written in these unknown parts but as they aren’t mapped, they are outside of awareness. As a result, we largely ignore their existence.

A good definition for these purposes of metamorphosis comes from wikipedia,  which defines it as “a biological process by which an animal physically develops after birth or hatching, involving a conspicuous and relatively abrupt change in the animal’s body structure through cell growth and differentiation.”

Over the last two decades there has been a growth in what is described as crime fiction in many different countries and cultures. The idea of crime fiction is a cultural lens borrowed from English and American authors including Hammett and Chandler. Under the surface, the cultural aspects have brought a change in texture and form. While the external appearance may (unlike true metamorphosis) remain to the untrained eye the same, underneath the impulses, imperatives, and purposes are filtered through a different set of beliefs, histories, languages, traditions, rituals and customs—and these elements matter when it comes to the kind of story that can be published.

This cultural lens has been fitted to new glasses in other cultures in the remote parts of Extremistan. Many of these places are off the usual map of crime fiction neighborhoods. Crime fiction is illegible in these places. Our speculation about what goes on inside the hidden world doesn’t make them more legible.

And that leads me to ask what goes inside these missing areas on the crime fiction map, and can we act like good detectives to find out what goes on inside beyond our normal borders?

What is left unexamined in the debate started by Gunter Blank are the forces causing the turbulence or the haunting in societies outside of Sweden, Germany and the USA. In countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Burma—the turbulence of globalization and the Internet has kicked up a firestorm in fairly rigid, traditional, and highly controlled societies. This has happened not just in Southeast Asia but also in Latin America and the Arab world. Crime fiction has become a window into the chaos that disruptive change has brought, threatening institutions, vested interest, and authority structures.

A murder investigation, on the surface, is similar in many places around the world. But a murder investigation in a turbulent society, which is in the metamorphosis stage, brings in to focus the tensions, competing interest, and repressive forces that give a political dimension to the case. To understand the behavior, reactions, and emotions requires a cultural map. The best crime fiction operates like a GPS system guiding you through the winding byways, local alleys, and little known hills. Think of them as “belief, taboo, faith” landmarks. What governments and people believe to be true and how they process their reality is central to reading crime fiction from these neighborhoods.

You might say that the USA, Germany and Sweden are also societies in transition as they respond to similar pressures from the new world of telecommunications and global trade. That is to miss the paradigm change caused by the Age of Reason and Enlightenment in having over a period of 500 years eroding traditional authority and belief structures from the church to the aristocracy. Our neighborhood was torn down in many places and rebuilt. In the new Western places on the map, we live in a version of the future. As William Gibson famously said, “The future is already here but it is unevenly distributed.”

In many parts of the world outside of Europe and North America, the Age of Reason and Enlightenment have existed outside the great wall of authority patrolled by a combination of censorship, repression, custom and tradition. This system worked for many centuries, preserving the neighborhood and the attitudes about what is a crime and who is a criminal. But most of these old, traditional neighborhoods are also doomed. Like the Berlin Wall, these traditional regimes all looked so solid and impenetrable until the moment it is pulled down.

Crime fiction written in these parts of the world track investigations into crime as the walls are collapsing around the authorities, exposing them, implicating them, leaving them in the spotlight mostly reserved for criminals. This is what international crime fiction brings to the reader—society in the midst of transition, access to a part of the fictional map that isn’t widely known or understood.

It is this irony, this strange juxtaposition—the blurring of criminality—that makes crime fiction from the emerging world compelling to the readers in those places. We are watching the future pass into societies as if the walls no longer exist, and we have a frontline seat to the forces pushing back, trying to build new walls, put the screws in, enacting repressive laws to create fear in order to silence those who see that the walls are falling.

Most of storytellers inside these old regimes that exist off the English reader’s grid aren’t given attention. It is as if these unmapped areas don’t exist except as a ‘bad news’ story about an earthquake, flood, revolution, assassination, starvation, refugee camps, and genocidal authorities. The storytellers in these places are unlikely to be on your top 13 authors’ list. But that doesn’t mean their voices are unread or unheard inside their cultures. It more likely there absence is evidence of our availability bias. We make our decision on the evidence that is available to us. We don’t ask what is missing.

