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.

1 comment:

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