December 16, 2011

Other recent rising-crime societies, and their sociability

When people see their world getting more dangerous, they feel a stronger impulse to seek out and provide mutual aid, specifically in a face-to-face way rather than by relying on distant, abstract institutions. In the middle of a crime wave, such institutions don't seem to be very good at their most basic job of ensuring physical security, so people withdraw their faith in technocracy.

By pursuing a more face-to-face solution to the problem of community security, such as getting to know your neighbors, they must shift their mindset from one of "leave me alone and I'll leave you alone" to "approach others and be open to others approaching you." So they are not only more gregarious and affable but also more inviting and socially open.

The Western world used to be like that in the '60s through the '80s, but since the peak of the violent crime rate in the early-mid 1990s has returned to cocooning behavior and a "look but don't touch" mindset. It sure would be nice for people who miss the old social world to have some place they could turn to. We already saw that South Korea has had a rising crime rate for at least 15 years, and sure enough they seem to be more outgoing and chill than their Northeast Asian neighbors. Still I find them too culturally dissimilar to join up with them, although others may feel at home with them.

Looking back at my college years, when you crave more social interaction, and when at the time America had been in social decline for about 10 years, certain groups of foreign students stand out as being much easier to make friends with, and seeking out more interactions. Not surprisingly it turns out they all came from countries whose crime rate had not peaked in the early '90s, and in some cases kept soaring even after we graduated. And again their neighboring countries that saw a crime decline during the '90s and 2000s like we did, were not as remarkably social.

The interactions that I wanted most in college were with girls, so that's what stands out in memory. I'm sure males would have shown a similar pattern, but my mind was elsewhere back then.

The first country was Turkey, whose homicide rate didn't peak until 2000 (the two lines are from different sources, but both show that it didn't peak in the early '90s):

Everyone agreed how beautiful Turkish girls were, but then they also said the same thing about the Greek girls. And yet it was the Turkish babes who drove everyone crazy. I probably speak for the other guys in pointing to the Turkish girls' more sociable personalities and behavior. They smiled, giggled, and laughed a lot more than the Greeks, who seemed more aloof and sometimes even stuck-up -- perhaps no more so than American girls at the time, but still in contrast to their southern neighbors. And Greece's crime rate was falling through the '90s like ours was.

Turkish girls also stood or sat closer to you, and in general were more touchy-feely. A Turkish friend from work was into the goth scene, but she was really more of a reincarnation of the '80s goth who smiled, went out dancing, and had a Romantic rather than nihilistic streak.

Unfortunately the graph above suggests that college-aged Turks today are less outgoing than they used to be 10 years ago, however they may compare to other Western places today. So they may not be the best place to look to anymore. They did seem very similar to other European groups culturally, although most of them were secular educated elites from Istanbul, with a handful from Ankara and Izmir (if I remember correctly).

The other places whose people stand out in more recent times are all in South America (all below are murder rates per 100K):

Brazil's crime rate has been increasing for longer than shown, I think since the '60s or even the '50s, after being flat or falling sometime before. We tend to think of Brazilian culture as being inherently, well, carnivalesque, but I wonder whether that view only arose when Brazil's crime rate was soaring. I don't think we noticed Brazil that much before the '60s, when Astrud Gilberto's voice became familiar. There was a vogue in American pop music of the 1940s to refer to the Caribbean or maybe Mexico, but Brazil didn't seem to fascinate them back then. Probably their crime rate was flat or falling, making them more Apollonian -- by Brazilian standards anyway.

Like the Turks, the Brazilian girls in college were universally certified as hot stuff, no doubt about it. Still, there were other places that produced similarly good-looking Latin Mediterranean beauties, like Mexico. (As foreign students they got no financial aid, so all were rich, and hence of European stock if they were from Latin America.) But Mexico's crime rate has been falling since the early '90s, so they were unlikely to produce people with magnetic personalities.

Brazilian girls were just the opposite, almost entirely lacking in self-consciousness. I remember how they always looked like they were in a dream-like state. (If their folk religion is any guide, Brazilians must find it easier to enter a trance.) As with the Turkish chicks, even the best-looking Brazilians didn't think they were above socializing with normal people. Not just tolerating them, but actively seeking out interactions with just about anybody, because you never know who you'll need to count on to have your back in dangerous times. (And also people are more promiscuous in rising-crime times.)

Unfortunately again, it looks like Brazil's carnivalesque heyday is over. Their crime rate has been falling (a lot) since the mid-2000s. Just wait, in 20 years we'll be saying that we remember back when Brazil used to be famous for its wild culture, social connectedness, and intense patriotism.

Probably the most out-of-my-league date I've ever been on was with a Spanish-descended Ecuadorean who looked and carried herself like Audrey Hepburn would have at age 20. God, I'm ashamed to admit that before I knew any better, I actually wrote her a poem when I asked her out. I doubt she counted that as a plus, but she was forgiving enough to overlook it -- like, why let that get in the way of meeting a new boy? You never know.

As far as first dates go, I've never felt more emotionally absorbed before or since. (I mean social emotions, not the rush you feel if a first date whirlwinds into the bedroom.) I don't even remember what we talked about for those 2 or 3 hours. For most of it our sense of self-awareness had been shut off, allowing the flow of conversation to meander wherever. And having zoned out into a sub-trance state of possession, we didn't even notice all the times we kept reaching out to touch each other, play footsie under the table, and so on. The only thing that woke us up from the dream-vibe was when a worker at the coffee house politely notified us that they'd been closed for 15 minutes, and could we please leave now.

After that I thought dating her would be a fairly safe bet, but she must have wanted an even closer click on the first date. What seemed intense by the standards of America in the early 2000s must have seemed only above-average for Ecuador in that time. I dwell on this example because even landing the date never should have happened. I wasn't chopped liver, but I didn't get lots of attention from girls until senior year of college and later. But in this case it was with a girl who came from the right place and the right time.

There was another Ecuadorean girl who I worked with, and she too was a free spirit overflowing with smiles. Not like a neo-hippie, whose free-spiritedness is a self-conscious affectation, and also not like the more bouncy and super-extraverted Brazilian free spirits. More like nonchalant. The crime graph says that you might still be able to find girls like that there.

I never ran into any Colombians in college, but I include that graph since it's another major exception, with murder rates only turning steadily downward by the mid-2000s. It's probably no accident that the pop sensation throughout Latin America in the 1990s, who then crossed over to North America and beyond by 2000, was the product of a rising-crime period. Shakira's persona would have been a sight for sore eyes, had Americans known about her in the '90s -- vulnerable but not weepy, tender but not sappy, assertive without being bitchy, fun-loving but not slutty or attention-whoring, and so on.

If she had been in California in the '80s, she would've fit right in as a new member of The Bangles or The Go-Go's. But the music backing up Shakira's voice was run-of-the-mill '90s pop and alternative, so even her earlier songs don't reach pop music greatness.

As a result of the civil war in Colombia, and overall crime rate, many have poured into America, including a good number of the white elite. Even the first-generation ones raised in America, if they still have some regular contact with their homeland, seem far more Gothic-Romantic in temperament than, say, Mexicans, who are more complacent and inert. The wife of a friend of my brother's came straight from Colombia a few years ago, and she seemed almost Brazilian in that trancey, flirty way. There were several first-generation Colombian girls at the tutoring center I worked at (all of whom were white), and they seemed about halfway between Brazilians and today's Americans. Kind of like '80s chicks in America. Very boy-crazy!

But I was around them last in 2007, and the graph says that Colombian girls are probably moving away from where they were as late as 2002 or 2003. Fans blame Shakira's decline in musical quality on her leaving Colombia and crossing over in America, but that was also about the same time that they entered a falling-crime period, which halts or reverses the trends in music from the rising-crime period before.

To wrap up, Turkey is clearly in a falling-crime period, and so is probably not churning out hyper-social babes like they were 10 years ago. Brazil and Colombia have somewhat recently entered falling-crime periods, although I don't think the societies have completely switched into complacent/cocooning mode just yet -- give it a few decades. So there's still probably a good number of approach-driven and approachable girls there. My best bet, though, for where to find a girl who's care-free and charming is white Ecuadoreans. Given how infrequently you'll meet them, though, you might as well seek out Brazilians and Colombians, bearing in mind that they're slowly moving away from the (true) stereotype that we've held about them.


  1. A Portuguese-born, but Brazilian by adoption, and similar (in the 30-40) to the current Brazilian stereotype:

    The Disney character José Carioca, created in the 1940s, it is also typical Brazilian (a mix of con artist and friendly good guy).

    For the other side, I read some years ago a biographical novel were some of the action is in Venezuela, in the end of the 1940s, and Brazilians miners are portraid as the more dangerous people in some town.

    Than, perhpas both the outgoingness and the criminality are already present in the 1940s

  2. Agnostic, you're gonna wanna see this:

    Feminist yentas kvetch at men who are into teen girls.

  3. theo the kraut12/30/11, 6:28 PM

    a bit OT--Charles Murray suggests "Keep locking ’em up" and concludes:

    "In one sense, it is a silly question, as all counter-factuals must be. And I’m not saying that our current incarceration rates are appropriate. We may very well have been in a state of diminishing returns to incarceration for the last decade, as the experts DiIulio cites have argued. But I continue to harbor the belief that without the massive increases in incarceration after the mid 1970s, crime rates wouldn’t have turned around at all. Higher imprisonment was the necessary condition for 100 percent of the reduction in violent crime."

    Any comments?

  4. Canada had a similar rise and fall in violent crime as we did, yet they didn't lock up more people or even increase the number of police, per capita, during the 1990s.

    I can't recall what other Western Euro countries did, but I think it was like in North America, where some got real tough on crime and others were more like Canada. Yet all show a drop in violent crime since the early-mid 1990s.

    However, all of us did send the "we're not gonna take it" signal, whether we ramped up incarceration rates or not. I think that gestalt feeling that criminals perceive is more important than incarceration per se.

    Similarly, during the falling-crime era that Murray discusses re: the 1950s, it wasn't so much their falling incarceration rates that led criminals to act out, but the overall impression they got that the whole of society had changed its attitude toward punishing / reforming criminals.

    They were very soft back then, even when it came to child molesters (see Philip Jenkins' book on the history of sex criminals in 20th C. America). The idea was, Don't make their pain even greater by making a big deal out of it -- they might not even come away scarred unless the authorities and parents blow it out of proportion.

    Really embarrassing to read nowadays, but that was part of the whole 1950s heyday of liberal technocracy, the culmination of the process that began with the New Deal, all of it during falling-crime times. We're headed that way too, getting soft on crime attitudinally.

  5. One more thing about incarceration -- that is only the "removal" or "death" rate for the criminal population. There is also an "introduction" or "birth" rate for incoming criminals. It is the balance of them, births minus deaths, that yields the overall growth rate.

    If we cannot remove criminals faster than they are being introduced, then their ranks will grow, albeit more slowly than with no jails.

    Even at equilibrium, if we remove criminal A, what's to say there won't be criminals B, C, and D waiting in line to take A's place? Like, "Finally that A guy is gone and I can start dealing drugs on this block."

    Something has to change in the "carrying capacity" of the criminal population, since we can't remove the existing ones fast enough to send their numbers down.

    My idea has always been that it's about how public vs. private people's lives are. More public lives leads to a greater pool for criminals to prey on -- out on the street, in the woods, at parks, in bars, etc. If they cocoon, then criminals cannot reach them as easily.

    It's this tendency of most people to be out and about vs. to cocoon that determines the carrying capacity of criminals. It is the cocooning trend of the past 20 years that has led to the drop in violent crime, now that criminals have far fewer easy targets.


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