As Daniel Kahneman has noted in Thinking, Fast and Slow we are prone toward believing what we see is all that there is.

While the USA, Germany, and Sweden and similar cultures may be suffering from redundancy; crime fiction authors in other cultures suffer from obscurity and isolation. These novelists write in languages that aren’t easily accessible for readers of English. Thai writers are a good example. Thailand has its share of talented authors who write in Thai but who haven’t been translated into English. You will never read them unless you learn Thai. The same applies to other cultures where the language issue traps the authors inside their own locked room without an exit door. In reality very few novels are translated into other languages. As a result they are marooned on the desert island of obscure languages forever lost to those sailing past.

Using what we know about the universe is a convenient analogy for our map of crime fiction. The universe is comprised of a bit less than 5% atomic matter, and the rest is dark matter or dark energy. When you read about crime fiction publishing in English I suggests that you are inside a reading space that vastly less than 5% of the total space. It may be Taleb is right. This is the realm of a .05% world of crime fiction that is mapped. The rest is dark matter and energy in the crime fiction universe.

We need to be cautious about making broad statements about the best crime fiction novelists, the trends in crime fiction, or the role crime fiction plays in literature, culture and political life. The reality is we only have a vague idea of this unmapped landscape, the writers who live there, and the role crime fiction plays in chronicling the dynamics of fundamental change to political and social system.

Next week in Part 2, I discuss the evidence from my detective work to find out more about who are the crime fiction writers in African, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. The idea is to start crime fiction readers on an exploration of crime fiction in the unmapped neighborhoods where the word ‘noir’ isn’t quite dark enough to describe the lives of authors and readers.

Posted: 3/28/2013 9:00:04 PM 


The Rate of Murder

You’ve decided to write that crime novel. The one book once released into the world will liberate you from the day job, put you on Charlie Rose, the NYT bestseller list, interviewed by the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, and stacks of invitations to the best parties in New York, London and Paris. You’ve heard that international settings are in vogue for crime fiction. But you’re not quite certain, looking at the world map, which country might be the best place for your noir caper. Besides, you can write off the expense of research in finding out.

Let me give you some unsolicited advice, look for a place with danger—not too much, but enough to create tension and risk—political instability is good—again so long as there aren’t bombs going off in the streets, and an exotic culture with interesting taboos, customs, language, history, rituals and artifacts—though not so weird that they can’t be understood without long, drawn out descriptions.

A convention of the crime fiction genre begins with a murder. Central to the novel is a killing. When researching your crime novel, you might have a look at murder statistics. The homicide statistics indicate the prime crime fiction locations are the mini-states in the Caribbean or Central America. In these places there are lots and lots of murders as a percentage of 100,000 of population.

Homicide victims accumulate in these countries at an alarming rate. You can add Columbia and Venezuela to the high rate of homicide list, too. Frankly, you can write off Europe with the possible exception of Russia and Albania. The Europeans simply have stopped murdering each other at statistically significant rates. Germans seem to have stopped murdering each other in significant numbers a long time ago. Fantasy and romance novelists would do much better in Europe than crime fiction authors.

The ten countries with the highest murder are included in this chart:

Top Ten Countries with Highest Murder Rates

Country Murder Rates (Per 100,000) Year
Honduras 82.1 2010
El Salvador 66.0 2010
Cote d’Ivoire 56.9 2008
Jamaica 52.1 2010
Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) 49.0 2009
Belize 41.7 2010
Guatemala 41.4 2010
Saint Kitts and Nevis 38.2 2010
Zambia 38 2008
Uganda 36.3 2008

Link: http://www.mapsofworld.com/world-top-ten/countries-with-highest-murder-rates.html

If you want to write a noir crime fiction novel, then Honduras or El Salvador might be a place to go.

