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Can SoftSecurity work in the RealWorld?

It's all very well on a wiki. Someone wipes the page -- you restore it. But substitute the page being wiped for your property being damaged, or worse, yourself, then it's not as easy to be phlegmatic.

How do RealLife communities tackle the problem of AntiSocial? behaviour? At one extreme, there is the GatedCommunity: the ultimate in HardSecurity.

But is this what we really want as a solution? In the absence of sufficient PoliceForce, and faced with a small minority that is troublesome, how can the principles of SoftSecurity be made to work outside of CyberSpace? for despite SunirShah's assertion that MeatBall is a RealLife community, it does not replicate the risks of MeatSpace communities.

Here are some examples to consider....

SoftSecurity success and failure in the UK

Historically, SoftSecurity has been the only security in society. Of course, this left it open to abuse by powerful individuals, but, in general, it worked well. However, once the city started to arrive, it was realised that a paid police force would be required to maintain law and order. It was small, however, and relied on the actions of citizens to maintain order. In the 1800's the "peelers" were the only people in London not allowed to carry a firearm, and so they would borrow one from a pass-by should they require it. This maintained the fabric of society well, and to this day the UK common law requires everyone to assist in preventing a crime.

However, as police forces expanded, the keeping of law and order slowly became someone else's problem - the police were paid to do it, so why should I? The effective abolition of self-defence in the 1950's, which was mostly allowed by the lack of crime (ironic, really), sounded the death knell of the concerned citizen coming to the aid of the police - why should anyone risk themselves to aid a well-armed man doing his paid job? The knock-on of this lack of deterrence means that the fabric of society started to degrade.

Today we see the terrible results of this policy. With no SoftSecurity, HardSecurity has tried to take it's place, and this is resulting in a rise in crime, whilst huge numbers of laws, harsher penalties and devices such as CCTV and better locks attempt to keep the peace against those who now believe society owes them whatever they want, and who will take it from others by force, knowing that, by not openly condemning them, society is tacitly allowing them to commit crimes from minor vandalism and intimidation to major sex crimes and murder. They are further emboldened by the popular (and often provably true) belief that The Law protects criminals far better than the victims, and this further ensures that criminals can act with impunity, safe in the knowledge that at most one person will act, and that act will be to call for assistance from the police, who, almost by definition, are not there when required.

The addition of "pseudo-police" is a bad idea, too, as it makes it even less clear who is responsible for acting, with other levels passing the buck. A community warden may fail to act, believing the highways agency should be responsible, who may not act due to the belief that a social worker should respond. This was the telling result of the inquiry into the death by torture of Victoria Climbie [[1]].

The original definition of a policeman was that they were ordinary citizens who were imbued with a few extra powers, and were paid to keep the peace as a full-time job, whereas all others were not paid but still had a common duty in law to keep the peace. Sadly, as the powers of the police have expanded rapidly, due mostly to the breakdown of society, the powers of the society have dropped away, and as a result, crime has increased beyond all reason or measure, as our freedoms have been stripped away.

I am unsure of the original poster's logic. To what extent and in what proportion can an increase of crime in the UK (if one exists) be laid at the feet of SoftSecurity? It is my understanding that even a greatly increased UK crime rate would still be well below the American crime rate, and the U.S. has a very HardSecurity, PoliceForce approach to law enforcement. I have a suspicion that the SoftSecurity/HardSecurity divide does not actually mean anything at all to the questions of criminal law but I have not completely formulated this opinion and I am willing to be persuaded. -- JasonCorley

I doubt there has been any point in the history of humanity where SoftSecurity has been the default, at least for communities larger and longer lived than a kibbutz. Swords, knives, thugs, and clubs seem to be pretty normal. Life is brutish and short, after all. Rather conversely, a peaceable society strives to use SoftSecurity over the default HardSecurity. SoftSecurity works primarily when there exists a strong concept of society, so that PeerPressure is sufficient to keep things in check. It's no secret that much of urban culture in recent times has focused on the dissolution of social pressure in favour of the anonymity of the crowd, and AnonymityIsPower. It's also no secret that crime erupts primarily from broken down neighbourhoods, and it's the fact that America has proactively worked to break down large sectors of its own population that it has a large crime rate. Britain also has very neglected 'ethnic' neighbourhoods.

If a society creates ClassStriation through UsAndThem distinctions, rather than something egalitarian like merit, then it's no wonder why 'They' who are poor are stealing from 'Us' who are rich. If a city isolates individuals, those individuals that need more social support to stay in line will fall out of line and go crazy. The construction and growth of the concept of a common Society is not a panacea, but it's a critical necessity for living in densely packed urban environments. -- SunirShah

I agree with the general statement, although in America, the vast majority of thefts are not the poor stealing from the rich or Them stealing from Us - the majority of thieves know the people they are stealing from, and the majority of those thieves know them personally. The burglar who puts on a black mask and breaks the window of a stranger is the exception to the rule, a dramatic stereotype that is not very useful in considering questions of reducing thefts, breakins, and so on. Violent crimes suffer from the same incorrect stereotype: the vicious stranger who attacks a random person. That's not a correct picture of crime. I suspect the original poster is suffering under a similar mistaken impression about crime and crime prevention. But since whoever it is never came back to develop their thesis, and I don't see much in it to develop on my own, I'm not sure there's any real direction to this page yet. (Sep05) -- JasonCorley

This page has direction since it was created in 2001. This recent sidebar about soft security in broken down communities does not require the original author to continue. This is not a bulletin board system nor a debate society. It's true that it's built on a lot of stereotypes. The trick is to boil the conversation down to notions we can be confident in; e.g. PeerPressure only works amongst peers, which means within a community, not from one community to another.

I think your assertion about knowing victims personally is missing the point. Theft is naturally done to those we know, since it is easier to overcome the guilt if we hate someone. Petty theft is felt by the perpetrator as an act of violence against someone, and therefore immoral. To bridge this moral gap, they are forced to rationalze their actions. Feeling vindication, entitlement to the stolen item, or justified by peers who are also thieves can overcome the moral gap. The psychological distance created by UsAndThem distinctions, particularly when there is economic disparity, again makes it feel 'ok' to steal from the other. Stealing from anonymous, unknown people (in a similar peer and economic class) takes more psychopathy as it is impossible to know whether it is "justified." -- SunirShah

I don't agree with the stated reason...

"Theft is naturally done to those we know, since it is easier to overcome the guilt if we hate someone.
Instead, I suggest that theft is committed against known victims merely because the perpetrator does indeed know something more in this situation, than is possible in an anonymous case. This additional knowledge is generally deemed to be useful in reducing the risk (of being caught), making the Risk / Reward ratio 'acceptable'. I really doubt the assertion that thieves need to overcome some sense of guilt, and that they do this on the basis of a hatred that comes from knowing the victim. Were that the case, I would think that the real motive is not material gain, but rather a form of punishment, based on some (strange) rationalizations. I do not believe we can generalize these assumed motives in a meaningful manner that we can apply in a practical way. After all, there are undoubtedly many more cases than we care to enumerate, much less analyze. That being said, there seem to be some conclusions that we can draw from the material on this page. So, as suggested, should we try to focus on
"The trick is to boil the conversation down to notions we can be confident in; e.g. PeerPressure only works amongst peers, which means within a community, not from one community to another." ?

-- HansWobbe


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