The news you're not supposed to know...

Austrian Economics: Understand Economics, Understand the World
The Century of the Self: The Untold History of Controlling the Masses Through the Manipulation of Unconscious Desires
The Disappearing Male: From Virility to Sterility

The Obama Deception: The Mask Comes Off
Operation Gladio: The Hidden History of U.S. Sponsored False Flag Terrorism in EuropeThe New American Century: The Untold History of The Project for the New American Century
Article posted Aug 12 2013, 6:34 AM Category: Commentary Source: Logan Albright Print

Social Pressure as a Means of Keeping Order

by Logan Albright

We tend to think of the law as one, big monolithic thing, a unified system under which we all must live. The rules governing what we can and cannot do may change over time, but the system itself is a constant, maintained by a centralized body of enforcers. Force is the operative term here, because the threat of force is really the only weapon the law has at its disposal to curb behaviors it deems undesirable. Break the law and you will either be fined, imprisoned or, in extreme cases, killed.

We have become conditioned to think that this threat of force is the only possible way of keeping order in a society, and that since force is such a dangerous thing, we must restrict who can legitimately use it. Thus, the state monopoly on law is built on the assumption that law and force are necessarily and inextricably intertwined. In fact, there is no reason to make such an assumption.

How, then, are we to enforce the laws of the land without the threat of violence? The answer, which can be found quite readily throughout history, and is still in use in a diluted form today, is simple social pressure from the members of the community. While this may sound laughable to some, it is a powerful force not to be underestimated, and has succeeded at keeping order with surprising success in the past.

A colorful example comes from England, where the term Rough Music was once used to describe a practice of community members banding together to drive out those who violated their social norms by banging pots and pans together in a symbolic ritual of humiliation and eventual expulsion. Shunning among the Amish is a comparable example.

Similar practices, albeit less dramatic, persist to this day in any area where there is a strong sense of community. Neighborhood associations use social pressure to enforce certain norms, with offenders suffering the vocal disapproval of their neighbors. It is important to remember that this is not vigilantism, where an individuals initiates force to seek personal justice, but rather a form of collective behavior towards the offender that in no way violates his rights. Instead of force, ostracization inflicts feelings of shame, guilt and isolation on those who refuse to obey the mores of the group. If the offense is great enough, others may refuse to do business with the offender entirely, eventually forcing him to leave the community altogether.

Apart from its non-violence, the method of keeping order via peer pressure has the advantage of being highly decentralized. Every community will have its own code of conduct, allowing people to sort themselves into areas which share their own set of values and principles. An atheist libertine need not be held to the standard of a conservative Christian community. An immigrant from China can choose to live in a community that upholds the customs of his heritage. There is no one-size-fits-all standard of behavior which inevitably fails to take into account cultural and philosophical differences within the population.

The obvious objection to this line of thinking is that social pressure is all well and good for small towns and isolated populations, but that in big cities there is simply no way for people to know each other well enough to enforce a standard of behavior as a group. This is a fair point, but the existence of tight-knit communities within large cities Chinatowns or other immigrant groups are the most common example show that a large population alone is not sufficient to render social pressure ineffective. I have written elsewhere about the fact that government welfare programs discourage the formation of communities, since the threat of misfortune can be met with a welfare check in place of the support of friends, neighbors, relatives and churches. In the absence of such programs, it would behoove ever prudent individual to develop some form of community as a type of insurance against hardship, in which case social pressure becomes a very effective means of behavioral control.

Of course, there are some crimes and some criminals for whom social pressure would be wholly inadequate. Those individuals mad enough to commit murders or rapes doubtless have little fear of what the neighbors might think. In such cases, force is indeed required, and punishment remains a legitimate province of the law (which still need not be monopolistic in nature, but that's a topic for another time.) However, for all the sorts of minor offenses that fill law books and clog up court systems, it seems entirely preferable to adopt a decentralized, non-coercive method of punishment that relies upon the human need for social interaction and the approval of one's peers instead of the cold impersonality of a prison cell.
Logan Albright is a writer and economist in Washington, DC.

Latest Commentary
- Let's Talk About...The Plague
- With Mass Shootings, The State Makes Us Less Safe
- Good News: 27% Of Americans Say Government Is Their 'Enemy,' Not Their 'Friend'
- Fear Is The Name of The Game
- This Thanksgiving, Let's Say 'No Thanks' to The Tyranny of The American Police State
- Donald Trump's Presidential "Heel Turn"
- Katniss Vs. Power: The Lessons of Hunger Games
- Tracking ISIS to DC's Doorsteps

No Comments Posted Add Comment

Add Comment


Verification *
Please Enter the Verification Code Seen Below

Please see our About Page, our Disclaimer, and our Comments Policy.

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which in some cases has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available for the purposes of news reporting, education, research, comment, and criticism, which constitutes a 'fair use' of such copyrighted material in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. It is our policy to respond to notices of alleged infringement that comply with the DMCA and other applicable intellectual property laws. It is our policy to remove material from public view that we believe in good faith to be copyrighted material that has been illegally copied and distributed by any of our members or users.

About Us - Disclaimer - Privacy Policy

Advanced Search


Remember Me
Forgot Password?

Donald Sutherland Reveals The Real Meaning Of The Hunger Games - 11/27Drone Pilots Have Bank Accounts and Credit Cards Frozen by Feds For Exposing US Murder - 11/27World's Most 'Adorable' Drug Kingpin Is Actually The Daughter of Texas DEA Head Honcho - 11/26City Settles After Police Chief Arrested Man For Calling Public Official A 'Liar' - 11/27Pot Breathalyzers: Coming Soon to A Drug War Near You - 11/27Georgia Sheriff Puts Up Sign Warning People Who Disagree With Him About God to Leave - 11/27Bezos Beats Musk - 11/27Is Black Friday Racist? - 11/25

Man Follows Speeding Cop, Finds Out He Was Speeding To Buy PeanutsMission Creeps: Homeland Security Agents Confiscate Women's Panties For 'Copyright Infringement'Cop Shoots Couple's Dog, Threatens Jail For Trying To Save Dog's LifeSWAT Team Shoots Teen Girl & Her Dog During Pot Raid On Wrong HomeDurham, NC Cop Testifies Faking 911 Calls To Enter Homes Is "Official Policy"Indiana Sheriff Says US A "War Zone" To Justify New MRAP Military VehicleTampa Cops Surveil Pot Dealer, Catch Him Selling Pot, Raid His Home & Kill Him"You Just Shot An Unarmed Man!": Witness Says Police Shot His Friend With His Hands Up