In the wake of the killing of Jasmine Owens and the disgusting failure of the intended target to cooperate with the police (McGee must be proud), I blogged about the difficult questions raised by a culture of criminal violence.
One thoughtful commentator pushes the argument that the problem is economic. He wrote "members of groups within society that perceive themselves to have meaningful opportunity to create better lives (and who see themselves as being included in the larger community) typically function more productively, refrain from the level of anti-social behavior we are talking about, and generally pursue better lives."
This is, of course, the traditional argument from the left. At root, the problem is economic. Give people what they need and the violence will stop. A recent letter to the Journal Sentinel made the same point; the writer arguing that maybe "we all" killed Jasmine Owens. Local blogger Michael J. Mathias of Pundit Nation argues for economics as well.
I have to admit that my intial reaction to these arguments is often less than civil. I have been hearing them for so long (I'm getting old here) and they are so beside the point. They have, over the fast 40 years, resulted in ineffectual policy and continued deterioration.
Perhaps that's unfair because there is a sense in which they are true. While I believe that the culture is now the larger problem, poverty did help to create that culture and it is poverty that makes its consequences so devastating.
But, however etiology might inform treatment, it doesn't control it. An infected wound might have been caused by a failure to clean it, but, once infection sets in, antibiotics are reguired. The solutions offered by my commenter - school breakfast, massive job training, smaller class sizes - haven't (and aren't going to) change anything unless the culture changes and unless people are free to go to job training or school breakfast without getting blown away
Unfortunately, I can't see a soft way to do this. Drugs are a problem and some people call for treatment rather than punishment. I have the greatest sympathy for people whose loved ones have drug and alcohol problems and can't get treatment, but the sad facts are 1)drug and alcohol abuse are often a symptom of culutural malaise, and 2)perhaps as a result, treatment doesn't work that well and, when it does, the success seems to be just as readily, if not primarily attributed to the patient's environment and outside support. Therapy can help, but it can't fill the holes in your life.
As I have said before, I am probably willing to spend more on anti-poverty programs than most conservatives. I am a Santorum and Brownback type of guy. But it won't help to spend that money unless the programs are designed to control urban violence now, encourage the recovery of a culture of marriage, inculcate traditional values (as opposed to the kind of multi-cultural divisiveness that we see too much of now), and create economic opportunities that are not "made" by the government because those will not last and will not be very robust.
I have to admit that I don't really know how to do that but, as I have blogged before, I think it is a discussion we need to spend more time on. The left keeps calling for things that won't work and, unfortunately, my cohorts seem better at diagnosis than prescription.