Eric Michael Johnson recently published a thought-provoking piece for Scientific American on the causal link between social inequality and crime. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/primate-diaries/2012/07/26/the-jokers-wild/
In the aftermath of the terrible shooting in Aurora CO, there have been several theories propounded as to the cause of violence and the solutions necessary to prevent future horrific events and senseless harming of innocence in this country. Theories and potential solutions that do not address the heart and mind are only stopgaps. Stopgaps won’t stop future violence, and it seems reactionary, remedial solutions and more laws and controls placed on the individual in society and the removal of more individual rights comprise most of those being propounded today.
There is a strange primate tendency to take out our own stress on other beings and the environment. “Stress-induced displacement of aggression works wonders at minimizing the stressfulness of a stressor. It’s a real primate specialty as well.”–Robert Sapolsky, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers
Sapolsky’s studies of baboons indicate that borderline personalities appear to be created by genes and environment, AND also that they are preventable with proper attention and nurturing and LOVE (as indicated by the baboons who were raised by very nurturing mothers).
Forest Troop (a troop of Baboons who formed a social group at a Western safari garbage dump) shows that a culture that stresses less personal competition, more cooperation, less emphasis on aggression and more on social bonds creates a more balanced social system with less incidences of violence and aggression overall.
“Crime is a social mirror.” — Ichiro Kawachi
Ichiro Kawachi’s 1999 study at the Harvard School of Public Health found that when there was high income inequality, the rate of homicide was also high in 74% of the cases. The lack of “Social capital” (social trust, cooperation) accounted for 82% of homicides and 61% of assaults. Unemployment, poverty, education and alcohol consumption were not connected to violent crime at all. http://psyftp.mcmaster.ca/dalywilson/sshrc2004/wilkinsonCrime.pdf
A World Bank sponsored study also recently confirmed these findings on income inequality, concluding that, worldwide, homicide and the unequal distribution of resources are inextricably connected.
The number of guns in this country easily correlates to the number of homicides, but is it the cause? Not necessarily. In a follow-up study in 2001 Kawachi examined the prevalence of firearms and social capital in the U.S. The results showed that when social capital and community involvement declined, gun ownership increased; concluding that guns are not the direct cause of murders anymore than cars are at fault for fatal accidents, and it is impossible to provide any causal link.
The Centre for Economic Policy Research in London also supports this finding, “The appearance of such an effect in past research,” the authors state, “appears to be the product of methodological flaws.”
Gun control isn’t a solution for sociopathic behavior. The fault doesn’t lie with violent movies and TV shows either.
It would appear social capital followed by income inequality are the primary factors that influence the rate of homicidal aggression.
Frans de Waal, C. H. Candler Professor of Primate Behavior at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, told Mr. Johnson, “In order to have a highly skewed distribution of resources or reproductive privileges you will need a lot of aggression to maintain it. So, it’s not the inequality that causes aggression, but the other way around.”
“You crossed the line first, sir. You squeezed them, you hammered them to the point of desperation. And in their desperation, they turned to a man they didn’t fully understand.” —Alfred Pennyworth, The Dark Knight
One need not precede the other in time, though social inequality is an indicator of violent crimes and violence is a symptom of inequality, we can see that social inequality is a form of aggression and those in power use aggression to protect what they have in the face of a seemingly aggressive, hungry mob.
Greed itself is dangerous aggression when it leads to behaviors that infringe upon the rights of others.
“Because some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.” — Alfred Pennyworth, The Dark Knight
Blind vanity is equally egregious when it is allowed to run rampant, and social equality can only be realized when both greed and vanity are subdued.
“Nobody livin’ can ever stop us, as we go walkin’ that freedom highway.” — Woody Guthrie, “This Land is Your Land”
Aggression and inequality go hand in hand? Really? This should be obvious to not just the Social Scientist and the Primatologist. Aggressiveness is the way of the abusive personality (as the Social Worker and Psychologist know) and also the way that the plutocracy, oligarchy or dictatorship wields power against the powerless proletariat.
