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Thursday, 28 July 2011

Civil Society – Crime, punishment and the betterment of the human state.

Societies, organizations, communities etc.  have developed a set of commonly understood operating framework.  These can be laid out in laws, policies, traditions or a variety of other instruments that define what actions are appropriate and which are inappropriate.  These “regulatory frameworks” define a minimum expected code of conduct.
Those that fall below the minimum standard are subjected to some form of penalization in the hope that they will subsequently maintain their conduct in a ‘more appropriate’ fashion.  Hence we have developed elaborate structures to identify societies’ negligent members and punish them for their indiscretion. It is a fascinating exploration of the effectiveness of our penal system in contributing to rehabilitation and preventing recurrence, but the short assessment it is that it is a dismal failure. 
Tough on crime,  War on drugs, Three strike policies, Mandatory minimum sentencing amongst others would not meet the minimum pass levels for programs in most social institutions.  Despite the evidence of ineffectiveness, the solution tends to be more, more, more.  
The most recent absurdity, is the conservative-led Canadian parliament’s persistent push to get tougher on crime, expand the war on drugs, build more prisons and implement mandatory sentencing – despite continuing reports that crime is on the decline.  http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/100720/dq100720a-eng.htm   These are small decreases, as “crime” is down 17% over the last decade, though violent crime has only decreased about 6%.   More on crime and punishment in a future blog.
The big question should be why are things getting better?   Considerable effort has gone into supporting the social environment in which we live, learn and work so that as a society the expected norms are better than the minimum expected code of conduct.  It is the concept of a civil (or civic) society.   Wikipedia defines the civil society as the arena of “uncoerced collective action around shared interests, purposes and values”.   It is the desire of members of a society to live in the best possible conditions, and to invite neighbours and train new generations to be active participants in such a setting.   It is a force that has been continuously in effect for decades;  particularly in our education system, in modernizing religious institutions and strongly within the non-governmental voluntary sector.
It is the way to “preventing” social disturbance rather than reacting to it.  It is about good neighbourly relations, teamwork in the office setting, striving for collective improvement for the sake of improvement itself. It might be seen as society’s approach to continuous quality improvement.   The “state” may react on behalf of society by subsequently redefining social minimum standards and raising the bar.   The third leg of this stool being the impact of economic drivers which this blog has alluded to numerous times.
The Civil Society is also a fundamental component of improving our collective wellbeing and likely a more powerful influence than either policy or economy.  
So begin,  start by saying hello to your neighbour at home or in the next cubicle – and pass along some friendliness. 

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