Sunday, August 2, 2009

Does Poverty Cause Crime? - You Decide And Respond

Crime is a result of an individual’s moral disposition that attempts to satisfy desire by taking something by force. Rape, theft, murder, assault, fraud… it does not matter. All crime boils down to a an attempt to satisfy a desire by taking what does not belong to the person doing the taking.Certainly, there is a correlation between poverty and crime, and lack of education and crime. This does not mean that the correlation is causitive.For example, numerous studies have shown a relationship between one group of people and crime. The percentage of that froup in prisons is disproportionate to their ratio in the country’s population. Crimes committed by that group is also disproportionate to crimes committed by other groups.Does this mean that one race are inherently disposed toward crime? I do not believe it is legitimate to make this claim. We cannot reasonably assert that people of a particular ethnic group are predisposed to commit crimes. However, I do think there is a way that allows us to grapple with the example of a particular group crime rates (or the crime rates of any other racial group) without sliding down the slope of advocating genocide in order to keep crime down in this country.I agree with the philosophers Thomas Aquinas and John Locke when they said that the human being is born as a tabula rasa, or blank slate. Thomas Aquinas was the first to assert the tabula rasa theory in the 13th century, though it was John Locke who fully expressed the idea in the 17th century. In John Locke’s philosophy, tabula rasa was the theory that the (human) mind is at birth a “blank slate” without rules for processing data, and that data is added and rules for processing is formed solely by one’s sensory experiences. The notion is central to Lockean empiricism. As understood by Locke, tabula rasa meant that the mind of the individual was born “blank”, and it also emphasized the individual’s freedom to author his or her own soul. Each individual was free to define the content of his or her character - but his or her basic identity as a member of the human species cannot be so altered. It is this presumption of a free, self-authored mind combined with an immutable human nature, from which the Lockean doctrine of “natural” rights derives.In recent times tabula rasa has come to be understood fundamentally differently. While the idea that the individual can be changed remains, the power to effect that change is now ascribed to society, not the self - and that power extends to the whole of human nature. Under this view, one can almost without restriction shape the individual by changing the individual’s environment, and thus sensory experiences.If the tabula rasa theory is correct, then we can also conclude that since humans are born as a blank slate, races of humans cannot be accused of being born toward certain proclivities (e.g. Jewish people as bankers, blacks as criminals, whites as drug dealers, Arabs as Terrorists and so forth).Tabula rasa holds that an individual’s experiences shape them. This means that a person’s parents, siblings, extended family and surrounding culture all shape a young person. Yet, individuals also choose how they respond to sensory experiences. Children particularly are shaped by their cultures and as they grow up and develop better reasoning and feeling skills, they learn how to better understand the forces that influence them. We are both shaped by our environments and we exert some choice in how we respond to our live experiences.The important idea is that races do not have intrinsic values because people do not have intrinsic values at birth. Our values are shaped by our how we sense and interpret our experiences. Our experiences come from our cultures.Because I believe in tabula rasa, I do not believe that races have intrinsic values. However, I do believe that cultures have values. People derive their values from the cultures they participate in. Culture is the aggregate set of values and practices that arise from the interaction between people who share some kind of affinity (race, a community, interests, etc.). I’m not even going to pretend to try to explain the dynamics and adaptations of cultures because all that will be evident is my ignorace. However, what I will say is that people influence cultures and cultures influence people.Cultures form and reflect values as a consequence of the interplay between people and their cultures.Cultures are the primary carriers of values and as people interact with those values, the momentum of culture usually possesses the stronger force of influence. Emerging out of the inertia of culture is difficult because so much is tied to identifying with a culture.Over the years, I have observed young children play with other children of different races. I have found that children are color blind: kids tend to not see skin color and make value judgments based on skin color. However, when a child is exposed to racist ideas, from parents or from the culture in which the child’s family lives within, the child will tend to absorb those values. This is due partly because people feel a need to conform in order to be accepted. Their belongingness to the important people of their lives subtly demands conformity. It is also due to a child’s limited life experiences. When a child does not have an opportunity to hang out people who have different cultural values, then racism becomes “normal” to them. Children who grow up with alcoholic parents are usually surprised when they first discover that not all parents drink to get drunk. Normal is defined by what surrounds us and when we lack comparitive experiences, it is difficult to frame a difference concept of what normal is.So then it is a person’s culture that forms their values. And when a culture justifies crime and violence as a means to acquire what they desire, it should not be a surprise that people within that culture will also value crime and violence. My thesis then, in summary, is that it is not certain races that are disposed to criminal behavior; it is instead that all cultures that are disposed to certain kinds of behaviors. This is why stereotypes are often a truncated truth. There is an interdependent relationship between people and cultures: people form their cultures over time by the values they reflect in their behaviors and people are formed by their cultures over time as they participate in the culture.I am reading a book titled Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World. What I am learning in this book is that people have an amazing ability to organize themselves into communities and cultures that enable them to live well together. I have read sudy after study in this book about poor people who cannot afford traditional housing who squat on land and over time, build vibrant, economocally dynamic communities. The larger cities that own the usurped land gradually come to accept the squatter communities as legitimate extensions of the city at large.What has impressed me so far in the book is how poor people have consistently demonstrated an ability to create orderly, well-functioning systems, even in the face of deprivation and subsistence living. Certainly, these communities are not crime free; criminal elements do come into the communities to exploit the people there. Nevertheless, these communities are able to sustain their lifestyles and gradually grow as decades pass.Criminal acts are committed because a person believes that they are somehow entitled to a certain standard of living or because they demand that certain expereinces be made available to them. This is fundamentally a moral issue, and the ethic is one that all people can agree on regardless of their political or religious perspective. All credible religions and long-lasting civilizations over time have agreed that crimes like murder, theft, rape, kidnapping, assault and fraud are immoral. As long as a culture honors this minimum social contract, society carries along relatively smoothly. It is only when people choose to absorb the values of a criminal culture when those fundamental morals gradually erode.Do not be deceived: crime is not caused by deprivation nor ignorance. It is caused by a willful choice to seize what does not belong to a person. Crime is the result of cultural values not genetics. One Ethnic group may have a high rate of criminal activity because a segment of that group's culture values drugs, violence and the objectification of women and children. Please note that it is a small segment of that race that commits crimes. I am saying that in any case — the problem is with the culture not the race.Regardless, aborting babies of a praticular race will not ameliorate crime rates. However, changing cultural values could have an effect on crime. It’s not an easily achieved task, but it is certainly less reprehensible to say certain cultures value crime than it is to blame crime on entire races. Cultures can be changed; skin colors cannot.

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