Monday, January 2, 2012

Books in 2011

It's been customary at the end of each year to mention the books I managed to complete in the year just past. Several of them were books I read for the second time, most of them are worth reading a second time, and some, perhaps, were not worth reading the first time.

Naturalism (Goetz and Taliaferro): A good critique of metaphysical naturalism, the view that the natural world is all there is. There is no God or anything like God.

The Amish Way (Donald Kraybill et al.): A wonderful look at Amish life and belief.

Saving Leonardo (Nancy Pearcey): Pearcey takes the reader on a walk through the history of Western culture and how naturalism has changed it for the worse.

The Little Prince (Antoine Saint de Exupery): The classic children's allegory written for adults.

What Went Wrong (Bernard Lewis): Islam scholar Lewis writes about why Islam lost the glory it achieved in the Middle Ages.

Crisis in Islam (Bernard Lewis): Lewis talks about the struggle in Islam between the hard-core fundamentalists and the more moderate faction that wants to liberalize Islam.

The Existence of God (Richard Swinburne): Swinburne's is one of the most often cited arguments for the existence of God in contemporary philosophy of religion.

The Good Life (Chuck Colson): By means of fascinating vignettes Colson illustrates the relative emptiness of contemporary secular life.

The Unlikely Disciple (Kevin Roose): An amusing account of a young atheist (Roose) who enrolls at Liberty University to research a book about Christian fundamentalism. He's surprised by what he finds.

Information and the Nature of Reality (Paul Davies): One of the top science writers discusses how the world revealed by science is more a world of information than of matter.

Middlemarch (George Eliot): Famous novel of gentry life in mid-19th century England.

The Goldilocks Enigma (Paul Davies): Cosmologist Paul Davis writes about the puzzle posed to science by the fine-tuning of the cosmos and the different solutions to the puzzle that have been proffered by scientists and philosophers.

For the Glory of God (Rodney Stark): An excellent history of the impact of Christianity on pre-Enlightenment Europe. Along the way Stark debunks a lot of commonly held myths.

The iY Generation (Tim Elmore): Elmore discuss how technology makes the current generation of young people different.

Atheist Delusions (David B. Hart): A well-crafted response to the New Atheists, specifically Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett.

Generous Justice (Tim Keller): Keller is a Manhattan pastor who writes in this book of the church's call to do justice in our communities and the world.

Philosophical Investigations (Louis Pojman): An introductory textbook in philosophy by one of the most prolific writers of philosophy books.

Silenced (Marshall and Shea): A deeply disturbing and important account of the tyranny and crimes committed by Muslim majorities against religious minorities throughout the Muslim world.

Fed Up (Rick Perry): Texas governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry lays out his political views.

Fathers and Sons (Turgenev): !9th century Russian novel about two young men and their families.

Killing Lincoln (O'Reilly and Dugard): A captivating account of the events surrounding the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. It's a page turner.

Throw Them All Out (Peter Schweizer): Schweizer explains how politicians use their office and power to enrich themselves and their friends. The title is apt.

You Lost Me (David Kinnaman): Kinnaman is president of the Barna Group which researches issues in contemporary religion. He records here the stories of young people who have grown up in the church and subsequently left it.

More Prison, Less Crime

Sociologist Charles Murray believes that the drop in violent crime over the last two decades (see graph) is due primarily to the fact that we are now incarcerating more criminals than we did in the sixties, seventies, and eighties, a practice he urges us to continue:
[L]et me give a quick illustration why I think simple incapacitation—we’ve locked up a huge percentage of the really nasty guys—plus a substantial deterrent effect is a plausible explanation for why violent crime dropped at all.
Murray attributes the drop in property crimes to factors other than incarceration - primarily what he calls "target hardening."
It’s impossible to steal most new cars because there is no way to get the engine started without the key. Hot-wiring is futile. Try to burgle a home in a neighborhood where homes have much worth stealing, and you’d better be prepared to get in and out before the high-tech security system brings the cops. If you’re in a commercial area, you’ve got omnipresent surveillance cameras to worry about along with the security systems.
Violent crime is no more difficult to commit today than it's ever been so other explanations for its decline must be in play. Murray offers a graph to illustrate the trends:

The graph shows the violent crime rate per 100,000 population and the number of prisoners per 1,000 violent offenses from 1960–2010. Murray explains:
Here’s how I interpret those shapes: When crime gets safer, crime goes up very quickly as a response. In the late 1950s, the “prison only makes people into smarter criminals” school became dominant in criminal justice circles. By the early 1960s, imprisonment rates were plummeting. For that matter, even the raw number of prisoners fell. One consequence was that every cohort of young people saw acquaintances start to get probation for offenses that would have sent them to prison or reform school in the 1950s.

Pushing that toothpaste back into the tube takes a lot longer. Kids who are amazed when a friend gets away with a serious crime aren’t amazed when, say, 19 percent of their friends arrested for a serious crime are incarcerated instead of 15 percent. Understandably, crime continued to rise after imprisonment rates started to rise after 1974. Even in 1990, after 15 years of rising imprisonment rates, the risk of going to prison if you committed a violent crime was still far lower than it had been in 1960.

Cumulatively, however, two things happen. First, more and more of the “dirty 7 percent” of offenders who commit about 50 percent of all crime end up in prison. They cannot commit crimes, except against other criminals. Second, the cumulative impact of much higher imprisonment rates does make an impression—the idea that crime doesn’t pay is no longer completely a joke. For violent crime, the tipping point occurred in 1992, when imprisonment rates were heading straight up. By the time that the imprisonment rate for violent crime reached its 1960 level in 1998, the downward trendline was well established.

So how much of the reduction in violent crime was produced by increased incarceration? Here is my simple-minded thought: Suppose we had maintained imprisonment for violent crime at the rate that applied in 1974. In that case, we would have had 276,769 state and federal prisoners in 2010 instead of the 1,518,104 we actually had. Suppose tomorrow we freed 1.2 million inmates from state and federal prisons. Do we really think violent crime would continue to drop at a somewhat slower pace?
Nevertheless, we still today hear from the left that our incarceration rate is a disgrace. Actually, the disgrace is that there are so many people who need to be incarcerated, and the reason there are is that policies urged upon us by the left for the last fifty years - policies which destroy the family and weaken religious attachments - have had a powerfully corrosive effect on our social life.

If we want incarceration rates to decline we have to reduce the disposition to commit violent crime, and if we want to reduce the criminal disposition we have to strengthen the institutions in society that dampen our more bestial impulses, and if we want to do that we have to recognize that modern liberal nostrums are the cause of so much of the damage that's been done to those institutions.

A society without strong families, strong churches, and strong schools is going to turn out a distressingly high number of criminals. Liberal policies undermine all three of those crucial bulwarks against the barbarism to which the human species inclines.