Will H. Moore had a kind of personality that is best described by the phrase: "down for whatever". For those that don't know, this is defined brilliantly by the "urban dictionary" below:
down for whatever
Ready and willing to participate in most any activity. If said by your homie it implies that he is ready to have a good time in any situation.
That was how Will and I interacted with one another. Sometimes, Will would set it off and I would be like "Let's do it!". Sometimes, I would set it off and Will would be like "how do we start?" Some of these efforts never got off the ground, but they were still fascinating to imagine. Some were partially successful and incredible to try. Some failed miserably but were fun to attempt. Some were more successful than we could have possibly imagined and these were just heavenly or the urban/funkier version of that (Mo' Betta Hevnly).
In my new series, I am going to explore Will, Willness (or, Mooreing) and my interaction with him. These adventures are useful to put out there because it is soothing to remember them now and because they not only tell us something about the type of human that he is but also the type of humans, situations and social science that he helped create - these were connected in his mind. Most of these are not on either of our vitaes - we just did them in an effort to start something, try something, create some resource for ourselves and others.
At its core, the adventures represent some bizarre mashup that is part buddy film, part travel story, part Mindwalk and part bromance set over 25 years. To help me tell these stories, I will use film, music, literature and perhaps a drawing or painting or two.
Knowing I was not only from New York but also had connections to the lower east side, Will was among the first to contact me.
“Yo CD – your people ok?” He hit me with abruptly.
“Dude, I have no clue what is going on. Can’t get through to anyone.”
“Alright, alright,” he said. “Let me know when you know and if you need anything. It’s a shitstorm right now, so it might take a minute for everything to settle and communication to come back online.”
“Yeah, man, I hear you. Thanks for checking in.”
“Peace,” and he was out.
And that was all we talked about regarding 9/11 for quite some time. He checked back in regarding my family and friends. I initially forgot to hit him back after I found out that my family was ok (windows blown out of the apartment and shocked at the physical/psychological loss of the building but they were out of town at the time and thus safe but shaken). I did lose one friend and, interestingly, a cousin (Marc) was onsite as a member of NYPD getting people to safety – my hip hop hero; he was also with the break dancing group the Rock Steady Crew when he was younger.
After my mourning (or perhaps during my mourning for my friend and my city), my focus shifted to the rapidity with which the US Patriot Act got put together on October 26, 2001 and passed. The suspension of air traffic made sense as well as the militarization of US airports but the Patriot Act did not make as much sense to me. As I mentioned elsewhere:
From most accounts, the legislation presented a major reversal in American state repressive power. Simultaneously, it relaxed restrictions on wiretaps, searches of personal records (for example, medical, library, and financial), and seizures of financial resources; it created a new crime – “domestic terrorism” – with which a wide variety of dissidents could be charged (any actors that threatened the U.S. government with intimidation and coercion); it effectively suspended the writ of habeas corpus in a variety of circumstances; it allowed the CIA and the FBI to employ a wide range of overt as well as covert powers against both foreign and domestic targets with little to no oversight; it facilitated the seemingly limitless accumulation and sharing of information across diverse government organizations; and, it created an environment within which coercive agents felt they could operate freely without fear of repercussion. In a relatively brief period, the federal government had reestablished and extended powers that Americans had not seen for decades – powers that were swept away by Attorney General Edward Levi following the series of break-ins, impromptu disclosures, scandals, hearings, apologies, and forced retirements stretching from local police departments around the country to the office of the President during the late 1960s and through the 1970s (Davenport).[i]
As I also noted,
The U.S. government’s activities were in many respects constrained. Restrictions on civil liberties were drawn with consideration of the highly institutionalized nature of U.S. democracy. For example, Ashcroft’s first attempt, the Mobilization against Terrorism Act (MATA) – an ambitious plan with even fewer restrictions and oversight than the Patriot Act – was not well received, and, indeed, the Patriot Act was constructed as a compromise to head off resistance. Additionally, acknowledging America’s historical concern with centralized coercive power, the government established “sunsets” for several important provisions (contained within Title II of the Patriot Act) whereby specific elements of the government’s power would expire unless renewed… Furthermore, the range of possible repressive responses was severely curtailed: nowhere in public statements or other records was there precise discussion of provisions for violent activity; congress granted the executive the right to use “all necessary force” but this was not addressed in detail (Davenport).
This would change though. When re-upped and renegotiated a few years later, things got a little worse.
