CHAOS AND CRIME: Explorations in PostModern Criminology 1

TR Young
April, 1991

NON-LINEAR SOCIO-DYNAMICS: blink.gif (995 bytes)Explications blink.gif (995 bytes)Implications blink.gif (995 bytes)Applications


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A 4-Dimensional Bifurcation Map



One sad implication of a Chaos theory
of violence is that the fruit of our
peace making efforts lies beyond our
power of verification.
                              ...Hal Pepinsky

                            T. R. Young


This article explores some of the implications of Chaos Theory for a postmodern criminology. Among the more interesting are the wholistic nature of Chaotic dynamics; one does not focus upon the single individual for a theory of crime. Bifurcations in key parameters of deeply connected systems produce ever more outcome states to which individuals, firms and whole societies are attracted. As these outcome state proliferate, efforts to control crime become increasingly ineffective. The existence of two or more natural dynamical outcomes for any system means that notions of deviancy are greatly undermined and the postmodern view of the political nature of such labels is given strong empirical grounding. It would be difficult indeed for any modern criminologist who understands what is at hand to argue that either crime or deviancy is anything more than human preference connected with particular cultural or class interests.

INTRODUCTION The implications of Chaos research for theoretical criminology are that ordinary approaches to a theory of crime are many. I would like to think these through with the reader in the larger effort to create inappropriate while ordinary approaches to a theory of corrections a criminology and social policy with which to helpare unlikely to be successful. If the assumptions of Chaos Theory build a rational and decent society for the 21st Century. Thisare valid for human behavior...and I will make a case they may well effort is located in still a larger context oriented to thebe valid...then theoretical focus on the single, acting individual development of a postmodern social philosophy befitting aby which to develop a theory of crime is inappropriate while the postmodern society. If we have learned anything from the many contributionspractical effort to rehabilitate the single, acting criminal is to the knowledge process in the past 2500 years; in the past 400 years, in the past 15 years, it is that there has been amisdirected. great increase in human agency; whatever now goes wrong or right is, increasingly, our own responsibility. There may have been a time when we were innocent, when events were beyond the reach of human agency but now, with knowledge or cunning, technology or tactic, wisdom or greed, compassion or contempt, we have the capacity to intervene in those historical processes which, over that history, have swept the world and turned it inside out.

Today, most of the readings of the postmodern condition are bleak and nihilistic. Central to postmodern sensibility is an understanding that the ancient verities are fallible; the ancient truths partial, the ancient pathways to a safe and decent society uncertain. Absent grand unified theory with sure and certain indicators with which to ground social policy; absent firm and unshakable belief in the one and self-same God; absent enduring standards for ethics and aesthetics, some take the position that everything is permitted; nothing enjoined since there is no natural or god-given authority with which to enjoin it. Why should one enact the drama of the Holy in the absence of a god figure; why should one take account of another except for purposes of short term and narrowly focussed contract in the absence of structural imperatives??

Criminal behavior thrives in such a milieu; corporations strive for short term advantage regardless of the costs to workers, consurers, environment or to the economy itself. Whole nations write laws and enforce behavior which privilege class, race and gender. Blocs of nations join together to pillage and loot the wealth of other nations. Families and groups of families join to buy and sell that which is harmful to other families but most profitable to their families. Safe in their churches and homes, white collar criminals betray the trust accorded them in law, medicine, university or trade. Street thugs, seeing all this avarice, venality and greed in office, shop and store strike out in blind fury at others even more helpless than they. Such is the postmodern society as we now see it forming. There is cause for pessimism and despair.

Yet the decentering of all that is sacred, all that is firm, solid and unquestionable, all that is accepted opens up space for human responsibility. Absent the absolutistic nature of religious law, other ways of acting, thinking and sanctifying nature and society are possible. It is not trivial to say that removal of divine sanction for racism opens up space for the honoring of multiculturalism. It is not trivial to say that the decentering of patriarchy opens up space for more enabling gender relations. It is not trivial to say that the decentering of capitalism and bureaucratic socialism opens up space for a better means of production and better relations of production.

Absent deterministic natural laws about society and living arrangements, it is possible to design alternative living arrangements in which the bodies of women do not absorb the costs of patriarchy. It is possible to design work place where the costs of production are not transferred to the health of workers. It is possible to design international relations in which poor countries keep their food and scarce resources to build schools, hospitals, playing fields and home for their own children rather than export them for the children of the rich elsewhere.

Others have said such things and said them in a voice more powerful and more eloquent than ever could I but what is new here is a powerful empiric grounding for postmodern sensibility. No theologian of any intellectual integrity can deny the evidence of nonlinear transformations in nature and society. Their God does play dice with the universe if God they must have. No structuralist of whatever political hue can insist upon a given set of structures as essential to the functioning of society; not if they have the wit and energy to read the record. Chaos theory sits on top of a radical empiricism which lays waste to aristotlean logic, newtonian mechanics, leibnizean calculus and euclidean geometry. Logical positivism has been displaced by fuzzy logics, fractal realities and fractional truth values.

What is not trivial in this present effort to ground a democratic politics is the understanding that the tightly wound newtonian world view which has informed the knowledge process since the days of Bacon, Descartes, Newton and Kant has been displaced by a new nonlinear systems perspective. If the ontology of the newtonian paradigm resonated with thoughts of universal principles, of coherent connections and a firm belief in absolute truth, the ontology of Chaos paradigm resonates with localized causality, with variable connection, and with fractal and changing truth statements. Perception and understanding of the underlying reality has shifted mightily in the past 15 years and with it, the social philosophy upon which it is based.

Chaos theory is just one of the many manifestations of the transition from modern ways of understanding (and responding to) the world of nature and culture toward postmodern ways of acting, thinking and believing. If the modern world was born out of the success of science and technology in the 18th Century; postmodern responses came out of the curious reluctance of women, colonial peasants, workers, artists, poets, and architects as well as young scientists to accept the fixed order and eternal laws of modern science which froze existing relationships in society and in nature for all eternity. In such a world, it is either madness or folly to reject that which is necessary or resist that which is inevitable. In a postmodern world, such resistance and rejection may be folly and may be madness but it need not be. Chaos theory teaches us that resistence is absolutely essential since nothing is necessary and nothing eternal; certainly not crime, poverty, despotism or degradation.

While it is trivial to rehearse these objections to the effort of male euro-centric elites to privilege their own life style and purpose, it is not trivial is to reflect upon the meaning of Chaos theory for social philosophy and social policy. When we do, we find that Chaos theory decenters the very core of modern scientific thought and, in so doing, opens upon space for other ways to describe, explain, and respond to the forms of natural and social life we find across history and society.

If one way of life is not endorsed by theory or by religion in the postmodern; rather than nihilism, pluralism is possible. If there is no evolution toward an ideal society, then the future is ours to make as we will; as we chose. We can chose badly or chose better but chose we can. If there are no universal standards, then we can set standards ourselves. We may set them badly or set them better but set them we shall. In the decentering of absolute authority, there arises the possibility of moral responsibility for those who would take it. Our morality may be short, brutal and nasty or it may be open, compassionate and extent to the seventh generation as we will. If there are no natural centers, we can put whatever we will at the center of our life and social policy.

What Chaos theory does that can't be done in the modern paradigm is to reveal the limits of human agency and the points at
which human agency is lost and regained. It shows the changing dialectics of order and disorder without privileging any given form of order. Chaos theory will help solve the problem of order in terms of structure but not in terms of substance. It is an aid to instrumental reason but not to substantive reason. We are left where we began; without firm and unshakeable vantage points from which to judge the rightness of a thing but we inherit the possibility and the capacity to reflect upon the rightness of a thing and chose as between different routes to order and disorder.

I want to begin such work in criminology since crime and policy on crime is so important to the human project. There are other realms of knowledge in which Chaos theory has equal if different implications; the dynamics of health and health care are equally important. Dynamics of family and gender relations may be usefully examined from the perspective of nonlinear dynamics as might business in particular and economics in general. Much is to be done. Much is at stake. For criminology, it appears to me that most of what is taught in theory courses today will have to be discarded or revised greatly.

What is New In 1620, Francis Bacon, later Lord Keeper and Viscount St. Albans, published a book entitled, Novum Organum. The title translates into the 'New Body' and refers to the new body of knowledge just then emerging clearly. That new body of knowledge, now called modern science, set empirical observation as the privilege path to knowledge displacing inspiration, reason and revelation which had served societies in prehistory. Mathematics was to be the language of the knowledge process replacing the voice of God. Comparison, contrast, prediction and observation were to replace purification, prayer, chant, dance and empty silence as the metaphysics of the knowledge process. Instead of looking for the word of God in the dreams and visions of or seeking auguries of the future from the tumble of sticks or the fall of cards, one was to look for the essence and presence of a thing, proximity to other similar things, degrees of difference between things.

In stead of worshipping idols (of tribe, of self interest, of social opinion and of conventional logic), Bacon suggested a 'great instrauration,' which guided by Solomon's House (of science) would enable the state to form policy congenial to the general good. Reason guided by theory would replace faith, hope, trust in the divine as the pathway to salvation. In the three and a half centuries since, the rate of growth of modern science described a path itself modelled by the power law of mathematic; just so, the half life of knowledge is the inverse of that growth.

There were those who demurred; some thought that the scientists themselves should decide policy. Some thought that the marketplace was the repository of all morality. Some thought that science was a two-edged sword and could be used equally well against the common good. As it turned out, science in the service of either the state or the marketplace produced monsters of which Dr. Frankenstein could but feebly foresee. The technological miracles of transport, of communication, of industry and of commerce turn back against the human project to despoil the environment, to dispossess the worker, to empower the wealthy, and to manipulate symbolic life-worlds heretofore directly created by intending, believing, trusting, desiring, and purposive human beings. In addition to augmenting human agency, modern science also disconnected it from all that was holy, all that was sacred, all that was cultural.

As it is turning out, the very logics of modern science presuming linearity, coherence and rationality in natural and social laws easily, readily, inevitably transform into a genteel fascism in which chemistry, psychology, sociology and medicine are used to ensure conformity to some presumed 'modern' way to do education, religion, child rearing or politics. Linear models of management, of education, of corrections, of health care, of housing or transport do not fit well in the messy, open, changing dynamics of nonlinear systems. If nonlinearity is a feature of every acting person, firm or society, efforts to institute linearity under the guise of rationality is irrational indeed.

Ernst Van den Haag once said that mass production and mass society eliminated the endpoints of happiness and desire; what we now see is that modern science has greatly expanded the endpoints of both desire and despair without contributing greatly to happiness. It is true that most people in the world still work in a premodern modality in which they and their immediate circles are sanctified each to the other--most of the time. It is true that modern science has ended many of the terrible scourges which once made life short and nasty--for some. It is true that many enjoy luxury, power and intentionality in ways once reserved for princes and popes--while many do not. It may be true that this number is expanding in both absolute and relative terms. What is left is an increasing immiseration of those left behind by virtue of modernist assumptions about the sources and solutions to crime and other social problems.

Whatever the present case, the promise Bacon and others saw in modern science to reduce the absolute volume of pain in the world has still to be kept. The promises of modern science to increase the absolute volume of happiness in the world is yet to be judged. It is not yet the end of History. It might be the case that science cannot do such a thing but it is most certainly the case that modern science cannot do such a thing. Whether postmodern science can do that which modern science could not do is still, in my view, an open question.

As we go into the 21st century, it may be well to open ourselves up to a possibility that science can link itself with politics, religion and economics in a way to renew the failed promises Bacon voiced. It is well, however to keep a skeptical eye open for dangers, pitfalls and miscarried plans based upon partial and misleading knowledge. With such precautions in mind, we can begin to look at what a still newer body of knowledge has to say about nature and society. We can begin to think about what these new lessons hold for things we value. We can begin to test, cautiously, watchfully, judicially what social effects implementation of social policy on such insights yield.

