Sex, Drugs and Public Hangings – Part 5

Sex, Drugs and Public Hangings
A series by on social deviance and punishment in the United States and Europe

So, having examined the overall purpose of this project, the research design and its limitations, the time has come to look at the data, and to see if the findings support my original hypothesis that non deviant citizens of other Western, industrialized countries take on more personal responsibility for deviants, and are more willing than Americans to make accommodations for them. In the first part of this section, I will present a basic overview of the survey results, beginning with the quantitative percentages, then moving on to the qualitative comments for elaboration. In the second part, I will take a moment for the discussion of labeling theory, then move on to discuss the conclusions which can be drawn from this research.

Taking a quick glance at the initial quantitative results, it is unclear if the data supports this study’s hypothesis. See the following table:

Sex Drugs and Public Hangings Table 3

Sex Drugs and Public Hangings Table 3

There exists some supporting evidence when we see that Europeans were far less likely to favor the death penalty, and far more likely to support nationality funded treatment for drug abusers than Americans. These findings come as no surprise because of policies which already exist in our two European countries. Germany has no death penalty what- so-ever, and the United Kingdom abolished this punishment for all ordinary (non-military) offenses in1973. (Heiner p. 221) On a similar note, the United Kingdom tried out “hard line” methods to control drug abuse in the ’70s and ’80s, but only found themselves with “more drugs, more crime and more addicts, so they went back to their way, letting doctors prescribe whatever drug a particular addict was hooked on.” (Heiner p. 190)

Surprisingly, however, the other issues were much closer in the percentages. Americans proved only slightly less likely to support nationality funded health care, and much to my surprise, they were actually more likely to favor financial support for publicly funded birth control and those living in poverty. While these returns are interesting from the standpoint of changing American viewpoints, they hardly support my hypothesis. Even given the likelihood that I had reached a more liberal subset of the American public, these results were far from what I had expected to find. I would clearly have to dig deeper into qualitative meaning behind these answers if I was to have any hope of proving my hypothesis.

Looking through the comments the research subjects made, two things become clear. First, the explanations given by Europeans for supporting social policy designed to aid deviants are filled with decidedly fewer limitations, ifs’, ands’ or buts’ than those given by American subjects. This provides evidence that the tendency to submit a “Yes” answer, simply so that a comment could be given, was indeed artificially inflated by the design of the survey. Secondly, certain national trends seem to emerge with respect to each question, leading to the conclusion that there is at least some homogeny amongst those surveyed. Let us now take the time to view each question individually, comparing the comments made by American respondents with their European counterparts.

Question #1: Do you believe your country should have a death penalty?
From the American perspective the majority (59%) of those surveyed did not believe that there should be a death penalty in the United States. However, particularly when compared with the much lower European return of 9%, there remains a significant percentage of American subjects who favor capital punishment. What were their reasons? Of those nine Americans who answered “Yes” the most common circumstance given under which a death sentence would be acceptable was murder. Some respondents elaborated further, stating, for instance that such a punishment would only be appropriate in the event of the most “heinous” murder, serial killings, or a crime where the victim was “tortured either before or after being killed”, but In short, every American who favored the death penalty cited the killing of another human being as an act under which capital punishment would be acceptable.

In Europe, however, the overwhelming majority of respondents did not believe that their country should have a death penalty. Only two of the twenty-one European subjects answered “Yes” to this question, and of these, only one provided an explanation, stating that execution should only be carried out in the event of first degree murder or rape.

Interestingly, the American legal system does not treat rape as seriously as murder. Certainly this is because the life of the victim is not terminated in the criminal act. I mention this because in addition to murder, (and treason, cited only once) rape was named by three Americans and one European as a reason for the use of capital punishment. Two conclusions can be drawn from this. First, it would seem that the general public of America, and Europe is taking the issue of rape much more seriously than they had in the past, and secondly, since neither Americans or Europeans seem to favor using the death penalty lightly, it would appear that whatever mental condition it is that causes a person to commit rape is being thought of as not only despicable, but untreatable as well.

Question #2: Do you feel health care should be provided by your government?
Generally, those surveyed in the united States and in Europe agreed that there should be some kind of nationalized health care system, which makes it curious that no such program exists in the US. When asked to elaborate on their answers, statements like “Free for all, period.” and ” I think there should be national health care for every citizen of our country – regardless of economic status, race, age, etc.” were quite common throughout both American and European survey returns.

While it seems that many of those favoring nationalized health care from both sides of the Atlantic feel that everyone should receive government health care, Europeans seemed less worried about the prospect of a person receiving free health care without first having paid into the system. Out of the eighteen Europeans and the Nineteen Americans who answered in favor of a nationalized health care plan, five Americans and only one European suggested that treatment should be provided only to those who have paid into the system. Similarly, Six Europeans and only two Americans specifically named the poor as a group who should receive treatment.

