What is the real issue?
We were recently shaken by the news of the seven teenage boys that kidnapped and gang raped a mentally disabled young girl. We rightly commented on how it reflected a society in demise, but I doubt many of us understood the real issue behind these events.
Let me say here that I do believe that the boys should be held responsible for their actions, absolutely, but two things stand out in this case. One: That the boys had no real concept of doing anything wrong, to the extent that they filmed the event and spread the video, and Two: That the adults of the community claimed that the police had the wrong kids, as they are “good boys”.
Ok, so this isn’t a new thing, it has happened before. From the CEO that embezzles his employees into poverty, to the suburban man who believes that you can “correct” a lesbian by raping her, the human race is capable of justifying anything. The truth of the matter is that if it is OK for YOU, you will do it. Most people feel it is OK to break the speed limit, so they do it, but the truth is that it makes you a criminal. Those boys did what they did because they believed it was OK to do it. The simple fact of the matter is that you will never stray from the morality you were taught and accepted as a child.
This speaks to why prison rarely rehabilitates an offender, any discipline that focuses on changing behaviour is doomed to fail if it doesn’t take the value system into account. Offenders do what they do because their value system green lights it. Behaviour has its beginning in the value system, so to rehabilitate, the approach needs to focus on the value system. This means that if these seven boys go into the system they won’t change, they won’t come out as model citizens, and that is a waste of money and lives. Sure, they must take the consequences for their actions, but if the rehabilitation is focused on managing behaviour then it will be like spitting in the wind.
The adults who know the boys were all shocked, they really believed that they are “good boys”. Let’s assume they are right, that these are indeed good kids, then what went wrong? Ever heard of the “law of requisite variety”? It states that the “the part of the system with the greatest flexibility in its behaviours will control the system.” In the case of a group of boys it means that only one needs to make a decision and the rest will follow, regardless of how “good” their behaviour is. Then there is “entrainment” which in this case would mean that in a group of boys there will be an alpha, and the rest will fall in line. Between two people, the one with the most emotional coherence will set the mood. Being “good boys” with a dysfunctional value system would only mean that their behaviour is “good” under certain circumstances, do not under estimate what an insecure person will do to feel accepted and “in with the group”. Rehabilitation is possible, but only from the value system up.
What happened was a tragedy, in all likelihood the tragedy will be perpetuated as the boys will be punished, but never really understood.