Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Crime Culture

To an extent, there is a "Rape culture" in the United States, as it doesn't take much digging to find places, groups and institutions within the broader culture that react to rape with tolerance, indifference or even acceptance.

But in this regard, rape is not unique - there are any number of crimes about which this can be said now, could have been said in the past and will be said in the future. Mainly because we (and I use this in the sense of the generalized we) don't commonly follow the rules around personal valuations that say:

  • A non-criminal who is not useful to you should be counted as having a higher worth than a criminal who is.
  • Victims, and people like the victims, should have a higher worth than the perpetrators and people like the perpetrators.
And isn't this what it really comes down to? Of course, things are rarely that simple. When people have something we want, whether it's money, talent, social currency, a key to our own self-approval, or what have you, we are often willing to make allowances for those people - so long as they are willing to share - that we are unwilling to make people without these things.

Social approval has always been important for almost anyone who isn't completely independent and self-sufficient. While we are interdependent in many aspects of our society, that interdependence is not balanced. The individual tends to need the greater society much more than the greater society needs any one individual. This is especially true for vulnerable populations and has, in fact, often been the cause of said vulnerability. And there are countless historical examples of that imbalance having harmful or even fatal consequences. Laws and strictures are, ultimately constructs created by people, and without people being ready, willing and able to enforce them, they are often worth less than the paper they are - or perhaps are not - printed on.

To the degree that someone feels that their health, welfare or even their life depends on their being counted as worthwhile by the society around them, they may then understand that they are entitled to that valuation, and become very sensitive to anything that hints that it's being lowered. Examples abound; too many to touch upon them in any real detail. The concept of "Rape Culture," as I understand it, is a manifestation of the real and rational fear that women have of being marginalized by a culture that they cannot adequately punish for mistreating them. Especially when it appears that they are being marginalized over things that we are commonly expected to regard as being trivial, like sports, or ephemeral, like social standing.

But, not being a woman myself, I don't have a clear enough picture of the issue. As an African-American, the closest that I come are the lynching stories that I was told as child. But these are, to a degree, ancient history, rather than an everyday reality. Once, I unintentionally gave a female friend the idea that I intended to assault her. I've been in some real knock-down-drag-out altercations with people - but I've never been concerned that it would lead to my murder at the hands of an angry mob. My understanding, that in the face of enough social disapproval, my life may be forfeit, is simply an abstract concept. So I'm not going to claim, by any stretch of the imagination, that I can relate. I'm simply an outsider, looking to put something into a larger context.

I don't know that I've found it, but I think the pieces fit.

No comments: