Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Sports cause crime; porn and violent movies don’t

October 31, 2006

From the Freakonomics blog:

That is the argument of Sebastien Roche, a French political scientist. In writing about the French riots last year, Roche has challenged the conventional wisdom that sports provide a good outlet for young men and perhaps keeps them out of trouble. To the contrary, Roche contends, “the practice of sport never reduces the number of crimes” and, furthermore, sports can even “give the opportunity to develop physical abilities useful for street crime: running, how to use impulsive behaviour, how to master the use of force.”

This strikes me as a fascinating subject, and an interesting argument, although the proof offered by Roche and his like-minded colleagues seems very thin. Their research is based on interviews with young men and shows that the more time a young man spends playing sports, the more likely he is to have committed a serious crime. But does this mean that sports are the culprit? Couldn’t it just as easily mean that the kind of young man who’s criminally inclined a) doesn’t have a job; and b) therefore has a lot of free time; which c) he spends playing sports? The argument that sports and violence go hand and hand is a powerful one (though hardly new: Robert Lipsyte, for one, has written convincingly on the subject in the past); but I don’t find Roche’s arguments very persuasive.

(The full post contains the article with all the arguments and counterarguments)

And from Slate:

The bottom line on these experiments is, “More Net access, less rape.” A 10 percent increase in Net access yields about a 7.3 percent decrease in reported rapes. States that adopted the Internet quickly saw the biggest declines. And, according to Clemson professor Todd Kendall, the effects remain even after you control for all of the obvious confounding variables, such as alcohol consumption, police presence, poverty and unemployment rates, population density, and so forth.

OK, so we can at least tentatively conclude that Net access reduces rape. But that’s a far cry from proving that porn access reduces rape. Maybe rape is down because the rapists are all indoors reading Slate or vandalizing Wikipedia. But professor Kendall points out that there is no similar effect of Internet access on homicide. It’s hard to see how Wikipedia can deter rape without deterring other violent crimes at the same time. On the other hand, it’s easy to imagine how porn might serve as a substitute for rape.

If not Wikipedia, then what? Maybe rape is down because former rapists have found their true loves on But professor Kendall points out that the effects are strongest among 15-year-old to 19-year-old perpetrators—the group least likely to use such dating services.


Next, violence. What happens when a particularly violent movie is released? Answer: Violent crime rates fall. Instantly. Here again, we have a lot of natural experiments: The number of violent movie releases changes a lot from week to week. One weekend, 12 million people watch Hannibal, and another weekend, 12 million watch Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

University of California professors Gordon Dahl and Stefano DellaVigna compared what happens on those weekends. The bottom line: More violence on the screen means less violence in the streets. Probably that’s because violent criminals prefer violent movies, and as long as they’re at the movies, they’re not out causing mischief. They’d rather see Hannibal than rob you, but they’d rather rob you than sit through Wallace & Gromit.

I’ve often wondered about the conventional wisdom in these areas, as it never made any sense to me. I’ve never ever understood (or gotten a good answer on) what it is exactly that we’re “protecting children” from when it comes to porn, nudity, and sex. As violence goes, the last two decades have seen pretty clear declines in crime across the board, despite the ever-increasing prevalence of violent video games, movies, and television. While I see more cause for concern when it comes to violent media, I don’t see anything to justify the kind of moral panic that arises from the likes of Doom, Mortal Kombat, Grand Theft Auto, or the latest summer blockbuster.

Meanwhile, sports *are* unquestionably violent. They do cause injury. They lend themselves to a jock culture. They interfere with academics. They put undue pressure on participants. Millions of high school students bank their futures on getting into the NFL/NBA/MLB. They teach hypercompetitiveness. Etc. Etc. The list of negatives gets to be pretty long. Yet our culture views sports as “wholesome”, and reveres athletes as demi-Gods (or at least, reveres them enough to justify 7 and 8 digit paychecks)

The dissonance in our culture with regards to these topics is pretty astounding.


