Fascinating piece at the Beeb website on research about how our moral behaviour is influenced by our environment, and linking this to the behaviour of MP's over expenses. Here's a snippet:
"Now stealing - if one was to steal, that's a powerful norm violation. We learn at a very early age not to steal. So ...they had a post-box and sticking out of it was an envelope with a five-euro note attached. Now in the control condition - no litter and no graffiti - only 13% of people stole, took the envelope.
"However when there was graffiti or litter surrounding the post-box, a whopping 25% or 27% of people stole. That's more than a doubling of norm violation. And, again, it's a powerful effect of how when one norm is broken, we become more likely to break another, or essentially the spreading of disorder."
This seems to back up 'zero tolerance' style policing and disorder control, but also shows that we're much more likely to let our standards slip if it looks like everyone else is too.
All sorts of questions are prompted by this, for example:
- does seeing immoral behaviour on TV normalise it in everyday life?
- does 'norm violation' work in a positive way - e.g. the Iran protests breaking the norm of open criticism of the regime, which in turn emboldens others? Or is it mainly about moral entropy?
- this seems to torpedo the idea that all moral acts are down purely to individual choice. We are our brothers keeper after all.
- how far do these links go? Graffiti linked to petty theft, I can get my head round that, but does living in a more criminal/disorderly community lead to more disorderly sexual behaviour, more domestic violence etc? Would zero tolerance on petty crime reduce, for example, teenage pregnancy rates?