Monday, January 14, 2008

Knife stuck into violence theory

Are movies such as Hannibal and the remake of Halloween, which serve up murder and mutilation as routine fare, actually making us safer? A paper presented by two researchers at the weekend to the annual meeting of the American Economic Association challenges the conventional wisdom, concluding that violent films prevent violent crime by attracting would-be assailants and keeping them cloistered in darkened, alcohol-free environs.

Instead of fuelling up at bars and looking for trouble, potential criminals pass the time eating popcorn and watching celluloid villains slay in their stead. "You're taking a lot of violent people off the streets and putting them inside movie theatres," said the lead author of the study, Gordon Dahl, an economist at the University of California, San Diego. "In the short run, if you take away violent movies, you're going to increase violent crime."

Mr Dahl and the paper's other author, Stefano DellaVigna, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, attach precise numbers to their argument. Over the last decade, they said, the showing of violent films in the US had decreased assaults by an average of about 1000 a weekend, or 52,000 a year. Crime was not just delayed until after the credits, they said. On the Monday and Tuesday after packed weekend showings of violent films, there was no spike in violent crime to compensate for the peaceful hours at the movies. Even a few weeks later, there was no resurgence, they said.

"There are hundreds of studies done by numerous research groups around the world that show that media violence exposure increases aggressive behaviour," said Craig Anderson, a psychologist and director of the Centre for the Study of Violence at Iowa State University. "People learn from every experience in life, and that learning occurs at a very basic level of brain function."

The study's authors acknowledge their research does not refute and in fact supports the findings of laboratory studies. Neither does it address the long-term effects of exposure to violent media, an influence they view as pernicious. Rather, the research uses a decade of national crime reports, cinema ratings and movie audience data to examine what has happened to rates of violent crime during and immediately after violent films are shown.


Mind Forg'd Manacles

By Theodore Dalrymple

The Left's belief in the helplessness of the poor is a self-fulfilling prophecy

I have long sought the perfect distillation of the worldview that I oppose, for without such an expression, I have sometimes worried that I am fighting a straw man. But as is often the way, we find what we most seek where we least look, or do not expect, to find it. Recently, I read [included below this article] a collection of essays by the East German writer Christa Wolf, which she wrote in the immediate aftermath of German reunification. Wolf had been an equivocal figure, part dissident, part court critic of the regime. Her reputation suffered when it came to light that as a young woman she had informed for the Stasi. The relevance of this deed to her stature as a writer is not clear.

Wolf's collection includes a letter that she received from the prominent left-leaning West German philosopher Jrgen Habermas about the problems of reunification. Habermas displays a certain verbal flatulence, an unwillingness to use one word where ten will do, as well as a fear of clarity (for clarity is what reveals one's banality). But one passage stood out-the perfect distillation that I had been looking for:
Have we already accepted living with an underclass that includes 20 to 30 percent of the population? Will we too close our eyes to a structural minority of helpless people whose only remaining means of protest is self-destruction and who have no chance of changing their situation by their own efforts?
Habermas's concern for people at the bottom of the social hierarchy does him credit: it is indeed easy and tempting to disregard such people, and I sense that his concern is genuine. Yet there is something profoundly dehumanizing about his characterization of the problem. What he is saying is that up to 25 million people in Germany exercise no choice at all in their lives, at least over anything other than their means of self-destruction. They are not full human beings, as we are: they are as helpless as inanimate objects.

What Habermas fails to recognize is that self-destruction-which he correctly implies has reached epidemic proportions among a segment of the population-grows out of attitudes to life, beliefs, and mentalities; it is not a mechanical response to a mechanical problem. And one of the beliefs that favors self-destruction is that no alternative to it is possible, because the world is so constituted, at least until the people's saviors gain power, that one's choices make no difference to the course of one's life. This is precisely the belief that Habermas seeks to promote. But it is not true, at least in minimally open societies, as the success of various minorities demonstrates. Habermas and those who think like him are thus purveyors of Blake's "mind forg'd manacles" that lead to so much misery in the midst of plenty.


Britain has changed but its values must endure

Britain is now a pluralist society: it is a country of people who have come from many different traditions and backgrounds, and who espouse different religious beliefs or none at all. But Britain still remains a liberal democracy governed by a single set of laws - laws whose roots lie in the Christian tradition that helped to form our moral values and culture.

There is much to celebrate in the diversity of the people who make up today's Britain, and in the dynamism and richness that diversity has brought to this country. But does it also pose a threat to the primacy of the Christian tradition, and even to a single, unified set of laws based on a liberal, tolerant political outlook? Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, believes that it may have precisely that consequence, and he expresses his forthright views in The Sunday Telegraph today.

Bishop Nazir-Ali's concern that the rapidity and scale of immigration, together with the policy of multiculturalism, threaten Britain's Christian heritage are echoed by the Church of England General Synod, a majority of which worries that large-scale immigration is "diluting the Christian nature of Britain".

