Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Should people always obey the law?




GSS respondents (N = 2,475) were asked, "In general, would you say that people should obey the law without exception, or are there exceptional occasions on which people should follow their consciences even if it means breaking the law?"

The graph shows that Mexican Americans are more likely than any other large ethnic group to say one should always obey the law. I'm not sure that this is the best attitude, but Mex-Ams clearly stand out. Blacks and American Indians (on the right end of the chart) are also above average; it looks like higher IQ groups have less absolutist attitudes.

I checked by cross-tabulating this question with IQ (WORDSUM). Wow, smart people respect the following of one's conscience.

I guess my first attempt to find a pro-Mex-Am stat didn't quite work out.

14 comments:

Blode032222 said...

Okay, I decided to use ETHNIC and WORDSUM with OBEYLAW as a control.

I just took a few ethnicities to minimize typing.

Mexicans had an average WORDSUM of 4.97; those who said conscience could outweigh the law had an average WORDSUM of 5.53; those who said always obey averaged 4.65.

For the Anglo-Welsh it was 7.16 overall, conscience 7.57, and 6.44 for the super-obedient.

For Africans it was 5.34 overall, conscience 6.34, and 4.49 for just obeyers.

For Germans it was 6.11 overall, 6.47 for those who relied on conscience, and 5.56 for just obeyers.

(I'm not sure if I entered the data right. I don't understand the GSS weighting system. I only used the raw data, but note that GSS considered the 2 "always obey" Mexicans who got a WORDSUM of 1 to be 8.6% of all the Mexicans who said "always obey"; the 2 who scored 3 were 11.4% of the same group; the fellow who got 4 on WORDSUM was only 2.9%! I hope I did the right thing using only raw data.)

Blode032222 said...

As to what this all means, I don't know. I mainly did it that way because OBEYLAW, with its small number of outcomes, seemed like the best control. Using WORDSUM as the control would have generated 12 tables (incl. the "all valid" table), but may have generated actually more usable data, since you could see if the Mexicans, Germans, etc. of a given literacy level were equally obedient.

In any case I am too sleepy to do that right now. :)

Anonymous said...

"...I'm not sure that this is the best attitude, but Mex-Ams clearly stand out. Blacks and American Indians (on the right end of the chart) are also above average..."

Wish they'd act like it!

Blode032222 said...

I've been mulling over what Anonymous kind of hints at. It is indeed difficult to reconcile these seemingly pro-law attitudes on the part of blacks and Latinos with their actual crime rates. I'm not sure I understand it, but I speculate that the "Don't follow your conscience if it means breaking the law" attitude actually applies equally well to almost any code.

There are a lot of "laws" out there - the public, formal ones that are designed by elected officials to keep us from killing each other*, and the "law of the hood" or of prisons, etc. All of them have penalties to deter potential violators, but not all of them would be equally valid to a person with a conscience, whether that conscience be Judeo-Christian, Buddhist, utilitarian, or whatever.

Thus the same attitude which says "obey the law despite what your conscience tells you" also says "don't snitch on a lawbreaker from your neighborhood even if you find it personally offensive that he just stole your sweet old neighbor lady's purse". The "don't snitch" injunction is that strong - even Charles Manson thinks it's sacred.

This does not explain why foreign-born people of any ethnicity are more law-abiding than their US-born co-ethnics. Somehow, which law is the "real one" seems to change after these groups come to the United States - they start out thinking about public/formal law and end up obeying the Law of the Hood.

Blode032222 said...

"There are a lot of "laws" out there - the public, formal ones that are designed by elected officials to keep us from killing each other*"

Of course I completely forgot to complete the asterisk. That was to say that, though there are a lot of laws not designed to keep people from killing each other, but rather, to get votes for the legislator from a particular group, those aren't as likely to be broken by ordinary citizens since they are usually redistributive fiscal laws (or sometimes business regulations).

Anonymous said...

"I checked by cross-tabulating this question with IQ (WORDSUM). Wow, smart people respect the following of one's conscience.

I guess my first attempt to find a pro-Mex-Am stat didn't quite work out."

Well, why is that? A view's correctness or appropriateness doesn't depend on the intelligence (or whatever else quality) of those who hold it. If a person - like most violent criminals - has no conscience, is it, then, right for him to act on his (lack of) conscience?

Brutal Realist said...

Common sense: smart people see reality as dynamic and adapt dynamically to its environment, while dumb people promote linear, absolutist logic because they fail to grasp the larger picture.

Anonymous said...

How does law impedes one in adapting to the environment?

Audacious Epigone said...

In the same vein as Brutal, I can conceive it working something like this:

Virtually everyone, if asked whether or not someone should jaywalk to save a drowning child on the other side of the road, would respond that indeed he should ignore the law in such a circumstance.

Intelligent people are more likely than dullards to, of their own volition, turn over a scenario like that in their minds when such a question is asked.

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