Thursday 7 August 2008

Black sheep: the new black?

Criminals, or more precisely, young criminals, are in the news once again.

There would hardly be a newspaper in the world where headlines about children on the attack have not appeared at one time or another. The Courier Mail, Queensland's metropolitan daily, is no exception.

This time we read about youth gangs attacking shops, people on the street, and invading school grounds wielding machetes and slashing other students.

Several things stand out. Violent teenagers are nothing new, but over the last few decades have pushed their boundaries. The attacks have become bolder, and now include spaces that once used to be virtually untouchable (such as schools). At the same time the official response has spread across a spectrum of reconciliation supporting an industry of counsellors, psychologists, and courts that seek to ameliorate the phenomenon through a sophisticated construct of analysis and political correctness.

Another feature would be the tendency to barricade oneself behind a wall of optimistic perception that supports the system and attacks the critic - a typical characteristic of a parochial society such as Queensland extending into many other areas. However, this is a topic by itself.

From Otoom's point of view a society is a system that relies on the interdependent activities of its members and the information developed through creation and feedback. The activities generate the data, and their surrounds reflect via feedback which in itself becomes modified by those entities and their respective processes. How complex such dynamics turn out to be depends on the complexity of society per se.

Any event can be analysed and deconstructed to the nth degree. Whether the result is still applicable to the here and now becomes a matter of the environment's complexity, rather than the analyst's. As Freud once said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

When members of the public complain about too lenient sentences, a judge can point to the intricacies of the case and the welter of detail playing a part in the decision. However correct all that may be, in the end it is the defendant's understanding of it that determines the long-term result. In our case, would a dysfunctional youth be able and willing to consider the finer points of their condition and relate them to the wider precepts of philosophy and human rights charters? The answer, more likely than not, is in the negative.

The feedback process mentioned earlier occurs on both sides. The youth will rejoin the gang and bask in the glorification of waywardness. The judge's decision will filter through society's institutions and stimulate further the processes of their perception and seeking confirmation within their own maxims. Both derive their sustenance from a mutually contrary world where the interface is not meaningful dialogue but the appearance of yet another victim.

Since in any situation its information value is a matter of the participants' intellectual capacity, the result mirrors that capacity and not its inherent potential.

While companies continuously evolve their methods of testing job applicants for their personal characteristics, when it comes to a demographic's average we have fallen into the trap of considering humanity at large as an amalgam of essentially equal performers. Yet, as the most cursory glance around the world will show, nothing could be further from the truth. The very quality of daily life differs from Sydney to Paris to Dacca. Just as there are differences on the large scale, within a society similar variations can be found.

So yes, for a more subtle person the deliberations of a judge carry the intended meaning, but for a 12-year-old brute they are neither here nor there. Still, both are subjected to the same treatment. And both, given the confluence of interdependent information flows, will view their status from their own disposition. The judge will contemplate a complex interaction, the youth will savour his victory. Both will go from there.

On a large scale the interference by the West in the chaos of African demographics produces a similar outcome. The current accusations leveled against senior members of the French government during the Rwandan massacres demonstrate how costly the interaction of disparate complexities can become. The chaos as a result of two low-complexity groups, Hutus and Tutsis, playing out the game of hierarchy after their own fashion, cannot be met through the high-complexity action by a third party. Just as a teacher should not quote Voltaire when faced with bunch of quarrelling children, in a traditional setting warring tribes were subdued through the action of a strongman. In the current climate of perceived equality however a realistic assessment of the players has become heresy.

And so the French government is attacked by a tribe; in Brisbane citizens are set upon by gangs.

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