An exchange of ideas for an effective, fair and fully functioning democratic

Freedom equals social responsibility plus individual accountability. Good government requires nothing more than these two factors, yet we democratic nations around the world neglect one or the other, in favour of a focus on the remaining ingredient. Capitalistic approaches shun social responsibility, preferring, instead, to lean on free markets to drive growth and success. Socialist approaches ignore the merits of individual accountability as a driving force in shaping good governance. Look to the American system to see the dynamics of the former ideology in play, or to much of the European continent to observe the emphasis on the latter concept. Both experience monumental failures and significant successes. This blog intends to explore alternative ideas and mechanisms to the either/or approach to freedom. We eagerly anticipate feedback, guest blogger articles, comments and ideas from you, the reader. Please take the time to register, as well, and, hopefully, we can not only share ideas, but work together to implement change!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Watchful Eyes Deter Crime

When we discuss the concept of keeping a watchful eye on illegal activity, most of us focus on potential criminal or misdemeanour activity by youths, loose gangs or minorities. It is a stereotype and response that need to be resisted, since much of the deviant behaviour around us occurs at the hands of other groups, as well: law enforcement personnel, corporations and everyday citizens who infringe on human rights.
An equally pervasive reaction to calls for citizens to prevent crime is to assume that this responsibility should fall to others, and that we will have little impact, individually. Both responses are detrimental to making our lives and our communities safer. The adage that “it takes a village” to rise a child is equally applicable to making your life more safe and crime-free. Where there are watchful eyes, crime of all type decreases. Concurrently, when we assume a little responsibility, we make it less burdensome on those empowered with authority.
Consider that if, in addition to your own home, you paid attention to situations amenable to crime (break-ins, vandalism, etc.) for each of your neighbours on the four sides of your own property, one pair of eyes could prevent such activities in five, instead of one residence. Now, imagine if only one other owner out of those four properties did the same, and that pattern continued throughout your city, 20% of the community could deter 100% of the problems in every home.
In rural and smaller communities, statistics reveal that property crimes and serious violence are significantly lower than in larger centres. Neighbours concerned about neighbours constitute almost all of the reasons for this disparity between large and small centres. While many people view the attitudes of country folk as intrusive, nosy or prying, the interest of neighbours and friends in one’s life offers real dividends! Watchful eyes do work.
Conversely, anonymity provide the cover for deviance. Again, watchful eyes offer the best chance to see decreases in crime, by spotlighting deviant behaviour. It is no surprise, then, that many of the meth labs and concentrated grow ops in North America are placed in big cities, where people do not involve themselves in their neighbours’ lives, and place the onus for safety and crime prevention solely on the shoulders of justice and law enforcement systems.
Relying on the principle of five – that is, assuming responsibility for watching out for your four neighbours can be extrapolated to the workplace, or to the environment around you. Five vehicles adjacent to you, five nearby businesses, or five nearby co-workers can both benefit from your concern for their wellbeing, and be deterred form potential criminal activity. Expand your boundaries and horizons systematically and you expand your zone of safety and security, as well as the zone for others.
As our communities expand, and we become less involved, we invite crime. Simultaneously, our attitudes toward crime become more blurred, and acceptance of so-called softer crimes becomes easier. Think of how we view shoplifting. The very name implies diminished seriousness. Vandals who deface property brand their activity as “tagging,” making it sound more like a game than a crime. One study found that 38% of taxpayers admit to cheating on their income tax, and over 60% feel that avoidance of tax is not a serious problem. Maybe, stacked against murders, fraud is “soft,” but a willingness to cheat your fellow taxpayer and citizen out of money (our government is not independent: it is us!) is a willingness to step across that line of morality that separates criminals from honest people.
The violence in the United Kingdom in August, 2011, or the violent protest in Greece (some of it occurring because people, many of whom do not pay their taxes, were upset that the decreased tax revenue available could no longer pay for their early retirement) largely was based on concern for self, rather than concern for those around us. That psychology needs to change, if we want a safe environment around us. We need to think of others first, and watch out for our neighbours, ahead of ourselves.
Having a watchful eye, though, and merely watching are two different processes entirely. For what are we watching? The entrenched habit is to concentrate on youth, minorities, people who differ from us in beliefs, people who differ from us in objectives and activities, and people whom we see as not conforming to our way of viewing the world. On the other hand, many of us implicitly trust our law enforcement, our religious leaders, our seniors, our friends, and those who provide us with the things we desire. That is both myopic and misdirected. However, it also contains a small part of the essence of what we should be observing: differences.
Unfortunately, we cue in on the wrong differences. One religion or another, or example, has no exclusive domain over morality. Neither does one race or another. Blind studies and objective observation have found that youth often have a moral sense equal to adults, and that seniors are no less subject to the temptation to deviate. Rather, the differences that set us apart from those that are deviating from acceptable behaviour are those of action.
Think of the person in the car next to you, who texts on his cell phone. Notice how furtive his glance is, or his downward gaze, when he should be watching the road. Notice the shoplifter, who looks around for people who may be observing, rather than at the merchandise. Notice the vendor who tries to steer you away from examining some aspect or feature of the item that you are considering for purchase. Note the collection of people, not in the front but in the back of a building. Note the after-hours visits to a location that may indicate that illegal activity is being concealed. Note the person whose behaviour with you is markedly different than his behaviour with someone else. It is the difference in action that set apart differences in intent.
In the next article, I will discuss the MOI Inventory. MOI is an evaluative technique employed, in one form or another, by police and investigators, and relies on understanding of the three ingredients of any crime: Motive, Opportunity and Indicators.
In subsequent articles, I will provide details on how to watch, how to record, how to report and respond, without putting yourself at risk.
However, the beginning of the process is to be vigilant, and to keep a watchful eye, since merely being noticed often is a strong deterrent for those engaged in inappropriate behaviour.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Individual Accountability, Social Responsibility Lead to Good Government