Places to avoid as a noir crime fiction writer are on this list:

Countries With Lowest Murder
Rates in World

Country Region Murder Rate
Monaco Europe 0
Palau Oceania 0
Hong Kong Asia 0.2
Singapore Asia 0.3
Iceland Europe 0.3
Japan Asia 0.4
French Polynesia Oceania 0.4
Brunei Asia 0.5
Bahrain Asia 0.6
Norway Europe 0.6

Link: http://www.mapsofworld.com/world-top-ten/countries-with-lowest-murder-rates.html

From these homicide rates, there isn’t enough raw material for a short crime story set in one of these countries. Though fellow blogger Quentin Bates who bases his crime fiction in Iceland, suggests that noir isn’t always reflected in the numbers.

The numbers don’t tell you everything. Swedish crime fiction is a huge success internationally but the Swedish murder rate is among the lowest in the world. Yet we have a feeling reading Nordic crime fiction that murder is common in Sweden. That Sweden is a dangerous place. None of that is true. Sweden has a very low homicide rate. Those facts didn’t stop Stieg Larsson from hitting the jackpot (though he had died of a heart attack before the big money came in).

The definitive chart on the international murder is done on a country-by-country basis annually by the UNODC. Looking at the most recent figures from UNODC (2002 to 2011) on Thai murder rate has been in decline. If this trend continues, it seems that soon I may be out of the crime fiction business in Thailand.

In 2003 the Thai murder rate was 9.8 per 100,000; and in 2011 it had dropped to 4.8 per 100,000. Do Thais feel 100% safer from being murder given this corresponding drop in actual homicides? I don’t have hard evidence to answer this question. There’s plenty of antidotal evidence to suggest no decline in the fear of being a murder victim. State authorities feed the fear and offer comfort as noted by Bangkok Pundit.

Why the disconnect between the declining murder rate and our sense of fear about murder? Our feelings are subjective, irrational, and difficult to predict or control. And fear of death and injury is one of the most compelling emotions, triggered not assuaged by a UNODC excel file that presents cold, hard numbers.

I take the position that Thais are no less concerned, fearful and watchful about murder in 2013 than they were in 2003. There is little political opportunity and advantage in reducing this unreasonable feeling of fear. In political life, money and fear correlate. More resources can be demanded by and allocated to the police and other state officials charged with protecting an overly fearful public. If our perception of the risk of murder is updated, then state officials stand to lose budgets, training, new employees, and better equipment. Actually, you can spend a lot of that money in ways that have little but public relations impact because the level of homicide is already happening. You can pocket some of that money and still be seen as doing a great job.

Bottom line—our emotional reaction to homicide hasn’t been updated with the latest statistics, which show a substantial lowering of the probability of murder. The state has no incentive to focus on the lower risk of homicide. The press will always have enough murders (even at statistically low rates people are still murdered just as people still win a lottery) to keep the flame high enough to keep fear at the boil.

When it comes to murder, we react out of fear and that closes the door to a more rational and deliberate assessment based on the actual risk as shown through the UNODC statistics on the rate of murder. Murders of foreigners make for dramatic news that reinforces the sense of fear. This happens in Thailand as in many other countries.

The media manufactures a false sense of risk with emotionally charged photographs, statements of witnesses, family and friends in mourning, angry letters to the authorities, and so on. If the murder victim is someone you love, care about or know, then UNODC statistics aren’t going to mean much to you. But if you are reading about people you don’t know, there remains a high possibility of identifying with them, and you will be fearful. Emotions distort your ability to assess the actual risk.

When it comes down to writing that crime novel, it may not matter whether you live in a country with a high or low murder rate. The rate of homicide appears to have little connection to the perception of risk as it is assessed through fear. As long as your novel creates a the personal setting between the killer and the victim, and does a credible job in following the police or private investigator through the evidence, your reader won’t likely write you an angry letter saying that statistically the murder you’ve written about is as rare as a rose in winter.

But as people love roses, if you can convince them to overlook the improbability of a rose growing in the wild in winter weather, they will follow you down the corpse laden garden trail and believe this exceptional act could happen in the world. Indeed it could happen to them. Yet you can be assured there will in the fullness of time an Amazon Reviewer, who will give you a one-star review that goes along the lines that everyone knows that only white roses grow in winter and this author had the color wrong. He said the roses were red. And that, my friends, is more likely than the wall cash your book will earn liberating you from your desk job.

