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Author Topic: The American (and first world) cultural context  (Read 1761 times)
Crafty_Dog
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« on: January 15, 2011, 01:09:01 PM »

Woof All:

On the "Citizens defend themselves/others" thread currently nearby, the discussion of the CCW hero citizen who jumped in to help capture the crazed killer has evolved into a discussion of what can be done to lessen the occurrence of such madness.  At the moment the discussion is centered on the issue of what to do about obviously crazy people such as the killer in this case.  How did he fall between the cracks?  What, if anything, can be done to prevent this without endangering our gun rights? 

These are good questions, and I think they deserve a thread of their own-- this one and I invite the discussion of "Citizens defend themselves" to continue here. 

That said this thread is for all larger societal questions of the societal/cultural context in which our violence incubates:  What to do about crazy people, what to do with those who do wrong, why do people do these crazy things, etc.

Much heat and little light has been generated by accusations of the alleged hatred of the Tea Party, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh et al.  In my opinion this is drivel at best:  Where was the hatred at Glenn Beck's 8/28 rally of a half million?  What of GB's continuing praise of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Ghandi?  Where was the outrage when the President spoke of the opposition as "enemies" and "bringing a gun to a knife fight"?  Where was the outrage at the hatred spewed at President Bush? etc. etc.  More likely in my opinion is that the true motivation by those disingenuously oblivious to their own deeds is to neuter a properly vigorous reaction to the genuinely radical ambitions of the man who is our President-- and those around him.

We have always had vigorous political debate which often has wend its way through heated and dirty places.  We have always had political crimes of murder violence.  Southern congressmen used to cane northern congressmen opposed to slavery, sometimes on the floor of the House itself (see the American History thread on our SCH forum).   In my lifetime, accompanied by a liberal chorus about right wing hatred in Dallas for President Kennedy, a communist murdered him; a Palestinian murdered Senator Bobby Kennedy as the left rose up against the Vietnam War; a racist killed MLK; deranged hippie offshoots attempted murder of President Ford; a deranged whacko shot President Reagan.  With the possible exception of the murder of MLK, none of these were fomented by angry political words in public discourse.

But I digress , , , (not for the first or last time, no doubt).

Returning to the subject at hand, I would like to offer my own nominee to the list of candidates of variables that set the cultural stage for the acts of madness that we regularly see: the amoral violence we regularly see portrayed in Hollywood and on TV.
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Crafty_Dog
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WSJ
« Reply #1 on: January 17, 2011, 12:03:06 PM »

Since 1990, New York has experienced the largest and longest sustained drop in street crime of any big city in the developed world. In less than a generation, many major felonies have fallen 80 percent or more. New York did this by rejecting everything that the criminology and social-work professions counseled about crime. Police Chief William Bratton announced in 1994 that the police, not some big-government welfare program, would lower crime by 10 percent in just one year. He not only met his goal, he bested it—by ruthlessly holding precinct commanders accountable for the safety of their beats, by the rigorous analysis of crime data, and by empowering street cops to intervene in suspicious behavior before a crime actually happened.

Just as the liberal philosophy of exempting the poor from bourgeois standards of behavior set up a vicious cycle of fatherlessness, crime, and dependency, the conservative philosophy of universal standards set up a virtuous cycle of urban renovation. With crime in free fall across New York in the 1990s, the tourism and hospitality industries boomed, triggering demand for the low-skilled welfare mothers whom welfare reform was nudging into the workplace. Businesses moved back into formerly violence-plagued areas, creating more jobs. Neighborhoods were transformed.

To take just one example, contemplate for a moment a small miracle that occurs around 11 o'clock each night at the 96th Street subway stop on the Lexington Avenue line: residents pour out of the subway and disappear into the darkness, heading unconcernedly home. For years, such a routine at such an hour would have been fraught with anxiety. . . .

The national crime drop of 41 percent since 1991 is also the longest and largest national decline in modern history, one wholly unforeseen by criminologists. It was made possible by the increased incarceration rate, which achieved its maximum effect in the 1990s, and by the spread of New York–style data-driven policing. Most significant is that the national crime rate has fallen in each of the last three years, putting the final nail in the coffin of the liberal conceit that a bad economy drives otherwise law-abiding individuals into crime.

