Law in Contemporary Society
In today's lecture, we discussed the distinction between white supremacy and racism. In doing so, we made the distinction between institutionalized perception of white supremacy and individual psychology of racism. The professor also noted that these two are not completely separate but they are intricately connected. I believe this relationship between social institution and individual perception is not limited to the context of race but also extends to other aspects of our perception.

Today's discussion has reminded me of Talcott Parsons and his perceptions on Institutions and Social Evolution. I personally find this topic very interesting and I thought it would be beneficial to share my understanding of Parsons's view to facilitate this discussion on the distinction/connection between white supremacy and racism.

Parsons argues that the elements of our society (such as political institution) serve an important function of internalizing cultural norms. He specifically notes that, "internalization of a cultural pattern is not merely knowing it as an object of the external world; it is incorporating it into the actual structure of the personality as such" (p. 141). To speak in this context, for example, individual not only observes the institution of white supremacy but also internalizes that institutional perception of white supremacy to his/her perception on race. I believe this quote assists understanding the professor's point on how white supremacy and racism, although distinct, are not completely separate.

Not only is Parsons helpful in exploring this relationship between white supremacy and racism, his view raises interesting issues that are relevant to this course. We have been discussing law as the weakest form of social control. However, according to this view by Parsons, law is a powerful mechanism of social control because social institution like law shapes individual perception. To my understanding, under this view, law is effective form of social control not because it makes people do something that they do not want to, but because law shapes what people think they want.

What are your thoughts on this view?

I think that the more the state does vis-a-vis the citizen as its citizen, the more law there is, the more power it exerts in shaping an individual's beliefs. I think this works well with Black's thesis as well. Law is negatively correlated to other social control and positively correlated to inequality, society-wide. So when a vacancy is left by mom and church and Sunday School teacher in telling you what to believe, the law is a good place to look and the state is happy assume the role of teacher. As for inequality, surely a society of immense wealth stratification is better policed by quelling riots through acceptance of role than billy clubs and tear gas. So there is more state when social instituions that shape belief leave, and more state-supporting belief is needed with greater stratification.

So maybe it should be no surprise that the law acting on more black people than white people (to a very noticeable degree considering populations) shapes belief about how white people and black people behave. State redistribution schemes solidify notions that there are earning, producing "job creators" and social leeches who's role is to rely on coerced charity. The more law there is, the more it is seen and believed to reflect truths.

Now, looking at Black's definition of law, someone might say that wealth redistribution schemes are more like the post office or a firehouse than treatment of a citizen as such. I doubt the argument will stand careful consideration, so I'll address it only if raised.

-- AlexKonik - 12 Apr 2012

-- MinKyungLee - 10 Apr 2012

I wonder if one way to reconcile the idea of law as a weak form of social control and its ability to shape culture might be to conceive of law not as a force of social control but as a force of social change. Law itself isn't an effective social control, but it can help shape our culture and personal beliefs, which are effective forms of social control. Now, once the cultural and individual psychologies are set, you don't need the law to exert it's social control. But, if you're a good lawyer who can bend the law to his or her will, you can use it to change culture and therefore use it to change the effective forms of social control. Anyhow, it's basically the same thing that you said in your last paragraph, but I did some "legal magic" on the terms to make it fit with the idea of law as a weak form of social control.

About the idea of institutionalized perceptions being internalized, I feel like this runs somewhat counter to the idea Eben brought up in class that it doesn't matter whether individuals are racist, but rather whether there is institutionalized white supremacy. The Parsons theory seems to hold that our culture's white supremacy helped make Zimmerman racist, and that said racism then helped push Zimmerman towards shooting Martin. But this ultimately relies upon Zimmerman actually being racist (albeit as a result of cultural influences). If he wasn't racist, then Martin wouldn't be dead.

The best way that I can wrap my head around the whole racism / white supremacy issue is that white supremacy makes it so that Zimmerman, regardless of his personal beliefs, is not deterred from killing Martin. Like in the Mississippi civil rights murders, the killer knows that the law will be reluctant to pursue them, and so they have no incentive not to kill. So it doesn't really matter if the killer is racist; they just kill regardless of their internal beliefs. The problem is the institutionalized white supremacy that protects the killer.

I think I may have misunderstood this concept, because there are two pretty glaring errors in my version of it. First, it assumes that deterrence actually works, and is a major factor stopping us from killing indiscriminately. Second, it would seem to me that this version of institutionalized white supremacy still relies heavily on racism among members of law enforcement and the judicial system. The law doesn't explicitly say that killing young black men with hoodies is an acceptable defense; rather, the accusation that many people are leveling is that Sanford's police department is reluctant to do a thorough investigation, or to arrest Zimmerman on the results of the investigation that they have done. This idea rests on the assumption that there are powerful people in the Sanford PD who believe (perhaps as a result of personal racist beliefs) that Zimmerman shouldn't be punished for killing Martin.

-- KensingNg - 11 Apr 2012

Dear Kensing, Your points are very well taken. I just wanted to respond to some of your arguments. To begin, I agree with you about the idea of social control and social change. I think your characterization of law in combination with other modes of social control does a good job in reconciling the idea between Parsons and the law as the weakest form of social control.

On the second paragraph, though, I think your characterization of Parsons is too simplistic. I think Parsons speaks to the connection between internal psychology and external norms. But it is not a simple one-way interaction. Social institutions/structure foster the culture of certain norms, those norms, in effect, affect individual beliefs, and in turn, those individual beliefs strengthen social norms and thus, the power of social institutions that adhere to those norms. (Do you see how it is almost a two way cycle?) So it's not just that Zimmerman is affected by the institutionalized white supremacy and acting independent of his beliefs. His racist beliefs, whether conscious or sub-conscious, are influenced by the institution of white supremacy, and in turn, his racist beliefs also strengthen the institutional structure of white supremacy.I think this is why Parsons or other structural functionalists suggest that social change has to come from institutions rather than individuals.


Webs Webs

r5 - 22 Jan 2013 - 20:05:47 - IanSullivan
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM