An accepted theory in the sociological study of crime, deviance, and self destructive behavior is that these characteristics are dominant amongst the most alienated individuals of a society. Emile Durkheim, who’s credited as the first sociologist, created this theory (and founded his school of thought) with a case study on suicide. The results of Durkheim’s study showed a higher rate of suicide amongst unmarried, childless individuals. Interestingly, the lowest suicide rates were associated with practicing Catholics and Jews. In Durkheim’s time these religions were minorities of France, where the case study was conducted, and the practitioners tended to come from large, extended families and have integral roles in their religious gatherings.
Durkheim’s study proved with empirical, scientific data that suicide is not predominantly motivated by biological pathology in an individual. Suicide is directly linked to the social environment. Durkheim, like most of the individuals of his time, assumed the highest rates of suicide would have been amongst the most subjugated social groups, but instead the highest rates were amongst the most disengaged members of society, albeit the members of the majority group. The more social interaction in a person, the less likely they would commit suicide.
Similar evidence is found in later studies of the correlation between social ostracism and criminal behavior and social deviance. For my interpretation of this piece, the difference between these criminal behavior and social deviance is only in the legal definition of deviance. If a behavior has been condemned by our justice system, such as murder or robbery, it is considered criminal behavior. Abnormal behavior with no legal prosecution, such as alcoholism or living alone with twenty cats, is considered socially deviant.
By definition, ostracism and disengagement are socially deviant, but these behaviors rarely exist in and of themselves. Any form of social deviance leads in this direction. Even as children, we learn the acceptable behaviors and etiquettes that surround us, and if we act otherwise, such as pick our noses or refuse to bathe, we face some sort of repercussion, like a spanking or teasing at recess. However, not everyone will behave the way society wants them to behave. These people will always be deviants and they’ll always exist in any society to serve a unique purpose; they help the rest of society define acceptable by labeling the unacceptable.
Robert Merton’s theory on criminal intent showed for the first time that an overwhelming amount of crime is not committed by sick individuals, but by healthy individuals who take calculated risks. Most criminals resort to this behavior because of the lack of socially acceptable options available to them; for any given reason, the criminal can’t survive in society living by the laws, and resort to any alternative method to survive.
Example: When the economy is bad, crime rates are highest. If someone can’t get a job, or the only job they can get is working extreme hours for meager pay, they will resort to alternative methods for money. They will shoplift, commit burglary or robbery, or start selling illegal drugs.
In this piece the narrator says, “[The self destructive man] thinks to himself, ‘I must be insane,’ What he fails to realize is that society has, just as he does, a vested interest in considerable losses.” Great point; this is brought up by sociologists as well. Merton’s theory outlines a few reasons why crime is a necessary evil, and without it society wouldn’t function as well, or even at all. I know it sounds like a conspiracy theory, but look at all the positive outcomes of crime and you’ll begin to see it as a lucrative business more than a detrimental problem.
o Crime creates hundreds of thousands of jobs in law enforcement, legal justice, and security.
o Billions of dollars move through the criminal justice system, without it our economy would be significantly reduced.
o Having a common enemy (the criminal, the deviant) unites the rest of society.
o The criminal justice system is a way to enforce the popular beliefs of the controlling groups of a society. If the people in power view a behavior as distasteful, they can use the legal system to enforce this distaste, and keep the subjugated groups in check. A good example of this is the criminalization of marijuana in the 1930’s to deport Mexican immigrant workers. Punishment for marijuana use was either a fine or deportation; white users paid a fine, Mexican users were forced to leave the country. Another example that’s currently in our courts is the banning of gay marriage. By adding the definition of marriage into the constitution to exclude same sex marriage, the group in power can label the homosexual as deviant, and enforce their distaste of the homosexual lifestyle.
Crime and deviance will always be a part of our lives as long as there remains a power struggle for equality, and as a whole the criminals and ostracized will remain the powerless classes. In his remarkable book, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison: Ideology, Class, and Criminal Justice, Jeffrey Reiman explains the Pyrrhic Theory. This term is derived from a strategic military move, where an army will purposely lose a battle to ultimately win a war. In terms for our criminal justice system, the law enforcement, courts, and overall design is made to fail. It is incredibly lengthy, bureaucratic, and expensive, but it keeps the lower classes in check with criminal records, prison, and legal expenses. It achieves its ultimate goal.