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selfcritical
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« Reply #2 on: January 17, 2011, 07:38:31 PM »

The decrease in crime rate also accompanied countries that DON'T have our incarceration rate, but had similar demographic shifts in age of population at the same time, so I think attribution to incarceration rate of falling crime rates is a tad bit premature. In addition, most of our increased incarceration isn't of violent criminals- it's drug and property crimes. The notion that locking up a large segment of people who weren't violent to begin with, and then putting them in a rape box to be socialized with people who ARE violent, and then releasing them, is responsible for decreasing the amount of violence is I think suspect. 


(Most western industrialized nations had a downshift in the population size of adolescent and early adult males, particularly in lower-income families that don't have the free work hours to supervise their children for as many hours a day. Unsupervised youth provide the biggest spike in violence. No one did anything to cure the crime wave, the tide of teenagers generated by the boomers just got older and had children in a more spaced out pattern than their parents did)
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #3 on: January 19, 2011, 09:14:52 AM »

Those are points worthy of consideration.
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G M
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« Reply #4 on: January 20, 2011, 10:46:11 AM »

SC,

So car thieves and burglars shouldn't be incarcerated?
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G M
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« Reply #5 on: January 20, 2011, 11:58:00 AM »

http://www.city-journal.org/html/9_4_oh_to_be.html

How Criminologists Foster Crime
Theodore Dalrymple    


Last week in the prison I asked a young man why he was there.

"Just normal burglaries," he replied.

"Normal for whom?" I asked.

"You know, just normal."

He meant, I think, that burglaries were like gray skies in an English winter: unavoidable and to be expected. In an actuarial sense, he was right: Britain is now the burglary capital of the world, as almost every householder here will attest. But there was also a deeper sense to his words, for statistical normality slides rapidly in our minds into moral normality. The wives of burglars often talk to me of their husband's "work," as if breaking into other people's homes were merely a late shift in a factory. Nor is only burglary "normal" in the estimation of its perpetrators. "Just a normal assault," is another frequent answer prisoners give to my question, the little word "just" emphasizing the innocuousness of the crime.

But how has crime come to seem normal to its perpetrators? Is it merely a recognition of the brute fact of a vastly increased crime rate? Or could it be, on the contrary, one of the very causes of that increase, inasmuch as it represents a weakening of the inhibition against criminality?

As usual, one must look first to the academy when tracing the origins of a change in the Zeitgeist. What starts out as a career-promoting academic hypothesis ends up as an idea so widely accepted that it becomes not only an unchallengeable orthodoxy but a cliche even among the untutored. Academics have used two closely linked arguments to establish the statistical and moral normality of crime and the consequent illegitimacy of the criminal justice system's sanctions. First, they claim, we are all criminal anyway; and when everyone is guilty, everyone is innocent. Their second argument, Marxist in inspiration, is that the law has no moral content, being merely the expression of the power of certain interest groups—of the rich against the poor, for example, or the capitalist against the worker. Since the law is an expression of raw power, there is no essential moral distinction between criminal and non-criminal behavior. It is simply a question of whose foot the boot is on.

Criminologists are the mirror image of Hamlet, who exclaimed that if each man received his deserts, none should escape whipping. On the contrary, say the criminologists, more liberal than the prince (no doubt because of their humbler social origins): none should be punished.

These ideas resonate in the criminal's mind. If his illegal conduct is so very normal, he thinks, what's all the fuss about in his case, or why should he be where he is—in prison? It is patently unjust for him to be incarcerated for what everyone still at liberty does. He is the victim of illegitimate and unfair discrimination, rather like an African under apartheid, and it is only reasonable that, on his release, he should take his revenge upon so unjust a society by continuing, or expanding, his criminal activity.