In Greece, citizens riot because they do not want to relinquish their “right” to state-supported retirement at the old age of mid-fifties. In the USA, government comes to a standstill when the two parties –each of which holds a majority in either the Senate or Congress – cannot agree on whether companies should pay more tax and people be denied adequate health coverage or whether people should be handed a Cadillac of health and retirement benefits while business is hamstrung by increased taxes. In Canada, a new majority government looks to model the American Republican party approach to fewer government subsidies and supports for individuals while increasing incentives to big businesses (i.e. taking from the poor to give to the rich). This, in spite of the Canadian model being one of only a handful to survive, relatively unscathed, the 2009 worldwide economic collapse.
Democracies rule through majority, in theory. In practice, they rule through the power of receiving more votes of those eligible voters, who were sufficiently engaged to opt to vote, than any other party. In Canada, for example, only slightly more than 50% of the eligible adults that were enumerated cast their ballots in 2011. Often, only 80% of the eligible voters are willing or able to be enumerated. The current government received around 40% of that 50% of the 80% that were listed as eligible. That is 16% of the people who are empowered to decide the direction of our country! This, unfortunately, is typical of most elections and most democracies. So, bad government is not the fault of those elected officials, so much as it is the fault of those of us who were not committed enough to take the time to make a choice.
But let us look a little further into this whole voting process. In the USA, roughly one third of the voting population who respond to pollsters indicate that they are committed to the Republican Party approach, and about 1/3 committed to the Democratic Party approach. On the surface, that sounds like good involvement in the democratic process. But most people who support wither party can cite specific policies, ideas and priorities of their selected party! In Canada, farmers – a collection of individuals who historically have survived only by working cooperatively through crises – most often vote for the federal party most committed to increasing the power of corporations over small collectives. On the other hand, many academics and others in a position to gain wealth through their own intelligence and initiative support a party whose primary tenet is to give power to unions that historically benefit those workers who do not commit themselves to achievement based on merit and commitment to hard work. We, it seems, make very self-destructive decisions, not necessarily based on reason.
However, let me reverse field a little here. When I indicate that academics and intellectuals vote against their own self-interest that may not be a bad thing! When I suggest that farmers also vote against their own self interest, that, too, may have merit Those that vote, though, based simply on past practice, or do so without applying forethought and understanding of the issues involved, do the most serious damage to democracy.
I have voted for and worked for all three of the major political parties in Canada, and would have supported the Bloc Quebecois – a separatist party in Quebec -- if it had run the right candidates in my province of Manitoba. It has, in my view, a good, balanced approach to the environment and a fair approach to social policy, while not denigrating the merits and contributions of business to our country. I am certain, as well, that a different approach to our unity issue is needed, to make our great country work better. I vote for the candidate first, and the party second, and, in so doing, rely on the candidate’s ethics and values to guide my choice.
In following the US political scene, I have seen good qualities in the president with the lowest approval ratings in American history: George W. Bush. I embrace many of the ideas of Barrack Obama, even if some are detrimental to Canadian interests. But there are negatives in each of these leaders, as there are in every leader. Would I vote for either, or any of Canada’s politicians based on an abstract ideology? No.
Good government requires two elements: a commitment to individual accountability and an emphasis on social responsibility. If either of the two is missing or inadequate, then that party or candidate comes up short.
We cry loudly when our tax dollars are used inappropriately, but we view inappropriateness very subjectively. I have a libertarian friend who believes in minimal government involvement. Social safety networks should be the responsibility of the community at large. He insists that any regulation and control is intrusive. Yet, he wants to be secure from crime, have a paved back lane, enjoy the arts, know that his food is safe to eat. So how do you have no regulations and yet expect controls? Would a profit-oriented business prefer to buy low cost food and sell at a good profit, or would it want to have to devote time and money to making sure that the goods are meeting exceptionally high standards?
I have another friend who is enraged when tax dollars are spent on silly research projects or foolish arts events. Yet, he is adamant that the government should kick in money to support his professional sports team efforts to build a new stadium.
These two illustrate that social responsibility suffers, when narcissistic ideas are allowed to flourish. For-profit corporations, by definition, are profit- oriented. Public companies, by mandate, must place the interests of their investors above all others, in order to thrive. Social conscience takes a back seat to money. Individuals, though, who are less motivated to succeed in the corporate world, often feel that they should be supported in their choices, and demand greater and greater concessions and benefits, while offering less and less in return.
Give me early retirement, give me free access to cosmetic surgery, give me shorter work days and less responsibility. So where does the funding for these benefits originate? From the hands of those that are driven to earn it. Those demanding greater benefits, such as those in Greece and the U.K., also are reluctant to pay the price to earn those benefits. They demonstrate poor individual accountability.
Personally, I feel that our problem, around the free world, is that we all are selfish. If we were to return to the concept that “it takes a village,” we would look to others viewpoints and needs prior to making any decision that involved our own self interest. That would be the beginning of making us more socially responsible, and concerned about our fellow citizen. If we took the time to appreciate the effort and contribution of others, before we asked them to contribute to our own wellbeing, that would be the start of individual accountability.
The question is, what specific steps must we take to achieve that end? This will be the meat of the discussions that will be posted on this blog.