NOVUM ORGANUM: Chaos and Crime The major implications of this very new body of knowledge, Chaos Theory, for a postmodern criminology are that ordinary approaches to a theory of crime are inappropriate while ordinary approaches to a theory of corrections are unlikely to be successful. If the assumptions of Chaos Theory are valid for human behavior...and I will make a case they may well be valid...then theoretical focus on the single, acting individual by which to develop a theory of crime is inappropriate while the practical effort to rehabilitate the single, acting criminal is misdirected.

Chaos theory is a theory of the varying connectedness of the whole eco-system in which crime occurs rather than a study of the differences between those who commit crime and those who do not commit crime at a given slice of time. Rather than analysis, interaction is the focus of attention. Rather than individuals, processes are the focus of attention. Rather than intention, adjustment to external conditions spark the patterns of crime. Rather than unidirectional causality, one looks for feedback loops which amplify or constrain crime. One thus studies the larger social conditions which produce given forms of crime, given levels of crime and given configurations of crime as these vary across cultures and across history.

Chaos theory teaches us that similar individuals can have very different fates even when they live in similar circumstances depending on the region of a causal basin in which they are found. Some individuals will move to one basin in a complex causal field while their close neighbors will move to another basin. At the boundary of the two groups, uncertainty rules. Some firms will take to crime and thrive while other firms, very similar, will not take to crime and thrive. Some individuals will be caught, punished and retrieved to the social process while their immediate neighbors, not caught or punished will also return to the social process. One cannot predict which will do what in some regions of a complex causal field. All this is very strange to the models and theories of crime to which most criminologists have been socialized. Yet I will make the case in the essays which follow.

What one looks for in the Chaos paradigm are the patterns of crime in phase-space. One does not collect data on crime in order to correlate a particular form of crime with a given set of antecedent variables. What one does is collect data, convert them into geometrical portraits in phase space and then look for key parameters which twist, turn, expand, explode or transform those portraits into some different configuration.

What one does in creating a theory of crime in postmodern criminology is to identify the key parameters which drive these configurations to new patterns. The point of policy is not to eliminate the parameters but rather to decide at what level one wishes those parameters set in order to retain a given configuration of crime or a given configuration of prosocial behavior. In this paradigm, both crime and prosocial behavior are located in the way the whole system is organized. In this paradigm, criminality is a feature of the number of outcome basins produced by bifurcations in key parameters rather than a feature of the single acting person or firm.

If Chaos theory is appropriate as a reference point from which to study the dynamics of crime, then the same factors which produce a given outcome (say prosocial behavior) at one value, can produce far different behavior (say destructive behavior) at other values. I do not mean to speak of their varying interaction with still other variables...I mean to say that the same variables can produce prosocial behavior at one setting and criminal behavior at even slightly higher settings. We have been taught to look for intervening variables to account for different outcomes in modern criminology...not so in Chaos theory.

Control and Order We have been taught, in the modern science paradigm, that careful planning and conscientious control will produce order. Not so in a Chaos paradigm. In the first instance, the possibility of planning depends upon the dynamical state in which a system (person, firm or society) finds itself. In the second, the efficacy of controls vary with dynamical state. In the third, the very controls themselves may defeat the creativity and change essential to a stable society in an unstable environment. All this sounds strange and sits uneasy in the modern science paradigm with its concern for linearity, coherence, and predictability. Yet the data do not yield to such assumptions. They do fit into the theoretic envelop called Chaos theory.

The Problem of Order In the modern paradigm since, say, the work of Thomas Hobbs, the operative question is how to ensure the triumph of order over disorder. The solution to such problems of order has been, in the hobbesian tradition, a strong state capable of enforcing its will on those lesser subjects who could not or did not see virtue in compliance with that which was necessary. That which was necessary was thought to be linear, monolithic and coherently connected to all other programs and policies of the state.