Posted: 3/21/2013 8:53:29 PM 


Following Into The Trap

I stumble upon artifacts, small information packets from the past and wonder why I’d not seen this, thought of this, or whether everyone else except me had reached that milestone years ago. A case in point is the BBC series titled The Trap. The series aired in 2007. I didn’t see it in 2007. Six years later a good friend (thank you, John) said The Trap was something that I had to see. He was right.

The Trap is also something you should see. You owe it to yourself to watch all three parts. Unless, of course, you saw it six years ago, and have a six-year head start on assimilating what it means.

I am just starting out on that journey. Forgive me if I am taking you down paths that are old and familiar.

Our emotions and the range in which those emotions are allowed to express themselves are cultural. The past couple of months I’ve been investigating ‘fear’ and ‘anger’ the evil twins that kidnap us, forcing us to do and say things we later regret. What The Trap brilliantly does is provide the ideological framework erected during the Cold War. Once the Cold War ended in a victory for the Americans, the battle turned inward.

What emerged from that struggle was the notion of Game Theory. Developed by Nobel Prize winner, John Nash, Game Theory assumed that all people were by nature selfish, self-centered-interested, and highly suspicious of other people and acted rationally to maximize their advantages against others. This is the amoral landscape where each person tries to outwit the other and will betray the other to obtain an advantage. It is a bleak, paranoid vision of humanity. John Nash was treated for mental illness, and later pulled back from the nature of humanity assumed in the Game Theory he had created. His struggle with paranoid schizophrenia was dramatized in the Hollywood movie A Beautiful Mind.

Never mind that the theoretical framework of Game Theory was woven by a mentally unbalanced mind, the dose of insanity did not prevent others from embracing this noir vision of humanity.

This vision of humanity spread like a virus from the geo-political contest between the Cold War superpowers infecting psychology and economics. The role of the State was to get out of the way. There was no belief in ‘public interest’ as a guide. This position was taken up by Reagan, Blair and Thatcher in the 80s and 90s as the basis for downsizing the State and outsourcing to private company functions traditionally performed by state officials.

The first in the series titled F**k You Buddy (11 March 2007)

We are thirty-years into the Neo-Noir Era. The Trap illustrates how our political, economic, cultural and social institutions have fallen like dominos under the weight of Game Theory.

The second in the series: The Lonely Robot (18 March 2007)

Last week I wrote about Ben Goldacre’s Bad Pharma and how the 600 Billion dollar pharma industry has been able to establish the new ‘norm’ or new ‘standard’ for acceptable behavior, attitudes and conduct. Game Theory was a natural ally with its bleak view of the human condition, Pharma promised to bring medical relief to those who were ‘abnormal’ and who better but Pharma to rewrite normality. If Game Theory predicts humans as highly rational and deliberate in their actions, drugs like Prozac could take the edge off irrational feelings or emotions that get in the way of the robot-like approach to life.

In the Neo-Noir Era populations are seen as anxious or depressed. Big Pharma has made a hugely profitable industry in exploiting the Game Theory exponents desire to ‘improve’ the rational mind, and to neutralize the irrational thoughts. Doctors have redefined mental health in a way as to narrow the margins of where emotions are allowed a role. Outside the narrow bands, drugs are prescribed for people whose emotions fall outside the diagnostic register that has been put in place in the last 30 years. This isn’t about medical necessity; it is about political necessity to control the emotional lives of people.

The elite of the rationalist sit on a mountain where the people below are feared for their emotions. Big Pharma could not have re-engineered our notion of mental health and brought in a new vision of normal without the consent of the ruling class that saw major benefits in a sedated population.

In the Neo-Noir Era Big Pharma has prescribed Soma. It is being swallowed around the world to cure the anxiety of living inside the Walmartization of both the local and international political, cultural and economic systems. It is the remedy for discontent, frustration and anger as the master game theory players pick the flesh from the bones of society.

