Thursday, March 5, 2015

When a Sociologist is a Victim of Crime

Last Sunday, my apartment was burgled while I was asleep. The thief took my bag, along with my wallets, my keys and my car keys. That night (or should I say early morning) three other units in my building were burgled.

As a sociologist in risk governance and a victim of crime I feel like I should somehow be able to rise above the fear, anger and frustration of the event. I have in the last five days thought about what I would do or say to the boy who broke into my apartment and my car.  I am filled with a deep sense of anger, frustration and disdain towards him (indeed her). As the stories start to emerge from my neighbours and friends who also had their houses burgled and their cars stolen, the picture I am getting is that of a bunch of young kids – between the ages 13 and 19 – just bored, looking for thrills. They are not violent people, and they are not always interested in money. Sometimes they just want to go for a joy ride, trash up a car and walk away with no consequence.

My first reaction to these stories is – the damn fuckers. But my next question is why are they not in school? Where are their parents? What kind of family background do they come from? Are they doing this because their family needs the money? Do they not realise they are gambling with their future? Why do they not consider this a morally wrong thing to do? What does this say about the moral compass of society in this little city?

The police have reported the spate of break-ins as the fault of residents for not locking up their properties. But they miss the point. That is – or should I say was – the beauty of our area that people trusted each other enough to leave their doors unlocked at night. That trust is now lost – and it’s the most valuable thing that these young thieves took – social trust.

When I think about how this trust might be restored, my thoughts go back to these young burglars. As a sociologist, I am compelled to see beyond the individual and look to the wider social context in which he/she exists. Somewhere along the life of this young individual, society failed him/her. Perhaps, he was not taught to respect private property; perhaps his own personal space has been violated many times in life that he no longer sees it necessary to accord the same respect to others. Perhaps he has done poorly in school and teachers unintentionally make him feel worthless, and therefore he must prove himself in other ways. Perhaps he comes from an abusive family and this is how he gets relieve from the anger inside him.

There are a myriad of possibilities, multiple pathways that lead up to the choice that he/she made to be a burglar. But one thing is clear, burglars are not born, they become one. And somewhere along the life of this young person, he chose the path of crime over a path of education, gainful employment and a future that is meaningful. I have always been inclined to believe that even if one chose a wrong path at some point in life, there will always be one back to the right one. We all make mistakes and bad choices in life, and if society is kind enough to not define us by those bad choices, then I must return the favour. 

So if I meet the kid who burgled my house, I will not be angry. I might, in fact, sponsor his/her education, be his/her tutor, give him/her options other than that of crime. Maybe that is the only way social trust may be restored. For sure he/she is just one person, but I'm saving him and his children and his children’s children from generations of crime. In the longer scheme of things, that’s not such a bad achievement.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Dirty Business is Lopsided

This is a sobering documentary of the environmental damage coal mines and coal-powered plants are doing to our planet. I've only seen the trailier, but I can't help but feel that this is an extremely lope-sided account of the energy industry and the politics of the economy as a whole. The apocalyptic tone of the documentary does discredit to the other developments in the other energy industries that are struggling to develop new greener technologies and ways to produce electricity.

I am interested in environmental-social issues, but I am not an environmentalist because to be honest the plain reality is that we all - environmentalists included - consume huge amounts of dirty energy, making anyone, including those who blindly and unequivocally damn power companies, party to their pollution.

And while I appreciate some of the mind boggling figures and statistics produced in this film, I find it does disservice to other groups that are trying to promote wider public participation in cleaner consumption and greener lifestyles by scaring the audience into an overwhelming sense of fatalism and abandonment of any efforts to change things.

Don't get me wrong, I still think this is a great film in bringing out the hypocrisies of coal companies claiming to be clean - which is ultimately the main theme of the film. But leaving us all with a sense of impervious dread isn't gonna change anything. Indeed German sociologist Ulrich Beck puts it most artfully in his chapter Risk Society and the Provident State:

"Certainly, hopelessness is ennobling and the advantages of wallowing in superiority, while at the same time being relieved of all responsibility for action, are not to be underestimated"

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Love and Biology

This is a short entry I found in my journal archives back in my journalism days:

I was doing some research for a story about the science of love and attraction, I realised something: the scientific community here is not quite interested in Romantic Love.

I was not able to get a scientist (apart from the social sciences) or a neurologist in Singapore to comment on what goes on in the brain and the body when a person is in love.

Perhaps I did not search hard enough, but if I had to spend more than a week to find such a person in Singapore, it would also indicate the amount of importance the research community gives to the study of romantic love.

In Singapore, we seem to be more interested in 'fertility' more than the stuff that leads to fertility. Young couples seemed to be more concerned with missing the biological boat than getting on the boat together with the love of their lives and enjoying the ride.

Have we as a society become too occupied with the practicalities of love that we have forgotten that it is a process and experience that is meant to be savoured, relished and, yes, sustained?

We always seem to be in a rush. We rush to get a job after graduating. Then we rush to get married. And then rush to have kids. We almost forget what the rush is for.

Social scientists often argue that social pressures should be reckoned with in the human psyche. Perhaps it is time we recognise that biology is crying out for us to let some love into society.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cancun COP16: Deal or No Deal?

So if the reports say that a deal was made in Cancun, but Bolivia has objected to it, and the UN mandates that ALL countries must agree to the text in order for the agreement to be sealed, how can it be called a deal?

Why is Bolivia so adamant about rich countries agreeing on a post-kyoto agreement anyway? That agreement is flawed in so many ways. Emissions have continued to rise throughout the Kyoto protocal period and it has failed to bring in the kinds of green technology that developing countries need most. Their CDM system is so complicated that even carbon consultants are themselves confused, much less the locals who don't speak English, and worse, techno-bureaucratic language.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Climate Change is not just about Carbon Emissions

Saw this pretty sweet short and concise video on which sums up pretty well, the other more pressing environmental issues in our region.

The problem with the current climate change discourse is that it is far too focus on carbon emissions. The Kyoto Protocal only addresses the problem of emissions. But climate change is so much more than that. It's about rising sea levels, water pollution, poor sanitation, basic utilities and a whole slew of other human development issues.

[Trailer] Children of Mekong - Asia's Water Woes from Logue on Vimeo.