I’d like this to be an ongoing discussion between me and the readers of this page. It was motivated by a conversation with my brother, beginning with some shocking statistics. Did you know that the United States locks up 4 times as many of its citizens than any other western nation per capita? Did you know that despite this, the US is the most violent western nation by far? Murders per capita are 2.5 times higher than any other nation, rapes nearly 3 times higher.
What I’d like to figure out is, why? What is it about American culture that breeds this sort of thing in numbers so disproportionate to the rest of the civilized world? Some of the commonly heard and easy answers are obviously false. For example, it’s obvious that “getting tough on crime” isn’t the answer to a high crime rate – we lock up 4 times as many as any other nation and we STILL have far more crime. So too, the commonly heard answer from the religious right, that things went to hell when we “took God out of schools” or some such rot. The US has a far higher rate of religious belief and church attendance than any other western nation and that’s not close either, so obviously there is no correlation there. Nor do I think the answer is gun control. Many other nations have just as much gun ownership per capita as the US, like Canada and Switzerland, with nothing close to the rates of violent crime that we have here.
So I’m looking for answers and I’m asking my readers to join in this discussion and maybe we can all learn some things and generate some ideas. A couple of preliminary possibilities:
1. The US is the most income-stratified nation as well, with the largest gap between rich and poor of any nation. Could this be part of it?
2. The US does not have the kind of continuous, homogenous culture that so many other western nations have. We’re a melting pot of different cultural traditions, without the commonalities to bind us all together.
3. Most other cultures put far more emphasis on families, in my experience. I have friends from other cultures who are astonished by how uncohesive our families are. They wouldn’t dream of putting an elderly parent in a nursing home, and it’s normal in other cultures to have 3 generations under the same roof. We see it in the US, but primarily among immigrant families, at least in my experience.
Okay, everyone. Your turn. Any ideas out there for what creates this toxic culture in America that results in so much suffering when, the truth is, we have everything going for us and it shouldn’t be this way?