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Kemp: Are we a less violent society? Government has the key!
By Youri Kemp
Jun 26, 2017 - 4:03:54 PM

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I was watching a video called, “Lord Jamar: Europeans Have Been Historically More Violent than Africans” on one of my favourite YouTube channels, DJVlad TV, and the host was interviewing a regular contributor to his YouTube broadcast  - an Old School, Hip Hop artist from one of my favourite groups back in the 90’s, Brand Nubian’s Lord Jamar. Of course, Lord Jamar is an Afrocentric artist from that era where being Afrocentric was a major part of Hip-Hop culture and has his views on cultural history from time immemorial.

The issue of Africans vs. Europeans, or any race vs race, is not the core position of this article. But, the funny thing is, while DJVlad TV is, primarily, an entertainment channel, the host from which the channel is named, the DJ Vlad, plugged a book from a Harvard Professor, Steven Pinker titled, “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined is a 2011.”

As someone from the Afro-Caribbean and by wider extension, Latin America, crime and violence is a foremost issues in our societies and one where we cannot ignore the ravages of such violence and crime. After reviewing portions of the book, from the broadside of it and casually speaking: Of course violence has declined, world-wide, across the board when we take into consideration the de-escalation of mass armed conflicts; hegemonic stability in global politics; better, local law enforcement enhancement; property rights being taken seriously in civil court rather than on the range or in the streets; and the arbitration of border issues with countries with longstanding territorial disputes. Pinker touched on this as a starting point to his analysis and one can agree that yes, it is a safer society from that aspect.

The book reminded me of a study done by Bjørn Lomborg, a visiting professor at the Copenhagen Business School and the director of the Copenhagen Consensus Centre in his submission to the online Magazine and Think-Tank, Project Syndicate titled, “The Economics of Violence,” a piece in which I reviewed in an article submitted the media, “Crime pays, but costs society a great deal,” in 2014.

To cut a long story short on the Lomborg submission, he asserted that rather than taking Pinker’s approach and quantifying violence by relative scale, he began the qualification of the violence before dovetailing into supplementary studies from other researchers on the economic costs of the violence - particularly from Fearon and Hoefler, 2014 and primarily from McCollister, 2010. The Inter-American Development Bank also did a study on the economic costs of violence in the Latin-American/Caribbean region, “The Costs of Crime and Violence,”  2017 which used similar methodologies as Fearon, Hoefler and McCollister to come up with social and monetary costs.

Qualifying the nature of the violence is key, because, in today’s world, as we move forward to a more borderless, open, more stable global order with international laws, treaties, the expansion of trade, arbitration venues and a firm understanding of comparative and competitive advantages, making the case that today’s world is less violent than 2,000 years ago when we had Roman, Persian and Asian conquerors; or even 500 years ago with regard to the American Civil War, Slave Trade and the confusion it brought along with the conquest of the New World along with the mass annihilation of indigenous Amerindians, the point seems to be a rather easy one to make if you were to say yes, violence has declined world-wide.

However, today’s violence is not easily boiled down to, or to be minimalized from, the starting point of mass conflict. Today’s violence cannot even be broken down on ethnic lines in the industrialized and civilized world. The world civilized to be understood very, very loosely as there is nothing civilized with Police Officers shooting suspects in cold blood, neither the support of air-raids on civilians living in countries that have been labelled as terrorist sympathizers.

Most of today’s violence is personal. Intimate. Neighbour vs. Neighbour and friend vs. friends, lover vs. lover and partner vs. partner. In fact, there is a lot of literature on what is classified as “Interpersonal Violence”. Which begs the question: Are we, as a people, more violent today amongst our personal settings and less violent in groups and mobs? Or, what social scientists would term: Collective Violence?

Going back to Pinker’s book, of course interpersonal violence decreased, particularly with the advent of stronger government regulation, monitoring and enforcement. Government accountability on crime in the supplementary research provided by Pinker was key. Key not just with regard to the presence of a government, the type of government and how government places a premium on certain functions with regard to crime and punishment.

Of course to some it is a “no-brainer”, or is as factual as any other state function. In Pinker’s account, “The reduction of homicide by government control is so obvious to anthropologists that they seldom document it with numbers.” However, we need to be reminded that while personal responsibility is part of the equation, and while we should seek societal and personal solutions to personal conflict, the state or country within that is allowed to take place is greatly dependent on the government and the nature of the laws, rules and regulations and how it interacts with the citizenry.

The Civilizing Process, a term used by Pinker, cannot be deduced to native/indigenous sub-cultural subsets, or, nonstate societies where presence of “government” was/is virtually nil. As pointed out by Lord Jamar in his submission to DJVlad TV: “There were a lot of African societies that were peaceful and non-violent compared to many Western and Easter European countries during the Middle Ages and in Antiquity.”

I too take acknowledgement of that as well, particularly for Central African countries of Antiquity that were not aware of the rigours or coastal living that affected international trade with Western Europe to the Atlantic or East-Asia to the Pacific. So, when Pinker used the term “Civilizing Process,” we are reminded to ask: Civilizing in what manner and with relation to whom?

Without a doubt, geography, social customs in addition to societal rules and regulations that can be broadened to include governmental style and makeup does in fact play a role.

Which is more important? This is the key. In my estimation we can’t just change our geography, and rules and regulations were put in place to curb societal idiosyncrasies and customs that were fashionable one day but are frowned upon another. We need government to shape what’s best, healthy and progressive for a society. No question about it!

Youri Aramin Kemp was the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) candidate for Garden Hills in The Bahamas and the party’s spokesperson for finance and the economy. He can be reached at youri_kemp@yahoo.com

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his/her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of TheBahamasWeekly.com


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