Thursday, September 16, 2004

Shaping a Secure Society

Yesterday the Fulbright Alumni Association of Trinidad and Tobago, of which I am currently PRO, held a panel discussion on "Shaping a Secure Society". Many very intelligent people gave their views on the causes of crime and lack of security in our world, globalisation, and possible solutions. BUT there is one thing that they really never got to. The issue that I think is the meat of the problem - lack of long-term life expectancy.

Consider a hypothesis:

A 14 year old boy growing up in a depressed area. Life expectancy in the inner cities and similar areas is low - - therefore there is a "discount factor " that needs to be applied. Simply put, children growing up in these areas don't thnk that they will live long.

So - let's assume that the hypothetical 14 year old boy wants what we all want - friends, family, a decent salary, ability to purchase the better things in life.

Given that he expects to die before 30, can we possibly expect him to intelligently make any decision towards a career that will require him to be in school for years? Or would it make more sense for him to drop out of school at 15, go to "work" in a gang (here he gets family, friends, "brothers" to watch his back and take care of him, more than decent money) and by the time he would normally be expected to graduate high school, be earning enough to get what he wants - a BMW, a house for his mom, maybe?

I know that as an intelligent person - if this were put to me - it makes no sense whatsoever to stay in school and get a degree and go to work in a junior position with lots of school loans to pay off. Especially if I KNOW I won't live long enough to pay off these loans and start enjoying the benefits. In this situation, joining a gang is the most intelligent choice. The reason that we don't understand this is that for most of us, life is precious and we want to cling to it and live long lives.

In my opinion, the discount applied to life expectancy by children in the inner city is a major factor in the lack of success of many anti-gang initiatives. What's the point of not being in a gang so that you won't get killed, when you get killed anyway - by the police, by gangs, by drive-by shootings, by poor health care? Better be in a gang and get the benefits while you are alive.

Last night, at the panel discussion, there were many comments on the lack of vision in these youth. I disagree. There is a vision. It just isn't as long term as ours would be. The problem we face is to replace this gang and drug-related career vision with another equally valid one.

And going to school and studying hard isn't it right now.


Anonymous said...

I don't see it so much as the individual making intelligent or unintelligent choices. The real issue is what opportunities our society provides for the individual. As any good sociologist will say, we are both actors and acted upon. We make choices, but these are to some extent determined by the options available to us.

Jacqueline said...

Well - that was the premise - that given certain constraints and opportunities, the intelligent choice would be different to that under different constraints and opportunities. This has to be compared to the idea that the choice is unintelligent, even given the particular circumstances, which is what was postulated at the meeting.

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