It is impossible to state precisely when the Zeitgeist changed and the criminal became a victim in the minds of intellectuals: not only history, but also the history of an idea, is a seamless robe. Let me quote one example, though, now more than a third of a century old. In 1966 (at about the time when Norman Mailer in America, and Jean-Paul Sartre in Europe, portrayed criminals as existential heroes in revolt against a heartless, inauthentic world), the psychiatrist Karl Menninger published a book with the revealing title The Crime of Punishment. It was based upon the Isaac Ray lectures he had given three years earlier—Isaac Ray having been the first American psychiatrist who concerned himself with the problems of crime. Menninger wrote: "Crime is everybody's temptation. It is easy to look with proud disdain upon ‘those people’ who get caught—the stupid ones, the unlucky ones, the blatant ones. But who does not get nervous when a police car follows closely? We squirm over our income tax statements and make some ‘adjustments.’ We tell the customs official we have nothing to declare—well, practically nothing. Some of us who have never been convicted of crime picked up over two billion dollars' worth of merchandise last year from the stores we patronize. Over a billion dollars was embezzled by employees last year."

The moral of the story is that those who go to court and to prison are victims of chance at best and of prejudice at worst: prejudice against the lowly, the unwashed, the uneducated, the poor—those whom literary critics portentously call the Other. This is precisely what many of my patients in the prison tell me. Even when they have been caught in flagrante, loot in hand or blood on fist, they believe the police are unfairly picking on them. Such an attitude, of course, prevents them from reflecting upon their own contribution to their predicament: for chance and prejudice are not forces over which an individual has much personal control. When I ask prisoners whether they'll be coming back after their release, a few say no with an entirely credible vehemence; they are the ones who make the mental connection between their conduct and their fate. But most say they don't know, that no one can foresee the future, that it's up to the courts, that it all depends—on others, never on themselves.

It didn't take long for Menninger's attitude to permeate official thinking. A 1968 British government document on juvenile delinquency, Children in Trouble, declared: "It is probably a minority of children who grow up without ever misbehaving in ways which may be contrary to the law. Frequently, such behavior is no more than an incident in the pattern of a child's normal development."

In a sense, this is perfectly true, for in the absence of proper guidance and control, the default setting of human beings is surely to crime and antisocial conduct, and everyone breaks the rules at some time. But in a period of increasing permissiveness, many draw precisely the wrong conclusion from human nature's universal potential for delinquency: indeed, the only reason commentators mention that potential at all is to draw a predetermined liberal conclusion from it—that acts of delinquency, being normal, should not give rise to sanctions.

In this spirit, Children in Trouble treats the delinquency of normal children as if its transience were the result of a purely biological or natural process rather than of a social one. Delinquency is like baby teeth: predetermined to come and go at a certain stage of a child's development.

Not so very long ago, such an attitude would have struck almost everyone as absurd. Everyone knew, as if by instinct, that human behavior is a product of consciousness, and the consciousness of a child must be molded. I can best illustrate what I mean by my own experience. At the age of eight, I stole a penny bar of chocolate from the corner store. It gave me a thrill to do so, and I enjoyed the chocolate all the more for the fact that it had not made an inroad into my weekly pocket money (sixpence). Unwisely, however, I confided my exploit to my elder brother, in an attempt to win his respect for my bravery, which was much in question at the time. Even more unwisely, I forgot that he knew this incriminating story when, furious at him because of his habitual teasing, I told my mother that he had uttered a word that at that time was never heard in respectable households. In retaliation, he told my mother that I had stolen the chocolate.

My mother did not take the view that this was a transient episode of delinquency that would pass of its own accord. She knew instinctively (for, at that time, no one had yet befuddled minds by suggesting otherwise) that all that was necessary for delinquency to triumph was for her to do nothing. She did not think that my theft was a natural act of self-expression, or a revolt against the inequality between the power and wealth of children and that of adults, or indeed of anything other than my desire to have the chocolate without paying for it. She was right, of course. What I had done was morally wrong, and to impress the fact upon me she marched me round to Mrs. Marks, the owner of the store, where I confessed my sin and paid her tuppence by way of restitution. It was the end of my shoplifting career.

