Sobering Reading

Go read this Wall Street Journal op-ed by Charles Murray. In it, he examines the growth of what he calls the underclass, i.e. the part of the population that habitually commits crime. One key passage:
The crime rate has been dropping for 13 years. But the proportion of young men who grow up unsocialized and who, given the opportunity, commit crimes, has not.

A rough operational measure of criminality is the percentage of the population under correctional supervision. This is less sensitive to changes in correctional fashion than imprisonment rates, since people convicted of a crime get some sort of correctional supervision regardless of the political climate. When Ronald Reagan took office, 0.9% of the population was under correctional supervision. That figure has continued to rise. When crime began to fall in 1992, it stood at 1.9%. In 2003 it was 2.4%. Crime has dropped, but criminality has continued to rise.
The difference is that now, we lock up our criminals for far longer periods, preventing them from preying on the rest of us until they get out. Today there are more than 2 million prison inmates.

What does Murray mean by "unsocialized"? Later on, he draws a clear connection between the level of criminality and the rate of illegitimate birth, currently over 35% in America and 68% in the black population. He asserts that the problem is with childrn growing up without fathers, but brings little support to back up his assertion. This is too bad, because there is a lot of research out there he could have pointed to. (You can find a sampling of them cited here.)

I remember reading about one study, which unfortunately I can't find references to on Google. If memory serves, the study was looking at the reactions of young girls (about 6 years old or thereabouts). Each girl would sit opposite from a middle-aged man (part of the staff), and each would be given a bowl of ice cream—but only the girl would be given a spoon. As the girl starts eating, the man would say, "I can't eat my ice cream without a spoon." Now, either the girl could continue eating as if he had not spoken, or else she could lend him her spoon so that he can eat first (presumably demonstrating greater empathy and decency).

The researchers found that girls with active fathers overwhelmingly offered the man their spoons, while girls without active fathers overwhelmingly ignored him.

What will our staggering illegitimacy rate mean for us in ten years, or twenty? Part of what makes a democracy work is that citizens agree to a certain set of norms; otherwise, people simply try to abuse the system and the whole edifice breaks down. Is that what we have in store for us?

1 comment:

Mike Maller said...

The study, or at least the way you quoted it, seems rather creepy. Further, though this is likely due to a derth of information on my part, these are young children trusting strange adults. Empathy and decency are great, but this seems to show too much trust of strangers for young children. There has got to be a better way of conducting the test.

Then again, maybe the gross public fear of those we are unfamiliar with is part of a vicious cycle, fed by the stories of criminality, we grow warier by the year of strangers, feeding a disconnect within society that breeds more criminality.

Whatever. I still think children shouldn't be encouraged to interact with strangers.