I haven’t yet read Heather Mac Donald’s City Journal article on the Chicago torture case and how it relates to the larger culture, but a lot of people have recommended it. I’ve only had time to very briefly skim it, but I agree that “racial victimology, inner-city gang culture, and black anti-white animus” were contributing factors in the genesis of this crime.
But I want to add something, and that is the effect a group can have on members who egg each other on to riskier and more violent behavior in order to prove themselves. Sometimes the crimes committed by such groups would not have been committed by its individual members if they hadn’t been acting in concert. Almost certainly, in addition to everything else motivating the perpetrators in this crime, was the desire to show themselves to be more bad-ass than thou.
That also at least partly explains the otherwise-inexplicable act of these perpetrators in placing the video of their crime on Facebook for all to see.
I’m not denying the racial aspect of this case; I’ve written about it before. But I’m pointing out the universal aspect of it, which is that there is sometimes a Lord of the Flies effect in groups.
When I heard of the Chicago case, for example, one the first things I thought of was the Bobby Kent murder, which featured a white victim and white perpetrators, with the group of young people committing a murder that each person probably wouldn’t have committed on his/her own. In many of these cases, by the way—including Chicago as well as Bobby Kent—girls or women (often girlfriends) are involved as perpetrators.
This is not any form of excuse. It’s merely another element of what may lead to crimes like this.
When I was in college long ago, I studied psychology and sociology, and I had to design and perform a research project. Mine was on a phenomenon known as the “risky shift,” and so the topic has stuck in my mind. The risky shift isn’t about crime specifically; it’s about how groups generally make decisions:
When people are in groups, they make decision about risk differently from when they are alone. In the group, they are likely to make riskier decisions, as the shared risk makes the individual risk less…
There are a number of reasons as to why this might happen. Theories have included:
—Wallach, Kogan, and Bem (1964) proposed that greater risks are chosen due to a diffusion of responsibility, where emotional bonds decrease anxieties and risk is perceived as shared.
—Collins and Guetzkow (1964) suggested that high risk-takers are more confident and hence may persuade others to take greater risks.
—Brown (1965) indicates that social status in groups is often associated with risk-taking, leading people to avoid a low risk position.
—Bateson (1966) suggests that as people pay attention to a possible action, they become more familiar and comfortable with it and hence perceive less risk.
Makes sense to me as a phenomenon working in the Chicago case. Again, it doesn’t matter in terms of responsibility or guilt/innocence or sentencing; each member of a group is fully responsible for his/her own actions. But I find the phenomenon interesting, and I suspect it was operating here.