This post violates copyright law.

September 3, 2006

Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday dear [name],
Happy Birthday to you.


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The Digital Generation Gap

August 23, 2006

The Washington Post has a great article on the digital gap that exists between parents and their kids… especially when the parents are high profile newsmakers.

Watts’s views about his employer appear to contradict those of his father, Wayne Watts, who is senior vice president and associate general counsel of AT&T Corp., Cingular’s parent company. The senior Watts, whom Jared credits with landing him the job, is defending AT&T’s customer service record before regulators as the company tries to acquire BellSouth Corp.

Unlike their parents, today’s youth have grown up in the age of public disclosure. Keeping an Internet diary has become de rigueur; social lives and private thoughts are laid bare. For parents in high-profile positions, however, it means their children can exploit a generational disconnect to espouse their own points of view, or expose private details perhaps their parents wish they would not.

“All the things I’ve typed in my blog I’ve argued with my father about,” like whether mergers hurt customers, something Jared Watts said he thinks does inconvenience consumers. But publicly criticizing his company is not the same as a personal attack on the father who supports him “100 percent,” he said.

This ties into what I said recently about how our cultural attitude towards privacy is changing. The internal workings of a corporation have always been terribly opaque, at least traditionally speaking. Teenage life gets recorded on MySpace. Think there’s a disconnect?

What will be interesting to watch over the next several years is what will happen when these opposing cultures clash. As today’s teenagers enter the workplace, which culture will prevail, the culture of secrecy or the culture of transparency?

Going off topic for a second, I just have to highlight this paragraph from the article as well (emphasis mine):

His father, speaking through an AT&T spokesman, said: “I care very much for my son. And like many fathers and sons, we have differences of opinion on many subjects.”

I wonder if the same AT&T spokesman tucked his son in and red him bedtime stories when he was younger?

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Privacy in the 21st century

August 10, 2006

Lately I’ve been thinking about David Brin’s non-fiction masterpiece The Transparent Society, in which he posits two possible futures. The first is the Orwellian nightmare, where Big Brother watches and sees everything, and all notions of privacy are but a distant memory. The second future is the more curious one, a “Transparent Society” in which all of Big Brother’s tools still exist, and indeed we’re still watched… but in this scenario, it’s democratic. The public is privy to the same images and feeds the police are (and indeed, can watch the police as easily as the police watch them). We can all watch each other, and know who is watching us. Privacy is still a distant memory, but the Orwellian dystopia is avoided by offering a compelling answer to the question of “Who watches the watchers?”: we all do.

Curiously, he wrote that book in 1998. Like all the best science fiction, I’m amazed at the novel’s prescience. I wonder if he realized, while writing it, just what the next few years would bring?

Since 1998, we’ve catapulted forward in both directions. On the Orwellian front, the Bush Administration has used the NSA to track and listen into our phone calls, track financial transactions, and has made moves to acquire the same data about our internet habits, all while conducting itself under a veil of Nixonian secrecy. Corporations collect even more data on us, ostensibly so they can get better at marketing towards us. On the transparency front, we now have Google, blogs, and MySpace. The former unearths mountains of previously shrouded information about the people in our lives; the latter two we use to put the details of our private lives out in public for anyone to see.

I’ve commented before that MySpace is symbolic of a pretty extreme cultural shift: the coming generation has a radically different notion of privacy than the one in power now. The idea of putting private details of your life (including but not limited to: nude photos, drunkenness, sexual exploits, and lots of stuff you wouldn’t want your employer or parents to see) onto the internet is completely alien to most of the older generation, as indicated by the rhetoric surrounding the moral panic about MySpace that recurs every other month. Google and MySpace, in a way, are the first iteration of the transparent society Brin was talking about.

What will our cultural attitude toward privacy be by the time this generation takes office? I think that a transparent society may turn out to be reality sooner than late.

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