The (new) effort was again ambitious… If passed, the act would bar Justice Department disclosure of information about alleged terrorism-related detainees; virtually eliminate public access to industry “worst case scenario” documents prepared for the Environmental Protection Agency; create a “suspected terrorist DNA database that could include citizens as well as noncitizens and allow government inclusion of people merely suspected of “association” with “suspected” terrorists; codify the presumption of pretrial detention for citizens or noncitizens suspected of terrorist activity; and allow the U.S. government to “expatriate” … citizens associated with terrorist groups, an association that might be so broadly defined as to include participating in legal activities of a designated terrorist group, such as demonstrations…. The Patriot Act II would also allow secret detention of citizens and noncitizens suspected of terrorism for up to fifteen days without informing courts or lawyers; permit wiretapping of citizens and noncitizens for fifteen days entirely on the authority of the attorney general and without requiring court approval; terminate court-approved or court-mandated restrictions on police surveillance and spying on political activists that date from the abuses committed by the FBI and local police departments in the 1960s; and impose the death penalty for a range of protests that “involve acts or acts dangerous to human life,” a broad definition that might encompass, for example, Greenpeace operations if a death resulted from such protest (Sidel, 31)
At this point, there was a little more discussion but these efforts were drowned out in a sea of fear, confusion and acquiescence. I could not figure out why people were not upset at the loss of their rights. This led me in different directions.
In one effort, I had tried to work with Audrey Chapman at AAAS to pull together a research project on torture – a tactic that had been given some attention in 2004/5. Our project on torture was comprised of numerous components.
First, we proposed to compile all existing databases on the topic that cover all countries of the globe. This includes those that explicitly and exclusively focus on torture (e.g., CIRI) as well as those that include torture as one of its areas of interest (e.g., the Political Terror Scale). Additionally, we proposed to compile all databases that concern individual countries (across space and time) and those that concern individual events within countries (again, across space and time). This, again, included data that explicitly and exclusively focuses on torture as well as those that include torture as one of its areas of interest. Such triangulation would allow us to investigate causal determinants as well as specific causal mechanisms across as well as within countries, contexts and events in as detailed a manner as possible.
Second, we proposed to engage in original data collection regarding who did what to whom, when and under what political-economic conditions using previously unutilized and underutilized source information:
- Amnesty International country reports;
- Amnesty International Special IT reports (which did not cover the whole world equally);
- UN Committee Against Torture (which did not cover the whole world equally);
- US State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practice;
- Human Rights Watch (which did not cover the whole world equally);
- reports of the UN Special Rapporteur against Torture; and,
- reports of the UN Human Rights Committee.
As torture has generally been ignored by quantitatively-oriented social scientists, it was necessary to identify and code information that has been created by organizations that have focused upon this topic. We had contacted numerous organizations and had been granted access to their material.
Third, we proposed to engage in systematic analysis of the data compiled in the first two components. Our primary research questions concern the following: 1) under what circumstances is torture likely to emerge, 2) how do these causal determinants differ from other forms of human rights violation (e.g., restrictions on political and civil liberties and mass killing), 3) what are the relationships between the diverse forms of human rights violation (e.g., are they distinct from one another and are they connected sequentially) and 4) under what circumstances is torture ended.
Existing research on human rights violations led us to focus on the type of political system that exists, the condition of the economy as well as the type of political dissent encountered at the time. By specifically examining the influence of these factors on torture, we will be able to gauge the generalizability of this claim across types of repression. Our second question will more specifically allow us to assess the similarities and differences across the different types of repression. The third question prompts us to consider the degree to which distinct forms of repression occur at the same time or in sequence. Finally, the fourth question leads us to understand the circumstances under which torture is withdrawn as a repressive strategy.
We submitted a proposal to NSF but (as generally happens) got rejected. As far as rejections go, it was actually not that bad. That said, none of us were in the mood for rejection or for moving through the changes that the reviewers suggested in order to get it funded. There was also some complexity with running a project with AAAS which hindered our interest in continuing. Sometimes you are just not in the mood.
At the same time, I started writing a piece called “The Puzzle of Abu Ghraib: Understanding State Torture and Political Democracy” with David Armstrong which was very interested and comparatively much more exciting than writing a grant. As stated in the abstract:
The events of Abu Ghraib exposed politicians, journalists, military and law enforcement personnel, NGOs, activists and everyday citizens to the potential brutality of state repression. Observing these events, many were left stunned that a liberal democracy would perpetrate such horrific acts against individuals in its care and this behavior was viewed as aberrant or idiosyncratic. Using data from 146 countries, covering the years 1980-1999, we investigate the extent to which different regimes use torture both in times of peace and in times where domestic tranquility is threatened. We find that rather than aberrant, state-sponsored torture like that in Abu Ghraib is perfectly consistent with previous experience. When confronted with political threats, democracies are as likely as autocracies to employ torture.
We had been presenting this paper at a bunch of different venues and got a somewhat mixed to favorable response. Some thought it was really interesting but some just kind of found it troubling to believe that a democracy could engage in repression like an autocracy.