In the chaos paradigm, order itself is a problem. Disorder is the solution to the problem of order. Order produces sameness; sameness in a changing environment means death. Disorder means flexibility, spontaneity, creativity; creativity means new and perhaps better ways to extract order from the environment without degrading it; new and better ways to organize the work process without disemploying workers; new and better ways of doing religion without profaning other pathways to the Holy.

In order to appreciate the point in respect to criminology, it is helpful to think about causality in terms of feedback loops rather than unidirectional arrows. Negative feedback loops regulate and thus perserve order; positive feeback loops amplify and thus move a system from a near-to-equilibrium state to a more chaotic equilibrium. The kind of feedback loops is important. When either kind of feedback loop is linear, one gets death (with negative feedback) or full blown chaos (with positive and linear feedback.

Nonlinear feedback loops tend to preserve existing patterns of order in a near to stable configuration while linear and positive feedback loops tend to 'blow them apart. In social terms, if the children of the middle classes are given a head start over children in the underclass, a linear positive feedback loop would send the middle class children into better schools, better jobs, better housing and better health care which, in turn, would enable their children to have still better schooling, jobs, housing and health care. At the same time, children in the underclass are in a linear positive feedback loop which sends their children into ever worse schools, jobs, housing and health care systems. Both loops are positive feedback loops, they amplify whatever path the children are taking.

After several iterations of such loops, even small differences become great differences. Given the workings of such feedback loops inequality between the two cohorts become so great that each has its own causal basin even in the same society in which everyone is subject to the principle (that of positive, linear feedback) of the system. Each cohort gets its proper reward for effort; middle class children, with their head starts, make ever more effort. Children of the underclass, with their failing resources make ever less effort to get jobs, housing, education or health care. Some of these children may move outside the logic of linear feedback and attempt to get a head start for themeselves or their children.

If we want to maintain the integrity of a market economy with its many advantages, then there must be such forms of nonlinear response with which to defeat the transformation of the torus which describes, say, frequency of entry into the market for essential goods and services. 2 If not, the market itself may split into 2 or more attractors: one oriented to those with discretionary income and those without. As income inequalities between ethnic groups, economic classes or nations grow, more and more capital is attracted to the basin of production allocated to luxury goods and less and less to the production basin which essential goods are produced. When those with discretionary income determines the price and supply of essential goods and services, more and more low wage earners are driven out of the market. At some point, low wage earners will begin to seek alternative ways to increase income or to reduce costs in order to stay in the marketplace. Some of these alternative ways may be outside the logics of the marketplace; i.e., they may be nonlinear in terms of a cash economy.

Those in economics will know that there are many feedback loops, nonlinear in terms of free market dynamics, used in our economy to maintain order and stability of the economy. Of the 255+ million people in the USA, only about 115 million work for wage or salary. Most persons who do not work for wage or salary depend upon nonlinear modes of redistribution; for some, their family offers a feedback loop with which to redistribute resources based not on effort or merit but upon need. For others, private charity constitutes a nonlinear feedback loop in which those with discretionary income give resources to those without it. Again this feedback loop is nonlinear in terms of market criteria. State welfare systems are huge and nonlinear feedback loops which take resources from one group and redistribute it outside the deterministic logic of the market to those it deems worthy. Indeed stability of the whole system depends upon such parallel and nonmarket-driven systems of redistribution.

It is the central thesis of this essay that crime is a nonlinear system of redistribution which, although nonlinear, tends to amplify disorder by adding to the uncertainties of their victims. Street crime is a particularly vicious expression of nonlinear redistribution since its victims tend to be those already living in great uncertainty with regard to health, housing, gender relations and racial relations. Organized crime offers to solve uncertainty with shortterm solutions; gambling, drugs and commodity sex. White collar crime and corporate crime has as their only virtue that it distributes uncertainty at random. One cannot predict who with be the victim of doctors, lawyers, or stockbrokers with the same certainty that one can identify the victim of the street thug. Political crime tends to reinforce existing patterns of inequality when the state is involved. When political crime is privatized and when the state turns a blind eye, one can be pretty certain that racial or gender inequality is reproduced.

