Thursday, September 30, 2010

Is our society becoming more violent?

This is a question that I have been pondering for some time and I wonder how many other people are asking the same question.
My reason for asking this question of myself is that a service station that I frequent was robbed at gunpoint, not just a pistol but a ‘long arm’ rifle, about 3ft of death pointing you in the face.
Here is a photo of said armed robbery - Armed Hold Up - Thomastown

So I do a quick Google search of “Is our society becoming more violent?” and I get 1,810,000 results, worldwide and 61,800 results from Australia.

I’ve always thought that video games and parental care (or lack of it) and parental attitude has a lot to do with the violence that we are now seeing on the streets, in our homes, in our hospitals, in fact everywhere we look, there is violence, even the local shopping centre car park.

Have we become that rude and intolerant of others, that we can’t stop ourselves from threatening others when we don’t get our own way, or have we become that greedy that we refuse to work, instead robbing those that do work to support themselves?

A quick glance over the results I found, it doesn’t matter if we are talking about America, Europe Australia or even Britain, we are all concerned about the same thing. Children killing, children committing crimes that were once the domain of adults. I understand that the children are learning this behavior from somewhere and that somewhere is home, be it through parental behavior, video games, or TV, it is being learnt and needs to stop.

The articles listed below are just a miniscule fraction of what is reported and far more goes unreported.

28th Sept 2010 - 16yo charged with Murder [WA, Aust]

23rd August 2010 - Women charged after allegedly punching, burning babysitter with cigarette butt [QLD, Aust]

18th Feb 2010 - Sex beast and wife jailed for keeping woman as slave [SA, Aust]

18th Dec 2009 - Life ban for parent who 'punched' umpire [WA, Aust]

Once upon a time, if you were caught stealing something from your neighbour and your parents or the police found out, your parents would give you a swift kick up the back-side, the police a stern talking to in front of your parents.

These days – no swift kicks or informing parents or even stern talkings to by policemen, children have rights, rights to abuse those in authority, rights to do as they please, rights to ignore the law and get away with a slap on the wrist. This is also the second half of the problem, there is no personal accountability for your actions anymore.

You drink alcohol – you must be sick, you do drugs – you must be sick, you bash someone – you must be sick. You kill someone with your car – you must be sick. There is a label for everything and everything with a label. No longer do you have to use self-control – you can attach a label and get away with killing someone. Literally.

Australia and the world needs to wake up, the crime spree we are seeing at the moment is a generational problem and we need to realize that people need to be accountable for their actions and the courts of law need to toughen up and realize that the world will be a safer place if they applied the penalties as dictated by law and not just a slap on the wrist.

Your thoughts?


  1. I don't particularly recall anything in my upbringing that trained me to fear authority figures such a police, teachers, even the man at the railway platform gates, but I would not dare speak to any of them the way I hear young people do now. While usually the parents can be directly to blame, it is society's problem.

  2. I am a (relatively) young person and I have a background in psychology and law. Matters related to criminal misconduct and mental health are close to my heart.

    Firstly, I think it's important to address the issue of mental illness. Mentally ill people are statistically overrepresented in prisons. This is important, because it has ramifications for broader society. Putting someone in prison is costly and if they're mentally unwell (the relevance of which is usually contingent to their successful utilisation of this as a way to "Get away" with it) then prison is not in any way going to lower the chance that this person will re-offend subsequent to being incarcerated.

    On this note, those persons who link their illness to their criminal behaviour front boards such as the mental health review board. Such boards are administrative tribunals run by experts. Usually presided over by persons who were judges and magistrates, but doctors and psychiatrists play a key role in their operation. The board can order that they get treatment for their conditions.

    While such a board may not always sit well with persons associated with victims (particularly in violent crimes) - as it may seem not to fit the immediacy of punishment that prison might provide for them - such a board is a fantastic tool for broader society, as it lowers the chance these people will re-offend, helps with things like integration back into society. This is a good thing.

