19 July 2007

Standing on the Corner: Gangs, Tribes, Nation-States and Other Suspicious Groups

We complain about congestion, but it's a fact that we're drawn to other people.

This draw has sophistication to it. We don't just saunter up to our fellow man, plant ourselves and stare, like an attentive Irish Setter. We socialize.

If our world is small, we socialize in families. If it is a little larger, we socialize in tribes. (In urban areas, that shows up as gangs.) Even larger and more sophisticated groups are referred to as city-states or nation-states. We cluster. We organize. We mobilize. We find a purpose within an agreed upon context, using a particular set of rules and people. We belong.

All that to point to this tidbit from Report: Gang suppression doesn't work
Anti-gang legislation and police crackdowns are failing so badly that they are strengthening the criminal organizations and making U.S. cities more dangerous, according to a report being released Wednesday.
Mass arrests, stiff prison sentences often served with other gang members and other strategies that focus on law enforcement rather than intervention actually strengthen gang ties and further marginalize angry young men, according to the Justice Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank that advocates alternatives to incarceration.

The advocate for a new approach (Condi Rice's relative Connie Rice) claims the current policy makers are "stuck on stupid." The defenders of the current approach counter by claiming that the study authors are "thug-huggers" who don't appreciate the need to deal with these criminals as criminals.

Given our instinct for assembly, it might be better to focus on using gangs rather than breaking them up. At some point a community has to look at the data and conclude that gangs are a fact of life rather than something that can be eradicated.

I wonder what might happen if we harnessed the instinct for gangs into a better kind of organization. As a student of history, it strikes me that the gangs are not much different in composition and rules of engagement from small groups that eventually channeled their violence into social order in the form of settlements. What if gangs were looked at as a natural progression in social evolution rather than aberrations? What if they were looked at as groups that should be hastened through a violent stage of development to a more formal stage of order and productivity? What if gangs are not a cancer but a new organ that needs to fully develop in order for communities to gain coherence and for individuals to feel a sense of power?

As I’ve said before, it still amazes me that there is so little interest in social evolution and development, the ontogeny and phylogeny of social groups. How we can pretend to engage in nation-building, transforming gangs, or enter into transnational trading alliances without drawing from something akin to social development and evolution baffles me.


Life Hiker said...

Maybe the urban gangs are much like the gangs we are fighting in Iraq. They survive because they have good cover in their communities - either overt support, fear, or a "no snitch" culture. It's a very difficult law enforcement environment.

Seems to me that finding a way to divert this criminal energy into something productive would be really challenging given the skills (or lack of skills) in the gang population. What kind of "carrot" would work with people like this? Maybe the "thug-huggers" have a good answer to this important question.

exskindiver said...

it is human to need to belong.
disbanding gangs without an alternative solution for their need for social acceptance is counter productive to the goal of improving society.