Since then, of course, our understanding of theft and other criminal activity has grown more complex, if not necessarily more accurate or realistic. It has been the effect, and quite possibly the intention, of criminologists to shed new obscurity on the matter of crime: the opacity of their writing sometimes leads one to wonder whether they have actually ever met a criminal or a crime victim. Certainly, it is in their professional interest that the wellsprings of crime should remain an unfathomed mystery, for how else is one to convince governments that what a crime-ridden country (such as Britain) needs is further research done by ever more criminologists?

It is probably no coincidence that the profession of criminology underwent a vast expansion at about the same time that criminal activity began the steepest part of its exponential rise. Criminologists in Britain once numbered in the low dozens; and criminology, considered unfit for undergraduates, was taught only in one or two institutes. Today, hardly a city or town in the country is without its academic criminology department. Half of the 800 criminologists now working in Britain got their training (mostly in sociology) in the late sixties and early seventies, during the heyday of radical activism, and they trained the other half.

Of course, it might have been that the problem of crime called forth its students. But since social problems are often of a dialectical nature, could it not also have been that the students called forth their problem? (British economist John Vaizey once wrote that any problem that became the subject of an ology was destined to grow serious.) Since the cause of crime is the decision of criminals to commit it, what goes on in their minds is not irrelevant. Ideas filter down selectively from the academy into the population at large, through discussions (and often bowdlerizations) in the papers and on TV, and become intellectual currency. In this way, the ideas of criminologists could actually become a cause of crime. In addition, these ideas deleteriously affect the thinking of the police. In our hospital, for example, the police have posted notices everywhere warning staff, patients, and visitors about car theft. MOTORISTS! proclaims the notice. YOUR CAR IS AT RISK! This is a very criminological locution, implying as it does a mysterious force—like, say, gravity—against which mere human will, such as that exercised by thieves and policemen, can be expected to avail nothing.

In the process of transmission from academy to populace, ideas may change in subtle ways. When the well-known criminologist Jock Young wrote that "the normalization of drug use is paralleled by the normalization of crime," and, because of this normalization, criminal behavior in individuals no longer required special explanation, he surely didn't mean that he wouldn't mind if his own children started to shoot up heroin or rob old ladies in the street. Nor would he be indifferent to the intrusion of burglars into his own house, ascribing it merely to the temper of the times and regarding it as a morally neutral event. But that, of course, is precisely how "just" shoplifters, "just" burglars, "just" assaulters, "just" attempted murderers, taking their cue from him and others like him, would view (or at least say they viewed) their own actions: they have simply moved with the times and therefore done no wrong. And, not surprisingly, the crimes that now attract the deprecatory qualification "just" have escalated in seriousness even in the ten years I have attended the prison as a doctor, so that I have even heard a prisoner wave away "just a poxy little murder charge." The same is true of the drugs that prisoners use: where once they replied that they smoked "just" cannabis, they now say that they take "just" crack cocaine, as if by confining themselves thus they were paragons of self-denial and self-discipline.
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DougMacG
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« Reply #6 on: January 20, 2011, 12:18:47 PM »

My own 2 cents or less.  Breaking and entering in my view is a violent crime (keyword breaking).  Even a burglar entering an unlocked home or private property poses a potential threat of violence upon discovery or confrontation that no one deserves, and a threat of violence is form of violence.  A car theft immediately limits the mobility of the car owner, a physical crime against that person, not a property crime. The distinction to be made is victimless, not non-violent, if you can argue that a crime is victimless or if the damage done is fully repairable, then a remedy short of incarceration might apply.  In general, penalties are too small and the system too forgiving for most real crimes IMO.  Maybe incarceration rates would be lower if the consequences were more feared.  
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Jonobos
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« Reply #7 on: February 11, 2011, 06:52:23 PM »

Quote
Maybe incarceration rates would be lower if the consequences were more feared.

Be careful of walking down this dark allyway. Other places in the world have such policies and we DONT want to be like them. Cutting off the hands of a thief comes to mind.    wink
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When life gives you lemons make lemonade
When life gives you hemlock, do NOT make hemlockade!
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