Faces: Consequence of...? Precursor to...?
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Faces: Consequence of...? Precursor to...? • Posted: Jan 23, 2011 16:16:33Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

Remarkably, we have seen the semblance of civil debate in at least a few forums this week. C-Span Radio in particular, on one of its Cato Institute sponsored Forums, offered a stellar example of amusing, sharply reasoned, and highly informative repartee amongst several participants of distinctly different points of view on the judicial and legislative issues surrounding regulation of firearms. Bravo. May all issues before us be so knowledgeably discussed.

Elsewhere, however, the reasons for violence within our society seem disturbingly varied and causally unclear. A BBC interview this week with former Los Angeles police chief William Bratton put the proximate cause of violence as "human behavior". Bratton acknowledges outside influences, factors such as stress, ignorance, poor nutrition, poor parenting, drugs, alcohol, social alienation, and poverty, but asserts that "from a policing perspective, crime is behavior. Control behavior and you control crime". Declining violent crime statistics for several jurisdictions under his supervision, implementing his points of view, would seem to support his contentions. But, as others have noted, there is room for doubt. Blow at a candle from across the room just as the wick runs out and almost anyone would conclude you blew out the candle. However, the fact is, you didn't. Coincidence does not prove causality.

Undoubtedly, far too much public policy is wishful guesswork, or worse, wishful ideology. It would be thrilling to see public policy come about based on thorough sound science, reliably informed by earnest practical application, but tempered with the realization that even by working together science and practical experience can only slowly, through many thoughtful iterations, get us closer to truly effective public policy.

Recent events commemorating Martin Luther King's birthday brought to mind, once again, the question of whether society as a whole bears any responsibility for the plight of individuals. It's rather amazing that question is still with us when evidence all around us, at all levels of society, screams at us external conditions do, in deed, both limit and encourage us. As individuals, we step forward down paths that are open to us. While we may rage or reluctantly turn away if paths are closed, more often, we don't even know some paths exist. Will, character, creativity, and perseverance can force open some paths previously closed to us. However, for the most part, opportunities we face are determined and introduced to us by our parents and the larger community.

Take a look at the faces above. It isn't hard to tell the difference between an individual who has benefited from a surrounding society that has provided both opportunity and encouragement and one who has faced limited opportunity and limited encouragement. As society takes an interest in an individual, so then does the individual take interest in becoming a fully engaged member of society. That is exactly the wisdom employed by Islamic extremists grooming suicide bombers, but it is also well substantiated wisdom worthy of public policy seeking fewer influences toward violence.

During succeeding discussion and debate regarding violence and possible remedies for preventing it, let's make certain we consider all the facts, all the dynamics, and all the probable consequences, not just champion wishful rhetoric, heated or not. If we do, I'd be willing to bet we get where we'd like to go much sooner and with less heartbreak.

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010