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Kelly J. Cooper

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Thought Exercise [Sep. 22nd, 2007|02:32 am]
Kelly J. Cooper
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Posit:

Many laws are broken due to a sense of entitlement on the part of the law-breaker.

Supporting Statements:

You ignore a stop sign because you think that you are too important to wait or that the stop sign is useless (because you know better).

You murder someone because you want his or her FOO (where FOO may be equal to money, attention, love, fidelity, devotion, etc.) and believe that you are sufficiently entitled to it that you can TAKE his or her life.

You steal bread from a store because you believe your hunger takes precedence over the owner's right to make money and so you are entitled to the food.

Refutation?

Insert your comments here...

--

P.S. Any refutation built on the strawman premise of stupid laws should be disobeyed lose points because (1) they suck and (2) because they purposefully avoid the idea behind the thought exercise.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2007-09-22 04:33 pm (UTC)
Well, it's a very weak posit, so it's hard to refute effectively. How many is "many"? More than half? More than 1%? Enough that you can find examples?

In any case, I certainly agree that a sense of entitlement is relevant in these cases.

But, if you're looking for an argument, here goes:

The hypothetical examples you point to are positing a causal link -- "you steal bread because", "you murder someone because", etc.

The implication is that, in the absence of that cause, the effect would be absent... that people who don't commit these crimes lack a strong sense of entitlement.

It's not a strict implication, since (A->B) != (-B -> -A). But if what you're claiming is that many crimes are committed because of a sense of entitlement, but that those crimes would most likely be committed even without a sense of entitlement, I think one is justified in ignoring the posit altogether.

I'm not sure that implication is justified. Many people refrain from committing crimes despite a strong sense of entitlement.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2007-09-26 10:17 am (UTC)
Well, it's a very weak posit, so it's hard to refute effectively. How many is "many"? More than half? More than 1%? Enough that you can find examples?

Hmm. Wouldn't it be a research paper if I had hard numbers? By posting it as a thought experiment, I was hoping to have holes poked in my logic so that I could further refine the vague ideas floating around in my head.

Many people refrain from committing crimes despite a strong sense of entitlement.

So are you arguing that, in order to commit a crime, the criminal must possess a sense of entitlement plus FOO (where FOO is the mystery ingredient that keeps some entitled people from enacting crimes)?

Or that the posit is altogether useless and irrelevant to the reasons behind why people commit crime?

Just to be clear, when I mention crime I am including even the slightest infraction. There's a spot in Harvard Square where, if I sat and watched for a minute (or even less), I could count over a dozen instances of people flagrantly ignoring a newly installed stop sign. I'd even count jaywalking.

Maybe there's a difference between crimes committed against the law (speeding, ignoring stop signs, stealing from a chain-type store), where the concept of the victim is pretty vague because the law is protecting the common good, versus crimes committed against an individual (theft from a house, breaking into a car, mugging) that have a more personal element in the form of a specific victim.
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[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2007-09-26 03:07 pm (UTC)
Wouldn't it be a research paper if I had hard numbers?

Er... no.
If I say "more than two thirds of all murders are committed by men" that's not a research paper, it's an assertion. I know, because I haven't done any research.
If I say "Many murders are committed by men" that's also an assertion and not a research paper, but it's a weaker assertion, thus harder to refute.
Similarly, if your definition of "crime" is wide enough to include conventional behavior that large groups of people participate in in public on a routine basis, your posit becomes even harder to refute.

This is not a bad thing, you understand... in many contexts, making statements that are hard to refute is useful. But you were asking for counterarguments, so I figured I'd mention that your posit makes them difficult. I'm doing my best, though.

So are you arguing that, in order to commit a crime, the criminal must possess a sense of entitlement plus FOO (where FOO is the mystery ingredient that keeps some entitled people from enacting crimes)? Or that the posit is altogether useless and irrelevant to the reasons behind why people commit crime?

Something more like the former. If people with senses of entitlement sometimes don't commit crimes, it seems to follow that a sense of entitlement is not the only cause for committing a crime.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2007-09-27 07:55 am (UTC)
The thing is, I suck at this.

I've spent so much of my life avoiding conflict - any sort of conflict, even imaginary ones - that I don't really know how to construct a reasonable argument.

How would I go about discussing ideas for what goes into the commission of crime and whether entitlement is an element?

I suppose I should just do research, but I want to have interaction, not just reading.
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[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2007-09-27 03:10 pm (UTC)
Ah! I think I understand now! (lightbulb goes on)

I really had been at a loss for where you were going with this... I assumed, from your use of such a formal structure, that you were trying to get at something about the structure, or something like that, rather than just trying to frame the question carefully.

So, OK, dropping back from the meta and into the subject itself:

I absolutely agree with you that a sense of entitlement is an important factor, and in the case of "trivial" crimes like jaywalking or speeding I think you're probably right that it's a sufficient explanatory factor... the sense of "following the law is just not as important as whatever it is I'm doing" is enough to explain most of that sort of thing. (Also stuff like cutting in lines at supermarkets, which aren't crimes, but I think demonstrate the same basic attitude.)

But for more "serious" crimes like non-petty theft and murder, I do think there's more than needs to be said. I suspect there are lots of people who feel like they deserve X more than the person who has it, but who aren't actually willing to steal X from that person, let alone kill the person and take X... and it doesn't seem true to me that someone who is willing to steal or kill to get X simply/necessarily has more of a sense of entitlement. What do you think?
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[User Picture]From: drwex
2007-09-24 03:36 pm (UTC)
I can't say for other laws, but it's well understood that people who break traffic laws (not just speeding, but running lights, DUI, etc) often express a strong sense of entitlement. In effect they're saying "my needs are more important/specific/immediate/real to me than this law."

It sounds a lot like my four-year-old, but an astonishing number of adults think this way.
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