A Personal View



Sociology and Criminology

Further Thoughts

By Bruce Barbour
Please see disclaimer.

This section expands on the ideas introduced in the article Sociology and Criminology.

People in Society

As stated in that article a person does not analyse their reasons for not committing crime every time a usual opportunity to commit a crime presents itself to them. So every time a normally law abiding person goes into a shop they do not usually ask themselves "Should I commit shop theft?" and then do a mental analysis of the reasons for and against the proposition. If they have not committed shop theft in the past, and this has proven satisfactory then it is unlikely that they will commit shop theft on this occasion. Similarly for all other laws and Rules. This is what I have called "Habitual Conformity".

However in certain circumstances a person may have cause to question their reasons for continued conformity with the rules. This may occur when there is something different to the normal situation in their environment or their mental condition. For example if the person walks into the shop and for some reason there is no shop assistant in the store. Suddenly the fear of getting caught may be diminished, they may consider that they could pick up something and walk out of the store with considerably less probability of being caught and punished than they usually would expect. In fact the circumstances may be such that they may believe that they could with absolute impunity be successful in the shop theft.

In the above case the situation for the person has changed from what they normally experienced. However this does not necessarily mean that they will commit shop theft. What it may cause them to do is to re-analyse their reasons for not committing shop theft. They may be forced to re-evaluate each of their "Categories of Reasons" and redo the "Mental Sum" as outlined in "Sociology and Criminology". While the "Fear" factor may have lessened the other factors are unaffected. In other words their personal philosophies and self interest in maintaining society has not changed and even the personal gain achieved from the theft will not have changed. The result of lessening of the potential of being caught will result in a lower "Score" solely due to a lessening of the "Fear" factor. For many this score will still be above zero, meaning that despite the increased opportunity they would still not commit shop theft. For some their score would drop below zero meaning that they would on this occasion consider committing shop theft.

Similarly a person may have recently have experienced events in their life which may have caused a re-evaluation of the value of society to them. For example this could be the loss of a job or another financial blow.

A person could also, for some reason, re-evaluate their personal philosophies again affected their crime decision making. Personal Philosophy is the most complex of the "Categories of Reasons" because there are various levels of substance behind the Reasons in this category. The substance behind the reason can be subject to questioning and could be found to be lacking. This could result in a significant lessening of the importance of the reason. Consequently their can be a certain fragility to the reasons with low level substance.

At the first level there is the Simple Rule. These are rules which are commands often in the form "Thou shall not .......", for example "Thou shall not steal". Often there is either no further reasoning behind the commands or the reasoning is not given or taught. Commands such as this are taught to us as children and become accepted without question. This non questioning often continues into adulthood. This is the basis of simple rule based ethics.

This type of rule is most susceptible to break down as eventually the Simple Rule may be questioned. So from our earlier example of the person considering shop theft one of their considerations is their personal philosophy. If their philosophy contains the simple rule "Thou shall not steal" depending on how well they have adopted this rule then they will probably accept this and not steal. However perhaps they may have cause at some stage to ask "Why shall I not steal?" As a child they may have accepted that it was sufficient that they had been told this rule by their parent. As an adult this may no longer sufficient. The rule needs to be underpinned by a more substantive reason or else the rule will be rejected (at least in this category of reason).

To many the more substantive reason may come from conventional religion ie. "Thou shall not steal because the Bible says Thou shall not steal and to do so risks eternal damnation". To others it may come from another personal belief system. But of course even the more substantive reasons are subject to questioning, people reject religions and change other personal philosophies.

Christianity in Western Society.

Christianity provides a set of reasons for obeying societies rules. However it is not the only personal philosophy which can provide substantive reasons for obeying societies rules. Other religions can also provide reasons with little conflict or contradiction. Humanists philosophies can also provide substantive reasons. However the importance of Christianity is that it is widespread within society. It is still the personal philosophy which has the largest number of adherents in Australia.

However without a doubt Christianity is in decline in Australia. What this is doing is interesting. As the number of adherents decline the Simple Rules of Christianity remain due to the up bringing of children in the house of Christians. However, as these are now no longer underpinned by a religious philosophy, they are more subject to rejection. This make the rules underpinned by Christian values more susceptible to rejection, unless the personal philosophy of Christianity has been replaced by the person with a personal philosophy which offers what can be considered substantive reasons for obeying societies rules.

