Inequality and Violent Crime
Leaving aside the question of “violent genes” for now, we will look at some environmental contributors to violent crime which may be more subject to influence. One of the most prominent social factors that has been linked to violent crime for several decades is “inequality of wealth/income.”
A good analysis of the correlation between violent crime and wealth inequality is the 2002 research article titled “Crime & Inequality,” found on the World Bank website (PDF). The authors fall just short of claiming causation in the relationship between inequality of wealth/income and violent crime.
Below are two excerpts from the paper’s conclusions:
The authors admit that they were unable to determine why inequality led to more violent crime — a shortcoming of the paper which they labeled “the first shortcoming.” The second shortcoming, described in the following excerpt, is perhaps more telling.
A curious and under-examined finding of the paper is that it found no significant association between a society’s rates of violent crime… and its mean level of income, average education levels of adults, and the degree of urbanisation in the society.
Perhaps the greatest weakness of the paper is the failure to clearly distinguish between the effects of “inequality of income,” and “inequality of wealth” — a crucial distinction in forming a deep enough understanding of this association to be able to do anything about it. They also failed to examine the phenomenon of “pseudo-wealth,” where persons “max out” all forms of credit to provide a display of wealth, when in fact they are deeply indebted.
A Contradiction to the Rule?
Since the above paper was written, much of Latin America has experienced higher levels of violence along with reductions of poverty combined with sustained growth and less inequality. When researchers examined the data at more local levels within Mexico, for example, they found that cities with lower levels of inequality displayed lower rates of crime. In other words, the correlation between inequality and violence seemed to hold at the level of the municipality, even if it did not hold at the national level.
It is important to examine phenomena and their correlations at the appropriate level — a rule which researchers in the social and economic sciences often fail to comply with, or even to understand.
The “locality of crime” makes it mandatory to focus upon the specific levels of action and association. For example, comparing “high crime” and “low crime” areas of the same city can be instructive:
Even in the lower income areas of the above cities — which display higher crime rates — the income supports provided by welfare benefits place residents at relatively affluent levels when compared with the vast majority of humans on planet Earth. But that is not the appropriate comparison. Criminals tend to “act locally,” and that truism is particularly true of the vast majority of criminals who may be driven by personal impressions of “inequality.”
But “Inequality” is Only One Driver of Violent Crime
The scientific literature displays a robust association between violence and inequality — at least on specific levels of examination. But most homicides take place between “peers,” where “inequality” is minimised. Something besides mere perceived inequality of wealth/income is clearly involved in most homicides — although not all (homicides during a robbery etc.).
Since most homicides are between relative peers in the heat of the moment, emotional factors which have little or nothing to do with inequality of wealth/income seem to come into play. Such emotional factors tend to “ebb and flow” like the tides, and are themselves influenced by moment to moment events that occur within the immediate environment.
The Oppressive Social Tyranny of Hip Hop
There are many ways by which a person can become enslaved to something outside himself. Drug addicts are slaves, as are alcoholics and habitual tobacco smokers. In fact, there are many ways in which each of us is ensnared and enslaved within intricate webs of habit and dependency — most of which we remain entirely ignorant.
Within various communities — particularly of youth — a form of entertainment known as “hip hop” or “rap” has insinuated itself deeply. Because hip hop “sets a mood” which is fully capable of influencing impulsive actions, it should be examined clearly and deeply.
Below is one examination of hip hop by an African American author and student of culture, John McWhorter.
By reinforcing the stereotypes that long hindered blacks, and by teaching young blacks that a thuggish adversarial stance is the properly “authentic” response to a presumptively racist society, rap retards black success.
… The venom that suffuses rap had little place in black popular culture—indeed, in black attitudes—before the 1960s. The hip-hop ethos can trace its genealogy to the emergence in that decade of a black ideology that equated black strength and authentic black identity with a militantly adversarial stance toward American society. In the angry new mood, captured by Malcolm X’s upraised fist, many blacks (and many more white liberals) began to view black crime and violence as perfectly natural, even appropriate, responses to the supposed dehumanization and poverty inflicted by a racist society.__ John McWhorter in City Journal
In other words, for young blacks in their formative years, an immersion in hip hop shapes their identities in thuggish and violent form, in a quasi-normative manner. In other words, to someone raised within a mental environment flooded by hip hop, being black is to be a violent thug. The result of this “child-raising by rap” can be seen in the graph below:
There is no need to invoke any “genetics of black violence” to begin to understand why violent crime rates are so much higher in particular cities — and particular neighborhoods and parts of town — than in other cities or neighborhoods which display different population characteristics.
Inequality vs. Inequality ad Infinitum
The correlation between wealth/income inequality and rates of violent crime is considered to be strong and established in the social sciences. As a result, a majority of social institutions in western OECD nations have begun to bend themselves into extreme pretzel shapes to try to achieve an “equality of outcome” for income/wealth — without actually understanding the deep realities and multiplicities of “equality.” Equality of opportunity and equality of enforced outcomes — as well as equality before the law — must all be distinguished and placed in their proper levels of importance.
But those are just a few of the many potential equalities and inequalities that exist in the social and physical realities we inhabit.
The numbers of possible inequalities between individuals are essentially infinite. The ultimate basis of interpersonal inequality rests within the complex networks of genes and gene expression. Such networks are subject to infinite variability.
But genes and networks of gene expression must operate within the environments of the physical world, which themselves display almost infinite variability. Throw in the infinite variability of the mental and emotional worlds that we all inhabit, and one discovers that achieving “equality” between individuals in any meaningful sense of the word, is impossible.
And so we see our societies wrapped around perverse and impossible goals of dubious relevance, dissipating precious resources on futile and vacuous quests, while an expansive and abundant human future waits within our reach — and just outside our grasp.
It is, after all, the expansive and abundant human future — the next level — which offers the greatest hope for providing the only kind of equality that really matters. An equal opportunity for the potential fulfillment of our true — but almost entirely unknown — inner selves.
But why wait? We could begin work on developing our inner selves by rejecting ideology and pursuing the depths of understanding on multiple levels. Society at large will fight you at every turn, but the more persons who become engaged in this vital pursuit, the less power “society” will have over them.