What is new in Chaos theory for a postmodern criminology are both its meaning for the genesis of crime as well as its implications for corrections. In brief, crime increases as bifurcations in wealth, status and power occur while control tactics fade in efficacy with each bifurcation. These are not trivial points for a scientific criminology.

Crime and the Market Many forms of crime can be understood as nonlinear feedback loops in which wealth is redistributed outside the rationality of the marketplace. When a burglar steals a television set, that theft is nonlinear in terms of market dynamics even if the theft serves to stimulate demand on the part of the family from which it was stolen. When a clerk embezzles funds from a bank, the transfer of resources is nonlinear in terms of linear wage policy (the more hours worked, the higher the income) yet the funds may allow that clerk to enter the housing market, the health care market, the leisure market or send her children to college. All equally nonlinear but nontheless, stabilizing of her life style.

Many forms of corporate crime entail a discontinuous abrogation of a contract either through fraud or privielged access to legal services. Many forms of white collar crime entail the unilateral construction of a nonlinear feedback loop between, say, doctor, patient, and insurance carrier in which the flow of resources between doctor, patient and carrier are not rational in terms of the language of a medical insurance policy. The advantages in resources accruing to corporations or white collar thieves can be used to construct another feedback loop in which those with more wealth can detach themselves from the consequences of their behavior by recourse to bribes, legal tactics or flight to another country.

When a firm moves from sole dependence on profits to dependence upon government subsidies then on to forms of corporate crime, or to loans in order to generate income, it too has created a 2n+ income attractor. The parallel attractors are, in terms of a free market, nonlinear, but they satisfy the need for additional income to meet survival needs of the firms or life style desires of the owners and employees of firms. These practices may draw order from the environment in such a way as to degrade that environment beyond reversibility.

If nonlinearity at one scale of human endeavor preserves pattern and predictability at another scale of endeavor, it well might be the case that nonlinear economics is an asset to a society. However, the effects of such nonlinear behavior should be a matter of public policy rather than private action since private actions may simply transfer uncertainty from one part of the system to another rather than restore order. It is not disorder which is the topic of interest to the postmodern criminologist but rather the kind, location and timing of nonlinearity.

Chaos and Concept The basic unit of social interaction is the embodied symbol; information theory teaches us that, for communication to occur, there must be some balance of order and disorder as between the expression of a symbol and the response. Since no one iteration of a symbol can ever refer to precisely the same object or act, it is necessary to treat all symbols as a poetics in which a given symbol catches the sense of an act or object but is not restricted to that and only that precise object.

In terms of criminology, the concept of theft covers so many varied acts that poetic imagination is necessary for police, prosecutor, judge and jury to function. Failing such open and varied interpretations, a law making body would have to pass billions of laws to cover even the simplest kind of theft if it were to presume a precision close to that of newtonian mechanics, i.e., a precision to one part in 1014 parts. Such a view of concept useage means that there are, inevitably, regions of uncertainty between theft and gift; theft and honest value; theft and warranty.

The major implication of this uncertainty of vocabulary is that justice can never be precise; nor can a judge always be fair. Reliance on law as a way to get order is compounded by other uncertainties to match those in language.

The basic unit of social life is the social norm. For a norm to be useful, it must have both pattern and variation. If the norm is honesty or truthfulness, then in order for social life to go on, it is sometimes necessary to be less than honest, less than truthful. Imposition of a theory of jurispudence in which precise conformity to a legal norm is required means that everyone is, perforce a criminal. The uncertainty in language is compounded by the uncertainty in actual behavior to which the legal language refers.

