The piece on Hernando Washington’s case, written by Lisa J. McIntyre (2013), is an analysis of criminal behavior from the sociological perspective, yet, on the individual level. The text leaves mixed emotions on that, and it is the task of sociologists to deconstruct the case. Nevertheless, it is fair to claim that the values gap and the following deviance is a widespread phenomenon. However, the significant background behind each case can be fixed or, at least, its influence can be leveled.
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To begin with, the impression that the case description leaves its reader with is complicated. First, it is fear as one may never know at what time and in what circumstances they may face an individual with poles apart values system like it happened to Sarah Gould. Secondly, the text is a reminder of the fact that there are no absolute values. There may be a conventional worldview like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for instance. One may feel sorry that Hernando Washington is unable to relate to their morals and lacks empathy; however, this story is a simple illustration of how diverse social reality is.
Speaking of the possible sociological evaluation of the situation described, it is peculiar that McIntyre (2013) started her piece with an example of Emile Durkheim. She was the first one to analyze deviance which is undoubtedly relatable to the case of Washington. In a way, his community and people that it had to deal with (the police) were in a state of anomie. What one could also apply is Gabriel Tarde’s theory of the laws of imitation that describes an individual, for instance, Washington as a product of its reference group – the South Side, in the case.
As for the possible comparisons, interestingly enough, the first example that may come to one’s head lies in the field of politics. Political leaders, at least for some time, may find themselves in situations of zero responsibility for their actions. Hence, they themselves become the moral standard of their actions. To be more precise, one may remember the character of Peter in the show The Great, who demonstrated himself as an immoral, almost insensible petty tyrant. However, history knows many more examples that can be found in the literature on colonization or in the actions of contemporary corrupted officials.
Meanwhile, any problem requires a solution, and this situation seems to have several keys to it. Most importantly, it is a matter of segregation of Chicago of those times that creates the values bubbles around different communities. Lack of constructive interactions between the South and the North Side causes polarization. The latter brought Washington to the point where he could not even understand what was wrong in his actions. Moreover, education is an essential institution in bringing the idea of a dialogue between different values carriers to life. Not only must it have to do with children, but also with the entire population and especially police. Though the situation seems depressing, there are ways out of it.
Finally, there is still a question to pose. Where is the line between what individual and collective responsibility on anything or, like in this case, on destructive actions of an individual raised and living in an unfavorable environment of violence? It seems impossible to define whether these are relatives, external institutions, cultural products, or the person themselves that have an essential impact on one’s system of values.
To conclude, the model of behavior described by McIntyre is quite a widespread phenomenon examples of which may be found in mass culture and history. It is described in the classics of sociology, such as Durkheim and Tarde, for instance. What is more, there are multiple countermeasures possible in the situation, but changes are to be systematic. Nevertheless, there are still questions relevant for nowadays communities of how to separate social responsibility from personal one.
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McIntyre, L. J. (2013). Hernaldo Washington. In L. J. McIntyre, The practical skeptic: Core concepts in sociology (pp. 19 – 27). McGraw-Hill Education.