8 The Social Conditions of State Crime HANDOUT

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8 The Social Conditions of State Crime HANDOUT

  1. 1. The Social Conditions of State Crime It is often thought that those who carry out crimes such as torture and massacre must be psychopaths (nutters!). However research suggests that there is little psychological difference between them and ‘normal’ people. Sociologists argue that such actions are part of a ROLE into which individuals are SOCIALISED. The focus on the SOCIAL CONDITIONS in which such behaviour becomes acceptable or even required. My Lai Massacre in Vietnam Kelman & Hamilton (1989) studied ‘crimes of obedience’ like the My Lai massacre in Vietnam where a platoon of US soldiers murdered 400 civilians (many women and children). Kelman & Hamilton identify THREE features that produce crimes of obedience: 1 AUTHORISATION When acts are ordered or approved by those in authority, normal moral principles are replaced by the duty to obey. 2 ROUTINISATION Once the crime has been committed there is strong pressure to turn the act into routine which individuals can perform in a detached manner. 3 DEHUMANISATION When the enemy is portrayed as sub-human rather than human and described as animals, monsters etc, the usual principles of morality do not apply. Some argue that modern society creates the conditions for state crime on a vast scale. For example Zygmunt Bauman (1989) argues that the Holocaust – in which the Nazis murdered six million Jews and millions of Gypsies, Slavs, political opponents, disabled people, homosexuals and others – was the product of MODERNITY, and not a return to some premodern barbarism. Bauman argues that for the Nazis to be able to commit mass murder, many of the features of MODERNITY were essential. These included science, technology and a division of labour. Bauman claims that the key to understanding the Holocaust is the ability of modern society to dehumanise the victims and turn mass murder into a routine administrative task.

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