The key to Armageddon
By David Hoffman
While doing research for this article, I began to review some old textbooks from my teaching days, and happened across a theory, initially developed by some sociologists, to explain why and how crime exists: the Social Control Theory.
The fundamental underpinnings of the Social Control Theory are that the inclination towards deviance (meaning nonconformity to social norms) and crime is actually a normal part of human nature; consequently crime prevention programs should not focus on why some people become criminals, but instead on why others do not.
Critics of the Social Control Theory contend that its almost fatalistic embrace of biological determinism not only undermines the concept of "free will," it also fails to explain why people often feel guilt or remorse after committing antisocial or criminal acts.
In response, Social Control theorists argue that, while guilt and remorse may indeed be present during early stages of criminal activity, human beings have a remarkable (and, as this article contends, dangerous) ability to neutralize any guilt they feel about their wrongdoings through the use of rationalizations.
Soon I began to realize that the Social Control Theory supports a maxim of mine that I've frequently proffered in many Pravda.Ru articles over the past ten years: human nature is basically inclined towards evil; therefore most of the world's conflicts are not caused by clashes between good and evil, but between what degrees of evil are considered to be "acceptable," and what degrees are not.
There is some historical evidence to support this maxim. America's founding fathers, having fought and won a war against a monarchy, saw how easily evil can manifest when too much power is concentrated into too few hands; thus they created a government with three branches-legislative, executive, and judicial-in the hope that each branch would "check and balance" the power of the others.
By contrast, theoretical communism was created on the belief that human nature was basically good; that people would be willing to labor not for their own benefit, but for the betterment of humanity as a whole; that human beings will act communally and share their resources to ensure that everyone has enough and nobody has too much; and that distribution of these resources would be based upon one's need, instead of upon one's abilities.
Logic naturally dictates that if human beings are fundamentally good, no check and balance system is required. The result was that communist regimes (or, perhaps more accurately, regimes that claimed to be communist) produced some of history's worst dictators.
America, thanks to its "check and balance" system, has historically avoided this drift into dictatorship. But that is beginning to change. Americans seem to be increasingly accepting of the dismantlement of everything the founding fathers sought to install. Some examples: in 2010, the United States Supreme Court removed democracy from the hands of the voters by declaring, in its Citizens United decision, that corporations are "people" for purposes of political speech. The result has been that numerous state governments (like those in Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan) and the legislative branch of the federal government have become nothing more than venal cheerleaders for the interests of big business and billionaires; the executive branch, using as its rationalization the "war on terror," has given unchecked power to unaccountable, undemocratic entities like the National Security Agency (NSA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-entities that, during the course of their sordid histories, have often engaged in criminal activities and human rights violations; and the judicial branch has become nothing more than a rubberstamp to excuse or rationalize the abuses, tortures, injustices and murders this unchecked power has spawned.
As I thought more about the Social Control Theory, I came to realize that the situational ethics it inspires is the stuff that hypotheticals, television shows, and movies are made of-the "what ifs?" if you will: If you were starving, would you kill another person in order to eat? If you were told to kill an innocent stranger, would you do so to save the life of a friend? If you knew you could get away with it, would you rob a bank if you were poor? Would your decision be different if you were rich?
This list could go on ad infinitum, but ultimately what these "what ifs" are really asking is whether social controls designed to inhibit deviant or criminal behavior can be effective in all environments and circumstances, or if they are only effective in certain environments or circumstances, or if changes in environments and/or circumstances are simply used as excuses to engage in deviant or criminal behavior that one had the proclivity to engage in all along?
So I decided to begin my analysis by examining America's legal system, particularly its criminal justice system, where external social controls are arbitrarily enforced and often nonexistent, and where internal social controls, such as conscience and personal integrity, are considered to be sufficient to prevent abuses of power.