Classification of Other Theories

Rules Theory offers the possibility of classifying other criminology theories according to which of the Category of Reason the theory operates in. For example Braithwaite's "Integrative Shaming" theories operates over a number of the Categories - fear of being shamed, increasing the value of the social contract as the criminal is integrated back into social groups in the society.

Implications for Revolutions

There are two aspects the application of Rules Theory to revolutions.

Pre-revolution to Revolution

In a police state pre-revolution, fear would be a large part of the reason that the society is stable. The other factors would be largely negative, the Self Interest in Maintaining Society would have been eroded away as the police state take away freedoms and imposes restrictions and hardships. Corruption is probably rampant. There would be seen to be more personal gain in in breaking the rules - perhaps the black market, perhaps theft. There would become a greater proportion of people who have a "Score" that would be negative. Eventually the proportion of those willing to break the rules would reach a critical mass and revolution would be imminent.

However revolution will not necessary solve the problems of the society.

Post Revolution

When a society undergoes a large, sudden change, as is the case in a revolution or the overthrow of a dictatorship, this needless to say has profound implications for the way people see their role in the society. In a dictatorship, prior to the revolution, the social stability was to a large degree governed by fear of retribution if the person broke a rule imposed by the dictator. Under this society there would be certain characteristic shape of the "Score" distribution curve for rule breaking and rule keeping. The proportions of the various categories of reasons would be largely set. When the dictatorship is overthrown and a more moderate government installed this balance in the proportions of various categories of reason is changed and the location of the zero on the normal distribution may also be altered.

There are then a number of possibilities. Firstly the fear category of reason would reduce significantly. However to counteract this the Social Contract Category may increase as people feel a sense of relief and goodwill towards the new government believing that now their living conditions will improve. Once initial law and order is regained there may be an increase in social stability. However if the social conditions do not improve or it is found that the new government is not much better than the overthown government it may be that the goodwill dissipates and the society becomes less stable and this could be manifested in an increase in crime.

This type off outcome has been observed in places like Russia. Crime will also increase in places like East Timor, now that the strong Indonesian military presence is no longer felt, and also after the United Nations forces move on. What would happen in this case is that the fear factor would decrease, initially to be replaced by an increase in goodwill to preserve the new society, however this may over time dissipate if living conditions don't improve, or don't improve by the amount anticipated.

Fixing Failed States

If there is corrupt leadership and government in the country then it is very difficult for conditions to improve. This is because people will not see the benefit to them of conforming to society rules. In Rules Theory terms you would say the Social Contract has been broken and there is no incentive to obey societal rules. Rules theory cannot suggest how to fix this problem, although it must be fixed if a working benign state is to emerge.

However once corruption has been fixed, and assuming a leadership which wishes to develop a stable society, then Rules theory can suggest an approach that could be taken to enhance the state.

  • Initially increase policing and the level of penalty for crime. This is often the only step that is taken and it is usually insufficient for long term solutions. And increasing the level of policing does not mean that the policing needs to become more barbaric and arbitrary. It needs to be policing within the rule of law. Police State type methods do not need to be introduced. Policing needs to be especially vigilant against corruption, as it lessens the flow of money to desired programs and it is socially divisive if people can see their so called leaders lining their own pockets at the people's expense.
  • Once this is in place you need to work on the other Categories of Reasons so the reliance on Fear can decrease.
  • The Social Contract need to be worked on by increasing availability and reliability of people being able to get food, shelter, social interaction and protection from others. Education and other social infrastructure and institutions needs to be put in place. The legal system needs to be made fair and reliable. Paying work needs to be found or manufactured. The people have to be made to believe that the society has something to offer them, that it is worthwhile for them to obey its rules.
  • Personal Philosophy and Beliefs need to be worked on. Encouragement of existing religious institutions could be considered (so long as these haven't been socially divisive in the past). Education systems could be put in place to encourage unity, goodwill and patriotism.
  • With these items bedded down policing can be softened.

Of course all of this costs money. International aid needs to be sought and the money used in a very targeted program to implement the desired changes. I in no way underestimate the extreme difficulty of the task.

Sociology & Crimnology Page,
Contents Page.

Top of Page
| Site Information | (C) |