    But this is the thin edge of the wedge in my opinion. Regarding broader, less extreme trends, such as the presented general "right to abuse those in authority", we all learn our behaviours from those around us. These things don't find spontaneous genesis in one given generation and if we as a society are becoming more violent, then we're all implicated in it.

    I would, however, assert that this is not necessarily the case. On one front, the internet makes news of such violence something that was even ten years ago unthinkable. While robust statistics on the prevalence of crime exist over a much longer span of time, the salience and immediacy of a report that comes out the day police charge someone saying murder, rape, violence - this has an emotional kick that bulk statistics probably don't. With this in mind, I think some part of our perception that we may becoming more violent revolves around the preoccupation we find with such things in the media, rather than any outright increase in prevalence of such crimes per se.

    Just my two cents of course and I do think these are important issues to be addressed, but I think some measure of them finds its origin in our relation with media and would personally discourage the conflation of mental health and our response to the mentally ill as a society with issues of sentencing or criminal justice more generally.

    Interesting topic! :)

  3. Andrew - you were never 'trained' but you realised that the men and women in the police force or in places of authority earned your respect, your parents most likely instilled that respect without you even realising.

    Pat G - I'm not talking about ill people, but how many times have you heard - "Oh, I had 1-2 many drinks, it wasn't my fault", in reality it was, if they had used some common sense, then perhaps it wouldn't be an issue.

    I'm not talking about those with illness, I'm talking about those that choose to attach a label to a problem, that can be controlled with self-control.

    I believe many of the problems, are generational and many problems stem from the parents attitudes towards authority and their disrespect of authority. People thinking that it's okay to let little Johnny watch 'M' or 'X-rated' material well before the age of even 15yo.

    Schools can no longer discipline chilren, because mummy or daddy come down to the school and threaten the teachers. What does that teach the children?

    This is where a court of law needs to enforce the penalties enacted in law and not change them for a slap on the wrist.

    Just because you're sorry, just because you didn't mean to, just because you felt like it,just because he 'made me do it' doesn't me that a court of law, shouldn't apply the penalty deemed as relevant to that event :(

    I realise my views are a bit of a shake-up, to what is considered the norm in 2010, but unless we stop the violence and stop the aggression that now seems to have invaded society, the honest will have to live behind bars and gated communities without guns, whilst the law-breakers and thugs roam the streets with the guns and we still feel unsafe.

    Thanks for the thoughts and comments

  4. Pat's point about the exaggerated perception of growing violence has a lot to do with has a lot to do with increased reporting, more saturated media and the 24 hour news cycle. When I was a lad, drunken brawls, horrible crimes and violent gangs of kids were doing their thing just like they do now.

    Bug Heather I do agree with you about the more sinister, arrogant, almost 'evil' side of it that, to my perception, seems to be different nowadays. I truly don't believe it's about 'soft' sentencing and video games and movies though. Hell, my friends and I all watched violent movies as youngsters; and indeed there was more violence in lower rated movies back then than there is now (have a look at Mad Max 2 and you'll be shocked it's only rated M).

    I really believe that overprotective "helicopter" parenting and culture is a significant factor. Thrill-seeking, testing your limits is a key part of adolescence. When I was a kid we roamed neighbourhoods for hours with our friends or alone, ride our bikes (helmetless) down gullies and over creeks, played on steel okay equipment set into concrete... did all sorts if stuff with no supervision and no mobile phones. We got lost, broke bones, etc etc. A very few died or suffered z serious injury. But mostly we got through it, having learned our limits, learned practically about how to keep ourselves safe, experienced the thrill of the rush but also the cost; and through it all, the value of better things. I believe that insulating kids from these experiences forces them to try to get their thrills - and do this type if learning - in other ways.

    But there's more. Economics and culture have changed fundamentally over the last 50 years. The growth of right-wing extremist economics has changed everything. Menzies was a socialist compared to what we're getting in conservative politics now, and the ALP have more in common with Fraser than Whitlam. The notion of investing in social infrastructure is almost gone, and the individual is deified. Margaret Thatcher's famous, chilling comment: "there's no such thing as society; there's only individuals" has enormous implications. It's the antithesis of the notion if the 'social contract' and I think a key driver behind the "people no longer have any respect" thing.