The basic unit of social organization is the social role. The essence of a social role is that it is always plural in composition. In any given form of corporate crime or political crime and in most forms of white collar crime and certainly in organized crime, the behavior in question is role directed. The single acting autonomous individual is a fictive concept for most kinds of crime. This means that the boundaries between those who are responsible for the crime and those who are innocent of the crime are fractal indeed. Most of the responsibility for political crime might reside with a president or a general but, given the role relationships found in a presidential staff or an army unit, the actual deed might be two, three, four or more steps away from the person most culpable. Chaos theory, with its nonlinear interconnections, can handle such culpability far more readily than can the euclidean geometries of unitary responsibility.

Crime and the Concept of Deviancy Chaos theory teaches us that one should take care to honor the need for variation, surprise, or creativity in human affairs. One should not be too ready to call every variation in gender relations, in economic behavior, in religion by the name of deviancy. Chaos theory gives criminology entirely new perspectives on such pejoratives. This world view honors polycentered politics, economics, religions and forms of intimacy. The question arises, how then may one speak of crime and virtue? How then may one set the standards by which the limits of variation might be known? How then may one speak of good and evil?

These are difficult questions and reside in the domain of social philosophy. Ethics and morality themselves are oriented to premodern and modern understandings of that which is normal and that which is necessary. While there is a much more nuanced argument made elsewhere, I think the beginning of the answer to such questions are found in the indicators of social distress; infant mortality rates indite the economic system. Drop out rates indite the educational system. Divorce rates indite the system of gender relations and forms of intimacy. Crime rates bespeak the adequacy of religion, economics and, variously, politics.

For those who want more guidance in the definition of crime and justice, one can turn to such documents at the United Nations Declaration of Universal Human Rights. For those who want more careful grounding of a theory of crime and justice, one might well look at the work of Ronald Kramer, Ray Michalowski, Louk Hulsman, and Elliott Currie. All these have tried to think through the structural features of low crime societies.

Crime and Its Attractors I will emphasize again and again, the 'strange attractors' in crime are not explicable in terms of the individuals who engage in crime but rather a product of the many social, economic, political and cultural factors that work together to produce storms of crime and interludes of cooperative social harmony. For many in criminology, such a statement is outrageous. Yet it is a decidedly sociological theory of crime which focussed attention upon social relations rather than personality or genetics. What I will say about the patterns of given forms of crime does not preclude the view that, within the skin and brain of particular individuals, there are also nonlinear dynamics which affect overt behavior.

I do not want to be heard as saying that personality 'attractors' do not mediate crime rates. What I want the reader to hear is that interactions between social and cultural variables shape personality configurations in the first instance and offer a context in which they are transformed in the second. If one is to explain crime, one must explain that which produces differing personality configurations as between high crime and low crime societies. I will offer some ideas later on. Yet the point remains. Chaos theory teaches us that the very same individuals with the very same personalities will commit crime in some dynamical states while remaining at peace with neighbors and self in others.

I do not want to be read as writing that physiology is unrelated to some forms of crime; what I want the reader to grasp is that, given a population of persons with given physiological attributes, some will entrain in some forms of crime and others will not. I want the reader to consider that, perhaps, such physiological attributes are central to a given form of crime in one of the five dynamical states but not in another dynamical state.

Such a position appears to be a contradiction. How can personality or physiology mediate crime sometimes and not other times? How can they be relevant to the explanation of crime and the control of crime in one attractor state and be irrelevant in another? There are no data, no studies, no reasoned basis for such statements answerable to ordinary standards of verification. Yet, even without data, one can see the implications of Chaos theory for a field which has yet to use the organizing concepts with which to direct research. These implications are vast and the research inspired by them likely to be most helpful to an understanding of human behavior.

The Dialectics of Order and Disorder For purposes of this work, I shall assume that order and chaos are both part of the human condition. It seems clear that language itself requires both order and variation to be useful; a symbol becomes useless unless it carries new information. It seems clear that transport systems need be very orderly to be safe and energy efficient. It appears that thinking requires a much looser attractor than does reading. It seems clear that marriages and markets both require flexibility together with much order if they are to adjust to changing circumstances in the external environment while reproducing the patterned interaction which makes marriages or markets. Infant children require much careful and continuous response in order to develop into healthy and competent adults.

In its application to criminology, Chaos theory suggests that the dialectics between order and disorder are optimized by social justice programs more so than by law and order. However practiced and perfected the criminal justice system, it cannot control crime if crime is a function of the larger bifurcations in the social order. If only chaos can cope with chaos, then linearity in policing practices; in sentencing practices and in punishment practices are futile. This seems unfair.

It seems fair that policing practices should be uniform and even handed across time, kind of crime and perpetrator of the crime. It seems to be a principle of justice that sentencing should be uniform across all similar kinds of crime. We bristle when we learn that the rich man has committed crime and is given probation when, for the same crime, the poor woman is given years in prison. Yet some variability in sentencing is implicit in Chaos theory. Chaos theory does not privilege the rich nor does it give way to the patriarch but still there is need for flexibility given the use of criminal justice as a control tactic.

It is the assumption of the efficacy of control that is challenged so greatly by Chaos theory. If I read the theory correctly, control has its uses as a short term tactic but for the optimization of order, one must prefer social justice to criminal justice.

Conclusion In order to build a postmodern criminology with which to help moderate the forms of crime within the emerging postmodern society, there are many opportunities and many false solutions in front of us. Gone are the certainties of the past; gone are the euclidian geometries of society and social relations; gone are the universal Gods and the eternal truths of those gods; gone are the dreams and myths of modern math and science for perfect prediction and complete control. Now we see ourselves as a tiny slice of society on a tiny speck of dust whirling in an endless eddy of time and space.

We are not the agents of or subjects to a mysterious and benevolent God who wills that there be a given order of fellowship and justice among all creatures great and small. If there is to be a peaceable kingdom, we must do it. If there is to be peace and justice, we must will it and work it. If there is to be a low crime society, we must consider the implications of Chaos; if they are appropriate, then we must work for a gentle and well fitting orderliness. We must not assume order and explain chaos as error, sin, the work of the devil, faulty genes or foreign agents. We must move from a strategy of control of the deviant to the empowerment and enabling of all persons in society.

If the assumptions of Chaos are correct, we can work toward a better society but never achieve a perfect one not matter how many people we put in prison, send to psychiatrists, stupefy with chemicals, or frighten with Hell, capital punishment or social ridicule. In the Chaos paradigm, certainty of punishment, severity of punishment, and celerity of punishment will not work to eliminate crime; not if crime is a product of institutionalized practices. Still less so if crime varies with the dynamic state in which an individual, a firm or an economy finds itself.

In order to get a criminology worthy of postmodern understandings and worthwhile to the human project, we must reorganize most of our research technology; reconsider most of our theoretical positions; reorder most of our scientific goals and reassert ourselves as value oriented human beings. There is much to be done in building such a criminology; I have only the most shadowy of visions about how it might look...I only know that modern criminology is inadequate to the task. I encourage the new generation of students of crime and justice to work for a decent postmodern criminology for the 21st Century rather than for a depoliticized, ahistorical, sanitized and safe criminology which mindlessly, heedlessly sanctifies the existing order of things in academia and in the larger society.

Such a line of enquiry is worth time and resources on the agenda of criminology, sociology, and the other behavioral sciences for the next few decades. There are low crime societies. We have some idea of the structural features of low crime society. The USA is a high crime society; more so when one adds corporate crime, white collar crime and political crime data to the already intolerable levels of street crime and organized crime. If we are to praise ourselves in our sociology and history books, we must do better than have we done to date using the missions and methods of modern science. What we must do is redesign the missions and methods of the knowledge process to fit realities as they actually exist rather than try to impose standards of precision and control which exacerbate disorder rather than enhance the human project.

1.  This article first appeared, in much shorter form, in Critical Criminology, 1991

These essays were written to stand on their own; the first section here contains an introduction to Chaos theory and postmodern science that is redundant to earlier essays. The reader might want to skip to page 6 and get on with some implications of Chaos theory for postmodern criminology. Return or Page 6


See the preceding essay or the glossary for explanation of each of the several attractors mentioned here. Return