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World predicted a world in which a drug called Soma is administered to the general population. The soma of fiction and the real life new soma like drugs expand mental health intervention, making citizen patients who are docile, malleable and useful tools. In Huxley’s 1932 novel he foresaw an American in the early twentieth century where the State provided a drug induced comfort to self-medicating citizens.

The other visionary in literature who saw decades ahead was Stanislaw Lem. In The Futurologists Congress, which was published in 1972 (forty years after Brave New World) mind-altering drugs our hero finds drugs have been in the tap hotel water. He drinks it without knowing he’s being drugged. In this future utopia, money and lending lose all meaning. Banks lend whatever amount you request and no one bothers to seek repayment.

The State uses multiple kinds of psychological drugs to create all kinds of mental states, some bring transcendence, others pride and high status, and other bliss. Everyone in the delusionary condition can win a Nobel Prize, owns Renoir or two, drives a Rolls Royce, wins millions in Las Vegas at blackjack, and plays the piano like Mozart. The fact it is all illusion doesn’t matter because the mind reads it as real. Life inside Lem’s Psych-Chemical State is all in the mind controlled by drugs. A movie based on Lem’s classic novel is in the works for 2013.

Third in The Trap Series is: We will Force You to Be Free.

In the last segment in the series, The Trap explores the meaning of freedom, and how forcing people to be ‘free’ became the new mantra of the neocons. The Orwellian notion that freedom can only exist as a by product of a cleansing, a tyranny of ‘freedom fighters’ who wipe the slate of those with incompatible ideas of freedom. Freedom requires a certain mental state. Big Pharma has eased people into this space and the government assures them that now they are ‘free.’ Freedom is an abstract state of mind that is imposed by force or chemical substance, and the newly freed people are happy with their condition and place in life. Having achieved freedom they want for nothing else.

Only it hasn’t quite worked out that way.

In The Trap we confront directly the idea that the State has been quietly dismantled; better metaphor—dismembered and reassembled as a private enterprise tool of in the interest of the ruling elites.

In the Neo-Noir Era governments have given way to private interests. Before that can be successful there needs to be a pacification program as citizens–deprived of the safety nets, falling down infrastructure, dysfunctional health, safety, and educational system–rely on the assistance of Big Pharma to keep them pacified.  In the BBC special The Trap visits a landscape made popular by a number of novelists. Fiction has been our early warning system, the canary in the mine.

In the area of crime fiction, the Neo-Noir Era—while Lem and Huxley left their notes in the bottle and threw them into the river of time, they are finally drifting to shore. Go back and read Brave New World and The Futurologists Congress.  Both of these two novels could have been written today.

In our time, science fiction has a new ally in this attempt to call attention to the realization of prophecies—it’s called noir crime fiction. The main difference is that we are gradually entering the world foretold by Lem and Huxley.

In Missing in Rangoon, I have a look inside the brave new world of Burma. A place of magic, illusions, and cascading greed as private corporate interest have fond a virgin market to apply Game Theory and to bring ‘Freedom’. It takes loads of Soma widely distributed before there is transition from one political/economic system to another. Freedom is on the lips of people. A word they once knew and thought they understood. It has gone muster color, opaque, and tattered. The last of the free men and women exist here and there, isolated, dwindling in numbers, knowing they have reached an intellectual and cultural dead end. In time the memory of them will be extinguished. As people who lived inside a dream before Big Pharma acquired the exclusive monopoly. Be mindful of the hotel drinking water in Rangoon. Like the good professor in The Futurologists Congress, you may find that you wake up in a different time and age.

Posted: 3/14/2013 9:07:19 PM 


Anger and the medical solution

As a crime fiction writer, anger is an emotion that figures into the emotions of the characters in a narrative where people are threatened, intimidated, disrespected, frustrated, or their worldview/belief system is attacked or challenged.

Anger is on the A-list of negative emotions. If anger were an actor, he would never be out of work. Drama is basically what authors and film directors use to keep the audience on the edge of their seat. When someone goes postal with anger, people pay attention. It is hard to take your eyes off someone who is truly angry. Volatility in stock markets may cause an unsettling experience, but when the personal volatility closes in, the situation becomes tense and fraught with danger.