In part, since the US does not as of yet have a national health care system, and because of books such as Malcolm K. Sparrow’s “License to Steel”, which discusses the highly automated, easy to take advantage of systems entrusted with processing claims and issuing checks (Sparrow pp. 162 163), it makes sense why Americans tend to be a bit more worried about where the funding for such a program will come from. In general, both groups seem to believe first that their country should provide at least essential health care services, and secondly, that most, if not all citizens should have access to it.

Question #3: Do you believe your country should provide financial support for those living in poverty?
Like socialized medicine, welfare is a social program funded by the public, and as such has the potential of being abused. In other words, it is possible that people may use the service without contributing to the pool of money which funds it. For this reason it makes sense that the answers from this question would be similar to those on nationality funded health care. Indeed this is the case. Seventeen Europeans and twenty-three Americans answered that their respective countries should provide financial support to those living in poverty, and when asked to qualify their answers, most subjects from both Europe and the United States agreed that this program should not be a way of life, but rather a service to those trying to find a job or better their situation.

Americans did however, tend to be a bit more concerned with the possibility of people getting something for nothing. The most common statements amongst US subjects who believe financial aid to the poor should be offered was that this service should provide the basic costs of living such as food, clothing and housing only to those trying to find a job, or unable to work because of disability. One subject wrote for example that “People should receive welfare only for a short time, and during that time, the person should have to prove they are looking for a job by meeting with a counselor twice a week. Welfare needs strict regulations, but in a way that still helps the person receiving it”.

Like the Americans, European respondents believed that welfare should provide for the basic necessities of life. However, statements like, “welfare should be provided under all circumstances, so that people do not die from starvation, and have basic clothing and basic housing” were far more common. Furthermore, the idea that welfare should help the underemployed and working poor was commonly addressed among European respondents, and only twice was it explicitly suggested that this service should be limited to those actively seeking employment. In short, Europeans seemed a good deal more trusting that the welfare system would not be abused.

Question #4: Do you believe your country should provide publicly funded birth control?
Amongst those from United States who responded “Yes” to this question, the almost universal answer was something like “to anyone and everyone who wants it.” Many subjects from Europe also answered this way, but added that birth control should also be provided to teenagers, suggesting, if nothing else, that Europeans are more comfortable with the idea of their children having sex than Americans.

The thing that most amazed me about the results from this question, however, was the number of people who said “No”. It was my original thought that anyone willing to support nationalized medicine or welfare would also support government funded birth control. The final tally did not prove this, showing that out of twenty-one Europeans and twenty-seven Americans surveyed, only nine and seventeen respondents supported such a program respectively. This suggests one of two possible conclusions. Either sex and childbearing are something that both cultures feel is a personal matter and don’t want to see the government getting involved with, or it was thought that by birth control I meant abortion, which is understandably a far more controversial topic than basic prevention methods. In any event, it would seem that Americans are a bit more comfortable with this issue than the Europeans.

Question #5: Do you feel your country should provide treatment for drug abusers?
This final question was inspired by the 60 Minutes episode entitled “Rx Drugs”, in which England’s approach to managing national drug problems was addressed. Unlike the United States, which has declared “war” on drugs, England has decided to fund a program which provides free, “clean” drugs to addicts by way of prescription, thus decriminalizing the act of use. (Heiner p. 189) Knowing about this program, I though it would be interesting to see how well supported public treatment for drug addicts was overseas, and moreover, if Americans were interested in paying the bill to help users overcome their addiction.

In the end, this question came back mostly as I expected. As can be seen by the returns, 76% of European subjects favored such a policy, compared to 55% of Americans. When asked to qualify a “Yes” answer, both groups agreed nearly across the board that anyone who wants help should receive it. One American respondent stated that “Our country should provide similar treatment to England’s program”, and several suggested that treatment should not continue if the patient is not doing his or her part to recover. It was, perhaps a bit surprising that so many Americans favored this type of program, but it seems most are beginning to conclude that the “war on drugs” is not working and have began to seek an alternative.

Because the following interpretation of this data is to be grounded in the school of symbolic interactionism, and labeling theory, it is important, before moving on, that I give a brief overview of of this theoretical framework. Taken from the writings of George Herbert Mead, symbolic interactionism asserts that people learn how to behave based on the subjective meanings of their social interaction “as perceived from the standpoint of the actor.” (Hagen p. 192) In other words, individuals watch how others react to their behavior and apply meaning to their actions based on what they see. Labeling theory, then, “says that individuals are deviant mainly because they have been labeled as deviant by social control agencies or others.” (Hagen p. 192) There is, based on this theory, nothing intrinsically deviant in the criminal act itself, only in the reaction of the audience and in the label that is applied to the actor; “that is, a crime is a label, not an act.” (Hagen p.192)

By this assertion, we are moving the focus of the study away from the deviant people of America and Europe and on to the “law abiding citizens” of these countries who react to and label deviance. The question now becomes not how deviant people are dealt with on both sides of the Atlantic, but exactly which acts cause each respective society to apply a label of deviance.

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