Friday, March 09, 2007

A society gets the criminals it deserves

I know I bang the drum that says the more things change the more they stay the same quite often. But hat tip to IDEATE who was commenting on this article in IOL.

South Africa should not see itself as the "criminal skunk" of the world because many other countries in transition had the same high crime prevalence.

Searching for the detail on the 19th Century criminolgist Jean Lacassagne referred to in the article, I found this article titled "The Crime Wave" from Time dated 30 June 1975.

Adults are confused and at a loss," says Psychiatrist Bernard Yudowitz. "They
don't know what standards to set for their children or themselves. The bells
that used to ring in your head to say no aren't ringing any more."

Urbanologist Edward Banfield and others see a slippery morality emerging
from the 1960s: the idea that disadvantaged groups "have a kind of quasi right
to have their offenses against the law extenuated, or even to have them regarded
as political acts reflecting a morality 'higher' than obedience to the law."
Says Gerald Caplan, director of the research branch of the Law Enforcement
Assistance Administration: "Is the black fellow who steals a car a victim of
society or its enemy? Is Spiro Agnew a political victim or a predator on
society? People have varying answers."

It seems that every group has caught the knack of rationalizing away violations of the law, from Watergate conspirators to antiwar bombers and young black criminals who define assaults as "political acts." Says Frederick Hacker, a University of Southern California professor of psychiatry and law: "There have been an increasing criminalization of politics and a politicalization of criminals. It's reached the point where
there are no criminals in San Quentin any more. They're all freedom fighters."
It seems clear that some of the old values and restraints have been battered
by recent upheavals—war, riots, assassinations, racial strife, situational ethics, the youth rebellion. As disillusionment sets in, fewer and fewer Americans look to the churches, schools or Washington for moral leadership.

Stern observers of today's widespread ethical torpor tend to agree with the 19th
century French criminologist Jean Lacassagne: "A society gets the criminals it

And this reminded me of an earlier post (yes the same beating drum) where I concluded thus.

So it seems then, that disintegration from a gracious and hospitable past to
a present populated by the predatory wealthy and the victimized poor is the bane
and whine of every generation.

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