Years ago when I rode along as a civilian observer with members of the NYDP in the 1980s. That New York is long gone. My memory of that time is connected with a particular kind of anger.  The one job the police hated was call to investigate a domestic disturbance in some high-rise slum or bad neighborhood in Brooklyn. When they arrived, they found a couple, a husband and wife fueled by pills and booze and still screaming at each other. The same shrill, loud threats, the sound of glass being broken that caused their neighbors to phone for the police.

By the time the police arrived everyone is at an emotional, irrational peak. It is precisely at that point that is most dangerous—for the parties involved and for the cops who arrive to calm things down. I suspect police in most cultures equally fear an out-of-control, angry domestic situation.

The police hate domestic violence calls. And for good reason. When two people living together uncork, work themselves up into a highly unpredictable negative emotional state inside their own homes. They become temporarily insane. They are literally out of their minds. In this state, cops walk into a place where angry people know where the knives and guns are hidden. It is, after all, their home. Couples beating each other up don’t like outsiders coming into their lives. They want to inflict pain on each other. Cops get hurt in these domestic situations. That’s why they hate these calls.

Emotions come with up or down ratings. Joy, hope, love, generosity, and relief are positive emotions. But anger is a bad boy and hangs at the same saloon where you find alarm, panic, fear, sorrow, hate, and cruelty. That’s a tough crowd. Anger counts as his relatives some nasty first cousins: outrage, wrath, hostility, scorn, spite, vengefulness, resentment to name a few.

Physical assaults, maiming, beatings, and killing I would speculate have a heavy anger bias as the emotional state that prevailed at the moment of the crime. Add drugs and liquor and you can explain a fair amount of crime. “Criminologists estimate that alcohol or drug use by the attacker is behind 30 to 50 percent of violent crime, such as murder, sexual assault, and robbery.”

In the past, anger and angry people, were mainly contained by the police. One of the reasons that the violent death rate is historically (looking at large periods of time) low is the State became gradually much better devising institutions, which deterred, captured, punished violent anger. For a detailed analysis see Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature.

In England the statistics indicate that young males especially those visiting pubs should be carefully watched. That is to be expected we should expect from young men. What is more interesting are the statistics for those who have been either an offender or victim of violence.

The Home Office reported in 2009:

  • The 2002/03 BCS shows that over four-fifths of victims were emotionally affected by the incident (83%). This is an increase from the last set of results (2001/02 BCS). Twenty-six per cent were ‘very much affected’, and 24 per cent ‘quite a lot’, a further third were affected ‘just a little’.
  • Victims of domestic violence and mugging were most likely to be emotionally affected, as shown in all recent survey years. Latest data show that victims were very much affected in 40 per cent of domestic violence incidents, compared to only 17 per cent of stranger violence incidents. In around one-fifth of incidents of acquaintance and stranger violence the victim was not emotionally affected.
  • The most common reaction to violence was anger (51% for the 2002/03 BCS). This is also a recurring finding from the survey. Shock, annoyance, fear, loss of confidence or feeling vulnerable are also fairly common experiences.

No one is arguing that all emotions—positive and negative—are webbing that we process a lot of daily life. Anger, like fear, is a natural state. Living in close proximity only works if anger can be contained. The size of Bangkok—estimated to be as high as 12 million people—is a good illustration of a system that keeps down anger-fueled violence. And yes, there are news reports of someone going jai rawn and hacking up a relative or friend. It happens. But it is also relatively rare.

What has changed is the arsenal assembled against the anger emotion expressing itself. Anger has been undergoing a substantial taming process. In this case there are more than one lion tamer under the Big Tent—psychiatrists, scientists, chemists, neurologists, and Big Pharma. The old political/criminal justice system that worked together to build more prisons and to hand out much longer sentences has worked to curtail the anger/violence connection.