It is not necessary to endorse all of Bishop Nazir-Ali's analysis to recognise that the scale and speed of immigration into Britain in recent years has indeed caused some serious social problems. Although those problems have long been at the top of voters' concerns, it has, until recently, been almost impossible to raise, let alone discuss, them in public: to do so risked being labelled "racist", a charge that has worked very effectively to shut down any further debate.

We believe that the root of the problems that have been caused, or at least exacerbated, by rapid mass immigration - including stresses and strains on the availability of publicly-funded goods, such as education, health and council housing - is less the scale and speed of immigration itself than the way Governments of all stripes have dealt with it. The policy of multiculturalism, which for decades has been the officially-sanctioned policy for immigrants, has actively worked against integrating new arrivals into British culture, traditions and values.

The model has not been the melting pot but the mosaic: instead of co-opting newcomers into the values of toleration, secular democracy and respect for the law as made by Parliament and interpreted by the judiciary, multiculturalism has encouraged immigrants to form their monocultural islands of belief and tradition, in which they reproduce their own values, regardless of whether they are inimical to the British way of doing things.

In 2008, it is not necessary to be Christian to enjoy the full liberties of the British subject (and it has not been for at least 150 years). Although it may be the result of a Christian heritage, the British way of doing things today has little to do with commitment to a specific religion: those of different faiths, whether Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or whatever, are of course full members of any British society that is worth having and preserving. What is required, however, is commitment to the democratic procedures by which law is made in Britain, and to the laws those procedures produce.

That is not a commitment that excludes much - but it does exclude the idea that all "man-made", as opposed to "God-made", law is illegitimate. So it excludes, for example, the narrow theocratic extremism of the Islamist sects that insist that only laws which derive from the Koran or Islamic tradition should be obeyed or enforced, and that they must be allowed to rule their own communities by Koranic law.

Multiculturalism allowed narrow theocratic extremism of that kind to flourish in Britain. The Government has finally realised that this was a mistake, and has promised new policies based around inculcating "British values". That is a huge improvement on multi-culturalism, which did not even insist that immigrants learn English. But it has yet to dismantle the enormous bureaucracy dedicated to promoting multiculturalism, or the jobs of the thousands of officials that depend on it.

Until it does so, separateness will continue to flourish - as will its potentially calamitous consequences for the integration of immigrants into Britain.


The importance of economics

A book review of "Economic Facts and Fallacies" by Thomas Sowell

AT SOME point in the past 20 years the interested amateur began to struggle to keep up with economic theory. It was just too hard to enjoy the latest academic work unless you had a head for higher mathematics. Recently, however, some writers, notably Paul Krugman in the New York Times, have been trying to drag economics back into the mainstream. The subject needs to stay there. As Thomas Sowell, a professor at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, argues, economics lies at the heart of many political issues.

In a sense, much of what Mr Sowell writes here is predictable. Once you know he is a paid-up member of the free-market school of economics, you can glance at the chapter headings of his book and guess what he is going to say. In "Male-Female Facts and Fallacies" he suggests that women are less discriminated against than is commonly assumed. The chapter on race makes the same argument for ethnic minorities, while his coverage of income distribution concludes that the trend towards widening inequality has been overstated. Mr Sowell believes that governments make matters worse; programmes that subsidise tuition fees at universities, for example, simply allow colleges to charge more. All in all, where there is a left-wing or statist view of economics, he would like to demolish it.

That said, Mr Sowell marshals his arguments with admirable clarity and authority. There is not a chapter in which he does not produce a statistic that both surprises and overturns received wisdom. In discussing whether women are discriminated against in the workplace, he cites a study which found, as far back as 1969, that women academics who never married earned more than male academics of similar standing. Today, never-married, childless, university-educated American women of between 40 and 64 earn $7,000 a year more than similar men. No explanation for this positive gap is forthcoming. But at the very least, it suggests that, where women do earn less, it is due more to rational factors (such as their unwillingness to work long hours) than to sexism.

Any student of public policy ought to reflect hard on some of the author's numbers. The riots that took place in black areas of 1960s America did not occur where the population was most oppressed or impoverished; it was only afterwards, as businesses fled, that the places in which riots had happened turned into economic disaster areas. Moreover, the greatest reductions in black poverty occurred between 1940 and 1960, well before the civil-rights reforms introduced by the Johnson administration.

However, Mr Sowell, who is black himself, occasionally overreaches in his attempts to shock his fellow citizens. He cites a study which argues that what looks like discrimination against blacks might turn out to be the result of employers rewarding workers with greater cognitive skills. But he does not pause to reflect that this skill gap, if it really exists, may be the result of discrimination at an earlier stage of life; in other words, in the education system. Many people will be infuriated by the arguments in this book. But it would still do them good to read it.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


No comments: