Thursday, June 17, 2010

Crime: Different nations, different values?

I never quite know how I end up down some of the rabbit holes I find.

Somehow I ended up considering violence and crime, following some article somewhere that led to some statistics somewhere else. It made me ponder something about my early life... and remember part of my childhood. Specifically, I didn't remember us ever being worried about violence or guns in Denmark, but we were plenty worried about theft; the house being burgled or the car being broken into. Since I've lived in the US I realize that I worry less about being stolen from, than I worry about someone violently attacking me, or shooting me.

Of course, these are just "feelings," but it made me curious.

So I ended up looking at this 1400-page UN report on crime in different countries. And came away with some reassurance that these were not "just feelings."

Indeed, there are five times more homicides (per 100,000 people) in the US, than in Denmark. If you break out homicides with a firearm, twelve times more. Then I looked at a different form of violent crime: Rape. There are about 3.5 times more rapes (per 100,000 people) in the US, than in Denmark.

But this is only half the equation. Here's the flip side. In Denmark, there are about twice the number of thefts (per 100,000 people) compared to the US. That balance also holds true for "property crimes," in general.

Now, before anyone starts to "go off" on me about gun laws or socialism or whatever... I don't care, and that's not what this exploration is about. Second, I also know that you can use statistics to tell almost any story you want. And that not all crimes are reported.

Anyway, realizing that my gut feelings had some kind of anchor in reality, I started to consider "WHY?" Why these differences?

It occurred to me that perhaps crime is a strange mirror and reflection of what a society ultimately "values."

Denmark is a very "community" oriented society. Concepts such as "us" and "society" and "common good" rank much higher than "me" and "mine" and "the individual" as core values. On the other hand, "things" and "objects" and "wealth" are part of common life, but not that important. I remember certain "messages" I heard... violence against someone was almost an unspeakable act; something only the crudest barbarian would resort to. If someone broke in your house, however, the response was less likely to be outrage than "Yeah, well, you should have had better locks, shouldn't you?"

In the US, we're spread out, and "individualism" is king, and the sense of "us" and "community" is not nearly as strong. One the other hand, there is a strong drive to "acquire" and to gain wealth, often in the form of "objects" (property). I have a vivid memory of my downstairs neighbor during my senior year in college in Texas having his car stereo stolen... and him saying to be (and he was dead serious) "If I'd caught that guy stealing my stereo, I'd have taken my gun and shot him right there!"

So I wondered this: Do we-- as a species-- avoid perpetrating crime against what we value most? Let's assume for a moment that we all have the same inner degree of "criminal intent." Danes value "people" highly, but "property" not so highly... in the US, we value "property" (relatively speaking) higher than "people."

Is there a subtle, subconscious "trigger" mechanism... that if we are driven to commit crime, we are more likely to do so against what our surrounding culture values less?

Of course, I realize there are a myriad variables-- this is NOT a "scientific" inquiry! It is merely a "pause for thought" exercise.

Monday, June 7, 2010

As Big Level Greed gives way to Individual Courage

I have been thinking a lot about the slow-motion disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico. It's hard not to... it's everywhere, all the time.

At first, we watch these things like they are train wrecks. It seems "distant," like it "happened to THEM, over THERE." But then this thing happens... the train wreck never stops. And it goes from being this "event" far away, to something that affects ALL of us. It stops being "just another news story" we can shrug off as we reach for another beer...

It's scary, it's freaky... People are no longer "just watching;" they are getting angry. And that's a good thing.

I heard a very interesting perspective, the other day.

Someone said "This was a necessary disaster."

I was a little outraged, at first... but then I heard the entire line of reasoning, and it made some sense.

We ARE living in an age of change. We are increasingly moving towards a place where the old ways of greed (think the stock market, investment scandals, banks collapsing, the real estate bubble) are falling apart. But these things did not fall apart till there was a massive calamity to overturn the apple cart.

As all this continues to topple, we are entering an age of "Individual Courage." We have passed a subtle "tipping point," where the average person in the street is moving away from a centuries long era of apathy and helplessness ("What difference can *I* make? Pass me another beer") towards an era of individual empowerment. I guess many never trusted "Big Business" or "Big Government" in the first place, but we didn't feel empowered to DO anything...

That is, until things get so bad, that we're shaken out of our stupor.

Anyway, this idea I was shown... is that this long slow disaster that never ends, affecting so many and breaking even more hearts... is another tipping point. Although nobody can deny the catastrophical environmental impact, this may just be the needed event that will finally shake up the broader population enough... to realize that we really do need to develop alternative energy, and to personally take a stand in support of it. Demand it. It's no longer "good enough" to just sit in your recliner and nod, saying "yup, they really need to develop alternative energies."

The end that is at hand is not so much for Big Oil, as it is the end of Big Oil being allowed to place hurdles in the way of alternative energy... to protect their own self interest. Again, another
"brick" in the House of Greed is going to fall, as a result of this disaster.

But we needed something THIS HORRIBLE to be shaken out of our apathetic sleep... to wake up and say "NO! This will NOT stand!"

It's easy for us to point fingers and make them the villains and us the victims. But ultimately... this isn't about blame and who did this... but about examining what caused this. And we have to accept our own part in this. Because even though we can say this is "BP's fault," WE are responsible for making BP who they are.

And then we must change the paradigm that "creates" the BPs of the world.

One of my favorite... ehmm... "heroes"... is Gandhi. And one of his quotes I really like is this: "BE the change you wish for in the world."

It's a nice thing to say... not as easy to live. Looking at the mess in the Gulf, how can we live the change we need?

Personally, I don't think it's about boycotting BP... that's noble, and it makes us feel good, but it's ultimately a band-aid. We're still driving a car and putting gas into it. This is about individuals demanding access to the choices that lead to real change. It's about thousands-- millions-- of individuals writing to their local utilities and DEMANDING a "Green Power" option. And then signing up for it, even if it costs 10% more. It's about hanging onto your car for three years
longer than you'd planned so you can afford to buy the more expensive hybrid. That way the auto companies know-- because of their sales-- the direction they must take.

A couple of years ago, I got a little flyer with my electric bill from PSE (Puget Sound Energy)... announcing that I could choose to have my electricity come 100% from wind power. Yes, I realize a lot of power comes from coal, not oil... but the point here is that a change was
offered. And I agreed to pay 10% more for my electricity, in order to support a new cleaner paradigm. Meanwhile, I gain back the 10% by using those low-energy bulbs.

Our former state of apathy is built on a foundation that change "simply happens." The new paradigm of Individual Courage (and accountability) will be built on the foundation that change is something we "MAKE happen."

REAL change doesn't come from bombing some big oil company's headquarters or boycotting and picketing their gas stations. Whereas such actions make a big splash, a few wrists are slapped, and it quickly becomes yesterday's news as the status quo continues. REAL change comes as a result of making individual choices (multiplied by millions) that renders the already obsolete paradigm/product irrelevant.

It won't happen tomorrow, or next week, or next year... but it will happen because the age of greed and apathy is coming to an end. It's not going to be easy, however... that's why this is an age of COURAGE. We have to walk our talk... we have to ask the question "What can *I* do to help change this paradigm?" And realize that we are not helpless, even though we may feel "very small" in the face of the task ahead.

Demand green energy.
Plan your meals... so you grocery shop twice a week, not every day.
Don't say "I really OUGHT to carpool," instead CARPOOL.
Use a replaceable water filter, instead of buying bottled water in plastic bottles.
Buy the local brand because it didn't have to be shipped here, burning fuel.
Above all, be willing to be slightly inconvenienced in the name of change!

We don't have to give up anything much, we just have too change the "framework" we wrap around what we do.

We can make a difference... individually. Where we get trapped in apathy is when we start thinking what we do is not "big enough" and "won't make a difference." I call it the "Cure for Cancer Syndrome." People think their contributions do not matter, unless they invent the (metaphorical) cure for cancer. NOT SO! An avalanche begins because one tiny ice crystal shifts slightly... yet nobody would deny that an avalanche can wipe out an entire village.

Start... by just being really awake and "conscious" snowflake. THAT is all you need to do.

Finally, a personal note of thanks to my lovely fiancee, who inspired many of the thoughts in this article. I couldn't do any of this without you....

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Abandoned writing, finished...

I started writing at an early age.

Perhaps I have shared this story before-- my mom bought me these blank exercise books when I was maybe six or seven years old; her hope being that I would turn out to be artistic. She wanted me to draw; to learn to "color outside the lines."

For the most part, I filled the books with words, instead. I had no talent for art, and very little interest. The only exception was drawing geometric patterns, which I much later learned were actually forms of sacred geometry, even though I had NO idea what that was... I was merely fascinated by the way an iteration of straight lines could approximate a curve, or a repeating pattern could be created. Much later, I thought to myself "I did not color inside the lines OR outside the lines... I drew the lines, THEMSELVES."

As a writer, I am easily distracted.

I start something, get going full steam, and then the phone rings. Or I have to the bathroom. Or the sun comes out after a long period of rain, and I decide I'd better go mow.

Perhaps this happens to ALL with a writing bent. I don't know. What I do know is that I tend to abandon these writings, because whatever interruption comes my way completely destroys my train of thought.

To be "A Writer" is really a practice, like meditating, or Tai-Chi. To keep up the practice, you have to do it, even on days you don't feel like it. Today, I have been looking at all those "90% done" ideas, abandoned due to distractions. Some, to be discarded. Others, to have that final little bit done, and then published. With their "original" dates... I have a silly aversion to "updating" writing, and pretending that it's new.

In a sense, it is a spring cleaning of my closet of ideas.

Stay tuned. Much "new old stuff" to come.