First, give anger a medical label. Give it over to the white coats that everyone admires and respects. Science and Big Pharama will solve the problem. This assumes that containing anger becomes the role of medicine in general and psychology specifically. By sending anger into the medical camp the solution is come up with a medical condition like Intermittent Explosive Disorder, one said to be “characterized by persistent, uncontrollable anger attacks not accounted for by other mental disorders.” Science Daily  reported a study which found one out of 12 young people (in the USA)—close to six million adolescents” meet the criteria for IED. The emotion of anger another form of mental illness. It shouldn’t be crazy to feel anger; that is a normal emotion.

Second, scientists have split the emotion of anger apart like a particle shot at near the speed of light inside one of those huge accelerators but this time to discover not the secrets of the universe but the chemistry of anger. That is found in the mix of underlying hormones—low serotonin, high dopamine and high noradrenalin.  With this knowledge, the next step is to test people for their hormone levels and medicated to adjust them. Research on the genetic elements that form patterns that shape the boundaries of temperament and personality are leading closer to a DNA explanation.

Third, there is a large and profitable anger pill industry. Google: “anger control medication” it comes up with more than 18 million pages. We live in a medical era of pharmaceutical designed emotional restructuring. The rush has been on to create a new class drugs to modify or subdue the behavior caused by effects negative emotions like anger. To achieve the perfect emotional state with drugs has opened up big opportunities for pharma industry. It has large political implications, too. The teenager becomes docile. Nothing bothers him or her. The drug takes away the emotional equipment to respond. Here’s some of the antipsychotic medication circulating in the marketplace: Risperdal, Haldol, Depakote

The size of net of angry people continues to expand. That Science Daily report also said, “Nearly two-thirds of U.S. adolescents have experienced anger attack that involved threatening violence, destroying property or engaging in violence toward others at some point in their lives.” Big Pharma product developers aren’t overlooking the size of this market.

There are significant problems arising out of first three point outlined. Bad Pharma by Ben Goldacre is a detailed examination of the crooked game played by all of the players in the medical establishment. From the industry paid researchers, scientists, and journals that use cherry picked data to show effectiveness to the culture of burying negative news. Most of the negative trials that show drugs don’t work, cause harm, or are no more effective than a placebo or any other drug currently on the market are buried. That’s right, negative studies go missing. The basic truth is there is no easy way to get good information over what medicine works, what psychological categories are accurate. Whether a drug company, government regulator or professional body, the outcomes are distorted, misleading and often wrong; the missing data on negative trials are more difficult to document than war crimes.

Fourth, with a largely non-angry and medicated population it becomes much easier for economic and political manipulation to pass without angry people to take into account. We are—at least in theory—safer from categories of physical violence by medicalization of anger.  The political class gains part of its power by acting out the anger of a medicated voting population. Politicians are surrogates for anger. Political campaigns in many places—Thailand is no exception—are a kind of theatre, the political consultants act as generals fighting in the trenches of fear and anger. This spectacle, along with the medication, keeps people from noticing how they’ve given over anger to the medical and political establishment, and big business now found a way to make a profit from this transfer.

Lastly, make anger into a Hollywood comedy.

We are, in other words, in the safest most secure period of human existence. We pay the price for this safety. We’ve corralled anger—this negative emotion—as if it were a beast in a cage. Not that many years ago we called people with strong views and feelings eccentric. Some of them were angry people. We often celebrated such people, but now they would be so uninteresting, being medicated, subdued, and watching the latest YouTube offering or video game. Anger is defined as IED in such a way to bring in a lot of young men. If anyone has any right to be angry examining the real state of the world and their place in it, the young unemployed men in Spain, Italy, Egypt and many other countries should be angry. And they don’t like the medicine that’s been prescribed. They should be angry with a medical/pharma system that distorts evidence and medicates them on dubious pills and psychological analysis. The system based on controlling anger, as it turns out, is a hugely profitable game.

IED reminds me of the acronym for UO for unexploded ordnance. Anything dangerous hidden under ground or temporarily caged by drugs is an explosion waiting to happen. Anger will continue to shape and define crime fiction. The medical battle is yet to be assured of an easy victory. Watching the anger management industry unfold may be a good opportunity for a crime novel.

Posted: 3/7/2013 7:58:07 PM 



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