Stereotypes and Hog-Wash Strategy

AngryIt never ceases to amaze me how quick we are to condemn others. We don’t just do it individually, although that is bad enough but also as a collective society, we have the propensity for stereotypical assumptions. Mostly thanks to our media, we stick convenient labels on people so that everyone else can arrive at a socially engineered ‘informed’ assumption about those individuals. The more this process is propagated, the more we develop contrived perceptions about the ‘worth’ of differing ‘types’ of our fellow human beings. So how do we stop this process or at the very least, do something that might slow or reverse the trend?

We live in a world where (some) people do ‘bad’ things i.e. they break a law. There are often reasons and/or causation factors for that crime but also, sometimes there are no reasons, at least not logical or easily seen ones. I’ve always found the deeper aspects of criminology incredibly interesting; why does someone do the things they do? Why would they do it again, even after getting caught and being punished? Why would they choose to do what they do, instead of making a different choice? Why wouldn’t they make choices that fit with the normally expected standards and morality of our wider society? Did they actually have a real choice?

There have been a great deal of people asking these types of questions for many years, most of them far more academically qualified than I am. That said, most of what we think we know about crime and the cause of crime, let alone how to prevent it, is at the best misinterpreted and at the worst, little more than political hog-wash. So-called ‘facts’ are often engineered then inflated or deflated by our media, dependent on the colour of their particular political flag. There is very little evidence to support many of our perceived solutions to the causes of crime, never mind the reasons why people commit crime. So, instead of consigning all those people to the ne’er-do-well swamp of infamy, wouldn’t it be better if we could see people as individuals? And help those individuals to make better choices!

Obviously crime and those who commit crime can have a massive impact upon our society. So there is a need to protect the non criminal part of our society from the criminal element but also, to protect those ‘criminals’ and their families from themselves sometimes, where at all possible. The financial impacts upon the public purse alone are significant, before even starting to consider any moral desires of humanity, but it means we ignore crime and the causes of crime at our peril. But, media headlines designed to shock us along with the misinformed manner in which we talk about crime, often lead many of us to be driven by irrational (but often understandable) anger when we discuss how we should deal with these issues.

This week I found it both interesting and informative to read a book that, in the main, confirmed many of my thoughts and beliefs about crime and some of the causation factors. Comming from a smug perspective on anything isn’t usually a very attractive trait however; when somebody who is eminently more qualified than you are, confirms your thought processes and experience, it makes for a nice warm feeling. When that person is actually someone who is clearly listened to, in many of the areas that can or do influence change, so much the better. You actually get renewed hope that the failures of the past won’t be continued or possibly, might even get altered for the benefit of our future.

Criminal: The Truth About Why People Do Bad Things (Tom Gash)

“There are two myths about crime. In one, the criminal act is a selfish choice, and tough punishment the only solution. In the other, the system is at fault, and perpetrators will change only when society reforms. Both these narratives are wrong.” Interweaving conversations and stories of crime with findings from the latest research, Tom Gash dispels the myths that inform our views of crime, from the widespread misconception that poverty causes crime, to the belief that tough sentencing reduces it.

It is always good to hold hope for the future but you also require need to hold some low expectations for success, just in case your visions aren’t actually realised… especially when it comes to politicians directing that change! One of the greatest negative impacts for visionary achievement and the ultimate success of any journey is fear. A fear of the unknown, a fear of undermining your own self-importance or your popularity with others, as with most politicians and interestingly… many of those suffering from addictions.

Increasingly we fear investing for our future because of our short-sighted levels of importance we afford to today. We are fixated on the recent past, the here and now of immediate gratification or the short-term future. Any speculation for accumulation of capital to benefit the building of our long-term future, especially in political and civic circles (and again addictions) rarely exists. Thank you for having some vision Tom. My only hope is that people more influential than me are also listening to your words of support for our social recovery!

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Tom Gash is an adviser, researcher and writer, who helps people to think differently about the big challenges facing governments and societies worldwide. He is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Government, a Visiting Senior Fellow at the London School of Economics, and an expert adviser for the Boston Consulting Group.

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