Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?

In my Criminal Justice class today, we were discussing various theories on why people commit crime, and we came across something called the Labeling Theory. The basic statement that this theory makes is that no action is inherently criminal or deviant, and are only deemed "criminal" because we say they are. The focus of this theory is not on the person committing the crime, but on the response of the general public, or audience, and the perceived consequences of said response. In layman's terms, the audience labels the actor, and this label influences their behavior for the rest of their lives. It is a case of self-fulfilling prophecy. A person does something or acts a certain way so that they are deemed "criminal" or likely to commit crime. We then label them as criminal, and they then go on to lead criminal lifestyles as a direct result of our labeling them. Their crimes and adherence to the labels that they are fitted with are referred to as "secondary deviance." These crimes are considered a direct result of us calling the criminal a criminal.
In the words of Senator Joe Wilson (teehee), "YOU LIE!" Sorry, but the biggest problem I have with this theory is that it switches the blame from the individual committing the crime to the ones labeling him as a criminal. You cannot just erase personal accountability like that, because no matter how often someone is told that they will do something, it is still their decision to do it. If anything, I would think that they would strive to meet the opposite of a negative label. Being someone who looks like a hippie, I have had many people label me as a druggie. Obviously, many of these people did not know me very well, and I have always had fairly strong convictions on drugs, mostly coming from seeing how they have affected the lives of people I know. Oftentimes, I just laugh off the label, because I understand that it comes with my appearance and choice of music. A label does not cause an action. I could tell a man that he is going to go and kill a man, but in the end, he is the one who chooses whether or not to pull the trigger. Apart from individuals with certain psychological ailments, everyone is capable of rational thought, and knows the difference between right and wrong, and that there are consequences to every action. Therefore, while being declared "likely to commit crime" may hurt someone's feelings, it certainly doesn't make them do anything. The person who makes the decision, and who has the choice, is the one with whom the blame lies.