2009 June 03 Wednesday
Gang Members Feel Safer But Die More Often

Gang members, like most humans, make decisions that demonstrate innumeracy.

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Children who join gangs feel safer despite a greater risk of being assaulted or killed, according to federally funded research led by a Michigan State University criminologist.

The findings by MSU’s Chris Melde, which appear in the online edition of the journal Criminology, may help explain why youth continue to join street gangs despite the well-established danger.

“It’s a paradox,” said Melde, assistant professor of criminal justice. “Gang members essentially are not allowed to show fear and this can have a profound impact on adolescents. Their quest for acceptance, along with their immersion into this culture steeped in violence, may ultimately numb their reaction to violence, including their fear of victimization.”

I'm reminded of a recent post where Razib brought up the term "alief" as distinct from "belief" and a discussion of aliefs. Is this feeling of safety a demonstration of an alief?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2009 June 03 10:58 PM  Human Nature

Snouck said at June 4, 2009 3:03 AM:

Being numerate will not stop people from joining gangs.

People who live in a violent neighbourhood feel frightened and not in control. By joining a gang and using group violence against others increases one´s perceived control. Join the doers, rather than being a lone object. The perceived control trumps any understanding of the risks of joining a violent gang. Control is rewarding in itself. So is being part of a group.

Add that in many communities the ability to use violence is a positive value, connected to masculinity. This value may trump selfpreservation.

Add that wherever there are many young males, there will be competition through violence. It is only a bad thing when society is so out of control, that violence is used to take something that does not rightfully belong to the taker. Not to mention that it is nothing out of the ordinary to bring knives and guns to this violence.

So even if people understand that they are choosing a `deathstyle` the immediate reward of joining a gang is enough to compel people to do it.

Forming a gang may be the first step to forming a lawful militia, defending the interests of the community. Provided a given community has adherence to the law rather than anarchy in its patrimony.



miles said at June 4, 2009 5:44 AM:

"There is strength in numbers"

Like Snouk mentioned, growing up in a dangerous community, where older kids pick on you, leaves a young kid feeling safer if he is with a group of "homies" who will all descend on one or two bullies if they attack. A 13 year old probably isn't even aware of gang "statistics" or that they are even kept in some white man's office.

Kids also use it for girls. Being in a "crew" makes him look tough, and that makes girl's panties come off. So much of what young males do is influenced by how the females behave towards it. I'll never forget a friend of mine's wife explaining that a black bank teller at her bank (now a private banker) in 1994 left her postal worker husband for a dyed-in-the-blue drug dealer. Melanie explained that the postal worker was such a nice black gentleman, and the dealer an absolute thug, and that she couldn't understand why her coworker would put her children in that situation.

Ned said at June 4, 2009 7:39 AM:

Miles, Snouck -

Your comments are perceptive. They show the importance of cultural determinism. A white teenager with an IQ of 130 who is living in a prosperous neighborhood and attending a high quality public or private school will get lots of positive reinforcement from parents, teachers and peers if he studies hard and tries to excel academically. Now consider a black teenager with the same IQ who lives in an inner city and attends school there. His teachers will be beaten-down unionized time-servers who will regard him as troublesome if he stands out from the herd. The school will have a culture of violence and drugs. If the kid studies hard and tries to excel, he will be called a wimp and accused of "acting white." He will be isolated and maybe beaten up. The girls will ignore him in favor of the thugs and gangstas, most of whom are headed for the unemployment line, the prison or the morgue.

Steve Johnson said at June 4, 2009 3:56 PM:

From the link:

"The students who joined gangs said they had higher levels of victimization, but also reported a relatively large decrease in fear at the same time. Victimization ranged from the fear of home invasion to being attacked."

1) Pretty broad definition of "victimization". Fear of home invasion counts? Not an actual home invasion, just fear of it. I worry about cherry picking of data to suit the story.
2) Individual circumstances are very important in this case. Some dudes are weak and get picked on because they are weak. Other people are charming and gregarious and as long as they're cool-headed can turn potential adversaries into friends / allies. People know which of these they are. Gang members are self-selected (my guess) from the pool of people who are violent hot-heads who enjoy fighting and crime. They then go out and make enemies with other people of the same temperament. Guess what happens?
3) Gang members probably get laid way way more than non gang members.

There are other things in life that are valued than not being murdered, especially by men. People used to know this. "Better to rein in hell than serve in heaven" and all that.

Steve Johnson said at June 4, 2009 4:13 PM:

To be fully clear my point is that assuming that gang members are innumerate (and hence, probably deprived of proper math education or some other foolishness) is ridiculous. They have different values. They'd rather go out and fuck someone up for money than to earn it even if they run the risk of getting caught themselves in the same trap.

They are evil sociopaths; who knows or cares if their judgment of the relative risks of being a thug versus not being a thug is correct.

Randall Parker said at June 4, 2009 6:21 PM:


Does being in a gang really improve a guy's sex life? Maybe it does. But I'd like some evidence.

miles said at June 4, 2009 7:44 PM:


That documenturary can probably express my sentiments better than I ever could. These folks oft-inhabit a Hobbesian sub-culture that we fortunately do not see.
Roissy's writings on alpha vs. beta males are assuredly much more poignant in this community even than our own. One has to go about with swagger to be regarded as "alpha" in the 'hood, and doing so where there are gangs practically requires one have some "backup" by being affiliated or friends with gang members.

In a way, I -really- wonder if gangs started out as a few underclass beta males joining up together against alpha males in their community who had beforehand enjoyed higher social status and power. Ive noticed some of the most notorious gangsters weren't even large men physically, but they had a group backing them up that accepted their leadership in a quasi-democratic fashion. A brotherhood of thuggery, but also a protection racket for its members if one is in good standing with the leaders. "Somebody messes with lil' Tyrell, he messes with all of us"-type mentality.

Randall, I wouldn't be suprised if gang members sex lives in any surveys done would be very exaggerated by the respondents (if any members have ever been actually canvassed with such questionnaires), but if they are cut in on some drug-trade, prostitution, and theft monies, I'd imagine even the most sexually destitute would end up using prostitutes themselves. Here in "Gnashville", the police have raided at least 3 houses that Hispanic gangs were using sometimes underaged hispanic girls in as "underground" brothels. Illegal laborers were using passwords at the door and going in and paying some cut rate (probably about 20 or 30 bucks I'd imagine). The girls were forced to have sex several times a day. There were a few articles in the Tennessean newspaper about this a year or two ago, but the little issue has largely dissapeard.

I wish I knew how we could rid ourselves of gangs, but if one looks around the West, wherever certain populations form underclasses due to single motherhood, they seem to magically "appear". The infamous white underclass in Britan is as feral as any black gangs we have here in the West. That has been homegrown over the last 30 years or so in the north of England. "A Very British Gangster" is a wonderful documenturary that used to be posted on YouTube that you can watch that details the life of their leader. I cannot strongly encourage you enough to watch it whenever you have time. Its shocking that England has gotten that way. That was a well-done documenturary. More than any other Ive ever seen on the subject, it brought home how much single underclass motherhood is the root cause of all this stuff, and when the state replaces a father with a welfare check and gives women room and board and food and medicine if they are willing to pop out a baby.................the same women start looking for the wrong men. Dangerous and "exciting" men. It reminds me of teen-and-young-adult-males doing -extreme-sports and hijinks like "Jackass" to prove how brave/daring they are to other males. These underclass women are showing off how brave/daring they are to other women and how they think they can "handle" these violent underclass males. Its not backed by data.............but no data have been collected about it that I know of. One thing Ive learned about women (and Im sure Roissy could pontificate much better and much further) is that one has to "watch their feet" when asking them questions about men. What they say they want and what they want are oft two very different things.

Dragon Horse said at June 5, 2009 9:33 AM:


Gang members probably get laid more because they have "groupies". For example: Men joining gangs usually have to be "jumped in" (beaten up and take it), they have to do a crime (like a drive-by), or both. Women, on the other hand, also join gangs, but usually they have to sleep with X number of men. Also gang members (this is true in biker gangs as well) pass women around. As is said "it ain't no fun if the homies can't get none". They tire of a woman and tell the others she is "free game", some women are always free game from the beginning. These are women you "run trains on", basically she just services one man after another. She might be rewarded with drug, a little money, etc but she is not usually "pimped" to Johns, etc. Gang members, who are dealing drugs often have money that they can afford to buy "bling" and fix up cars with nice stereo systems, paint jobs, and rims. Compared to a nerdy guy or a typical beta in the hood, these men are seen as successful because they have immediate money. Obviously the status that comes with money attracts many women, who would otherwise be dating a guy who A) could not protect them in this environment, B) could not provide for her or a child, C) might be less masculine than her. This is perception, they don't have to be reality, as someone mentioned above. Even the mafia still has bars full of Gumbas (Mafia chicks) where "made guys" or "hangers on" go to meet "groupies". I've seen these places in Long Island and Queens (never been in one though, obviously). I would imagine in the ghetto it is worse, because you have even fewer working class men with money.

Logically, it makes more sense for women to find a "beta" who is bookish and will likely leave these environments, as happens, all the time, but these men don't have "immediate" success, so they are seen as nearly worthless. Hence, in my life, it is rare that I have met many black males, but who grew up in "da hood" who are successful and middle class who have married lower class black women. The wife is usually from a middle class environment, from the ghetto but very religious, or non-black.

Anonymous said at June 5, 2009 1:03 PM:

How much of it is simply innate behavior, cast in stone, in the blood ?
A gang is a re-creation of a hunting band, right out of the hunter-gatherer neolithic world. They do it because Darwin, or somebody, makes them do it. The madness of the Western world is that it considers any roughly hominid organism to be "equal" and imports them by the millions. This is killing us. It is disgusting to sit here and watch everyone in power destroy my country and my civilization, and pat themselves on the back while they do so. Do I in fact live in Dante's Inferno ?

Dragon Horse said at June 5, 2009 3:14 PM:


Yes I agree, we should deport all the Jews, Irish, and Italians who were the predominate street gangs and mafias in the North East from the middle 1800s-1950 (right after WWII, nonWASP white street gangs begin to disappear to be replaced by black and Hispanic). Most of the black and Hispanic street gangs came about in the late 1950's in Chicago, NY, and L.A. almost simultaneously.

You are correct about hunter gather bands, if you are half way intelligent you should read the book, "War and Sex"


He pretty much explains how almost all human warfare is just like hunter-gather clan behavior, but the scale depends on the purpose and the level of organization and technology, that's it. Pretty much all folks act the same, it is just some folks have more capacity to organize and kill even more people. The difference between a Amazonian hunter-gather, a NY street gang, Al Qaeda, and the U.S. military is in scale, not kind.

In terms of violence, it is interesting that the larger the organization the less violence their is on a daily basis and the less people in the society actually involved, but when violence does break larger numbers get killed (not as a %, but just total kills in a given period).

Basically, the average gang banger in L.A. is nowhere near as violent as a Yanamamu Amerid in the Amazon, but the average U.S. military guy is not nearly as violent as a gang banger. Interesting book.

Robert Hume said at June 5, 2009 5:16 PM:

Dragon Horse,

Inductivist has analyzed GSS data and concluded that analysis of current citizens, characterized by their ancestry, shows that successive waves of immigrants have been poorer citizens, as characterized by their current behavior and beliefs. So each group of citizens has been correct in their perception that the new immigrants are worse than the existing citizenry. (With the exception of blacks who are, of course, old-stock.)

In detail: English > Germans > Italians > Jews > Mexicans > Blacks

Jefferson and Franklin were right.

Facts are so inconvenient. So boring. You can look it up or repeat the analysis yourself.

Randall Parker said at June 6, 2009 9:11 AM:

Robert Hume,

Jews worse off than Italians? How about a link to the Inductivist post?

Robert Hume said at June 6, 2009 12:46 PM:

Not worse off, worse citizens as measured by such questions as "Is it OK to cheat on your taxes sometimes?"

Anyway, you were right to call me on it; my memory was somewhat faulty.

Here's the URL: http://inductivist.blogspot.com/2006_12_01_archive.html Scroll down to the bottom.

Here's some excerpts:

"WASPs rule! I wrote in a recent post that I was getting the sense that Americans with Protestant European backgrounds were the best behaved. So I decided to sum all my prior post numbers that dealt with ethnicity and moral behavior to assess this idea systematically. ...

Bad Behavior Index

Blacks 106
Mexicans 85
American Indians 85
Italians 70
Irish 67
Jews 64
Germans 56
English/Welsh 47

My hunch was correct. This pattern coincides with that feeling that goes way back among nativists that the moral quality of the country was slipping with the mass immigration from Catholic, southern and eastern European countries, and more recently in concern over immigration from Mexico."

So Jews are a bit better than Italians; not the reverse as I had remembered.

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