Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Crime and Society

One thing leads to another. I was reading an article about something or other and saw the name Leon Festinger. He's the chap that developed cognitive dissonance theory.

Cognitive dissonance theory observes that people adjust their beliefs to rationalize their behavior rather than the other way around. But enough of that.

Here's what struck me. Festinger did work on social networks. Quoting Wikipedia:

Festinger explored the various forms that social groups can take and showed, together with Schachter and Back, "how norms are clearer, more firmly held and easier to enforce the more dense a social network is."

Oh really. So that would explain the explosion in crime during the 20th century. The looser that social networks are, and the more people live in the city with few social ties, the less they are likely to conform to social norms.

This is telling us, in case you wondered, that the way to break up society is to make the natural social networks less strong. Then, of course, you have to compensate by increasing the size of government and multiplying the number of laws, and increasing the span of "zero tolerance" and general frightfulness.

And you sit around and decide that, despite your immense education and compassion, there is nothing you can do about crime and social breakdown.

The whole thrust of conservatism, ever since Edmund Burke, is that the key to social tranquility is the "little platoons." People owe their greatest loyalty to the little platoons, and will contribute most to them. Little people, on the other hand, get lost in big organizations. That's why big organizations need to have bureaucracies and rules and enforcement mechanisms.

The trick, of course, in this modern, global age, is to balance the loyalty to the small and the particular with tolerance for and trust in the universal. We want people to be able to learn to trust foreigners and people of different religions and different culture.

Conservatives believe that this is best achieved in a society where government, the agency of force and division, is as small as possible and voluntary association is as large as possible. Conservatives want people to be richly connected in a dense network of social organizations from the family to the church, to the fraternal association and to their place of work.

Liberals, on the other hand, want to free themselves from the local--the family and the church. They want to live like Romantics, creating original works of art in yeasty and exciting urban bohemia. But of course, when you burst out of local community you have to replace it with something, because we all need the support of social institutions. That's why liberals support the welfare state.

And that's why the US is divided into two political camps: the married with children, religious, working population orbiting around the Republican Party and the single, childless, secular and non-working folks gravitating towards the Democratic Party.

The agenda for conservatives is clear: work on encouraging and fertilizing the non-governmental associations. That's a society that needs fewer laws, less compulsion, less conflict. No doubt it will also be less violent, more sociable, and happier.

And that's why women are the future of conservatism. Because women are best at the local and the intimate, relationship and face to face.

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