What One University of Sussex Study Tells Us About the Power of Social Change

social change

What’s the first thing gun control activists cries do after a school shooting?

You guessed it; try and pass anti-gun legislation.

Gun control advocates are the worst kind of reactionists. They see a horrible tragedy occur, let emotion and passion consume them, and lobby for new laws to curb the “epidemic.”

They think that bills and regulations will curtail the violence that they see.

It’s like saying education can fix the problems in our younger generations. Since they don’t have any aspirations, passions or dreams we should just throw them in the education system.

More education, they say. More kids should be able to go to college.

But, they’re missing the root of the problem. Social norms have changed. Society is the problem. You can’t change it with more college education.

Violence Is The Same Way

Gun control advocates are missing the deeper issue. It’s not the guns that are a problem, it’s the heart.

It’s a social problem.

And you can’t fix a social problem with government control. Here’s a few reasons why…

Legislatures Follow, They Don’t Lead

Americans tend to confuse moments of social change with bills passing.

Take the Industrial Revolution for example. This is what you’ll hear from a typical American on the subject…

“During the Industrial Revolution, businesses didn’t care about their employees. They paid them almost nothing, kept them in horrible conditions, and fought back against attempts to unionize. That all changed, however, when Congress stepped in to protect workers.”

Reality paints a different picture.

Local governments routinely allied themselves with the businessmen. They would send in police and troops to break up strikes. The government wasn’t on the side of the worker during the industrial revolution.

It was activists, unions and private organizations that battled the horrid conditions that factory workers often lived in.

It was only later that law makers started catching on to the trend. You could say they moved from one type of market interference to another.

Instead of helping businesses, they switched to workers and unions.

Here’s another thing to remember. Governments are made up of individuals. Societies are made up of individuals. If society changes, it will ultimately affect the government. But, it’s a mistake to think that the government can determine what change will occur next.

Law makers aren’t time travelers. They don’t know what will happen next, no more than you or I do.

Laws Create More Problems Then They Fix

I’ve already talked about how regulations hurt the market. Regulations raise prices, kill innovation and create monopolies. (you can read that article here)

It’s really tempting to lobby Congress to pass bills, especially when it’s a passionate issue.

It’s really easy to let the government step in and deal with it.

It’s really misleading when activists tell you to contact your representative, as if everything rests in their hands.

However, the hands of the legislation tear down, rather than build up the nation.

Airline regulation for example restricts competition and raises prices. Occupational licensing makes competition harder, raises wages and prices.

When the government controls natural resources (sewer, electricity, plumbing, etc) it creates natural monopolies, higher prices, and corruption.

Governments Don’t Create Lasting Social Change

They can’t create lasting change because of how they do it. Governments use force to make people do things. You can’t force people to change. It has to be a voluntary change.

That’s why you see celebrities, activists, and visionaries transforming society. They create a message, make it relatable, and bring people into the fold.

They don’t hold a gun to your head. Politicians do.

The Proof

What if I told you that the fall in violent crime wasn’t a result of stricter laws?

If that were true it would mean the downfall of the lawmaker. No longer would they be able to claim that more laws will fix this nation.

A co-authored University of Sussex study recently discovered that laws don’t help solve violence.

The study analyzed “20 million words recorded during 150 years of criminal trials at London’s Old Bailey.” It found that before the 1800s there was little language distinction between violent and non-violent crimes.

Even the punishments for violent and non-violent crimes were the same (theft could have the same punishment that assault did).

However, by the 1840s that changed. Crimes that violated the individual (assault, murder, etc) received severe punishments compared to other non-violent crimes.

Sussex historian Professor Tim Hitchcock, director of the Old Bailey Online project and co-author of the paper, said that…

“Historians have recognized that levels of violence, throughout Europe and North America plummeted during the 19th Century. Murder became a rarity.”

Many historians believe this was due to the “civilizing process” of societies, made possible by emerging Western governments and lawmakers. However, this new study has proved otherwise. As Professor Tim Hitchcock points out…

“What we have been able demonstrate through analyzing the language used in court is that the decline in less serious forms of violence, such as assault, was not led by legislation or moments of dramatic change in the law, but by social attitudes.” [Emphasis added]

The study covered 154 years, from 1760 to 1913. This period saw some of the most revolutionary moments of history, like the American and French revolutions, Napoleonic Wars, Industrial Revolutions, the urbanization of Britain and the rise of the British Empire.

Despite it all, the treatment of violence by the government is one of gradual, not immediate change.

This can’t be attributed to individual policies or the careers of politicians. It can only be credited to changes at the social level…

“The cultural framing of violence was a gradual process driven by evolving social attitudes and not by any particular legislative or bureaucratic change.” (page 5)

Simply put: lasting change doesn’t come from politicians passing laws. It comes from evolving social norms.

You Are the Ultimate Effector of Change

And guess what society is made up of?


And, you’re one of those people.

As an individual, you have a unique opportunity to influence society’s norms. Heck, with a blog you can reach more people than ever before. With that reach comes influence.

Now, I know what you’re thinking… “One person can’t make a difference. I’m not famous enough to do that. It’s a waste of time.” Blah, blah, blah.

How do you think Glenn Beck, Oprah, and Ron Paul became so famous? They didn’t automatically start off life with a giant following. They started from the bottom and worked to the top. They focused on reaching one person at a time. Soon one person turned into ten, which turned into one hundred, and on and on.

As Seth Godin says, they made a tribe. A raving group of fans who give you their trust, respect, and attention.

As that tribe grew, it projected more and more influence into neighboring regions. Even if you don’t like Glenn Beck, you’ve heard of him. Even if you don’t watch Oprah, chances are you use products she’s supported. Even if you have no idea who Ron Paul is, you’ve seen the growth of liberty among young people.

The fact is that you are the best chance for reforming society.

The government can take a back seat.

So get out there. Find one person, talk to them, develop a relationship with them.

Because, relationships are how you and I will win back America.

If you’re having trouble reaching people then go here to find some help.
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About John-Pierre Maeli

Keeping it simple and crystal clear, because anything else is useless. I'm here to not only inform you, but to also connect with you. That's what The Political Informer is all about. Feel free to follow me on either Twitter or Google+ Let's talk!

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