NATURE OR NURTURE

by David Breakspear

CW: mentions suicide, self-harm

In my previous article ‘Consequence of Conscience’, I mention a work titled Suicide by sociologist Émile Durkheim. In Suicide, Durkheim introduced us to the term ‘anomie’, suggesting it to be a breakdown of social norms resulting in a lack of standards and values. He also used this same term and definition to explain a reason as to why some members of society embark on a path of crime or ‘deviance’ – straying from the norm. Durkheim saw deviance as an inevitable part of life which is needed for innovation and change.

Another sociologist, American Robert K. Merton in Social Theory and Social Structure – a book that in 1998 was listed as one of the most influential sociological books of the 20th century – had a theory that deviant behaviour is a response to conditions where needs, wants, and aspirations cannot be achieved through normal behaviour. In a democracy, people from wealthy backgrounds are usually well connected, and because of their privileged position their route to achievement is relatively easy. However, when routes to personal achievement are blocked, it can influence some to find other ways to get what they want or to keep up with the Jones.

Merton has many other claims to fame among which are: the coining of the terms ‘role-models’ and ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’; his social research techniques into mass communication led to the creation of ‘focus groups’; and what could be argued as his biggest claim to fame:his son, also Robert, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1997.

are criminals formed by the conditions of their environment or born as such? 

What these two sociologists are saying, from my perspective, is something along the lines of what came first, the chicken or the egg? However, my question is, are criminals formed by the conditions of their environment or born as such?

If your perspective is one that agrees with the latter, then may I suggest you stop reading now as I do not believe criminals are born. In a paper by Öhman, Eriksson & Olofsson (1975) in relation to fear, they suggested “For example, unpredictable, uncontrollable events are more stressful than ones we think we can control. Snakes and spiders poke unpredictable dangers, whereas hammers are unlikely to attack you by surprise.”

It is my suggestion that criminals are formed by their environment and by the situation in which they are born.

“It takes a village to raise a child” is an African proverb which is prevalent in many different African languages and echoes the importance of family and community in African cultures. Its global usage and mirrored understanding are a testament to the relevance and strength of the proverb.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons issued an ‘Urgent Notification letter’ on 22 July 2019, after inspecting HMYOI Feltham; contained within the report is this frightening table:

If it takes a village to raise a child, where on earth are the villagers when these children are self-harming at rates like these? Regardless of the fact where are they with so many children incarcerated or locked up in secure environments? A rise of 218% in self-harm incidents in just six months, let that sink in for a moment.

  • TWO HUNDRED AND EIGHTEEN PERCENT.
  • 218%
  • In just six months.

If this had taken place in a school, we would have a national outcry on our hands. The red tops would be on fire and in competition for the most damning story of them all, even the Daily Mail may show compassion. The broadsheets spread out with faces of disgust peering in reading the words and seeing the large figure of 218%, then to see it happened in just SIX months. Rivers of tears would cascade down the faces of parents, some from empathy, some out of fear for their own, but privileged, young ones. There would be demonstrations and marches. Prime ministers question time would hear, hear nothing else. Damn, we would probably reopen the coal mines, just so the miners could go on strike until this travesty was fully investigated, resolved and ensured would never happen again.

So, I ask again, if it takes a village to raise a child:

WHERE ARE YOU?

Featured image via worldjusticenews


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