Monday, August 30, 2010

How moral regulation works--or should work

Mark Kleiman, about whom I posted a few days ago, recommends a piece by David Kennedy about "Norms, Narratives, and Community Engagement for Crime Prevention" ... and sums up the larger sociological point with this acute and illuminating formulation:
Formal social control works mostly by leveraging informal social control: individual consciences and group norms.
At least, it generally works most smoothly, effectively, and humanely under those conditions. (That's a theoretical point emphasized, in slightly different ways, by Edmund Burke and Émile Durkheim--though one doesn't necessarily have to be either a conservative or a Durkheimian to find the idea convincing.)

The necessary caveat one has to add, and it's important, is that this is true if one assumes that the social norms in question aren't fundamentally inhumane--which one can't always assume, to say the least. (That complication brings us to the possible limits of a Burkean perspective, and it introduces a whole range of other moral and theoretical dilemmas, too.)

Moving back from general principles to concrete policies, Mark elaborates some practical implications for policing and crime control:
Respect and transparent fairness are the key. When the law enforcement system expresses hatred and contempt for offenders and the communities in which they live, that’s not just rude and stupid: it’s counterproductive. People who have been offenders are more likely to change their behavior if they can do so without sacrificing their self-respect.
That sounds plausible to me.

--Jeff Weintraub