Social Conservatives’ Obsession with Crime

A couple of days ago I reported a liberal’s assertion that conservatives seem “unwilling or unable to engage in issues that are fundamental to the future of mankind”. In the last few days we’ve seen evidence of what social conservatives, at least (economic conservatives have different preoccupations), are engaged in, to the point of obsession: Crime, criminals, and punishment. The social conservative media are full of news and hand-wringing about the following issues, all of them crime-related:

  • The War on Terror (actually a War on the Desperate) — currently focused, of course, on the heroic foiling of the British criminal airline bombing plot, the heroic Israeli war with criminal suicide bombers and the criminal Hizbollah (who are armed by the criminal Iranians), and why the botched wars against tyrants in Iraq and Afghanistan are not now civil wars and are still ‘winnable’. In the minds of social conservatives, Al Qaeda is the master criminal behind all of these activities.
  • The War on Drugs — to social conservatives, everyone in this is a war is a criminal (users are morally weak and reprehensible, criminal facilitators, not victims)
  • Capital Punishment — if you don’t favour state murder of criminals, you’re ‘soft on crime’
  • Anti-Abortion and Anti-Birth Control — abortion is murder and anyone who has one or sanctions one is a criminal; same for birth control (it’s just preemptive abortion)
  • Juvenile Crime — those sneaky juvenile criminals hide behind liberal laws that suggest they aren’t yet mature enough to be aware that what they’re doing is criminal (Canadian right-wing PM Harper is now obsessing about lowering the age at which you can be convicted of a crime from 12 to 10)
  • Stricter Sentencing, More Prisons, More Discipline in Prisons, Less Parole
  • Child Porn, Child Predators (can someone explain to me why the Ramsey case is real news anywhere outside Boulder Colorado?)
  • Keeping Guns Away from Criminals — while the guys in the white hats are constitutionally entitled to shoot any suspected criminal (“we know ’em when we see ’em”) with military-grade weapons (enough to kill the whole gang single handed) on sight
  • Anti-Homosexuality
  • Anti-Right-to-Die — suicide is morally criminal, and so is abetting it (the publicity for the Ramsey case echoes the publicity for the Schiavo case)
  • Disease Pandemics and Natural Disasters — these are vexing to social conservatives, because the ‘criminal’ is nature, and they don’t know how to arrest nature (but they’re working on it!)
  • Street and Gang Crime and Drive-By Shootings
  • Home Invasions
  • Domestic Crimes (the more lurid the better)

Read or listen to any social conservative media outlet and you will quickly get the impression that crime is all they are engaged in — rare mentions of global warming or any issues “fundamental to the future of mankind” are only brought up for denial or belittling.

How do we understand this obsession with crime? Is it pathological (are social conservatives suffering from a kind of endemic mental illness)? What’s behind it — an exaggerated sense of danger, insecurity and learned helplessness? Is it learned (spread) from peers and parents? Is it generally brought on by some terrible, traumatizing personal experience?

We need all the help we can get with the issues “fundamental to the future of mankind”. If we want to recruit and engage social conservatives to work with us on these issues, we have to get them over their single-minded obsession withcrime, criminals, and punishment. Can anyone suggest a cure?

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13 Responses to Social Conservatives’ Obsession with Crime

  1. Daniel Goya says:

    Funny at the first read, but then kind of depressing when I think that these people block the progress of the whole world. Great question really, to me, the way to treat most of those issues is obvious, and only need common sense, but it seems they just can’t get the point, why are they so closed minded?Maybe it’s a lack of REAL debate, I mean, I know lots of facts about drugs and the “war on drugs”, and have yet to find someone who can give me decent arguments defending it. I’v turned several people already. Maybe we need to talk even more about those issues, and slowly open their minds. That’s pretty hard with the mass media against our thoughts, but nowadays mass media is losing some power, maybe the time will come soon, when we can show them the truth. Blogs would play an important job here.That is obviously not usefull for all of those issues though (I thought of the lack of discussion problem because today I went to a parliament session here in Chile, and it’s absolutley pathetic…), some of them are too related to religion, and that’s rpetty complicated…

  2. Siona says:

    Daniel; Dave;I have no doubt that the social conservatives would say precisely the same about us: “the way to treat these issues is obvious . . . why are they so closed-minded?” To my mind the missing component is what you, Dave, seem to be reaching for in your post; that is, a real attempt at understanding what it is that drives the obsession with crime, and why it is some of us feel so overwhelmingly threatened by the people who share our streets. It must be terrible to habor such suspicion, and I, for one, would love to listen, and to understand that impulse to lay blame and reliquish control. I’m not sure that a “cure” to help people “get over” their fears is the route to take, though; we all of us need our identity projects, and the greater the threat that someone might take them from us, the more likely we are to defend them. However, if what we’re clinging to is approached with an attitude of genuine curiosity and inquiry, we might come to feel safe enough to disidentify a little with these entrenched beliefs. If this approach is what’s meant by a “cure” – or if it turns into one – so be it. I’d rather not “cure conservatives,” though, but instead work toward healing the rift between the absurdity of the us / them split.

  3. Kevin Carson says:

    I think most of this obsession with punishment and “showing them” is rooted in Nietzschean ressentiment: the authoritarian personality redirects his resentment against the oppressor toward out-groups, and transcends his experience of oppression by identifying with the oppressor.

  4. I have always thought of it as projection. You know, the person most likely to have committed a crime is the first person to complain about the crime problem.

  5. Brad says:

    Well, I’ve read some conservative blogs and one guy thought that liberals were soft on crime because “they” identified with the criminal. He then went on to say that that makes liberals criminals. That’s a wicked logical jump. I explained that stopping the crime and keeping it from happening again (through prison education) is money better spent that just keeping them locked away. That’s not soft on criminals when you consider that changing the mindset of a criminal is very hard on a person and most people don’t want to change.Is is me or is the conservatives focus on the PHYSICAL more than the mental? aka, focused more on the act than what precipitated the act?Anyway, I find this post quite intriguing. It makes me want to test this pathological focus on crime. It should be pointed out that here in the US that mindset has merged with corporate interests to produce 1 in 100 Americans locked up in prison. The highest of any country. (that’s roughly 3 million). It’s getting worse too. Our government is using illegal immigrants as the excuse to build many, many more prisons to contain the growing criminal population. That money is better spent on criminal education to keep the people from going back to jail. It strikes me that the conservative would consider this counter-intuitive as the criminal would only be able to be a better criminal. This is false. The facts are roughly for every dollar spent on prison education it saves 1.2-1.4 dollars to be spent on imprisoning that person again.grrr. so much to say. off to work…

  6. Tovarich says:

    I think a large component of it is pure politics to keep their voting block in fear of everything… helped along by the media, et. al. Glasser’s book is very good on the subject

  7. Jake says:

    The media/politicians/normal people feed off of hearing about the negative in life. I read the Dalai Lama’s “The Art of Happiness” earlier this year, and I think he started to talk about this inevitable fact of sadness in the world (excellent read, I receommend it). People in general like to hear these things – don’t let them lie to you with “no I don’t enjoy the nightly news or the newspaper”.I imagine its pathological in the sense that we all still have this arousal (the same way cavemen did…and our older reptilian brain does) about an emotion: fear. The world would be a much better place if we perfected the common experience of emotion rather than being slaves to it. Heh, somehow I doubt politicians want to run on that platform.

  8. David Parkinson says:

    Lately, Orcinus is featuring an interesting 3-part series on the suthoritarian personality, by guest blogger Sara Robinson. See this link for the latest installment, in which she suggests some ways to engage authrotarian types in conversation, & help them escape from their pathological fixation on evil & punishment.Part 2 has a good long summary of the various reasons that people trapped in an authoritarian mindset/milieu find themselves drifting away from the pathology; sets up the discussion, grounding it in an extended riff on John Dean’s latest book, Conservatives Without Conscience.

  9. David Parkinson says:

    Here‘s another nice illustration of the main point, with reference to the War on Drug Users.”Earlier this week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said his government’s “concentration in the fight against drugs in the next few years will be on enforcement, prevention and treatment”

  10. I see too many interconnections in the causes and effects to fully separate social and economic conservatism. I think the biggest issues are selfishness and the desire to control others. This is behind the basic misunderstanding of freedom that’s arisen in the moral right. “My freedom is more important than your freedom, because I’m a better person than you.” There’s also a huge amount of denial and abandonment concerning what we can and should control. A misunderstanding of the basic fact that crime and poverty belong to everyone as a responsibility. (I’m looking at this from a US perspective.)The main causes I see for crime are:fearabuse and neglect of childrenmental illness or psychological injurypovertyover-regulation — laws that shouldn’t exist or go too far (against drugs, over-licensing of small business, housing restrictions, etc.–every time we turn around today we come up against a law saying “You can’t do that.” Hear that enough times and eventually you give up and break a law. First a small one, then a bigger one. . . .)prisons fundamentalismoveremphasis on money (accumulating wealth and property rather than basic comfort and security) rampant consumerismperfectionism and the need to place blamemisuse of power and control that intrudes on others’ personal liveswidening economic gapscontinuing racismabsolutismA lot of the problems higher on the list grow out of one form or another of absolutism. We won’t likely ever end all of these, and we need to accept that. But we seem to want all or nothing today. If we can’t fix something perfectly we give up and blame the victim or kill the offender. We also need to accept that true lasting change doesn’t happen by force, but by education, caring, and compassion. Love and trust can change a heart. It can’t change every heart, but enough to be worth the effort. Contemptand blame just breed more problems. For instance first-time criminals (child and adult) are thrown in with seasoned professional criminals, then we wonder why they come out worse people than before, why being tough on crime isn’t working, so we get tougher and lock them up for good. Prisons are a huge part of the problem with recidivism–it’s not the criminals who never learn, it’s us. Self-esteem and love for our fellow humans and the planet have more value than gold. But right now conservatism is too focused on fear, absolutes, blame, and control, as well as on money.

  11. Siona says:

    Barbara.I whole-heartedly agree. Thanks for the comment.

  12. Dave Pollard says:

    What a terrific thread! Thanks for the insights, and the valuable links.

  13. medaille says:

    Yeah, This is a really good thread. I’ll throw some thoughts in even though it might be a bit late to really be read.Things, I’ve noticed about conservatives:-They are close-minded and don’t listen. This also applies to most liberals too, but I like to think we’re a little more open-minded as a group. This is a societal problem and is a natural result when humans grow up in a society like our own.-They’re really into rules/laws, which they call morality and not interested in what I would consider morality. I once heard that up until a certain age, little kids would blindly follow their parents orders, and after that age their brain matured and they would follow their own morality and do what is right even if they had to break a rule. I think many conservatives have trouble with this. Maybe their development was stunted :)-They’re generally fearful and insecure. That’s why we imprison so many, hate so many (different from us), go to war so often, etc.-Lack of understanding and empathy. They have a serious problem imagining what it would be like to be somebody else (poor, black, muslim, gay, whatever).-Herd/pack mentality. I’ve watched a lot of the dog whisperer lately, and this strikes me as eerily similar. The dominant members (those with the appearance of authority) of the pack make the decisions and the rest of the pack follows them without really determining if its in his own best interest. People in general struggle with this as I’ve met lots of liberals and conservatives with strong convictions either way, without an adequate understanding of why they believe what they believe.-To them, people are generally bad and need to be kept in line by a strong leader. (Lakhoff)

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