  5. Darkdirk - take the media out of the equation, how many people do you know that have been affected by this behaviour. I can personally list 6-7 events of a violent nature that have affected people that I knopw first hand - I'm not even sure IF these events made it into the media.
    You could be right - the thrill seeking, helipcoptered kids could be part of the problem, but surely that doesn't explain the agression? It might explain the thrill-seeking in fast cars and dangerous driving, but not the king-hitting or carrying of knives, or even the drinking.
    In some respects you are right with the comment "and the individual is deified" - I use the term the "me society" which is, it's all about me, nothing matters except me - I'm more important than anyone else in this world.
    For fear of repeating myself, still doesn't explain the violence.
    I don't know what the solution is, I'm not sure anyone knows what the cause is, but I do know that the only thing that may help is fewer slaps ont he wrists and more being accountable for your actions through courts of law.
    Take for example the first event that gave me thoughts to write this post, the gun-wielding pair, they don't look more than 20, if they are caught they will present in court as 'good boys' clean suits and parents by their side, it will be said they had a hard upbringing, mum and dad are divorced, the 20yo's didn't complete school, society is against them, we have to give them another chance. So what happens to the people at the other end of the gun? What if a shot had been fired? What if someone had been injured? The same would apply. As a law-abiding society, we have to make sure that the law-breaking citizens are treated accordingly and not let of the hook, only to harm someone else.

  6. It's hard to compare eras Heather. Growing up in the 50's & 60's it seems to me a pretty pleasant era to have grown up in. Recently I've been reading some books on the 1930s depression from eye witnesses in Melbourne & Sydney. It would seem to me that the horrors of those times led to much more violent activity than we see today.

  7. Once upon a time if you were caught stealing the authorities shipped you off to Australia.

    There is a lot of evidence to believe that, despite the media coverage, we are living in very peaceful times given the history of our species.

  8. Fighting, carrying weapons, drinking heavily and getting hyped up are just as thrilling as driving fast cars.

    One thing is for sure: neither the causes nor solutions are simple. I think most of what has been blogged and commented here is part of it. Most of all, we need to recognise that that the violence is a symptom if other things, and dealing with the symptoms will not address the underlying issues. And addressing those issues us the only meaningful response.

  9. Thanks, Heather, for the link to this. It's uncanny how you've said very similar things to what I have recently posted. Our easy use of labels to identify a so-called "illness" when there is no effective, repeatable, identifiable and unambiguous evidence of a person suffering from an actual "illness" is chilling, I find.

    It is not enough to hang a label around the jam-jar of human behaviour. We can describe our actions and the actions of others in any one of several ways, according to various schemes and patterns - and in the end, all it does is show our preoccupation with naming behaviour as though the naming leads to understanding.

    It is not enough to claim that certain behaviours in personalities are "illnesses" if there no verifiable and certain identification of the cause, no verifiable and certain identification of physical symptoms, and no verifiable and certain identification of treatment.

    I understand what you meant about the violence in society; I feel that violence is but one manifestation of a deeper problem, and that is an increased/more evident selfishness, self-love at the expense of fellow human beings, and disregard for authority.

    Of course there are individuals who, thank God, don't fit this pattern, who are delightful, thoughtful, considerate, courageous and honest. However, such individuals don't negate the problem of the wider picture - that more and more we're seeing atrocious behaviour (in the worst and most horrible sense of the word "atrocious") by young teens and even children.

    I agree that the causes are probably quite diffuse, that popular entertainment almost certainly has a causative effect, but I think it's probably more of a ricochet effect... Popular entertainment/popular culture paints certain behaviour as impressive or to be admired; impressionable children/teens absorb this; their own peer group takes this impression and works it into their peer-defined world; angry/indifferent/abusive/too-busy parents fail to offer guidance or a counter-view to balance this; and it becomes worse and worse, exerting an ever-increasing influence upon the minds of the young.