Crime's VAGUEness made clear. . .
Funny contradictions Left and Right
What remains of your 10 minutes
Left, Right, VAGUE: the chart
Crime Overview
Crime is VAGUE because it can be sexy, creative and inspiring while still being odious, destructive and depressing. Crime is also VAGUE because it is a mess of things we detest mixed inseparably with a host of things we cherish.

If there were no laws, there would be no crimes. Crimes are created by laws made in Congress, so crime is a wholly political construct.

If everybody was locked up in solitary, there would be no criminals. Crime is a side-effect of living in a free society where opportunities to abuse freedom abound.

Crime is natural, an expression of human tendencies. If there were no full moon, no appetites, no blind drives, if babies' brains were not altered by neglect and abuse, people would not do criminal things.

So preventing crime is easy in theory: All you have to do is make everything legal, lock everybody up and ban the full moon. So much for theory. In reality fighting crime is a VAGUE endeavor because there are several competing ways to do it.

Policy wonks push laws with proven positive outcomes. Moral leaders push laws that express our common values. It would be nice if our best values produced the best outcomes, but oh so sorry: They often don't. The death penalty, for example, expresses the strongest possible aversion to murder, but is far from a strong deterrent.

While we like to think of crime-fighting as a war between bad guys and good guys, it's often a battle between good guys and other good guys over whose crime-stopping measures are going to be funded.

The real-life complexity of crime prevention puts ideologues through mental contortions.

The Left says that crime is caused by poverty—lack of money and opportunity. Yet it also claims that the biggest, cruelest crimes are committed by the rich and powerful—the ones with the most money and opportunity.

The Christian Right has long claimed that the crime rate is a result of our growing moral degeneracy. But while crime rates have been dropping nationally for years, the Christian Right claims that our degeneracy is still increasing. Has moral degeneracy now begun to prevent crime?

The Liberal Left says that we can't blame poor young people who go bad—they go bad because our culture and our system rob them of all self-esteem. But if they aren't responsible for their choices, what sort of "self" do they have to esteem?

The Right says that degenerate social values, not poverty, cause crime, and they're right— only the social values that corrupt aren't the ones they obsess about. Forget sexual promiscuity, irreligiosity and fatherless homes—it's the cult of honor—the insult-me-and-I-shoot-you syndrome —that produces the most killers. White, small-town Scots-Irish enclaves of the old slave-lynching South are one of the most socially traditional sub-groups in the nation—and statistically one of the most murderous.

Left, Right or Elsewhere, the strong feelings we have about crime, coupled with its frustrating VAGUEness make us yearn for oversimplified answers. These, politicians have been only too happy to supply.

But a growing collection of studies show that the three most effective ways to fight crime are neither simple nor amusing. They are:

  • Staying informed
  • Financing better programs for children, neighborhoods and some prisoners
  • Getting personally involved

Sad news, this, for those of us who prefer danger, adventure and watching The Comedy Channel to civic responsibility. But, while VAGUE can't always make politics rock, we can make your online perusal of crime issues (relatively) interesting.


  There are a few ways to use FOCUS ON. . . If you have the time, go back to the Crime Index and click on an icon or two to see what our writers and essayists came up with to help you prevent crime. The site's designed for repeat visits, so bookmark it and work your way through it at your leisure.

Alternatively, you can choose the topic below that interests you most and look at what we dug up on it during. . .


  1. Remember when "gated community" used to mean "prison"?
Make your neighborhood safe without turning it into a fort.
2. They're bigger than Belgium, more powerful than Iran.
Can YOU control corporate criminals?
3. Warrant? Who needs a warrant?
When government bends the law...
4. Thanks for your data, sucka.
Should cookies be a crime?
5. Oh, was that my wife I shot? I thought she was a deer.
Domestic violence.
6. Vote for gun control or I'll shoot!
Has the Web no balm for itchy trigger finger?
7. It's all THEIR fault.
Race and crime.
8. Of COURSE she loved him... he was AWFUL.
Should female criminals get special treatment?
9. What did the Dalai Lama say to the hot dog vendor?
"Make me one with everything."
10. No policy talk tonight, Monica, I have a headache.
Just tell me a good crime story.

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