The Limits of Informal Social Control

In informal social control, your sainted grandmother may set the rules - or it might be Gomez, the local leader of MS-13.

In my post the other day about broken windows and observable cues, I casually mentioned something that deserves more examination and highlighting.

I used the phrase “informal social control”.

The concept, and its limitations, has been gnawing at my brain over the past few days and this is what came out this morning.

Informal social controls are defined as any of those activities regulating human behavior and interactions, but not based on formal regulations or laws. Society most often and most effectively controls the behavior of its members through socialization, assimilation of social mores and cultural practices and an internalized respect for those boundaries.

It is a natural behavioral system used by both parents and teachers to instill expectations and acceptable behaviors in children when they show disapproval if a child breaks the rules. Over time, children (and people) intuitively learn where those boundaries are as they push to the edges. If they go past the boundaries and face no consequences, the location of that boundary is reset.

In the past, I have used the speed limit as an example for this process.

Imagine that it is midnight, and you are on Interstate 80 in the middle of Wyoming – from experience, I can tell you that late at night, the stretch from Rawlins in the east to Rock Springs in the west is pretty darn lonely. Now assume that the speed limit has been set at 75 mph. You are driving along, and your fuel injected, turbocharged, 557 horsepower Mercedes GT-C AMG roadster is running smooth, weather conditions are good, and you can’t see another set of headlights or taillights for as far as your eye can see. You just topped off the tank in Rawlings and you really want to get across the state as fast as possible.

Then you reach down, between my legs, ease the seat back…. wait – that is Van Halen, the AMG does not have manual seats…

What stops you from cranking the good old cruise control up to 85, 95 – or even 105 – and pointing the land rocket toward the last point where you saw the sun? Once you pass the legal limit of 75, what is the limit?

No law can stop you. A law enforcement officer can temporarily reduce your speed with an autograph session but once he is out of sight, you are free to go right back to speeding. Whether you fear punishment or not, the only thing that really can stop you is your respect for the law, a belief that adhering to the speed limit is the right thing to do. The fact is that once you break the 75 mph barrier, the functional limit is only what the AMG will do. If you believe it can outrun anything on the road, why not 150 mph? You have already broken the law, right?

Laws do little to restrain people or constrain government without the people in charge respecting those limits.

Peer groups also use informal social control methods. Over time, as a human increased in age, peers replace parents and teachers as the arbiters of what is appropriate and proper – and these peers are not always angels. Informal social control could be the grandmother on the street corner who nobody wants to disappoint, or it could be Gomez, the leader of the local MS-13 gang, who will separate your head from your shoulders with his trusty machete if you cross his lines.

Informal social control is allegedly what “community policing” is based upon, and what our “Red Queen” friends on the left (those who believe in six impossible things before breakfast) mean when they want to “reimagine policing”.

But it will fail because the boundaries in these cities have been expanded to include all manners of criminal activities. DA’s have accepted theft up to $1000 per event, bail “reform” means all manner of assaults (and in some cases, murder) result in immediate release, the justice system is focused on the skin color of the alleged offender and the very people who were tasked with defending the boundaries, the police, have been “reimagined” as racist predators.

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

These are the informal control methods in the very areas where shallow thinkers want to remove and/or defund the police. Rather than reinstituting and reinforcing the informal social controls first, in the usual ass-backwards leftist approach, they use the Underpants Gnome Method:

  1. Remove all legal constraints.

  2. ?

  3. Informal social control!

What could go wrong?