The numbers of wars in the world today is directly linked to social inequality and social trust and cooperation or, “social capital.” It seems that even just working to build relationships within social structures of groups and the community, and working with other communities around the world can make us all feel more respected, and safe, and nurture our common humanity and generate mutual respect not based in economic scale.
This also means changing the behaviors and attitudes of those in our society who value status and money over human dignity, rights and respect. Some re-education is called for here, a second look at our own driving impulses and the thoughts that govern them.
“Sometimes the truth isn’t good enough, sometimes people deserve more. Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded…” — Batman, “The Dark Knight”
It is a powerful thing to know that the only consistent predictor of homicide nationally and internationally is the level of social activism, how involved individuals are in their communities.
“This is because politically oriented individuals are also more likely to serve the needs of their community and assist in collective endeavors aimed at reducing crime. All of which follows the classic Tocquevillian premise: a willingness to take part in political affairs generates a willingness to contribute to the common good, including the production and maintenance of a safe and secure society.” — Blaine Robbins and David Pettinicchio
“The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens.” — Alexis de Tocqueville
Johnson reminds us of three victims, Jon Blunk, Matt McQuinn, and Alex Teves who each reacted without hesitation to the melee and gunshots by using their own bodies as human shields and taking bullets that otherwise would have killed their loved ones in that movie theater.
“It is this capacity for altruism that distinguishes us from nearly all other primates. How many of these lone and deranged gunmen, quietly secluded from the world like brutalized baboons, could have been redirected along a different path if there had been a community that made them feel secure? Our species is uniquely qualified to engage in activities that promote the public good; all we need is a little push.” — Johnson
“Trouble is caused by fear and greed [and] removed by one thing — love. That is the secret, and you will never educate yourself past it.” — Woody Guthrie
“The highest education is that which does not merely give us information but makes our life in harmony with all existence.” –Mahatma Gandhi
“Literary education sounds no value if it is not able to build up a sound character… You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them… No culture can live, if it attempts to be exclusive.” — Mahatma Gandhi
Here in the United States we are in a unique position to develop our social equality without writing new restrictive laws or changing our social structure. We have a democratic system that is specifically designed for this purpose, to give a sense of dignity and self-worth, an equal vote for all citizens. Anything we can do as a group to nurture the democratic rights and freedoms we already have, and bring these to the fore, is the best solution we have for preventing violence, homicides and suicides in the future. The answer lies in removing corruption, by discouraging aggressive and predatory behavior of those in power, and those not in power, enhancing individual accountability and responsibility and by creating social environments that nurture the individual.
“The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.” — Alexis de Tocqueville
We should take a hint from Forest Troop. A culture that stresses less personal competition, more cooperation, less emphasis on aggression and more on social bonds creates a more balanced social system with less incidences of violence and aggression overall. Treating the dangerous attachments of mind that allow for borderline personalities to develop should be key. This is where the education of the heart is very important and should not be ignored. The problem has been stated, and the solution that Woody, Gandhi and I offer [LOVE, COMPASSION – and the open heart] is shown to be the only real tenable solution. It’s a process and it takes some time, but it works.
At the very least, science points to two factors in the education of the heart must be addressed early on, and if not incepted early, then there will be a need for remediation at a later age:
1. LOVE: baby baboons with a pre-disposition for borderline personality disorder didn’t develop into sociopaths when raised with a mother who lovingly nurtured them.
2. Community involvement: People who trust and are involved in their communities behave more responsibly, commit less petty and violent crimes, and exhibit less sociopathic behavior
The most eggregious error we can make is to pass another restrictive law, erode or basic rights under the Constitution, and, “unman,” us more, as Gandhi puts it, and not do something to address the hearts and minds of those suffering unnecessarily in this country and abroad.