8 years ago: ‘The increase in violence’

March 28, 2005, on this blog: ‘The increase in violence’

This isn’t really Warren talking. He’s reciting, but not citing. This is all common knowledge, received wisdom, accepted truth. Larry listened to this litany of woes without batting an eye — he found these claims to be self-evident, obvious, unremarkable.

“We’re seeing the increase in violence,” the pastor says, and the newsman nods knowingly. But is this true? Are we, in fact, seeing an “increase in violence”? Are we even looking?

Crime rates, violent-crime rates and murder rates fluctuate, but the trend in recent years has been going down. One could argue, based on such statistics, that we’re actually seeing a decrease in violence. Such an argument could easily be bolstered by taking a longer look back in history: Is life in, say, Kansas City more or less violent than it was 100 years ago? How about life in Five Points?

But all that is beside the point. Those reciting and appealing to the narrative about ever-increasing violence and “things getting more worse” don’t really care much whether or not this narrative is technically true. The point of the narrative is to sell you a solution to the supposed crisis — and it matters little to them whether the crisis is actual or fictional, as long as you perceive the idea of the crisis you will be receptive to the solution they’re selling.

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  • Where is that wonderful link to lead levels and the change in crime rates from the 1950s to the 1990s?

  • Cathy W

    They’re still making the claim about crime rates – I saw a couple weeks ago on No Longer Quivering a quote from patriarchy-proclaiming pastor Reb Bradley that said, explicitly, that violent crime had “tripled” since 1960. To borrow the technical term you cite in the other post – bullshit. It was bullshit eight years ago, and it’s still bullshit. It took me 5 minutes looking around Wikipedia to find a graph that showed that it must have been “not intended to be a factual statement”…

  • GDwarf

    It’s because everyone is always convinced that the violent crime rate is rising. Part of the cause is news only focusing on the bad, and part of it is the fact that across all time and societies the older generation is convinced that the younger ones are corrupt, shiftless, and lawless. There’s probably other factors, too, but the point is that claiming crime is on the rise is an easy sell. Claiming it’s in decline, even with citations, rarely convinces anyone.

  • Lori
  • I have to wonder if that’s accurate, or if it’s just another example of http://xkcd.com/1138/

  • Lori

    More work needs to be done, but the science is better than that.

  • You did read it, right? The article goes into how people have even done cross-country comparisons as well as intra- and inter-state comparisons.

  • smrnda

    I read the memoirs of Carl Panzram, a criminal from the 20s and 30s and he was sure depicting a far more violent world than I live in. Part of the issue is it was easier to get away with murder; shave you mustache, use a new name and head to a new area.

    I think part of the narrative is just the standard narrative of The Fall – we fell from a golden age, therefore, axiomatically, things must be getting worse. I find true believers in that, when confronted by any statistics to the contrary, will try to weasel around having to accept the facts, grasping at any straw that might suggest there’s more violence now.

    Another part of it might just be that gun nuts are really addicted to gun ownership, and this is a way to rationalize a sick and unhealthy addiction as a sane preventative measure. You can’t sell guns without adequate fear, though I read a NY times article that fewer people own guns than in the past – perhaps fewer gun owners with more guns as they await the apocalypse that isn’t coming.

  • On a more thorough reading, I concede it sounds like they’ve done their homework. They seem to have addressed every objection I can think of.

  • I recall reading something saying that the sales model for guns has changed over time, from lots of different buyers who own one or two guns (a small handgun or a simple longarm,) to fewer buyers who stockpile several different guns. Hence, the hardcore enthusiasts or paranoid preppers are the consumers that the firearms industry needs to court to actually move most of their product in the civilian market.

  • smrnda

    They’re also people largely immune to reality. I think that not only do they believe that there’s some sort of apocalypse around the corner, they’re actually hoping there is, since otherwise, all the money they blew on guns would just make them look ridiculous.