Will heard us give a presentation of the paper and he extensively commented on it. We included the paper with his comments because it is classic Will: critical (which is standard in the discipline), helpful (which is not), clear (not as common as we would like) and chuck full of good ideas (which is also not that common). He bought our overall argument and was quite excited about it actually but thought that we needed to clean some stuff up. He essentially thought that we needed to ground the work more in my 1995 article (which he always told me that he loved), a piece by Wanchekon and Healy as well as some things he was working on regarding free press and judicial indepencence. Additionally, he thought we needed to engage in a bit more exploration of alternative data. For example, he did not understand how CIRI coded torture nor if he bought it. He thought that we were exploring too many variables for both repression and democracy. The modeling we used was a bit unorthodox (i.e., Dynamic Ordered Probit) – not wrong mind you but he thought there might be another/clearer way to do it. He also thought that our use of Polity was limited as our analysis tended to rely on a variable number of cases across some questionable regime designations.
We thought he was right and decided to bring him into the project. This led to a few changes. First, we settled on a smaller set of democracy variables. After a mammoth version of the paper where we used seemingly every measure on the planet for both concepts, we settled on three aspects of democracy (voice and veto from my then forthcoming book "State Repression and the Domestic Democratic Peace" as well as free press from something that Will began to push for). For torture, we used CIRI but none of us was especially happy with the choice although deemed better than the Hathaway measure.
The paper was much better in many respects because of this intervention but it was not received uniformly well. One problem seemed to be that folks just had a hard time accepting that democracies could engage in repression and that they could do so in a way at all comparable to an autocracy. We just cut too strongly against what people believed. A second hangup seemed to be that we had a few moving parts. We were disaggregating but bringing together different aspects of political democracy into a community that was generally using one measure (Polity) to measure democracy which combined a great many things as well as left some elements out. Too many notes.
We also got a little wordy because we had too many cooks and a lot to say. Consider the following:
Table 1 records the change in the predicted probability given a change from an autocratic to a democratic state in the ACLP dataset, with the 95% confidence interval in parentheses below the entry. The results in the table lead us to reject hypothesis one, though not because voice reduces the likelihood of torture. Indeed, all of the confidence intervals include zero which means we cannot reject the null hypothesis of no change. Stated more substantively, the presence of elections and a successful transfer of power across parties fails to reduce the probability that a state uses torture, regardless of whether or not it was using torture in the preceding year, and regardless of the presence (absence) of violent dissent. This null results holds whether we examine the most friendly state, the typical state, or the most hostile state as a baseline. (OMG! How dense is that?)
This is an important result. Previous results reporting that democracy reduces the incidence of torture (Hathaway 2002) fail to distinguish voice from veto or free speech. Further, work that does make such distinctions but studies aggregated indicators of state repression have often found that voice reduces repression (Davenport 1999, Davenport and Armstrong 2004, Bueno de Mesquita et al. 2005, Davenport 2007b). Two other studies, however, report results that challenge those findings (Davenport 1997, Richards 1999), and we further refine that challenge by showing that elections and the successful transfer of power across parties have no effect on the probability that a state uses torture. The work of Wantchekon and Healy (1999), Walzer (2004) and Levey (2007) provides cause to expect this, and when we combine it with the argument that dissidents who use violence are unlikely to vote (much less be members of the winning coalition), we have an explanation that can account for the absence of such a relationship. (Talk about burying the lead. We killed it, set it on fire, buried it, dug it back up, spat on it and then buried it again.)
The paper got better but frustrated after a few revisions, submissions and rejections (somewhat less kind than the earlier version), we parted ways on this project. The parts did well.
Dave and I had published our AJPS piece “Democracy and the Violation of Human Rights: A Statistical Analysis from 1976-1996” which allowed us to get at some of the arguments that we wanted to address. Specifically, we wanted to highlight that before democracy can have an impact on repression, a great many ducks need to be in a row. There was no “murder in the middle” (a catchy title for an article and something that people kept investigating that was empirically unsupported); rather, there was murder up to the top (of the scale). I also wrote my book, "State Repression and the Domestic Democratic Peace", which allowed me to lay out the argument (redux) and empirics behind my idea that democracy could influence repression but not when behavioral challenges emerged. Under these circumstances, there was nothing peaceful about democracy.
Will went to explore his criticism of CIRI and how they measured torture with Courtenay Conrad and Jillienne Haglund. Brilliantly, they went back to one of the primary sources (Amnesty International) and shook everything up by arguing that what Amnesty was providing was not information about actual human rights violations (which is how most of us viewed them); rather, they provided accusations regarding possible human rights abuses. This was a huge shift in what people thought they had - the reverberations of which we are still figuring out. It also made everyone (including Courtenay, Jillienne and Will) be careful about what they said that we were studying when we used these materials. Will and Courtenay grounded the discussion in their article more precisely in a decision-theoretic logic where the leader was placed more centrally. My collaborative effort with Will and Dave was less focused on this as we were grappling with principal-agent dynamics but had not completely worked that out yet. Within the NSF project that emerged from this riff, however, Courtenay and Will disaggregated the state into its components parts – trying to be more precise about exactly who was doing what. This would later inform my DyoRep: Dyadic Analysis of Repression project.
Ever-interwined. Ever-inspired, we moved on.
Next: Refugees and Movement of the People
[i] Important limitations established by Attorney General Janet Reno were overturned as well.