Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Richard Cohen Didn't Think This One Through

Richard Cohen from the Washington Post may have just set a new record for wackiness:
This is a good news, bad news column. The good news is that crime is again down across the nation -- in big cities, small cities, flourishing cities and cities that are not for the timid. Surprisingly, this has happened in the teeth of the Great Recession, meaning that those disposed to attribute criminality to poverty -- my view at one time -- have some strenuous rethinking to do. It could be, as conservatives have insisted all along, that crime is committed by criminals. For liberals, this is bad news indeed.
Is Cohen seriously doubting that poverty and criminality are linked? No one's saying it's the only factor, sure, but it's definitely a factor. The correlation between the two has been pretty well documented.

But anyway, let's see what Cohen's calling "bad news for liberals" here:
Probably the most surprising numbers come from Phoenix, which thought of itself as sinking in a sea of supposedly immoral and rapacious immigrants, all of them illegal and all waiting for nightfall and the chance for a nifty burglary or home invasion. If so, the crime reporting system has virtually collapsed. To the surprise no doubt of local TV news anchors, violent crime was down almost 17 percent. Back at 11.
Wait, so absolute incontrovertible proof that illegal immigrants don't bring crime with them is somehow bad news for liberals? Hell, this is such bad news I'm almost dancing a freaking jig right now. Most of the people ranting about how scary illegal immigration is are conservatives, and most of them whine about crime and mayhem illegals cause. If the numbers prove otherwise, it kind of destroys the conservative argument, doesn't it? And that's bad for liberals?

OK, so let's move on:
Whatever the reasons, it now seems fairly clear that something akin to culture and not economics is the root cause of crime. By and large everyday people do not go into a life of crime because they have been laid off or their home is worth less than their mortgage. They do something else, but whatever it is, it does not generally entail packing heat. Once this becomes an accepted truth, criminals will lose what status they still retain as victims.
First off, no one - not even those horrible, evil liberals Cohen's ranting about* - considers criminals to be "victims." Criminality as a whole may be linked with socioeconomic conditions, but individual criminals themselves? I think I speak for most liberals when I say "fuck 'em."

But let's think a little more deeply about what Cohen's saying here: culture causes criminality. Or to put it as he does at the end of his column:
But the latest crime statistics strongly suggest that bad times do not necessarily make bad people. Bad character does.
Let's accept for a moment that character and moral upbringing is at least a part of what causes people to become criminals. Crime rates are decreasing, though, right? That must mean our "culture" is becoming more moral! Our collective "character" must be getting stronger. And isn't it conservatives who are always worried about how gay people and secularity and evolution and female sexuality yadda yadda yadda are destroying America's moral values? The right-wing AFA's statement on their website, for example, rants about "the increasing ungodliness and depravity assaulting our nation." Some increasing depravity - violent crime went down!

Let's be clear. If Cohen's right - that the decline in crime rates in a recession is indicative of a link between crime and moral character - then that means our nation's increasing secularity and increasing tolerance of homosexuality are certainly not causing a decline in our moral character, and may in fact be improving it. Declining crime rates over the past 20 years are proof that things such as violent video games, gangsta rap and explicit music, increased access to pornography via the Internet, and other things conservatives love to hate are not all that bad and, in fact, might be good. Cohen's conjecture implies that the conservatives who are always concerned about moral decline are wrong (and that Munroe's Law is right). And Cohen thinks this is bad news for liberals! It's bad news for the get-off-my-lawn social conservatives (and maybe Dexter Holland), if anything.

*And considers himself one of, as well.

No comments: