Monday, October 19, 2009


A short article at the “Reason” site this past week makes some interesting points.

“Violent crime is down in America, across the board, spanning two decades.” Thus the Justice Department earlier this month reporting “that the incidence of rape had hit a 20-year low”.

Ditto that “homicides are down, as are juvenile violence and crimes committed against children”.

And that “crime rates have been plummeting since the early 1990s to such an extent that explaining the drop has become something of an obsession among criminologists and sociologists”.

That much I think the SO community has already come to suspect.

Certainly the drop predates all the SO laws in the current mania and indeed the mania itself.

A skeptical turn of mind might be forgiven for imagining that 20 years ago, at the first sign of a decline in crime, the government eagerly jumped on any bandwagon that claimed it was outraged by this or that crime, simply to keep up the level of public fear. It’s a tactic that has worked well, after all, since at least 1948 and the Cold War: you can never go wrong politically by scaring the hell out of the American people and then promising to save and protect them.

And it used ‘the children’ somewhat as a front, as a guaranteed and instantaneous objection-suppressor; a gambit that has recently been deployed far less skillfully by some poor backwoods parents with a balloon and their darling boy. But they had picked up the idea, I would say, from some verrry high-level sources indeed.

But what is really news is that “since 2002 the percentage of the American public who think violent crime is on the rise has been increasing, even as the violent crime rates continue to fall”. (Until 2002 when terrorism – a form of crime – suddenly got the public worried and has continued to do so.)

Even more: “there was actually a drop in public worry about crime that began in 1992 and continued until 2002”. This was the period when the SO mania was brought to the boil by the Findings in the various State and Federal laws screaming concern over the emergency created by hordes of incorrigible monster stranger sex-offenders roaming the land, and upheld by far far too many courts. And yet the public was actually becoming less worried by crime during that period.

Now this is interesting indeed. And not at all consoling, from a Citizen’s point of view. Clearly the legislatures were not responding to “public outcry”, at least not as the term is normally construed. But again, perhaps the legislators were simply making common cause with any bandwagon that might help keep public fear whipped up – not that that thought is very consoling either.

So maybe the legislatures – State and Federal – were engaging in the practice of creating “expressive law”: make a law that will send a certain ‘message’, one that a particular pressure-group wants passed; whether the law itself is workable or Constitutional or even just or wise doesn’t matter; once it’s passed it’s the courts’ problem, although you can always tell the cameras that if there’s any ‘tweaking’ and ‘fine-tuning’ to be done, you’ll do it if the need arises. And then ‘move on’.

That sounds more probable, but insufficient somehow. I think it makes the legislators out to be the ‘victims’ (!) in the matter – the victims of the pressure groups.

And I don’t think that can be right. Governments by their nature tend to like public ‘fear’ – it keeps people in line and out of the way. Especially for a government that can’t really solve the huge and real problems facing its citizens, then a handy ‘war’ against some fearsome monster (created for the purpose by the PR folks) will serve as well in this era as “a short little war in the Far East” served the purposes of an earlier era.

“Fear makes easy politics” the article notes. And that’s too too true. And doesn’t the SO community know it from first-hand?

And if there’s a high crime rate or at least the perception that there is, then it’s easy for legislators to score points by sending more money to law enforcement.

But in an era of shrinking funds there’s another option that doesn’t require so much cash: create so many laws and water down Constitutional protections so much, that prosecutors have a much simpler time of it when it comes to wringing a plea out of a defendant.

In this regard, the article mentions a new book by veteran Boston attorney Harvey Silverglate, who opines that there are now so many Federal crimes that the average Citizen commits at least 3 Federal felonies per day.

And yet, as the article notes, “we aren’t a nation of degenerates”.

But I wonder if it wouldn’t be a good idea for ‘decent’ folks to start wondering just how many times over they are already Federal felons. That would give them a little broader perspective when it comes to thinking about ‘sex offenders’, and about what is happening not only in this country, but to it.

And if this article is on the right track, then the perps are indeed among us and known to us: we voted them into office.


It is probably more than coincidence, the era of the 1990s. In domestic politics the eager-to-please re-election concerns of the Bush 1 Administration, followed immediately by the arrival of the Clinton Administration, triggered a massive surge in pressure from major Advocacy groups whose primary chosen bugbear was the ‘male’ and ‘male violence’ and – inevitably – matters of ‘sex’ and intimate relationships.

Additionally, the continuing dissolution of family and parental ties – a direct result and even objective of certain Advocacies for their own purposes – triggered a deep national need to somehow express ‘concern’ for ‘children’ and the deep public psychological need to feel that something was being done for ‘children’.

On the international scene, the peaceful dissolution of the Soviet Union had the perverse effect of dissolving the world-community’s need for the US to protect them from the Soviet threat.

And this thump landed on a Beltway already sensing its inability to meet the economic challenges of the now-gone post-1945 American industrial and economic primacy.

Clearly, I think these realities served as pressure for legislators to both satisfy the demands of certain pressure-groups domestically, while also raising up new ‘monsters’ and ‘threats’ to distract the public from what was sure to soon reveal itself as a long period of legislative mishandling of major national and international challenges facing the nation and the fact that so many of the grave problems had now gone beyond the point of any simple solution.

And here We are.

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